While looking I get to thinking about Billy looking at my butt, I think about him all the time, I'm madly in love with the boy, we've been together since the day I was born, he even cut my cord with his pocketknife. He was about my age back then. I turn around and try to look, can't see much of my butt looking over a shoulder. Grandma says I have a pretty butt, I suppose I do, she wouldn't lie about this but I don't know what my backside looks like.
Cutting back through our kitchen, this boy I love is rinsing off his plate, his glass is already clean and drying. Billy is good about cleaning up after himself, even insists on washing dishes for grandma now and then. He washes, I dry, we swap lies and have fun. Holding my dress up in front of me like I did in our mirror, "Billyray, do you like my dress?" He looks over, studies me for a bit, "Nice dress but you need to do something with your hair, looks corny." I make an ugly face at him and ask, "Which do you like best, my front side," I pause then turn around, "or my backside?" Turning back around I keep my dress up in front of me. He almost smiles, wants to smile but forces a straight face so I can't read his true thoughts, "Your front side is right pretty and your backside is real pretty." He makes me smile then my face catches on fire with blush, dawns on me what he just said, this difference between "right pretty" and "real pretty". Embarrassed by such unexpected loving attention, I take off running for our bathroom.
Grandma is ornery as always, "Get over here and sit on our toilet, I'll take those corncobs out and finger comb your hair." I feel her tugging around on my hair, strings are falling, she smoothly says, "You're redder than usual. Did your boyfriend set your ears on fire?" I don't say a word, all I can silently think is, "Billy said my butt is real pretty!"
Few minutes grandma is running her fingers through my corn starch curls and bragging on me, "You look so pretty the boys will get the vapors and fall over backwards faint. One of them is likely to marry you before that handsome boy of yours does." She riles me, "I ain't marrying no dumb boy, I'm marrying Billyray!" She laughs, "I reckon so. Alright, look at yourself in our mirror." I stand and step over to our mirror and have a look. Shocks me a bit to see curls instead of my straight falling black hair. I look for bit, grandma is behind me eyeballing and smiling. My hair does look pretty, looks like I've been up there to Ruthie's beauty parlor in Broken Bow. "Thank you, grandma, my hair looks," I pause for a moment to choose a right word, "my hair looks right pretty!" She looks me in my eyes in our mirror, "I think your hair looks real pretty," and she pats a side of my butt. She gives me a smile, she was listening, tells me, "But not as pretty as that there smile of yours."
I turn right and look, turn left and look, grandma finger fusses with my hair, "Ain't no other girl at Clint's party going to look as pretty as you, girl." She wets her fingers with corn starch then pulls my bangs through her fingers and over to each side of my head, "Let those dry for a time."
We stand in front of our mirror looking at me while waiting for my bangs to set. Billyray's head passes by our bathroom window, he is headed back out to our fields to work. She grins at me in our mirror then up and says, "You sure are blossoming out, Taha, won't be much longer you'll grow yourself a pair of pretty honey dew melons. That boy out there won't know which end of you is real pretty, your top or your bottom!" She flusters me, I blush and blurt, "Grandma!"
"Turn around girl, let's get your dress on. I'll hold your collar open for your hair." She holds my dress over me like a potato sack, I slip my arms upward into my dress, find those sleeve holes and wiggle my hands through then slowly lower my arms to have my dress come down. Grandma tends my collar for me then fusses with my hair again. She steps backwards to our doorway, gets to looking me up and down, "I declare girl you look as beautiful as Marlene Dietrich!" She is smiling, I am smiling, do a curtsey and say, "Thank you my ladyship!" She laughs and waves a dismissal hand, "You quit your talking like a city slicker, you're an Okie farm girl!"
