Skip to main content

Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
Home
Contents
Biographies
Submissions
Archives
Editors
Contact Us
Publications
Policies

Ms. Procell offers a fresh voice.  She's working on her undergraduate degree.  Our staff gave a resounding yeah to this story when she submitted it to Grey Sparrow Journal.   She is one of the youngest writers we have published since 2009.

 


The Earthshine Summer

 

by Kara A. Procell

 

 

 

The summer that Mama and Daddy split up was the summer I went to North Carolina. Daddy and Uncle Danny and Aunt Abbey went to clean out the house where their mama and her brother grew up because they were selling the house and all the land that went with it now that Uncle Stanley was gone. Daddy brought me along while Mama moved all her stuff out of the house I’d grown up in. She was going to live in an apartment in Marietta, and I would go live there too once the summer was over. He’d said he didn’t want me underfoot while all that moving was going on, but Mama said it didn’t make much sense for him to take me to North Carolina because there would be more moving going on there, and I would only get underfoot again. I was eleven that summer, about to turn twelve in July, and I didn’t quite understand what underfoot meant, but I knew I didn’t want to be it.

 

“Going to junior high school, huh?” Uncle Danny asked as we chugged along I-85 in his old red pick-up truck. I was wedged in between him and Daddy in the front seat. Aunt Abbey was following behind us in her little blue car.

 

“Yeah,” I said with a shrug. I didn’t care much. The seventh grade didn’t sound like it would be all that different from the sixth, and I was good at school anyway. I didn’t hate it like a lot of kids. I could remember dates and wars and which states were part of the Confederacy and which were in the Union, and what was the right time to use a semicolon and the formula for finding out the longest side of a triangle.

 

“We’ll get you some school supplies before I send you on home to your mother,” Daddy said.

 

“Mama already bought me school supplies,” I said quietly.

 

“Oh.” Daddy looked out the window at the trees. He felt bad, I could tell, and I didn’t want him to feel bad. He and Mama were already going through that thing that happens when parents split up. I saw it all the time with some of my friends from school. Jessica Harbo and her older sister Lynn spent a week at a time with their mom, and then a week with their dad and they were always getting mixed up about whose house their tennis shoes were at.

 

“It’s tough being a kid,” Nanny would always say, but I don’t think she could even remember being a kid. It was a long time ago.

 

But Uncle Danny didn’t seem to get that his little brother felt bad, so he started listing off all these school supplies, cause I guess he didn’t realize that they’d already been bought and it didn’t really matter. “Well, you got your pencils, and your pens--they let you use pens in the seventh grade, Addison?”

 

My name sounded funny coming out of his mouth, the way it did when anybody in my family—except my mother—said it. Nanny always said, “David, what were you thinking, going and giving your daughter some fool Yankee’s name?”

 

And Daddy would say, “I didn’t pick it, Mama, Karen picked it.”

 

And Nanny would say, “Well that’s what you get for marrying a Yankee.”

 

Nanny didn’t just say that about Mama’s choice for my name. Any time my mother forgot to bring the casserole to the Fourth of July barbeque or got dressed up in her high heels to go to church, I heard Nanny whisper loudly, “That’s what he gets for marrying a Yankee.”

 

Mama heard her whisper too.

 

“Yes, they let me use pens,” I answered Uncle Danny, whose main priority was finding out about my school supplies, and not what name my mother chose to give me. “But only the kind with erasers.”

 

“Pens with erasers?” Uncle Danny laughed, and for a minute I was a little worried he was going to swerve off the side of I-85 and laugh about it for another twenty minutes. Uncle Danny liked to take his time with things. “Shoot, when your daddy and I were in school we sure as hell didn’t have no erasable pens!”

 

Daddy laughed now too, and they talked some more about how things were when they were in school. The miles passed and the trees rolled along and after a while we stopped for a late lunch. I was used to eating lunch around noon, because that was when we ate at school, and when I was at home Daddy would always sit down with a roast beef sandwich at exactly twelve o’clock. But it was almost two when we pulled up at the McDonald’s in Spartanburg and I scraped my knee on the gravel in the parking lot jumping out of Uncle Danny’s truck so fast.

