Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Summer (the season) (07/09/09)
TITLE: Something Like Light
By Jan Ackerson
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Lemme back up a minute, though. What Momma had couldn’t rightly be called a restaurant. She had a little cabin, with some rickety picnic tables where she’d serve the men from the sawmill lunch—thick meat sandwiches and quarters of fresh pie. On the day that Jasper Lee first come in, I was carryin’ some pieces a’ pie when I stopped and jes’ plain stared at him, that’s how pretty he was.
Mister Joe Tanner turned around to see what was makin’ me so google-eyed and he grinned, but it was a friendly grin. “Best step on inside here and meet Miss Ruby’s daughter, Jasper Lee. Seems like she already got stars in her eyes.” Jasper Lee set down, still covered in sunshine, and give me a real nice smile, even though he was three years older’n’ me, almost a man.
“What’s your name?” he asked me, and when I told him Pearl, he said we both had names from the Bible. Jasper Lee sure did love his Bible, an’ all that summer when he was apprenticin’ to be a millworker, he’d take his lunch by me, an’ tell me scripture stories while I studied his freckled hands.
Two whole summers I set there loving Jasper Lee while Momma hollered at me to fetch sandwiches from the kitchen. Come fall, he’d head back to his folks across the gap to finish his schooling, so’s he could become a mill hand when he graduated.
But that third summer, I didn’t hardly see Jasper Lee. The men at Momma’s said he was mostly goin’ off on his own fer lunch these days. I figured he’d found somebody else to read scripture to. Imagine my surprise when he showed up one late August day and brung me outta Momma’s place to a little hidey-hole in the woods. He’d built the sweetest little cabin there, with all the sawmill men helpin’ him some, and he meant for him ‘n’ me to live there, soon as the circuit preacher come around to marry us.
An’ the next July, we had us a bitty baby boy who we named Malachite Jerusalem, more words from the Bible. But that was a lot of name for such a tiny thing, so we jes’ called him MJ.
Jasper Lee loved scriptures as much as he loved me and MJ. He had a little New Testament in his pocket on the day of the mill accident—the day Jesus decided he needed Jasper Lee more than we did. My heart frosted over that autumn, and when the creek behind our little cabin crackled with ice a few months later, my frozen spirit crackled, too. Ain’t no way a girl only seventeen oughta be a widow, an’ with such a little baby.
I spent that next year teachin’ MJ ‘bout his daddy, and cryin’ because I didn’t even have no picture of him, to seal him in my heart. But as MJ grew into his face, I realized I didn’t need no picture, because Jasper Lee’s son was gonna look jes’ like him some day.
I never told MJ no Bible stories, though. An’ one fine summer morning jes’ before MJ’s first birthday, I stole outta the cabin while he was still sleepin’ and went down to the creek to tell God I didn’t believe in Him no more.
I felt fierce an’ empty when I went back inside, like I done a fine and brave thing. An’ then I seen that MJ was gone from his little bed, and all that fierce emptiness filled up with a horrible, salty fear.
I ran outside, callin’ MJ! Malachite Jerusalem! but I needn’t have hollered because he was right there ‘round the side of the cabin, sittin’ in the grass and reachin’ for a sunbeam. His yellow curls fairly shone in the light, and a fat bumblebee danced in the ray of sunshine. MJ didn’t know enough to be skeered a’ that bee, an’ he jes’ laughed and laughed.
Oh, Lord! I thought. Would you lookit that? Jasper Lee woulda loved this little boy!
An’ when I realized who I’d just talked to, and how I now felt full of something like light—why, I just laughed and laughed myself.
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