If Not for the Time
Donna D. Vitucci

If not for the time I busted your head open with the hoe, I was a pretty good brother, yeah, Holly? Gentleman-farmer-Dad, on my case per usual, so we were already working with a short fuse. He'd outlined dozens of our day's chores before he left for the defense lab. We knew better than to slack off. The five of you girls on the inside cool of the house, dealing with sour sheets and sticky spoons, you could at least listen to television, while sun and heat baked me in the bright yard. Without the refrigerator chart of chores, I might have lost my way. But weren't we all fanning out in the Arizona desert like woven roadside blankets, begging for somebody to buy us up, save us, sun glinting off metal trim on the passing cars blitzing our retinas? Weather whipped us around, blew the dirt down from the hills straight up our noses.

It's not like I didn't yell "I'm sorry" a million times behind while you stumbled dizzy from the garden toward the house, your cornsilk-colored hair clotted up with your blood, such a dark surprise. I TOLD you to move, and stupid girl, you just stood there. Mean and contrary the way you always are. I had to hoe that row. He said so. The big he. You-know-who-he. I'd catch hell otherwise, Hol. I swung the hoe the way he taught me, held it above your head, and goddamnit, you didn't blink. The sun had wiped out your eyes.

I yelled, "Don't tell." No way could I face Dad, face the mess gushing down your stunned, pretty face. Slept out with the stars and the scorpions that first cold night, the desert swerving under the moon, me set to fight with whatever stalked the wild earth and wondering about you, Holly, wondering about you. I went wild with wonder, I admit. I've lived in the desert, got lost there and found there, too. How can that be, you're asking, lost and found in the same one place? It happens. People gain sight there. Didn't John the Baptist? Didn't the Lord? Ever notice how time accordians out here? Hurt and the hoe could be eons ago, or it could be yesterday. I can almost turn around and touch them—me and you, your wound and mine. I swear, I'm not gonna bite my tongue unless it cries out for biting, but Holly, I wish...oh, I just wish.

There's what I wish and then there's what I do. I chop around the roots of the saguaro, the brush, the blooming cacti while the timeless voices of conscience—or is it Jesus in the wind?—howling down San Cristo Avenue mess with me. But your voice, Holly, it forgives, right? It has to forgive. I know you, I knew you as intimately as tongues know kissing, as these knocked up shoes know my callused feet, and you, Hol, all our pinching and scraping aside, you forgive, girl. I'm making my amends—yeah, that's what this is—and you, you. Say, sweet sister, you forgive.

Donna D. Vitucci lives in Cincinatti. She has stories in or coming from Juked, Meridian, Everyday Genius, SmokeLong Quarterly, Mid-American Review and others.

To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201011ifnot.htm

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of swisscan.

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