It was Aunt El that brought me back to the house an hour or so later. I had been sitting in the barn with Kyle after we fed the pups. I was dying to ask him what had happened to his fingers, but I clamped my mouth shut so I wouldn’t embarrass him. We had been talking about taking a walk over to Beaufort and catching a film. Kyle said he liked films a whole lot, especially ones with pretty girls.
“Wasn’t a pretty girl in Carter’s Crossing ’til you got here,” he said.
I blushed so deep I felt faint.
“Of course we got horses in the barn we could feed.” He looked at me and probably knew by the look on my face that I didn’t care much for feeding horses.
“Grandma Edna usually doesn’t let us feed the horses, says we got servants for that, but I could ask her.”
“Servants? Are you kidding?”
“Nope. Didn’t you have them in Louisiana?”
Kyle seemed a little confused by that and looked away, as if he thought everyone had servants, or should have ’em.
“We could take a bike ride over to Abner Creek and catch fish.” He smiled back at me and I could tell he liked to fish. Unfortunately, I didn’t.
“I like films a whole lot,” I said.
It was then I caught Aunt El leaning against the barn door. She’d been listening to our conversation, but I didn’t know for how long. Not that we’d said anything important, but I didn’t much like being spied on.
She was staring at me and Kyle and I wondered what she was thinking; she looked to be a hiccup away from puking.
“C’mon, Sassy. We got your mama’s room ready. You’ll be staying with her. It’s a pretty room. It’s got white lace on the windows and it’s all blue. The windows look out over the hills. I think you’re going to like it.”
I looked back at Kyle and he stood there with his hands in his pockets kind of rocking back and forth on his feet. I think I would have preferred being tossed naked into a snake pit than walking into that house, or anywhere near it, and I knew he was reading my mind. I knew by the way he was grinning at me.
Aunt El put her arm around my shoulder and led me out. She walked slowly and I was a bit relieved that she did. When I looked toward the porch I could see that the old lady still hadn’t left her chair, which meant I’d have to walk right by her.
“It’s good for Kyle to have someone near his own age to do things with,” Elvira was saying. “It’s been so lonely for him. You know how kids are. They’re so cruel. Bad enough he can’t read, but he’s got those missing fingers, something else for the kids to tease him about.”
“What do you mean he can’t read?”
That sure took me by surprise; he’d seemed smart to me. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at Elvira. I heard her sigh.
“He never learned to read. Can’t learn, it seems. He’s in some special class in school, but he just sits there. Teachers tell us he’s retarded.”
“Can he write?” I asked, knowing if he could write, then he could surely learn to read.
Elvira shook her head. “Nope, can’t write, either,” she said.
“He’s got missing fingers, maybe that has something to do with it, why he can’t write?”
“He’s got a whole other hand of fingers. If the right one don’t work, use the left.” Aunt El stopped walking and looked up at the sky, like I was up there instead of where I was standing. She was tall and nearly as skinny as Seth. She didn’t really look much older than me, though she was past Mama’s age.
“He’s retarded. Runs in this family. There was a baby born like that, years ago, retarded like Kyle.”
I couldn’t believe it. Kyle hadn’t seemed at all retarded to me.
“But he’s smart,” I said.
Elvira laughed and drew me close. “Maybe so,” she said. “But he can’t read and he can’t write and most of the time he just looks off, as if there’s nothing in his head at all.”
“What happened to his fingers?” I asked.
She looked up toward the sky again. “He cut them off,” she said. “We don’t know if it was on purpose or not. But you know how boys are. He was out there playing with the chainsaw and next thing I knew he was on the ground trying to reattach his fingers.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It made me sick to think that something so perfect could be made imperfect by some stupid mistake.
“Doctors couldn’t do it, of course. Poor Kyle. He’ll spend the rest of his life like that. Whatever is going to become of that boy?”
I felt Elvira clutch my shoulder. I felt her grip.
“Pretend you don’t notice his abnormality, Sassy. He’s kind of sensitive about it.”
Nothing seemed real. Kyle had made too much sense to me and now in an instant, he made no sense at all. I didn’t know where my mama had led me or why she’d come back to this place. We could have stayed in Louisiana, gone to New Orleans or back to Baton Rouge. Mama could have gotten work in those big cities. We didn’t need this family.
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