Hurt ain’t the point. He does the same with all of us. You can count on it.

Fiction by Vivian Lawry, Spring 2015


We live in The Little House. It’s called that ’cause it’s just got three tiny rooms. Jeannie and me sleep in the front room, foot to foot on the red couch. Mommy made curtains with purty red flowers for the winda in that room and for the door to the room where she and Daddy sleep, Weezie’s crib pushed up agin the end of their bed. The kitchen is about as big as the other two rooms together, but what with the icebox and the range, the table and the chairs, the pie safe and the dry sink, a body can hardly even see the linoleum.

The Little House is squeezed into the space between the lot Mommy and Daddy bought and Mommy’s Aunt Hazel and Uncle Arth’s house. We pay Aunt Hazel and Uncle Arth ten dollars a month to live in The Little House. Right now the only thing on our lot is a big ol’ hole that’s gonna be the basement of the house Mommy and Daddy are buildin’. Daddy is diggin’ the hole after work, and on Saturdays and Sundays. He already broke a pick and one shovel handle. Daddy’s folks are in Kentucky, but sometimes some of Mommy’s brothers help dig, or some of her sisters’ husbands. There’re lots of ’em. But sometimes nobody at all comes to help. Daddy digs anyway ’cause Mommy says Weezie oughtta be outta the crib, and she don’t have room to turn around. We’ll have that house built before winter sets in. Daddy says so.

Jeannie likes to play on the dirt piles but she ain’t s’posed to, now the hole’s so big. She played there last Saturday, though, throwin’ chunks of dirt from the biggest pile back into the hole, laughin’ when they broke apart in bits. Daddy told her to quit it but she didn’t. He said, real even, “I said, ‘Cut it out.’ I ain’t gonna tell you agin.” Jeannie just looked at him—and threw another clod in the hole. Daddy climbed up the ladder, the shovel still in his hand. He grabbed Jeannie’s arm right above the elbow and swatted her behind with the flat of the shovel. Jeannie howled like a haint! She was s’prised, and madder’n mad. Daddy shook her like a rag doll, his big fingers still wrapped all the way around her arm. “You listen to me when I tell you somethin’.” His voice is like far off thunder. Daddy never yells.

Jeannie shouldn’t’ve been s’prised. Daddy always means what he says, and he ain’t a man to put things off. Mommy’ll yell and yell and send her out back to cut a switch and sometimes end up just threatenin’ to use it. But Daddy spanks her on the spot. He uses a ax handle or a horse harness, a frying pan or a fly swatter, a razor strop or a rolled up newspaper—whatever comes first to hand. If he’s swingin’ somethin’ hard, he pulls up right at the end and barely taps her, sometimes just catchin’ her skirt tail. It never hurts much and he knows it, but that don’t matter. Hurt ain’t the point. He does the same with all of us. You can count on it. But Jeannie gets into mischief most often. She’s only four but she’ll try anything and she’s stubborn as two mules besides. Still, since last Saturday she stays off the dirt piles. Most of the time.

Behind The Little House is the old chicken coop. There ain’t been chickens in there for ages. The tin roof’s rusted orange and the paint’s long gone, leavin’ the boards all grey and splintery. Our cousin Tudy—in truth, Mommy’s cousin Norma Jean—uses it for a playhouse. It’s plenty big—near as big as The Little House—but Tudy’s fickle and she won’t always let Jeannie or me play there. She’s nine, and what she says goes. “Don’t you come one inch inside this door or I’ll smack you a good un,” she said this mornin’, wavin’ that deformed right hand. Tudy burned her hand on the cookstove when she was just little and it didn’t heal right. Webs of skin pull down the three middle fingers till they curve like claws.

Now Tudy peeks out the door. “C’mon in, Jeannie. See what I got.” Jeannie stays outside the gate in the chicken wire fence, shakin’ her head like a mute. “I got furniture—chairs and everything.” I can tell Jeannie don’t believe this. She’d’ve seen chairs. “And I got a big bouquet of flowers in the corner. It’s real purty. You can have it if you come in.”

“You’re just sayin’ that, so’s I’ll come in and you can smack me.” Jeannie tugs at a scrap of white-blonde hair and shifts from one bare foot to the other.

“It’s truth! Ain’t it, Weezie?” Our baby sister stands in the doorway next to Tudy, her diaper baggin’ down, suckin’ two of her fingers like she always does. “Ain’t I got flowers in here?” Weezie gazes up at Tudy, then nods, her fingers still in her mouth. Tudy smiles and beckons. “It’s okay if you come in, Jeannie. I changed my mind.” Jeannie don’t move. “You want her to come see the flowers, don’t you Weezie?” Weezie nods again.

Jeannie looks from Tudy to our baby sister. She takes one wavery step through the gate. Tudy smiles and coos, coaxin’ Jeannie across the chicken yard till her toe is in the door. Then Tudy laughs and slaps Jeannie’s face so hard she falls backwards. “Gotchya!” Tudy crows.

Jeannie scrambles up, mad as a hornet. “You said . . . !”

Tudy cackles again. “Yeah, but I had my fingers crossed when I said it!”

Tears cut jagged tracks through the dirt on Jeannie’s cheeks, right across the red welts Tudy’s fingers left behind. Jeannie runs back to The Little House and crawls under the back stoop so’s nobody’ll see she’s cryin’. Jeannie never wants nobody to see her cry.

Mommy pokes her head out the back door and says, “What’s goin’ on out here? Tudy, what are you kids doin’?”

“Playin’. We’re just playin’,” she says and grins at Mommy. That’s the way Tudy is.

Mommy looks from Tudy to me, sittin’ on the bottom step. She says, “You girls behave now, you hear?” and then she goes back in the kitchen, the screen door bangin’ behind her. I look at Tudy, again. She’s still grinnin’. I don’t say nothin’ to her, nor to Jeannie, neither. Jeannie should’ve knowed. She should’ve knowed. Tudy ain’t Daddy. 


Vivian Lawry's work has appeared or is forthcoming in more than thirty literary journals. She is Appalachian by birth, a social psychologist by training. She holds B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from Ohio University. She has ties to Ohio and Kentucky, to the North Country of upstate New York, to Washington, DC, Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay. Currently, she lives and writes near Richmond, Virginia. 

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