Vanessa Cavendish Of an evening oftentimes I laid a small hand soft and freckled in an old hand hard as knotwood and accompanied my Grandma down along a path her feet had driven through the back pasture. Just beyond the gate a ways a belt of winter wheat had sprung up volunteer. But it was not yet harvest. There was that plus the smell of wild muscadine tangled on the wind. That deep grape smell coming off the vines my Daddy planted ages on ages ago before I come along. He didn’t hang around much after I was born my Daddy didn’t. Him or my momma. She up and died as soon as I plopped out, and him, he headed West to California. That’s where the wine country is. I always wanted to go there I just never have. So that left me and my Grandma. Not that I had much luck there either. Grandma put an end to it all just like she always said she would do once I reached an age where I could more or less fend for myself. She up and walked off into Keening Canyon and just never come back. Sherrif and them found her body on down about a mile and a half from here. I of course caught all kinds of Hell for that. Ask anyone of the good Christian folks that lives around here. They’ll tell you whose fault it was: Mine All Mine. Redheaded Step Child of the Devil. That’s Me. My Name is Vanessa Cavendish by the way and I am just Real. Pleased. To meet you. Now does it come across as a little, I don’t know, forward? Me talking a blue streak at you like this? Just telling you everything and my life story and all like that? At the drop of a hat? You might have to forgive me some but I just feel like it’s my prerogative after all that’s gone on. We’re all connected one way and another anyway. Ain’t we? So it’s not like I’m blabbing to a perfect stranger. Even though you might actually be one. Did we meet on Facebook or anywhere? You don’t know me from Adam do you? One thing else: Now you might think I just don’t even know how to write my own name but let me set you straight about that. I do too. My English teacher Mrs. Bittle in Seventh Grade? She use to correct my grammar all the time and I just let her do it because it give her so much pleasure. But this once I leaned over and whispered to my best friend. (Ha Ha! As if I had one!) I said that ain’t the way my Grammar taught me! And she snickered and got caught. I forget her name. Now it was Not. My. Fault. I heard what you said! Mrs. Bittle accused me. She was so high and mighty. I just looked at her and she like to yanked my arm half out of the socket and made me go stand in the hallway. But now here’s the long and short of it: Nobody. Ever. Does a thing like that to me and gets away with it. And I don’t mean that as a threat or to be
ugly. Not really. Not necessarily. It’s just the Way It Is. Like God and Satan in the Bible or Clint Eastwood in The Good The Bad and The Ugly or Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare. I’m not making it up but Somebody is and you can hate me for it all you please. That’s just Karma Kameleon with me. I looked at her. At Mrs. Bittle. I said: You’ll have to forgive me? I was exposed to too much lead in my system as a infant and I just Ain’t. Quite. Right. And I smiled at her real real sweet. I ain’t never smiled that sweet to no one before nor since. I guess it don’t look quite normal on me is all I can figure. What with my four eyes and my freckles and my big teeth. She marked me as a liar and a smart ass from the gitgo. And I ain’t one though. I ain’t. Well. Maybe I am a liar. A Story Teller is what my Grandma said. You know what else she said? My Grandma? She taught me to always to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. Not gartersnakes or any of them. Just rattlers. If you know one kind from another you’ll be all right she said. And I’m happy to say I have been. All things considered. Anyway. Like I was about to tell you: I’d walk out the back door with her ever day down to the edge of the canyon and just stand there. I always knew what it was on her mind to be doing that she didn’t ever do yet. Don’t ask me how. I just knew. I didn’t question her about it none. I didn’t have to. Old Canyon gonna take me one of these days she’d mutter. Keening Canyon ain’t no big deal you might say. Not compared to the Grand Canyon or one of them. It’s just an extension of my back yard is all it really is. But when I was little? You can just imagine how big it seemed! Like it could swallow up the entire world! The earth and the sky and everthing! Now this here is Oklahoma we’re talking about so the earth is red red. Ever bit as red almost as a red velvet cake. And around the lip of the canyon run a rim of gypsum crystal just like over at the Glass Mountains. Which I always thought the Glass Mountains was named for the number of broken beer bottles scattered like glitter all over everwhere but that’s besides the point. That layer of gypsum is like the frosting on a cake in a certain way of looking at it. Except there is a skim coat of red dirt and dead grass on