Friday, March 19, 2010

Short Story - Edith by Carol Totten

Too big and too shy to be pretty. In the third grade she was already six inches taller than the other girls. Something was wrong with her. Why did God let her grow big? Why couldn't she be small and petite like Annie? Annie, with the red, brown shiny curls and blue eyes. Annie with the bouncy dresses and attentive friends, whose mother dropped her off with real meat sandwiches in her tiny white lunch sack.

“Annie, Annie”. Edith would repeat her name. It seemed to float - light and airy. It wrote so pretty on her paper. And her name was Edith Lu. It sounded awkward as she heard it roll off the tongue of her classmates. It was heavy to say, heavy to write. Uncle Harold called her “Yankee Lanky Lu”. Grandma Lucy said it angry. Her beautiful raven haired ma'am (also called Pearly) said it resignedly. Her adored brother, Robert, only screamed it, "get out of my way." Her fathers, there were eight, never spoke it.

Most little girls are tucked into bed with a book, or a song, or a prayer, and a hug. Edith was glad for the swallow of beer her ma'am gave her and Robert right before she hurried out the door to run the tavern next door. She didn’t mind the hurriedly made onion sandwiches, but was embarrassed by the large brown grocery bag she had to carry it in…too big for the sandwich, like Edith.

Next to her curvy, full-lipped stylish ma'am Edith was an ugly duckling. She loved to slip into Pearly’s closet and wrap herself up in a pink lace layered party dress. Her Pearly ma’am was so beautiful in it. She knew others thought so, too, because there were always men coming and giving Pearly gifts. And her ma’am had the most up to date fashions. It never occurred to Edith to notice the scuffed shoes and outgrown dress she wore to school. After all, new clothes were for pretty girls.

Edith did not see the terrible World War II storm beginning to stretch over her sky. She could only feel the lightning word attacks and hear its thunderous message in her own darkened home.

Grandma Lucy should not have been in charge of the children when Pearly was gone, but who else was there? Grandma Lucy lived life with bigness...big head, big shoulders, big hands, big feet, big voice, and big anger. And she did not like to see the big little girl slinking around the house. She did not like clumsiness. She did not like coddling of big girls.

Edith's great grandmother was affectionately called "Grammy". She came to visit when Edith was eight. Grandma Lucy had made breakfast for her mother and granddaughter...a rare treat. Grammy reached over and began to butter and cut Edith's pancake for her. Of course, she was too big for this, but oh how hungry she was for this touch. "Grammy must think I am special," Edith thought. She observed that Grammy’s pancakes were sitting cold on her plate while she fussed over her's. Her fragile, cobbled heart began to smooth over with kind attention.

Grandma Lucy, horrified, questioned her petite mother, "What do you think you are doing?"

"Oh, nothing of any consequence," Grammy replied, "just giving a little lovin'." She chuckled and patted Edith's hand.

Like a hawk sailing out of the clouds with claw feet extended to grab its prey Grandma Lucy landed on Grammy with screeches and howls of protest. Grammy gave a calm defense. The Lucy hawk lashed back with her taloned hand striking Grammy on her soft, thin cheek.

Edith was stunned, than terrified. "What had she done! Oh, what had she done!" Edith jumped up from the breakfast table, raced out the back door, over the summer lawn to the farthest bush by the fence. She crawled under its branches and folded her knees up tight to her chest and wept and rocked, wept and rocked.

The screaming stopped but it continued to echo in her head. Whisperings of badness began to fill the spaces. "You are a bad little girl. If it weren't for you this never would have happened." How could she face her beloved Grammy now? She must hide from her love embrace, it could be dangerous. So Edith became estranged from Grammy. She could not face what she had done to her.

Another chance at happiness came that winter in a little golden ball of fur. He purred and mewed. "Meow, meow, meow. Here I am, love me," he seemed to say. Without hesitation she swooped him up in her long coat covered arms and buried her nose in his baby fine fur.. striped yellow, brown and white. The prettiest thing she ever saw and he didn't mind being with her.

