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 Chapter 1

 

           Animal sounds rang through the farmyard in the countryside of a little town in South Carolina. Mayfield, that was the name. It was July of 1982, and the wind whispered through the grapevines as Lynn sat on the porch's steps with Kat, her doll.

            About a month ago, Mama found the doll, abandoned near the dumpster, and carried the worn-out piece of plastic into the house.

            "Whose is that?" Lynn asked as Mama thrust it towards her.

            "It's your'n," replied Mama. "I found it and thought you'd like it."

            "I do," Lynn said earnestly, "but - she's white."

"What does color gotta do wit' it?" Mama asked. "You ain't gotta just have dolls your own color."

Lynn stared at the battered image. The clothes were raggedy with age, and its child-sized body was disfigured, nearly broken into pieces. It winked its full-scale, black eyes everytime Lynn tilted the head back. There was a patch of hair on top of its head with the sides cut low to reveal the tiny hair holes.

            Examining the doll carefully, Lynn finally said, "I'm a name her Kat."

            "Kat," Mama repeated. "Why Kat?"

            "She looks just like one of those stray cats walking around," Lynn explained. "You don't like that name?"

            "Yea, I do," Mama replied. "It sounds good to me."

            After fixing up the doll, Lynn pretended to drink tea with her from the new tea set almost every day. New to Lynn meant the old things given to them from the wealthy family down the road. Since it wasn't hers from the beginning, Lynn considered it to be new.

 

            As Lynn sat in the yard with both hands on the tea cups, she offered Kat a drink of tea, which was nothing more than mere water. "Here, Kat," she said fittingly, "Would you like a taste?"   

            Gradually, she placed one cup to Kat's mouth, and then the other one to hers. She lowered the cup and smacked her lips together. Kat's lifeless body sat silently, slumped down, staring into space the way stuffed animals do. Suddenly there was a loud BAM from the old broken down screen door slamming, and a large structure stepped on the porch. Lynn looked over her shoulder and saw Mama stretching her arms over her hefty body. Her premature legs held up her round mid-section, and strands of gray peeked through her half-dyed, black hair. Father Time was good to her, but the hands on her clock were slowly ticking. The hump on her back revealed her heavy load as the dust clouds flew around her feet in circles.

            Mama was an everyday Southern lady from the lowlands of the Deep South and to hear her talk, one would automatically know it. Sometimes her words were so quick even Lynn and the others had a hard time understanding her. Since she was born back in the days when education had little importance, it was a challenge for her to speak properly, but an even greater challenge for other people to make sense of her.

 

            Looking up at Mama with a smile, Lynn waved a quick hello. Mama straightened her back and rubbed her hands down her sweaty shirt. "Whatcha doin' baby?"

            Lynn sat both cups down. With a smile as wide as the sea, she replied, "Playing tea time with Kat." She reached for Mama's hands and asked, "You wanna play?"

            "No, can't now," Mama replied and walked to the edge of the porch. "Got business to look after." 

            Under her breath, Lynn uttered, "I know - I know."

            Mama stretched her arms over her head and cracked her old bones. She worked on the farm all day, so her hands were rusted and heavily soiled. Her face was dark as the midnight sky, with a mixture of sweat and sand smeared across it. The summer day attacked her complexion even though she sheltered it from the sun with her big straw hat. But the more sun rays she screened out, the darker her skin became.

            Briskly, the arid summer winds gusted through the air, dehydrating her eyes, while the parching sand made her toes dance. But that did not stop Mama from bending her back in the fields. Even though she was tired, the day went by, leaving her body behind with enough room to catch up with her thoughts.

            She planted her large body in the old swing on the porch. Swinging back and forth, Mama hummed a tune and fanned the gnats from her face. Each push from her oversized body forced squeaks of relief from the swing. Lynn turned slowly to hear the argument, and then gradually continued to play tea time with Kat.

            Mama halted, and the swing cracked. At the top of her voice, she yelled, "Baby!"

            Quickly positioning her body in the direction of Mama, Lynn answered, "Yes, ma'am."

            "Get that there foot tub in the corner," Mama commanded, "and go fetch me some wash water."

            With little hesitation, Lynn picked up Kat, then the bucket, and ran into the house. She gently placed her doll on the couch. In a motherly tone, she said, "I'm a be right back."

            Mama pushed the door open and yelled, "You got that water?"

            Politely, Lynn answered,"Yes ma'am" and turned back to Kat. She patted the doll's head and went into the bathroom. 

            Positioning the pail beneath the spout in the tarnished bathtub, she turned on the faucet and watched the water seep at a snail's pace. Patiently, she waited. Lynn then peeked in the mirror and saw a repulsive reflection. She swiftly sheltered the image with both hands. The depiction made her eyes become hazy. Her skeletal face, with her cheekbones stabbing her skin, made her look like a famished child. Her extended, lanky arms were like a flat pole with no solidity. She wretchedly faced the bathtub. The pail was filled, so she ceased the stream and scuffled to carry the pail of water on the porch. With both hands holding it securely, she made it to the porch without spilling a drop.

            "Here's your water, Mama." She carefully sat the pail down.

            "Thank you, baby." Mama pulled it closer to the swing and immersed a finger in the water. "Just right," she smiled.

Looking at Lynn with tiredness in her eyes, Mama said, "Now I need some soap and a rag."

            Lynn scampered back in the house to get them, while Mama lounged in the swing partially asleep. Her head bobbled up and down every time she snoozed. Pushing open the screen door warily, Lynn handed Mama the things. "You want me to do something else?" she queried.

"Well, you can rinse my feet after I wash my face," Mama answered. "My back painin'."

Mama doused the rag with soapy water and ran it across her face, neck, and between her arms under her shirt. Then she offered Lynn the rag and wedged her feet in the pail. Lynn took the rag and got down on the floor. Slowly, she caressed Mama's achy toes and began to wash.

     "I know you tired Mama," Lynn started. "All I want you to do is rest."

            Squeezing the rag tightly, Lynn watched the water slither down Mama's leg into the pail.

            "Yea, I'm is," Mama said despairingly, watching the water droplets. "Tired of working in them fields, but it's fixin' to get better."

            "Yea, I know." Lynn exhaled a deep breath and dipped the rag back into the pail.

 

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 Deborah Grate Bennett
April 14, 2011