This story was originally written for Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction, an anthology to benefit tornado relief (2011). I later republished it in my 2013 short fiction collection, Women and Other Constructs. It remains one of my favorite stories, and the one I’m most often asked to read at events. (I also haven’t quite gotten through a live reading of it without tearing up.)
The tree grew up around her as she sat at its base, day after day. It had been a sapling when her parents bought the house by the creek, and it made the perfect backrest for Annabelle-the-child. She sat very still, her chubby three-year-old hands clasped together, arms tight around her knees, as her father sat alone on the creek bank. He waited for a fish to appear on his line, and she waited with him.
“I don’t want you sitting all day out on the ground,” her momma had said after the second day faded into evening and Annabelle once again walked into the kitchen with a dirty bottom.
“Yes, Momma,” she’d replied quietly as her momma brushed her off with a hand broom and quick, hard strokes. Her momma sighed.
“There’s no use. That dress is ruined.” Annabelle was given a hot bath, a cold supper, and sent to bed without a story. She wrapped her arms around Mr. Bunny and listened to her parents’ raised voices float up through the floor boards until she fell asleep. The next day Daddy couldn’t fish because he had to work on the house, as it was “in no fit state for people to see,” Annabelle’s momma had said, and there were church people that wanted to come over for a house warming. Annabelle liked the church people, who’d come over to their old apartment with ambrosia salad and fried chicken and Mrs. Cramble, who wore flower print dresses and had thick, soft arms, would give her great big hugs and extra helpings on her plate, and Momma never complained. Annabelle followed her Daddy around all afternoon, holding the tin bucket with his hammer and nails in it, and when he needed one or the other, she’d lift it up as high as she could, and he’d reach down into the bucket and take what he needed. Sometimes he’d smile at her too. Continue reading