Unsplash, Steinar Engeland
Last time I put it to a vote — should I do something darkly different from my other blog stories. Almost everyone said yes. Although the story is “there,” I’m still not sure I can write it. The telling is difficult.
Sigh… Okay, here goes nothing!
Even though sunshine is sorely absent from this story — and the content will sometimes be raw and difficult, as a writer I’m still not given to extremes. You need not expect gore, violence, sex, or profanity in excess. Although there likely will be some. Those things exist in this story, even if I don’t go into explicit detail with them.
I need the sunlight. That’s why I haven’t been able to start this dank, dark, deplorable diatribe. It’s not a fantasy, though it may bear little semblance to the worlds any of you have known. For your sake, I certainly hope it does not.
I toyed with the image at the top of the page. That always encourages me to write.
Strange though this “world” may seem, I want it to be authentic. If you’re a storyteller looking for authenticity in character names (if the setting is in the USA anyway), here’s a cool resource: The Social Security Administration’s website will show top baby names by decade, beginning with 1880. Click here. You can sort the names other ways too.
As an author, how far back, prior to the main character, does one ramble to show the circumstances, settings, and personalities that shaped the characters? (That’s a rhetorical question.) I decided to do a group of vignettes, by decade. Their only common tie is that they set the background.
Enough of my blah-de-blah. Here’s the first installment.
Unseen Truths 1, the 1930s
UnSplash, Greg Arment
Clarence Hardy cringed as his younger sister’s voice rose while she complained about picking cotton and painstakingly removing the seeds. Sixteen year-old Clarence agreed that it wasn’t fitting for a woman to be doing such low work. It was even worse that the woman was only a girl of twelve, but there was nothing for it. They were lucky to get any work at all.
The Great Depression, folks called it. To be honest, Clarence couldn’t tell that life was a lot different from before. Runner County, Tennessee was poor, plain and simple. So was the nearby town of Ridgeville. The Hardy family had always been dirt poor. He looked around at the barren land. Nothing wanted to grow on that ridge.
His eyes looked past his ranting sister to the house. It wasn’t much more than a shack. If he could have given Mattie more, he would have. Clarence wasn’t particularly smart or ambitious, but he’d do anything for his sister.
“She’s got you wrapped around her little finger,” Paw would tell him. “You don’t help her any by letting her get her way all the time.”
In his heart, Clarence knew Mattie was extremely manipulative. He just didn’t know how to handle it. Clarence did most of the parenting of his sister and brother. Their momma died young, and their dad was gone most of the time, trying to get work. Often it was either too far or too expensive for him to come home. Mattie was a headstrong handful. Clarence had no idea how to bring up a girl coming into womanhood.
Every time he saw the dark circles under Mattie’s eyes he knew someone needed to have one of those growing-up talks with his sister. He just didn’t know what to do about it.
UnSplash, Asa Rodger
Then came the morning when she demanded to ride the old mule to work. In no time Mattie had made him feel like a cad for needing the animal when she wanted it.
Clarence did whatever odd jobs he could at nearby farms. He needed it to help a neighbor pull up a stump. He had bartered some salt pork in return for the work. That was fine pay. Yet, despite his better judgment, she got her way once again. Mattie took the mule as soon as he went back inside the house.
When Clarence saw her head across the field with the mule, he had a bad feeling. A half-heard old wives’ tale that wasn’t to be repeated in front of men-folk, about women riding anything whether horse or bicycle during that time of the month came to his mind and he paced the rough wooden planks of the floor.
Before that summer day was half over Mattie came home in hysterics. She punched the mule with her fist and kicked the poor beast.
“Clarence it hurt me!” Mattie screamed as she abused the animal. “It’s his fault!”
The youngest, Ben, opened the screen door and came out onto the back stoop to see what all the commotion was. Clarence motioned for Ben to go back inside. Some said the boy should be in school, but there wasn’t one close enough.
Clarence grabbed Mattie’s hand when she made to hit the mule again. When his sister turned to pull free of his grip Clarence saw the blood all over the back of her skirt.
“Ain’t nothin to do with the mule. You leave him alone. It… it happens to all girls, I reckon,” he began, but he couldn’t for the life of him think of what else to say.
Knowing he couldn’t explain, Clarence took Mattie inside and sent her to clean up herself. He paced the kitchen floor one more time. He couldn’t see any alternative. He went to get the preacher’s wife and ask her to explain things to his sister.
Mattie hated the preacher’s wife even more than she detested the preacher. It embarrassed Clarence when women from the church brought them things like flour, used clothes, and sometimes a ham. Yet he was grateful just the same. Mattie, however, was positively irked by the charity. She despised the women for every gift they brought.
He paused at the kitchen door. His sister was bound to throw a fit before it was over. Or another fit, he reminded himself. Clarence shook his head but he didn’t know what else could be done. Mattie wasn’t going to appreciate it. His cheeks heated as he thought about making the request. The only woman Clarence felt he could ask to explain things to the girl was the preacher’s wife.
There’s the beginning. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Copyright © 2017 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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