My family lived in the house on 12th Street. The place with the half-circle window on the top of the front door. And where our dachshund, Missy, ran into the street and got killed. Funny the things you use to define a place.
I was in the field next to our house, the autumn grass scratchy from the hot summers you get in high desert. My sisters and I used that field as a side yard even though it wasn’t part of our house. It wasn’t part of anyone else’s house either, so every kid in the neighborhood played there. Until school started up again and it was just us kids who were too young for school. Like me. Like Inez Thomas.
Inez was bigger than me, older than me. And she was heavier, not just because of age. She was one of those kids with a stomach that sticks out ahead, who walks through the world belly first, back arched and butt pushed backward. Her eyes were big too, and indented. Caveman eyes with a heavy black brow and lashes that just barely reached out of the hollows and onto the face. Her face like her body, thick and smooth, heavy and pushed out at the cheeks. Her hands sausage chubby.
The Thomas family might have lived on 12th Street too, although kids pretty much roamed where they wanted. Small town in the late ‘60s and all. Kids were safe back then.
Safe so that Mom didn’t think much about me playing outside by myself even though I was only four. Even though I wasn’t playing.
Inez had big-bellied her way to where I was and told me to lie down and I did. I think that’s what happened, but I was just a little kid and memory’s a skimpy thing. What happens today is on the surface squiggles of the brain, and the older a moment gets, the further down it goes. Down to the oldest deepest memories, where only an ice pick can really get to them.
Anyway, I don’t remember her getting me to the ground. She could’ve pushed me over, pulled me down. Just as likely I laid down on my own. I was good at minding when someone bigger than me said to do something.
It doesn’t really matter how I got to the ground, I just remember being there, under a tree, pokey grass in my back, dirt smells, birds. Inez Thomas was only the warm heaviness of a leg holding my legs down and sticky-hot hands on my belly. Maybe she was copying something she’d seen done. Maybe something she’d had done to her.
Those chubby fingers tugged at my t-shirt, the red striped one that I got handed down from my oldest sister. I didn’t want that shirt to get ruined, so I helped, I bumped up my middle to make it easier. My t-shirt up to my neck, and Inez moved around me, her swayback belly pushing into my left side, her hand pushing my right shoulder down so my back and body and rear-end pushed flat on the brown grass. And the birds chirped out like they were the only things around us allowed to make noise.
That soft and deep-eyed face came down at my naked front and Inez Thomas was sucking on me. On my left nipple. And even though I was only four, I knew they were called nipples and I knew somewhere in my head that it was wrong. But I was letting her.
What she was doing didn’t feel bad. Didn’t feel good either. All that sucking she was doing on me was just tugging. Strange and wet.
I still have that moment clear and crystal and placed square in that ice-pick-deep spot where bad memories hide. Me on the ground, the wet sucking, looking at the tree leaves above me, the birds. Then Mom.
Mom, a voice from near my feet and to the right, angry and loud.
“What the hell are you doing?” and that mouth pulled off of me.
The sucking gone and air hit my chest, shrank my nipple up tight. Then more Mom.
“Get away from her right now!” and Inez pulled back fast, off my legs, off my body, her belly off my side as she sat up quick.
I wasn’t sure which of us Mom was hollering at, but I figured it was probably me.
Mom’s hand, dry and rough, grabbed my wrist hard, pulling me up off the ground. Mom’s dark brown eyes angry the way they’d get when she was ready to punish one of us kids. Mom pulling me while she was walking so I had to push my bare feet under me to catch up with her. That dry grass into my toes, into the soles of my feet which were end-of-summer, used-to-being-bare, thick-callused hard. Me catching up to Mom, peeking back.
Inez got left there on the ground, big eyed and smooth faced. Open mouthed.
Mom walked that fast walk she did when things needed to get done, the angry walk she walked to get us kids off of the rodeo grounds once Dad had drank up all the money in his wallet. I had to trot to keep up, hand in the air, armpit to the world. My red striped t-shirt still pulled up.
I looked away from Mom, that thin-line mouth she got when she was real mad. I pulled down on the front of my shirt, and realized I was caught doing something so bad that she was Dad-angry with me.
Before we got to the front of our house, Mom turned back to the side yard that wasn’t anyone’s. That time, I knew Mom was talking to Inez and not me. Still her angry hard voice, her right hand out and pointing, to make sure Inez knew too.
“I don’t want to see you around here again.”
Then Mom pulled some more. Pulled on my arm, tight hand on wrist bones, and got me to the front of the house. My callused bare feet came over the metal that made the outside world end and the inside of home begin. She swooshed the door across the thin carpeting and slammed it closed while my feet tripped over themselves from the sudden stop.
Mom’s hard, dry hand let go of me right there at the inside side of the door. My wrist warm, my shoulder achy from being pulled. My belly sick.
But I was free, standing there inside our front door, eyes wet-warm and heartbeat hard inside me, and I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. Mom was angry enough—crying was asking for a spanking.
I’d never been spanked, but the idea of it was terrible and sitting right up in the forehead part of my brain, and I could only breathe in. In and in, gasps of air that kept the tears inside of me but my nose was getting full. I couldn’t decide if I would be allowed to wipe my nose with my wrist and still not get spanked. Thick snot filled up the back part of my throat, filled my nostrils, so I just sniffed it back up, swallowed it away and into me. Stood there by the door while Mom walked back into the rest of her day.
No more Inez Thomas in it.
No more me.
I wasn’t sure what to do next. Did Mom leave me here to stay for the rest of the day? Was I supposed to wait for someone else in our family to get home?
I slid down the white wall, legs folding, the rough paint pulling the back of my shirt up as I went. Once my butt hit the floor, I reached back and pulled my shirt down. The tears in my eyes dried out and my snot stopped running.
And I sat there.
Not crying.Sally K Lehman is the author of the novels In The Fat, The Unit – Room 154, and Living in the Second Tense. She is also the editor of the anthology Bear the Pall and the author of the short story “Small Minutes”. She works with Post 134 Press to put together the War Stories yearly anthologies. Sally’s work can also be found in several literary magazines, most recently in Perceptions : A Magazine of the Arts, Lunch Ticket, and The Coachella Review, as well as at SallyKLehman.com and InTheFat.com. She lives in the Portland, Oregon area.