Another “Little Curtis” entry, written out of genial frustration at my friend Julie. I have a blast writing these.
Little Curtis ran up the back stoop, covered in cornsilk and trouble. “Momma! Momma!” He practically tore the screen door off its rickety hinges when he ran into the kitchen, where Betty was stooped over the sink, snapping beans for that night’s casserole.
“Little Curtis! Feet!” she shot back at him, which shut his caterwauling up but good. He stood there in his dirty Buster Brown boots, which he would probably never, ever remember to wipe clean on the boot brush outside the door as long as he was her son. His upper lip trembled, and he looked about to burst into tears. “But Momma…” he trailed off.
It was then that she heard the motor off in the distance. Joe coming home? At this hour? No, couldn’t be. And it didn’t sound like the rusting pile of bolts they called their car, either.
Well, now she had done it. She was afeared of being caught unprepared for company, so she had told Curtis, long ago, to always tell her if company came up the drive, to warn her early, so she could have time to get the duster out, sweep the kitchen, and whatnot. She always liked to keep a clean house.
And now she had yelled at Little Curtis, the poor thing, standing and trembling like a man going to the wall in front of the firing squad, askin’ for that last cigarette and cryin’ while smoking it.
“Sorry, hon…” she muttered, now looking out the kitchen window, past the rusting John Deer, at the dust being raised in the distance, far beyond the cornfield. Close enough she could tell her own driveway’s dust from her neighbors, she could. Her own driveway dust was chalky and light in the air, the Procter’s driveway dust flew dark and sooty above the field. Their driveway had been as far as the fire got that terrible year, the year of the mill fire.
Betty visibly shuddered. Little Curtis looked up at her, head tilted to one side like the RCA hound. “Little Curtis, get washed up and help your momma give this place a once-over.” She snapped the last bean and began wringing her hands, unconsciously. He hopped to it, glad to be free of his mother’s furrowed brow.
She gave him a swat on his fanny as he passed by, to speed him up. But her hands quickly went back to wrung wringing, as she remembered the mill fire. That was back when Joe was courting her. Why, he picked her up for their first date in that very tractor that was falling apart outside the kitchen window! She remembered being embarrassed at first when she saw Joe tooling down the dirt path in the enormous tractor…it was so shiny then! And how exciting it had been, how gallant and handsome he looked reaching down for her, and swinging her up into the saddle of the great machine as she felt her daddy’s eyes glaring at the back of her head. Oh, the fun they had had that night, laughing up at the sky, sugar-drunk on Yoo-Hoos, and rolling through Mr. Ferguson’s alfalfa plot. And her Daddy? Well, he hadn’t spoken to her much after that, he liked to keep a clean house, too.
She shook her head, as if the memory were an unpleasant cobweb she had stumbled through. Little Curtis chose that moment to stumble back into the kitchen and announce, “I looked through the second floor window, Momma! It’s Aunt Dot!”
Aunt Dot?! She couldn’t have been more surprised if the lye soap by the sink had sprouted legs and given a little pokey-dance on the counter. She was surely still in the sanitarium. Betty sighed, running her fingers across her faded apron. Her sister, Dot, whose real name was Julie, had been committed a few years back. Betty supposed it had started when she came back from a year of living in The City, with strange ideas. The worst of it was when they went on a trip together to the lake up North, and Dot revealed that she did not eat meat! Imagine! They went to the grocery store to stock the larder for the weekend, and Dot led the way, scrunching her face and peering at the labels to read what the darn thing had in it. Betty just laughed to see her foolish sister so vexed by such a common thing as meat. That had just been the beginning on that trip, which culminated when an owl attacked Dot. “Hoo-HOO, hoo-HOO!” the owl shrieked as it dove and tried to snatch Betty’s hair. Owls sensed madness, they said. Betty was surprised that a whole army of owls didn’t smell Dot’s madness and descend on them that weekend! Not eating meat, well, why not give up water or air?
Betty chuckled, then gave a start as she heard a car door slam. Why, she had been here daydreaming, and Dot had been getting closer the whole time!
Just then, an idea occurred to her: the car wasn’t in the driveway since Joe was still at work, and though it was getting onto early dusk, she hadn’t lit any lamps yet. Who was to say that she was even there?
“Curtis! Help your old momma with this,” she said, pointing at the space under the sink where they kept the dog feed. He picked up on her meaning quick enough, and huffed and puffed while she and her bad back did most of the work to move the sack out of the space.
“Hallo! Hallo-o!” a voice called from the front porch. Now that, she thought with the satisfaction of a good decision, was the voice of madness personified. She and Little Curtis crouched down and scrunched up good under the kitchen sink. And then she let out a giggle. Little Curtis looked up, surprised. And then he let out a little twitter, too. Quickly their giggles turned into silent laughs, and then whispered chortles, and then guffaws. Betty and her Curtis laughed and laughed under the sink, while the madwoman kept banging on the front door.
Betty wiped the tears away, and realized she would probably never get out from the sink as long as Dot was there. She liked to keep a clean house.