The bloodhound pup wagged its tail, then made a sudden, affectionate leap at the Boy, who fended him off with grim determination. "Mam told me she'd tan my hide if I got my church clothes dirty."
The pup cocked its head to one side, as if debating the Boy's words.
"You git now!" Billy told him sternly.
"Git" sounded a lot like "sit". The pup planted its haunches more firmly in the dirt and waited expectantly for a pat on the head and words of praise.
"Git!" the Boy repeated fiercely. He punctuated the command with the toe of his shiny black leather Sunday school shoes. The pup scampered under the porch, where he crouched, whimpering.
"Why'd you have to go and kick him?" a high, soft voice demanded from above. "All he wanted was some love."
Billy craned his neck. Perched on one of the highest branches of the pear tree was a girl about his own age, a skinny little thing, all elbows and knees, wearing a dress that was too tight across the chest and so short that he could see her underwear, which was dirty and ragged. Her light brown hair was bobbed short, like a boy's.
"He's my dog," Billy said . "I reckon I can kick him when I want."
"I reckon he can bite you when he wants, but he won't do it, 'cause dogs don't do that kind of thing to the people they love. "
Billy, who had just endured a scolding from his mother, was in no mood for another, especially not from some tom-boy he had never met before. "What you doing in that tree? That's our pear tree. No one told you you could climb our pear tree."
The girl wrapped her arms around the limb on which she perched and buried her nose in the fragrant, white blossoms. "The tree told me I could climb her."
"Trees don't talk!"
"Shows what you know. Trees talk all the time. Especially when it's windy. Trees have been around a lot longer than you and me. They know all kinds of stories."
"What kind of stories?"
The girl sat up. Her legs were wrapped around the tree branch. She stretched her skinny arms above her head. "Stories like how when a baby is born, Heaven makes an angel-baby to follow that baby where ever he goes. When the baby is sad but can't show it 'cause his Mam told him to hush, the angel-baby cries for him. When the baby wants to kick up his heels and play in the dirt, but he ain't supposed to get his church clothes dirty, the angel-baby plays for him."
"I guess your angel-baby must be good as gold," Billy sneered. "If she's the opposite of you."
The girl grinned at him, revealing a gap where her two front teeth ought to be. "I ain't got no angel-baby. I got a devil-baby. My devil-baby's a mean, nasty boy who kicks puppies and tells people they can't climb his pear tree,'cause he can't, and he don't want no one else to have no fun."
Billy stooped to pick up a rock. He hurled it at the girl, who dodged it laughing.
"You know what happens if you kick an angel-baby or hit her with a rock or beat her with a stick?" she called. "You're the one who feels it. Beat her black and blue, and you'll be the one who ends up bruised." Abruptly, she stood up. Grasping hold of the end of a branch, she lowered herself to the ground. The branches whipped up towards the sky, releasing a shower of white petals, which fell on the girl's upturned face.
Billy watched her, spellbound. He had never seen anyone get down from a tree like that before. It was like something a hero in a storybook would do. Except heroes in storybooks were never skinny girls in too small dresses and dirty, ragged underwear.
"You an angel-baby?" he asked finally.
"Sure am," she replied, beaming. Her skin had a faint, luminous quality, as if she had been drinking sunlight through her pores.
"You my angel-baby?"
"Nope. You can't see your own angel-baby." She took a step closer. She smelled of pear blossoms and cedar. Her scent made Billy feel weak kneed and a little dizzy.
"Who's angel-baby are you?" he murmured, his voice softer than the whispering of the pear tree overhead.
"I'm your Mam's angel -baby."
At the mention of his mother's name, the spell was shattered. "That's a lie. My Mam ain't never climbed no pear tree."
The girl nodded her head, her expression sorrowful. "I know. That's why I gotta climb it."
"Billy!" A shrill voice called his name from inside the house. "Get in here so I can comb your hair!"
The Boy glanced over his shoulder. Seeing no sign of his Mam, he decided to stay outside a moment or two longer. He had dozens of questions he wanted to ask the strange little girl who claimed to be his mother's angel-baby. But, when he turned to look at her, the skinny little girl in the too short dress was gone.
Part 2. St. John's Eve
Summer nights were the worst. No matter how the Boy tossed and turned, he could not get comfortable, not with the sheets damp from the humidity and his own pent up, adolescent yearning. At half past midnight, he threw aside the covers and leapt out of bed. The open window beckoned. He climbed up onto the sill. A breath of wind from the south stirred the tiny hairs which had recently appeared on his chest. He shivered with anticipation.
