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.