The pig-bristle brush ripped through her unruly hair with
an audible "SCRIP".
"Ow!" she yelped.
"Jus hush up. Ya making me late for work as it is. Girl
your age should be able ta get h'self up an' ta school without
looking like white trash. Ya go out in them dirty overalls
- what's people gonna say? Say I don't take care o' mah chile.
Say ah ain't a decent woman." She shoved a small metal
barrette into her daughter's hair in a futile attempt to keep
her bangs out of her eyes. She yanked the girl up out of the
chair abruptly and swatted her on the butt with the brush.
"Next time ah tell ya ta get outta bed - yah get, understand
"Yes, mama." The girl called Rogue stared at her
mother sullenly. She grabbed her Star Wars lunch box and made
a dart for the door before her mother could take another shot
with the brush.
"Ya act like a lady, girl! And iffn ah hear that you've
been fightin' again - ah'm gonna tan your hide six ways till
Sunday, ya hear?" But her daughter was already past the
mail box, kicking up tufts of spring dust under her tennis
shoes. Annie Hickens threw her own lanky brown hair up into
a ponytail and grabbed her purse and keys. The '64 Chevy needed
a pop start as usual, but she was thankful for even that.
Money for food and clothes was hard enough to come by. Money
for a new transmission, well, that would be like asking for
a golden hen. Girl could at least help out more often, she
though viciously, backing the rusted Chevy down the drive.
Annie Hickens was not necessarily a cruel woman, she had just
been done in by life. Pregnant at sixteen, she had dropped
out of high school to take a minimum-wage job at the cannery
and raise a child that sometimes seemed more wildcat than
girl. And if that child took a few licks and learned some
hard lessons early, well, maybe it would help her grow up
God-fearing and ladylike so she wouldn't get in a fix like
her ma did.
Rogue scuffed her feet on the dirt road, trying to drag out
her walk as long as possible. She hated the seventh grade
with a passion. The only thing that made it bearable was that
Cody and her had the same homeroom. A familiar blond head
came bursting out of the trees and landed right in front of
her. Speak o' the devil, she mused.
"Arrrr, fair maiden. I be the dread pirate Cody, come
ta steal your gold."
"Ain't got none. Settle for half 'an apple?" Rogue
replied with a giggle.
"Sure thing. Ah missed breakfast."
Rogue opened her lunch box and handed the apple to Cody.
He took it with a smirk. "Maybe you should save that
for Miz. Jaspers, then she'll like ya better."
"Miz. Jaspers is a nasty ol' bat. She don't like me
cause ah don' curl my hair like Imagine Samson, or live up
on Peach Tree Lane." She began a prissy little saunter
in perfect imitation of Imagine that sent Cody into a fit
Munching on the apple in one hand, Cody linked arms with
his best friend, and together, they ran towards school.
As usual, Imagine and her pack were sitting on the cement
stoop in front of homeroom passing around a tin of lip gloss.
She was pink and plump and Cody couldn't help but think she
looked like a fat, smug 'possum. Imagine's smile widened as
she caught sight of Rogue and Cody.
"Lookee here girls, it's skunk-girl and her...friend."
Imagine had tried embarrassing Rogue with the kissing song
before, but a split lip had wised her up, real fast.
Nevertheless, Rogue's eyes narrowed as she took a step toward
"Ya gonna get suspended again," warned Cody underneath
his breath, "don' do it."
Rogue took this to be sound advice, and simply stuck out
her tongue at her.
Cody breathed a sigh of relief. He hated to watch Rogue fight,
even if Imagine was asking for it.
But Imagine wasn't done, not by a long shot. She had learned
a new word from her father and his friends and was dying to
impress the other girls.
"Hoooooow lady-like. But what can you expect from the
girl," she cawed with exaggerated delight, "when
her momma's a whore."
That did it. Rogue was on her in a flash, with one fistful
of blond curls and another fist in her gut. "Take it
back! Take it back!" she screamed.
Cody had known Rogue for, well, ages. He knew straight as
shooting that she had a real quick temper and not always the
best judgment. This time Imagine was going to get hurt bad
and Rogue was going to catch some serious heat. Cody dived
into the ruckus and pulled up a kicking, spiting Rogue.
"Lay off, Cody! Ah'm gonna wrap that nasty tongue of
her around her neck!" Rogue hollered indignantly.
Old Miss Jaspers chose that opportune moment to come busting
out of her room. "What in the name of the good Lord is
going on here?" Imagine Samson was flat on her backside,
screaming bloody murder, with her friends patting her hair
and glaring daggers at Rogue.
In the spirit of friendship, Cody tried a desperate lie.
"Me an' Imagine was fighting Miz Jaspers."
However, Eleanor Jaspers had been managing twelve year olds
since the Truman administration and Rogue's flushed and angry
face told her all she needed to know.
Imagine got sent to the nurse. Cody got detention for lying.
Rogue got sent home on a three day vacation. And Annie Hickman
made good on her promise.
That Saturday, Annie Hickman sat up at the bar at the Black
Tiger and wrestled with the bourbon and the guilt. She had
birched that girl hard, harder than she ever had before.