"You gonna stand there all night?" asked a familiar voice from the tree outside his window.
Billy squinted. It had been five years since he encountered the girl in the pear tree, but her memory had not dimmed. If anything, it grew more vivid with the passage of time, like a favorite childhood story. "Is that you?" he asked.
"'Course it is! Who else would it be?" she asked, laughing.
The Boy eased himself down onto the closest branch of the tree. The limb was dotted with fruit, some of the pears almost ripe. He snatched one and took a bite. The flesh was hard and tart.
The girl watched him, her eyes wide and luminous in the near dark. She was bigger than he remembered her. The too tight dress now strained across a young woman's breasts. The thighs which encircled the branch on which she sat were white and soft. Her bare feet kicked against the breeze which had grown stronger. Rain was coming.
"Whatcha doin'?" Billy asked.
"Waitin' for my lover," the girl replied loftily.
He flushed at the word. He felt hot all over, as if he had taken a big bite of pepper, and his tongue had not noticed yet, but his blood had. He threw the half eaten pear to the ground. "Who's your lover?" he asked, wondering if she was referring to him and what it would be like to squeeze one of those white thighs or press his face to those soft, round breasts.
"A colored boy from across town."
His blood froze. "I thought you said you was my Mam's angel."
Her eyes were black as night and filled with starlight. "I am your Mam's angel." Her voice was as soft and sultry as wood smoke.
"My Mam ain't never waited in no pear tree to meet a colored lover!" Billy snarled.
The girl let her head fall back. "I know," she whispered sadly. "That's why I gotta wait for him."
"I don't believe you," he muttered angrily. "You're no angel. You're just some trash girl." He scrambled from the tree back into his room, where he slammed the window shut and drew the curtain. His heart was hammering against his chest. Blood rushed in his ears. There was something fierce and wild within him, which made him long to hurl things against the wall and jump up and down, even though he knew that it would wake his mother and father who lay sleeping in their room on the ground floor.
He imagined smooth, dark flanks encircled by soft, white thighs. He pictured the girl's head tilted back, waiting for the warm, full lips of her lover--
With a stifled cry of rage and desire, the Boy pulled back the curtain and threw open the window. The pear tree was empty. The girl was gone. Thunder sounded in the distance. A few minutes later, the first drops of rain began to fall.
Part 3. Halloween
He was not a Boy anymore, except in his dreams. He shaved every morning and got a paycheck each Friday. At night, he slept beside his wife in a bed just wide enough for them to lie side by side without touching.
He glanced at her still, supine form. Her gown was spotless white with lace at the throat and cuffs. The bandages which encircled her left wrist were white, too. The self inflicted wounds had finally stopped oozing.
They were on their honeymoon, when she sliced her wrist open with his straight razor. He recalled the way the bellhop had looked at him, his world weary eyes hard and accusing, as if it was something Billy had done which caused his young bride to try to end her new life just as it was starting. Together, they had hauled her naked, dripping body from the tub of lukewarm, crimson water. Billy had pressed a white towel to the oozing wound on her wrist, wandering how much blood the human body contained and how much she must have lost to have grown so pale. As white as a ghost.
The bellhop called a doctor. The doctor patched her up and said she would live but that she needed to be with family. Billy almost said "I'm her husband," then he realized what the doctor meant.
It tore at him inside, knowing that he would never really be her family. Maybe, if they had a child together, and she was its mother and he its father, then there might be a bond between them more substantial than lust. Until then, he was an interloper, a stranger in her bed.
They had returned home, to his family home--she could not bear the shame of letting her own kin know what she had done and did not seem to understand that it was just as shameful for him, the husband who had driven his young bride to suicide, to have his mother, father and brothers see the white bandages on her slender wrist. Their eyes accused him of crimes too dreadful to imagine--
It was too much. He would go mad if he did not get out of this room, away from this stranger whom he thought that he loved and whom he imagined had loved him, when all the while it was death she craved. He would suffocate if he did not get some fresh air.
He rolled over cautiously, moving slowly so as not to wake his bride. A man now, he did not have to creep out of the house. If he wanted to go out and get drunk and come home after dawn, no one would try to stop him. He could put on his shoes, go downstairs and leave by the front door. If his mother heard, she might call to him "Where you goin', Billy?" from the front steps, her hand clutching her robe together under her chin. But she would not tell him to get back to his room and back to bed. No one would ever tell him that again. He was a man, now, and not a boy.
