After they slid out of the rusty old Chevy, Amanda found it hard to keep up. She straggled on the concrete driveway behind her mother who held her baby brother as he tried desperately to worm his way out of her grip, all red-faced and wiggling, but the harder he tried, the more she tightened.
Daddy John led the way, his head down, crunching gravel toward Pappaw’s clean, fresh steps. Amanda looked off in the distance and daydreamed, like she always did. She remembered yesterday. Yesterday, she sat on the bare floor watching TV – the only thing left in the vacant, lonely living room. A few days before, Amanda had overheard her mother say to her father,
“Mr. Finch done kicked us out. Give us five days t’leave.”
After that, the usual fighting happened and that’s when Amanda turned up the TV volume on The Electric Company as much as they’d allow her. She liked watching the letters flow from the speakers’ mouths, and, every time that section came on, she practiced pronouncing those letters with them.
“Ay … ay . . . ay,” she said aloud, grinning and shaking her head from side to side with each pronunciation. “Oh . . . oh . . . oh.”
She loved to put herself anywhere but where she was. Suddenly, her little daydream was burst when her mother jerked her up by the arm and turned off the TV. The action’s hastiness took away her breath. She looked up and her mother’s eyes were piercing and on fire. She shook Amanda and demanded,
But that was then. Now, they were here, scurrying and hurrying. They reached her grandparents’ steps. Her mother flew next to Daddy John and Amanda caught up just as her father knocked on Pappaw’s front door. Her father moved back a pace, shoved his hands into his pockets, and put his head down.
Amanda liked Pappaw’s white front door. It was nice and pretty and had flowers in a circle on the front. Her mother called it a “reeeth.” Amanda imagined herself as really tiny, sitting among the flowers. Maybe if she squeezed her eyes hard enough, and wished hard enough, she really would be there. The door creaked open and the “reeeth” disappeared.
Pappaw stood tall just outside the doorway with a cloth napkin tucked into his t-shirt. Mammaw was behind him, holding the door open with her hip. Amanda smiled and commenced to run toward them, but her mother grabbed her arm. Amanda looked up, then. She noticed something strange and her smile faded. Her grandparents were usually happy to see her, but today their faces were grim and stern.
“Papa,” her father said with his head still down. Amanda didn’t like seeing him that way, all hunched and nervous.
“Son,” her pappaw replied, then nodded.
“Um,” started Daddy John, “I got behind on some bills. Finch’s kicked us out. We ain’t got nowhere to go. Would it be alright if we –”
Pappaw cleared his throat and wiped his mouth.
“Cain’t do that, son,” he interrupted. He sucked his teeth. A waft of Mammaw’s cooking flushed through the doorway. Amanda’s belly growled loud. Her mother shot her a mean glance. Pappaw shoved his hands deep in his pockets and jingled change. Amanda reckoned it was a good amount of change. Probably even quarters. Might could fit in a half-pint jar.
“Papa–” her father started.
“Cain’t do that, son,” her pappaw said. The sound of his change jingling cut through the silence like smashed glass.
If it was possible, Daddy John hung his head even lower and sank like a balloon that lost its air. His eyes looked from underneath at Pappaw’s pockets.
“Well, alright, Papa. I presheate chee time, then.”
Before her father finished speaking, the door was closed and the lock clicked.
Daddy John’s chin trembled. He turned and walked briskly toward the old Chevy. Everybody piled into the truck, then Daddy John started the engine and eased by the house. Amanda watched the pretty reeeth until the flowers disappeared.
Once he turned onto the four-lane, Daddy John swerved over and stopped at a pull-off that overlooked the field at Deep Springs Valley. He snatched the baby from her mother’s lap and looked at him.
“Son, as God’s my witness, I ain’t never gonna turn you away, ye hear? And I ain’t never – never! – gonna jangle no money in front a yore face when ye ain’t got nothin’.”
He plopped the baby back into his mother’s lap and exited the truck. He shuffled toward the edge of the field and looked across. Amanda’s mother forced a sigh, opened the door, then set the baby on the seat before she shut it back. Through the window, she told Amanda,
“Watch ‘im, now.” Amanda nodded. “Don’t let him git into nothin’. And don’t let’m put nothin’ in his mouth.” Amanda nodded.
Out the front window, her father and mother waved their arms as they talked. Their voices got louder and louder. Amanda decided the radio would drown them out, so, she turned it on and watched the red dial travel across the numbers. Little brother pulled on her clothes as she tried to find a station, and, every time she told him to stop, he let out the biggest giggle. Finally, a station came through and “Rock the Boat” played bass-less and crisp. The baby grunted and his mouth turned down.
