Five Minutes

We all gathered, at the appointed time. Four in the afternoon. Jennie brought the rock, still wet, from Mather’s Creek. Mama dumped a cup of flour into her red mixing bowl, brought over from Norway. Our mouths watered. Biscuits and hamburger gravy planned, most likely. We knew not to ask or mama would serve us a scoop of raisins and a glass of water for our supper. You eat what I put on the table, she had told us. She meant it.

“Put the rock on the floor,” she told Jennie, who did as told. The balloon already floated, attached to our one umbrella by a bit of yellow yarn. Mama had used that cast off church yarn in many knitting projects. We all had something with that yellow yarn woven into it. She still had several balls of it left.

Our one brother, Ezra, sat tied to the kitchen chair with the bad leg. His crime had been to go against mama’s will. He had asked about daddy. He had mama’s church-going scarf gagging his lips, his eyes streaming from the perfume she soaked it with. Mama’s one vanity was perfume. She liked to smell like roses, not the graveyard kind, but the ones in a bride’s bouquet. “Now, if that rock floats to the level of that balloon, Ezra here has been forgiven by Jesus. If it don’t, Ezra’s going to lose a finger. Five minutes should tell the tale.”

Our five pairs of eyes watched that rock. Ezra screamed and shouted behind that scarf. Mama watched the kitchen clock, measuring each minute that passed with a calm patience, her big butcher knife at the ready. Jennie took a hold of my arm, her lips moving. I knew she prayed for Jesus to not lift that rock. My other two sisters locked their eyes on that rock, on the balloon. At four and a half minutes, the rock scooted about on the oiled dirt floor. At four minutes and forty-five seconds, the rock rose above that balloon. The balloon popped, loud as a shotgun blast. The creek rock fell, split in two on returning to the floor.

Mama looked plum disappointed, as she put her knife away in the drawer, as she untied Ezra, removed that gag. “I don’t think that was Jesus saving you, boy,” she told our brother. “You get out of my house.”

“I’m taking that umbrella,” Ezra told her. Her face, like something akin to a tornado. His face, like something dragged out of the creek freshly drowned. “I am taking that umbrella!” He grabbed the handle, closed it up, a ten year old rebel heading out into the world alone. We all watched our brother run from mama’s world.

“I warned him about asking about your daddy,” Mama sighed. “Ez’ll be back.”

“That rock didn’t move for daddy,” Jenny said.

My eyes went to that rock. Maybe I was Jesus. Maybe moving that rock was of the devil. I knew better than to ask Mama. I liked all my fingers just where they were.

Sky Water

“The sky water has scared the Praying Mantis,” Bonnie sat by the attic window, in the old folding chair Dan had once stood on to hang a severed pig’s head for a birthday joke. Her finger brushed the apple green creature, which waved orange-tipped legs in immediate protest, even turning that strange tiny head to glare at Bonnie.

“It’s rain, “ Dan could not on this earth remember why he had fallen in love with this woman. His brain filled with tornado winds and wildfires instead. She had destroyed his heart with her cutesy cling film approach to everything. She had driven him to look into raw pig parts to scare her off for good. “I thought you were headed out with Pam and Ericka. For the weekend. You’d be gone by now. You’re up here talking to bugs.”

That sleek bald head turned, her violet-lined eyes sank into him, made him wish to drown to escape her gaze, her presence, everything to do with her. “Dan, just go. I know it’s rain. But that’s ordinary. Sky water. That’s wonderful. And you’re ordinary. You’re you. I tried and tried. But you are just you.” She blew him a raspberry, extra long. “Or, you can pull up a chair, watch this bug with me and enjoy the sky water. Enjoy this rare sky water day. I have cookies. Somewhere. Or did you eat them already?”

“I ate them already. You want me to go?” This did not add up at all. She was fairy tale endings and happy ever after. Maybe this was her evil twin. He had to stop watching noir movies. “Are you sure?”

“Were they good, those cookies? They looked good. I only got the one pack. Chocolate coconut salt caramel. I bet they were fantastic.” Her finger reached out to the apple green insect, it wiggled itself up the sill, waving legs as if lecturing her about

bothering other creatures just trying to live. “I want to put this in a jar, keep it as a pet. But I can’t.” Her head turned over her shoulder. Dan tamped down how much he wished to be in her jar. His head rang and clanged. She was a witch, the sky rain her potion, the insect her familiar. “Just go, Dan. We tried. It didn’t work. The end. Not even a good story, is it?” Her lips lifted slightly, her eyes wept, but no tears. “I practiced all this. It was so much better in my head!” A single tear, but she wiped it against her shoulder, turning back to that window, to the rain, to the insect trudging upward and away from her prodding fingertip.

“One more try?” Dan placed the other folding chair by her, took her hand. Her fingers remained limp, but he smiled as they curled through his. But they uncurled, she took her hand away, she watched the rain instead of him, her lips a tight line. He tried again, again, to take her hand until she left him to sit there in the attic with the apple green bug his only solace.