The Back Yard
by Gracie Motley
Table of Contents|
Part 2 appeared
in issue 152.
part 3 of 4
* * *
They sat by the window in Lola’s room, staring out at the twilight and the shadows. Jubal was holding Lola’s trembling hand.
“They almost got him,” she whispered. “Just like Katie. He was looking right at it, and he thinks we made it up.”
“I know. But we saved him.” He breathed deeply, shaking his head. “I don’t know... maybe we should have just let them take him... it was because of him and Junior that Katie gave herself to them.”
Lola’s head turned, and she looked at him. “He’s our daddy.”
“Yeah, he is. And Junior and Porter are our brothers. And Mama is our mama. But you know just like I do what Daddy did to Katie... the teachers at school say it’s wrong, that kind of thing... and he made Katie unhappy. So did Junior. That’s why...”
“That’s why she got up in the middle of the night and went out to the shadows,” she finished. “She just didn’t want to live like that any more, and we were the only ones who knew she was telling the truth. And we were too little to help her.” She looked out the window again.
“Our family don't change much,” he said. “You think Daddy’s going to be different with you than he was with Katie? You think any of them will ever believe us?”
She shook her head, and her eyes filled with tears. “I been thinking for a long time they don’t really care about us that much,” she admitted.
He put his arm around her shoulder. “We got each other,” he said. “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
“I’ll take care of you, too.”
“Next time, let’s just leave him out there.”
Just then, they heard their mother yelling that it was suppertime and to be quick if they wanted to eat. They left the room, and did not see the shadows crowding the window, looking in.
* * *
Brenda made a decision. It was a waste not to use the back yard. It was spacious and pretty, even though no food or flowers except for the honeysuckle and a few plums would grow there. She and Kenny had worked, scrimped and saved to give their children this nice house and this big back yard to play in, and it was wrong not to enjoy it. She told Kenny what she wanted to do, and he agreed with her. He even said he’d been thinking the same thing. They were going to have a cookout in the back yard, just as other families did in the summertime.
So on the next day she had off, Brenda made Junior and Porter set up the card table and folding chairs out on the patio. She went to the grocery store and bought some short ribs and chicken. She made potato salad and corn on the cob, and Kenny cooked the meat on the barbecue.
When supper was ready, they all sat down in the back yard at the card table to eat. Kenny, Junior, and Porter ate like hogs, greedy and sloppy. Like always, Jubal and Lola sat together at the end of the table and didn’t talk to anyone but each other. They watched everybody, wide-eyed and distrustful, and occasionally they would look around at the yard as if they thought somebody was going to sneak up and grab them. They were the first to finish eating, and they took their empty plates and disappeared into the house. They were too delicate, too full of fear. If they didn’t toughen up soon, the world would swallow them whole. But Junior and Porter were strong, and they would be good, hard men one day. The little ones were just a mystery, a pair of little ghosts hanging around the edges of things.
Suddenly, she had a perfect idea, and wondered why she had never thought of it before. She knew what to do to put some backbone in her two youngest. It was so simple it made her smile. She really was the smartest one in the whole family.
The meal was over, and Kenny and the boys had gobbled up the rest of the food; there weren’t even any leftovers. It had been a nice meal, and everybody but Jubal and Lola had enjoyed it. But Brenda had a plan now, and those two wouldn’t spoil things again. She left the table and chairs where they were, and went to clean up the kitchen.
Now she could have some time by herself. Kenny was already in his recliner, and the kids were in their rooms. She got her smokes and went out back. She sat down at the little table and lit a cigarette, feeling the smoke fill her lungs.
She liked the back yard best in the dark. This yard was what made her talk Kenny into buying the house in the first place. They all used to enjoy it more, back when they first moved in, when Lola was still in diapers. That all changed when they found Katie that night two years ago, swinging by the neck from a high limb in the elm. After that, nobody came back here much.
The stars were out, and a warm breeze had the trees and bushes whispering. These were the only voices out here, and the only ghosts were the shadows that moved and shifted in the underbrush ringing the yard at the fence line. Sure, little kids might be afraid of the dark, but Lola and Jubal weren’t little kids anymore. It was high time they put that nonsense behind them.
She got up and walked along the southern fence. She could hear little creatures scurrying in the bushes, and the scent of honeysuckle was heady up close. The grass was thick and soft under her bare feet, and moist with settling dew.
As she reached the back fence, she had a creeping sense of eyes following her. None of the neighbors was out, and there was hardly any traffic. Her family was in the house, doing whatever they did in the evenings. She was alone with the breeze and the yard.
She turned the corner and started walking the back fence. The shadows were deepest here. It seemed a little cooler, the air a little more damp. The feeling of someone watching her was stronger, too. She looked up at the house, which appeared small and shabby from the expanse of the yard, and saw only the kitchen light on. She thought she saw a movement at Lola’s dark window, but it was only the curtain lifting on the breeze. She took a deep breath, feeling silly, and took a few more steps.
She put her foot in something moist and sticky.
“Goddammit,” she growled, and rubbed her foot on the grass that had finally filled in the old vegetable patch. But the substance clung, seeping uncomfortably in between her toes. She bent down to wipe it away with her hands.
“Brenda.” The voice was low and flat, and sounded just next to her right ear; she even felt the breath that carried it. She stood up and turned, looking around her, but nobody was there.
“All right, that’s it,” she told herself sternly. “I’m going in to wash this shit off my foot. It’s late, and I’m tired.”
She walked briskly up the yard to the patio, got her cigarettes, and went into the house, leaving a trail of shadows and disembodied voices behind her.
Copyright © 2005 by Gracie Motley