Dirty Faces

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Chapter 8: Soup Beans

Another week of bologna sandwiches and another glorious Sunday meal compliments of Aunt Betty had come and gone when Kody came home from work on a rainy Monday to find the house filled with smoke and the odor of something scorched.

"Damn it, Ginny!" he roared when he found her pulling a pan of black cornbread from the smoking oven. Two pots and a skillet sat on the stove-top. He tried to wave the smoke away from his face as he approached the cookstove to see what else she had destroyed. Both pots and the skillet contained navy beans and a different putrid, scorched smell emitted from the general vicinity. He grabbed a spoon and stirred the pot on the right front burner.

"Ugh," he groaned. "You even let the beans stick!"

She shoved him out of the way and snatched the spoon from his hand.

"I'll take care of it!" she snapped.

"Like you've took care of it so far!" he snapped back.

The smoke was stifling despite all the windows being open. He stormed off and propped the back door open with a chair.

"What were you thinking?"

"I was thinking I was sick of baloney so I made supper."

"You made a mess."

"Least I tried. More than you can say!"

He closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, and took a deep breath.

"Why'd you make so many beans?"

"I just filled up the pot and covered 'em with water. How was I supposed to know they grow when you cook 'em?"

He couldn't even come up with a response for that.

"If you don't want it, don't eat it," she muttered.

He sighed. "I'm not touching that cornbread. But we can't waste all those beans."

He washed up out back while Ginny ladled herself out a bowl of beans and filled a mason jar with sweet tea. He dried his hands and did the same, then sat down at the table and blew on a spoonful of steaming beans to cool them. When the spoon stopped steaming, he took a bite and his entire face twisted into a hideous grimace.

"Good Lord, Ginny, that'shorrible!"

"Yeah," she said quietly. She couldn't disagree. It truly was horrible.

He took a big gulp of tea. It wasn't bad; certainly good enough to wash the bean taste out of his mouth. If they weren't going to waste all those beans they were definitely going to need more tea.

They each struggled to finish their bowl. When they had, Kody resolved that the next day they would go to the store and buy things that didn't require much, if any, cooking, excluding bologna. This, Ginny thought, was the best idea he'd had, possibly ever.

While she washed up the dishes, he picked up the cornbread pan, stepped out the back door, and headed up the path through the woods to Jack's house. When he got to the yard, he crossed the property over to the hog pen and chucked the black cornbread over the fence then stood, waiting. After a while, one of the pigs finally wandered over to check out the black clump. It sniffed it, turned it over with its snout, sniffed the other side, then turned and walked away, never so much as licking it. Kody shook his head. Most people would have to try to be as bad at something as his sister was at cooking. The porch light flicked on and he looked over his shoulder to see Jack crossing the yard and heading toward the pig sty. They ended up talking about nothing of any particular importance until it was fully dark.

Ginny was already asleep in Mama's bed when Kody returned home. The smoke had cleared but the stench still lingered. He kicked off his boots and picked up the copy of Crime and Punishment he'd been reading, which was still laying on the couch where he'd left it the night before. As he sat down, he thumbed through the pages in search of the folded piece of notebook paper he'd been using to mark his place, but it wasn't there. He remembered well enough where he'd left off but the disappearance of his book mark bugged him too much to start reading just yet. He checked between the couch cushions and underneath the couch itself, as well as the chair cushions and underneath. He looked all around the front room but came up empty.

He walked to the kitchen and there it lay, unfolded, on the kitchen table. A pencil-sketched portrait of what could only be his mother now filled the formerly blank space. It was pretty good, he had to admit, especially considering it it was all from memory, as there weren't any pictures of Mama around the house. He folded it back up and returned to the front room to read.


The next afternoon, Kody parked Lilly in front of the school house after work, walked to the edge of the ball field, and whistled through his fingers. Tommy, Danny, J.D., Becky, and Freddy all froze and jerked their heads in that direction. He waved to the others as Ginny trudged toward the truck. She slammed the door when she got in.

"Hey, now! Easy on Lilly," he scolded.

"You just whistled for me. Like a damn dog."

“AND watch your mouth!"

She rolled her eyes and looked out the window. "Psht."

"Just don't take it out on the truck. Geez."

He drove to the store and Ginny slammed the door again when she got out. Kody shot her a pointed look. "Justgo.Go find yourself some cold cereal or something, " he sputtered. She pushed the glass door open and let it shut on him, releasing a series of muttered obscenities behind her as she headed for the aisle that contained Oreos.

She wandered around idly after picking up a box of Oreos, trying to both avoid Kody and not look like she was attempting to steal something from her mother's employer. She meandered to the aisle where the boxes of cold cereal were kept and considered her options; the little elf on the Rice Krispies box seemed to be calling her name. Then someone actually did call her name. It was a low, rough voice she knew well but abhored. She spun around to find her step-father, Ralph, standing behind her, wearing that same smug face he always did.

"Get some Corn Flakes," he ordered.

She hung her head and reluctantly removed a box of the cereal she least liked from the shelf. Just then Kody rounded the corner with a basket full of soups, soda crackers, canned meats, and peanut butter. One look at Ralph and he looked like all the air had been let out of him, but he quickly recovered.

"Ralph...hey," he said, friendly enough.

"Hey."

"How was the run?"

"Okay."

There were two good things to note about Ralph, the first being that he drove a freight truck and was usually gone for weeks at a time. The second was that he wouldn't pry into what they had or had not been up to in Mama's absence since he really didn't care. But those were the only good things about him. The possibility of him trying to take the place of their father simply didn't exist, as he made it perfectly clear that they were not his progeny and he would not treat them as such, rather, he treated them with unconcealed contempt. They were an annoying little side note to his marriage with their mother and he made sure they knew that.

