Thursday, August 25, 2011

Little Miss Holly And MR. Thomas

MR. Thomas was a simpleton my Mama hired to move furniture in the living room. That’s how I met him, being scolded by my Mama after he’d sent a glass cabinet straight through the living room floor. I came down after the crash and witnessed him and my Mama standing on either side of a perfectly rectangular hole in the floor where no hole had been.

He kept insisting that he’d put the cabinet down right, but sometimes thing went down further than what they were supposed to.
My Mama kept screaming at him, saying that was ridiculous, saying that he wouldn’t be getting one red cent and that he’d better pray her grace didn’t fail her. That she had the sheriff wrapped around her little finger and if she asked, he’d hang MR. Thomas, just for her favor. Mama was great for giving out her favor, whatever that meant. I’d see her take men upstairs to her room. Or I’d see her on some man’s arm, dressed to the nines and smelling like flowers. Or I’d see her coming home in some man’s arm, all silly from liquor and wanting to dance, and not caring that I was up past my bedtime.

She sent Mr. Thomas out of the front door and I went out the back one while she went back to staring down into the basement. Mr. Thomas had long legs and I ended up running full out, just to get to him.
“Don’t worry about my Mama. I don’t think she’d ever let anybody kill for her.” I said, once I was in ear shot of him. He kept moving along the road as if he didn’t hear me.
“Mister? I said, I don’t think my Mama would ever have anybody do anything to you.” I repeated. He kept moving along down the road.
“MR. Thomas?” I said helplessly. I was puffing badly, but MR. Thomas had stopped and turned to see me, seemingly surprised that I was talking to him.
“MR. Thomas, I was just saying you didn’t have to worry about my Mama. She gets upset some in the early afternoon, before her drink.” He still kept looking at me with that shocked look on his face.

“How’d you manage to put the cabinet through the floor like you did? I don’t think I ever saw again like that before, Mr. Thomas.”
“Things don’t go where you put them sometimes.” Mr. Thomas finally said, kneeling to look at me.
“My Mama said that’s what messy people think. They’re always losing their things and they want people to believe it just sprouted legs and walked off.”
“No. Not, never. Nothing sprouts legs. Things just fell though one another from time to time.”
“Nah-uh.” I told him plainly.
“Yeah, so.” He insisted. “You can see it easy if you look close enough. All the ground is, is a whole lot of shifting bits of dust. It’s a wonder that more stuff don’t find its way through.”
“How you mean that the ground is dirt?” I looked down to the floor beneath me, it didn’t look like he said.
“Well, it’s smaller than dust bits, but I don’t know what’s smaller than that.” I remembered hearing something about Atoms from some of my Mama’s friends.

My Mama had two lawyers ever one night and they were talking to each about some silliness called Atoms, that somebody had it in his head that the world was made of tiny Atoms after looking at a piece of cork. They were laughing pretty loud about it, but they’d probably be laughing at anything. My Mama and them had come to the house, pretty boozed up.

“Atoms, you mean? Two lawyer men my Mama know say that’s ridiculous.”
“Everything’s ridiculous at some point.”
“How’d you mean?”
“How’d we get here?” Mr. Thomas said, waving his hands around. I looked around, expecting to see the street we left out on, but we were standing by the river. I let out a little scream and Mr. Thomas let out a little smile.
“Yeah, that’ll happen sometimes. I wasn’t expecting you to follow me, little miss. Sometimes I hear voices when I slip through, but you’re the first to be talking to me.”
“How’d I get here?”
“You slipped through after me.”
“Slipped through what?”
“The air is all.”
I looked behind me, expecting to see a big hole in the air, but there was nothing. To the left of me, Mr. Thomas must have set up some little shack for himself. It looked rackety and weather-beaten, and its door was a flower-print sheet. Mr. Thomas started toward the shack and I called after him.
“How am I supposed to get home?”

“Oh!” Mr. Thomas slapped his palm to his head and turned to me. He walked over to me and offered me his hand. I took it and marveled at its size and how rough it was. His dirty thumb nearly eclipsed my whole hand as the two met. “My name is Holly.” I whispered, looking up to him. He led me forward and in the silence, I could just hear a slight rush of air.

“I almost forgot. Most people won’t let themselves see what I do. Most people have trouble believing in what I do.” Mr. Thomas said through a lopsided grin. I wished I was looking when we slipped through, but I was fixated on that strange man towering over me. Before I thought to look and Mr. Thomas released my hand and I was standing on the street before my Mama’s house. The front door was opened wide to let the cool air in and I could see my Mama moving about in the house. She called my name. Called it up the stairs where she’d left me. I didn’t answer, of course. I ran up the stairs and into the house and turned to waved goodbye to Mr. Thomas, but he was gone.

