Dirty Faces

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Chapter 34: The Possum Conundrum

He was doing it again. Jack was talking to himself. Or to someone no one else could see. Or to the voices in his head. Kody could never quite be sure, but what he was sure of was that he was going to miss these conversations of which he himself was no part. In some warped way, it was comforting to sit there at that kitchen table and pretend to be ignoring his cousin's private conversation, these little talks that no one else, thankfully, ever heard.

Kody stood and walked over to the window. Outside, Mama was tending to her flower bed; it hadn't fared well in her absence. Lilly was loaded with his things and the extra blankets and sheets Mama had packed up. There was a statickey news broadcast coming from the radio in the front room, where Ralph was lounging in the chair. Back in the bedroom, he knew, Ginny was taking her sweet time getting her things packed.

He wrapped his hand around the truck key in his pocket as he watched the sun come up over the mountains. It was time to go and he knew Ralph didn't like to be late. As if on cue, his stepfather's rough voice sounded, startling Jack out of his inside world.

"Get the lead out, girl! We gotta get a move on!"

Kody sat back down across from Jack. "Ya know," said Jack, after a moment, "He was up at the house yesterday evening. Visiting your daddy's grave."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. He comes there a lot, actually."

Kody eyed the vase of flowers on the table suspiciously. Surely not, he thought. "What for?"

"How should I know? I don't go socialize with him."

"Alright, let's go," came Ralph's voice from the front room, before Kody had had time to process the information he'd just received. He and Jack stood and walked into the front room, where Ginny was lugging an over-full box, topped with her baseball glove.

"Lemme get that, Squirt," said Jack, taking the box off her hands. She quickly lifted the glove and slipped her pad of blank paper from beneath it before Jack could get out the door with her things. When they were all outside, she went straight to the truck, got in, and shut the door without a word to anyone.

"Are we ready?" Mama asked, wiping her hands on her apron as she walked away from her sad little flowers. The loud roar of Ralph's truck engine came as the answer. "Well, alright then." She looked over Kody's shoulder toward Lilly. "I see Ginny's pouting."

Kody nodded.

"She'll be alright. Now, you drive careful. Follow the rig but don't follow too close."

"Yes, ma'am."

Jack joined them after loading Ginny's box in the back of the truck. Mama continued, "I forgot where he said we were gonna have to stop and pick up his load, but just be aware that we'll be doing that at some point. If y'all need to stop for any reason, I guess flash the lights."

"Yes, ma'am."

She turned and looked at the house, then up at Jack. He grinned. "Don't you worry, Aunt Susan. We'll keep an eye on things."

"I know ya will, Jack," she said as he bent over to hug her. "Tell your mama and daddy I sure do appreciate it."

"Yes, ma'am, I will."

She smiled at the boys and turned to join Ralph in his rig. Kody headed over to the driver's side and got in Lilly, Jack following close behind. He leaned in the window as Kody turned over the ignition. "I'll keep an eye on...things for you, too," said Jack.

Kody shook his head. "I don't think that'll be necessary."

Jack's brows furrowed but for once he didn't ask any questions. He looked past Kody and addressed Ginny. "Don't put anybody in the hospital, Pit Viper."

She looked up from the rough sketch of their house she was working on and her lips curled into a mischievous half-smile; she would make no promises.

Ralph pulled the rig out into the road. "Alright, then," Jack said, slapping the window sill as he stepped away from the truck. "Y'all take care." Kody nodded, then pulled Lilly out into the road as well.

Ginny watched in the side mirror, through the dust kicked up in the road as Kody tried to keep up with Ralph's truck, as her big, goofy cousin, one hand stuffed in the pocket of his dirty overalls, the other waving to them, got smaller and smaller.

When they got into the dirty little town, she laid down her pad of paper and took in the old, gray house, the boarding house, the company store, the diner, the school house, the dirt patch, the rows of white-washed company houses, the men coming and going to work in the mines. And for the first time, she appreciated it all. She'd never thought about ever missing this place.

