This is part of a continuing fiction story I’m working on.
You can find the other parts of the story at the following links:
Mama went to quilting club in the church basement on Tuesday nights. She usually took me and if Edith wasn’t in class she went too.
I didn’t like to sow. I wasn’t any good at it and often pricked my finger on the needles.
“So, Blanche. What do you think you’ll do after graduation?” Millie Baker asked me as she pulled the thread through her quilt piece.
“I really don’t know,” I answered honestly.
I hadn’t thought of what I’d do after graduation. It was a year away and I was just trying to survive my junior year. The only thing I liked to do was read and write but I couldn’t make a living reading and I’d never shown anyone anything I’d written before.
“I think she’d do well as a secretary,” Alice Bouse said with a smile. “She enjoys writing and I could see her typing away on a typewriter pretty easily.”
Fran Tressel nodded approvingly.
“I could see her doing that as well,” she said. “She’d be personable and easy to talk to.”
Other women around the circle nodded and murmured in agreement, talking about me as if I wasn’t there.
“It’s not a bad profession,” Jan Spencer said with a grin.
Jan was the secretary for the school district superintendent and the rumor was she was paid generously for her work. I chose to ignore other rumors about Jan’s close friendship with the assistant superintendent, one that his wife didn’t appreciate.
“And just remember, hon’ there is no rush on gettin’ married,” Betty Bundle said, chewing gum and randomly licking her finger so she could pull apart fabric to stretch out and cut for her project.
Betty’s dirty blond, bleached hair was always piled on top of her head in a messy bun and her earrings were so big they looked like golf balls hanging from her ear lobes. She was a waitress at the local diner and she didn’t have every Tuesday off but if she did she was at sewing club, making me feel like I wasn’t alone with my lack of sewing talent.
“She doesn’t need to worry about that. She isn’t even dating,” Mama said and I felt my face flush.
It was true, but there was no need for her share it with all the women in the sewing circle.
“No? A cute little thing like you? I can’t imagine why you don’t have the boys falling all over you,” Betty said holding a stretch of fabric up in front of her and scrunching her face in disgust.
The women were busily sewing, some at machines, some by hand. Millie was shaking her head at the mistake she’d made in her quilt block.
“It’s just not like it was when we were young,” she said. “Young girls today have some time before they have to find a husband and start having kids. Don’t be like that Jenkins girl, Blanche.”
There were a few clicks of the tongues and “mmhmms” from the gathered women.
“I don’t even think she’d turned 16 when she had that baby,” Alice Simms said. “Her whole life had to be put on hold. Just a shame. And now she’s just popping them out like candy.”
“What’s she up to now? Four? Good grief. She’s just ruining her figure,” Doris Landry said with a snort.
“Well, at least she loves them,” I heard myself say out loud.
I looked around the room worried about the reaction I would receive from such a comment. I didn’t usually speak out but it came out before I’d even fully thought it through. A few of the women glanced at me in surprise. The rest simply nodded as they knitted and sowed, showing they agreed with what I’d said.
“I mean, she cares for them. And they seem to love her too,” I said softly, looking back at my disaster of a project. “I’m sure it’s not easy but – well, maybe it’s worth it at the end of the day.”
Betty winked at me.
“That’s a good point, Blanche. It really is,” she said. “She seems pretty happy – even with starting so early and with that Billy Tanner not giving her much of a life with his job as a farm hand.”
A few of the other women nodded in agreement while some scowled disapprovingly at the mention of Billy. They seemed pleased to push the blame on Billy for the situation now instead of Annie.
“I was 15 when I had my first baby,” 80-year old Jessie Reynolds said quietly from the rocking chair at the end of the row of women. “but that was a long time ago. I was a baby with a baby. That’s the way it was done back then. It wasn’t too shocking for a girl to get married at 14. Our parents couldn’t always afford to take care of us and if a good man could, then we were married off.”
“I would not have enjoyed living back then,” Emily Langer said with a shake of her head. “I can’t imagine being married off to some dirty old man.”
“My man wasn’t dirty at all,” Jessie Reynolds said with a small laugh. “He was the sweetest man I’d ever met. But, I’m sure there were many marriages that weren’t as pleasant as ours.”
