Sugarpool, An Appalachian Novel


The Mane Place on Main Street

Aunt Nonna is smart and cool. Smart because she has the best beauty shop in Harshbager Mills and makes tons of money, cool because I knew she’d talked Mom into going to the flea market even before I left the kitchen table, and ultra cool because she can stand up to my dad. She’s the only person who can leave him speechless.

Oh, I’ve left Dad speechless, too, but not because either one of us has run out of words; we shout so loudly that we lose the combat rhythm and forget the point.

When that happens, Dad bangs out the back door to spray the kennels while I run to my room and lock the door, grabbing my books from beneath the bed. Nothing between us is ever finished, but I’ve seen Aunt Nonna leave him breathing dust.

But she’s not so smart that she saw me at the flea market last Sunday because I saw her first. She was standing with her back to me in front of a table where a gap-toothed woman with a big belly was selling a quilt. I pulled my two nearest girlfriends on either side of me and hissed for Shannon, who’d plunged ahead, to come back and fill the gap. Then, we turned, and as I held my blonde head down, we ran to the opposite side of the field.

Always the four of us: Shannon who owns a red Mustang and just started our grade at Laurel High, Angie, Ramona and me. Angie and I couldn’t stay long, but Shannon could stay until nightfall and Ramona with her because Ramona wants to do everything Shannon says. Shannon, though she’s new, leads us around by the nose. She named our group the “Foxy Four,” and when Angie giggled, she glared at her and told her to think of one better.

Angie and I have to go Calvary Baptist for youth bible study on Sunday nights because that’s where our moms attend. The study starts at five-thirty and Shannon promised she’d leave the flea market at five o’clock, a full thirty minutes early, so we wouldn’t get caught. Angie and I did a lot of planning for a few hours free. Here’s how:

I told Mom I wanted to go to Angie’s house to study scripture before Pastor Cooper quizzed us and that Mrs. Raider had said she’d pick me up at the end of our secondary road. Angie told her mom she’d finished her bible study but needed help with Trig and that my dad would pick her up at the convenience store on Big Bend, then drive us to church in one of his trucks. Neither of our mothers phoned, so it worked.

In reality, Shannon was going to pick up Angie at the convenience store, then meet me at the end of our road. That’s the only place I could imagine where there might be a hitch. I didn’t know what I could say to either of my parents if they caught a glimpse of her red Mustang.

But last Sunday, I was luck’s shining child.

Right after dinner, Dad caught on that Mom had been feeding his Fila, and they got into an argument the likes of which I’d never heard. Mom stood her ground, another moment in history, and I even considered staying home to watch the outcome. I decided not because if it had happened once, it would happen again and the next time would be bigger and better. Mom’s gotten attached to that dog.

I went upstairs toward the end of it, and waited until the back door slammed. When I came down the stairs, Mom was alone in the kitchen. Dad was spraying out the kennels and because of the yelps, I knew it was the hounds. Mom was rinsing plates, but there was a big bowl of scraps on the counter with all the good stuff in it. I can’t believe this, I thought, she always saves everything, but I didn’t say that. I said, “Mom, I’ve got my books ready for bible study and–“

Mom walked over to the screen and shouted at the top of her lungs. “Don’t you spray Pace. Don’t you dare spray him!” Then, she doubled over and coughed.

She’s had that cough with a hitch for what seems like forever. Dr. Cobble gave her medicine, and she’s a little better, but it’s not gone.

“Lucky!” she called again. Her face is beet red. “Did you hear what I said.”

Dad mumbled something and gestured with the hand that held the hose, causing water to spray in the air.

“Going to Bible Study?” she asked, as though screaming at my father was an everyday thing, and walked to the refrigerator to take out a carton of eggs.

“Yes, I thought I’d–” I didn’t finish and she didn’t notice because she started cracking eggs into the bowl of scraps. Then, she took the chunk of roast beef I’d left on my plate and put it in the bowl as well. I knew whatever I said next, I had to say quickly; otherwise, I’d stay. “Mom, I’m going down to the end of our lane and wait for Mrs. Raider under the elm tree. I don’t want to be late and make her waste gas on my account.”

Without turning, Mom picked up the remainder of the roast on the platter and carried it to the counter. She turned to me and said, “That’s a good idea and very considerate, daughter. You’re growing up to think of others.” Then, she upturned the roast on the platter into the table scrap bowl where it fell with a plop.

“Should I tell Dad?”

“Entirely up to you.” I interpreted this as a “no” because she was cracking eggs again.

I clutched my King James Bible and Teen Study Guide and started for the door.

“See you in the sanctuary,” I called over my shoulder.

“I’m proud of you, Lilyanne.”

I paused only to watch the mashed potatoes and gravy follow the roast. Then, I fled.

