leigh

We was out late one night—
some party.
Didn’t get a chance to call
an’ let him know what was goin’ on,
an’ so when we finally got home,
he was up waitin’ for us—all worried—
’bout her.
I guess I oughta be used to that by now,
but it hurts every time anyway.

I remember when he first showed up—
struttin’ up the walk like he was special or somethin’.
It wasn’t how he looked,
’cause his clothes was a mess,
an’ his beard an’ hair needed a trimmin.’
But he had this look about him.
I was a watchin’ from my top bedroom window—
peekin’ ’round the curtains.
I did that a lot—
pretendin’ somethin’ special was gonna happen—
come up that walk right there an’ surprise me.
He was between Poppa and Rach,
an’ that did surprise me.
An’ Poppa was laughin’,
an’ that was a surprise.
They came in an’ went inta the den—I heard ’em.

I heard ’em all laughin’,
an’ snuck outa my room
(avoidin’ the squeaky strips of wood in the hallway)
ta set on the top step an’ listen,
an’ hope they might holler out,
“Hey, Leigh! Come on down an’ set with us!”
An’ I’d picture goin’ down,
an’ smilin’ an’ laughin’—
an’ then hopin’ they wouldn’t holler out,
’cause I’d see me down there not smilin’—not laughin’,
while they did,
an’ feelin’ like I’d much rather
be back upstairs just wantin’ to be down with them.
Don’t make much sense, huh?
It ain’t like needlework.
No pattern to the way folks feel.
Or maybe it’s that there is a pattern
an’ you just can’t get away from it.

Sewin’ makes sense.
One stitch leads to the next.
And what you sew together belongs together—
assumin’ you know what you’re doin’—
know your fabrics.
Like you’d never sew a new unshrunk patch
on an old pair a faded and shrunk up jeans.

Sewin’s somethin’ I feel good about.
So I tend to run on a bit about it.
So I’s settin’ up there on that top step
wantin’ to do some fancy stitchin’,
but knowin’ if I left my pattern,
it’d all come unraveled.

Turns out he was some kind of distant kin,
an’ he moved in.
So I met him the next day.
Ran inta him in the kitchen.
I went in ta get some bleach
an’ he an’ Poppa an’ Rach
was all leanin’ ’gainst the counter drinkin’ lemonade.

Poppa, he introduced us,
“Leigh, this is Jake. Jake, Leigh.”
An’ he said, “Hey,”
but his eyes kinda slid right over me an’ went over to Rach.
I’s used to that.
Rach is the purty one—
even if she don’t wear make up, an’ does wear pants,
an’ works out in the stable with the horses.
That’s where they met that first time.
She was workin’ when he came up—
probably curryin’ that big paint of hers.
I’s probably sewin’ or cleanin’
or makin’ lemonade or supper.
They hit it off right good from the start.
Lots of fellas had their heads turned by Rach,
but she’d never taken to any of ’em,
but she liked Jake alright.

Mama allus said one day
someone special’d come along for me,
but I didn’t believe that anymore.
I’d dream about it sometimes,
but I didn’t believe it.
Why would someone want me?
’Specially after seein’ Rach, ya know?
Sometimes, I’d go inta the bathroom
an’ lock the door
an’ look in the mirror
an’ look at one part of me—like my eyes—
an’ picture that everything else fit perfect with those eyes,
an’ that it all came together an’ I’d be beautiful.
An’ I’d look through my eyes,
an’ everything’d go out of focus,
an’ I’d be beautiful.
Until my eyes focused again an’ I saw me.
At which point sometimes I’d cry,
but usually I’d just look—just look
an’ smile that kinda smile that’s not lips liftin’
but eyes scrunchin’ up,
an’ I’d turn on all the hot water—
steam up the bathroom till that mirror got all fogged up
an’ I couldn’t see me no more.
An’ I’d write “Why?” real big with my finger
an’ then turn on the fan an’ set on the floor
till it all went away.

Jake, now, he didn’t go away.
Fact, he started workin’ for Poppa.
Moved inta the spare room off the utility room.
I didn’t find out till later,
but when Poppa asked Jake ’bout payin’ him,
Jake said he’d work for Rach.
I mean wanted to work an’ then—so he—
he wanted ta marry Rach—
which wasn’t nothin’ new,
but this time Rach seemed partial to the idea.
I wouldn’t’a thought Rach would much care for such—
you know, bein’ someone’s pay.
I guess it comes down to how you feel about who’s doin’ the payin’.

Poppa wasn’t a horse trader for nothin’ though,
and Jake did a good bit of work for us.
Fact he built most of that new stable down the hill,
an’ dug more fence holes than I can count—
popped more blisters than I’d care to count.

Time didn’t mean much to him or Rach though.
They’d go ridin’ almost every evenin’.
Her on that big paint of hers,
him on a big bay geldin’.
I’d watch ’em go from my window—
peekin’ through the curtains,
an’ wonder what it’d be like
to ride ’longside someone down the trail—
cuttin’ cross the hayfield—
splashin’ through the creek where it was shallow
an’ settin’ under the old water oak
holdin’ hands an’ talkin’.
An’ then I’d most always go to the bathroom—
look me out of focus,
turn on the hot water,
wonder why,
wait for the steam to settle,
an’ go sew.
I made lots of cute outfits—
looked real good on Rach.

Then came the weddin’—
with Poppa tellin’ me to take Rach’s place.
Now you just can’t say “No” to Poppa.
So I did what he said,
an’ it was like I knew it’d be settin’ on the steps
listenin’ to ’em down in the den.
I was where I’d wanted to be—
where I’d dreamed ’bout bein’—
wishin’ I wasn’t there—feelin’ like I didn’t belong.

Jake wasn’t happy—wasn’t happy at all.
He an’ Poppa had a long talk,
an’ we ended up stayin’ at home.
It was like nothin’ had changed.
He was still workin’ for Rach.
He’d gotten me an’ that didn’t mean nothin’—
didn’t matter.

I still go to the bathroom
an’ set in front of the mirror—
never really lookin’ at me though—
just waitin’ for the steam—
no kinda smile—
no nothin’ on my face—
until there wasn’t nothin’ to see but fog,
an’ I’d set there.
I don’t ask why anymore.
I don’t turn on the fan.
An’ since makin’ Rach’s wedding gown,
I don’t sew.

I’d gone down the steps,
an’ it just didn’t matter—
it just didn’t matter.

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