 

“What do you want to eat, Joey?” It was a nickname Daddy had called me for as long as I could remember. It annoyed the hell out of Mama, who was always saying, “I gave birth to a girl, David. Don’t start calling her boys’ names. It’ll confuse her.”

 

It didn’t confuse me, but it did bother me, until the fourth grade when Luanne Walker’s dad died and she said she missed him calling her “Bean.”

 

It wasn’t until recently that I had started liking cheeseburgers with other things on them besides cheese, so I proudly ordered a junior cheeseburger with no onions, but when Daddy brought the food to our table and gave me my burger they’d put onions on it anyway, so I had to pick through the melted cheese and ketchup and slippery tomatoes and pull them out myself.

 

“You don’t like onions?” Aunt Abbey asked. She didn’t have any kids of her own and was always wondering what kids liked and didn’t like.

 

“No,” I said, shaking my head, my mouth full of burger.

“But you like the pickles they put on there?

I shrugged. “They’re okay.”

 

Aunt Abbey nodded, her dangling silver earrings shaking back and forth. I wasn’t allowed to wear dangly earrings, just the kind that stay flat on your ear. “You wear earrings that hang like that and they’ll just get ripped out. And let me tell you, missy, that doesn’t feel too good,” Mama had said once.

 

I told Aunt Abbey I liked hers and she said she had another pair like them and that I could have if I wanted. I looked over to Daddy, who knew and generally enforced Mama’s policy on earrings. But he said yes, so Aunt Abbey said she’d give them to me when we got to Uncle Stanley’s house. That was still a long way to go, but it was worth the wait for my earrings.

 

I rode with Aunt Abbey after lunch, in the little blue car with the leather seats. They were cold and made my skin pucker up with goose bumps, but it was a nice change from Uncle Danny’s pick-up, which didn’t have air conditioning, so we’d been riding with the windows down all morning and I’d gotten sticky with sweat.

 

“How long has it been since you’ve been to Uncle Stanley’s house?” Aunt Abbey asked me.

 

“My dad took me once when I was real little, and then I went with him and my mom when I was eight.” I hadn’t been in the house since Uncle Stanley had died, and they’d had the funeral at home in Atlanta so Nanny didn’t have to make the drive to the lake, so it had been a while.

 

I remembered a long dirt road, and then a long gravel driveway, the kind that hurts when you walk across it in your bare feet, and the house was white, I think, or maybe green. No, the inside was green, and the house was white. Uncle Stanley had a dog name Trixie, a little beagle who hid behind the toilet every time a thunder storm came, but she’d died a few years before Uncle Stanley had. There was a fireplace with all these old pictures on it, black and whites of people with funny hair and weird glasses who had the same nose as Daddy. There was a black stove in the hallway that heated the whole house in the wintertime, but I’d only been there in the summer so I’d never seen it used.

 

I told all this to Aunt Abbey, and she smiled and said I had a good eye for things. “You ever tried writing down what you see, what you think about?”

 

“I keep a journal,” I told her, because I did. “I also write stories.”

 

“What about?”

 

“Girls like me, mostly,” I said. “And their friends. And the stuff they do together. I don’t know. My teacher told me I should submit one of them to a contest so I did and I won a gift card to Applebee’s.”

 

“That’s something to be proud of, Addie!” She was always trying to make my name sound more like hers. “That must have been neat.”

 

“Not really. I don’t like Applebee’s that much.”

 

I remembered the gravel driveway right, because it woke me up. I guess I’d been sleeping.

 

“We’re here,” Aunt Abbey said in a sing-song voice, and I twisted my neck to see the house down the curve in the driveway. I remembered the house right, too: small and white. Dogwood trees were about the only trees I could recognize if you pointed at them, and there were a bunch of them behind the house. There was junk in the front yard and around the back by the small barn. At lunch, Daddy and Uncle Danny had talked about cleaning out the big barn, too, and how long that was going to take. The big barn was on another part of Uncle Stanley’s land that you had to drive across a bunch of fields to get to. I’d only been there once, when I was real little, so I didn’t remember it much at all.

 

“Not too pretty, is it, Joey?” Daddy asked me.

 

“Sure ain’t,” I said, since my mother wasn’t around.

