Thursday, February 14, 2008

Entry: Historical Short Story

Skirting the Truth
By Patty Wysong


Reggie jammed his hat back on his head and glared at the girls who were bunched around him. Dumb girls; shows how much they know! Tellin' me I can kiss 'em! Blech. Ain't no way I'd kiss a girl! He grabbed his bucket and stormed to the wagon, the girls trailing behind him, lugging their own water.

Martha smiled as Reggie stomped up. “Those girls pesterin' you again?”

“Yes'm, they're a nuisance.”

Earl's eyes twinkled. “Least they recognize a prime man when they see one.”

“I ain't a man,” Reggie muttered, his face burning even though he knew Earl was teasing. “Is there anything else I kin do fer ya'?”

“I told ya' before, son, we hired ya' to help me, not do everythin' fer us. Go have some fun before we git movin' again.”

Martha watched Reggie join the group of boys shooting marbles. “Mebbe he'd let us adopt him. It's shore nice havin' a youngin' aroun'.”

Earl stretched out on the ground, favoring his broken arm. “He's worth his weight in gold, thet's fer shore, an' he's nice ta have around. I'm glad ta see he's friends with those boys there instead of thet group of hooligans thet's always causing a ruckus.”

Reggie hunkered down with his friends, letting them do all the talking.

“'Bout time ya' got here. Ya' gonna play or not?”

“Yer jist hopin' fer a chance to git yer lucky marble back.”

“Won't be a problem 'cuz ol' Reggie here ain't got no real skill an' I do.”

The boys laughed while Reggie grinned at the friendly ribbing and knuckled back his hat as he lined up for his shot.

“Kin I play?” Lizzie's voice came from right behind Reggie, making him jump and spoil a perfect shot.

“Nah, yer a girl.”

Reggie ducked his head while tugging his hat down to his eyebrows.

Lizzie planted her feet, her scowl settling on Reggie even though he hadn't said a word. “Oh, is thet so?”

Jist calm down, Reg. He scrutinized the marbles and ignored Lizzie.

“Git outta here, Lizzie. We don't want no gossipin' girls 'round here.”

Turning, she narrowed her eyes. “I do not gossip.”

“Yah, right. Yer with them gossipin' girls all the time.”

“They're the only girls on this wagon train 'cept fer the little girls.”

“So?”

Lizzie blew out an exasperated breath. “I wouldn't spend time with them if I had someone else to be with.” She looked pointedly at Reggie.

Reggie drew his dusty sleeve across his face, refusing to look at her. How kin she know?

When Lizzie stalked away Reggie released the breath he'd been holding. “Ollie, s'yer turn. Hurry it up, will ya'?”

“She likes ya', Reggie, but don' ask me why.” The boys guffawed, and jabbed each other.

“Ya' don't know what yer talkin' 'bout,” Reggie said, his face flaming. She better not!

The game was ruined for Reggie and he quickly lost two marbles, making the boys tease him for letting a silly girl get to him. He laughed and teased them right back, “Yer jist jealous.” They have no idea... “I'm goin' ta the river.”

Reggie ducked around the wagon and went into the scrub trees that lined the river. I only talked to Lizzie thet one time when she tol' me about Earl needin' ta hire a boy ta help him. Surely she don't...

Shrieks jerked him back to where he was. “You dirty boy! Thought ya' could spy on us, huh?”

“Git outta here!”

Reggie stood with his mouth gaping before he turned and ran. Dumb girls! They shoulda had look-outs posted! He vaulted over a rock and stopped to catch his breath. They know better than to swim in their chemises without...

“Ooow!” Reggie jumped, swiping at his pant legs. “Git offa me!” Frantically he swatted and mindlessly ran. When he reached the wagon he was still hollering and swiping his pants.

“Haul his drawers down, he's got bees up his pants,” Earl called as he carefully rolled to his feet.

With a quick yank Martha had his pants part way down before Reggie jerked them back up.

All three stood in stunned silence.

“Yer a girl!”

Reggie's fingers clenched her waistband, her face flooding with color. Oh, no. In her panic she didn't even notice when a bee found its mark inside her pants.

Earl and Martha stood frozen, staring at each other until Martha's lips twitched and then tilted into a smile. She turned and looked at Reggie, seeing the long lashes and face of a girl.

“Well, I'll be,” Earl said softly, also looking at Reggie. “Thet shore does explain a lot.”

Martha put her arm around Reggie. “C'mon. Let's git ya' into the wagon so we kin take care of those stings.”

“Hold on a minute.” Earl held out his hand to stop them.

Reggie flinched, bracing herself. Here it comes.

Earl's eyes narrowed and he slowly lowered his hand. “What's yer real name?”

“Regina,” she whispered, her eyes wide, haunted.

“It's ok, Regina. Yer safe here with us.” His gentle voice and eyes reassured her as much as his words. “You ladies go on an' take care of those stings an' I'll get us ready ta roll.”

Regina's pants had been shaken out and the stingers scraped when Martha pulled a jar of salve from a small chest. “This here's the salve my granny used on me whenever I got stung; it should help take the bite out them.”

Martha's kindness and gentleness made tears well in Regina's eyes. I wish she were my ma. “I didn't mean ta deceive ya'.”

Martha smiled sadly. “Didn't ya', though?”

