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Bodark Creek - 6. Chapter 6

When Uncle Georg came for Aunt Evie’s funeral, he brought my brother Walter with him. Walter was almost twenty, and he’d known Aunt Evie since he was six. But that wasn’t the reason he came. He wanted to move to Bodark Creek.

He didn’t tell Daddy at first. He waited until after the funeral, when Uncle Georg was ready to leave. Then he asked.

“You don’t give me a lot of time,” Daddy said.

Walter grinned. “I hoped you wouldn’t need a lot.”

Daddy just looked at him. Mama and Uncle Georg and Rosalind and I were all sitting at the kitchen table.

“Well, you’re old enough to be on your own,” Daddy finally said. “And there isn’t much room in this house. But if you find yourself a job, you can sleep in the front room for as long as you need.”

“Thank you,” Walter started.

“Find a job before you thank me,” Daddy said.

Walter found work almost the next day, sweeping up at the mill. Rosalind and I got our bed back, but not exactly our room. Because now Charley was sharing it. That squashed things a little, but it was all right. Because having Charley with us meant Rosalind and I got to scare him with our stories.

“You’re being mean,” Mama said, when she found out.

“Oh, Mama,” Rosalind said, “We’re not telling Charley anything Daddy didn’t tell us.”

“Is that true?” Mama asked.

“Yes!” we said.

“Well, last night Charley crawled into our bed, he was so scared. And I don’t want that happening again.”

I blamed Rosalind, and she blamed me, but to be honest, it was both our faults. Still, having Charley with us was worth the trade of living with Walter.

Rosalind was right. He was handsome. More than that, he was fun. The first thing he did was show us pictures of our brothers Dougie and Sonny and our sister Frances and her family.

“I would have shown you them before,” he said, “but I was keeping them for Daddy. Just in case he didn’t let me stay. That way, I figured he wouldn’t be mad.”

“Daddy doesn’t get mad at people,” Rosalind said. “At least, he doesn’t yell. The worst he does is not talk to you.”

“I remember that,” Walter said, laughing. Then he told us stories about Daddy and Sonny and Dougie. Our brothers were always doing things that got Daddy angry. “They just don’t think the way he does,” Walter said. “Daddy’s sometimes been mad at me, too. But it’s more fun telling stories about Sonny and Dougie.”

In the stories, Sonny was always the leader, and Dougie followed. But the things Dougie did were always funnier. In the pictures, our brothers looked a lot like Walter, though you could tell them all apart. Sonny was taller, with a moustache, but one more droopy than Daddy’s. Dougie’s face was round, and Walter was somewhere in between. But he had the best smile.

“It just happened,” he said. Then he smiled, which made us laugh.

He could get anything with his smile. Rosalind would do things for him that she wouldn’t even do for Mama. And when Walter smiled at me, I just wanted to make him smile again.

When he wasn’t working at the mill, he took Rosalind and me places we’d never been before. That’s how we finally saw the cemetery. We picked flowers for Aunt Evie and put them on her grave, but I didn’t think the cemetery was sad. Maybe because I didn’t know anyone else who was buried there.

We also went to the courthouse downtown, which we’d only gone past. It was the biggest building I’d ever been in, and it was so quiet inside. Even in church, you could always hear the birds. But not in the middle of the courthouse.

“That’s because the walls are so thick,” Walter said. And he led us through the hallways, and down the stairs.

“How far underground are we?” I asked, because it was just like being in another room.

“Maybe ten or twelve feet.”

I didn’t like it, didn’t like it at all. In the storm cellar, I could at least always see the light But in the courthouse basement, there weren’t even windows. I ran upstairs and all the way out.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Walter said, when he caught up. Then he took Rosalind and me to the candy store. But we might have gone there anyway, because there was a girl he liked.

Walter liked a lot of girls, but there was never one he’d let us call his girlfriend. Still, it gave Rosalind and me a lot to talk about.

“Which one do you like most?” she’d ask.

“Which one’s the prettiest?” I’d say.

“Which one will you marry?” we’d both yell.

“I’m not ready to get married yet,” Walter would tell us. “You know what I’d need to get married?”

“What?” we’d ask, though we already knew. Because we’d already asked him before.

“I’d need a little money, for a start. And I’d need a place of my own. Because I can’t bring a wife back to sleep in the front room.”

“You can have our room,” I’d say, and I could see Rosalind thinking. “But you’d have to keep Charley,” she’d quickly add.

That would make Walter laugh, and hearing that was as good as seeing him smile. When he was happy, it made Rosalind and me happy, and we weren’t the only ones. There were all those girls.

We’d meet them in town. And we’d see them in church. Or we’d hear about them when Walter came home from the mill. In the summer, the girls would come to watch the boys swim in the pond, and they’d always be around Walter.

It wasn’t really a pond. It was part of the water system for the mill. It was in the woods, and there were tall, cement walls we had to climb. Walter told us the water was pumped into the mill, and then it was pumped out.

“What does it do?” I asked.

“Everything,” he said. “It’s used for cooling. And we use it for washing. And it’s used for... Well, we just need it, that’s all.”

I’d never been inside the mill. Even when I went to kindergarten there, it was in a house across the street.

“You’re not missing anything,” Walter said. “It’s big, and it’s noisy. But they sure treat people well.”

In the pond, there were only some places you could swim. Otherwise, you’d get sucked into the pipes. “Can that really happen?” I asked Walter. We’d all heard that someone had drowned. But that happened before we moved to Bodark Creek.

“I don’t know,” Walter said. “But I know the water’s strong enough to pull off your pants.”

That made Rosalind and me giggle.

Mostly, the boys got to swim while the girls had to splash themselves. Rosalind asked to swim. She really wanted to learn, and Walter said he’d teach her. But Mama said Rosalind was too young. And she wouldn’t even talk about me.

“How are we going to learn?” I asked. “If you never let us try?”

“Why do you need to learn?” Mama would say. Rosalind and I tried a hundred different reasons, but nothing we said was ever good.

The truth was that Mama didn’t know how to swim herself, so she couldn’t save us if we started to drown. And she was afraid that we’d swim when she wasn’t there.

“Make me promise you won’t,” she said. So Rosalind and I did.

Mama didn’t ask Walter to promise, and he didn’t really have to do anything she or Daddy said. But as long as he stayed with us, he gave Daddy money each week, and he followed our rules. Still, Mama and Daddy didn’t tell Walter much, because they didn’t have to. I don’t think he ever would have done anything to hurt them.

2021 by Richard Eisbrouch
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