 

“Well we’re gonna fix that,” he said.

 

Uncle Danny pulled the front door key out from an envelope in the glove box of the pick-up, but when he went to open the door it was already unlocked. “I’ll be damned,” I heard him mutter under his breath, and saw Aunt Abbey slap his arm and jerk her head at me.

 

I was about to say, “It’s okay, you can say that stuff in front of me,” but I didn’t have one word out of my mouth before the smell hit me and I nearly stopped breathing. I’d never smelled anything like it before. It was worse than the latrine at Girl Scout camp, worse than a rotten egg, worse than a skunk. It was like all those smells combined and then decided to sit in that house and not use the unlocked front door to get out.

 

Uncle Danny said some swear words that Daddy told me were reserved for only very serious situations, and I covered up my nose and my mouth. I didn’t want that smell getting anywhere near me.

 

“Mom didn’t say it would be anywhere near this bad,” Aunt Abbey choked.

 

“Well nobody’s lived here since March, Abbey. Stan probably didn’t even empty the fridge before he left,” Daddy said.

 

“Well that would explain the smell.”

 

“Let’s get Addison out of here. It’s probably not good for her developing body,” Aunt Abbey said.

 

All the grown-up women lately were talking to me about “my developing body.” Mama and my teachers at school and Aunt Abbey, they were all saying how I had to know how to take care of it. I wasn’t shy about that kind of stuff but it always made me uncomfortable when they went and brought it up in front of other people. Like I couldn’t do it or something, like I didn’t know what was best for myself.

 

Anyway, Daddy and Uncle Danny decided that my developing body would be fine and they went to the truck and got dusk masks for everybody, the kind that the dentist wears when he looks at your teeth. Then they started opening up the windows of the house to try and get the smell out, and Aunt Abbey went into the kitchen and I heard her yell every now and then, mostly things like, “Oh my God!” and “These expiration dates mean something, Uncle Stan!” Like he was there in the room with her or something.

 

Uncle Stanley’s house had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a living room. The smaller bedroom, the one I used to stay in when I was little, had two small beds in it. I would always imagine I had a little sister who stayed in the room with me and slept in the other bed. And when Mama and Daddy and Uncle Stanley would go to bed, we would turn on a flashlight and make a fort underneath the sheets and tell stories and giggle until it got too hot under there, and then we would fall asleep and in the morning Mama and Daddy would come in and smile when they saw we were in the same bed.

 

But the only time I ever saw two people stay in that room was that summer I was there with Daddy and Uncle Danny and Aunt Abbey. Daddy and Uncle Danny shared the room, two grown men in those tiny twin beds that had once held me and my imaginary little sister. Aunt Abbey and I shared the big bed in the big bedroom. I lay there that first night, not able to fall asleep, cause here was the other thing about Uncle Stanley’s house: it didn’t have any air conditioning. My skinny legs were sticky with sweat and tangled up in the hospital-blue bed sheet.

 

Aunt Abbey snored next to me, and I watched a piece of her hair move in and out in front of her mouth while she was breathing. As we’d crawled into bed hours ago she’d reminded me that this had been Uncle Stanley’s room, that this had been Uncle Stanley’s bed. I think she meant for it to be exciting or something, but now, rolled up and exasperated in the dark, it was only creepy. Uncle Stanley had died at home, not in a hospital, not somewhere else. He had died in his bed. In this bed.

 

“Aunt Abbey?” I asked.

 

“What’s wrong?” she mumbled.

 

“Didn’t you say Uncle Stanley died in this bed?”

 

“It’s okay Addie, they’ve changed the sheets since then.”

 

Like that made it any better.

 

During the day, Daddy and Uncle Danny moved stuff out of the attic and the small barn, piling it up in the back of Uncle Danny’s truck and taking it to the dump at lunch, and then again before dinner time. Aunt Abbey helped them sometimes, but mostly she listened to Patsy Cline while she cleaned the bedrooms and the kitchen and the living room, dusting places that no one ever looked. I helped her with that part. One day I spent a whole day dusting picture frames. I guess the older you get, the more pictures you get, and the more frames you need to put them in.