Jessie looked at me.
“Blanche, honey, you’re smart. You know that and we all know it. You don’t have to rush into family right away,” she leaned forward and put her hand on mine and smiled. “You take your time. Find a career that will make you happy and see what the world is all about before you rush into getting married and having babies, okay?”
I nodded. I didn’t want any kids right now or maybe even ever. I’d never even babysat one and didn’t like the smell of them. Not only that but their noses were always runny and sometimes they puked for no reason at all.
“Oh, Blanche is probably going to stay home with me for awhile after graduation anyhow,” Mama said. “She can help me at home until she decides on a man to marry. I think she’ll be a housewife, just like me.”
Mama smiled at me and I didn’t know whether to smile back or not. I tried to smile and then looked back at the quilt pieces on my lap and wondered if I really wanted to be just like Mama – an obedient wife who spent most of her days cooking and cleaning and her nights volunteering for the church rummage sale or at the sewing and quilting club.
I didn’t want to rush into a marriage, but I also didn’t want to be stuck in this town my whole life. A career that would take me to adventure sounded good to me.
I felt a bit of annoyance as well at the idea that Mama had already planned my life out for me and the rest of the women seemed to want to do the same. It was my life anyhow. What say did they have in it? I pushed the needle in and out of the fabric aggressively as I thought and then mumbled a curse word under my breath when the needle dug into my fingertip again.
“What’s that, Blanche?” Jessie asked.
“I was just telling my thread and needled to cooperate,” I said forcing a smile.
I sucked the blood off my finger and vowed to find a way to get out of sewing group the next week.
It was a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in May and Mama wanted me to pick up milk and eggs at the supermarket for her while she looked for material for a new summer dress at Missy’s Sew and Fabric across the street.
I hadn’t seen Hank for four months.
When I pulled the milk off the shelf and turned around I jumped at the sight of him standing in the aisle, hat tipped back, a toothpick in his mouth and a few strands of light brown hair across his forehead. He grinned and took the toothpick out of his mouth. His green eyes were bright with amusement.
“Hey there, Blanche,” he laughed as he spoke. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
The one corner of his mouth tilted a little higher than the other when he smiled and I didn’t know why that crooked smile always made my knees feel weak.
I hated the way he made my heart pound in my chest. I hated that I noticed again how green his eyes were. I knew my face had flushed pink under his gaze.
I stepped around him without responding, but he followed me to the eggs.
“Making a cake?” he asked.
“No,” I kept my eyes on the eggs, on the floor, anywhere but on him.
“I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.
I didn’t respond, even though I’d been thinking about him too.
“When can I see you again?” he asked.
I didn’t answer but still he followed me.
“Can I swing by tonight?”
I didn’t look at him as he talked.
“I’ll throw a rock at your window. If you want to see me, come out so we can talk.”
I hurried to the cashier with my heart pounding and a rush of butterflies in my stomach. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t excited that he wanted to see me. I tried to tell myself I didn’t care.
When the rock hit my window that night, I laid there for a long time with the moonlight pouring in on my bed. I did want to see him, but I remembered what daddy had said. What if it all was true? If it was true then why was Hank picking me to talk to? I wasn’t special like all those other girls. I wasn’t even pretty. My brown hair frizzed in the humidity unless I kept it tied back in a pony tail. My skin was almost always pale, except the dark circles that seemed to always show up under my eyes in the spring. I was scrawny, my hips seemed to just fall in a straight line, unlike Edith’s that curved seductively and made every dress look attractive on her. If all that wasn’t bad enough, I wore thick black glasses when I was reading or at school.
And what if daddy saw me sneaking out into the darkness? What if I fell for Hank and then found out it had all been a joke he’d set up with his friends so he could make fun of me?
I heard the clink of another rock against the window and I looked at Edith. She was still asleep.
I tiptoed to the window and saw him looking up at me, waiting. He grinned and waved from the side yard, standing next to mama’s rose bush. I took a deep breath and decided I’d see what he wanted and then run right back to bed.
Somehow, I managed to sneak down the steps without waking Mama and Daddy. When he saw me he took my hand and led me across the yard and down through the field to the maple tree before he spoke.
