Note: I wrestled with this one, following as best I could Prompt 4 (a character defined by action).
Late Late Afternoon
The child leaned against the doorway between the kitchen and the parlor, while her aunt hovered over the counter, holding potatoes up to the sun. One by one she nestled them in the green and white speckled colander, the thick tin smothering the plunk of the tubers as they crowded against one another.
Down we go, the aunt said. She held out her hand.
The child gripped the kitchen doorframe and asked To the ground? With them?
The aunt dropped her hand. The potatoes need washing. So do you.
The child dug her heels into the floor.
Get a move on, said the aunt. She licked her finger, ran it across a potato, held it up to a beam of light. See? You wouldn’t want to eat that, now would you?
The child bit her lip and twirled a lock of hair around her finger.
The aunt handed her a potato the size of a turkey egg. This one looks lonely. It’ll be your job to wash it.
The child held the potato close to her chest but not too close. She took a step or two, then stopped.
Time, said the aunt, is wasting. My sister’s child, she thought. Shit damn hell damn. Lord give me strength.
With a sudden burst of determination, the child followed her aunt down to the water. Wait, she said as they passed the ice house and the swing and the water came into view. The aunt picked up her pace, stopped at the water’s edge.
The water slapped the dock, the rowboat groaned. The late afternoon sun beat down on them, as if to say This is my body, for you.
The aunt bowed her head, waded in up to her knees, submerged the colander and shook it under the rough surface. Watching from shore, the child held up the potato.
Please wash it said the aunt.
The child threw the potato in the water.
That’s your dinner said the aunt, lifting the colander out of the lake. Water streamed from the holes like tears from a thousand eyes. She walked back up the hill, stopped, turned around. Go on, now.
No swimming alone, said the child. That’s the rules.
The rule, said the aunt. Fair enough. She sat down on a boulder.
The child started up the hill and the aunt shook her finger. The girl fell to the ground, braising her cheek. Later she would say the soft moss felt like her mother’s smooth shoulder, that the sweetgrass tickled like her father’s beard. That the scent – she did not know that word then–lifted her like a prayer.
She stood up and walked to the water. Slipping out of her best sundress, she dipped a toe in the water. She looked back at her aunt, whose eyes were lifted to the sky, where an osprey soared cloud to cloud.
The aunt did not cry.
Hunger belted the child’s gut. She waded into the water, squatted like a duck, closed her eyes, felt the rocks and light fronds of seaweed dancing on the current. A voice reached her from far away. My girl, my big brave girl.
She opened her eyes and spotted the potato, her potato, her dinner. She grabbed it, fell, and went in face first. When she came up, her aunt stood on the shore.
My girl, she said, shaking the colander. In here. Let’s go feed ourselves, shall we?
The child plopped the potato in the colander. I’m brave, she said as she ran back to the water.
That you are, said the aunt. Shit damn hell damn. Lord give me strength.