"There's a birthday gift over there on the back of our toilet, you take that up to the McCoy house." I go over to our toilet, soon as I pick up her gift I know this is a paperback book wrapped in butcher paper with "Clint" scrawled on it, "Which book is this, grandma?" She tells me, "I'm not sure, on front there's a picture of a cowboy hugging and kissing a saloon girl, a horse is standing there watching them sparking. It's one of those books Mamie J gave you to learn English." She is our schoolmarm. I'm the forth generation of our family to learn from Mamie J. Her schoolhouse is two rooms, high school on this side, grammar school other side. Next year I get to go over to the high school side, I'll be thirteen and married to my cowboy. I remember grandma can't read, I'm not sure if I should tell her this book is a romance story, "Clint will like this story, grandma. A gunslinger down in Laredo saves the life of a poor girl working in a saloon. They fall in love, work at making a baby and get married." She comes over to fidget with my bangs, grabs her brush off a shelve, "Hold still." She brushes my bangs off to sides, tells me, "So that book is one of those romantic stories you've been reading to me after supper." I look up to her face, "Yes, ma'am, one of those books Mamie J gives me now and then."
She pokes at my ribs, tickles me a bit, "Go look at yourself!" I walk over front of our mirror and look then grin, "Grandma, I look like Marlene Dietrich, I'm pretty!" She comes up behind me, gently lays her hands on my shoulders, grins big, "You sure enough do! You're the prettiest girl in Eagletown!" I feel and watch her index fingers come up under my chin and lift a bit, she wants to me to look her in the eyes in our mirror, she has something to say. "Girl, you come home around sunset, about supper time, Billyray and your grandpa will be sitting in there swapping lies and waiting supper. You can waltz in like a lady. Billy will see you, get bullfrog big eyes and want to make babies with you!" My eyes get big, "Really, grandma?" She smiles and keeps her fingers under my chin, "You and your boy are working at making a baby, ain't you?" My eyes grow really big but I don't blush, feels like I should, "What?" There is her finger again, tapping a bit on my chin this time, "Some nights you two make so much noise there in your bedroom you sound like one of them Russian boys wrestling a bear on television, lots of thumping, wrestling around and some growling." Her words have me blush, a hot blush.
Billyray and I have share a bedroom and bed since my momma died of cholera back when I am a baby girl. I don't remember my momma, don't know who is my father, all I remember is Billy and me always being together, he is my best friend, my brother, my daddy and my lover. He is everything in the world to me, all I want now is to be his wife, forever. When he comes home from Vietnam all shot up and near death, I just know I will die if he does. I couldn't live without him. I am his nurse for over a year, things change, I grow up quickly and we grow closer together than ever, I think we become married without getting hitched proper like. He almost dies on us a few times, I've never cried so much in my life.
Grandma's fingers thump under my chin, I have to tell her what she wants to know, "No, we ain't making babies. That darn boy won't do what I want. He keeps telling me 'No!', says I'm too young. I keep trying to get at him, the boy gets mad, makes me sleep facing our wall, even makes me sleep on our floor. When he gets really mad, he goes outside somewhere and sleeps, I think in our barn."
She enjoys a good laugh in our mirror, squeezes my shoulders, "I figured the two of you are husband and wife the way you carry on at night!" I open my mouth to ask about this, she slips a hand over my mouth, I'm supposed to be quiet and listen.
"chim aiyamohmi ohoyo isht atiaka aiisht iliyukpa chetoma achuffa afammi," and she says this again in English, "In a year you will enjoy your rite of passage to womanhood." I nod understanding at her in our mirror then tell her in Choctaw to be sure, "akostininchi li." She goes on, "Then you will be a full grown woman, Billy will respect you as a woman and he will do what you want." She pats my shoulders then tells me, "Go get yourself socks and shoes then get going to your party, Marlene" I can't help but spin around and hug her, "I love you, grandma!" Half out of our bathroom, she calls to me, "Girl!" I turn, "Yes, ma'am". She grins, "Don't forget to," she pauses, she searches for a word, "Don't forget to sashay when you come in!" Tell her, "I will and I ain't sleeping on our floor tonight! Bye, grandma!"
Earlier while fetching my dress I pick out a pair of scuffed up black shoes, only pair looking about my size, and stuff a pair of black socks inside a shoe. Out on our front porch I fetch those shoes then walk over to side of our house to look for my boy, I want him to see me all pretty. He ain't nowhere in sight, probably eighty acres over down by Grassy Lake backside of our farm. Talking to myself, "He will see me sashay!"
