Friday Fiction - The Lie


It's that time again - Friday Fiction Time! This is an excerpt from my second Phoebe story, "Going Home with Phoebe." I had the priviledge to visit Synders Hill last September, near the town of Postenkill, New York. Hopefully, I'll be able to transfer the memories into this story.

This incident is based on a true story - when I was only five years old and tricked into eating a hot pepper.


THE LIE


Phoebe leaned back in the rocking chair. “I saw a girl today.”

Zeke looked up from reading the newspaper. Phoebe could see the headline SLAVE LAWS RESISTED. Maseppa worked the plunger of the butter churn. The swish, splash, swish, splash had a rhythm like a clock. The wood in the stove hissed and hummed. The lamplight flickered on the kitchen walls. Phoebe felt cozy and contented.

“What was that?” Zeke he asked. “You saw a girl? What girl?”

“She was down by the stream near the Reynolds’ farm.”

“She must be of the new family that’s just moved in… Kittle’s the name.”

“She didn’t like me. She told me to go away.”

“I reckon she just wanted to be alone. Maybe she’s scared of meetin’ new folks.”

Phoebe pushed her foot on the edge of the woodstove to set the rocking chair moving again. Butterscotch purred in her lap and Butch had his nose under her elbow, trying to get some attention.

Zeke turned the newspaper over. “I reckon it would be neighborly to take over a pie or loaf o’ bread to them. Don’t you think so, Maseppa?”

She looked up from churning the butter and nodded. “I will make some food tomorrow, and we will go see this new family.”

“Do I have to go?”

“Phoebe! Of course, you’ll go with Maseppa,” scolded Zeke. “Don’t you want to meet their children? Maybe this girl needs a friend.”

I don’t think she wants me to be her friend, thought Phoebe.

Maseppa paused in her churning. "Phoebe, you need to go in your bed. It is past the time.”

“Yes, Maseppa.” She put Butterscotch on the floor, and he stretched his back. “Good night, Zeke. Good night, Maseppa.” She gave them each a hug and took a lamp with her upstairs.

As Phoebe lay in bed, she thought of the girl. What was it that made her seem like a wild animal? Maybe it was her hair, all loose and matted. Maybe it was the way she jumped and almost attacked her. No, there was something else…her eyes. Yes, it was her eyes. She looked frightened and sad at the same time. Whatever it is, I don’t think she wants a friend.

The next morning, Maseppa had her bring a string of dried apples slices from the attic to make into a pie. In fact, they made two pies. They didn’t know how many children there might be.

Phoebe asked, “Do I have to wear shoes?”

“Yes, you are not an Indian. You need to learn to wear shoes and bonnet.”

Phoebe sighed and buttoned her high topped shoes. The pies were bubbling and golden brown. Maseppa wrapped them in linen towels placed them in a basket.

“Are we taking the buckboard?” asked Phoebe.

“I think it would be good to walk in woods. It has been a long time since we just walk in woods.”

“Do you know the way?”

Maseppa turned sharply and faced her. “I know the way.”

Phoebe hung her head. Of course... How could she even question her? Maseppa never got lost. She knew these woods as well as she knew this kitchen. She seemed to have a compass in her head and always came out where she planned.

Phoebe walked behind Maseppa. There wasn’t any trail, except for what the deer made through the trees. Maseppa’s leather slippers didn’t make a sound as she passed through the low bushes. Every once in awhile, she’d stop and inspect a young shoot pushing up through the mud. She’d grunt and look about to mark the spot in her mind where it grew.

Soon they came to the tall pine woods. The ground was soft and springy and covered with a golden layer of old needles. The trees were so thick that you could hardly see the sun through the branches overhead. A blue jay screeched and flew away to warn of humans in the forest.

Soon they emerged into the bright, glaring sunlight on the muddy road.
They were down a ways from the Reynolds house and they walked until they came to a tumble-down shack. Two boys burst from the door, one chasing the other with a stick. They didn’t even notice Maseppa and Phoebe.

Going up to the door, hanging crooked on one hinge, Maseppa gave two little taps. They could hear a man yelling and cursing inside. Maseppa frowned and backed up a step. The gruff cursing drew closer with each thud of heavy steps. Phoebe stepped close to Maseppa, who backed up more and half turned to leave when the door swung open.

A man with a jug in one hand and his tattered pants with the other. He stopped shouting and stared at them, swaying a bit and his mouth hung open. His hair stood out all over and his face was covered with black whiskers.

“Wall, whadda you wan’? Liza, you ‘spectin’ comp’ny? There’s some ladies here.”

A small woman peered around the door, her eyes looked red, as if she had been crying. She rubbed her cheeks and smoothed the hair tied back with a string. “Good day, Ma’am.”

