Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
About the Author
Copyright © 2003, 2010 by Jackie Lee Miles
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Miles, Jackie Lee.
Roseflower Creek / by Jackie Lee Miles.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Problem families—Fiction. 2. Rural conditions—Fiction. 3. Georgia— Fiction. 4. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
PS3613.I53R6 2010 813'.6—dc22
Also by Jackie Lee Miles
Cold Rock River
All That's True
To my husband, R. W. M., who made it possible, who built the fort
and keeps me safe. And to my parents, Cliff and Lois Lee, who were
always there, even when I thought they weren't.
To my favorite sisters: Sandi, Barbara, Vicki, and Lori. And to my
children, Brett and Shannon, my treasures—and James and Kelly,
equally cherished, who've not made it home.
Most of all, to all of you out there who break bones and bruise hearts—
with love, hope, and prayers…that you'll stop.
The river has my body, but heaven has my heart.
The morning I died it rained. Poured down so hard it washed the blood off my face. I took off running and kept going 'til my legs give out and I dropped down in the tall grass by the creek. The ground was real soggy; my shoulders and feet sunk right in. I curled up on my side and rocked my tummy and sucked in that Georgia red clay 'til it clung like perfume that wouldn't let go. Mud cakes and dirt cookies, some I'd baked in the sun just yesterday, filled my nose. They danced all blurry above me, inviting me back to their world a' make-believe. That one mixed with laughter and pretend, sugared all nice with wishes and dreams. I reached out to grab 'em, to get back to that place where they was, but the pain held me tight in a blanket of barbed wire. And them cookies, they plumb disappeared.
My arm was busted. My spleen was teared. My 'testines was split and my windpipe—it was pretty much broken up, too. I didn't know most of those words, not then. I saw 'em in the paper the very next day. I stood over my mama and watched her cry on the newspaper the sheriff man brought to her cell. All I knew was it hurt, that day in the grass. It hurt so bad, it like ta' killed me. I prayed for it to end—I
. I sure enough did.
He come looking for me then, my stepdaddy, Ray. Called out to me, his voice filled with liquor.
"Lori Jean! You git back here! Ya' hear me?" he said. I heared him, but I didn't answer. It made him crazy in the head.
"Ya' hear me, girl? You ain't
a beatin' like I'm gonna give ya'," he said. 'Course, he was wrong. He just give me one.
He found me then; stumbled over me in the grass. He yanked me up by my hair, but I didn't move. Then he grabbed my arm, that broken one. It was twisted like a bent stick. He must not of seen it though, 'cause he didn't pay it no mind. But, not to worry. It didn't hurt no more. Nothing hurt—it was mighty peculiar. Truth be known, I felt pretty good right about then. Kind of floating on a cloud, I was.
"Why do ya'
this to me, huh?" he said. He was so mad. He tried to drag me back to the trailer where we lived. That's when he seen—I couldn't walk. I couldn't breathe. He sure changed his tune. He started crying and carrying on, shaking me all about.
"Lori Jean, honey, wake up! Wake up, honey!" he yelled.
Then he dropped on down to his knees; he was holding me so nice. He had his arms wrapped all around me and he was hugging me to his chest, just like a regular daddy, just like I always wanted him to. He was crying real tears. He was! And he was praying, too, right out loud.
"Oh Jesus!" he said, and he cried even harder. It was so sad.
"Oh my girl, my sweet baby girl," he said over and over. He was carrying on and hugging me so nice. I wanted to hug him right back, but my arms and legs—they wouldn't move nohow.
"What have I done to you, girl?" he asked, maybe thinking I could answer. And then he started praying again and that was really something 'cause he never been one to pray much, even though my mama tried to get him to and drug him off ta' church ever' chance she got.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what have I done?" he said, and he picked me up.
I watched him carry me on down to Roseflower Creek and dump me in the water. So here I am, floating on a cloud, floating in the river, right in the middle of the creek! It's real pretty here. A body might could grow to like this even. Real peaceful like, it is. If 'n my meemaw was here, she'd say, "This is plain out, plumb nice." And she'd be dead right. 'Cause that it is. That it sure enough is.
My real daddy left in August when I was five on a day so hot they was giving out free fans. Drove away in our old pickup truck the color of money, which was
God-ronic my meemaw said, since he ne'e
r had any. I don't remember much about my pa, but I remember that truck. He let me ride in the back whenever we drove to town. Like to throwed me out a couple a' times, but I loved it, being too little to realize a body could get killed that way. It was my favorite thing to do and the funnest, us not having much money for regular fun things.
"Headed to Atlanta," Daddy said that day. "Had enough a' yer' ma's bellyaching for sure."
