FICTION

WOMAN TROUBLE

It was fixin' to look as if Jake was a pushover for Mrs. Clinkerby.• • But the Kid reckoned without Ma and the baby... specially the baby

W. O. MITCHELL July 1 1944
FICTION

WOMAN TROUBLE

It was fixin' to look as if Jake was a pushover for Mrs. Clinkerby.• • But the Kid reckoned without Ma and the baby... specially the baby

W. O. MITCHELL July 1 1944

WOMAN TROUBLE

W. O. MITCHELL

SHE WAS dark in our back shed, and I could hear Jake’s strop slap-slap-slopping to beat anything; then I heard the razor snicking against the palm of his hand. Twinnnng went the blade whilst he tried her with the corner of his thumbnail. He saw me then, and I could see him now my eyes were used to the dark. He said, “Hello, Kid,” and I said hello, too, and I was wondering why was Jake shaving himself on a Friday night, only I didn’t ask. She wouldn’t be polite. Jake always tells me anyway.

1 just stood there with the wind outside whining round the corner of our house, not soft and gentle like she’s supposed to be in spring, mean; she was whistling with her teeth, clear across the prairie, so you wished you weren’t a human being at all. 1 stood there whilst Jake went in and got him the lamp from the kitchen. Jake, he’s our hir»d man that fought the rebellion where he wrassled Looie Kiel singlehanded, even if Miss Henchbaw says she hasn’t come across any

history book telling about it. Even if he didn’t wrassle Looie I’d be fussy about Jake. And he did.

Jake came back out. 1 said. “Jake.”

“Yeah?”

“Tuhmorra’s Saturday.”

“Uh-huh.” He didn’t sound like he was listening so hard to me.

“I was thinkin’ of gittin’ the washtub out.”

He yanked a grey hair from the front of his head, nicked her with the razor. “Whut fer?”

He wasn’t listening. Anybody knows about a washtub. You take lard pails, fill her up from the spring sloughs, pour the water down the hole where Mr. Churchill’s run down a gopher. After three or four washtubs, or maybe five if he’s the kind of a gopher that backs up the hole to plug her, the gopher’s done for. Then you take his tail to the Municipal office in Crocus and they give you three cents for his tail; and when you got a quarter you take her to school, and

Miss Henchbaw gives you a stamp to paste on Hitler's face. There’s what a washtub on Saturday’s for. Jake always comes drownding gophers with me.

He had his face all lathered up. I said:

“You figger you might have time tuh drownd out gophers tuhmorra, Jake?”

“Nope.”

The storm door on the outside of the shed slammed hard with the wind. 1 never had Jake act like that before. If he couldn’t make her catching gophers, he always told me why. He hadn’t even told me the reason he was getting all shaved up. I watched him clear the side of his face, with the Old King Cutter curving down through the whiskers like a binder through ripe wheat; 1 could see the red, chicken-track veins all tangly over his skin where she’s pulled kind of tight, like on a person’s knuckle.

“Where you goin’, Jake?”

He pulled out the pin feathers part of his neck —the

It was fixin' to look as if Jake was a pushover for Mrs. Clinkerby.• • But the Kid reckoned without Ma and the baby... specially the baby

foldy part—cleaned her off of one side and wiped the razor on his overhalls seat. “Go git me a clean towel, will yuh, Kid?”

Up near the roller of the towel hanging on the wall there was a good half-foot left. He didn’t need any towel. He just didn’t want to answer me.

Take the way he drank his tea at supper that night. Even my down-east Aunt Margaret noticed that. She’s the one married Jim Matthews, and they had a baby last spring in our house. Whilst Jim’s away getting to be a stoker in the Navy she’s staying with us. ' She brought the baby with her. He’s a boy.

She stared across the table at Jake holding his tea cup up with his little finger all hooked up like she had the rheumatizm and he couldn’t get her straightened out. About two inches under his chin he had the saucer like to catch the dribble. Aunt Margaret she looked at me; then she looked down at her plate quick.

