It all started way back when I was nothin’ but a toddler, maybe two or so. Mama has pictures of me holding whole bouquets of four-leaf clovers. Didn’t even know what they was way back then. Just liked ‘em, you know? Same way a lil one picks a whole buncha dandelions for their Mama.
Anyhow, there’s whole albums of me and my clovers, all the way ‘til I was round about tens or so and wouldn’t let her take ‘em no more. Figured a person only needed so many pictures of themselves holdin’ greenery.
Didn’t matter, cuz by then it was obvious there was something diff’rent about me. Like, I was just always finding stuff. Lucky stuff. Charms, clovers, and the like.
Lucky penny? Every penny I find has its head staring right on at me. I got jars full.
Lady bugs? I can’t even go ten steps in the summer without those lil red beauts landing on me like I’m some kinda taxi service.
Horse shoes? Rabbits feet? Don’t know how or why, but those darn things just keep on fallin’ right in my lap. Running outta room for ‘em all, to be perfectly honest. No one else in my family wants to do so much as touch ‘em, let alone see them all about the house.
Rainbows? See ‘em every time it rains. Even when there’s not a drop of sunlight about. Even at night iffen I happen to be awake.
Never had a black cat cross my path. Not once. Those lil fur babies always wait for me to go first. Never once broke a mirror or even had the chance to walk under a ladder. And those are just the most common ones. Bet there’s others I don’t even know nothin’ about, just happening all around.
Bet I can guess just what yer thinkin’… Junie Baby, you must be the luckiest lil gal around.
You can go an’ bet on that all you want. I won’t be stopping you. But you’d be dead to rights wrong. I never had one lucky thing happen in all my life.
Yeah, sure, I never once broke a mirror but I drop ‘em on the regular. I walk by, they fall off a wall or plunk right off a table. We can’t even have ‘em in the house. Not that my brothers give a right care what they look like, but I know Mama would sure like to check on herself afore she leaves the house.
And it ain’t just mirrors. Chairs are always breakin’ when I sit. Even had a couple tables fall right down on me, like the legs was made of wet cardboard or something. Those black cats? Might let me pass, but then they claw me from behind.
Had so many stitches, Ole Doc started callin’ me Frankenstein, even though I ain’t yet reached thirteen.
Don’t matter what it was, iffen it can go wrong near me, it sure as heck does.
“Mama, why?” I finally asked. Like, it really had never occurred to me to ask until just now. But I was right stuck on the couch with a broken wrist from falling out of a tree this morning. First day of summer no less.
She pursed her pale pink lips and sighed. “Oh, Junie Baby, it’s the curse, honey. Nothin’ to be done about it. Now, how’s about I get my poor girl some more pop? Maybe a snack?”
“Don’t you mind on that one bit, baby girl.” She headed on for the kitchen, and I heard her rustling about in the pantry, heard the plinkplink of ice going into a glass.
A riot of yells and laughs erupted outside under the rumpus room window. My parcel of seven brothers no doubt causin’ all sorts of problems already for the neighbors. I was usually out there right in the thick of ‘em. “Leader of the pack,” Daddy called me, even though I was the youngest. “You get out there and take charge of those hoodlum,” he always urged me.
The screen door squealed open. “Y’all best not be killin’ yerselves out there,” Mama yelled, her voice loud but matter o’ fact. It carried all the ways down the block. They was always aiming to kill each other. Somehow not a one of ‘em ever got more than a scratch.
Speaking o’ scratching…my arm itched like a nest of ‘skeeters got under all that plaster and had a party, with me as the bowl o’ punch. Nothing I did made it any better.
“This’ll help,” Mama said, coming back into the room, her sundress swaying around her knees. She handed me one of her long knittin’ needles, then put the remote next to me, ‘long with a pile of her women’s magazines, another drippy glass of pop, and a big bag of chips. “Now, I gotta go over to Mrs. Henderson’s for a while. Promised her I’d look in on her mama while she was workin’ today. Need to get her dinner going. You gonna be okay for a bit?”
I glanced out the window at the joyous sounds of murder from my brothers, longing to be out there with ‘em all. “Yeah, guess so. But, Mama?”