 

“Who’s this?” I asked Aunt Abbey. It looked like a picture of me, but I never had a watermelon dress like the little girl in this picture did. She sure did look like me, though. Her hair was long and stick-straight, braided in reddish blonde pigtails. Freckles dotted her cheeks and the bridge of her nose, and she was missing her two front teeth. She looked up at whoever was taking the picture like they were the silliest person in the world.

 

“Who’s this?” I asked again. Aunt Abbey didn’t hear me the first time over Patsy Cline singing about midnight.

 

“That’s me, Addie.” She laughed. “I haven’t seen this picture in years! I was about six or seven here. Look like anyone you know?”

 

“It looks like me,” I answered.

 

“Sure does,” she said, and kissed the top of my head.

 

Later that day while I was washing up for dinner, I looked at my face up close in the bathroom mirror. I tried to see my mama’s nose, Daddy’s chin, all these things people were always telling me I got from other family members.

 

“You get that attitude of yours from your Mama,” Nanny would snap and swat me on the rear whenever she saw me taking cookies from the counter and I thought no one was looking. And whenever I did something good, like play the fiddle at that Mother’s Day barbeque, she would brag to everyone, “She gets those playing fingers from me.”

 

Like they weren’t even my own. Like I was just a collage of different people’s body parts put together.

 

After a few weeks, living at Uncle Stanley’s was all right, considering that I was sleeping in dead people’s beds and living in body parts that weren’t my own. We got into a routine every morning of who got up when and whose turn it was to make breakfast. That was the summer when I learned to make bacon.

 

“Morning, Joey,” Daddy said as he padded into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee.

 

“I made bacon,” I announced proudly.

 

“Well how about that.” He ate a piece and then ruffled my hair. I didn’t like it when he did that, but I knew it was because he was proud of me. “Your mama taught you well, Addison.”

 

Actually, I taught myself from watching Julia Child cooking show reruns every morning while Aunt Abbey finished up using the bathroom.

 

“Danny, get in here and try this bacon!” Daddy hollered out into the hallway, and Uncle Danny walked out of the bathroom with his razor, half his face covered in shaving cream. I wrinkled my nose at him.

 

“You look silly!” I laughed.

 

“If I like the food I get to kiss the cook, right?” Uncle Danny teased. He took a bite and nodded approvingly, like he did when he was watching the Braves on TV.

 

“Uh oh…” he said. “Looks like someone needs a kiss!”

 

I shrieked and ran out of the kitchen, giggling. I hurried inside the bedroom and locked the door, panting. Aunt Abbey stood in front of the narrow closet with a towel wrapped around her head and another wrapped around her body.

 

“What are they screaming about, Addison?” she asked.

 

“I made bacon,” I said, puffing up with pride.

 

“That’s my Sugarlump,” Aunt Abbey said, and kissed me on the nose. She smelled like coconut shampoo.

 

“Remember those earrings you said you were gonna give me?” I asked, remembering suddenly.

 

“That’s right!” Aunt Abbey said. She hurried over to the dresser where all her stuff was laid out: hairbrushes, earrings, a bottle of perfume and other things that would probably make sense when I got older. She turned around with the shiny earrings in her hand, all silvery in the morning sun. Wordlessly, she slid them through the puckered pink holes in my ears and stepped back, admiring her work.

 

“Well aren’t you just as pretty as a peach,” she said, smiling. “Come look in the mirror.”

 

I scurried off the bed to peer in the murky mirror that sat on top of the dresser. The earrings were shaped like tears and swayed back and forth when I turned my head side to side. Behind me in the mirror, I saw Aunt Abbey’s eyes start to shine, glinting bright like my earrings, and I wasn’t sure why, but it probably had something to do with the fact that she couldn’t have kids.

 

I’d heard Mama and Daddy talking about it once, on the way back from Nanny’s when they thought I was asleep in the back of the car. Mama said that when Aunt Abbey’s husband found out she couldn’t have kids, he left her. It must have been a long time ago because I never remember Aunt Abbey having a husband. She’s always been just Aunt Abbey.

In July, I turned twelve and we baked a cake together. Daddy and Uncle Danny didn’t go out to the big barn at all. We stayed at the house all day, the four of us. The cake was vanilla, because that was all the general store down the road had. I wanted chocolate, but I didn’t say anything. Nanny always said, “A cake is a cake.”