“Have some more plums, son.” That was Ma. I could tell she wasn’t so fussy about me staring at Jake that way.

After supper Jake he out the door like a scairt jack, and he had the chores done by a quarter to seven. Then he headed for his room. Ten minutes later, in his brand new overhalls, he came through the kitchen; the last I saw of him was the seat, with the red tag still on her, going out the door.

He shaved every night after that; you could see the basin with a pepper-ring of whisker bits round her rim out in the back shed any time you wanted. It wasn’t for a week I found out where he was going—to Mrs. Clinkerby’s that came to Crocus district with her son, Albert, to rent Jim Matthews’ farm after he left for the Navy.

Mrs. Clinkerby was what you might call a square woman, and her arms were the fat kind with the tight skin on them that looks like what comes on sausages,

only red. She was sure fussy about her son, Albert, that cracked his knuckles all the time and had an Adam’s apple the size of a pullet hen’s egg. She was all the time talking about what a good farmer he was. From what I saw of him he didn’t look so wonderful; he just looked very sad all the time, and I felt kind of sorry for him without knowing why, till later on.

The next couple of weeks, with Jake going around with his face all naked looking from so much shaving, I didn’t feel so good. Jake he sure acted different; he didn’t have any time to do anything with me; half the time he didn’t answer me; you couldn’t say he was exactly mean—Jake, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He went around acting like he wasn’t him and I wasn’t me. He acted like he forgot he was fussy about me.

I sure felt a lot worse about her the night I went over to Clinkerby’s to get some baby bottles for Aunt Margaret.

Jake, he looked kind of startled to see me there, and he said, “Why, hello, Kid,” and Mrs. Clinkerby said to wait, Dearie, whilst she got the bottles. She went out. I said:

“Jake.”

“Yeah?”

“Who wuz she talkin’ to?”

“Whadda yuh mean?”

“Dearie!”

“Dearie?”

“Me er you?” Seein’ Jake sitting there on the wood box, and remembering how he’d been acting ever since he started in calling on Mrs. Clinkerby, I sort of spoke out of turn. “I ain’t so fussy about people going around calling other people Dearie. She’s enough to give a badger the heartburn.”

“Now jist a minnit, Kid. That ain’t no way fer you tuh talk. It’s—she’s enuff tuh—well— she ain’t right.” Look who was talking! Whenever Jake isn’t fussy about something, it’s enough to give a dog the heartburn, or an owl, or a grasshopper, and the time Eglantine lifted him and three pails of just-milked milk clear across the barn, she was enough to give Hitler the heartburn.

“Well—I ain’t Dearie, an’ I . . .”

“Here you are, Dearie.”

She was back with the bottles.

Mrs. Clinkerby she asked me to set a while, and Jake he said she wasn’t right to keep me from any chores I probably had to do, and I said I didn’t have any, and I sat down.

Mrs. Clinkerby she said we were sure having a windy spring, and Jake he said:

“Yep—she’s jist like the thirties—once knew a fella name-a Candy — Jim\ny Candy—section man fer the CPR, he wuz—wasn’t fussy about rail roadin’ atall — always hankerin’ to git hisself a farm -when she come tuh blowin’ so hard yuh had tuh lighta lamp dang near every day an’ keep her burnin’ till night when yuh could put her out, he dang near wore hisself out tryin’ tuh figger a way tuh git hisself a quarter section out the top soil blowin’ round.”

“If he did,” I said, “where could he put her down?”

Jake he stumbled around trying to figure that one out, then started in telling about when Mrs. Gatenby got a drop of water on her forehead someone spilt out of the upstairs of Maple Leaf café in Crocus. She fainted and Old Man Gatenby had to throw a bucket of dust into her face to bring her to.

Mrs. Clinkerby she laughed where you start in real low, and you end up real high. She smiled to me, too, only it came from a long ways a ways, and her mouth had quit smiling before the smile got to me.

I’ve seen other people use that kind of a smile before.