“Hey, girl, I knew you’d come out,” he said with a small smirk, still holding my hand as he turned around.
“I don’t know why you even want to talk to me,” I said softly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not anyone special.”
“You’re special to me,” he said. “I like you. You’re sweet, smart, and I know if we start talking you’ll open right up to me – like a flower in the sun.”
He opened his other hand upward and laughed softly.
My hand felt small and sweaty in his.
“I want to know more about you. Like what do you want to do when you get out of this town? What do you do for fun? You ever been to a movie even? I know you don’t dance but do you ever want to?”
He was talking softly, trying to keep his voice low but I could hear genuine interest as he spoke. I shifted nervously and cleared my throat.
“I ..uh…I like to read,” I said, feeling stupid, kicking at the dirt with my shoe, head down. “I like movies – like anything with Ingrid Bergman or Clark Gable. Sometimes Daddy takes us to the theater. I don’t know about dancing. I’m not good at it.”
“How do you know you’re not good at it if you’ve never tried?”
I decided I should try to be polite and ask him a few questions as well.
“Where’d you learn to play guitar like that?”
“From my uncle. He was in a band and started playing with me when I was just a tot. I feel free when I play, you know? I don’t have to make anyone happy. I just have to play that music and let it take me out of my head and out of that room and out of this crappy little town.”
He had let go of my hand and was leaning against a tree while he lit a cigarette.
“What about you, Chatterbox?” He asked. “You don’t want to spend your whole life here, do you?”
I knew I didn’t want to always live in this town, but I didn’t feel like I could say it. I wanted to go to all those places I read about in my books at night, huddled under the covers with a flashlight.
“Come on, now, be honest with me. There is more out there for you isn’t there? I’ve heard about you from my brother and his friends. They say you like to read. What do you read about?”
I looked up at him and wondered why he had wanted to know anything about me.
“I read about places far away,” I heard myself blurt out the words and realized no one except Emmy, and maybe Mama, had ever acted interested in what I thought. “I read about adventures far away. I love anything with a good story and maybe a –“
My gaze fell to the grass, silver in the moonlight.
“A good romance,” I finished, embarrassed I had admitted my affection for romantic stories in front of someone who probably knew more about romance than I ever would.
Hank chuckled a little, turned his head away from me and blew a long trail of smoke into the darkness.
“I like a good romance,” he said smugly.
When I glanced up he was smirking and looking me up and down.
I felt my face grow hot.
“Why are you looking so shy, Chatterbox? Hasn’t any boy ever acted interested in you?”
I shook my head.
“Well, they must be blind. Those boys are missing out and they don’t even know it.”
“I’m a nerd. I don’t dance and I don’t flirt and I don’t dress all up like Edith and those other girls.”
He laughed then remembered he was supposed to be quiet and glanced quickly at the house. After a few seconds of watching the dark house to make sure no lights came on, he grinned at me.
“All those other girls are just putting on an act. Don’t you let them intimidate you. Besides that might be what little boys look for in a girl but it’s not what men look for.”
He tossed the cigarette down and stepped closer to me.
“You’re a pretty little thing, Blanche. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not. Shoot. I couldn’t take my eyes off of you at the dance that night.”
I felt him push my hair back from my face and looked up at him.
“I still can’t,” he said softly.
I tensed as he cupped my cheek in his hand. I wanted to run away and hide but I wanted to stay right where I was at the same time.
I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of his skin against my cheek. I kept my eyes closed as I felt his mouth graze my forehead and then my cheek and then my lips. He pulled back slightly then leaned close again and covered my mouth with his, gently, as he slid his arm around me and pulled me against him. The kiss lingered for a few moments but then I felt panic rush through me.
I pulled away quickly and felt myself shivering.
“I have to go inside now. Before my parents – “
He was watching me with a smile and my heart was pounding.
“Can I see you again?” he asked.
“Yes. I mean no. I mean – I don’t know.”
The grass was moist with dew was I ran back toward the house and gently opened the front door so I wouldn’t wake Mama and Daddy or Edith. Upstairs I slid my shoes off and slid into bed, still in my dress. I pulled the covers around me and tried to stop shivering. When I closed my eyes I could still feel his arms around me and his lips against mine.