Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Sibling(s)( 05/01/08)
By Jan Ackerson
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She flew into the hallway and met Jeremiah at the stairs. “Miah! Kin I go with you? Please?”
Jeremiah tweaked Poot’s nose. “Aww, Poot, not today. I got too much work to do. It’d be too hard fer a girl.”
Poot protested, and Jeremiah pulled her hair. “Say, it looks like Daisy’ll be whelping soon. Whyn’t you make her a bed in the barn, and Saturday I’ll take you fishing. You kin even bait the hook.”
Mama pressed past, carrying a basket. “Jeremiah, I wish you wouldn’t call your sister that nickname. Her name is Petunia.”
“Yes, mama.” Jeremiah waited until mama disappeared around the corner, then winked at his sister. “See you at supper, Poot.” He took the stairs in four big steps. Poot heard the screen door slam. She went to Jeremiah’s room and took a shirt. It hung beyond her knees. She pushed up the sleeves and walked downstairs, hanging on the railing so she could take two at a time.
Mama came down with a full laundry basket. Quickly, Poot headed outside. “I’m making Daisy’s bed, Mama,” she said, and she ran to the barn.
After half-heartedly pushing some straw around, Poot wandered to the workbench. She reached up high and took Pa’s hatchet, the one Jeremiah used to kill chickens. Poot walked a long way with the hatchet, warm and heavy in her hand.
When she got tired, Poot sat in the weeds, listening to the bugs. A grasshopper hopped onto her overalls. She captured it and felt its feeble flutterings. Pinning the grasshopper to the ground, Poot took the hatchet and imagined a chicken. One chop, and the grasshopper was in two pieces, oozing green. Poot jumped up and ran home.
Days later, at supper, Pa surprised Poot by speaking. Pa never talked at supper. “Son,” he said, “my hatchet is missing. Do you have it?”
“No sir,” said Jeremiah. Poot’s stomach slid sideways. She froze, a biscuit halfway to her mouth.
Pa looked at Jeremiah for a few seconds. “All right, then,” he said. Poot finished her biscuit, a hundred grasshoppers in her stomach.
Days followed days, a chain of summer days in which sometimes Jeremiah would hold Poot up to touch the rafters, and sometimes he would show her how to throw a baseball, clean a fish, stack firewood.
Sometimes Jeremiah said “Not today, Poot.” On those days Poot would slip away from Mama’s chores and practice being a boy.
On a warm August evening, Jeremiah came in late to supper. His face was red. He did not sit down. Poot held the potatoes out to him, but Jeremiah shook his head.
“Pa,” he said, “I took Daisy’s pup out with me today.”
Pa put down his fork.
Jeremiah spoke softly, twisting his hat. “It was a real nice day, Pa, and I thought the pup’d like to play. We was down by the creek, and I set down fer a spell, and I musta fell asleep. Anyways, I heard a yelp, and the pup’s in the creek, and I jumped up to fetch it, and I tripped on a root…the current took it, Pa. I couldn’t get to it. It drownded.”
Poot waited for Pa to do something terrible. Her supper stuck in her throat. Pa finished his potatoes, then said, “Jeremiah, I promised that pup to Jim Hicks.”
“I reckon I’ll tell Mr. Hicks he can have his pick of Daisy’s next litter, fer free.” Still Jeremiah did not sit down. Poot wondered if she could have his drumstick.
“Son, that pup was worth five dollars.” Pa’s voice was very quiet.
Jeremiah nodded. “I’ll ask around, see if I can chop wood fer anyone. You’ll get yer five dollars, sir.” He turned a darker red. “Pa, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t of took what didn’t belong to me.”
Pa sipped his coffee. “All right then, son. Eat your supper.”
Jeremiah’s words settled on Poot’s shoulders. Without waiting to be excused, she ran from the house.
Half an hour later she returned, and bounded up the stairs.
Then she slipped into the parlor. Jeremiah was whittling, Pa smoking his pipe. Poot looked to be sure Jeremiah was watching, then offered two things to Pa: his rusting hatchet and thirty-seven cents.
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