The man pushed past Phoebe and swaggered to the barn. The odor he left behind make her cough.

“Come in, but don’t mind the mess. The chilluns have been raisin’ a ruckus today.”

Flies buzzed about dirty dishes and a dog slept on a pile of clothes were piled in the corner. A toddler crawled about the floor and sat up to chew on a bone it found.

“Good day, my name is Maseppa. This is Phoebe. We live on the other side of Snyders Corner, but we are not far away through the woods. Missus Reynolds tells us that there is new people living here, and so I bring you some apple pies.”

“I thank you very kindly. I am Liza and my husband is Roster Reynolds, but most people call him Ray. This little one is Sammy, and I have two other boys, Stafford and Ross Junior. I have a girl, too, named Adeline, but she likes to be called Delly.

Just then Phoebe saw the wild girl look in the back window. Her mother saw her too.

“Delly, come say ‘hi’ to the neighbors.”

Delly locked eyes with Phoebe as if daring her to say anything about their previous meeting. Her mother introduced Phoebe and she nodded. “They brought us some nice apple pies. That will taste good for supper tonight.”

Delly spoke up. “Would you like to see our new calf?”

Phoebe turned to Maseppa and she nodded her permission.

Outside, Delly turned and face Phoebe. “I thought I told you to stay off our land!"

Phoebe halted in shock. “I didn’t ask to come here. Maseppa brought me with her to bring the pies.”

“Well, you don’t need to come back, you hear? We don’t take to having visitors.”

Phoebe looked down at her shoes and Delly’s grubby bare toes. She scowled and wished she hadn’t worn them. Nobody cared if she was dressed up or not.


“Do you like poppers?” asked Delly.

“Poppers? What are poppers?”

“They’re good. I’ll get us some.” Delly shinnied up the barn ladder to a string of dried red fruit. She broke off a couple and dropped one in her mouth, chewing it with loud smacks. “Here’s a good one for you.”

Phoebe started to break off the end when Delly stopped her.

“No, it tastes better if you put the whole thing in your mouth.”

Hesitantly, Phoebe put it in her mouth.

“Chew it up,” urged Delly.

Suddenly, Phoebe’s mouth burst with burning pain. Her eyes watered and she coughed and spit out the dried food. Delly bent over in peals of laughter.

“ARRRRGGH ! What is it? It’s hot! I need some water.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” laughed Delly. “I’ll get you some.” She brought a dipper with a little liquid in the bottom.

Phoebe tipped it up and swallowed a big mouthful. She spit it out with a spray. Her mouth felt like she was eating fire. “This is vinegar! You are a horrible girl! I’m going home!”

“I never wanted you to come in the first place!” yelled Delly back at her.

Phoebe ran back into the old shack. “Maseppa, I want to go home now.”

“You should not be rude, Phoebe.”

“I want to go now.”

Delly’s mother asked, “Are you sick?”

“No, Delly gave me something to eat that burns my mouth, a popper, and then gave me some vinegar.”

Just then the back door slammed and her mother ran over and opened it again. “Delly, get in here!”

Liza tugged the girl inside. “Phoebe says you gave her a popper and vinegar. Is that true?”

Delly stiffened her back and looked straight into her mother’s face. “Of course not, Ma! That would burn something fierce. Would I do that to our guest? She was running and fell down. Something must have gotten in her mouth.”

Liza turned around. “I’m sure it will feel better soon, Phoebe. You shouldn’t get in the habit of making up lies to cover for your clumsiness.”

Phoebe eyes widened and she clamped her mouth shut to keep from saying some not so nice words. Tugging on Maseppa’s arm she repeated, “Maseppa, I want to go home now.”

“I hope you will come again,” said Liza Reynolds, but Phoebe was too far away by then to hear her.

“Phoebe…Phoebe, stop and wait for me,” called Maseppa.

“Maseppa, she lied! She tricked me and laughed at me.”

“I know. I am sorry.” Maseppa stepped from the road and bent close to the ground looking for something. “Here is a leaf of cool wintergreen. Chew slowly and I will find some water. When we are home, I will give you milk. That is good for burning in the mouth too.”




Be sure to hop over to Catrina Bradley's blog Speak to the Mountain to read more great stories.

4 comments:

Catrina Bradley... said...

Oh, no! Don't stop! I want to know more! I am in love with these characters and their stories. Thanks for posting this wonderful chapter today - I enjoyed reading it so much!
Love
Cat

Sherri Ward said...

I really enjoyed this story, it keeps the attention, great characters!

Sharlyn Guthrie said...

I wanted to keep reading. I just know these two girls can become friends. Great characterization!

Barb said...

Wow! I want to read more too!

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