Regina dropped her chin, hiding her tears from Martha. “I'm sorry,” she whispered.

“We understand there was a reason fer it but we need ya' ta tell us the truth now, kin ya' do thet fer us?”

“Yes'm, I kin.”

“Good girl.” Martha wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze, dropping a light kiss on the top of her head. She ruffled the ragged ends of Regina's hair. “I'll trim these up later so it'll look nice as it grows out. How long was it before ya' cut it?”

“Down ta my waist, but it's been kinda nice havin' it short.”

“I don't doubt it fer a minute,” Martha chuckled. “You'll probably miss yer pants, too.”

Regina grimaced. “I didn't bring my dress with me; I was afraid it'd be found.”

“Don't worry, we'll find one fer ya' sooner or later,” Martha smiled. “Now let's get out there an' help Earl. Noonin's bound ta be over soon an' I know he's anxious ta hear yer story.” Martha raised the wagon flap and carefully crawled out, Regina following right behind.

“Well, Martha, do ya' think Regina's as much a help as Reggie was?” Earl called out as Regina's feet landed outside the wagon.

Regina reached out and took her battered hat from his hand and slapped it on her head. “Of course I am.”

Working together they soon had the wagon rolling and were walking alongside the oxen, just as they often did.

“Are ya' runnin' away?” Earl asked.

“No, sir,” Regina quickly replied. “Well, not really,” she amended.

Earl's eyebrows rose. “Why don't ya' tell it to us straight, an' don't leave nothin' out.” His voice was gentle but firm, the same as it had been many other times.

Please don't let 'em send me back. “Ma married a man named Dennis five years ago, not knowin' he was a drinker. He drank away most of the money we made doin' laundry and such. My older sister, Beth, married and moved ta Oregon last year.” Regina looked up at Earl, measuring his response.

“So she's not jist a few trains ahead of us, like ya told us?”

“No sir. She's a year ahead of us.” Regina swallowed nervously.

“Do you even know where she is in Oregon?” Earl asked.

“Willamette Valley.”

“Where in Willamette Valley?”

“Um, I don't know,” Regina hesitantly admitted.

Blowing out his breath, Earl flicked his whip on the flank of his lead ox. “Ok. Go on.”

“Ma died a couple months ago an' Dennis was drunk all the time then. I left a month after she died an' he never once looked fer me. Lizzie told me ya' needed ta hire a boy ta help ya', an' well, ya' know the rest from there.” I don't wanna hafta leave.

“So Dennis isn't lookin' fer ya'?” Earl questioned.

“No sir. I was able ta work fer the hotel some an' they let me sleep in the lean-to off the back of the kitchen. They was real kind, but...well, I couldn't stay much longer.” Regina unconsciously grimaced.

“Was Dennis a mean drunk?” Martha asked after a moment.

Regina shivered. “Yeah. Real mean.”

Earl looked at Martha, his jaw tight.

“Why don'cha go gather some chips fer the fire an' give me an' Earl a chance to talk,” Martha said with a small smile.

“Yes'm.” Regina went to get the gunny sack from the wagon, but turned back. “Thank ya' fer lettin' me explain.” Then she snatched up the sack and trotted off to gather chips as she had many other times.

Earl rubbed the whiskers on his jaw. “You believer her?”

“Yes, I do. Every word of it,” Martha said emphatically.

“Yeah, me too,” Earl breathed. His hand tightened on his whip. “Makes me wish I could git my hands on thet man.”

“She's safe with us now,” Martha reminded him.

“Yeah, she is. It shore does explain a lot, don't it?” Earl chuckled. “Like not wantin' ta go swimmin' with us men. I guess it's a good thing I didn't throw 'er in like I threatened ta do iffen she didn't bathe.” His laughter suddenly died. “I wasn't workin' 'er too hard was I?”

“No, I don't think so. There was no sign of it at least,” Martha assured him.

Earl smiled at Martha. “Yer really wantin' ta adopt 'er now, aren't ya'?”

Martha could only nod. “Do ya' think God's givin' us a girl after losin' the babies?”

“I don't know, but I shore hope so. I guess we'll hafta wait an' see.”

Later that evening Regina was playing marbles with the boys again, feeling guilty for the first time. Lizzie flounced up, holding something behind her back.

The boys elbowed each other, groaning. “Git outta here, Lizzie.”

“We told ya', Lizzie, no gossipin' girls.”

“An' I told ya' at the noonin' thet I don't gossip. Iffen I did I woulda told on Reggie a long time ago.”

“Huh? What's she talkin' 'bout, Reggie?”

Aw, not now, Lizzie. I'm not ready yet.

Lizzie thrust a handful of fabric at Reggie. “Here, Ma said I could share one of my dresses with ya' 'till ya' kin git one of yer own.”

“Reggie don't need no dress!”

“Yer crazy, girl.”

Regina ignored the boys and reached out to take the dress. “How long have ya' known?” she croaked.

“I knew thet first week but I didn't say anythin' 'till it was too late fer them ta send ya' back.” Lizzie looked triumphantly at the boys. “See! I told ya' I don't gossip.”

The boys looked at Regina, thunderstruck. “Yer a girl?”


Submitted by
Patty Wysong

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very funny! I loved it.
Jessie

Manictastic said...

That was a cool story.