I hadn’t seen Mr. Thomas around for almost three weeks. Mama had paid a man to fix the floor and soon, it was like the incident never happened. The busted cabinet was taken out by the trash-hauler and Mama had her eyes on a new one, as well as a new man to pay for it. Mama had brought a thin Yankee man to the house. He was dressed in a fancy, white suit with black pin stripes. Mama told me to call him Mr. Hobbs.

“You might be Holly Hobbs, if things go well.” Mama added. Mama and Mr. Hobbs got friendly over the following weeks. They got silly in the night time and they got grumpy in the mornings before their next drinks came. Mr. Hobbs told her nasty stories about how he tricked so-and-so out of a nickel or how he snatched a farmer out of his land.

I saw Mr. Thomas on the street in town, helping to load feed onto the back of a wagon. He was hefting four of those big sacks in his arms while the other man was struggling with one. Mama and Mr. Hobbs went into the Woolworth’s and didn’t notice that I wasn’t following them. The two of them were arguing about some silliness they got into at a cocktail party. I didn’t understand any of it.

I walked over to Mr. Thomas, who pulled the last sack of feed from the other man’s hands and dropped it on the wagon.
“How do you slip through the air, Mr. Thomas?” He spun around, trying to see who was speaking to him. His head swiveled about, looking for somebody adult sized. He spotted me finally and his lopsided grin appeared.

“Hey there, Little Miss Holly.” He said. The other man called to Mr. Thomas and told him they had to get the feed back to the farm. He told him to wait a minute, putting one of his massive hands in the air.

“ I gotta go, Little Miss Holly. Slipping through is easy, though. Keep yourself still and keep an eye on the air.”
I tried what MR. Thomas said, I stared at the air until my mama said she thought I’d gone soft in the head. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I kept at it. I found what MR. Thomas was talking about while in bed, one night. It was like the fold in an open book, but not as deep or broad. It was a seam in the moonlight and I didn’t even wait to put shoes on. I jumped up and put my hand to it. My hand disappeared, so I pulled my hand back. The seam disappeared as soon as I did and I felt a little cheated. I was hoping that it’d come back. It didn’t that night, but I caught another one while playing in the front yard. Mama had sent me outside after Mr. Hobbs started tickling and kissing on Mama.

The seam appeared in the corner of the yard and I raced over. I did like I did in the night time. I put my hand in the seam. I felt a rush of wind streaming through my fingers. I moved forward, keeping my eyes open. I wanted to see what happened.
My hair wiped and rushed about as the seam enveloped me.

I was all light and sucking wind inside the seam and all of a sudden I wasn’t where I was. I was in a cotton field. The sounds of hoes tilling soil rang out in the distance. Field hymns rose up over the cotton. I didn’t understand how any of this worked, so I didn’t want to lose my way home. I had made it work. That fact had been enough for now.
I worked backward through the sucking void and fell backward into my front yard. The seam sealed itself off. It popped straight out of existence with a soft sort of crack like a twig snapping.

The sun was different in the sky, though I hadn’t notice at the time. I raced back inside the house, wanting to tell somebody something. Mama was aloe in the kitchen, sobbing on the floor. I stood frozen in place as she sobbed, not really understanding what I was looking at. Mama was holding her face, but I could just see a bit of ugly purple creeping out from under her clasped hands.

Mama had been hit before. Daddy was the hitting kind of man and so was a couple of other men Mama brought home. She seemed to have bad luck like that. She’d turned them out again and again, threatened them with the sheriff too. She wasn’t puffing and raging like she did with the others. She just sat there, crying like I was the Mama and she was the child. I did what she would have done if she found me crying. I couldn’t take her up in my arms, but I put my arms around her. That seemed to be enough. I drew my fingers through her hair and she put her head on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure if she knew that I was who I was, but that didn’t seem to matter.

She stilled herself and looked up to me. She had a nasty looking cut across her left cheek. It wept blood slowly, but the wound wasn’t bad at all. I thought about kissing it better like Mama had every time I had gotten hurt. She stopped me before I could and then she wiped her eyes. She got up in a hurry, giggling like she hadn’t been crying. She stepped to the water basin in the corner of the kitchen and wet a rag to clean herself up. She kept her cut cheek away from my sight and she was smiling as wide as she could.

