Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Mable Sneed Makes Breakfast

Mable Sneed had come to appre­ci­ate her husband’s failed efforts to start his days qui­et­ly. If it wasn’t the sound of his rough breath­ing, his dress­er draw­ers open­ing and clos­ing, his foot­steps to the kitchen, the clang of the spoon against the cof­fee can, the water fill­ing the per­co­la­tor, or the scrape of a chair leg against the kitchen linoleum, then it was the screen door squeel­ing shut that woke her. She could nev­er bring her­self to tell him that all his valiant efforts to pre­serve silence and sleep were in vain. So, Mable wait­ed for Pickum before begin­ning her day, aris­ing as he left the bed­room, step­ping into the kitchen to pour her cup of cof­fee from the per­co­la­tor after hear­ing the screen door, and sip­ping her cof­fee in her night­gown as she watched her hus­band make his way to work. In her eyes at that moment a gen­er­ous pride stirred with humor and love.

On an ordi­nary day, she watched him until she fin­ished her cof­fee, then washed, dressed and began her own labors of the day. Today though, she stepped out onto the nar­row cement steps that were her back porch to see Pickum walk­ing away from his work. She became tight and afraid and won­dered if this was the day she had feared — the day Pickum would be too senile to work on the farm. Then he stopped mov­ing. The pile of scrap wood pre­vent­ed her from see­ing what her hus­band stood there watch­ing, point­ing to, frozen. She felt too afraid of what this all might mean to call out to him. Then he turned around and came quick­ly towards the house. Mabel went inside and sat at the kitchen table with her cof­fee, wait­ing for him.

He hadn’t expect­ed to see her there. “You’re up.”

Pickum, what is it?”

She looked in his face and all fears of his infir­mi­ty van­ished. “I got­ta use the phone. Don’t go out there, you hear.”

Of course not.” And she lis­tened as he asked the police to send the Hernandez boy out and told them there was a body in the orchard. Then he hung up and looked at her.

They’re comin’ out Mabel.”

She clutched the col­lar of her night­gown with one hand and held her oth­er arm close across her chest to keep from shak­ing. “Is it a man? Out in the orchard?”

Don’t mat­ter, now, does it?”

Yes, it does. You know it does, Pickum.” Her thick, strong body looked sud­den­ly frail to him and he was hor­ri­bly afraid of hurt­ing her. Pickum took his emp­ty cof­fee cup from the sink where he had left it and poured him­self anoth­er cup.

She looked up at him from the table. “Well?”

I wish ya’ wouldn’t ask, Mable.”

I’m askin’.”

Pickum couldn’t look at her any­more. Anger bit sharply at the col­lar of his shirt and twist­ed the pit of his stom­ach. “Let the police take care of it.”

The Hernandez boy?” Pickum knew she said ‘boy’, prac­ti­cal­ly yelled it real­ly, as a way of bring­ing up the past.

He’s a man. Good fam­i­ly.” He shout­ed her down and the past she dared to touch.

So’s ours.” Her response was prac­ti­cal­ly a whis­per, but deep cuts are often qui­et.

What’s that mean?”

I can’t talk any­more.” She left her cof­fee on the table and went to the stove. “Sit down. I’ll make you break­fast.”

Pickum sat at the table. After 60-plus years he knew bet­ter than to go on argu­ing now. She made a skil­let of pota­toes, sum­mer squash and onions, then fried two eggs and put them on top of a plate of the veg­eta­bles for Pickum. He ate qui­et­ly as she moved one of her half-baked zuchi­ni breads from the freez­er to a warm oven and start­ed cof­fee in the large 10 cup per­co­la­tor for the police. Then she poured anoth­er cup of cof­fee from their small every­day cof­fee pot for her­self and sat at the table with her hus­band.

Thought it was a pile of clothes, Mable. Small. All crum­pled over. He looked like a good boy. Strong hands. A pick­er maybe.” Pickum told her. He watched his wife’s strong wrin­kled hands pull the sug­ar bowl across the table and spoon three heaps into her cof­fee. Mable nev­er took sug­ar in her cof­fee. Mable nev­er made him break­fast on a week day. Mable nev­er looked at him and cried. Mable nev­er brought up the past. But today she did all of that in this one moment with­out a word. Behind him, he heard Hernandez pull up the dri­ve in a squad car.