Friday, 29 March 2013

Pearls Before Swine

In honour of this  Easter weekend, I thought I post my favourite short piece from my back catalogue.  I was asked in 2011 to write a piece for the lovely Matt Potter at Pure Slush. If you don't know about this goldmine of gorgeousness, they are an Australian based online flash fiction site that also publishes hard copy theme based anthologies.  Go have a sneaky peek at them here:

Matt asked me to contribute a piece on the theme of Religion, up to 1000 words...I struggled. As many of you know, I'm a Christian, a member of the Mormon church. I didn't want my piece to be preachy. I just wanted it to be good writing. To this day I couldn't tell you where it came from, and it's still my favourite piece.

Happy Easter.

Pearls Before Swine 
          The day had just begun when we found her.  It was barely light; Donnie was herding Baby and me to school. We were dragging our feet, shoulders and ears hunched against the sharp crystal air.  The ground was cold and hard from a late spring thaw; deeper patches of snow still clung despite the warming days.
               “What is it?” Baby whispered, standing well away.
               “It’s an angel,” I whispered back, my fingers poking small wet flakes from her dark hair.
               “That ain’t no angel,” Donnie hissed. “Don’t touch her; you know what Dad says about strangers.”
               “Strangers carry diseases. Strangers can kill us.” Baby recited, sucking her thumb.
               Donnie dropped his school bag in the snow. “Cassie, I’m going to get the horse. We’ll take her up to Old Winston. She might be worth something to him.  Maybe he’ll cut us a break.”
               It didn’t take a genius to know we’d had a bad season last year.  Money was tight, the rent was months overdue. Mother and Dad thought we couldn’t hear when they sat over the kitchen table at night, counting out the pennies and fretting, but we knew.
               Old Winston was our landlord. He had the big farm house and hundreds of lush acres. We paid him four hundred a month for a leaking, wind-rattled shack and twenty acres of the hardest soil in the county. Father ploughed Winston’s land to earn steady money but it wasn’t a lot, so we farmed our bit to make up the difference.
I didn’t like Old Winston.
“Get lost, you skinny little bastards,” he’d grumble, snatching the brown rent envelope from Baby’s hands, swinging at her ankles with his walking stick. He wasn’t very quick and Baby was always off the porch fast, laughing as the wind blew his curses across the fields after us.
On top of that, he never fixed anything on the house, even when the roof fell in over the kitchen. He smelled of sweat and old pipe smoke and dirty socks. And when Father was away at market he’d come round and touch Mother’s hair and find excuses.
               I stamped my cold feet, and blew on my cramping fingers, staring at her as she lay on the hard ground in nothing but a thin dress.  “You can’t do that,” I choked.  “He’ll hurt her, and you know it.”
               Donnie grabbed my wrist hard and twisted. “What I know is mother’s got cancer, we got bills, and she’s going to Old Winston.”
               As soon as Donnie disappeared down the hill, her eyes opened. They were the colour of dewdrops glinting on ferns in the early light.
               “Hello, Angel,” Baby cooed, handing her a boiled sweet.
               “Thank you Baby. I love Lemon Drops.” The Angel’s voice sounded like old church bells ringing on a faraway hill.
               “What’s your name? Are you really an Angel?” I whispered, voice catching in my throat. She was glorious: her eyes, her hair, her skin. They all had a glow that was nothing to do with the frosty air. Every inch was beautiful.
               “I’m whatever you need, Cassie. My name is Pearl. ”
               “Like from the ocean?”
               “Maybe, Cassie. Maybe.”

               She put her arms around the horse’s neck and climbed on, Donnie still too skittish to touch her. I reached up and held her hand as we walked, down the hill, across two fields. Just to make a point.
               Old Winston grinned ear to ear, the first smile I’d ever seen on him. He wrote Donnie a note, signed and dated.
               All debts forgiven.
               Abram Winston.

               Pearl put her slender white hand on his arm and smiled up at him. Underneath he added:
               Plus two months’ rent free.

               Pearl touched his cheek. He crumpled up the note and started over.

               All debts forgiven + three months’ rent free
               Abram Winston.
               Pearl never uttered a single word, but her eyes said goodbye in a way that scared me.  My heart shrank watching her beautiful pale hand on his leathery wrist. 
“You can go now children,” Old Winston grunted, shutting the door firm behind us. It was the first time he’d ever addressed us without swearing.

               “But he’ll…”  I stood rooted to the porch.
               “Forget about it, Cassie. Pearl said she’s whatever we need. You told me that yourself.”  He shoved the note under my nose. “What we need is THIS. She can take care of herself.”
               Donnie pulled me off the wooden porch and threw me up onto the horse behind Baby. I cried all the way home. I cried all through dinner, never answering Mother’s questions. I cried at bedtime prayers. Each tear sliced through me. We left her there. We left her with him.
               Sometime that night, a fire started in Old Winston’s house. His bedroom and the side porch blazed, scorching the ground, turning the remaining snow into steaming puddles that iced over into a smooth glassy sheet by morning. But for the smell of smoke, the rest of the house stood firm, as if it never happened.
               The bank manager came a month later. Old Winston had no kin. The whole place, main house and shack, was ours if we’d take over the mortgage payments. Old Winston was paying the bank a hundred less a month than he’d been charging us just for the shack.
               That summer we started rebuilding. With soot smeared fingers, Baby and Donnie unearthed hundreds of tiny glowing pearls from the rubble. I washed them carefully, then put them in a jam jar on the kitchen table, kissing each one before it landed, plink plink plonk, in the bottom of the jar.

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