I ran down our road so fast that I dropped my study guide in the dust and had to wipe it off on the underside of my blouse. I was wearing a blue blouse, a long, tan skirt, and a pair of clunky shoes that covered my toes. I wouldn’t be caught dead in this stuff at school, but for church it doesn’t matter. Calvary Baptist is hard shell, and women are encouraged to wear dresses or skirts. The worse I looked, the more I’d fit in.

I’d sneaked out last night, so quietly that even the dogs weren’t roused, and had placed my gym bag behind the giant elm, then covered it with leaves. Inside were jeans, sandals, and a midriff top that Shannon had loaned me. It was white trimmed with navy and tied just beneath my boobs. I tried it on in my bedroom with the door locked and loved it. I bet I could wear it at that town school.

Shannon’s family doesn’t go to church, and her mother doesn’t care what she wears. I wish my mom was like hers. I also love Shannon’s name. Lilyanne is outdated, and there’s no good way to shorten it. Lil sounds like an old gossip. Anne is too plain and Lily reminds reminds me of Easter and potted plants. I’ll always be Lilyanne.

But back to why I envy Shannon — besides her lovely name and her lovely things. First of all her family is from Clovington, a city only one county away, and Shannon used to go to Clovington East, at which, though it’s a huge school, she knew everything that was going on. Plus, her sister goes to Burnell, and sometimes on weekends Shannon drives down and stays with her in the dorm. She knows about boys, smokes cigarettes and pot, uses fake I.D.’s to get into college bars, and once spray painted the window of a furniture store on 4th Avenue, just to be doing something.

She’s never had a curfew. I haven’t either, but only because there’s no place to go around here. Her mother is great; I’ve never met anyone like her. Shannon calls her by her first name, which is Marsha, and told me to as well. She said her mom likes it.

Marsha divorced Shannon’s dad because she wasn’t happy and married her step-father as soon as the ink was dry on the divorce papers because, according to Marsha, you don’t have anything if you don’t have love.

There were complications afterwards, but that was to be expected and she didn’t give a damn. The biggest one was that Shannon’s new step-dad, Scott, lost his job three months after they met. And it wasn’t Marsha’s fault or his, it was fate. There’s no escape when two people are destined to be together.

Marsha told me how it happened.

She’d gone to pick up Shannon early from her last class, which was driver’s ed, because she wanted to take her shopping in Lexington. Shannon had been driving zig-zaps around the cones on the lot, and Marsha stepped out of her car, and waved her over. When Scott rolled down the passenger window, it was love at first sight.

I think that’s romantic, but not everyone did because one thing lead to another and Scott got fired despite his tenure. He requested a hearing and got three good recommendations from decent people who looked at his work record instead of listening to gossip: like he’d left his students unattended in their classroom while he drove off to meet Marsha and that the driver’s ed car was spotted outside the Welcome Traveler Motel in the west end.

Scott finally got hired out here in the sticks, where he’s not only the driver’s ed instructor but also a coach. Marsha left her big old brownstone on the Southside and followed him here, giving everything up for love. That’s so romantic. I read Sonnets from the Portuguese every night, and if I ever find myself in her shoes, I hope I’ll have the same courage.

Shannon hates it out here, but she still sees her read dad, who bought her the red Mustang so she could drive to Clovington and see him whenever things got too much. Shannon says her real dad — I don’t know his first name because she just calls him “Dad” — is smart and makes a lot of money because he’s partner in an accounting firm.

If my mom knew I was going anywhere with Shannon, she’d have a fit, and that’s one time my dad would back her up. My parents may not get along, but both disapprove of Shannon and her family, though for different reasons. In general, Mom doesn’t believe in divorce, but particularly in Marsha’s case. She said any woman who’d run off with a man for the thrill of it and not consider the effect it would have on three impressionable children, needed to have her head examined. Dad doesn’t like Scott because, since he’s been coach of the Laurel Wildcats, we haven’t won a single game, and he knows our boys can do better. They come from good stock, fast as the wind and tough as pine knots.

When I came to the sycamore, I ran behind it and pulled out my gym bag. Then I moved deeper into the brush to change. I placed my clunky shoes at the bottom, and neatly folded my skirt and blouse. “Dowdy” is okay at Calvary Baptist, but wrinkled isn’t.

Shannon’s mustang came roaring . . .

I’d barely stepped out from the brush when Shannon’s Mustang came roaring, windows down and radio blaring. I waved and motioned for her to cut the volume, but there was nothing I could do about the smoke.

The car was filled with it, and as soon as she braked, a huge cloud billowed out the window. For one awful moment, I envisioned it floating up to my house for mom’s benefit and arranging itself in letters thirty feet high which said, YOU DAUGHTER’S NAVEL IS SHOWING, but my vision disappeared when Shannon poked her head out and snapped. “I hope you’re not waiting for the Second Coming. We don’t have much time.”

Angie and Ramona were already in the back seat. I looked at Angie. Her face was pale, but she managed to smile so I knew everything was okay on her end. I was riding shotgun, and I knew why.

To be continued

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