Photograph Where I am Permed
And now I am permed, and it is not flattering. My smile is only a half-smile. Someone (my mother didn’t drive) took me to Dallie’s where the smell of the permanent solution was awful. I’m about eight, and holding my Easter basket. My dress is lovely with a wide, frilly collar. Mom dressed me as she dressed herself—inexpensively, but with style. I’m next to my grandmother whose name is Hazel, and she’d holding my half-sister, Sherry. Granny is in a sleeveless dress with buttons all the way down the front. She looks as if the sun is in her eyes, and isn’t smiling. I could read a lot into that for we are in Landrum, S.C. where my jealous step-grandmother lives. She was never nice to us.
My stepfather’s back is to the camera, and he’s looking down as if searching for something. His brother Elford is doing the same. Elford is the favorite son, and nothing my stepfather did ever changed that. They are both in their army uniforms. Grandpa Pruitt is nearby, but you only can only see a bit of him. He was meaner than my step-grandmother, maybe because of her, or his drinking. We could have all been to church. I loved Easter and couldn’t wait to tear off the cellophane of my basket, and eat the candy.
The Pruitt’s called my mother May-ree, taking the loveliness right out of her name. There was little for me to do there except pick muscadines and gather eggs from the hens, shooing away the mean rooster. During rain, I would sting buttons on thread. The Singer machine sat near the kitchen window, but I didn’t know how to sew. I got bored once, and cut down a tree to play Christmas. My step-grandparents didn’t own the land, and my mother punished me.
Out back there was a pile of Tub Rose snuff cans since Granny Pruitt dipped snuff. I could smell her breath, and see how brown her teeth were. Yet, smoking was considered a sin: my mother was sinning. Granny P could make good fried pies but seemed to resent you eating them. I longed to return to Radford where my Grandmother and Poppie lived. My granny would comfort me, and shoo away night fears, and let me lie in her bed after Poppie had gone to work. We’d make up stories, pretending to travel to far-off places. Never mind we could actually go only to where gas money took us, often to West Virginia to visit family. I’d get sick riding around those curves with the big drop-offs.
For now, I was stuck in Landrum trying to comb out the curls. My hair looked like a head of cabbage. Vanity would come easy for me with such competition from my mother’s beauty. Sherry was the one who looked more like her, and she too had a lovely name. Gail was like a stone you couldn’t budge.
Each day seemed forever, and the candy would get eaten, and the dyed eggs begin to smell. I knew we’d soon leave, and couldn’t wait to get in the car, and drive down that dirt road. Road I ran on breathlessly as if something were chasing me and closing in.
Gail Peck is the author of eight books of poetry. Her first full-length, Drop Zone, won the Texas Review Breakthrough Contest; The Braided Light won the Leana Shull Contest for 2015. Other collections are Thirst, Counting the Lost, From Terezin, Foreshadow, and New River which won the Harperprints Award. Poems and essays have appeared in Southern Review, Nimrod, Greensboro Review, Brevity, Connotation Press, Comstock, Stone Voices, and elsewhere. Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart, and her essay “Child Waiting” was cited as a notable for Best American Essays, 2013.
The Ekphrastic Review
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