The day was so muggy in Seneca Rock
(in Pendleton County, South Branch Potomac)
dirty buzzing flies ‘lit on the sugar bowl’s lid
on the nicked kitchen table, where Juliette lived.
She and Jessie, from ‘cross the suspension foot bridge,
who lived with her Momma on Upper Tract ridge
but who wouldn’t stay put when her Ma wasn’t home
(brother looked at her funny when they were alone
and it scared her) so she came to Juliette’s house
every day just as soon as her Momma went out
to wait on the truckers from lunchtime ’till nine.
Juliette’s Ma and Daddy both worked at the mine.
They would play with their dolls every day, all day long,
cooking cinnamon toast, drinking tea, singing songs
even though other girls going in the fifth grade
said that playing with dolls was “just awfully passé.”
Jess and Juliette knew what they liked, though, and felt
sure enough of themselves they’all could just go to hell.
And the mailman came punctually each day at two.
That was one thing her Momma told Julie to do:
to make sure that the mail didn’t sit in the box
’cause ’round there “the mailboxes had ought’ta have locks.”
Several neighbors complained that somebody had stole
unemployment checks. Lots’a folks was on the dole.
So when Juliette saw that her sister had wrote
her a letter she jumped up and down like a goat
on a copperhead, like she once saw with her Pa
on a trip to his brother’s in Alpena draw.
Sister Lou had got married a year before that
to a soldier who’d let Juliette wear his hat.
They had got a nice house someplace out in Kentucky.
The postmark said Harrodsburg and that was lucky
because, otherwise, she just wouldn’t have known
where in Heaven her favorite sister had gone.
Jessie reached out and pinched her’s they sat on the couch.
Spacin’ Juliette came ’round at that, fast, and said “Ouch!”
as her eyes became focused’n she ran to the drawer
in the kitchen to get a knife, wonderin’ what for
her sweet sister had written her, (she seldom did.)
Juliette read, right off, that Lou had had a kid.
Jessie squealed with delight when the news spurted out.
They both giggled and started to dance all about.
Then, to Jessie’s bewilderment, Julie got glum.
And she read, out loud, how Lou said she couldn’t come
to the family picnic they had every year.
Jessie’s eyes brightened impishly. She said “Don’t fear.
We can pull it off, sure, I have got me a plan.
Lou can’t come with the baby but we two sure can
do something about it. Just listen up now….”
Though nobody was there, she still whispered it, low.
Juliette’s Ma and Daddy remarked, the next week,
how their daughter was perfectly nice. Not a squeak
’bout her chores, nor a word of back-talk.
She was usually good, but perfection’s a shock
even to happy parents of good little kids
(and they never did notice the dollar she hid
away every day for that week and the next.
Didn’t miss it at all ’cause they’d never expect
her to pilfer small change from the bedroom highboy.)
She just giggled, as usual, and played with her toys.
Jessie’s Ma never noticed the Atlas was gone
from it’s place ‘neath the magazines, nor just how long
she wore the same shorts and top, that summer week,
or the snack food that she and he buddy had sneaked
from the pantry and hid in a box in the shed.
Come the long planned-for Tuesday, Jess sprang from her bed,
ran down the ridge road, crossed the bridge with her head
full of last minute details. No thing could go wrong.
When she got there, she found Julie’s parents were gone
off to work at the mine like they, every day, did.
Slappin’ “high fives” they loaded the junk food and “kids”
(that’s what they called their dollies) into the Dodge Aries.
On the front seat they piled all the clothes they could carry
(so they wouldn’t get stiff necks from craning ’em up
and could see, not through steering wheel, over the top
like a real grown-up person would do when they drove.)
Then Juliette grabbed the keys from by the stove
where they hung on a hook. Then they bounced off the porch
and into the front seat, turned the key. Then they lurched
slightly as they took off, but the Dodge automatic
transmission was smooth. So were they in the traffic
they hit on U.S. 33 going West
through Canfield and Elkins t’ward Weston, where they
picked up Interstate 79. On their way!
South, past Sutton and Big Otter. Charleston was scary.
At Hurricane, Jess spilt the Kool-Ade and very
near caused Juliette to swerve into a van
which had Grateful Dead stickers and a hairy man
who had stuck out his arm as they sped up to get
far away from his omnibus and Juliette
saw him in the rear-view with his finger held up.
She was nervous but knew she had better speed up
so’s to leave the Volkswagen behind in her wake.
Jessie said “Don’t y’all kill us, now, for goodness’ sake!”
“The gas guage is getting near ‘E'” Julie said.
“We should exit at Huntington, one mile ahead.”
Jessie fished out their money, all quarters and dimes.
The gas station attendant said “That’ll be fine.”
It was pouring down rain crossing Levisa Fork
leaving Wayne County, west on I-64.
They pulled over near Salt Lick and Jessie then drove
on to Lexington where a truck suddenly dove
over from the left lane. It was quite a close scrape.
They were lost for two hours before they escaped
but they found U.S. 68 after a while.
Juliette’s navigating made Jessica smile
when she saw Pleasant Hill where it was s’posed to be.
That meant Harrodsburg’s only two more miles or three.
Lou was dazzled when those two kids pulled in the drive.
Her Ma’d called, frantic, hoping they were still alive
’cause their not, it seems, had gotten blown on the floor.
They found it, weeks later, ‘neath the ‘frigerator.
She had no idea where Juliette was,
imagining her in the hands of some scuzz-
ball pervert car thief who’s all hopped up on weed.
(She knew all about that stuff from watching TV.)
When the word got out, as it inevitably did,
how it was just a joy ride by two little kids
dy’in to see the baby niece that Lou’d just presented
the Juvenile Case Worker finally relented
and showed Mercer County had a sense of humor
by letting the girls stay with Lou and the soldier.
They had a nice visit, a real family time,
got their worst spanking ever instead of a fine.
© J. Risdon 11/7/91