“Yeah, baby girl?”
She raised her eyes all the way to the top edge o’ Heaven, her lips moving in frantic, silent prayer. It happened a lot ‘round our house. “It’s nothing, baby girl. Just watch yer shows. I’ll be back to start on our dinner ‘fore you know it.”
But the look on her face told me to shut my trap and shut it fast.
But if it really were nothin’ then why wasn’t she talking on it?
I tossed and turned all night, mostly cuz of the itchin’…but not just the itchin’ under my cast. My brain was a hornet’s nest of buzzes. All I knew ‘bout curses came from the fairy tales Daddy read to me, and the stuff I saw on TV, all way more dramatical than my real life.
Who even cursed anybody these days? Fairies belonged in stories (and maybe still in Ireland, Daddy wasn’t all the way sure ‘bout that one), and it’s ain’t like someone can just walk into the general store and get a big ole book on cursin’ folks.
Any time I tried to look Mama right in the eye, to weasel a lil something more from her, she stared right on back, kissed the top of my head, and handed me another snack. She musta warned Daddy, cuz he just went on and made sure we was never in a room alone together. Guess he knew he was weak when it came to my pleadin’ eyes.
The first half of the summer past pretty much like that. Sometimes Mama chased me out to the porch with some of her magazines, sayin’ the fresh air and sunshine was good fer healin’. Mostly she just let me turn into a lump on the couch. Pretty sure she felt right bad for me. Also pretty sure she knew my brothers would get me into a mess o’ trouble if they saw me.
Whenever chance showed up, and it came ‘round plenty, I turned that crackly TV up loud ‘nough to cover up my movements and I searched all the books we had. It wasn’t many, but I snatched up all the books with fairy tales and stories Daddy used to read me afore bedtime. I put to mind every lil bit I could about curses. Nothin’ seemed to fit just right, not yet, but if Mama wasn’t gonna spill the beans on this curse, then it was up to me to do the diggin’.
And then came the glorious day Ole Doc freed me from that itchy, nasty cast. Let me spare you just exactly how much it stank (like that one time a middle brother hid a fish under Mama’s couch and the smell made us all want to kill him) and how weird my wrist looked (like the good table cloth afore Mama goes at it with her iron).
Yeah, sure, I had to wear a brace for the entire rest of the summer, but Mama freed me from the shackles of home with a wave of her hand. Soon as the car pulled up the dusty driveway, I was off and away. I dashed to my room, grabbing my backpack. Soon it was stuffed with all those books I’d been squirrelin’ away, plus a couple pops and a sandwich.
Shouts and hoots I credited toward my brothers, at least some gatherin’ of ‘em, sang out from deep in the woods borderin’ the house. I ran in the other direction, not wantin’ something else to end up in plaster before I had a chance to enjoy a single moment. Summer was fer fun, and rootin’ like a tater on the couch weren’t fun in the least.
I crashed my way to the creek (literally…I fell four times, banging up both knees and getting long scrape on my shoulder) and plopped to the dry bank. No food has ever tasted so good; freedom is the perfect condiment for a ham n’ cheese. Mindful of the pages, I kept my toe splashin’ to a minimum as I flipped through each of the book again and again. And still they offered me no answers. Worse’n my teachers who sometimes thought 2+3=4…
A tattered page fluttered from the torn jacket of a well-read bedtime book, one of Daddy’s favorites for his best girl.
My heart stuttered and thumped like a rabbit outrunnin’ a fox.
I knew. Like, in the movies, I just knew. This was it. This was gonna tell me all about the curse.
It shook when I tried to read it. Made it right hard to focus, I tell ya. But…yeah, I was way wrong. It was nothin’ more than Gramm’s recipe for peach cobbler (best in three counties and she had the wall o’ ribbons to prove it to all those naysayers, but it weren’t gonna give me the answers I wanted).
Still, after readin’ over it a few times, I had a serious hankering for a warm scoop, all smothered in melty vanilla ice cream. And tell me you ain’t droolin’ at the mouth right now thinkin’ on it.
Only one thing was gonna make that cravin’ disappear.