top of that too. And down the middle like someone took a spatula and served himself up a nice big slice of dessert and ate it is what’s known as Keening Canyon all crumbly and dried up most of the year. Except after it rains cats and dogs Keening Creek will fill up just as if that same someone used a little too much red food coloring and it all run out the bottom. Am I painting too sweet a picture for you? I don’t mean to. It is the quintessential red state though. Oklahoma is. I am here to tell you. I remember the first time in my life I ever entered a store in Massachusetts. I moved up there for a little while but that was a whole lot later on in years and I’ll tell you all about that too as we go along. Anyway I went to pay for what I was buying. It was just a little old convenience like what they call a corner store up there. A little Mom and
Pop I guess is the most universal way of putting it. And the girl behind the register says to me. She was a College student most likely and she says are you all set? and I wondered: now what in the everloving world does she mean am I all set? I had no earthly idea what she was getting at and I finally just opened my mouth and said to her: well’re we gonna run the hunderd meter dash or the fourforty or what? She looked at me like I had three heads and of course was real ignorant about it as you can well imagine. It took me I don’t know how many years after that to figure out that she thought I was making fun of her. And here I thought it was the other way around. That’s how different people can be over something as simple as Are You All Set? versus Have a Nice Day! or Will That Be All for You? Never mind the Right to Life versus Free Choice or whatever that is. I ain’t saying she was an abortion rights advocate or anything like that. I don’t know the first thing about her and her lifestyle. What I’m saying is you got to do more than travel in a circle around the country in order to see both sides of it no matter whether if you start out in a red state or a blue one. Where was I? Oh. The Bittles. They lived on the other side of the canyon from us. They still do live over there come to think of it. Old Mr. and Mrs. Bittle do anyway. David and Leigh Ann they have long since up and married and divorced and what all. Their two kids. Leigh Ann was about my age and David was her big brother and was the only one that was always real sweet to me. Mr. Bittle had his own welding shop set up over there in the old barn is what it used to be. He worked the oil field and odd jobs and all like that. A welder makes decent money plus she taught seventh grade English like I said so they wasn’t ever hurting. I got nothing against them mind you. She just didn’t care much for me in the beginning. Reason being I was just as likely to blurt out whatever come into my head and neither God nor the Devil could predict what that might be so I guess that rubbed her the wrong way. She accused me of having Tourette’s Syndrome one time or other and I up and said Hell I got more than that! If you ask me Tourettes don’t make a wrong anyway! I thought that was real clever of me. You know? I was just a kid. I got detention for that one. I was all the time getting into some kind of trouble or other with her but there wasn’t nothing I could do about it because you couldn’t never predict what was going to set her off. Except if someone mentioned befriending a crow or keeping one as a pet and teaching it to quote neetriht eerht nhoJ and what not. She was bound and determined to go into a tirade then! She hated crows so much. They are a unclean animal according to her and the Bittle Bible. They hop around like the Devil in carnations and they have no problem whatsoever with eating carrion. Which at the time I thought was spelled carry on. Like luggage. And I hadn’t never seen one eat a suitcase in my entire life. Can anyone tell Miss Cavendish what carrion is? Carrion is road kill. Human Beings don’t have no problem eating road kill neither I pointed out and she give me detention for that one too.
That’s your answer to everthing? I said and I slammed my English Grammar book shut then and there for all eternity. Honestly? I don’t know what’s wrong with me except I got the Devil in me is all. Better him than Jesus I guess. Jesus wouldn’t know what to do with the likes of me. You will burn in Hell! Leigh Ann told me one day when I said that. We were the same age but she was light years ahead of me in school. Having a teacher for a mother and all. I reckon I will burn in Hell I answered her back. What was I supposed to do? Lie? They’re all church going Baptists the Bittles are. Whereas my Grandma brought me up Atheistically. I didn’t know any better. I just figured the Baptists went to Heaven and the Atheists went the Other Direction. Which worked out to my advantage all the way around. I ain’t much good with a harp so go on ahead and pass me a pitchfork if you think that’s more my speed. Most everybody does. Including I might add: me.