Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Digging Down Low

cue annoying background music reminiscent of Chevelle’s “Letter From A Thief” but without the stolen musical instruments

cue scene: Old rickety house. Ol’ fogey Michelle is kneeling by her fence with a bucket of soap water and a scrub brush. Furiously, she washes at the grass, her silvery beard slapping at the wet blades covered in white paint. Up the pathway, four children walk on tippytoe behind her. They place fingers over lips in a conspiratorial manner as they stand behind her. They take deep breaths...

“Ya’ll whippersnappers know better than to be sneaking all hush quiet behind a little old lady as ya’ll try to scare the be-jesus out of her,” I gruff without turning around.

“Aww, Miss Michelle. How’d you know?” Dennis, Lucy, and Little Orphan Annie whine. Opie lifts up the edge of his shirt. From underneath where he had hidden his dog, the bull terrier drops to the ground and staggers about trying to draw in breath. It flops onto his side, throat gasping in deeply of the fresh air.

“Why, I could hear ya’ll doing a sneakity-sneak up the paving stones of my pathway. I’ve got ears like a fish.”

Lucy huffs while laying small fists on her hips. “But fish don’t have ears.”

I snort. “Of course they do. Why ya’ll think there’s a thing called, ‘Fish-eries?’ That’s where the fishes get their ears checked on and get new batteries for their hearing aids.”

Dennis giggles while Lucy rolls her eyes. Orphan Annie points at the wet grass. “Miss Michelle, why are you washing your lawn and why is there white paint over it?”

“That guddum blasted neighbor of mine gone and painted his fence with a power sprayer without taping newspaper up on my side! The paint shot through the cracks and messed up my lawn,” I shout. I stand up and wave the brush at the neighbor’s house. “I should take ya’ll to court, ya’ll blasted Dagwood!”

“I don’t get it.” Dennis scuffs his shoe against the grass. “Why not let it grow and mow off the painted parts later? That way you won’t have to do all this work.”

“It’s not that easy.” I sigh and kneel. My hands brush over the whitened tips. “When something bad happens, ya’ll just can’t go and ignore it, letting the problem nestle in close and changing ya’lls perspective like white paint on green grass. Ya’ll have to take the extra work of realizing the problem and seeing what ya’ll can do in finding a solution.”

Dennis, Lucy, Opie, and Annie find dry spots of the grass and take a seat, waiting. I chuckle, seeing they know the routine as I set my own kister on the lawn and begin my tale...
The class has written reports to do today. They are studying the solar system and the planets. They can use any books to help, as the teacher encourages everyone to have their parents help with the projects after school. She gives one girl a topic, the Earth’s rotation.

When the student gets home, she scrounges around every shelf for those books talking about the galaxy. From the backroom shelf of encyclopedias, she gathers four books and plops on her bedroom throw rug to start writing. Nothing stops her from the assignment, not even when Ginger hops on the outdoor sill and meows at the window wondering where her special afternoon rub is. Yet the only time the girl stops writing is at dinner, after her mother calls out her name for the third time. The girl doesn’t even see the food on the fork or taste what’s filling her stomach. She eats and rushes back into the bedroom.

Two hours after the start on the assignment, she lays the pencil on the floor with a huge smile over her lips. Done! Nothing left to add. She reads it, enjoying the paragraphs about how the world spins like a tilted top while rolling in a circle around the sun although the books use bigger words than this to describe what happens. She’s excited about school tomorrow and when the teacher will read the report. Will her teacher read it to the class? Will she show it off to the people in the office? Maybe this will so impress everyone that the principal will read it over the intercom to everyone.

The girl never felt this excited over a report before. Her cheeks hurt as she grins too much. She softly hums to herself while cleaning up the floor. With the books in her arms and the report on top, she hurries from the room. Her mother strolls from the bathroom.

The girl glances at her papers and then at her mother. She remembers that the teacher had said they should get their parents to help. Yet the girl always did the homework by herself. Would she get in trouble for not asking? Would the teacher be disappointed about the report?

She glances at the report a second time. She reads it carefully and the excitement fills her again. The girl will have her mother read it. Her mother will be impressed over what a great job she had done. And the teacher shouldn’t get mad about that. If her mother reads the report, it should count as help too.

The girl rushes forward and waves the paper. Her mother grimaces, “Why didn’t you give me the teacher’s note when you first came in the house?”

Teacher’s note? The girl shakes her head. “We had reports to do in class. The teacher said our parents have to help.”

Her mother lifts her eyes to look at the ceiling. “Write it out and I’ll look at it later.”

“I’m already done.” The girl assures her.

Her mother snorts and takes the paper. The girl scurries into the backroom to return the books to the shelves. Her finger skips along the brown spines of the encyclopedias, tracing over the gold filigree for the words, placing the books back until the numbers line up from one to twenty-nine.

Her mother enters the room, her head whisking about in search. She sees her daughter and hands back the paper. The girl waits for the words of praise.

With a bland expression on her face, the mother shrugs.

The girl waits some more. There has to be more. A shrug? She worked on it for hours. She studied. She reread over it to make sure there weren’t any spelling errors and all her nouns and verbs were in the right places. She made sure every sentence had a period at the end. Yet all her mother could do was give a shrug like it didn’t matter, like she was bored and had wasted her time on something unimportant.

But . . . it’s important to her daughter.

The girl can’t stop the dejected feeling. It bubbles from her stomach in upset bursts. The flash of heat streams along her throat, inside and outside, as it rolls up over her chin and settles across her nose and eyes. She sniffles from more than just allergies. She feels the tears streaking across her cheeks and dripping onto her shirt front.