I tucked the recipe in my back pocket and ran home, hollerin’ at Mama as I dumped my heavy bag to the kitchen floor. “I’m goin’ to Gramm’s!”
“Junie Baby, what you shoutin’ about?” She poked her head around the corner. “Oh, fer Heaven’s sakes. What happened to you, baby?”
Bruises and scrapes were no stranger to me, so I shrugged. “Was just out playin’. Going to see Gramm. Yeah?”
“Sure thing, baby girl. You watch yer hinney out there, okay? You only just got healed up.”
The brace on my wrist was so light I’d almost forgotten it was even there. “I’m always careful, Mama.”
She rolled her dark eyes to the Heavens, but a smile played on her lips. “Give your Gramm a big kiss from me, you hear? And take her this.”
Mama handed me a loaf of still-warm bread swaddled in a towel and jar of her coveted blackberry jam; it had its own wall o’ fame in our house. “Be home fer supper, baby girl,” she called to my retreatin’ backside.
Laden down with goodies, I half-skipped, half-shuffled the mile up the road to Gramm’s house. Afore I’d even made it outta my own yard, the legs o’ five lady bugs and a butterfly tickly my skin. Freeloaders, the lot of ‘em.
Good ole Gramm had taken pity on poor Mama when brothers #3 and #4 (twins) were born a month early, moving back to our tiny lil town from her “paradise” in New Orleans.
I only dropped the loaf three times. Mama was wise to wrap it all up like she did. But I found eight four leaf clovers bendin’ over to pick it on up. The jam, precious cargo that it was, somehow survived unscathed. Gramm would be right surprised, cuz usually that was the first one to go.
She musta heard me comin’, or maybe Mama called to let her know, cuz she met me at the road. “Now, my sweet petal, what brings you all this way to my lonely lil home?”
I rolled my eyes–Gramm was anythin’ but lonely, surrounded as she was with all those cats and kittens–and giggled. I handed over the jam and bread, then waved my cast-free arm in jubilation.
“Well now, lookit you! All healed up. This calls fer a proper celebration, doncha think? Iffna only I had something…” Her face, round and rosy and perfectly peachy like her cobbler, broke into a map of wrinkles and stories.
“How ‘bout this?” I showed her the recipe. It was a well-loved-on page, but all the writin’ was clear as mud on a pig.
She reached for the paper, freezin’ like a statue when she started readin’ it, but she smiled and nodded. “Think I can make that happen for my most-favorite lil sweat petal.”
Afore I could do or say nothin’, she put a big ole bowl of peaches in front of me and set me to work choppin’, mutterin’ something about it bein’ good fer my hand to start working again. Somehow I managed to keep from cuttin’ myself more than three times. Was all okay, though, cuz Gramm buys all the fun Band-Aids.
While the cobbler bubbled in the oven, Gramm set icy glasses of lemonade on the table, along with thick slabs of jam-and-butter-dripping toast. The first bite sent a puddle all over my freshly clean clothes. Gramm didn’t even give a single flinch. Not a one. Like, she expected all kindsa disasters from me. Couldn’t exactly blame her on that one, not truthfully.
“Now, somehows I think you gots something on yer mind. Go on and spill. You got no secrets from me, ‘n I gots none from you. I’ll tell ya whatcha need to hear.”
I studied her while dabbin’ at the growing stain on my shirt and shorts. Eyes like a summer sky, pale and silvery-blue; lips pale rose pink like Mama’s; hands like mine, the nails bitten all the way to the quick. “I asked Mama why alls this stuff keeps on happening to me…”
Well, that went an’ earned a real loud huff from me. She knew just exactly what stuff I was talkin’ about.
“Oh, all right, sweet petal. All right. I promised you no secrets. Imma keep that promise. Right about time you learned all the truths ‘bout yerself. Been fightin’ with yer Mama for three years over it all. Tired o’ the fightin’.”
My lips wobbled like a leaf on the crick, floatin’ over rocks and sticks. “Is it ‘bout…the curse?”