Without telling Pearly and escaping the notice of Grandma Lucy, she raced to the kitchen for a bowl of cream. Together she and Golden sat on the back porch steps, he slurping and she breathing deep of the happy feeling of belonging to each other. When the cream was gone -wonder of wonders- Golden did not run away. No, indeed, he moved in quickly to Edith's leg and rubbed his head against her and purred warm and long. She gently gathered him in her arms. "I will love you forever. You are mine. I will take care of you."

She could not hear the distant thunder or see the lightning. But it was coming.

The cold wind confirmed that Golden could not stay outside. Finding a bucket in the shed, she sheltered Golden in her coat and slipped through the kitchen and up the stairs to her bedroom, quickly but quietly shutting the door. She took her dolly blankets and lined the dirty bucket. She cushioned and fluffed the bottom by adding some holie socks and her mittens. She could not hide the kitten long from her Pearly ma'am.

It was Sunday when Golden was discovered.

Golden was discovered at the same time an artic cold front moved in, bringing sharp, stinging blizzard-blown ice and snow. The Kansas blizzards are brutal. There were not the usual hills and pine trees fitted closely together to slow the attack. It hit the rural town and Edith lived on the edge.

"Take him out to the shed." Pearly demanded.

The tears started before she spoke. "Please Ma'am! Let me keep him in my room. He'll get sick outside. It's too cold! He won't bother a thing. I promise! I'll take care of him." Her pleas boiled out and burst on deaf ears.


"Ma‘am! Ma‘am! Please, Ma‘am!"

Grandma Lucy stepped in. "Get ready for church, child!' Sunday was church day. All humans would vacate the premises and make their formal, lifeless showing to the unknown God, for proprieties sake. "A home is no place for animals", she spat, voicing the opinion of her father and his father, and many generations back. "Now take that thing to the shed like your mother said."

Standing small with the two giants of terror towering over her, Edith demonstrated an unusual amount of courage for her shy nature. Looking at them with rebel eyes, she cried, "I won't go to church!"

Edith first saw Pearly's face change, but she did not see the lightning hand that flew through the air landing accurately on her cheek, knocking her breathe and her feet out from under her.

"There, that serves her right!" thundered Grandma. "Hit her again!"

Gone! It was gone! Her courage evaporated lying in the shadow of hellions, drowning in a stormy sea of pain. Self preservation overtook her need to protect her new-found friend, and she hated herself for it. Hated, hated, hated herself. Covering her head she gasped, "Don't hit me ma'am. Don't hit me. Trembling she cried, "I'll do it! I'll do it."

"Don't sass me again. Get up, get dressed, take that thing to the shed." Pearly nudged the back of the child with her hard pointed black shoe.

"Yes, ma'am."

Her stringy, shoulder length hair fell over the fire swollen streaks of her left cheek as she rose to her feet. "Hurry up", the two captors spouted as they turned in unison and left. At that moment Golden hopped off the tousled bed, padded softly to the shivering legs and purred and rubbed, in and out, gentle warmth against empty coldness. She picked him up. Shut the bedroom door. Ran to the bed. Carefully holding Golden next to her heart, she lay with her pillow across her right cheek and sobbed as quietly as possible. Her chest was bursting with sorrow, her stomach so knotted it hurt, her throat constricted so she could not swallow. Every opening drained sadness...eyes, nose, and mouth...wetting the pillow.

Fear told her she did not have much time to mourn. The inner clock said "hurry". Smelling him, kissing him, she kept his contented purring close to her face as she found the bucket. Placing him in, he rose up on his hind feet, front paws shadow boxing the air. The mewing began.

Edith obediently put on her coat, swiftly stuffing her best sweater under it. Trudging out the door, carrying her bucketed treasure to the shed; the wind howled, the cat mewed, and the child wept. Placing the bucket on the dirt floor, she searched for any rags, or straw, or dead leaves to add insulation. She placed her sweater on top of the crying Golden while he kept surfacing to see his beloved again.

It was time now to leave. Is heaven watching? Oh, guardian angels do you see? Where is the great cloud of witnesses to intercede for the child?

"I don't wanna leave you. I wanna take care of you. Please stay in the bucket, Golden. I'll be back as soon as I can." She petted his head and pushed him down. "I love you. I love you, " she sobbed.

Ediiiiiiith ! screeched the wind. She panted, rose quickly, and fled the shed. Grandma Lucy made Edith wear a hat with flaps and since it was so precariously cold, no one would wonder. She cried all the way to church and was threatened before leaving the back seat of the smoke-filled dilapidated Ford.

