Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Up and Down (04/02/09)
TITLE: Emperor of the Afternoon
By Loren T. Lowery
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Opening her eyes, she catches the shimmering flight of a humming bird on its way to morning glories that entwine a cypress stump long fallen by the back fence. Further up, in the sky, a hawk chases a sparrow.
Drawing a breath, she turns slightly that her voice might be heard, but not enough that her sight of the view beyond the porch be lost. “Must you?”
“Smack your food.”
The sound of a chair scrapping the pine floor beneath the kitchen table fuses with a heavy sigh. “Jiminy.”
Ambiguity shadows her lips. “When you’re done, come out to the yard.” She pushes open the screened door. It gives a familiar squeak not unlike the herald of a welcomed visitor at an opened gate. Crossing to the porch railing, she watches as chickens hunt and peck in the dry, red dirt of the yard.
As natural as a leaf falling in an autumn frost, she descends the steps, her hands reaching into her apron to feel the granular shape of the seeds kept there to feed the chickens. In swift, flawless motions, her hands bobs to and fro, casting food to the clucking and strutting fowl.
Footsteps, bare, young and eager, clamor behind her followed by the crack of the screen door slamming shut. Swift as wind before a summer rain, a boy tracks to a tire hanging idly from a formidable oak that anchors the west corner of the yard. He dives into the tire’s center, like an arrow finding its mark in the middle of a bull’s eye. Suspended in the air by the tire, feet dangling on one side, head and hands on the other, he says, “Dad smacks his food.”
Corry shades her eyes from the rising sun. “You are not your father.” She brushes final bits of seed from her hands. “And when he does, he apologizes.”
Tad, the young boy, propels himself to swing back and forth, the branch tethered by the hemp rope to the tire grunts from the weight like a robust grandparent snuggling a grandchild into their arms with a soft groan. “We gonna pick peas with Grandma again?” He begins to spin in circles.
“I like pickin’ peas. I especially like the sound they make when they hit the bottom of my pail. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.” He says this with a thick tongue for emphasis. “Sometimes, when Grandma’s not looking, I empty my pail into hers. She thinks she’s pickin’ twice as fast as me. But that’s okay ‘cause I like the sound.”
The shrill cry of a sparrow momentarily distracts them. “Grandma fell last night," Corry says. "Dad’s over there now.”
A breeze stirs the blades of a windmill that pumps water onto their land. Its silver blades rise and fall to churn the air in soft whomp, whomp, whomps. “I could help her up,” Tad says over the sound. “I help her all the time if she falls in the garden. She says I’m strong – calls me her emperor of the afternoon.”
Corry walks over to him, stops his spinning. He sits up, holding onto the tire and she gently pushes him into a pendulum like swing. Up and back. Up and back. “Tad, Grandma won’t be getting back up this time.” She allows the tire to stop on its own accord and kneels to look into his eyes. “Her heart stopped. She’s gone to heaven, to be with Jesus.”
Tad meets his mother’s gaze and then stares down at his bare feet.
"I’m sorry. I know you loved her; we all did.” She watches him. The humming bird flits by them, full from its feeding of the morning glories. “It’s okay to cry, Tad. Your father’s crying right now, too.”
Tears glistens Tad’s eyes and his lips tremble. “I don’t want her gone.”
She embraces him. “I know.” She kisses his check, tenderly and swings him again. Up and back. Up and back.
The sparrow catches her eye and she watches as it darts into the safety of the morning glories branching up and over the fallen cypress tree. “You’ll always be her emperor of the afternoon, Tad. Always.” And she continues to swings her son. Up and back. Up and back.
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