Tuesday, 04 October 2022

F Fic, Non-fic

What Happened Next

by Shawna K. Williams


When you’re old, and you remember friends and loved ones who've passed on, what you most recall are the days of your youth, when you filled the hours seeking out bold adventures and conjuring up all sorts of mischief. I know I have a few stories to tell -- like the time my brother and I pulled up all the turnips from Momma’s garden so she couldn't make us eat them. Or, when my best buddy and I accidently set the living room drapes on fire while trying to burn ants with a magnifying glass. And I can't forget that Thanksgiving I tricked my sister into topping Momma's famous pumpkin pie with shaving cream. Sure, these youthful antics usually landed me in a heap of trouble, but I now know the memories made were well worth the paddlings Pa delivered to my backside.

While these memories are fresh in my mind, they don't exactly make me feel young again. Nope…the memories that carry me way back, and reignite that spark of youth, are the ones of unexpected things, the surprises, unforeseen incidents, the crazy knee slappin’ kinda stuff that makes a person curl up, clutching your gut, and nearly suffocate from laughter.

Why, just the other day I was a twelve year old boy again, back on our farm in Southeast Texas. My sweet, little great-granddaughter Sydney zapped me through time when she and her mother came to visit. There in her tiny hands, she held a dusty old photo album with a cracked and peeling cover. My grand-daughter said she found it in a box in the garage. I guess it wound up there when they packed up my belongings and moved me into this home. The three of us spent the afternoon turning the pages, talking about folks long gone. Then little Sydney pointed to a picture and asked who all those people were. I couldn't answer for the laughter that swelled in my belly and nearly busted my gut. Sydney and her mother stared at me like I'd lost my marbles. Took me a minute or two to compose myself, and then I looked little Sydney square in the eyes, and said, "Those people are my family when I was a boy." I tapped on the picture of me, standing in my Sunday best, not much more than twelve years old. "We look pretty serious, don't we?"

Sydney nodded.

"Taking pictures was a big occasion back then. This picture was an especially big occasion. All the family had come over for Thanksgiving, and Pa had hired a photographer to drive out to our house so we could get a photo of everyone together." I chuckled and took a deep breath to keep myself calm before I continued.

"We could’ve almost passed for a high-society bunch, given our grooming for this photo, everyone wearing their best. Looking at it, you’d have never guessed what happened next."

"What, Papa Jake?" Sydney asked in a breathy voice.

"Well, I'm about to get to that, but before I do, you need to know what happened first.

* * *

“Jacob! Momma said ya better hurry. The sun’s gonna get too low.”

“Almost done, Ruthie. I just gotta feed Pilgrim.” I wished they'd stop pestering me. I was movin’ as fast as I could. It was just a stupid picture.

I trampled through the mud toward Pilgrim’s pen. He was our pig, and future Thanksgiving dinner, but not this Thanksgiving. It had been raining all morning, making the ground as sloppy as what Pilgrim was about to eat—and my boots suctioned with each step, which caused a popping sound every time I lifted my foot.

First thing I noticed when I got to the pen was that Pilgrim, once again, had turned over his feed trough. “Stupid Pig!” I set down the bucket. No way was I entering the pen with it. Pilgrim was a feisty fellow when he was hungry, and he’d knock me over for sure.

“C’mon Jacob, you still gotta get dressed!”

I looked up to see that my older brother Joe had joined in on the nagging. He was walking my way, all spiffed up in his white dress shirt and bow tie. He might have appeared cosmopolitan if his dress pants weren’t tucked into mud-sloshed boots—and he wasn’t leading a goat on a rope.

“Where you takin’ Sunshine?” I asked, and flipped the trough upright. Sunshine was a little nanny of ours. She'd been orphaned at birth, and we raised her more as a pet than a farm animal, but she had her uses. My mother had let her loose in the yard earlier that day to eat away the overgrown shrubs.

“Momma doesn’t want her running up on the porch and gettin’ us all dirty,” he said, and then started inspecting his shirt for evidence of such. Ever since his fourteenth birthday—and Rae Ann Matthews—he’d been overly concerned with that sorta stuff. “Here,” he thrust out his hand with the rope, “I'm dressed and don’t wanna risk getting muddy. You go tie her up.”

“If ya want me to hurry then quit givin’ me your chores.” I strutted out of Pilgrim’s Pen and dumped his rancid slop over the fence. It hit with a nice firm splat. Then I turned to Joe, who still stood there with his hand held out to give me the lead rope. When I didn't reach to take it, he stepped forward and thrust the rope at me with a bit more force.

I didn’t care what he was wearing, if he hadn’t been two years older and nearly a foot taller I’d have taken him down right there in the pig-messed mud. But, age and size have their persuasion, so I walked the few feet between us—glaring at him the whole distance—and yanked the rope hard enough to give him a burn, just to make my point.

As I passed by Pilgrim at the far end of his pen, he took a break from his feast to give Sunshine a squeal; letting her know just how he felt about her. Now, I’m not sure if Pilgrim was stupid, or just lonely, but from the time he was a piglet and Sunshine was a kid, he’d been declaring his undying love, always bothering her to play and stuff. Sunshine never did return his affections, though.