Footsteps fell on the wooden staircase over head and I couldn’t think who it could be. Mr. Hobbs’ white pinstriped pant leg appeared halfway up the stairs. Mama hadn’t cursed him out and threatened him with the sheriff. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. Mama ran to him and he put his arm around her waist. He put his lips to hers and then examined the gash on her cheek.

“The things you make me do.” He whispered in her ear. She whispered a quiet apology. None of this made sense to me.

Mr. Hobbs stuck around the house more and more. I kept my eyes on him, even though I wouldn’t be able to do anything if he were to raise a hand to Mama, which he did. He never slapped her when I was around and I never caught Mama crying on the floor again. I started sticking close to Mama for fear of what happened when I was gone. It still happened and something else started happening. Mama’s belly started to swell, as did her cheeks, chest and feet. I asked Mama about that and she told me that I was going to have a baby brother or sister. She didn’t tell me it, but I knew it was a bad thing that the baby was coming. Mr. Hobbs would be here to stay if he had a baby in our house.

For the first time in my young life, I understood impending calamity. Mr. Hobbs was the hitting kind of man and was looking to stay. I sought out Mr. Thomas as I realized how little I could affect my home life and Mr. Thomas kept coming to me in more and more improbable ways. He would call down to me from up in trees or he would come crashing out of my closet or he would fall straight off the roof, moaning but unbroken. I started to wonder if Mr. Thomas was a real person or if he was imaginary like my friend, Daisy Perkins, had.

“Are you real?” I asked Mr. Thomas while climbing up to meet him on a tree limb. He smiled a broad, crooked grin.
“Well, are you?”
“Course I am.” He said reaching down to help me with my ascent. I reached up and he took me by the hand, pulling me up to sit next to him. The two of us stared out onto the waning sun. Orange bled through the swaying trees and over distant houses. The tree we sat in was sticky with sap and the world was washed with the smell of pine.

“I’ve been slipping through, but I can’t go where I want to.”
“That’s easy. Just sniff the air.” Mr. Thomas said, miming the action.
“Sniff the air. Close your eyes. It’ll be easier since you’ve been slipping.” I shot him a look and his grin broadened.
“You having fun?”
“No, just do it. You’ll see.” I closed my eyes and then cracked them open a little, just so I could watch Mr. Thomas.
“Wait a moment. Now. Sniff now.” Mr. Thomas said. I drew in air and smelt the Cocoa butter Mama got from a shopkeeper that was sweet on her. Mr. Thomas brought his massive hand to my back and pushed. I screamed as I fell. Wind ripped through my hair and across my face. The ground raced toward me, faster than I could imagine and then it was gone. It disappeared and was replaced with Mama’s spacious bed. I hit it and bounced harmlessly. Mama’s thin goose-down comforter enveloped me in a soft embrace as Mr. Thomas laughed breathlessly. I untangled myself from Mama’s blankets, my face screwed up in anger.

“That wasn’t funny.” I said, getting up off Mama’s bed. Mr. Thomas stood in a corner with his arms crossed over his chest.

“You can’t control where the world opens up, but if you sniff, you’ll know where you’re going. It’s easier to go places you’ve already been, because of the smell.” I looked back toward Mama’s bed. There were leaves everywhere. Mama was going to be mad.
“You ever smell eggs?” Mr. Thomas asked. I looked to him again.

“Since you’re slipping through more and more, you ought to be careful. Sniff the air before you go through. Don’t slip through if you smell eggs.”
“Where will the egg smell lead?”
“Somewhere horrible.”
“You read the bible at all? Preacher man talks about a lake of fire. I saw it once. That’s where it leads.”

Mr. Thomas opened up Mama’s closet and disappeared into her dresses. I followed, moving past Mama’s perfumed evening gowns and slinky sundresses. Where the back of Mama’s closet should have been, a long, low hanging branch was. I pulled the branch away and the river came into view. To the far right, Mr. Thomas and his shack came into view. Mama’s dresses disappeared as I moved further away. Mr. Thomas moved to the riverside. Mr. Thomas took his worn, leather boots off and put his feet into the river. I ran over, discarding my shoes as I moved. My feet dangled high over the water, but it was nice to watch it rush by.
“My Mama’s met somebody, but he’s a rotten sort of man.” Mr. Thomas frowned, staring down at me.