As they began up the mountain road, Ginny attempted to continue working on her sketch of the little wood house with the rusty metal roof, but the road was too bumpy and kept messing her up. She sighed as she once again laid down her paper and returned to looking out the window.

It was a foggy morning atop the mountain and she couldn't see much until they headed back down it. As they came into the valley, she looked up at all the mountains surrounding her, their height a mystery with their tops obscured by the fog. They were in every direction she looked, these mountains, and worry began to build in her at the thought of not being wrapped in this familiar, rocky blanket. Maybe there were mountains in Cleveland; she didn't know.

When the road smoothed out, Ginny threw herself back into completing her drawing. When she had added every detail and put the final touches on it, she held it out and admired her handiwork. It looked pretty good, if she didn't say so herself. She looked out the window again and wondered if God had beheld His own creation the way she had hers; if He had stood back after making these mountains and hills and valleys and rivers and streams, and all the trees and animals, and thought to Himself, 'yep, looks pretty good'.

Then she thought of the possum, of that ugly possum hiding in the closet that first day she and Tommy had gone into the old gray house. Come to think of it, possums didn't really seem to serve much purpose except for being ugly. She looked over at Kody. He kept his eyes on the road and was obviously thinking hard about something important because he hadn't said anything to her at all. Not that it bothered her a bit in the world. But it was true that he was pretty smart, so it was certainly worth asking.

"Kody?"

"Yeah?"

"What do you reckon the good Lord was thinking when he made the possum?"

Her brother's brows knit together and he took his eyes away from the road for the first time all morning. "...What?"

"Yeah, what was he thinking? He made all this pretty stuff and then...the possum. Think He made it at the very end of the day? Maybe He made it and then stood back and looked at it and thought, 'well, now, that sure does look nice'. But He was just so tired He didn't realize it was ugly as sin."

Kody smiled and snorted, but kept his gaze straight ahead.

"Well," she pressed. "What do ya think?"

He shook his head. "I dunno, Ginny."

As quickly as the possum conundrum had entered her mind, it disappeared, because her brother's eagerness to brush off the subject reminded her of something she had suspected for a while. It was something she had never really felt a need to address, but at the same time, for reasons she couldn't quite put her finger on, it bothered her somewhat. "You don't believe in God, do you?" she blurted out, as if her mouth had a mind separate from the one inside her head. "How come that is?"

Kody seemed rather taken off guard. "Who said that?"

"Well, do you?"

He hesitated, and she thought of the way he clenched his jaw whenever somebody talked about putting things in the Lord's hands or praised Jesus when something good happened. She thought of how he never said 'amen' when Mama finished saying grace, and how he always seemed to weasel his way out of saying grace himself. And she thought about this summer, how it had never been discussed that they wouldn't be going to church, just implicitly understood that they wouldn't.

"I just..." he began finally. "I just have a hard time believing in something I can't see, or hear, or feel."

Ginny bit her lip; she didn't have anything to say to that but for some reason, it made her a little bit sad.

They continued on a good while in what silence Lilly's engine would allow before Kody cleared his throat and said, "What we talked about a while ago, it never leaves this truck, all right? At least not where Mama's concerned."

"Of course not," Ginny replied. Why did he always seem to think she was so stupid? She knew good and well that if she told Mama what he'd told her a while ago, Mama would put two and two together and figure out they hadn't been to church all summer. Then they would both be in for it. She would never incriminate herself like that.

Kody glanced over at her suspiciously. "You sure are being awful agreeable." He was quiet for a few minutes, thinking again. Then he said, "Say, how come you never told Mama about that one time I stayed out all night?"

"She seemed to have enough on her plate when she came home as it was, don't you think?" Ginny replied.

"Yeah, but you talked to her on the phone a few times before she came home. You coulda told her any of those times..."

Ginny could tell he expected she would hold his transgression over his head in the future, at a time when it would most benefit her. And he was probably right about that.

"...but you didn't. You never told her. Why not?"

Ginny shrugged. "Everybody in town doesn't need to know our business." She turned her head and gazed at those mountains that would soon be behind her. "And you know how them Easterly sisters are."


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