They only use it on kids. She said for us to go in the parlor where the organ was, and maybe she’d sing for us.

She could sure sing; he1, voice was all full of soft hiccups. With that there organ going deep and slow like wading through water and her voice riding real high, and the song being “The Baggage Coach Behind the Train,” it made a person feel like crying.

Jake he was sitting way forward on the edge of his chair, and his chin was going gentle sidewise, and he had a faraway look in his eyes.

Jake he’s real musical on the mandolin. He can make a person want to cry too.

When she quit singing, Mrs.

Clinkerby she swiveled round on the organ stool, and she said:

“Reminds me of my good man.”

1 asked did he die. I out with it before I knew; it wasn’t very polite to ask a thing like that. She said no he didn’t; he lit out the year of the 50-bushel crop, before they even stuck a fork in a bundle. Right there I commenced wondering why he didn’t wait to cash in some grain cheques before he left, but I didn’t say anything.

“Ef it hadn’t bin fer my Albert,” she said, “I don’t know what woulda happened to his poor old mother.”

“You ain’t old atall, Mrs. Clinkerby,” Jake said.

She hadn’t been in any Boer War like Jake was, so I guessed she was a lot younger than him.

They had some trouble deciding what she should sing next. I said:

“How about ‘That Grey-Haired Old Daddy Of Mine?’ ”

Jake he glared at me. The organ went swoosh with her bellows a couple of times, then she was groaning out “Little Joe, The Wrangler.” In the middle I got

up quiet and went out. Jake he didn’t even notice I left.

There was me, and I was just a fly on a platter, the way she is on the prairie when you have a real moonlit night; wherever you go there’s the black rim of the prairie round you, and some real far-off stars over top, and the wind in the grass like a million mad bees going all at once and everywhere. Just a fly walking across a black, flat plate.

The wind was so loud in my ears I couldn’t hear my own thinking; I didn’t want to, not all about Jake listening to Mrs. Clinkerby singing hiccuppy, and not being fussy about me any more, not wanting to drownd out gophers. I felt the way Baldy looks on a windy day when he stands with his head droopy and his hind quarters turned into the wind so his tail is laid right across his flank. Sad.

Jake he wasn’t like Jake any more. Take the baby; he wasn’t even as fussy about the baby as he used to be. He never tickled him in the stomach with his chin

so he’d laugh. With the baby he acted just the same as with me, like he wasn’t fussy about him either.

SHE was about a week later, after I came home from school, I figured I better speak to Ma about it. I went in the kitchen, and I said:

“Ma.”

"Yes, son?” She had a saucer and a bowl on the table.

“I waswhat makes a person fussy about somebody?”

“Depends,” she said, and cracked an egg against the edge of the saucer, then poured the yolk back and forth in the shell halves, ca'ught the white in the saucer. “You mean like noodles?”

I watched her crack another egg. “No—not like noodleslike Jake he— well—like us about that there baby— like that.”

"It’s hard to say. It could be a lot of things.”

I said, "Rut couldn’t there—isn’t there a sor ta reason why—one important thing why a person goes around being fussy about another person? Isn’t there one of those kind?”

She dumped the yellow into a second bowl she’d reached down. You don’t use the yellows for Angel food. “Why?” “Ob-rT was just figgerin’, an’ so I wondeted.”

“So you wondered about Jake and Mrs. .Clinkerby.” She turned to me. “Tett.me something.”

“Yeah?”

**When the baby first came he was all red, and his eyes were bulgy, weren’t they?”

“Yeah.”

"Everybody came over to see him and said what a fine boy he was. They said he was handsome. Did you think he was?”

“Why--he wasn’t no beauty.” "Were you fond of him then?”

“Ohhe I guess so.”

"Sure?"

“Well-mebbe.

“The day that Tinchers came over with Violet remember?”

Violet she’s one of these refugee girls from England. She hangs around our place quite a bit. I said, “Yeah. Violet and me had aa . . . ”

“What about?”

