creative nonfiction by Wendy Miles
One day my grandmother looked at me and said, Oh.
The extra chicken legs she took from the refrigerator had been soaking in buttermilk with a cloth draped over the bowl. It’s true I was quiet. I pressed the piano keys so gently they sighed more than sang. I tiptoed through my father’s old room and turned a radio dial so slightly. What had I to gain. When you are quiet you can better hear danger. The baby dolls nearly as big as I was were put back precisely in the place they were found. When my mother came to pick me up from my grandparents’ house it was the same refrain: No trouble at all.
My grandmother’s fried chicken was so crisp it was almost burnt. My father’s mother, she turned it with a fork in a cast-iron skillet—a can of bacon grease on the back of the stove.
The sun slanted in and fell through the rooms—particles swarming in their path. It looked like dancing to me. Tiny fairies, I would have said, had I known what a fairy was.
I crawled under the kitchen table and flipped and flipped over the heavy metal bar underneath. It was late afternoon on a hot day. My grandfather would be home soon saying, Hello Sugar, making Sugar sound like Chugah. When he hugged me I had learned to relax my whole body so that it didn’t feel like he was cracking my shoulders and ribs. I knew to brace for the unexpected.
You were so quiet, she said, I forgot you were here. The smell of the grease had ushered me silently into the doorway of the kitchen. I better put on some more chicken, she said plainly. And then her slow movement toward the refrigerator.
It will become a joke. How she forgot I was there. How untroubled she seemed. But what will strike me later is that silence, how much it held. The pink velvet valances with fringe that were never hung in my room at home, that stayed cool and wrapped in crinkly tissue paper in the drawer where we kept the vanilla candles for Christmas. My father’s flat hand on our kitchen counter, unloading his change, his keys, his gun every evening—me watching from the doorway. My mother’s insistence that we get still during a storm, the rain spraying its mist through the screen door in our living room where we did so little living but where we sometimes sat cross-legged with our bare legs sticking to the floor. The cows outside in the field ripping tufts of grass, huffing and stomping so close to the fence. My cassette recorder at night beside my bed playing—over and over—Debbie Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” her voice floating over me and mingling with the night air pressing in through the screens. These rhythms and repetitions—like secret nursery rhymes—doling out only to me their Just-wait-and-see, Please-wait-and-see.
Wendy Miles’s poetry and nonfiction has been published in places such as Prairie Schooner, Tupelo Quarterly, Arts & Letters, Southern Poetry Review, The Chattahoochee Review, storySouth, The MacGuffin, Alabama Literary Review, Palette Poetry and R.kv.r.y. Quarterly. Winner of the 2014 Patricia Dobler Poetry Award and a Pushcart Prize nominee, Wendy lives in Virginia with her amazing three-legged dog named Sugi. Her first collection of poetry titled Float is published by Finishing Line Press.