This ten minute write was inspired by a photograph I had torn out of an old Smithsonian magazine. The picture is of a child three or four years old, it is unclear if the child is a boy or a girl, but she is sitting in the Appalachian snow in a thin over sized jacket. The caption above reads, “You Don’t have to leave your own country to find third-world poverty.” I’ve been carrying this picture around for over ten years.
Her jacket is far too big. It swims like a giant fish. It is a great whale that has swallowed her whole. Her daddy had given it to her from the charity box that the christians sent during one of their revival trips into the hills. Every so often a truck comes into the lower part of the mountain to donate clothes and food, sometimes some toys always the scripture.
Her daddy did not like to take the charity, but there was little he could do given the circumstances. The girls were cold, and with their momma, his second wife, gone from this earth along with the grandmothers, he was all that was left to care for the children. That is till he was able to find a new wife.
The Bellows daughter, was a pretty thing, but at thirteen she was too young for him, he would have to wait a few years. He had learned from experience that the young girls, although fertile, were never the strongest of mothers and would often loose their first babies. His second wife was by far the best. It wasn’t that she was strong and a good mother, oh she was those things, but that he had a fondness for her, a fondness that sank deep into his heart, deeper than any other woman could ever touch. He knew, for his children, for the way life was, and for his own loneliness he would need to find another wife, but it pained him inside to think of bedding another woman. He never spoke to the men folk about her since he had never heard one of them speak about a woman the way he felt about her. When he thought of her there was a crawling in his stomach, like she was inside him, snuggled like a baby rabbit and just waiting for him to rock her. At times he would place his hand to his belly as if he was about to pet her. In the night he would still reach for her. She was his equal, and equal was never a word he thought he would ever utter about a woman. That’s what he would whisper to her, “there is no equal to you, you are my equal.”
When he looked at the youngest girl drowning in the whale jacket, he saw his second wife’s round cheeks, the perky nose, the plump lips all belonged to her. It hurt him to look at the child, yet he was protective of her. He was protective of all his children, but especially her. His pride fell when he looked at her shivering in the winter sun, it was his pride that shook and it propelled him into the back of the truck, to the disdained and critical eyes of the other men; that was women’s begging he was doing.
“I’ll take that there jacket.” He said, pointing at the folded black jacket, shoved into the corner of the cardboard box.