Day Three: Restless
“The sun’s restless, too, child.”
Mama squeezed the sponge, ringing out the muddy water. It dripped down my back in cool rivulets.
“How d’you know?”
“On account of I know. Every one with half a brain knows that. But you wanna know a secret ’bout that old sun?”
She started scrubbing the cakes of dirt off my elbows and I laid my forehead against my knees, letting her rub my skin raw. The wire brush was bristly and hurt, but you didn’t tell Mama that when you had misbehaved. I didn’t get to tell her a lot of things because of that rule.
“Yeah, I wanna.” I squeezed my eyes shut tight as she started dumping water over my head, my hair streaming down my arms and sticking to my skin like it does in the summer when I’m hot and sweaty cuz I’ve been racing cousin Glenn. I usually win cuz he’s not very fast, but he’s the one who’s dumb enough to keep racing me, so I do it anyways.
Mama says it’s cuz I’ve got restless feet. I never stop moving. It’s probably why I get in so much trouble.
“Well, that sun, he’s restless. He’s always on the move and he’s got a lotta sky to cover on account of the whole world’s gotta get their fill of him. So he’s always wandering, trying to make someone’r other happy, like. But he’s got a route, see?” She stopped the assault for a moment and pointed up to the bluejay sky, drawing a line from the sun to the tops of the tree line at the back of the forest, way back where I wasn’t allowed to go by myself. The sun was right over head and it glared off the top of the water and glinted off the walls of the metal tub I was sitting in, slicing right into my eyes. I had to screw them up just right to even see the tip of her finger.
“I can’t see.” I complained, and slapped at the water.
“Well it’s a good thing you’ve got yer Mama to tell you ’bout it then. Close your eyes.” I obeyed, and she squirted pasty soap in my hair and started rubbing her fingers on my scalp. The soap lathered and started dripping down the front of my face and I held my breath, imagining that I was a crocodile at the bottom of the river, waiting to snap at my prey.
Mama’s hands were rough and a couple times she yanked my hair so hard I had to grab the sides of the tin so I didn’t fall out. I bit my lip so I couldn’t yell, cuz crocodiles are silent and stealthy.
“You’ve got them restless feet, child. What am I gunna do with you?” Suddenly she was in front of me and she was blocking out the sun, leaning forward, squishing my chin in her big, cracked hand that was hard and raw from the lye she used to make soap. She pulled my face up to look at hers, with her steel trap fingers clamping into my jaw so I couldn’t move. Her eyebrows were all scrunched together and her hair was coming out of her bun all wispy and sticking to her forehead.
“You gotta find a route, Letty. A pattern. I don’t want them wandering feet getting you into all kindsa trouble later on, you hear me?”
I nodded. Mama was really good at grabbing you so that you couldn’t get away. Her fingers pressed a little harder.
“You gotta promise to grow up right. You ain’t gunna leave here with them restless feet, and leave your Mama all alone.”
I nodded again, confused at why she would even say that. There were still tons of places around here I hadn’t explored. Like the back of that forest. I bet there was acres of land I hadn’t even seen before. I wasn’t trying to leave, just slip away for a few hours when she was busy so she didn’t know where I’d been.
She kept holding my chin in her iron grip. I would normally let her until she decided she was done, but she was really starting to pinch. I squirmed a little.
“Mama, that hurts! I promise!”
She just nodded and let go. Then she smoothed my hair, and for a moment all the hard, rough edges were gone and she bent down and kissed my forehead, mud and soap and all.
“That’s my child.” She whispered, and she bent down to get the water bucket. The light burst from behind her like it had been cloistered up behind a dam, bright and dazzling, and it went straight for my eyes. I squeezed them shut before it could get in. It was kind of magical, I guess. This weird glimpse into a soft part of Mama’s brain she usually kept stuffed inside. I smiled really little, cuz I didn’t want to give her away. But I knew I wasn’t in trouble anymore.
She dumped another bucket of water over my head and I was a crocodile again.