By: Leah Holbrook Sackett
Nancy wailed like any baby when wet or hungry. She grew into her quiet phase. Her Dad said Nancy had a soft mouth, then rained down kisses and praise for keeping a cool head. Dad was a union negotiator for Sweetgum County, he earned his living among the loud and willful. He appreciated the silence of home life. Nonna thought the girl needed some encouragement: a hunger in her belly to speak up for herself. One Sunday at Nonna’s house, the children found a dead blackbird in the yard. Nancy’s cousin Wayne took off his shirt and used it to nestle the dead bird in his hands. The kids were loudly debating on the name of the bird. Nancy thought it was useless, but perhaps sweet to name the bird. Wayne decided they should take the bird to Nonna.
“She’s old. She’ll know about funerals.” Wayne said.
“We’ve got to name it first,” Nancy’s cousin John said.
Wayne and John, brothers, had inflated egos from their namesake, John Wayne. Wayne was the eldest, so he always got his way. The children continued to argue across the yard with her little sister Barbara declaring the bird should be named Daphne. The children escalated their argument with volume, except for Nancy, who became silent at the edge of the brouhaha as they turned the corner to find Nonna in the tomato garden.
“Nonna, look,” Wayne said. “We found us a dead blackbird.”
Nonna walked up to the children, then began shooing.
“Lordy, children don’t be touchin that thing. It’s full of germs,” Nonna said and then spit on the ground.
Nonna insisted the children drop the bird, and she spat on the ground again. It was resurrected in Wayne’s hands and flew off to the West.
“Well, there goes, Daphne,” Barbara said.
Nonna made all the children wash their hands. Barbara began to cry over all the tea parties they could have had. Even Nancy thought Barbara was a baby, but only the boys said so. Nancy considered the powerful strength in Nonna’s spit.
Nonna and Nancy took a walk into town to post a letter to Grandpa Henry’s doctor explaining why they wouldn’t be able to make a payment on his account this month or next month, neither. On the way home, Nancy and Nonna walked under the Sweetgum trees’ shade, which lined the main walkway of Sweetgum Park. And Nancy collected in little green mace-like balls that prematurely fallen to the ground. Nonna stopped with a stitch in her side.
“Look for a small rock for me, Nancy,” Nonna said.
She found one just a bit off from the sidewalk. Nonna took it and spit on it. Then she handed the rock back to Nancy and instructed her to put it back where she found it spit side down.
“What’s that going to do?” Nancy asked.
“It’ll cure that stitch in my side. You’ll see.”
Sure enough, as they walked along, that stitch just went away.
It was two days until Nancy’s wedding to Glen. The wedding was in June, and everything was white daisies. Nancy had selected white sandals for her wedding shoes. Unfortunately, Nancy developed a wart on the top of her foot. It looked awful, and it felt worse rubbing under the leather strap. Nonna told her to put some spit on it.
“Spit?” Nancy asked. “Why do so many of your remedies involve spit?”
“I grew up during the depression. That’s all we had.” Nonna said.
Of course, the wedding day came, and that wart was gone. Nancy was incredulous.
Like all weddings, there was a honeymoon phase, and then things settled in. Nancy’s honeymoon period lasted until the end of the wedding night. In the hotel room, Nancy wrapped in the sheet of post-coital sex, Glen explained how they weren’t going to go to Atlanta for their honeymoon. There wasn’t going to be a honeymoon outside of this one night in the Holiday Inn. Glen explained his debt and that he had to take the money from the wedding to pay off his debtors. He was real sorry for the situation. Wayne was right, thought Nancy, this guy is a louse. But she smiled sweetly and handed over the satin bag filled with cash. To make it up to her, Glen took Nancy camping instead, over at Sweetgum Park grounds, where it ran alongside Sweetgum River, and the bend in the river was dangerously high this season.
Nancy and Glen were 10 minutes late for Suzanne and Dave’s Subdivision meeting. Suzanne wasn’t fooling anyone. Nancy knew this was going to be one of those swinger parties. She also knew Suzanne didn’t care for her, but she had her eye on Glen. Nancy couldn’t think her way out of the party, so she thought she’d have to keep Glen in her sights. Glen was an attractive man with thick hair and long sideburns. He may be a louse, but he was Nancy’s louse. As soon as Nancy and Glen entered the living room, there was a fungible odor of hormones running high and the heavy arrival of Suzanne’s Cinnabar perfume.
“Oh, Darling,” Suzanne said. “I’m in need of your culinary services.” She took Nancy’s jello mold from her and set it on the credenza alone. Nancy was quiet and let Suzanne lead her by the hand to the back of the kitchen.
“I need someone to pour out the punch,” Suzanne said.
“I just knew you were the right person to put in a corner,” Suzanne said. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on Glen.”
Suzanne gave Nancy a haughty look and tossed back her head. With her chin jutting, she turned to leave. The other women in the kitchen sniggered and followed Suzanne’s lead.
Nancy stayed at her station listening to the laughter, the rise of Glenn’s voice over the others. He had a way of sucking a good mood from a room with just a sardonic chuckle as he stood pronounced on the threshold. Nancy thought he was seeking her out in the kitchen, but he was just there to dig about in the kitchen drawer for another beer opener. Nancy sat there, dumb. She stroked the cocker spaniel at her knee. She’d do anything rather than confront him.
With plenty of time on her hands in the background of a party, Nancy began thinking of Suzanne’s hard mouth. The mean thin line of her lips when she sneered. Nancy figured Suzanne never made faces in the mirror, or she would know how ugly that looked. Nancy did make faces in the mirror, all kinds of faces so she would be sure not to make any more ugly faces. Her parents had a box of “expressive” Nancy photos. It had become a family joke. So Nancy took to the master bathroom mirror and practiced every day, making pretty faces. She would exercise her face into pleasant submission. Apparently, Suzanne did not know this trick, nor did she seem to notice that negative comments tend to be delivered by a poor puss. Someone needed to teach that woman a lesson. Nancy looked down into the pink punch made from 7-Up, Hawaiian Fruit punch, and ice cream. The sickening sweet punch was spiked. She could smell the Rum wafting off the bowl. The synthesis of these smells caused Nancy to feel the formation of a hard little ball of hunger in the pit of her stomach, a craving for self-respect, and it grew into the back of Nancy’s throat. She bowed over the punch bowl and coughed up a phlegmy ball of spit into the fruity punch. When she looked up, she saw Glen watching her with glee.
“Come on, Nancy. This isn’t the place for us,” Glen said.
“I need to get my pocketbook,” she said to Glenn with a growing smile on her face.
“I already got it,” he said.
They stepped out on the lawn. It was lit with fireflies. Nancy was always excellent at catching fireflies. She danced about the lawn ornaments catching and releasing the fireflies a rebirthing of their honeymoon, with a romantic look over her shoulder in the direction of Glen and Sweetgum Park.