Miss Jeanette Theresa picks up a fallen branch from the water oak. Ozeal Autin watches her march around the front year. He thumps, thumps, thumps the top of his head. Miss Jeannette Theresa slams her feet into peat moss, an earthy sponge. Her hand dances around alligator bark. Her wrist rotates in perfect circles. She twirls. She twirls and twirls and twirls. She shines silvery. Light reflects off of her. It finds Ozeal Autin. The Light says, “Ozeal, you love that Miss Jeanette Theresa.”
Miss Jeanette Theresa circle the tree. Her hand rolls raw, tender. She nimbles the edge of a blister in the crescent of skin that links her thumb and forefinger. Ozeal wants to lie still in that space, let her rock him to sleep in the hammock of her hand.
Miss Jeannette Theresa lets the fluid drip into her palm. She gathers it there. She reaches with her tongue. Ozeal Autin thinks: salty. She sprinkles the drops into the puddle beneath the water oak. Ozeal watches them fall.
When Miss Jeannette Theresa goes inside for her lunch, Ozeal pulls a cane fishing pole from inside the flatboat he is working on. He breaks the pole in half, sands the broken edges down and sticks corks on either end. He tucks it between the trunk of the water oak and a thick heavy branch that swings down low to the ground.
For one solid week, Ozeal Autin checks to see if Miss Jeannette Theresa find the cane baton. Her sleeps under the flatboat in Mister Salmen Fritchie’s shed that rides up on the side-yard of her house.
On the seventh day of Ozeal watching, Miss Jeannette Theresa discovers the cane baton. She picks it up, runs her holy hands across its smooth surfaces. She twirls the cane baton round and round her palm. She twirls the cane baton round and round, inside and across her fingers. Ozeal thump, thump, thumps the top of his head. He wishes he was that cane baton. He wants her fingers to twirl his body. He wants to move inside her hand, between her fingers. Ozeal wants to be silvery.
From morning till noon, from noon to dusk, Miss Jeannette Theresa twirls. Ozeal like the way her skirt flares up, showing her slippery petticoat. On one twirl he sees her underpants; he grows hard.
On the ninth day, he climbs from under the flatboat before the sun rises. He washes his face in a bucket of rainwater that collects behind the boathouse. He takes a sip and rinses out his mouth. Ozeal is hungry. He pulls a pickled egg out of his pocket, but forgets to eat it. He leaves it rolling on the open lid of the tackle box that sits on a bench inside the flatboat.
Ozeal Autin crosses the yard and pulls himself over the chicken wire fence. He sits down under the water oak, on a thick root balancing his feelings. They teeter-totter inside. They burst into his throat and burn.
Ozeal takes off the steel-tipped boots he inherited from his daddy, and wipes smudges of creosote from the shipyard of the toes. Socks peel off like second skin. He washes his feet in the puddle that holds the driblet of Miss Jeannette Theresa’s blistered palm. Then he pulls his boots back on again.
Betsy Woods is a native New Orleanian. Her fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review, The New Orleans Review, Alive Now, and The Literary Trunk. Her nonfiction has appeared in ACRES USA, The Times-Picayune, Citizens Together, and Sophisticated Woman. She is a writer, editor, teacher, and narrative therapist. She has an MFA in writing from Spalding University.
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