I pulled Sunshine over to a sapling—well away from Pilgrim's pen—and tied the rope around its skinny trunk. Then I dashed to the house and put on my Sunday best. By the time I got out on the front porch of our farmhouse, the whole family -- including grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins --had gathered together, all wearing scowls on their faces, apparently waiting for me.

My dad had on his brown Sunday suit and tie. My sisters, both of them, wore their dresses that Momma made last Easter. And Momma was wearing something she’d whipped up with the left over fabric. When she stood between my sisters, it reminded me of a triple-dip ice cream cone with the three flavors melting together.

Momma yelled for Danny and Jonny, my two littlest brothers, to stay on the porch and out of the mud. She knew that if they got one foot on the ground, they’d be off into the great yonder, not to be seen again until their hunger pains drove them home.

The photographer stood on the front lawn, with his fancy camera perched on some sort of three-legged stand. He directed folks to move this way and that, "look up"," look down", "turn sideways", "face front", "sit, no stand". This went on for ages, until finally he hollered, "No one move," and began the count to three. The camera clicked, and the photographer yelled, "Let's take another," but he never got the chance.

* * *

Let me catch my breath before I continue. A story like this needs a little explaining.  You see, I can’t tell you what happened after the picture, until you know what occurred while we were getting ready to take the picture.

Nearest I can figure—being in such a rush and all—I wasn’t too thorough tying Sunshine to the tree. And… .nearest I can figure—being that Joe had me so agitated—I forgot to latch Pilgrim’s gate. So, at some point Sunshine got loose, and I assume she strutted by Pilgrim’s pen. And Pilgrim, being Pilgrim, just couldn’t help himself; he had to go after her. I can only imagine his surprise when the gate actually opened.

Now I didn’t see this, so I’m just giving the most logical explanation. What happened next, though, I witnessed first-hand, and boy was it something! You'll see. Let me grab another breath before I start.

Where were we?  Oh yeah, on the front porch, posed and smiling, and the photographer gentleman had just clicked the camera.

* * *

“Let's take another,” the photographer yelled.

He ducked behind the lens, when suddenly Sunshine rounded the house and jumped right onto the porch, barreling through the whole of us—bleating and bellowing—scared out of her mind. Right on her tail was Pilgrim, muddier than usual because of the recent rain.

Sunshine just wanted to get away, and I guess she was hoping we would give her some cover. But we were all dressed in our best, so we were trying to get out of her way -- except for Joe. He decided to ignore his usual concern with spit and shine in favor of saving the women, and he had the bright idea to jump Sunshine and wrestle her down to get her away from Pilgrim. It might have worked, if he hadn’t missed and landed flat on his face.

Sunshine reached the edge of the porch and went timid all of the sudden, like she didn’t want to jump. She turned around to head back the way she came, but Pilgrim was charging at her. In between Sunshine and Pilgrim lay my prostrate brother.

Sunshine bellowed, and used my brother’s back as a ramp to jump over Pilgrim. And Pilgrim—thinking they were about to collide—put on his brakes. Problem was, he’d picked up too much speed to stop his bulk that quickly. So, just as Sunshine leaped from Joe’s back, Pilgrim slid across it… and he kept sliding once he landed on the porch. He knocked my mother, Ruthie, and Abbey over like bowling pins. The four of them, three women and the pig, rolled off the side of the porch, right into the freshly tilled mud of Momma’s flower garden. The mud made for a nice cushion, so no one was hurt.

For a split second Pilgrim forgot about Sunshine in favor of playing in the mud, but then Sunshine came circling around from the back of the house. I guess she thought Pilgrim was still chasing her. When she came face to face with him, she let out a bleat and took off the other direction—again—with pellets shooting out her back end. Goats do that. Pilgrim tried to give chase,  but he couldn’t get much traction in that mud, so mostly he just spun his wheels, slinging more mud onto Momma and my sisters.

That’s when I decided to take action. Why I thought I could wrestle him down, I don’t know. I was only twelve years old and scrawny as a toothpick. But I dove off the porch anyway. I managed to grab one of Pilgrim's legs, but instead of catching him, I gave him a hard surface -- my forehead -- from which he pushed off  with his free leg and resumed his chase of Sunshine.

Imagine trying to explain to folks why there's an impression of a pig’s hoof stamped in the middle of your forehead. It took nearly a month for the bruise to heal.

We finally caught that blasted big. We had to catch Sunshine first and use her as bait to lure him into his pen. Poor girl, she was probably scared we were gonna leave her in the pen with him. Once we got Pilgrim through the gate, my uncle closed  and latched it, and Joe and I picked Sunshine up and passed her over the fence to my dad, before climbing out ourselves.

Since it was pretty much all my fault, I was responsible for most of the clean up. You can bet that never again did I forget to latch a gate, and I always double checked my knots.

* * *

I have to say, I miss times like those. You see, people may get a bit brittle on the outside as the years go by, but inside we can still be young. All it takes is the right kind of memory.

Shawna William's journey as an author started with a dream -- an actual dream. She first began writing in an attempt to fill in the gaps within the dream and satisfy her curiosity. This dream later became the inspiration for her first two novels. In addition to writing, Shawna works as a content and story development editor. She's contributed to the publication of more than two hundred books, and is the author of five historical fiction novels, with more to come.  The short story "What Happened Next" is inspired by the characters from her debut novel, No Other, and its sequel, In All Things.

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