"How long are you home for?" Kody asked after an uncomfortable silence.

"Couple days, I expect."

Ginny's eyes remained downcast during the entire exchange.

"Well, see you at the house," Kody said.

"Yeah," Ralph grumbled. "See ya."

Two days, Ginny thought. Just two days of walking on eggshells. That was doable.


Ralph was sitting in the chair in the front room listening to a radio broadcast of a baseball game when they got home with the groceries. They slowly put them away, lingering for as long as possible in the kitchen.

"What's for supper?" he finally called.

"Leftovers," Kody answered, leaning on the kitchen doorway.

"Leftover what?"

"Ginny made some soup beans last night. And we got some light bread to have with them."

"Oh. Well heat 'em up, then."

"Yes, sir."

When the beans were reheated, Ginny set the table and Kody notified Ralph that supper was ready. After Ralph had filled his bowl she filled hers and quietly sighed, thinking of the unpalatable slop she was about to ingest and the degradation she was sure to get from Ralph because of it. She was at least glad Kody had thought to make a fresh pitcher of sweet tea.

They sat at the table, that same uncomfortable mood filling the kitchen that had filled the breakfast aisle a while earlier. Ralph dropped a piece of light bread atop his beans and pushed it down below the soup with his spoon, then took the first bite, contorted his face, and spit it right back into the bowl. He gave Ginny a nasty look and shoved his chair away from the table.

"I'll eat at the diner," he growled as he got up and headed for the door.

The door slammed and Lilly started up with her characteristic roar, backed up, and thundered off. Kody snorted and went into a full-on snigger that Ginny couldn't resist herself, despite the shame she'd just felt. They were still trying to return to seriousness and intermittently bursting out in laughter a few minutes later when Jack let himself in the back door.

"I thought I heard the truck, figured I missed y'all....What's so funny?"

"You want some bea-he-he-ns?" Kody offered, failing miserably at keeping a straight face.

Jack narrowed his eyes and walked over to the stove. He lifted the lid off the pot and winced. "That don't even smell good!"

"Ralph didn't think so either!" Kody sputtered between giggles. "He-he-he's eating at the diner."

"Oh, that was him that peeled outta here in the truck?"

Kody was convulsing with laughter and could only nod. And then Jack's high pitched cackle started up.

"Dadgum, Ginny," Jack choked. "Dontcha know your cooking ain't supposed to run men off ?"

*****

The next morning as Ginny headed sleepily into the front room she noticed a pair of big feet hanging off the end of the couch; the big feet belonged to Jack, she discovered as she passed on through to the kitchen. She pulled a bowl from the cupboard and the new box of her least favorite breakfast cereal and sat them on the counter. As she fumbled with the top of the box a big mason jar that looked to be filled with water, also on the counter, caught her eye. Looks like 'ol Ralph paid Tommy and Danny's daddy a visit, she thought. She knew that water was not, in fact, what filled that jar, but corn liquor- moonshine. And as unpleasant as Ralph normally was, he was not a man who could hold his liquor.

She must have been making more noise than she realized because a few minutes later Jack, his dark hair messier than hers, wandered into the kitchen, got a bowl, and poured himself some corn flakes. He eyed the jar for a minute once he noticed it, then sat down at the table with Ginny and poured milk over his cereal and took a couple bites.

"Mama wants y'all over for supper this evening," he said.

"It's Wednesday," she reminded him.

"And?"

"We eat at your house Sunday after church."

"We go to church Wednesday evening, Ginny."

"Oh...right..." she trailed off.

He cut his eyes toward the jar on the counter. "She'll prob'ly want y'all to stay the night, too." Ginny nodded. The promise of safety at her aunt and uncle's house immediately relieved the tension in her shoulders and the worries in her head and she quickly changed the subject.

"Will you be at the field today?"

A sly grin appeared on Jack's face. "Nope. I'll be spending most of this day with one Ruby Macafee...."

"What about Sally Tate?"

"What about her?"

"I thought you were..."

"That's been forever ago. I've moved on."

"Last week?"

"It wasn't last week. It's been longer. Mind your business."

"It was too last week!"

"What are you two arguing about?" a sleepy-eyed Kody mumbled as he padded into the kitchen, scratching his head of dark brown rat's-nest hair.

"Sally Tate," Ginny offered.

"Hm. That girl you're going with?" he asked, now pouring a bowl of cereal.

"I'm not going with her anymore," Jack corrected.

"That was last week," Ginny teased.

"Hush up, squirt. It's been longer than that."

"You took her to the movie Friday night," Kody added innocently.

"It wasaFriday. Not last Friday."

"It was last Friday because I heard all about it Saturday. Man, you already broke up with her? I can't keep up with you."

"Just drop it, both of ya."

"Ah. I see," Kody said, a hint of a smile on his lips. "She broke up with you."

Jack's face reddened.

"It's OK, Jack, " Ginny said sweetly. "I'm sure Ruby'll make it all better."

"Ruby Macafee?" Kody asked.

She nodded.

"Yeah, she's a dish. You'll forget all about Sally Whatsername," he went on.

Jack glared at his cousins, both stifling smug grins. A few minutes later he regained his composure and informed Kody that they were to have supper at his house, then poured himself another heaping bowl of cereal.

And they all cleared out of the house before Ralph could get up and find out his corn flakes were all gone.


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