lj idol season nine | week six | 491 words
Step On A Crack
Never look at the shadows in the corners, Mama used to say. Don't stare into the eyes of strangers, or set your name out on the wind.
Don't help the evil of this world find you.
Mama lost a sister when she was just nine. The two of them were walking to the store one day when Hattie just stopped, her feet statue-still on the sidewalk as she stared at the face of a man coming the other way. "He had the greenest eyes," Hattie told my Mama later. "They just kept winding around inside my head so's I couldn't move."
That night after supper, Hattie took ill. She had a fever hot as the woodstove in the kitchen, and skin gone dull and ashy-gray. Her daddy went to fetch the doctor, but there was no medicine that could save her.
"He's calling to me," Hattie whispered, when my Mama drew close and held her hand so Hattie wouldn't be afraid. "Don't you hear him?"
Hattie never saw morning. She was only eight years old, and no one ever could say what had taken her. That was when Mama learned to be afraid.
A neighbor man from one street over was the next to fall victim. He always kept to himself, hardly ever left the house more than once a week. One day, he just walked into the river and kept on walking. The postman saw him as he drove by: "Taking up swimming now, Ed?" But the man didn't answer, he just walked on in until the current took him.
That postman, he retired a month later.
Mama's daddy took a trip to the big city, and never did come back. The police found his truck near the rail yard, said he might've just run off.
My Mama cried a lifetime before she was even ten.
She learned, she said. She learned to be careful, to slip around the edges of a crowd and to keep her curiosity from betraying her. I used to wonder how she ever met Daddy with a set of rules like that. Daddy said it was a little strange, having Mama come up alongside him and talk with him friendly as anything, but never look at him. She was a pretty one, he said, and after a few weeks she wasn't quite so shy. I guess by then, he wasn't a stranger anymore.
I haven't forgotten a single one of those stories she told me. I'm a grown man of thirty years now, but I hold Mama's words inside me as I move through this city of lost souls. I keep to the well-lit places and my eyes never linger on the faces of people I don't know.
At times it is lonely, but I haven't worked out a solution for that. One day I may share my name (my secrets) with another, but not just yet.
You never know what else might be listening.
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