Gramm gave me back a huff o’ my own design, waving her hands in exasperation. “Ack! That blasted curse!” She fiddled with her napkin fer so long I thought maybe she’d gone an’ had a stroke or somethin’, just to avoid tellin’ me what she knew. I poked at the crumbs on my plate, swirling ‘em’ round in the puddles of butter. And got right to knockin’ the whole mess to the floor, a spray of crumbs covering the linoleum like stars across the Heavens.
I hopped outta my seat and grabbed a sponge from the sink, sendin’ a whole messa clean plates back into the dirty dish water. Gramm didn’t even sigh. I tried to stop the tears, I truly did, but soon they was a fallin’ faster than a cake at marchin’ band practice.
She pulled me to her brightly flowered house dress and I breathed in the scent of peaches an’ sugar an’ somethin’ I couldn’t never name. Somethin’ that was just Gramm. “Now, now, now, my sweet petal, let’s get those tears cleaned up afore we get to moppin’ the floor. Then let’s us have a seat and talk, okay?”
When my cryin’ stopped, Gramm guided me to the couch, tellin’ me to stay put. Guess she’d gone and decided I’d caused enough trouble in the kitchen to have me on moppin’ duty. I pulled the old quilt over my entire self, hidin’ from it all. But I could tell when Gramm settled at the far side o’ the couch, not sayin’ nothin’ but sayin’ everything just the same.
“Was real hard fer your Mama, with all those babies. All those boys. She works hard, yer Mama does. Takin’ care of all you, even though those boys oughtta be helpin’ out a whole bunch more’n they do. Been needin’ to have ‘em over fer a good long talk ‘bout responsibilities and what it means to be a real man. They been feral way too long now. But that’s neither here nor there far’s yer needin’ now, is it?”
Her fingers poked under the edge o’ the blanket until she went ‘n found my hand. “Yer Mama wanted a girl, a sweet lil baby just like you. But she kept on poppin’ out all those boys. She n’ yer Daddy decided they was gonna give it one more go fer a girl, and yer Mama, well…much as she loves that rowdy lot, she needed you. She prayed and prayed fer you. We was out fer a walk along the crick, like we still do every week, and we stumbled upon the most unusual somethin’ either of us had ever seen! In all my years, I ain’ never seen nothin’ like it again. And I seen a lot in my time on this here Earth.”
I pulled the blanket offa my head, entranced like when Daddy was tellin’ stories afore bedtime when I was a lil girl. “What was it?”
Gramm held out her hand, the thumb and finger only ‘bout three inches apart. “Was a wee lil man, all nekid as a newborn rat. He was stuck in a mess o’ brambles. Guess even his magic weren’t no match for those blackberries thorns. Well, yer Mama is a kind woman, and scared though we both was, she set right about comfortin’ that wee man and gettin’ him free. Even tended to his wounds after.
“So appreciative of her carin’ hands, that he granted her wish to have a daughter. But, he warned, there’s always a price to magic, even when it be given in the kindest o’ ways. Said he had no control over how and what might happen once the baby girl would be born, but that we’d know she was diff’rent somehow. And that you are, sweet petal. You have the luck o’ finding all those special items, but none of the luck is dished out to you. ‘Stead, you get the bad luck. The falls, the spills, the scrapes.”
“But that ain’t fair!”
“Life ain’t fair, now, and no one ‘round here ever be sayin’ anything diff’rent neither. Just the way of the world.”
So if I weren’t gettin’ any o’ my good luck, was it goin’ to someone else?
And I suddenly thought on all those awards Gramm had won, and Mama, too. And Daddy keepin’ his job when so many others ain’t had work in years. And my pack of brothers never gettin’ hurt no matter how rough they played.
I scowled and pulled the quilt back over my head, doing my best to pretend I was sittin’ there all alone. And that I ain’t heard nothin’ ‘bout a curse. Ever.
Gramm wasn’t havin’ none of that, though. She pulled the blanket off and neatly folded it, settin’ it on the back o’ the couch. “I get that this is a fair bit o’ knowledge to take in. ‘Specially fer a girl of your few years. So, how’s about some o’ Gramm’s peach cobbler afore you head home and those brothers eat it all?”
Cuz that would just be my luck…
Image by Ravi Roshan
And you can find Jill in all these places!