Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Bloom( 11/22/12)
By Addie Pleasance
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On Easter Sunday of 1962, I tugged at the itchy collar of my hideous dress while Grandpa pontificated. Daddy had held out the dress for me that morning, an apology in his eyes; he knew I’d rather wear anything but a dress, and this one was particularly odious. He’d done his best picking it out—my mama died when I was born, and I lived in overalls, mostly—but the dress had puffed sleeves big enough to hide entire hams, and it was covered in pink cabbage roses.
When Grandpa’s prayer rounded into second base, I sighed and peeked across the table where my prissy cousins, Ella and Della, were sitting. I wanted to gauge the distance from them to Grandma’s buttery rolls and to calculate the speed needed to beat them to the basket. Ella was peeking, too; she pointed to my huge sleeves and stuck her tongue out at me, then folded her hands piously in her lap. She and Della were wearing frocks with pretty sprigs of lavender and yellow. I yanked my collar again and scowled at my cousin.
Grandpa droned on, alarming me with “Thou hast said, O Lord, that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.” My understanding of Easter was that of an eight-year-old; there was church, a big dinner, sickly-sweet smelling lilies. Bunnies were mysteriously involved. I was surprised at Grandpa’s juxtaposition of forgiveness and blood. I had a few secrets from my Daddy (I’d been experimenting with various forms of cussing at recess), and I didn’t like to think that my blood would be required to gain his forgiveness.
I thought about blood all through that meal. “You okay, Cooter?” asked Daddy, and I nodded, wondering how much blood would be required to forgive a mild cuss. When the eating was finished and the family separated by sex, I followed Daddy, unwilling to spend the afternoon in the company of Ella and Della.
Uncle Donald had set up some sawhorses and tin cans in Grandpa’s back yard. My boy cousins were to have target practice while the girls did something feminine in the house (I had no idea what, as their ways were mysterious to me. Something that involved lace and perfume and tea, I supposed). Uncle Donald smiled when he saw me. “Get outta that silly dress, Cooter,” he said. “Junior, fetch your cousin some shootin’ clothes.”
Once suitably attired, I watched Junior and his brother, Buddy, pick off the cans with their pellet guns, my fingers itching for a turn. After a bit, Uncle Donald summoned me over and gave me Buddy’s gun. “Aim for that big tomato juice can, Cooter,” he said.
The can was on the closest sawhorse and I was momentarily insulted, but I shed my pique when I realized how hard it would be to hit it, even that close. I was unwilling to look like a silly girl while Junior and Buddy were watching, and I wanted desperately not to miss. I raised the gun.
Even now, when I remember that moment, I am amazed at the spectacular timing of the next few events. A large white bird—I’ve never figured out what kind of bird it was, perhaps an albino crow—flapped down from the sky and landed on the sawhorse…I pulled the trigger…my Daddy called out, “Cooter!”…and there appeared on the bird’s breast an extravagant red bloom as it fluttered its wings once, twice, then toppled to the grass.
I threw Buddy’s gun to the ground and ran to the white bird, crying, horrified at the terrible crimson flower on its breast. My grandfather’s words about the shedding of blood rang in my ears. “I’m sorry, Daddy!” I shouted. “I’m sorry!”
Daddy ran to me and took me in his arms. Uncle Donald and Junior and Buddy came, too, and stared at the dead bird. Someone whistled, a low hoo-boy.
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