My Grandmama’s house. The softness of bread dipped in milk. Criss-crossing railroad ties. The smell of burning paper. A fire going, or going out. Once, as a child, I followed a stray dog but it belonged with a girl at the end of the dirt road. Belonged in a way I didn’t yet know. In the way that they spent life near one another. No collar, or rules, but some kind of regularity of affection tied to need. There was no ownership but chaos, and that created a bond.
The dog that led me to the girl disappeared lapping something in the woods. The girl looked to me and pulled. Her brown shaggy hair and skinny white legs like mine, but not quite. I wanted to know more. She invited me into her home. The mattress on the floor. A sheet struggling across it. A spot for her, Mama, and brother. She asked to sleep over at my Grandmama’s house.
I asked, but the adults said the girl’s request was suspicious. She was looking for a way in, they said. The last time I saw her, we threw sticks in a ditch together. She kept asking how big my bed was, asked me to describe the blankets, how fluffy? I kept searching for what the adults said was suspicious.
I didn’t see her again. I had many dolls then. I played with my dolls instead of finding her down the dirt road. Why do dolls make us invent? Are they facilitators for conversations we have with ourselves? Why do we grow out of that? Maybe we should keep dolls around to help us remember and access those parts of ourselves. Or, are we supposed to replace dolls with people? I never could be that honest with a person, it wouldn’t be polite.
I learned recently that tarnation means damnation. My southernness makes me hate Yosemite Sam. His white south westernness on display as a joke. Lily-livered, hootin’ tootin’, bobtail wildcat fastest gun north south east west of the Pecos. His mustache and domino doom bandit mask. His ruralness synonymous with lawlessness synonymous with stupid. His red hair connoting Scottish or Irish ancestry. How he hated rules, how easily he’s outsmarted. The way he thinks everything is a varmint. How he can’t tell the difference between animal and man so he shoots everything. The way my grandaddy dropped out of college because it interfered with hunting season. The way I went to college. The way any southern accent was schooled out of me in the new south. The way I don’t drink sweet tea in the new south. My mother grew up on the same dirt road the girl grew up on, at the other end. I shouldn’t have walked that far down, that’s what they said.
I think about damnation, tarnation. I think about the mattress that took up the whole room. The girl who wanted to sleep in my bed. Durn, darn, dag, and all the words we use instead of damn because it seems safer, less offensive. How they showed me with language that being suspicious is synonymous with something else. How those ideas became interchangeable. How they wanted me to be suspicious of people with less. How I got a doll instead of a friend. The way they needed to keep us separated even though we walked the same dirt road.
Suzanne Richardson earned her M.F.A. in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the University of New Mexico. She currently lives in Binghamton, New York where she’s a Ph.D. student in creative writing at SUNY Binghamton. She is the writer of Three Things @nocontactmag and more about Suzanne and her writing can be found here: https://www-suzannerichardsonwrites.tumblr.com/ and here: @oozannesay
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