“He hurts her, sometimes. She’s going to have a baby and he’ll be around forever when it comes.” Mr. Thomas didn’t say anything, he just stared down at me with his miserable eyes. He brought his arm around me and pulled me in for an embrace. I gripped him as tight as I could as tears welled in my eyes.
I laid in my bed, hearing Mama and Mr. Hobbs laughing downstairs. Mama’s laughter sounded forced, not like it was when Mama could go out and get silly. Mr. Hobbs didn’t let her do that anymore. Mr. Hobbs was telling her one of his mean spirited stories about how he got over on someone else. He was getting over on Mama. That was the thought that led me to a plan. It wasn’t terribly well thought out, but if it worked, it would fix everything.
Mama was barefooted in the kitchen, making breakfast for Mr. Hobbs. Mr. Hobbs rested, stretched out on the couch with a wet towel on his forehead. Him not letting Mama drink, didn’t stop him from getting silly in the evenings.

“Smelling good in there.” He called weakly. I sniffed the air and was reminded of Mr. Thomas’s warming about staying away from the smell of eggs.
“Almost ready for you.” Mama said, shoveling eggs and bacon onto a plate. I was sitting on the kitchen floor with as she rushed past. The idea I had in bed the prior night was racing through my head. I peered out into the living room, watching Mama watch Mr. Hobbs eat. The two of them looked happy. Mama looked adoring and Mr. Hobbs looked sweet on her, too. I hated him as much as I’d ever hated anything and it was because of the lie they held up. The real Mr. Hobbs was tucked away in solitude. He’d rose his hand to Mama, but only when he was alone. I had to figure out what he’d do if I was alone with him. I’d make him mad. I had to get him alone and make him mad.

My opportunity came when Mama was napping in her bed and Mr. Hobbs was sitting on the porch with a drink in hand. He was close to napping himself. I sniffed the air and smelt rotten eggs. I also smelt pine needles. The sweet and rotten smells mixed and soured my stomach. I picked up a rock and chucked it at him as hard as I could. The rock broke the glass, skittering glass and smelly, brown liquid across Mr. Hobbs lap. The smell of eggs faded quickly as I moved toward the smell of pine needles. Mr. Hobbs got up, his face screwed up in anger. I laughed aloud to get his attention and Mr. Hobbs scanned the yard for prying eyes. He stepped off the porch and toward me, the muscles in his temples twitching. I backed away slowly, feeling the seam sucking me in. At the last moment, when his hand was cocked high to slap me, I gripped and pulled as hard as I could. We fell backward. I caught onto a branch and Mr. Hobbs bashed his head on a lower one. He kept falling and he didn’t land safely on Mama’s bed, like I had. He smashed against the ground and remained motionless. His body was twisted in unnatural ways and blood trickled from his mouth and nose. He looked up at me, his eyes wide and shocked. I climbed down the branches, scraping my hands in my haste. I finally hit the ground and stood over Mr. Hobbs. His eyes still stared straight up to where I was, but his hand crept along the ground. It landed weakly on my ankle. I knelt down and saw a single tear roll down the side of his face. I put my hands over his mouth and nose. He didn’t struggle. I don’t think that he could. He was soon gone forever and I walked home.

Mama cried when the sheriff came around and said they found Mr. Hobbs. They said it looked like he just fell out of the tree, though they couldn’t imagine why a grown man would be climbing a tree.

The house was quiet after the sheriff left. I stayed with Mama in the living room. She kept rubbing her belly as tears rolled down her face. I put my head in her lap and she started to stroke my hair.

“I’m sorry you’re sad, Mama.” I told her in a sleepy whisper. She didn’t say anything to me, she just dragged her fingers through my hair. I fell asleep there, with her repeating that moment.

I awoke in the night, darkness swelling through my room. Mama had carried me to bed. She’d be asleep in her bed and I wanted to climb in with her. I swung my feet out of bed and slid out of bed.

“Little Miss Holly.” Mr. Thomas said in a somber voice.
“Mr. Thomas?” He was sitting in the shadows, still as the night around him. “What are you doing here?”
“Bloody branches. Broken and torn.” He said.
“Mr. Thomas?” I said again.
“I know.” He whispered.
“The voices. They spoke to me. Brought me to you.”
“Mr. Hobbs.” I said softly.
“Why?” He was close to crying. His voice was shaking. I crossed the room to see him better, but he shrank deeper into the shadows.
“Why?” He said again.
“He had to go.” I said, flatly.
“You don’t understand. You don’t understand and I don’t have the words to explain.” He was crying now, his breaths rippling harshly. I moved closer to him, but I only hit the wall. He had slipped through before she could reach him. I left the room and climbed into bed with Mama. I didn’t see Mr. Thomas around anymore, but I always remembered him. The smell of rotten eggs woke me up in the middle of the night. Mr. Hobbs’ voice whispered in my ear. He told me mean-spirited stories and then told me he’d be waiting for me.


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