BY JULIE EGER
This story first appeared in Fictive Dream. Copyright is held by the author.
NELL COME in ridin’ her fat-tired bike with a basket on each side — in the front — carryin’ most everything she had in life, ‘cept one thing.
Missus Baker was takin’ the flour and sugar out’n the back of the truck which carried most everything they had, too, that didn’t fit’n the shack. Mister Baker was in the outhouse readin’ a section of National Geographic. Missus Baker coulda been in what they called the ladies room, ‘cept she didn’t have to go right then, so’s she was the one what saw Nell show up, lookin’ all sweated and bedraggled in a purple cloth dress pulled up around her knees so’s the cloth didn’t catch in the chain, with a flowery triangle scarf holdin’ back her brown hair. Missus Baker took one look at Nell and knowed she was a hungry one.
Nell jumped from the seat in one easy motion with her bare feet landin’ square in the dirt and the fat-tired bike propped along her hip. She scratched around in the front basket and took out a jug of water and took a long sip, then held it to Missus Baker.
“No, I’m good,” Missus Baker said as Nell corked it and pushed it back in the basket, the neck stickin’ up.
“You want somethin’ to eat?” Missus Baker asked.
“That’d sure be nice,” Nell said.
So’s Missus Baker told Nell to come on in, and opened the door of the shack and Maynard and Axel tipped right back in their chairs. Nell was dusty but stood straight and ate her biscuit like a lady, little pieces at a time, her eyes never left off lookin’ at the boys.
Mister Baker came in then and said, “Little thing like you wanderin’ ‘round here all by your lonesome ain’t safe none as you ain’t got no gun.”
Missus Baker knowed he’d gone through Nell’s baskets when he was done in the shitter.
Nell give Mister Baker one of them looks that said if I was afraid I sure wouldn’t be ‘fraid of the likes of you and then she went and stood over by the boys. “I’m looking to get married. You two see any men ‘round here?”
Maynard flipped back farther and his chair scritched against the wall and his eyes was all wide, sayin’, “I’m taken.”
“I ain’t been lookin’,” Axel added but he wouldn’t meet her eye and it was then they heard the rain comin’ down on the patched roof.
Nell stared at Axel a good long while then her little hand flew to her mouth as if she knew what he wasn’t sayin’.
“Good Lord, I left the window down and all my stuff’ll git wet,” she cried and she flit out the room fast as a sparrow.
“She ain’t got no window ‘cuz she ain’t got no truck,” Mister Baker scratched his head.
But Nell was on the fat-tired bike in one easy leap, zigzagging out down the road, the pine boughs sweeping along her back and water swishin’ everywhere, Axel right behind all the way, runnin’ easy, listenin’ all along ‘cuz she never once quit jabberin’ as she pumped past the road, up and over the hills in the fields with Axel trailin’ behind.
“I is lookin’ for a man what can ease a pain I got inside, but don’t you go pokin’ around in my soul if yer afraid. What I got in me is a bigger thing than you’ve ever seen. I got ideas. I’m a good woman, best thing someone the likes of you’d ever find.” Nell’s words was flying through the rain like a bright flock of finches lookin’ for a place to land.
And her legs kept on pumpin’ that fat-tired bike and the rain was comin’ down gettin’ mixed in with all her tears and Axel’s breath was gettin’ harder to come by and then at the top of that last hill, she stopped. Nell stood straddle with her feet planted in the mud as she dabbed the flowered scarf at her cheeks, across her forehead to draw up some of the water and then turned her face to Axel as he pulled up beside her, pantin’ now, with his hands on his knees. He got himself all set to speak and she put wet fingers to his lips and give him a long look.
Axel pulled at her fingers and said, “I ain’t afraid to go pokin’ around in your soul.”
Then he never let go a her hand.