Victoria J. Ashford: Simple Things (short fiction)
Southern Legitimacy Statement: My father was from Meridian, MS, my mother from Phenix, VA, but I was raised in the West. Yet, thanks to my serving in the United States Air Force, I was continuously moved east and south of I-10. I meandered through Texas, Mississippi, and north Florida, until I happily plopped myself into Birmingham, AL. For 24 years, fried catfish replaced cactus juice. Turnip greens, taters and sweet tea overtook salad, salmon and soda. Up until then, the only U of A I cared about was my alma mater in Tucson, AZ; but that changed with grad school, and I love finding ways to interject, “Roll Tide!” into conversations. The people, the places, the stories stay with me because the South has a way of creeping into your soul like kudzu along I-65. One final thing: ROLL TIDE, ROLL!
I, Toddy Waters, have a mind of my own, and sometimes my mind just don’t git the things that happen ‘round here. Like when Daisy McReynolds won Possum Queen. She ain’t that tall, is ok-pretty, and one’s gotta wonder if all the jelly’s on her bread or not, wanting to be queen of roadkill. She’s never taken a likin’ to stuff related to Wonnamaw County, so why she even entered the contest has got me stumped
This must’ve all started when Daisy went off to camp one summer. She didn’t call it camp but “charm school”, and snarled at anyone who didn’t say so too. She said she’d be walkin’ around with books on her head and talkin’ about some water fallin’ on some land somewhere. I dunno, but fishin’ and boatin’ seemed more fun to me than worryin’ ‘bout rolling your lips real funny and holding little cups while one finger sticks out lookin’ broke. Humph. Yeah, I told her that my mind couldn’t take a likin’ to that kinda stuff, I know I want more simple things outta life.
I probably think that way ‘cause I’m not from Wonnamaw County. Now, I like it plain enough, but I came here with my momma and brother Ned about three years ago. My daddy didn’t come with us though; I guess he had other places to be. Yeah, that must’ve been it; he had other places to be. At least that’s what he used to say to momma when he’d head out the door.
“Where ‘ya going?”, momma would shout from the kitchen window.
“I got other places to be”, he’d say.
Funny thing about daddy, I only saw him doing two things–leaving the house in a rush goin’ off to Charlie’s Lounge, or sittin’ in his old chair with his dirty John Deere cap pulled down over his eyes, while the the tv’s blarin’ and him havin’ a tight hold on that remote. You didn’t dare touch it ‘cause just as fast as you’d try to take it and turn the TV off or down, he’d snap out of his coma and cuss you somethin’ fierce. Yep, that was daddy. So we just got used to noise bein’ part of the background. I think that’s why I took to school and the outdoors so well, it was more peaceful and quiet and you could learn a whole lotta stuff without hardly tryin’. ‘Cept now there’s no daddy. Like I said, just me, momma, and my brother Ned.
Ned’s only fourteen, but he’s real big for his age so he went lookin’ for a job down at the paper mill. He told the bossman that he was 17, Ned could pass for older but he didn’t wanna lie too big, so he settled on seventeen. The bossman hired him on the spot and Ned had seen the papers he was fillin’ out that said, Job Title: Primary Petro Disp. You shoulda seen him when he came home that day. He busted in the house sayin’ that he was gonna be doing somethin’ real big down there and wouldn’t be surprised if he’d be a bossman before we all knew it! Turns out he just pumps gas for the log trucks. Reckon that ol’ bossman knew somethin’ was up?
Me, I’m sixteen, and also big for my age. Momma says I was an “early bloomer” and better watch myself. She says she’ll skin me alive if I get caught up with them neighborhood boys and go and get myself in trouble. By trouble she means get pregnant. She thinks I don’t know what she’s talking about. Dang! They teach us that stuff in school, yet momma doesn’t like even saying the word ’cause she thinks it’s like a hex or somethin’; that if you say it you can’t help but git it. That ain’t gonna happen to me.
It did happen to a coupla girls I know, though. One’s named Tanya (say tan like layin’ in the sun) Scheff over from Shoals Bend. She kinda reminds me of Daisy, being all fulla herself and all, but Tanya was prettier and the boys liked her. Yeah, she’d always have at least two or three hangin’ ‘round like bees to honey. She’s heavy up top and didn’t mind the boys talkin’ ‘bout ‘em or lookin’ at ‘em, so I think miss Tanya didn’t much mind them knowin’ ‘bout the rest of her parts either.
Well, it wasn’t too long—or surprisin’—that Tanya’s top and the rest of her was increasin’ in size. Next thing we all know she’s not in school anymore and tryin’ to get her GED. She had a little boy. I should say BIG boy. Talk was that he weighed 11 and half pounds when born. I find that hard to believe, that a baby could be bigger than a sack ‘a taters, but there he—Dallas Holland Scheff—was, all round, pink, squirmy and noisy. Like I said, I want more simple things outta life, and from the looks of little, BIG Dallas and other babies, they ain’t simple!