 

Mama sent me a card in the mail that got there three days late. It had a dancing ballerina on the front and on the inside it said, “Happy 12th Birthday, Addison! I love you so much and I can’t wait to live with you in our new house. Love Mama.”

 

I pulled away the ballerina wrapping paper from the all-too-familiar shaped box and found a roller-skating Barbie. I stared at it for a moment, the fake smile staring back at me. I hadn’t played with Barbies for a few years. Mama helped me pack up all the old ones, their legs chewed, their hair cut, and take them to Goodwill. She knew I didn’t play with them anymore.

 

“It’s okay, Joey,” Daddy said when he found me trying to stuff the embarrassing present back in the box. “Your Mama’s real busy, moving in and everything. She’ll get you something nice when she comes to pick you up at the end of the summer. Don’t worry.”

 

“I’m not worried,” I lied, wiping my nose on the back of my hand because Mama wasn’t there to tell me not to.

 

“Sorry we couldn’t get you to a store to buy you some nice stuff for your birthday,” Daddy said. “We’ll go into Boone next weekend and see if we can find you a new bike, how’s that sound?”

 

“Good, I guess.” It did.

 

We were quiet for a while, and the creepers called from the pond next to the house, and the cicadas buzzed so loud that even if Daddy had said something, I wouldn’t have been able to hear him. I wondered what it would be like if Mama was there. I pictured her, on the other side of me, stroking my hair and singing a song, our song. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away…

 

“Are you ever going to live with me and Mama again?” I asked.

 

“Your mama and I made a mistake,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes sometimes.”

 

I’d heard it a million times. Teachers were always saying it so you didn’t feel bad about losing the class pet or throwing the ball too hard and hitting someone. But I never liked the way it sounded, especially not this time.

 

Mistake. Like an answer on a test with a big red X through it. Like a problem on a math test. Mama + Daddy = Addison.

 

Wrong.

 

Guess all the adults were right about “my developing body.” I got up to pee one night and there was blood everywhere, in my shorts and my underwear. The dirty mark on the bed sheets stared up at me like an angry red face. I was scared.

 

I shook Aunt Abbey’s shoulder. “I need help.” I didn’t recognize my own voice.

 

She looked from me to the sheets and back to me again. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” she said, and took me into the bathroom and washed out my shorts and my underwear while I took a shower. Then she gave me one of her big t-shirts to sleep in and gave me some stuff to take care of the bleeding. I crawled back in between the clean sheets, expecting her to get into bed too, but Aunt Abbey stood there with her arms crossed over her chest. Not like she was angry, but like she was thinking of something to say.

 

“I’m sorry,” I said again. They didn’t sound like words anymore.

 

“Is there anything you want to talk about?” Aunt Abbey asked. She sat down next to me on the bed.

 

“Sorry I got blood on the sheets.”

 

“Addie, it’s okay.”

 

“It was a mistake,” I said.

 

Aunt Abbey shook her head. “People make mistakes.” She reached out and smoothed my hair back from my face.

 

There it was again. That stupid saying that people said so much it didn’t even mean anything. I took a big breath and exhaled it all out and said kind of fast, “Daddy said that he and Mama were a mistake.”

 

Aunt Abbey sighed. “Sometimes your daddy says things he doesn’t mean. He and your mama were not a mistake.”

 

“And… I’m not a mistake, right?” I knew I probably wasn’t, but I wanted to ask, just to make sure. To hear that I wasn’t.

 

“Hey,” Aunt Abbey said, her voice low and serious. “Don’t you ever say that. You are not a mistake, Addison. You understand me?”

 

I nodded my head and looked down at my lap, and even though I knew I wasn’t getting yelled at, I started crying. And then I started talking. I told Aunt Abbey about the birthday card from my mother and the Barbie I’d left out on the porch, and how I knew I should like them because they were from my mother, but how I didn’t. A bunch of other stuff came out too, stuff like how I felt guilty for making fun of Jessica Harbo’s braces and lying to Carson Walker in the fourth grade because I didn’t want to go to his birthday party. Aunt Abbey said stuff like “that’s not your fault,” and “don’t blame yourself for that, Sugar.”