She would stop crying, but she could not smile, and hid her face while Grandma Lucy gossiped and Pearly breezed from woman to woman socializing and making merry until the traditional service started. Edith was not sure about God, but as a child she had no where else to turn. With bursts of whistles and shrieks the shrill wind pushed through the cracks of the hollow church while Edith prayed...begging God to spare her kitty, to save Golden.

The service could not end soon enough. Edith remained deathly quiet, but inside she was burning with desire to get home, to run to the shed, to gather her living bundle into her arms and warm him next to her body.

"I'm back! I'm back!" she yelled as she careened into the decaying wooden structure. The bucket was empty. "Oh no." Anxious eyes darted from corner to corner. "Oh there you are!" Just enough light to see his yellow white fur in a tight little ball. "Golden! Golden!" But he did not move or meow. Edith stood still, staring. The terrible thought tumbled around her head. "God did not hear her. No, worse. God did not care." The furious scream blended with the wicked wind, then the eerie wailing. She had pleaded and beseeched the Almighty for life and He had given her death.

"What is taking Edith so long?" Grandma Lucy had put the coffee pot on and was setting the table, while Pearly was slicing the cold bologna and cheese for the simple Sunday dinner. "Edith!...Edith!" No answer. Pearly wrapped her coat around her.

"That girl needs another whipping," stated Grandma handing Pearly the fly swatter from the wall. Pearly grabbed it and was swept out the back kitchen door disappearing into the frantic swirls.

"Edith!....Edith Lu!" Still no answer as she arrived at the tattered opening of the retched hut. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Pearly was stunned to see her stone still daughter standing silently. She followed the vacant gaze to the fur ball in the corner on the frozen mud floor....and she knew. She dropped the swatter and walked slowly to the crusted beauty. Picking Golden up she solicitously placed him in his safe house amongst the leaves and mittens and Edith's best sweater. Then she apprehensively turned to face this forgotten child. And suddenly she remembered. The memories came in a trickle at first and then began to flood her soul with regret, remorse...a gnawing guilt. The painful memories of her own molestation and abuse marched before her in vivid color. Pearly was a child once who had been forgotten. She had been raged at, unheard, in the way, the scapegoat, the punching bag, the disgusting play thing.

She knelt down and cupped her child's stiff, icy arms in her hands. Pearly looked into the far away eyes of the tear stained swollen face. "Lord! Lord! Is it too late to love her back. Lord! Help me! Help her! O' Lord Jesus give me another chance with Edith." She pulled Edith's still beating heart to her chest and she stroked her mousy hair. "I'm sorry," she murmured. "I'm sorry."

Balancing the bucket in one arm, with the other Pearly draped her coat around Edith and plodded and pulled the granite child back to the house. Trance-like Edith stood in the middle of the kitchen. Pearly quickly laid Golden down on the warming plate above the stove. Miracles could happen. She hurried to the living room and drug the antique cherry wood rocker to the kitchen. She placed it in front of the stove and pulled Edith down on her lap. She rocked and waited. Miracles could happen. Rocking and waiting, patting and stroking, and praying.

"Eat! Eat! Let's eat!" Grandma Lucy complained.

"I don't care." whispered Pearly


"I have only one concern now and it is not you. Get out." Pearly spoke so softly that it screamed.

Lucy silently backed out of the kitchen. The pecking order was about to change.

"Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so . Little ones to Him belong. Yes, Jesus loves me.“ So sang the mother gently to the child as the rhythmic squeak of the handmade chair brought peace.

Edith's arm ever so slightly slipped around her mother's waist. "He died, Ma‘am. He died", Edith whispered.

"Yes." Pearly's arms tightened around Edith's shoulders.

"The only one who ever loved me."

An hour passed, the kitten remained cold. Mother warmed the child, rocked the child, purred to the child. “Edith Lu, my dear Edith Lu,” murmured Pearly. “Did I ever tell you that your name means “warrior for good”. Isn’t that lovely. And I discovered that Lulu means Pearl in Arabic. I named you, my love. after me.”

“Mama! Mama!”

Years later Edith Lu would point to this moment as the awakening.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24

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