“Nothin’ much—how’d you know?” “You were standing over the baby— you went outside then. 1 knew it didn’t end there.”

“Violet made me kinds mad. She said the way he looked gave her the pip. I just got mad for a minnit.” I’m fussy about Violet; afterward she said she was sorry.

“Son, what makes you fond of the baby— enough to flare up when someone suggests hehe gives her the pip?” “I don’t know—it’s . . .”

‘‘He wasn’t good-looking, was he?” “No.”

“He’s not much good for anything, is he?”

“Why— sure he . . ”

“Can he stand up like a colt or a calf?”

“No.”

“Can he feed himself?”

“No, he . . ”

“Has he got any hair—teeth? . . . ” “No, butI— I’m fussy about him all the same.”

“People can’t help being fussy about a thing that needs them, son— whether it’s a calf or a colt or a runt pig or a chick. If it needs you, you’ll be fond of it.”

“That’s the way she is?”

“Yes,” Ma said, “that’s the way she is.”

“And human babies is special.” “Human babies is special.”

“Rut but Mrs. Clinkerby she ain’t what you’d call helpless. She . . .”

“That’s a little different. Yet it’s the same—just backward. People are fond of someone they need.”

“Jake he don’t need her.”

“Well things are different now that the baby’s here. Perhaps Jake feels just a litt le left out of things ...” “He . . .”

“Jake just wants a little attention somebody to make him a cup of tea — to talk with— do things for him. You know it’s spring, son, and Jake has fewer springs to look forward to than you or I.”

“But that’s no reason why he he don’t care about the baby—or . . .” “Oh, yes, he does. Don’t you forget it. When a baby comes to a house people’s noses sometimes get out of joint. Yours did a little at first. Right now Jake seems to have forgot the baby, but he hasn’tnot really. He was fond of that baby before he ever met Mrs. Clinkerby he will be again.” She leaned over the cupboards my father made before he went over to fight. She straightened up. “You put someone’s nose out of joint yourself.” “Whose?”

“Whose do you think?”

“Oh.”

She started shaking the flour into the bowl with the yellows of the eggs. “Did it take long to straighten out?” “Did yours?”

I said, “Ma, I thought a person used the whites for Angel food.”

THAT night, with the wind coming real fierce across the prairie, shaking the house, grabbing my bed, and shaking her right under me, I thought some more about people being fussy about things that need them. Once in a while the wind would let up so I could hear the kitchen clock elickiting, or the house letting a couple of creaks out of her backbone.

A person was fussy about somebody that needed them or somebody they needed— Jake he used to be fussy about the baby now he wasn’t—he was fussy about Mrs. Clinkerby— maybe she could work backward maybe the baby could work her no more Jake with his finger stuck out like a hook trade Mrs. Clinkerby for drownding out gophers . .

She’s sure funny how a person can’t catch themselves going to sleep. I’ve tried. I never did her yet. 1 wait and wait; then Ma’s yelling the pancakes will burn.

All next day I thought her over, and the more I thought the more she looked like that baby might switch Jake onto the right track, from somebody he needed to somebody that needed him. That evening the baby got his chance; Ma and Aunt Margaret got invited

over to Tinchers. I claimed I had a stomach-ache, so Jake he couldn’t hike her out to Mrs. Clinkerby’s as soon as he got shaved up. I got out of an arithmetic exam that way once.

Ma she made me lie down, and Jake he muttered some whilst she showed him where the milk stuff was, all fixed up, and the bottles all boiled ready. She told him the diapers were hung out on the line, and to bring them in after a while and hang them in front of the stove so they’d be good and dry when the baby needed them.

As soon as Ma and Aunt Margaret were gone I came out to the kitchen. Jake he asked me was I feeling any better, and I said a little bit and he looked at me kind of funny. I said:

“He’s sure cute, ain’t he?”

Jake he went right on sitting there, and he wasn’t in our kitchen at all: he was sitting on Mrs. Clinkerby’s wood box, drinking tea, listening to “Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie”; he didn’t care about any baby.