 

I also told her about how I was worried that Mama and Daddy split up because I always complained about how they never took me anywhere fun on vacation and hid my broccoli under my plate when they weren’t looking.

 

When I said that Aunt Abbey got all serious again and said, “Addison, you listen to me. Your parents love you very much. You’re what makes them a family. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

Then she held me for a really long time and after a while I stopped crying. A long time after Aunt Abbey had fallen back asleep, I lay there in the bed Uncle Stanley had died in and imagined shapes in the stucco of the ceiling.

 

One morning in August I was taking a walk around the pond before everyone else got up. The grass was soft and the water was still and I heard a car crackling across the gravel road and I knew everything was about to change. Kind of the way you see someone throw a baseball and you just know it’s going to end up through someone’s window or hit someone in the face.

 

The hood of Mama’s SUV poked its head over the crest in the road and my heart dropped into my stomach. She was two weeks early. Daddy wasn’t supposed to bring me to Marietta for another two weeks. And here was Mama, high-heeled, made up, brown hair all beautiful in the middle of Uncle Stanley’s driveway. And there I was, skinned knees, dirty fingernails and bare feet. We were those last two pieces of the puzzle that didn’t fit anywhere in the empty spaces.

 

“Addison!” she said, extending her arms, and I ran to her, because she was my mother. Her shirt was soft and she smelled like my pillow.

 

“Hi Mama,” I said, and for some reason I started to cry.

 

We stayed like that for a while, hugging in the driveway, rocking back and forth until I heard Uncle Danny yelling from the kitchen. He’d burned something, probably. He did that a lot.

 

“What’s going on in there?” Mama asked, pulling away. I was cold all of a sudden.

 

“He probably burnt something,” I answered, and I took her inside to find out. I was right. He’d burned the bacon. I wrinkled my nose.

 

“Look who’s here,” I said, bringing Mama into the kitchen. She looked so out of place on top of the faded linoleum.

 

“Well I’ll be damned,” Uncle Danny said. He was standing in front of the stove in his boxers. “If you’re hungry, you’ll have to wait, Karen. I just burned the bacon.”

 

That was when Daddy walked into the kitchen and swore. He’d just woken up and his hair was still messy. We sure weren’t making a good impression on Mama.

 

“Hello David,” she said. She dropped her purse on the kitchen table. It made a thud and then a rattle.

 

“You’re early, Karen,” he said. “I thought you weren’t coming until--”

 

“Moving in went faster than we thought,” Mama interrupted, “and I wanted to come down to get Addison, so we could have some time with her before the school year starts.”

 

“You keep saying ‘we’,” Daddy said, stumbling over to the coffee maker.

 

“Me and Vince.”

 

Vince was Mama’s boyfriend who I hadn’t told Daddy about yet, and who I’d kind of forgotten about myself until just then when she mentioned him. I guess I was hoping that over the summer he’d get lost in the shuffle of moving. But apparently he hadn’t. The kitchen went real quiet, and Aunt Abbey walked in and looked around.

 

She knew what was going on, I could tell, and she leaned down to me and said, “Addie, why don’t you make us some more bacon?” She looked up at Mama, “Karen, you want some of your daughter’s delicious bacon? She’s a pretty fine cook.”

 

“Oh, it’s all right Abbey, we’re not staying for long,” Mama said. “I just came to get Addison, I have to be back at work on Monday.”

 

“Did you think about asking your daughter what she wants to do?” Daddy asked.

 

“Don’t be stupid, David, she’s been on this farm all summer, of course she wants to come with me.”

 

I knew what was coming next. I saw it play out behind my eyelids like a scene in a movie. Daddy would to lean down and put his hand on my shoulder and ask me what I wanted. And I didn’t have an answer for him. I stood there on the sticky linoleum of the kitchen floor between Mama and Daddy and smelled the burnt bacon and the morning outside and all I could think about was the first day of seventh grade. A new start. All my binders, organized with notebook paper and dividers. Highlighters, colored pencils, crayons. And on my desk, lined up all in a row, my erasable pens.

 

I couldn’t wait to get rid of my mistakes.