Sunday, November 30, 2014
First 5 Pages December Workshop - Baird
Name: Jeri Baird
Genre: Middle Grade Magical Realism
Title: The Adversity Tree
Deep down, in the part of me that knew things my head didn’t understand, I got that flutter feeling. My gut said go, and it would tell me where. All I knew was that wherever I ended up, trouble would be waiting. Always.
I jumped on my bike and shot down the street. I should have grabbed my jacket. The April wind whistled clean through my New Kids on the Block t-shirt.
Tanner Wilson pedaled after me. “Hey, Lily. Are you looking for trouble?”
Tanner was usually the one causing it, so he liked to follow me if he thought there was some coming.
“Shut up, Tanner. You know I don’t look for it.” I stood to pedal faster. I got my bike for my tenth birthday, and since my legs were almost two years longer, it jerked back and forth.
Tanner paced me on the beat up bike he’d found at the junk pile. He could have bought a new one with the money he’d spent on his Air Jordan high-tops, but he was pretty proud to be the first boy at school to get them. He got a size too big and stuffed paper in the toes so he didn’t outgrow them too fast. As he peddled, his Nike sweat band kept his brown bangs out of his eyes. He always needed a haircut.
We skidded into the playground just in time to see Nick Fuller jump off a swing. He rolled on the ground, crying, and holding his foot. I threw my bike down and ran to help, but Nick kicked at me.
“Leave me alone, curse girl. I don’t need help from you. You jinxed me.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh because that was so ridiculous or cry because he believed it. What I wanted to do was yell at him. What I wanted to do was kick his good foot. What I did was get on my bike and ride home, knowing Tanner would help him.
That’s the day I realized everyone in town knew about the preacher calling me cursed.
It started three weeks before Nick hurt his foot. Mama and I stood at the front door of the church shaking Preacher Glenn’s hand after the service. We almost made it outside before he bent to whisper in Mama’s ear, “Rose, that daughter of yours is cursed the way she brings trouble to our little town.”
I looked up in surprise. He said it loud enough for me to hear. Those words and the hateful way he said it, changed my life. I started questioning myself. Did my gut lead me to trouble or did I cause it? If I was cursed, could I cause trouble and not know it? I remembered the times I thought I was rushing to help. Maybe I’d been rushing to make the bad things happen.
Mama raised herself tall and looked him straight in the eye. “My baby is not cursed. And we will not attend a church that thinks anything different.”
I’d never seen Mama with so much fire in her which made me think that some part of her thought he might be right. Mama marched me right out the door, and by the way she stomped around, I could tell she was still mad when we got home.
I asked Mama about it, but she said, “Lily, it’s ridiculous. This is 1989. I think we’re past believing in curses. Preacher Glenn’s an old man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Then she said, “We’re not discussing this.”
I wished she would have let me talk about it. I had to swallow my fear where it settled in my belly like a serving of Mama’s Brussels sprouts (no cheese). After that, my stomach hurt a lot.
We quit going to church even though the preacher came over and apologized. That was fine with me. I never liked sitting that long, listening to a grown-up man wearing a dress, telling me I was going to you-know-where, unless I repented my sins and got dunked clean under in the water of baptism. Especially one who thought I was cursed. Apology or not.
Tanner Wilson’s mom made him get baptized, on account of him being so much trouble. He bragged about how he made sure one pinky finger didn’t go all the way under. I didn’t think I’d brag about going to you-know-where for lack of one finger getting wet, but then I wasn’t Tanner Wilson.
Since there was one and only one church in our little town of Blue Springs, we stayed home mornings. While Daddy cooked breakfast, I crawled into bed with Mama. We snuggled under the pink and blue flowered comforter and stole a few extra winks of sleep. Then, Daddy would bring in a white wicker tray, like room service at the fancy hotel I saw once in a movie. We punched up the pillows and sat there eating pancakes and fruit salad and drinking big glasses of SunnyD orange drink.
Daddy prayed over those pancakes. “Dear God,” he said. “Bless this food and this family. Amen.” That ought to count for something.
Daddy was a story-teller and on those mornings in bed, Mama and I laughed until we had orange juice coming out our noses. I thought God didn’t care if we went to church as long as we had love in our hearts. I never had as much love as I did on those mornings with Mama and Daddy.
Sometimes, Mama’s sister joined us. Aunt Jazzie was the reason my parents moved to Blue Springs before I was born. Two months after they settled in, Aunt Jazzie’s husband and two little boys died in a car accident. Aunt Jazzie never attended church after that.
Mama said she asked Aunt Jazzie if she was afraid of what God thought about that, and Aunt Jazzie said, “God can deal with me after I’m done dealing with him.”
I guess that’s why Mama found it easy to quit church too.
Everyone in town knew about my gut leading me to trouble, but until the preacher called me cursed, no one blamed me. With my gut and having a white mama and a black daddy, I was used to being different. It didn’t bother me being the only family in Blue Springs that wasn’t all white. But being proclaimed cursed? That bothered me a lot.
People in town acted mostly nice, but sometimes I got those looks. The kind that made me feel like I forgot to wash my face, or I had my shirt on inside out. Daddy said it would make me grow up strong, but Mama had another opinion – an opinion she said I shouldn’t repeat.
At school, I got called names I didn’t dare tell Mama. Daddy called her feisty, but I called her embarrassing. If I’d told her about Nick calling me curse girl, whoo-eee, I don’t know what she would have done.
Mama called me hot chocolate. That was a nick-name I liked. She said when you mixed up milk with chocolate syrup and heated it in the microwave, you got something special. That was me. I had Daddy’s black curly hair and Mama’s green eyes. My skin color was exactly between them. Hot chocolate. But they weren’t cursed. I didn’t know where that came from.
I don’t remember the first time I knew trouble was coming. I was only two.