In Aunt Margaret’s room the baby cried some, not much— like he was taking a try at her, like he had nothing else to do. He quit.

I never thought there’d be a time when Jake and me’d sit and not say anything.

The baby let go again; there was some temper behind her this time. He meant it.

Jake looked up.

“Fussin’ a little,” I said.

“How’s yer stummick?”

“Fine,” I said, and Jake looking kind of eager. “But she’s fixin’ tuh git a lot worse.”

The baby was mad; sort of bubbly she started, and then, like a train whistling way off on the bald-headed prairie, she got louder and higher and madder and closer. It. was sort of like when somebody drags their thumbnail across cement; it made a person’s insides sort of hunch down.

“He’s shore got good lungs,” Jake said, and there was a good sign him talking about the baby. “Ef he hadn’t he’d shore wore the hell outa them afore this.”

The baby must of heard him. She was like he’d been crying on one lung, and he set out to show us what he could do on two. She went like V for Victory —ah-ah-ah-aaaaaaahhhh! Jake he off his chair like a toad from a hot stove.

“Ma says don’t go to him!” I shouted. “T’aint fair to spoil him. Cryin’s good fer his lungs!”

Jake settled back. He looked at me, and it seemed like the first time he really looked at me since he started in seeing Mrs. Clinkerby. “Ef I didn’t know, I’d call enny man a liar who said all that was cornin’ out one paira

lungs!” He was yelling; he had to so I could hear him over the baby. The baby had a calf at weaning time skinned a mile. Jake said something. “What?”

“I said, ‘They ain’t no chance—git too much compression—crack a cylinder head!’ ”

“He ain’t cried like that before!” “Mebbe he’s got somethin’ wrong with him!”

Then I remembered; she was 8.36 by the kitchen clock. “He’s sposed to be fed at eight!”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

“You get him whilst I stick his bottle in the kettle to heat!” I yelled back.

The baby’s eves were all red with crying; he kept her up whilst Jake held him, waiting for his bottle. Jake he wasn’t thinking about any Mrs. Clinkerby. Once I heard him muttering something about a woman’s place, but I didn’t get it good.

I gave him the bottle and he stuck it in the baby’s mouth and the crying quit like throwing a bucket of water on a fire. She started up again.

“Whut’s wrong now?”

I said, “Mebbe she’s too hot!” I tried her on my arm like Aunt Margaret does; none came out. I’d forgot to take the skim off of the milk. All the time whilst I took the nipple off of the bottle, the baby kept her up; Jake he had what you might call a hunted look on his face. This time when I stuck the bottle in the baby’s mouth, Jake sighed. He looked down at the baby and the baby looked right up at him; it had tight hold of his thumb.

“Shore is cute, ain’t he,” Jake said, “when he ain’t squealin’.”

She was beginning to look like Ma was right.

Jake set the empty bottle over on the kitchen table. Him and the baby looked at each other a minute.

“Jake,” I said, “you gotta burp him now.”

“Huh!”

“You gotta ...”

Right there the baby’s mouth opened; his eyes screwed up and his face went red; he started in hollering again.

“What’d you say?”

“You gotta burp him!”

“Whut’s that?”

“Gas —he’s got some gas in him the way he took down that there milk — pulled down air with it, and she hurts him—you gotta git her out!”

“How do yuh do that?”

“Stick him over your shoulder—slap him on the back!”

Jake he did, only he started in tapping him real light. He’d never knock any air out that way.

“Harder!” I yelled. “Ma sorta doubles up her fist!”

Jake nodded his head to show he heard.

“Kinda start down near the bottom —work up toward the ...”

The baby burped real loud and loose. Jake he just stood there looking kind of startled, straight ahead. The baby grinned down at me, with his head turned sidewise.

“Jake!”

“Yeah?”

“You shoulda got you a cloth first.” “Whut fer—he’s burped, ain’t he? He ain’t cryin’, is he?”

