by Allison Williams
Daddy was real particular about having the yard raked. He came home at the end of the day, yard had to be raked, no footprints, no holes, no castles, no puddles, just raked.
So me and Jonathan are playing Barbies, over by the spigot where there’s a mud patch and Barbie can escape from the pit of quicksand, and Mamma hollers out, “it’s four-thirty!” which means rake the yard and put away the Barbies and come get cleaned up so Daddy comes home to shining faces ‘stead of mud-babies. I’m four, Jonathan’s seven, and I start picking up and he starts raking and he hits a rock and tosses it over to the side where I’m bending over to get a pink plastic high heel and he pegs me right in the head. I start crying, lump starts swelling, Jonathan’s trying to shush me and pick up the Barbies and keep an eye out for the Nova with the one yellow fender and he gets this idea that he’s going to bite off the lump on my forehead.
“Hold still, Lakin,” but his teeth hurt worse than the lump and we’re getting all muddy ‘cause I’m squirming to get away. We roll over, wiping out a section we’ve already raked, Jonathan’s mad ‘cause now he’ll have to do that over so he puts his hand over my mouth so Mamma won’t hear me screaming and takes a big bite, Barbies are everywhere, legs and arms and great big breasts and Ken with his molded underwear, and from down the street we hear the Nova rounding the corner, the muffler bouncing off the rut at the end of the block, and we both freeze.
There’s Barbies — Jonathan’s not allowed to play with Barbies. There’s the lump — it’s the size of a twenty-five-cent gumball, with red, angry teeth marks all around it, and I’m crying. The only thing shining on our faces is snot. And there’s the yard — still got a big hole on one side, a mud puddle on the other. We might as well put up a sign, Trailer Trash Lives Here, because the yard’s not even half raked.
Daddy pulls into the driveway, gets out of the Nova, sees the yard. Sees us crying — now Jonathan’s started ‘cause he’s scared what Daddy’s gonna do, and I’ve stopped, ‘cause I’m scared what Daddy’s gonna do. Sees the Barbies and the mud puddle and the yard all messy, all trailer trash, all plain-dirt-yard ‘stead of we-care-about-our-house, poor-doesn’t-make-us-mud-babies, nice-raked-yard. Daddy takes two steps towards us, and stops dead.
“Get in the car.” Real soft.
We’re frozen. He’s going to put us in the car and drop us off in another city, not even a cookie in my pocket to lay a trail and find our way home again.
“Get into the car right now both of you.” His eyes are like dimes, small and shiny and hard. He’s not even looking at us but I know if he turns those eyes on us we will both die on the spot, bury us under the spigot, stick a Barbie by my head and Daddy and Mamma can finally have some grown-up time.
We climb in, and as we get behind him he backs up and without even looking shuts the door softly which is worse than if he slammed it. We do not fight over who has what side of the car.
Shiny dime-eyes on the yard, the unraked yard, with holes and mud puddles and Barbies where Jonathan’s gonna-be-a-faggot-hand has dropped them, Daddy walks sideways to the side of the trailer, gets the shovel, the big square-blade shovel that we are not allowed to play with. We have been so bad that he is going to bury us alive. Still looking at the yard, he walks back to the pile of Barbies, half in the yard, half in the brush at the edge of the yard where our dirt lot meets the field it’s next to, raises the shovel high above his head — he’s going to kill Barbie first, then us, and bury us all in the same hole — and slams the wicked, shining edge into the ground. And then he breathes out and bends over and picks up the headless body of a five foot copperhead, curled up by the stump behind us while we were wrestling over the lump on my head.
Daddy drops the body on the front step where it collapses into a limp brown pile, picks up the snake head with the shovel and dumps it in the trash. Comes over to the Nova, opens the door, scoops us both up — we’re muddy Daddy, we’re muddy and dirty and snotty and Lakin has a big lump on her head — and hugs us both until we wiggle to get down.
A native Floridian, Allison Williams is an emerging writer with essays published in The New York Times and Travelers’ Tales: Prague, in addition to short stories in Crossed Genres and Pivo. She is also a two-time winner of The Moth StorySLAM. This piece is based on her experiences in Appalachian Kentucky and was previously chosen as an audio piece for The Drum literary magazine.