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.