“Yeah, but . . ”

“She’s too late now.” Jake leaned down to put the baby on the table.

“Hey!”

“You got an awful lotta milk on that there shirt, not usin’ a cloth like I said, Jake.”

Before Jake got a new shirt half on, the baby started up again. Jake came in the kitchen. “Whut’s eatin’ him now?”

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Continued, from page 22

“I dunno. He’s bin sleepin’, so he

ain’t tired. He ain’t got no gas and he

ain’t hungry. Mebbe he’s ...”

“That’s her!” Jake said. “Whilst I unharnass him you go gita dry diper!” I looked all over Aunt Margaret’s bedroom; I couldn’t find any diaper. As I came out Jake said:

“Dry as the spring of ’32! How do you git this here thing back on him?” “Ma folds ’em three-cornered, but Aunt Margaret does her some other way where she folds both ends longwise, and back over each other so you git a piece jist wide enough to go round his stummick and pin on both sides, and she’s real thick in the centre where . . ” “Three-cornered!” Jake yelled. I watched him fold her. “This here’s big enough to fit Baldy!”

“Fold her agin!”

“She’s too dang small—guess you jist do her part ways!”

“That don’t look like Ma does her!” “I ain’t nobody’s Ma!” He stuck in the pins. “Last time you ever catch me around a baby!” The little muscles by the corners of his mouth were going, and that means he was mad. Ma was wrong about when somebody needed a person.

Jake picked the baby up, still yelling, headed for the bedroom. “Where’s them dipers?”

I picked them up off the floor, where they slid from the baby after Jake picked him up. “They was a little loose, I guess, Jake!”

The baby still yelling, Jake put him back* on the table. He didn’t say anything, just took the pins out, spread the diaper, laid the baby on it.

“Ma sorts of puts her hand down in front to make sure she hasn’t got ’em on too tight— to sorta choke him!” Jake put in the other pin. He slid his hand down the front real careful, tested her for play. The baby quit crying. Jake’s head came up.

“What’s the matter, Jake?”

Real quiet, kind of hoarse from all that shouting, he said, “Go git me another diper.”

“But they ...”

“Didn’t yer Ma say they was some out on the line?”

“But they’re all wet.”

“Git somethin’! Anythin’!”

All I could find was two handkerchiefs, a dish cloth, some yellow curtains Ma’d made for the kitchen, and the little braided mat from the bedroom.

“See this here baby don’t roll off of the table.”

Jake came back from his room with a purple and gold thing of his. It said God Bless Our Home across the back of the baby after he got it on him.

But that didn’t stop him from crying. Jake straightened up. He went to the phone, and he cranked her.

“You gittin’ Ma and Aunt Margaret?” 1 asked him.

He didn’t answer me; he said into the phone, “You better come over and give me a hand ! We need her bad !”

He was phoning Mrs. Clinkerby. She hadn’t turned out the way I thought. Ma was right. A person sure was fussy about somebody if they needed them. I’d only made her worse.

The baby didn’t let up one minute. He’d hiccup some, and then he’d tear into her stronger than ever.

MRS. CLINKERBY she sure made it quick. Soon as she was in the door she turned to us, and she asked if the baby had his bottle, and I said y as, and Jake said he’d threw her all down his shirt. Mrs. Clinkerby said well no wonder he was crying; he needed more milk. As soon as he got it he shut up. He was asleep before he had half the bottle. We put him in his crib. Mrs. Clinkerby looked down at him.

“My, he’s a lump, ain’t he?”

I said, “Sure is, but he’s all tallow— take a feel of them there legs.”

She didn’t. She said, “T’ain’t enny too healthy fer a baby to be fat. My Albert he wasn’t skinny, but he wasn’t fat neither.”

“I like the back of his knees,” I said. “Fat babies snore,” she said. “Shows it’s hard on’em.”

“And his heels—they’re very pink.” “Mmh,” she said.

