Ramble


It was summer here and now school has begun, but Lily is not in school today because it's the weekend.

The laundry is started and Lily needs to go put it in the dryer.  She gets change and takes her baby brother by the hand.  She wants her mother to see how well she takes care of him.  His face is clean and his diaper changed. He has the prettiest curls Lily has ever seen, white and golden yellow mixed. Lily's mother is pregnant with another baby and she spends the days sick in bed in the back of their eight foot wide trailer.

Outside she carries that pretty boy and stands at the fork in the road; one direction leads to the houses where people live for years, the other to the line of travel trailers that park along side Lily's, coming and going.  She looks all around at the things she's come to love, her path to the river, the mountains, the picnic table where she gets together with other kids and makes plans.  She and Cheryl Russom are going to see Cheryl's big sister where she works at The Bitty Barn, a place that smells like strawberry soap and incense.  From Missy they have learned to pattern and sew their own halter tops and to henna their hair.  Mr. Russom's Peterbilt is parked behind their house.  Even though the man can hardly hear a word and he smiles all the time, it's never as fun when he is home.

Vacationers come here and she often meets them in the laundry, but no one is there today.  In the dingy white room, three empty seats are sandwiched between three dryers and three washers.  She asks strangers all sorts of questions about their lives and they seem happy to answer.  They think she's exotic living here and she is never shy around the strangers.  She keeps thinking of the right questions.  They talk about the train ride along the Chama River.  Lily has never been on the train, but she has a place beside that river where no one can find her and she just goes to think while the water rushes past.

Lily gets odd jobs talking to strangers.  As she walks with her brother toward the Russom's, she sees a woman she washes laundry for standing in a doorway waving.  "Need anything today?" Lily asks her.

"Not today, Lily."  The woman smiles weakly.  She is pale and gray.  She tells Lily how she hopes for a new liver and Lily knows what she sees in that sad face is that the woman doesn't really believe it will ever happen.  She tells Lily that with her work ethic she will go far.

Lily walks on to the Russom house.  "Hello!" she calls.

Mrs. Russom looks up beaming.  She is out front, sweeping the ground in front of her house.  Mrs. Russom has lines on her face like a homeless woman who's been in the sun and drinking for far too long, but Mrs. Russom wears a hat and she does not drink as far as Lily knows.  She has a house full of near grown children and plants that cover every table and corner and wall of the house.  Mrs. Russom has six children, one more than Lily's mother will have when the baby comes.  There are stacks of things everywhere inside that house, clothes and papers and books.  The couch is a cot and when Lily puts the baby on it, he falls asleep.

Cheryl enters the room with her brown wavy hair. It is the thickest of hair and Cheryl is the only one in her family with it.  Missy has straight long hair and pretty Billie Rose has straight blonde.  They are a family of opposites.

Cheryl takes Lily into the kitchen and they dip lettuce in mustard and talk.  They have to move plants from the chairs and scoot them around on the table to have room.  This is Lily's favorite house she's ever been in.  There is a bonsai tree in the center of the table.

"I like your mother's plants," she tells Cheryl.

"Our house used to be a house where movie stars stayed," Cheryl tells her.  "They filmed movies in Chama."

"Which ones?"

Cheryl looks thoughtful, but she says, "I don't know, but Rock Hudson used to live here."

Lily looks at the boards of chipping paint.  "Who else?" she asks.

Cheryl shrugs and asks, "Are you really moving?"

Lily shudders, the sour taste of mustard in her mouth.  It moves all through her unpleasant now.  "I don't think so," she says.

She goes home and asks her mother and finds out it's true.  They are going back to a place where she once lived where she had a friend who was much older who scrubbed the house so there was never a speck of dust and every day made tea with a precise amount of saccharine pills that her mother would come in and taste, inspecting.  The mother who required the bitter tea had bangs curled high and sprayed stiff and wore Western shirts like some woman from long ago on the Grand Ole Opry.  That friend wanted to be a singer someday. 

Lily's mother looks in her face.  "Don't be sad," she said.  "We're like gypsies, think of it that way and don't cry."

Lily looks outside the open door at a breeze rustling the grass.  She tries to feel the gypsy in her blood.

Her mother says, "You were born to ramble," rocking and rolling the baby on her knee for a joke.  The smile on her mother's face grows smaller.  She looks out the window and Lily thinks she looks forward imagining where they will be, thinking, Maybe.

Lily takes her brother's hand, but her mother says, "Leave him."

She heads for the river and when she sits in the bushes by the rocks she's gathered where no one has ever found her, she realizes she likes to come here and be alone. This hasn't occurred to her before.  Since she was four there has always been a baby boy sleeping with her in bed at night, and sometimes, during the luckiest of times, a dog at the foot of the bed.  

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