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  • Woodbine & Asters
  • JoeAnn Hart (bio)

The stream is full from the storm last night, the storm that stripped the trees bare, making the blue sky bigger in one fell swoop. Now those leaves are clogging the water with orange dams and red dams, breaking up and building again. Nedra and I sit soaking in the sun on the mossy two-plank footbridge, looking down at the stream rushing along in tics and shrugs while those two kids from next door squat in the willow tree a few feet away, gaping. Mattie and Wink are hoping we'll get bored with just sitting and go hang with them but they are wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Willow leaves flutter goodbye as the branch sinks into the water, pressed down by the boys' weight.

"Looks like fingers dipping in the stream," Nedra says. "A long delicate hand testing the temperature, getting ready for a bath."

Fingers. I don't know about that girl. All pleased, she runs her own fingers through her tight peachy curls. Yes, peachy. She's a peculiar color that one, what I call sallow and she calls tawny like she's a lioness. But tall? Nedra's legs dangle so far her toes touch the water, which she flicks up at the boys just because she can and doesn't mind the ice-coldness. I'd slip off the plank trying and that makes me steam. I'll never be that tall, not even when I'm fifteen like Nedra is now. I'm a mature thirteen say my parents, but that won't give me more height because they are short people themselves, and they know it.

Besides, the branch doesn't look like fingers at all. I would call it one wild head of hair, like my grandmother's in the morning before she braids it into a long rope down her back, a rope that used to be silky black but now is as tweedy as my father's jacket. Esther is young for a grandmother, but she is my own mother's mother after all, so the gray is not before its time. Esther is not Nedra's grandmother though. Nedra is her foster child so I don't know what that makes them. Or us. [End Page 135]

Esther is on the screened back porch, far enough away so she can't hear us, but close enough so that we can hear her yell, which she does twice telling the boys not to break that branch or they'll have to deal with her wrath. They stop bouncing and then forget and start again, not meaning to disobey, just being young and stupid and Esther knows that. She was holding their mom's hand tight when they popped into the world one after another all wet and screaming. Right in their own purple house down on Harmony! I made Wink show me the bed. His mom asked if I wanted to see the pictures and I said no. No thank you.

I was born at St. Stephen's Lying-In in the city, in a delivery room like any normal child, but like the boys, Nedra is another story. She was the last baby "birthed" at Sacred Oak, the old commune up in the mountains, sometime after Esther had already pulled anchor saying it was too much work working together. She had lived there as a single mom when it first started way back when, before they even called them "single moms" says my father, but called them something else. It's where Mom was a kid, and ran feral according to my father. He had a regular life growing up, as we do now, and he worries about me when I go to visit Esther, which is about as often as I can, not just summers but even now on long weekends.

My father told me that Nedra's mom was one of those girls that would show up at those old communes already in labor, and then leave empty-armed and flat-stomached the minute after. Nedra says it wasn't like that at all, but won't tell me what it...


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pp. 135-147
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