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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2012-03-16
  • Publisher: Textstream
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center>Chapter Seven Despite my growing dislike for sharing my life with Dr. Fitzpatrick, during my next session I found myself eager to paint him a perfect portrait of the paradise of my youth. I described the beauty of the salt marshes and how they flooded twice each day as if by magic. And I went into intricate detail depicting the tiny, greedy sandpipers foraging at the water's edge on their spindly matchstick legs, spotty grayish-brown feathers bathed in morning sun. My description of how the seagulls screamed, and how the slightest breeze ruffled their downy feathers most assuredly would have taken him to the South Carolina beach if he only closed his eyes. The island was inhabited by so many delightful creatures that I didn't know where to start, so I just began ticking them off as quickly as they came to mind: the pelican, the delicate egret, the opossum, and the alligator. I was elaborating on the art of extracting a sand dollar from the shallow waters of the ocean's silted floor, using my toes as tweezers when Dr. Fitzpatrick began squirming in his chair. It was apparent that he was only interested in my relationships with human beings, so I made myself focus on the people we met at Folly Field. * * * * * The day after we moved into the new house, Mama and I decided to introduce ourselves to some of our neighbors. We weren't having much luck; nobody seemed to be at home. "Maybe everyone works," I said. "I suppose it's possible," Mama said, as we climbed the steps to the next house. Mama knocked on the door, and we heard heavy footsteps. The door opened, and there stood an overweight blond woman, wearing a two-piece swimsuit. Her face was beet-red. "Well, hello." She smiled. "Good morning." Mama returned the smile. "I'm Emily Hubbard, and this is my daughter, Clementine. We're your new neighbors; we just moved in a few houses from here." She gestured in the direction of our house. "Well, come in. I'm Alice Renaker. Don't look at me, though. Ain't I a sight?" "You look cool and comfortable," Mama lied. Mrs. Renaker led us into the living room, and invited us to sit down. "Have you lived here long?" Mama asked. "Oh, about six months. Husband's work, you know. What brings you folks here?" "My husband works for an insurance company," Mama said. "They just opened a branch office here." Mrs. Renaker heaved a little sigh. "Well, I can't tell you how glad I am to meet such pleasant neighbors. It can git right down lonesome sometimes. All the men around here work, and most of the women do, too. I ain't met the people next door; can't never find 'em home. There's a nice young fella lives down close to you, though; a bachelor. I think he's a writer or somethin'." "He sounds interesting," Mama said. "I have to tell you there's some you don't want to know. My baby's not but 'leven, and she sure don't need to be havin' any truck with the likes of them." She looked at me. "How old are you, Clementine, was it?" "Yes ma'am. My name's Clementine, and I'm ten-and-a-half." "Well, now, ain't that somethin'?" Mrs. Renaker smiled. "My Gloria Jean'll be real glad to meet you. The only playmate she's got is a little girl down there a ways, but her mama and daddy both work. She's not here through the week. I guess they take her to a baby sitter. She ain't but four years old." "Where is your daughter now?" I asked. Mrs. Renaker put a hand to her mouth and made a strange sound, smothering a snicker. "I'm ashamed to tell you the little sleepy head's still sacked out. I'll go roust her out right now." "Don't wake her on our account," Mama said. "We have to be going. We're still unpacking." "I sure am gonna wake her up. Why she'd have a regular fit if I let Clementine get away without them gettin' to meet each other. I'll be right back." Mama and I pried ourselves loose from the plastic sofa cover as soon as she left the room. A few minutes later Mrs. Renaker returned, half dragging her daughter. Gloria Jean was the spitting image of her mother, and looked like she would probably outgrow her in the next few years. She yawned and stretched by way of a greeting. "Precious," the mother said, "I want you to meet our new neighbors. This here's Mrs. Hibbard and her daughter, Clementine." "Hubbard," Mama corrected. "We're happy to meet you, Gloria Jean." "Hi," I said. "Hey," Gloria Jean drawled. "Mama, I'm starved." Mrs. Renaker gave her daughter a playful swat and smiled at Mama. "Ain't that just like a youngun'? Where's your manners, precious?" "We really do need to be going," Mama said, starting to the door. "It was very nice meeting you both." "Don't be strangers, now." Mrs. Renaker grinned. "Me and Gloria Jean will see you real soon." She was true to her word and dropped in for visits quite often with Gloria Jean in tow. The way she catered to her spoiled daughter made me sick. The kid was eleven years old, and she ran to her mother every time she had to blow her nose. I tried to like Gloria Jean, but I couldn't do it. She would whine to me about being fat, then sit down and eat a half-gallon of ice cream. The two of us had nothing in common. I liked the outdoors, and she was a couch potato in front of a television set with a plate of cookies. I lucked out when school started because I attended school on the island, and Gloria Jean rode a bus to Bluffton. By the time she got home I was either doing my homework, or I had escaped to the woods close to our house. I couldn't imagine Gloria Jean in the woods. She was the kind who would cry over a mosquito bite, and I just knew she wouldn't be the least bit interested in climbing trees or exploring among the forest critters. It wasn't only that I liked the sights and sounds of the woods; they reminded me of Daniel and all of our adventures. I thought of him every time I ventured into the earthy, cool darkness. The wild ferns, Spanish moss, and prickly yucca plants were all so beautiful. Squirrels and warblers filled the trees, and butterflies flitted here and there, stopping often to gather nectar. I thought the cotton rats were outrageously brave, dashing across my path and scurrying to safety just before my footfall. One afternoon I was looking at a cluster of berries hanging from a branch beside the path when a gravelly voice startled me. "Go on; pick'em. Eat one; see you likes it." An old black woman wearing an amused expression watched me intently. She wore a long-sleeved shirt and a skirt that came down to her feet. A slouch hat shaded her eyes, and she carried a basket of things she must have picked in the woods. "What if it's poisonous?" "Ain't." "How do you know?" "I know dees woods. Dis here a puckerbush. De berries are good for what ails you." I picked one and popped it into my mouth. It didn't taste particularly good, and smelled like bay rum. "I'm Clementine Foster," I said, "soon to be Clementine Hubbard because my stepfather is going to adopt me." "You call me Mama Rae." She seemed disinterested in my adoption. The old woman hadn't said much, and the little she had said sounded pretty gruff, but I knew I was going to like her. "I live over that way," I told her, pointing. "Uh huh." "What do you have in your basket, Mama Rae?" "Herbs." She picked a handful of the berries, then stooped down to pluck something that looked like a weed. She was definitely a woman of few words. I watched as she picked some more. The way she was haphazardly tossing them into the basket made me wonder how she would ever be able to separate them when she got home. I was about to mention my concern when she turned abruptly and started down the path. "Are you leaving?" I called after her. Silence was my answer.

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