I'm not REALLY naming him.
“Scoot, Cussed Cat! If Mimi catches you, she’ll swat you!” I scold Cussy away from the squabble of hens and chicks. He loves to terrorize them. I don’t think he’d actually hurt any of them. Not yet, anyhow, he’s still a kitten, and I can still train him.
I peek back to the lace-curtained parlor windows, then upstairs to see if my grandmother is nearby. Mimi would take to the broom if she sees Cussy heckling the poultry.
She’ll have a fit if she sees me outside without my coat and mittens, even though it is April first.
April fool’s— with the cold sunshine, sudden bursts of swirling wind and melting piles of snow, it does look like April hasn’t decided whether to stick with winter or head toward spring. I’m ready for spring. But Mimi is convinced it’s winter, and I will catch pee-neumonia.
And she’ll have my hide if she thinks I named a kitten.
She would say it was because she didn’t need us going all soft on the barn animals. There are no cats allowed in the house.
But I’m pretty sure it has to do with caring about stuff, and Uncle George not being here.
I think he should be doing the chores, here at home, making us all laugh, keeping Mimi, if not happy with me, at least not niggling at me all the time. I just keep my head down and try to help keep things moving along.
Thank goodness for now, Mimi is nowhere in sight.
“Quit it!” I say. I throw a handful of chicken feed at Cussy. Five of the larger hens flock him, squawking mightily. That gets him scrambling away.
“What did I do?” I hear Marcia’s voice behind me. I hadn’t heard her bike’s gravelly arrival with all the fluster of kitten and chicks. I stop and shake the rest of the feed to the ground, turning.
“Uh, not you; talking to an annoying kitten,” I say. “I was going to call you when I got through with my chores…”
“Beat you to it!” Marcia Canniless grins.
“I didn’t see you coming,” I hope it sounds like a statement and not like I’m pouting.
“Would help if you’re turned in the right direction… you have to be looking for me to see me, doofus!”
We live on a hill on a snake of a road not too far outside of Wattingham, Maine proper. I twist in the direction Marcia came, looking past the barn and the outbuildings. I see both of Wattingham’s bridges. The Covered Bridge in the far distance near the mill and only trailer park and Stuttle’s halfway between us and the heart of town, where the schools, college and stores are. Stuttle’s Bridge is about a quarter of a mile away.
Standing like I am, now facing Marcia, on a clear day, I can see it no problem. But I hadn’t looked that way very often this vacation; I was too busy with chores, Marcia I’m sure with other stuff. Outside of a few ventures in town with Emily, I’d pretty much been stuck here, helping with the farm and stuff, like cleaning up and getting ready to plant the garden and taking care of the livestock.
Looking now, I can see the Canniless’ big house in front of the road to the University of Maine’s smallest college, a little further past Stuttle’s Bridge
Some people think Marcia’s stuck up. Probably because of that house or the way she tells them to call her “Mar-CEE-yah” or sniffing when she makes a point, or because her dad is Brahmin Boston.
I guess I’m used to her and I like to think she’s just particular. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Marcia flicks her hair back. It cascades like a river of gold. She cradles her bike comfortably between long blue-jeaned legs and with her Scandinavian cable sweater which brings out the blue of her eyes, she looks like one of those models in Seventeen or something.
Or maybe that other Marcia, from the Brady Bunch.
I blow some mouse brown, wayward strands of hair out of my eyes and swipe the rest of the kernels from my hands on my stained overalls. I bet I would fit right in on Hee-Haw.
The littlest of the chicks come tootling over for the crumbs. I can’t help but smile at their fuzzy fat bodies and twig legs.
“Want to get together later?” she asks.
“That was why I was going to call you!”
A nippy breeze shoots through my t-shirt, goosebumps freckle my arms, my spine spazzes with the chill.
“I thought we could get together for our Civics’ project, we haven’t decided on a topic,” I continued.
“Today?” Marcia’s gaze is already turned back to the road to the road to town. Her face scrunches. “It’s not till next week and Ruth hasn’t even announced it yet; plenty of time to figure something out. Anyhow, Mother told me I couldn’t hang around the house this afternoon. She’s got one of her ‘Pulling Strings’ meetings.”
I grimace. “What about tomorrow, then? I want to make a decent presentation.”
It’s true, Mrs. Ruth hasn’t assigned it yet. But Marcia and I always work together and Marcia usually puts things off, till I’m scrambling to finish whatever it is.
“I’m sure it will be, Sara. You’re a born brainiac and artist, just like you’re a born farmer! You can whip it out with your talent!”
“Maybe we can work on it here, then?” I really want to get a head start, and I hadn’t done anything fun or exciting all week. But then I like school, so I guess that counts for weird too.
“Naw, Emily will get in the way,” Marcia purses her lips, shakes her head. “Why don’t you come over later today anyhow? We can listen to my new Cat Steven’s album and maybe figure something out.”
The comment about my sister Emily stung. She can’t help being slower, even if she is two and a half years older than me.
But Marcia did have a point. Em likes to be in on everything. Though Marcia is used to Em’s differences, it is sometimes hard to not tick off one or the other of them. Marcia’s trips to my house had been dwindling, and I could count the number of times this year on two hands, including this one.
“I thought you said your mom was throwing you out for the day?” I shake my head.
Sheesh, Marcia must be in one of her “Mary-contrary” moods.
I’d rather not fight, so I turn my attention to Stuttle’s Bridge. I notice an orange and white truck lumbering over it. I concentrate hard, so she won’t see me getting annoyed. I hear the engine from here, as gears scrape into place like it is a bigger truck… like maybe one of those convoy trucks.
“Well yeah, but that doesn’t mean I have to make it easy for her! We can leave when she comes home and tells us to scram. Till then…”
“Oh,” I say. The truck rumbles by. Marcia and I watch it make its way past our hill to three houses down on the other side of the street. It turns into Mrs. Halliday’s driveway.
“You’re still going to help me on the project, aren’t you?” I ask as we watch a woman with dark hair get out of the truck.
“Of course, you goose! Who else would help you? I think Iris Minnow is available, ha, ha, ha!” Marcia mimicked Iris’s laughter.
Poor baggy clothes Iris, she’s forever giggling and smiling at her own secret jokes and mumbling to herself. She weirds even Bubby Huff so people mostly just left her alone. Yeah, I guess Marcia is my only choice.
I don’t reply. Instead I watch the woman knock on Mrs. Halliday’s door. Poor Mrs. Halliday had a stroke a few months ago and mostly stayed indoors now. Who is this other woman--- a nurse? Or could she be a relative?
It’s a surprise to see the door open. The woman turns around at the door and motions to the truck with her hand, beckoning someone to come. The door of the truck flies open and two children—a tall girl and a toddler spill out of its cab. They are the first Negro kids I’ve ever seen in real life.