The look on her mother’s face hovers between petulance and disgust. She huffs, “You don’t have to cry about it. The report is okay. Next time, just don’t copy it word for word from the encyclopedia.”

The girl hadn’t copied anything. Not one sentence. There was too much information for a one-page report. Yet she nods. Her body scurries down the hall toward her bedroom with the report, seeing the watermarks blurring a few lines. She takes out a clean sheet and rewrites it again. Then she stows the report in her school bag and rushes outside to do her chores. The happiness is gone. The excitement has left. All she has now is fear over handing it in tomorrow. The girl wonders what the teacher will think? Will she shrug too?

The worry lasts for the entire evening and during the restless night of sleep. In the morning, the feeling turns into a self-doubt. Nobody notices her subdued demeanor. Even the teacher misses the expression when the girl hands in the report. Before the end of the day, the teacher passes the reports back to the class. On the top of the girl’s paper are smiley faces and stars and the words “Great Job,” with a large exclamation point. The teacher tells everyone that they all did well on the reports and to make sure their parents see the papers.

Yeah. Whatever.

After school, the girl takes her paper and shoves it into the closet with all her other school papers her parents say little about. She can hear them talking in the other room at the sound of her mother’s voice. “Do you believe she cried over a stupid report? Tears and all. She’s just so emotional. The minute a person says something, she starts bawling. You can’t even talk to her.”

“So how was the report?” Her father asks.

“She just copied everything out of the encyclopedia. I know it.” Gulping noises sound then a burp bursts out her mother’s mouth. Her tone lowers. “It’s no wonder she’s doing so bad in her classes and the teacher is sending home notes.”

“But that’s not true,” the girl murmurs to herself and wipes at her runny nose. Her feet move from the bedroom and into the kitchen. Her parents go silent while sitting at the table, her father staring while her mother sits facing away. The girl gets a glass and places it on the chest freezer behind her mother. She’s upset about the lies, yet she knows better than to say anything about it. The words never come out in an argument. Her parents do not allow arguments in the house. Arguments were like talking back to them, and the girl knew what would happen if she did such a thing. The memory of her mother’s hand and the whipping belt always reminds her of the consequences of speaking her mind.

From the fridge, she takes out the milk and the chocolate syrup. She pours some into the glass, spilling a bit on the top of the freezer, realizing she forgot to get a spoon to stir everything together. She places the containers back on the shelf and hurries toward the dish rack. As she passes by her father’s chair, he spoke without looking at her.

“You spilled some milk. Are you gonna cry about that now?”

Her back stiffens. A flush rolls through her body. She picks up a spoon and turns around. Neither of them looks at her but both have puckered lips, as if holding back amusement.

The girl rushes to her glass while biting her lower lip. The quick gasps from her chest makes her body hop in place. She does a quick stir as her father throws out more words.

“Oh boy. Here it comes.”

She hurries to the sink, blinking her eyes rapidly. By the time she returns to her glass and lifts it up to take into her room, the tears brim along her eyelids. Yet she can’t escape from the kitchen yet.

Her father grumps out a command. “Clean up the mess!”

She sets the glass down and hurries toward the stove. On the oven handle hangs several dish towels. The girl slips one out and wipes up the milk. Then she returns it while her hands alternate in wiping at her eyes and nose. She tries to keep her back facing them, which is the only time they say something. They won’t say it to anyone’s face. They never do. Yet she can’t show them tears.

Her mother clicks her tongue in disgust. “Dirtying up a clean towel.”

She tells her feet to keep going as she enters her room. She turns on the radio, hear her parents yell about it being too loud, and clicks the button once to not soften it by very much. From underneath her pillow she digs out a tissue and wipes at her wet face. The gasping, hiccuping, and tears have stopped. She takes a sip of chocolate milk while listening to the scrapes of wooden chair legs come from the kitchen as her parents head into the backroom to do more of their scathing remarks.

The girl doesn’t care anymore. She realizes the teasing is just fun for them, in the manner of bullies wanting to feel superior over someone because the bully might not be as good as the other person is in certain things: like sports, or playing music, or even school work for a book report.

The girl can’t let her parents’ harsh remarks stop her from doing what she is good at. She wouldn’t let them steal her pride away.

The four kids nod and lift to feet. They take turns with the scrub brush, cleaning away the remaining paint from the blades as I lean back, letting the sun warm my silvery beard. Once they finish, I lift from feet and pick up the bucket. I toss the water over the fence, hearing a soggy shout from the other side. Dagwood’s face appears dripping in dirty water just as I toss the bucket over, beaning him in the forehead.

I take no notice as I gather the kids in close for a big hug. “Now ya’ll know a little bit of understanding goes a long way when facing a problem. And once ya’ll know the reasons why, ya’ll know what proper actions to take. Yah, sometimes ignoring the problem has the desired results. But never be afraid to put in as much work needed to make ya’ll self feel comfortable with the result.

There's an annoying little Google pop-up ad that might appear at the bottom of the screen. Click the little "x"  at the right hand side of the ad to close so you can watch the video undisturbed.


  1. Great story, MDGF (Finely written, I mean to say, since the story itself is heart-wrenching.)

  2. Hi Michelle! You won the #5 edition of Mondflights from Angie's interview at my blog! Congrats :)

    I'm following your blog, now too. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  3. I always love it when Miz Michelle turns up in her garden!

  4. I love your Miz Michelle stories!! They have become one of the highlights of blogging for me...Today's sandwiched such a tragic story...I felt like crying reading this...people can be so insensitive...I'm glad "she" didn't stop writing!! "She" was born for it! ~Janine XO

  5. That was beautifully written, Michelle. Thanks!


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