It was a fine day for whittling. Joey had snuck down to the creek, rushing through his chores so fast his Momma would not notice him gone for some time. Taking solace in his hiding place, he dug out his half-carved wooden piece, hidden in his Uncle’s old cigar box, inside an old ammo tin. He had seen a pirate movie last weekend; he was fixated on the memory of the mermaid maiden mast on one of the pirate ships.
That was his current work in progress. For a kid he was meticulous. Working the wood slow, as his Grandpa’ had taught him, his knife razor sharp. He liked being in the woods when alone with his thoughts, and nature.
She could not take her Daddy’s drinkin’, she had to sneak out. Grabbing her late Auntie’s book of Southern poems, she headed to one of her hiding spots, down in the woods, by the creek. There, she listened to the wind, the birds, and herself, while alone. She just wanted to experience an organic moment before reading. She was in deep sponge mode, “taking it all in, slow-like” as she was often teased about saying too much.
The rhythms of the beat of her human to nature moment had her on a particularly pleasing ride this picture perfect day. She squatted to take care of business, still taking it all in….
Charlie Dumas, by default, led his gangly bunch of wayward kids from the local Jr. High down to the Hideaway, as it was secretly referred , which in essence, was the creek. Today’s misadventure involved them trying to stone baby birds on the ground. These kids were merciless.
Joey put down his carving and knife to go investigate all the commotion. He was appalled at what he saw.
He tore out like a drunken hurricane after Charlie. Hitting him head-first, in the gut. He felt Charlie’s “ommmpppfff” of air quickly escape. Charlie went ass over head. The other kids laughed. Joey’s ram posed chest heaved. He had knocked down the second biggest bully of O ’Henry Jr. High. He imagined himself being simultaneously a hero and soon to be victim. His joy soon evaporated into a mess of bitter sweetness.
Winnie, jerking her panties up peeked through the cedar branches to see what was going on. Soon she was running’ hard, yelling at the kids who were still trying to hit Joey and the baby birds with rocks and a sling-shot. Charlie and his main yes-man, Tully Sike were roughing Joey up.
She went after Tully, he was smaller. For a girl of 9, she was tough, country tough. Tully went face first into a cedar tree, after meeting Winnie’s hard slap. Before long the two small kids were pinned down. Fighting like electric shocked tigers, it took two kids each for them to be held.
Charlie looked down, spitting in both of their faces, as he brushed off dirt and pebbles. “Couple of tough asses huh? Not so tough when held down are ya?” He looks at Joey, “Who’s this, your nigga’ girlfriend?”
Joey replies, “No, but what if’n it was? What ‘cha gonna do about it?” Charlie leans closer down, coughs up a loogie, and spits it towards Joey’s face. Joey braces, turning his head, most of it landing on his neck and ear. Winnie wriggles and seethes. “Let him up boys”, Charlie shouts with authority, they hold Joey from both arms, as he still struggles; Charlie hits Joey’s gut, then his privates.
Joey toughs it out, whispering, “That all u got?” Charlie slaps him hard across the face, scratching his cheek with his broken and dirty thumb-nail. Joey begins to bleed.
“Hold him down again”, Charlie blurts… they force Joey down, face up. Charlie pulls out his penis and begins to urinate all up and down Joey. Joey, holding his breath, soon he is soaked, head to toe. Charlie stops mid-pee, looks at Winnie also on the ground, face up.
“Hey white trash lover, see if you like this” he begins to pee all over her too. She closes her face, tight.
Seeing what he did to Winnie, Joey tears loose and grabs Charlie’s wet peter, pulling him down and spitting in his face, yelling, “You leave her be, she’s a good girl”. Charlie kicks Joey in the chest, as the other hooligans gather Joey up and drag him back, flopping him next to Winnie. Charlie tucks his sore penis back into his white-trash jeans; he then slaps the two kids real hard. He signals for the boys to release them both.
Too humiliated to respond they both just lie there, panting. The bullies chuckle as they walk off deeper into the woods. Winnie crawls over to Joey. Joey is weeping more from being ashamed.
Winnie helps Joey up. They make it to the creek, Winnie takes her clothes off, telling Joey, “We gots to get clean in the creek” Joey nods, he too disrobes. They roll in the water, quiet, wounded, in disbelief. A few minutes earlier they were in their own private worlds enjoying life. Now this.
Winnie had never tended to a white boy before, much less a beaten up one. She quietly stared at his black, blue, and scratched up face. Gingerly, she pats at his swelling forehead. He shivers, she scooches in, closer. He looks up at her with those baby-blue innocent eyes. She feels sad, more so for him, than herself. She wishes she could halt time and make the world turn backwards. If only she had a magical pocket-watch. She would carefully open it up; turn back the dial to the approximate time all hell broke loose. The creek would pause; birds would stop in mid-flight, changing to directions previous. Cars would all drive in reverse. Those who had recently passed would come back to relive their deaths again.