Out on our dusty dirt route, I say my sacred words, "chahta tikba aiokpahci li."Grandma taught me to say, "Choctaw ancestors I honor you" when I step out on the Trail of Tears. This dirt and gravel road out front of our farm is the actual Trail of Tears where Christians marched our ancestors to death during dead of winter ice storms. Eagletown, few miles north, is the end of this trail. Thousands die, their bones are scattered for miles along the route. Often on a Sunday, we go out and walk the Trail to look for bones to bury with somber ceremony.
The McCoy house is only a few miles north, an easy walk. Along my way I work at remembering old black and white movies grandma likes to watch on television, especially if Dietrich stars. A movie, Casablanca, pops into my head. I stop my walking for a bit, curl my toes around a small rock then toss it towards this pine forest lining our route like a thick wall. Boys are surprised when I smack them with a rock thrown with a foot, "Casablanca ain't the right one," I mumble then head on north up the route. I see Marlene in my mind, she has hand resting on her left hip, her elbow on her other hip while holding a foot long cigarette thing with her right hand. I can't make her sashay in my mind. Ginger Rogers is easy to see dancing, I talk to myself again, "Maybe that's sashaying." Dancing a bit, arms out straight, wave my hands like a butterfly, take some short fast steps like Ginger, doesn't seem right, "That sure ain't going to make Billyray become big then drop for me like a stallion drops for a mare."
I walk for a time, stop now and then to toe throw some rocks. Reminds me, I check my shoes hanging around my neck by a shoestring to make sure my socks are still there. Then I remember a romance story, remember a boy taking off his socks to get in bed with a girl, "She slowly and smoothly side-to-side swivels her hips to have her backside more alluring...." Decide to give this a try. I take a step and twist a bit. Take a step and twist the other way. I do this a bunch of times, feels like I am playing hopscotch. Placing my hands on my hips, I slowly walk and use my hands to make my hips twist. This feels right, just a little bit of twist. Quarter mile up the route, I feel smooth, rhythmic, my butt cheeks fold nice at my legs, feels like they should do that. I drop my hands down and keep walking. Everything is working! I place a hand on my hip, my other arm starts swinging all on its own, "This is sashaying!" I move my free hand up to my hair like Marlene and keep sashaying. I think about my boyfriend watching me sashay, I get those butterflies in my tummy, I feel those funny lightning bug tingles down there, "He's bound to do what I want! He'll be getting after me like a stallion does a mare!"
This is fun sashaying up our dirt road. I place a hand on a hip and sashay, let my hands swing freely while sashaying, touch my hair, droop my eyelids like in movies, pout my lips, "I got it now! My boy will drop, get big and whinny at me like a stallion fixing to mount a mare!"
Nearby out there in that thick dark forest a panther screams at me. I start, jerk around, throw my hands up to my mouth and goose bumps run up and down my arms and legs. Then I run, I run like crazy, run as fast as I can. I run for a long ways and can't catch my breath. Glancing over a shoulder, no panther. I slow a bit, "If she were going to eat me, I would be dead way back down the road." I get my breath back then suddenly stop and squat like Billy taught me. I tilt my head down, close my eyes, hold my breath then intently listen. I don't hear twigs snapping, no brush rustling, can't hear any low growling. I open my eyes and quickly gather handfuls of dirt and gravel. Billy says, "If panther charges, throw dirt and rocks in her face then wave your arms and scream at her."I stand up straight, glance all around, have my handfuls of dirt and gravel ready to throw in her face. No panther.
Images of a dead deer sneak into my mind. My boy and I are out plowing back by Grassy Lake. He spots something, buries our plow then hollers "Whoa" at our mule and walks me over to field edge, "Look there, a momma panther and her cubs are eating on this deer." Darn deer is mangled, mostly gone, her belly is ripped open and her guts spilled out. "See these long slashes, girl," he points to deep long cuts on her flank, "That's where the panther grabbed this deer. Up here on her back those cuts are where the panther pulled herself up on the deer's back." I look, he explains more, "Those holes in her neck are from that panther chomping down, she choked this deer to death." He places a hand on my shoulder and reassure squeezes, "Look at her belly. These short claws marks all around are her cubs feeding on this deer's soft belly. They get a grip then tear off mouthfuls of meat."
I shiver, get goose bumps again and look around. I let go of my dirt and rocks then fast walk on up the route. The McCoy house is only a half mile, just up there past a bend in the route. I want to run but manage to just walk a bit on the fast side.