“You take his stummick,” I said, “when he’s havin’ his bath—she’s all shiny with soap. He kicks like anything.”

“The fat ones always seems kind of dopey longside the ones that ain’t heavy.”

“He don’t act dopey,” I said. I looked at Jake.

“ ’An’ usually they take a long time to walk. Has he got enny teeth yet?” “He slobbers quite a bit,” I said. “We figger he’ll git ’em when they’re ready.” I looked at Jake again but he wasn’t any help. “He’ll git all he’s got cornin’ to him.”

“Little late talkin’ too,” she said“Look at them chops and that there double chin. Now Albert was a real pretty baby—not—say—look at his head!”

“His head! What’s wrong with her?” I said. She had me scairt at first.

“Flat—he ain’t bin laid right when he sleeps. He shoulda bin changed from one side to the other. That’s what I done with Albert. Albert’s head is real round.”

“I can’t see . . . ” I started.

“Better start lettin’ him sleep on his stummick fer a while.”

“You figger there’s anythin’ else wrong with our baby?” I said.

“Well —he oughta had teeth by this time. Albert had three by the time he was six months—two lower and one upp ...”

“I don’t care if your Albert had more teeth than a harrow!” I yelled, “er if his head was round as a snooker ball! This ain’t Albert!”

“Well!” she said, and her mouth came together real tight. “It seems ...”

“You ain’t got no right to go around sayin’ our baby’s dopey, and flat - headed, and funny-looking — you ...”

“Young man, when Albert was yer age he’d a got the flat of my hand

across . . . ”

“You never ...”

“Now jist a minnit, Kid. That ain’t

no way to . . . ”

I turned to Jake. “How kin you let her talk like that? You forgot all about when he gits a handful of yer hair and he tugs at her like a fish ona line! What about when he’s asleep with his thumbs all folded up in his fists -and puttin’ your nose in the crease at the back of his neck! What ...”

“I know, Kid, I . . . ”

“And how he smells after his bath — I ...” She was coming up in my throat like water in a hole dug next a river. She was going to spill over. “Oh -Jake!”

“All right, Kid — she’s gonna be . . . ”

“I never seen such a spoilt . . .” “Spoilt nothin’,” Jake yelled at her, “jist smart—jist—hey, Kid, come back here!”

But I out the house. The wind caught me full in the face, drove the dust clear into the corners of my eyes; I could taste her gritty between my teeth. The whole sky was blown untidy with torn, black pieces of cloud, and the night was real fierce with breathing. The sound was coming from a million miles away, and she was after every

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Continued from page 24

living thing. She was having your

father over in England; she was Jake

letting Mrs. Clinkerby talk about your

baby like that, and not having any

time to drownd out gophers; she was

I don’t know how long I stayed out there; when I figured Mrs. Clinkerby had left I headed for the house where the window still glowed like a square yellow coal in the dark.

Ma and Aunt Margaret weren’t around yet; Mrs. Clinkerby was gone; Jake was on the wood box. His shoulders looked kind of droopy. I started to go past him.

“Kid.”

I stopped.

“She’s went.”

I didn’t say anything.

“She—she shore was mad she—shore was mad.”

“Was she?”

“Yep — went up like stumpin’ powder.”

“I guess—I—shouldn’t have . . .” “Twasn’t you set her off.”

“Huh!”

“You wasn’t the only one flew offa the handle. Think I wuz gonna set there and let a teetotal stranger run down our baby?”

“But ...”

“No wonder he lit out.”

“Who lit out?”

“Her old man. She wuz yappin’ fer 10 minnits straight and she never went over a single word twicet.” Jake he kind of shuddered. “ ’Nough to give a coyote the heartburn.” He looked straight at me. “How come we ain’t bin out after gophers yet this spring?” “Why—I already ...”

“Tamorra—after I got that there seed drill fixed up—afore chores— might take a crack at her.”

I was thinking something. I was thinking something about my Ma, and I was wondering maybe she was as smart as Jake.

I’ll tell when I get her figured out.