Tears streaked his cheeks. He was about to turn away from the window and crawl back into bed, when he noticed something on the other side of the glass. It was a girl's face, pale and smooth as the full moon. She held out her hand, beckoning him. The rest of her body was lost in his own reflection.
Time stopped. He moved as if in a dream. His fingers fumbled with the latch. The window opened silently. The ground was so far away. It seemed much farther than three stories. He leaned forward, breathing in the cold, damp air of autumn.
"Careful," a familiar voice said. "You'll fall."
Billy looked up. There, in the pear tree was the angel. She was grown now, as was he. Her dress covered her to the knees and long, curling brown hair fell over her shoulder, hiding the soft swell of her bosom. In her hands, she held a Red Chief tablet, the kind school children use to practice writing their letters.
"What you doin?" Billy asked.
"Reading a story," the woman replied.
Intrigued, he eased himself out of the window onto a branch of the pear tree. It creaked and groaned under his weight, but it held.
"What kind of story?" he asked, trying to get a glimpse of what was written on the page.
The girl pressed the Red Chief tablet to her chest, laughing. "A good one."
"What's it about?"
She smiled, and though it was autumn and the tree was losing its leaves in preparation for winter, buds appeared in the branch, flowers as white as her dress, which released a sweet, pungent scent that made his head reel. "It's about your Mam."
Billy was taken aback. "You trying to tell me that my mother has started writing?" He was the author in the family. Everyone knew that. Why would his mother take up writing at her age?
"I didn't say your Mam wrote it," the angel replied tartly. "I said it's about her."
"Oh. I see. Because she can't write her own story, you wrote it for her."
The corners of the angel's eyes crinkled. Her smile was as wide as the Cheshire Cat's. "No, silly. You're gonna write it. And when you're done, you're gonna cry your eyes out. Here!" Abruptly, she thrust the Red Chief tablet into his hands. He glanced down at the page. It was empty. When he looked up, she was gone.
Part 4. New Year
It seldom snowed in this part of Mississippi, and when it did, the snow almost never stuck, therefore, when Billy glanced out the window of his bedroom that morning, he exclaimed to his wife "The pear tree's blooming!"
"Don't be silly!" she scolded, peeking over his shoulder. She had lived up north, and she knew what the white subtsance frosting the bare branches of the tree was. "That's snow."
"Snow," he echoed. He threw open the window. The air was so cold that it made his lungs hurt to breathe it.
"Close the window!" his wife exclaimed. "You'll catch pneumonia!"
He ignored her, as he ignored most things she said nowadays. It was pregnancy talking. The baby which had swollen her belly to the size of a watermelon made her protective. She treated everyone, even her fully grown husband, as if they were babies in need of a mother's care.
Mother. Two months since she had died. The ache had not lessened much, though everyone said that her death was a blessing, considering what she could have gone through, with a tumor as large as hers.
His wife paused with her hand on the bedroom door. "You coming downstairs to breakfast?"
He heard the door click shut behind him. Being a writer, the sight of all that snow made his fingres itch. However, there was something missing. He knew what he wanted to write, but he did not know how to begin. He gazed at the white frosted tree for inspiration, wishing that the angel or whatever she was would appear and tell him how to start the story.
"Start here," the familar voice whispered in his ear. "Start with a grown man child telling the world his sorrow and pain."
He whirled on his heels. The room behind him was empty. The only sound was the pounding of his own heart. His eyes searched the shadows, the ceiling, the floor. Finally, they came to rest on the Red Chief tablet. His fingers trembled slightly, as he picked it up and opened to the first blank page. He fumbled with a pencil. As graphite scratched against paper, he heard the sound of soft, contented laughter coming from oustide. It was Her voice--his mother's and the angel's. Out of the corner of his eye, he seemed to glimpse a pair of long, pale legs encirlcling a snow encrusted branch. Determindedly, he continued scratching out the words of his story, slowly at first, then building up speed as he found the voice he was looking for. His own voice.
Bio:McCamy is a long time contributor to Aphelion as well as Assistant Short Story Editor. You can find out all about her and herwork by following the link below to her new and improved (Post) Millennium Fiction website.
URL:(Post) Millennium Fiction
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