It had been a bad day at work, and see had been in no mood
to see Rogue home with a note from the principal and a ripped
shirt. Rogue hadn't come out of her room in two days, only
taking the meals her momma left her. And taking them on her
stomach, surely, thought Annie with another twinge of guilt.
She was just trying to see her daughter grow up right, wasn't
she? Slapping down a dollar tip on the bar, she slid off the
stool and walked out straight into the bright sunlight. She
still had fifteen bucks in her purse - why not drop into Sears-Roebuck
and pick the girl up a new shirt? The girls department was
fairly empty and Annie started to flip through the racks looking
for Rogue's size. Girl gonna need a bra soon, she thought
with amusement. She may look half-boy, half-bobcat now, but
soon she's gonna grow into a real looker.
"Looking for something to fit your daughter? Might want
to try the boy's department."
"Or the pet store."
Annie didn't even have to turn around to recognize the voices.
Betsy Samson and her ol' maid sister. Busybodies. If she didn't
say anything, they'd just go away. They did finally saunter
off and Annie drew up the courage to turn around, catching
herself in the mirror as she did.
Once upon a time, Annie Hickman was a very different girl.
She had been "Miss Caldecott County 1971" and even
the mamma's of the rich girls admitted it had been no contest.
She had had glossy brown hair, now threaded with gray and
a pair of sparkling eyes so green everybody had called her
"Scarlet O'Hara". It gave her no small triumph that
she had passed them on the her daughter. They even said Annie
could have been Miss Mississippi - if her folks had had the
money. But she had met a army boy who had promised to take
her far, far away from the Mississippi lowlands. Somehow they
only made it as far as the local motel. He was gone by morning
and Annie was left with visible proof of her "sin".
He had told her she was pretty and he had told her that he
loved her. He hadn't left her a thing that didn't cause her
pain and shame. (He had however, left his daughter a little
something "extra", and Annie Hickman would have
been knocked over dead if she had ever suspected.) Annie's
eye's turned from her weather-beaten face to rack of girl's
party dresses. There was a church picnic on Sunday. She had
originally grounded Rogue from attending, but seeing those
dresses, Annie intended her daughter to have one and let everyone
see that her girl was a real lady .
She found Rogue perched on her bed writing in her journal.
"Hey there, Rogue-girl." she said hesitantly.
Rogue didn't answer, just kept staring at her.
Annie cleared her throat nervously. "Ya shouldn't be
fightin' in the schoolyard."
"Imagine Samson was sassing me."
"Don' matter. Ya gotta find ways of fixing things without
fighting." Rogue's intelligent and accusing gaze unsettled
her more than she wanted to admit. "Ah, ah know ah shouldn'
be hitting you. You growing up real pretty, now. Ya know I
love ya, don't ya Rogue-girl?"
Confused, Rogue continued to watch her mother warily.
"It's jus that ... that a girl like you shouldn' be
stuck in a place like this all a' her life. Ya need ta get
out, and out for good. You made for bettah things, an' ah
want you ta have them." She pulled the Sear's bag out
from behind her back and took out the dress. "This is
so ya have something ta wear to the Church party." Annie
was beaming with motherly pride.
Rogue took the dress from her mother. It was the ugliest
thing she had ever seen. It was long and white, with a lace
collar and puffy sleeves. Cody was gonna laugh himself sick.
Rogue had no clue what her momma's strange speech meant, but
she did know the dress meant "peace." Kissing her
on the cheek, she said softly, "Thanks, momma, it's a
real pretty dress."
Annie hugged her daughter and started crying. Rogue stood
still as a statue, totally baffled.
Rogue would remember that picnic for the rest of her life.
She found Cody early, swinging on a rope near the river. Conscious
of her dress, Rogue was eager to prove that it didn't mean
a thing .
"Can't, silly. This here's a boy's rope," replied
"Tain't no such thing as a 'boy's rope' Cody! If'n I
wanna swing on it ... ah'll do as ah please!" She grabbed
the rope with both hands and swung a wide arc over the river.
"A'right, so ya proved how brave ya is. Now get down
'efore ya fall inta' the river!" Cody shouted. "If'n
anything ever happened to ya sugah ... ah'd up and die."
"Why ... why'dja call me sugah?"
"Ah guess, cause underneath all yer tough words an even
tougher wrasslin' yer just a sweet lil' thing. At least ah
reckon ya' are. "Course only one way t'know for sure
... sugah!" Cody pulled Rogue close to him in a young
boy's kiss, and the pain and fear that followed had no place
in the innocence of the moment.
Like a tidal wave, Cody's memories and feelings poured into
Rogue mind, forcing her to stagger backwards as Cody fell
limply to the ground.
She clutched her head desperately and screamed, "CODY!?
Cody waatcha done t' me? Please Cody - get outta mah head!
GET OUTTA MAH HEAD!"
It was some time before the children were found. Courtesy
of her neighbors, Rogue received a new name. Not skunk-head,
or wildcat, but mutant. Somehow that was worse than all the
others rolled up together. And Annie Hickman got her fondest
wish that day, even if it caused her the shock of her life.
Her baby girl got out of Caldecott County. For good.
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