The next day at church she bubbled with news. "Melinda called from the bus station in Marion late last night, back from Sioux City. When we picked her up, she was so tuckered out from traveling that she went right to sleep in the car, hardly even woke up to go to bed, and was still sleeping when we got up for church this morning. Well, we decided to let her just rest up a bit." She dropped her voice and confided, as if selling secrets of state. "You know, it's a two-day trip on the Greyhound. The poor thing is just exhausted."
"Your Aunt Doris is feeling better, then?"
"Oh, yes," Helen said. "Melinda said she's fit as a fiddle now."
"It's a blessing to have family to help you out when you need it."
"Yes, it sure is."
There's a particular kind of haze that hangs over an Indiana town on a hot August day. It isn't really bright golden, at least not in Heaven. It's almost white.
The fortune-teller slept in her tent that Friday night. Something she rarely did, but there was more air there than in the trailer, and the August heat was so still and pressing that those with any options to do so bedded down where there was at least hope of a bit of breeze.
John and Maggie Quinn Fletcher fled with their chubby, but not yet giant infant to the riverside, where they sat far enough apart to let any wayward breeze circulate freely between them. The baby, a girl, was colicky. Maggie let her suck a finger dipped in whiskey before handing the pint bottle to her husband. Then she raised her skirt over her immense knees and fanned herself with it. John settled his bulk on the bank of the river and sipped the whiskey. Between them they weighed well over half a ton, and August heat was one of their greatest occupational discomforts, if not outright hazards. The baby was, as yet, in the normal weight range, but it, too, was suffering from the heat.
The less kind among their audiences declared it a miracle that John and Maggie were ever able to get near enough to each other to accomplish pregnancy in the first place. But somehow they had, though Maggie had been unaware of her condition until the night of the Memorial Day parade. She had eaten heavily in spite of the heat, her value to the carnival dependent upon her ability to top the scales at more than five hundred pounds. An illness earlier that spring had caused her weight to dip precipitously to four hundred eighty-one, and she needed to gain back the lost twenty pounds. Her part of the sideshow involved stepping onto elephant scales for a weigh-in. The scales had initially been altered to keep her above five hundred, but a rare inspection from Weights and Measures that day had required Mr. Coleson, the carnival manager, to correct the "error."
The night of the parade, Maggie thought she had heartburn. When she began to have cramps, John sent for Granny, as everyone called Madame Gajikanes. Granny was known, in addition to her fortune telling, for having a few tricks up her sleeve: old Gypsy cures, it was said. The carny people were generally willing to put much more trust in their own Granny than in any of the small-town doctors who practiced along the carnival routes.
Maggie's water broke just as Granny arrived, and it hadn't take her psychic powers to note that Maggie's problem would be fully apparent in a moment and far more chronic than heartburn.
So when Granny awoke from the mugginess and stepped outside her tent that August morning to catch a bit of air, she thought at first that John and Maggie had left their daughter Lenore at the door. It took only a moment to realize, however, that the infant at her feet was entirely new, no more than a day or two old.
Granny didn't hesitate. She brought the basketed baby in. "And who are you?" she crooned to it, as she peeled back the bits of blanket and clothing to see if it was boy or girl who had come visiting. "A little girl? That nobody wants? And nothing to your name. Nada en todos. Rien de tout. But that's all right. That's the best way to be. Nothing to hold you down, nothing to keep you back. Let me see your hand, little one." Gently, she pried the tiny fist open. "A strong heart line," she assured the infant. "That's good. You'll need it in this world. And you've got a good long life coming, too." She touched the life line and the baby closed her fist again, holding tightly to Granny's finger. But what struck Granny most about this newcomer wasn't her lifeline. It was her eyes. They seemed to take in everything.
Copyright Jan Maher 2000. All rights reservered
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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