Buttercup Chain

by June Sylvester Saraceno

Willie pumped the arm of the Daisy BB gun and popped off a few random shots into the woods. She liked that it had a girl’s name, Daisy. She liked the cold ping when she hit a coke bottle. She liked guns. When she was old enough, she’d buy her own. Dare had a .22 now and had pretty much left the Daisy for her, though he didn’t outright say she could have it.

She continued on through the small paths she and Dare had made in the woods until she got to the ditch that bordered the woods and Sample’s field. The corn wasn’t tall yet but she decided to round the field and spy on the Sample farm anyway. When she got close enough, she noticed an old station wagon pulled up to the farm house. Old man Sample’s family was visiting. She stalked around the edges of the property, moving from one tree to another, Daisy pulled up vertically beside her. She got close enough that she could’ve thrown a rock and hit the car when the sharp slap of the screen door and a wild commotion sent a panic through her. Her heart thudded so loud she could hear it.

But it was only Sample’s grandkids that had burst out the door, with their mother’s voice trailing after them, “y’all stay in the side yard and don’t you dare go in that barn or I’ll skin you alive.” There were three of them. The tallest was a girl but she was still just a kid, not nearly old as Willie. The two little ones appeared to be boys and were chasing and pushing each other, whooping and hollering. The girl had straw-colored hair and she wandered over past the small garden to where a clump of buttercups were growing.

She’ll make a chain, Willie mentally jeered. The girl sat and began to do just that. Willie slipped back tree to tree, her heart racing, a plan forming as she circled around to where the girl was sitting. When she got as close as she could without coming out into the open, she whistled. The girl took no notice. Was she deaf or stupid or something?

“Hey you! Hey you stupid girl,” Willie stage whispered to get the girl’s attention.

When the girl turned her head around, Willie stuck her head and the barrel of the BB gun out from behind the tree. “Come on over here, girl,” Willie commanded.

The girl looked confused but got up slowly, buttercup chain in hand, and came within three steps of the tree.

“Halt! Right there. Don’t come no further,” Willie commanded. “Sit back down and face the house.”

The girl obeyed and Willie stared at her profile, considering what she meant to do.

“Who you?” the girl asked in a timid country voice.

“I’m your worst nightmare, that’s who.” That was a line Dare used on her and she thrilled now to be the one saying it.

“But what’s your name?” The girl didn’t seem to get it. She didn’t seem to know enough to even be scared. She just sat there looking straight ahead at the farmhouse like she was in a trance. Maybe she wasn’t quite right in the head.

“You see this here gun?”

“Can I look thataway now?”

“Yes. Look over here then go back to looking at the house.”

She turned and stared at Willie, then looked at the barrel of the BB gun. Her eyes were pale blue and her skin was sandy and freckled. Willie noticed how faded and thin her shirt was and thought it ought to be in the rag basket by now. The girl didn’t seem at all nervous or scared like she should’ve been. She looked like someone walking in her sleep, sort of blank.

“You’re my prisoner,” Willie hissed.

When the girl didn’t say anything, just kept looking vacantly at her, Willie kicked the tree. Then she pumped the gun a few times and shot into the clump of buttercups. The girl jumped and made a squeaky noise. That was more like it.

“You’re going to do what I say, or I’m going to shoot you. You understand me, girl?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Willie might have thought she was being a smart aleck except her voice came out a little shaky and nervous. Still, the girl might be simple, calling her ma’am like she was a grown up. Willie decided to let it go.

“Now you come over here and give me that buttercup chain. Wait! First finish making it into a circle. Then come on over here and drop it by the tree.” Willie didn’t really want a buttercup chain but she was running out of ideas about what to do with her prisoner.

The girl did exactly what she was told and then went and sat back down in her former spot.

“What’s your name?”

“Melinda, but everyone calls me Missy. I’m almost seven.”

I’m almost seven,” Willie lisped, mocking her, even though she was beginning to feel a little bad about how mean she was being. “What you doing here, Missy?”

“Just visiting my granddaddy. Mama let us outside to play for awhile.”

As if summoned, her mama appeared at the screen door calling out, “Y’all come on in now and say goodbye to granddaddy.” The two boys started turning somersaults and cartwheels in the direction of the house. “Missy! Come on in,” the mother yelled louder.

Missy turned to look at Willie and Willie hissed, “You’re my prisoner. You don’t go till I say you can go.”

The panic in the girl’s face both elated and shamed Willie.

“Missy Sinclair! You better get your scrawny hide over here right this minute.” Her mother was coming down the steps in their direction.

“Not till I say so,” Willie hissed again.

Missy plucked at the grass around her but stayed planted. When it was clear her mother was going to keep advancing on them, Willie said as calmly as she could, “OK. You can go. But walk, don’t run. Remember I got a gun on you.”

Missy got up and walked towards her mother who was looking red in the face by now. When she got close enough her mother grabbed her by the shoulder and started shaking her hard.

“Girl, didn’t you hear me calling you? You dragging your feet like dead lice bout to fall off you. What’s got into you!”

“I couldn’t move,” Missy whimpered.

“What you mean you couldn’t move?” her mother demanded.

“I was a prisoner. A mean girl back there was pointing a gun at me.”

“What in Lord’s name are you talking about?”

“That girl by the tree, she was pointing a gun at me and made me give her my buttercup necklace and said I was her prisoner and not to come when you called me,” Missy hiccupped.

Her mother looked up and around. Willie held her breath and stayed behind the tree while considering making a dash for it. Then the woman hauled off and slapped Missy full on the face. The sharp sound stung Willie’s ear.

“You better quit your foolishness, making up stories like that when you ain’t minding. Lying tongues is straight from the Devil. You keep that up and I’ll tan your hide good, just see if I don’t.”

Missy was crying and hiccupping as her mother jerked her along by the arm towards the house, but she didn’t say anything else about being a prisoner.

When the screen door slammed shut, Willie stayed frozen behind the tree looking down at the yellow chain near her feet. She inched it closer to her with the gun barrel and squatted slowly to pick it up. She stared at it before mashing it up in her hand and stuffing it in her pocket. No evidence, she thought. She backed up towards the trees behind her, careful to keep a trunk between herself and the house at all times. When she was back in the woods she continued to make her way quietly, even after she was long out of earshot of the farmhouse. But the sound of the slap kept ringing in her ears, pulsing louder and louder, becoming painful like the report of a rifle fired at close range.

***

June Sylvester Saraceno is author of the poetry collection Of Dirt and Tar, Altars of Ordinary Light, and a chapbook of prose poems, Mean Girl Trips. Her work has appeared in various journals including American Journal of Nursing, California Quarterly, Common Ground, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, The Pedestal, Silk Road, Smartish Pace, Southwestern American Literature, Tar River Poetry; and in anthologies including A Bird as Black as the Sun, Cradle Songs, Tahoe Blues, and others. She is a professor and English Program Chair at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe, and founding editor of the Sierra Nevada Review. “Buttercup Chain” was previously published in Third Wednesday.

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