Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ground, by Jarrid Deaton

My grandfather's brain went bad. This is back when I was just a young girl and looking for reasons to run. My grandmother had been dead for a little over a year when he lost the handle on it all. He thought the family was falling apart. Thought we were cursed to never stay together. “The ties that bind get severed from the grave.” That's the kind of things he started to say. I was helping him to lead the old mule back to the barn when all of that craziness boiled over in his mind.

"Your father said you was talking some kind of foolishness about running away from home," he said.

I remember how the sun seemed to focus all its heat on my head while all the blood rushed into my ears. My whole body felt frail and toxic when those words came from his cracked lips. I was almost thirteen, the age when idle threats of escape are as common as temper tantrums. My father and mother had recently engaged in a kitchen-trashing fight, which caused me to blurt out my spur of the moment plan to get away from it all. I knew how paranoid he was about the family splitting up. The fact that my father said something about my desire to leave home made it seem like a prophecy to him.

"I didn’t mean it," I said.

"A girl ought to stay with her family till she gets married," he said. "Then she needs to move close to her homestead and raise her one of her own."

His voice sounded strange, like he was trying to hold something back but was losing the battle.

Standing there with the sun overheating everything, I got too nervous. The urge to flee was something that came at me so fast that I was running before I even knew what was going on. The thick dirt of the plowed garden filled my shoes as I made my way for the corn that sprawled its way across most of the field.

I knew he was coming after me. He thought, and I suppose it looked that way, that I had decided to make good on my threat to run away from home. Right then, all I wanted was to be back inside my home. I could see its green tin roof in the distance.

"Tara, goddamnit," he yelled. "Don't you run from me."

I kept running, the leaves of the corn whipped against my bare arms and made small, stinging cuts in my skin. I stopped for just a second to get my wind when I realized he had somehow circled around me.

"I told you not to run," he said. "I'll be damned if I let it take you away."

I started to say something else but the sobbing stopped my words. I was standing in the corn with my grandfather who used to take me on trips to the livestock market and buy helium balloons with Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony on them. Now he stood in front of me with his chest heaving and his eyes gone animal wild. His flannel shirt turned dark and damp in spots where sweat streamed away from his body. His arms shaking, he grabbed one of the cornstalks and pulled it from the ground. The dirt hung heavy and clumped around the roots.

"Sometimes you have to teach young women a lesson," he said. "Sometimes you have to wield a strong hand."

I started to back away but he came at me all in one motion. He swung the stalk and the dirt hit me in the face. The grit filled my eyes and mouth. My cheek felt like it was ripped open by wild claws. I went to both knees in front of him, my eyes closed tight in fear and from the dirt that stung them.

"You'll mind," he said. "It's best for you and the family. There ain't going to be no running away. You understand?"

"Yes," I said, the taste of the ground in my mouth.

He pulled a faded red handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped at my eyes and face.

"Go home and help your mother start supper," he said. "Your father should be getting in from work in the next hour or so."

As I stumbled through the rest of the field to reach the gate leading to my yard, I turned around to look at my grandfather. He was sitting in the place where I had knelt, the corn stalk across his lap, patting the ground with his right hand and nodding his head. I knew he was crying.

Jarrid Deaton lives in eastern Kentucky. He digs Nick Cave tunes and Bloody Marys. He received his MFA in writing from Spalding University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Underground Voices, Thieves Jargon, decomP, Thirst For Fire, Pear Noir!, and elsewhere.

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