Posted on January 23, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair1.23.2015 Journal Prompt Photo by Larry Towell January 23, 2015: It was time. Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
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Jessica and me, we was doing our chores. It was our job to check the hens for eggs. We had to collect ‘em in a basket that gran had made out of wicker and we was on no account to drop ‘em for they was our breakfast and maybe we’d trade some with the grocery store for flour or sugar or syrup.
‘And if you talk to ‘em sweetly and apologise to ‘em for taking theys eggs, then jes maybe they’ll be good layers for you.’
That was gran and she said stuff that made sense sometimes. So, me and Jessica, we was creeping about the hen-house on bare feet and making small cooing noises, our lips giving the shape of kisses to the sounds we was making. And we was calling ‘em all by the names God had given them and we was saying how we was so grateful every time there was an egg to pick up.
Then, right out of the blue, Jessica said something that stopped me short. She held a warm brown egg in her hand and she straightened and she looked at me. ‘Do you like pa?’ she said.
Well, I don’t mind admitting that I was lost for what to say at first. My tongue felt like something swollen, like when pas says we is not to be laughing, not no how, and I put a handkerchief into my mouth so as pa won’t hear.
I shut the hen-house door so we was just ourselves, me and Jessica and twenty white leghorn chickens. It was dark then, just where our heads was, and the air was warm and dry as a summer barn. At our feet there was light filtering in through the hen hatch, bright and yellow, so it was like the floor was spilled with gold.
‘I was jes asking,’ said Jessica.
She knowed it was serious what she’d said.
‘Well, you’d best be careful ‘bout the words coming out of your pretty mouth,’ I told her. ‘Mam hears you saying such things and she’ll take the carbolic to your tongue and she’ll wash away all your words till you is as sick as if you’d eaten a dozen hard green pears.’
Jessica was near to crying then, realizing what was what.
‘Pa is pa,’ I said, ‘and he is next to God and the minister in importance. We gotta love him. It says as much in The Book. Something ‘bout honouring. That’s the beginning and all of it.’
I felt like it was gran speaking through me. I felt like the words was borrowed and not really my own.
‘I seen ‘em,’ Jessica said and by this time she was crying and her voice was smaller than she was. ‘I seen pa and he was laying on top of mam and it was like he was crushing and crushing her and she was moaning like it was sore and that jes made pa do it all the more. They was in bed and after pa jes rolled away and mam was crying, even as pa was sleeping. I din’t lik pa then.’
I knowed what Jessica was saying. I took the egg from out of her hand and I layed it gentle in the basket with the rest. I counted ‘em and I reckoned there was enough for sugar and flour at least. Maybe we’d get pancakes some soon morning.
‘Pa was only making a brother or sister for you,’ I said to Jessica. ‘Sure as eggs is eggs.’
Again it was something gran had told me. She said I was not to pay no nevermind and she said in time mam would be as big as a cow and she’d be lumbering like a cow, too, a cow with its udders heavy with milk and snorting and lowing with the effort of it all, and then soon enough there’d be a Sissy or a Tom to add to our family.
‘But we got brothers and sisters aplenty,’ Jessica said. ‘And mam was crying long after pa was sleeping and I see her crying by her own in the kitchen some days.’
I shrugged and I pushed open the hen-house door and made cooing noises to reassure the chickens and to reassure Jessica.
Pa din’t have to say we was to be quiet or we was to dip us heads and close us eyes. We knowed by now. Even Binny, and she was only three. Pa jes knocked twice on the table with his knuckles and it was a call to silence and to thinking ‘bout God.
‘Dear Heavenly Father,’ pa began in a dark brown voice, his best voice. And I did wish sometimes his voice was always like that, and not hard as stone or sharp as sticks. His prayer voice was the same voice he used with ma when he was in bed with her. We heard him through the wall some nights. ‘Cooing like doves,’ Lucy once told me.
‘ We’re thankful for this food,’ pa said.
I been smelling ma’s cooking for hours and mouth is watering with pa saying that. Bread dough second-rising, sweet and sour at the same time, and then baking in the oven and that was the richest smell of all. And Tuppence was given charge of not letting the bread burn and he kept counting to a hundred and arranged dried beans on the table so he knew when to check.
Then meat roasting. And it was a ham today and ma had covered it in wild honey and pricked it over with cloves. And vegetables boiling, carrots and shelled peas, and the air in the kitchen soon thick as soup.
‘And thankful for the chance we have to spend time together as family.’
Sometimes it was easy to miss the words pa was saying and the meaning of the words, easy to miss cos the sound of ‘em was just so beautiful.
‘We’re thankful for all the people who helped prepare this food.’
It was ma did most of the work. And Tuppence checking the bread and Simon picking peas out of their pods and he probably ate as many as he put in the bowl, though ma kept saying he’d have a green tummy if he warn’t careful. And Matthew scraping the dirt from the carrots. And Luke who set the carrots in the ground and din’t he watch over ’em, like hens tending chickens and they do so with softness and love, and Luke we must be thankful for also. And pa and John, and din’t they care for the cows in the homefield and they fed ‘em gathered-hay through the winter. And all the farmhands bringing in the summer. And all the men of the village who helped with the building of the hay barn. My head was sometimes dizzy with all the people we had to be thankful for.
‘And please bless them.’
And I thought there should be an ‘amen’ there.
‘ Please bless this food so it may nourish and strengthen our bodies.’
I reached out then and held Binny’s hand back from lifting her fork. Binny knew to dip her head and close her eyes, but she din’t yet know all the words of pa’s prayer and din’t know the rise and fall of pa’s voice and what to listen for as a sign that pa was done praying.
’We are thankful for the seasons and today the rain.’
The rain was beating against the window and we could all hear it. And I could feel my feet still wet from tramping the orchard lanes shooing away crows and finches from the berries. I wasn’t so thankful for the rain then.
’Please bless those who are not here with us in safety.’
Pa paused then and I quietly reached for Binny’s hand again and this time I held it in mine. Pa was thinking of Lucy and I was thinking of her, too, and picturing in my head the place on the farm where we laid her in the ground a year past and now it’s all flowers and pretty and that’s on account of ma goes there every morn at first light and I go with her sometimes and we just give all our thoughts to Lucy.
‘ We say these things in the name of Jesus Christ.’
And I let go Binny’s hand then and pa’s voice has dropped almost to a full stop and we all suck in air and as one we join with pa in the last word: ‘ Amen.’
‘Now we can eat,’ I say to Binny.
And pa says in the last of his soft brown voice, ‘Let’s eat.’