“Oh, no,” said Amanda, “Don’t choo cry. Huh uh.” Her stomach tightened and her eyes darted out the front window.
Her father paced back and forth, waving his hands as he spoke, and her mother stood with her arms crossed and her hip out. The baby let out a little cry. Amanda turned around in a half-circle, took the baby’s hands, and bounced in the seat to the tune on the radio. His little face beamed and he squealed with delight. After that song ended, they bounced to another tune, and another, and another. They bounced and sang until nothing calmed the baby anymore, and he bawled like a stuck hog. Amanda covered her ears and looked out the window with beseeching eyes.
After a little while, her father stopped pacing and her mother’s arms relaxed. Daddy John marched to the truck and flung open the door.
“What’s he squawlin’ about?” he asked Amanda.
The baby was purple from crying. Spit and snot trailed down his chin. Her mother opened the passenger door, took the baby, and held him in her arms. That motion didn’t calm him either. Daddy John squinted his eyes at Amanda and asked,
“Did you pinch him?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, Daddy. I didn’t. I didn’t.”
“They’s a reason he’s cryin’ like ‘at. Joo hit ‘im?”
“No, Daddy,” said Amanda, backing up to the passenger door.
Daddy John’s hand flew back and he held it there for a few seconds, then said,
“Don’t choo lie t’me, girl.”
“I ain’t lyin’!” said Amanda shielding her face with her hands.
“Putchee hands down,” he demanded, drawing his hand back farther.
She shook her head and cried just as loud as her brother.
“You tellin’ me no?” he asked.
“I didn’t do nothin’,” she said. “Please, Daddy!”
Her mother ran up and yelled,
“If you don’t putchee hands down, I’m gonna set yore aiss on far with my belt.” His hand lowered as he reached for his belt buckle.
“John!” yelled her mother, tugging on his shirt.
“You gonna putchee hands down?”
Amanda shook her head.
“John!” her mother yelled.
He unbuckled the belt and it slithered past each loop. He slapped it hard on the edge of the truck and Amanda jerked at attention. She gripped the steering wheel like her life depended on it, and, no matter how hard he tried to pry her loose, she wouldn’t let go. He grabbed her hair, then, and yanked it. The pain was so great that she let go and he dragged her, kicking, to the edge, near the field. He turned, stepped back three paces, and raised the belt.
“John!” her mother yelled. She wedged between them holding the baby. Her big, brown eyes pleaded with him as she said,
“Amanda ain’t done nothin’ to ‘im. He’s hungry. He ain’t eat nothin’ since early this mornin’. We’re awl hungry, John. Dontchoo take out yore anger on her.”
With one hand holding the baby, her mother quietly reached behind her and took Amanda’s hand. Daddy John looked at the belt, then threw it down.
“What d’you want me to do?” He asked, his voice shaking. “I ain’t got nothin’!” He pulled his empty pockets inside out. “I cain’t perform miracles.”
Her mother rolled her eyes.
“I can work at the factory,” she said.
“No, no. No you won’t,” he said.
“Well?” she asked. “What else is there?”
Amanda sniffled in half-breaths until she calmed down. She sat down on a hillside and played in the daisies for a little while. She didn’t like to see her parents like that. She liked when they had a home and furniture and food, and a yard and toys and books and TV. She looked up as the sun waved goodbye. She waved back. Her parents were quiet now, sitting side by side, mumbling and whispering, and deciding everything. Baby brother was asleep.
Amanda laid back on the grass and made angels in the daisies. She felt something funny underneath the grass, like paper. She picked it up. Money. She read the numbers in the corners: one-oh-oh. Her father sat with his head in his hands. She rose and went toward him.
“Daddy?” she said.
“Yes,” he answered.
“I know it ain’t change or nothin’, but I fount this in the grass.” She handed him the money.
He raised his head and his eyes widened. He snatched the bill.
Her mother gasped. “A hundred dollars?!”
“Where? Where’d you find ‘iss?” asked Daddy John.
She led him to the hillside. Her mother brought a flashlight. They searched but found nothing else.
“Wooo Weee!” he hooted, looking at the bill. He picked up Amanda and raised her high in the air.
“Let’s get gas and eat. We’ll stay at the motel tonight,” said Daddy John.
Amanda, her mother, and her baby brother all moved toward the truck. Daddy John stayed on the hillside with his hands clasped together. She hopped into the seat first, then her mother and brother.
“I did good, didn’t I, Mama?” Amanda asked.
Her mother looked out the passenger side window, then turned and said,
“You should’ve never let yore brother cry.”
**Featured image by Alexas Fostos on Pixabay