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The First Piece of Bacon

May 17, 2010

This clapboard house faces west and I live here, but it is not my home. I am not a trespasser, but I am not a visitor welcomed with open arms and preacher cookies either. I am not a child here and not grown. I just am.

I am something foreign to her and to me, even to Susie the beagle dog who wobbles across the dirt yard trailing dust that could very well be from her grinding, brittle old bones. I watch her from the shaded stone shoved in the corner where the creaky step meets the porch. It’s always hot on the porch, most likely a training ground for Hell, the place I’m told that both Susie and I are probably going to if we don’t change our ways.

I am thoroughly at odds with anyone who chooses to romanticize the hateful evening sun that tortures me with his excruciating light as I sit by her side stringing beans or shucking corn on these weathered old paint-blistered boards. It’s quiet on the front porch, only the crack-snap of long pale runners or subvocal mutters about worms or briars or moldy corn hair. There is no talking though, just tree frogs and crickets and the sting of the flyswatter against the chipped-paint glider. Just shucking and snapping, muttering and swatting, the two of us killing time that just won’t die.

Sometimes I pretend I have to pee so I can get out from under her clouds and I’ll bolt off the porch and around the corner, yelling my destination through the sticky branches of a string of crepe myrtles. I’m long gone before she can yell back. She probably tells Miss Dorothy that I have a kidney disease because I do it a lot and I stay gone too, for as long as I can without worrying about my soul and all the lies I tell. Then I head back through the house, stopping in the kitchen to lick my finger and stick it in the sugar bowl before heading towards the front door.

Outside the kitchen door is a big old Jefferson rocker that she sits in when she’s not sitting outside or cooking or sleeping. I don’t know why it’s called Jefferson, it looks like a plain old rocking chair to me, but I call it Jefferson because I’m supposed to. The cushion is worn thin out, but it’s pretty and soft with little white flowers on a yellow background. The arms look gummed up with brown paste, but I know it’s just a lifetime of dreams rocked down into the old pine while reading encyclopedias or the silky-feeling blue book with all the breeds of dogs in it.

Past it to the right is the crying room. That’s where you go when you’re whining, something that is never taken lightly, or after you’ve gotten the switch for doing any other number of wrongs. I got the switch one time for spitting in a Dr. Pepper and watching it float down to the bottom. That’s a waste and Jesus don’t like it. They will tell you the crying room is bad, butI think it’s the best room in the house. I don’t know why everybody hates it so much, but I’m sure that’s probably why I love it. Because I’m hard to get along with. Ask anybody.

I like getting sent to the crying room. It’s fancy in there. It’s got a big old rice bed, the kind they have in the Charleston plantation homes I visited when we were down the coast on vacation. I like feeling the carving grooves and the slick varnish finish that is out of place on these plain wood floors. The rice bed has a matching dresser with large mirror. I sit up on the feather bed under the Martha Washington’s coverlet and practice my crying in that mirror as much as I can. I cry and cry but my tears are dried up in the dust outside and so I end up staring at the flower paintings on the wall and the big cedar chest at the foot, wondering who painted them and what’s in there, but I don’t dare pry. I’m smart enough to know that private matters are private and snooping is probably a big fat sin and I’m already in enough trouble.

Nobody sleeps in that antique rice bed, but I still have to sleep on the back porch on the small daybed that’s not much more than a cot with a fancy name. It’s lumpy and I can feel the wires underneath coming up through the ticked old mattress and starchy white sheet. I don’t complain though, because this porch is right off the kitchen and it means I get to be in there under her apron of unhappiness before anybody else and get the first piece of bacon. The first piece of bacon is always the best. It’s crispy but not burnt and there’s not a big flabby fat piece stuck on the end of it. Sometimes, she’ll put a few drops of her coffee in my milk and I pretend I’m the Queen of Pawley’s Island drinking a chocolate milkshake for breakfast and that every piece of bacon is the very first one.

The downside is that I have to get up early. The sun comes up on my porch and in the white kitchen, not a speck of color in there except for a couple of black skillets and a plastic jug of mint green dish-wash. In the morning, the whole room glows like a fancy operating room or heaven, and is kept just as clean. The bacon won’t spray grease on the porcelain sink and the dust won’t stick to the windows. I think they must be too scared to light there, in her room where she does her work feeding us and reading The Bible or listening to it on the radio, or maybe they can’t stand to be stuck down in this kitchen. Just like the rest of us.

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