Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Picnic Lightning (p. 17)

Picnic Lightning
Matt Siemer

On a hill of bright yellow grass, surrounded by a vast yellow field that seemed to stretch forever, we sat down to eat. The hill was chosen for the stream that ran at its base and the short, gnarled tree that, though bereft of leaves, we could sit under and where at least two of us five could put our backs against it. Mom, of course, got one of the prime spots. Cassie took the other. I laid out the pink blanket, and sat around it with Sam and Poe.

“Poe!” Mom called, “Go to the river and get some water!”

Poe complied. I could see him as he staggered down the hill to the berry-red stream, where he scooped up the water in a pail. As young as he was, I was surprised that he was able to carry the pail back up to the top where we all waited. He stumbled once or twice, holding the bucket against his left side with both hands as he trudged slowly upward. He set the pail next to Mom, and then sunk down where he was sitting before. Mom was busy talking to Cassie who seemed to not be listening. No one really listened to Mom except Poe, probably because he got the least amount of attention.

The three of us littler ones spread ourselves out on the blanket and stared up into the dark sky and the fast-moving sea-green clouds that pulled themselves across its surface. Sam thought that she could touch them, they looked so close to us, but when she tried she didn’t even come close. I laughed as I watched, knowing that they would be out of reach. The only way she could stand a chance of touching them would be to climb the tree and try from there. But that wasn’t an option now that Mom and Cassie were against the trunk. Mom had discovered the red water and was drinking from it. Then she offered some to Cassie. Sam had once asked her if she could try some, and Mom had said that it wasn’t for kids. We stared at Cassie in envy as she pulled the pail to her. Cassie got to do everything. She was the only one who could make Mom smile.

Time passed, and Poe’s stomach started to rumble. Sam and I told him to keep quiet, but he told us he couldn’t. He looked like he was going to cry, but his stomach didn’t stop.

“We were supposed to have a picnic,” he said, “but there’s no food and I’m hungry.”

I told him to keep quiet. I tried to comfort him as best I could without Mom seeing. Sam tried to comfort him, too.

“Eat some grass,” she said, “maybe that will make your stomach stop.”

Poe turned off of the blanket and, with tears streaming down his face, pulled up some of the yellow grass and shook off the dirt. He looked back at us, the limp grass in his hand, as if to ask us whether this was the grass we were talking about. To reassure him, I went off the blanket and took some grass and put it in my mouth. Poe was still crying, but he ate the grass and picked up another handful. Sam and I watched him, waiting for his stomach to relax into silence. We had forgotten about Mom.

And Mom had forgotten about us in her conversation with Cassie until, reaching for the now half-empty pail, she knocked it over. Anger flared in her bloodshot eyes and she bared her yellow teeth. Cassie moved away, pale and fearful. Mom didn’t notice her. She looked around for a target, and her eye fell on Poe, still eating grass on the edge of the blanket. She screamed in rage, and all three of us suddenly noticed her staring at us. Poe was trembling. Mom’s shout had scared away his tears.

“Come here, Poe,” she called. She did not yell it, but there was something in her voice that was so much more disturbing than if she would have yelled. Poe tried to stand, but he couldn’t. He tried twice before Sam got up the courage to try and help him. As Sam started to help Poe, however, the empty pail was hurled at her head and it knocked her over.

“Don’t touch him,” Mom said, “go get some water from the river.”

Sam took the bucket and started down the hill. Poe climbed to his feet and walked toward Mom. She stayed sitting as he walked up, but her eyes did not leave him.

“Kneel down,” she told Poe. He did. “Who told you to eat grass?”

Poe didn’t answer, and I knew he was trying to keep Sam and I from getting in trouble.

“Who told you to eat grass?” she said again. This time it was more of a command than a question, and though Poe started crying again and hung his head, he didn’t answer. There were still flecks of dirt on his cheeks around his mouth. The tears were smearing them. There was complete silence around us. I couldn’t hear myself breathe. I couldn’t hear Poe cry.

“Look at me,” Mom said.

Poe looked up, and as his watery eyes met Mom’s her hand came up. I saw a flash of color over my shoulder and looked just in time to see a bolt of neon-pink lightning as it came out of the green clouds and slammed into the yellow ground very far away. I kept looking at where it had struck until the afterglow faded from my eyes. Behind me, Poe was falling down the hill.

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