She run after him, my ma did, her belly jiggling with a baby inside. Didn't do her no good. Daddy kept on going 'til he was a speck the size of the fleas that drove Digger nuts. Mama throwed herself off a ladder that night, from the hayloft in old man Hawkins's barn. She lived. Sprung her ankles is all. Both of 'em. But that baby, it died. It come out in the tub. That's when I seen it was a baby brother she had growing in there, 'cause I peeked.
Mama cried a long time, but not for the baby I don't think. It was my daddy she wanted. She didn't mention that baby again, even when I growed older. Didn't name him or visit him like me and MeeMaw did. MeeMaw called him Paul after that guy in the Bible the preacher liked to talk about most Sundays. I called him Paulie. Seemed only right, him being so little. Truth be known, I'da rather had a sister. But a brother'd been okay.
The ladies at church said my daddy was no good; on a "slow train to hell," they said. I don't know; he was going real fast when he left. They said he had a girl over in Athens. 'Course that was a lie. I was his only girl. He told me so.
"You're my girl, Lori Jean," he said. "My only girl. And don't you forget it, okay?" he told me every time I sat in his lap.
'Course I never did understand him running off and leaving me with Mama. She didn't seem to want me much, either. 'Least she didn't throw me off no ladder. Poor Paulie. MeeMaw put him in a shoebox and tied it with the piece of blue satin ribbon she was saving for something special and this was something pretty special—a little dead baby boy never did no harm to no one and him being put in a shoebox and a mama that didn't cry over him or nothing.
The church folks let us bury him in a grave spot we didn't have no money for, which was real nice of them, so I forgive 'em right then for saying that stuff about my pa and that girl. We buried Paulie in the back, over by the kudzu. MeeMaw, that's what I call my grandma, and me would visit him on holidays and sometimes after Sunday service if the message moved her and her arthritis didn't hurt her too much to walk the extra steps.
Anyway, that was a long time ago. I'm ten now. I live with my mama and Ray. He's my stepdad. MeeMaw died two years back. That's when Ray moved in. MeeMaw didn't like for him to come round much when she was alive. Called him trailer trash. I wondered how that made him different; folks in town called me that when they didn't think I heard—but I did.
MeeMaw was right. Ray
trash. He was also the doggonist, meanest, orneriest, God-awful man I ever knowed in my whole ten years, the devil included. I dreamed him in a nightmare once, and he weren't nothing next to Ray. How my mama stood him, much less loved him, is beyond me.
MeeMaw told me she worshiped the ground Grandpa walked on. He died right after I was born. I figured Mama musta worshiped Ray like that, her bowing down to him. It was only later I seen it was fear. Fear that held her down, fear that paralyzed her, fear that let her let him kill me. Fear. Mz. Pence, my favoritist schoolhouse teacher, told me a famous president—Roozevelt, I think—said all we gotta fear is fear itself. He sure was right. I wonder how he knew. Maybe he had a mama had that kind a' fear.
After Daddy left, nothing much happened 'til I was seven. He come back that summer for a spell. That was before Ray. They signed some papers, he and my mama. Then he left. He didn't mention me being his girl no more and I cried. MeeMaw told me not to mind. Said I had a daddy in heaven who'd watch over me always and not to worry, he'd never leave me; that he was holding me in his arms, keeping me safe that very moment. I asked him to please, if 'n he could, to hold me a bit tighter—I couldn't feel a thing.
That summer Digger run off. He done that once before we knowed of. He run off from wherever he used to live. That's how we ended up having him as our dog. MeeMaw said Digger was like some kind of men.
"What kind is that?" I asked.
"The kind you can't count on," she said.
That was the summer Melvin and Lexie come ta' stay with us for a spell. I see now that was the beginning of the end. Yep, sure enough. That's what it was, all right—the beginning of the end.
Looking back, I 'spect things woulda been a whole lot different if Lexie had never married Melvin and brought him around that summer. I probably might still be alive even. Lexie was my ma's best friend when they was growing up, like Carolee is mine.
Lexie was the most beautiful woman I ever seen, not counting picture magazines. Looked just like a movie star even; exceptin' her hair. It weren't any color I ever seen on a movie star 'less you count Howdy Doody. But that was before she went to the Cut 'n' Style and had it done right. Then it looked a whole lot better; sort of a cross between Howdy Doody and Rhonda Fleming. Wanda Puckett—she owns the beauty shop—she fixed it up for her. Wanda's real good with hair, but MeeMaw said she smacked her gum too loud, like ta' drove her nuts and she quit going.
"It's the best I can do, sweetie," Wanda told Lexie. She didn't use her scissors much that day. Even so, Lexie's hair got shorter. Some of the ends just broke off in Wanda's hands. Lexie cried and cried, which hurt my heart 'cause I loved her already and wished she was my ma and sometimes pretended she was.
"Lexie Ann, stop that sniffling," Wanda said. "After what you dumped on your head, girl, you best be thankful for what hair you got left."