A few weeks ago I glanced at a sign along the side of the road and misread what was there. The “Private Property” Sign instead seemed to say “Private Poverty” and it gave me the idea for this #FridayFlash. I hope you enjoy it.

Private Poverty

By Jason Warden

Along the rutted path in the woods, John Jr. and Gracie walked hand in hand. The dust only they had previously disturbed, puffed into the air and clung to the moisture on their exposed ankles like a marooned refugee. 

Their faces were composed. Even with her split lip and torn dress, there would be plenty of time to get done what needed doing. He thought about what his father would have said, and smiled. The Lord did indeed provide. Maybe not everything they wanted, but what they needed always seemed to be there.

“I’ll fix the dress when the chores are done,” he said.

She only looked up at him, love evident on her face.

“Don’t wash it until I do. It’ll only make it weaker.”

As they rounded the big corner they could see the tin roofed house that remained standing despite its age and cobbled together materials his father had built it with, he squeezed her hand lightly and she looked up at him again.

“Go on, take the wash in and grab one of the chickens from the coop. We’re gonna make sure you have leftovers for the ‘morrow.”

She ran toward the house at full gallop and jumped a couple of times before reaching the front door. As she disappeared inside, he smiled and wondered how long her spirit would hold. It had been a long winter and the harvest would be late coming, if it came at all. He wished his father was here to tell him what to do, but of course, he knew, and a voice inside him seemed to confirm it. Keep on keepin’ on. What else was there after all?  Still, he hated that she had to live like this, she, at least deserved better.

**

He remembered a time not long ago when the weight of the water filled buckets was more than he could bear and he had to stop several times between the well house and the barn. Now, however, he carried them held away from his body to avoid the splash and easily crossed the distance. When the animals were watered and he had spread a bale of hay for the cows that were still lazily working their way up from the pasture, he hand-pumped water into the basin and washed his hands and arms. When he was younger, father always fed two bales, lately, he and Gracie weren’t the only ones on the farm who had to make do.

**

At the back porch he found her tying the little nylon strap around the chicken’s neck, it fluttered and squawked a couple of times, but she quickly, calmly stroked the bird and took hold of the hatchet beside the stump.

“Gracie. . .” he said curiously. “What are you doin’? You’ll likely chop your thumbs off and bleed all over my supper.”

She smiled, and John couldn’t help it, he smiled back and took the hatchet from her hand.

“You know we can’t afford accidents around here,” he said still smiling, but with warning in his voice.

“Sorry J.J. I just thought,”

“I know, and thanks for the thought, but it’s my job.”

He pulled the neck taught across the stump and brought the blade down quickly severing the neck and releasing a spray of blood. The bird then flapped and trundled about the yard hopping and skipping as if instead of being caught, it had somehow been set free. John didn’t see this however, as soon as the blade came down he had turned as he always had and walked around the side of the house trying to keep what was in his stomach, in his stomach. As it always had been with his parents, she would pluck and clean, he would cook and serve it.

***

They said their thanks and when the meal was finished, they sat looking across the folding table at each other. He thought again how she deserved better. Her eyes kept flicked from her empty plate to the bird on the counter. He wanted to answer the question in her eyes with a nod, but could not.

“Gracie, remember what happened today? I’m not going to let that happen again. And that means I’m sorry, not tonight. Now run and get ready for bed, you can get up early with me and help. I was thinking we’d run down the hill and pick some blackberries before school. She came around the table and hugged him. Her tiny form seemed far too thin and he felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes.

“Thanks J. J. Mom and Dad would be proud of you.”

He couldn’t speak, but it seemed he didn’t need to, before any words could have come, she was already pulling away and had run down the hall to the bathroom.

***

The house was quiet except for his bare feet on the boards of the kitchen. Her dress hung drying in the entryway, now once again whole. He took the paper bag he’d packed for her that morning and dumped it onto the counter. A square of two by four and a small stone fell out, and he again thought of just how far they had to go. Holding back frustration and anger, he sliced a thick piece of breast from the chicken and covered it in wax paper. In the morning they’d add the berries and maybe she wouldn’t have to endure another day of teasing and ridicule over things neither of them could control.

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