The birthed ones would re-womb, to be born again. Those boys, those racist, bullying, mean-assed boys would be back. This time Charlie and Tully would not get a chance to cast stones at the baby birds. A hiccup in time would cause a passing car to backfire. The birds would scatter. There would not be any confrontations. Joey would go on whittling. Winnie would go on reading her poems, staring at clouds, slowly twisting her curls, trying to forget her Daddy’s mean voice.
There is no magic watch. There is only Winnie and this shivering ‘lil child on the shore. Their clothes drying in cedar trees and bushes. Winnie cradles Joey. No words spoken. He clings to her, she sighs.
Two naked kids stuck together, there in the stillness, by the creek. She looks past his caucasianess. A certain part of her hating the fact she still has an us and them mentality. She closes her eyes, seeing only blind darkness as she feels the twilight sun warm against her skin. The subtle chirps of the birds that started all this begin to permeate her ears. She cusses, “dang ‘ol birds, yalls started all this mess.” After speaking it to herself, she feels bad.
Soon, the hatred fades. She rocks with ‘lil Joey as she has so many times with her siblings, when their Daddy was on another binge. Their Momma finally gave up, leaving them all in the darkness of night, so far, never giving word of her whereabouts. Winnie, being the eldest quickly became the Momma figure. Too much for a child, yet, she endures.
Winnie realizes she knows this boy. He is that “brite-eyed suga’-n- spice” boy, as she calls him to her school bus friends. He always compliments her when he gets on the bus every morning. Winnie was not much for compliments, she takes them with a grain of salt.
Joey had recently given her a valentine’s card, he had drawn. She never opened it. Later, she tossed it, when she got to school. Soft edged guilt creeps in, as she watches him rest.
She wishes she had stashed the card in her King Edward cigar box under her chest-of-drawers. Ashamed with herself, she looks away, to the waters flowing by. Turning her head back, it rests atop his earthy creek water smelling head. She feels his warm tummy ‘gainst hers, his shallow, fast breaths. Squeezing him closer, she whispers… “dang ‘ol crazy ass white boy, why you got to go and stick up for those birds, and me?”
Joey seems to be sleeping. The sound of the birds chirping, the water slapping against the creek shore, drift in. Winnie looks out to the water… closing her eyes. She is back on her great-Maw-Maw’s front porch in South Carolina. She begins humming an old song her Maw-Maw sang to her many times. She begins to sing… “Wade in the water. Wade in the water, children .Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water”. She lulls herself off to sleep.
She was plum deep inside the core of a beautiful dream… she giggled in the dream, Winnie rarely giggled anymore.
“Winnie, Winnie, wake up, we’s butt nekkid”, shouts a frantic Joey. She rubs her eyes awake.
For some-odd reason, she blushes upon seeing their innocent nudity. She scrambles for the bushes, gathering their still damp clothing. They dress in silence, only the rustling of trees and birds are heard.
Joey puts his head down and laughs, “I smell like the creek, and cedar”. Winnie does the same, and smiles, then replies, “I kinda’like the smell.” Joey sniffs again, “Yeah, me too.”
“We best be getting’ along now”, Winnie says, with an adult-like tone. Joey nods. They take off in opposite directions. As they both are about to leave visual contact of one another, they both turn, and wave.
The next morning it was business as usual. Winnie shooing her siblings off to school, Joey doing his dawn chores. Each taking long almost child-like Zen walks, in solitude, to their respective bus stops.
Winnie studies the faces in the cars, trucks, and tractors passing by. Joey likes counting cars. He is up to 29 when the bus pulls up to a dusty stop. The bus seems quieter to him. He scans the kids’ faces. She is looking down when he passes by, as if in slow-motion she raises her head up, they instantly smile. She points to the empty seat across from her. He sits.
Soon, trouble gets on. It’s Charlie, Tully and one of the creek-gang boys. They do their usual Billy-bad-ass routine with the regulars. Charlie stops at Winnie’s seat; she looks up, smiles and says… “Ya private parts still sore Charlie, huhhh ? ”
Charlie is startled; he blushes and tells the boys to come along. Joey’s eyes swole up like silver dollars at Winnie’s comment, his mouth agape. Winnie shoots across the bus aisle to the empty seat, next to Joey. “Boy, put that mouth shut, ya’s gonna’ draw honey bees”, she says.
Winnie places her light jacket across their laps. She looks around, as if a criminal, she wiggles her hand under the jacket, finding Joey’s. She squeezes hard as she looks out the school bus window at the passing country fields. She smiles, and a long too hidden single tear of joy swells up. She breathes deep. Joey squeezes back, also smiling.
The bus bounces along. They hit a bump. A kid plops on the floor, they cannot help but giggle.