The world is so full of life. It’s in the sky, underground, in the water and in our minds. It’s the crayfish in the creek, the morning sun caught in a silvery web, a gnat getting caught in my eye, his persistent buzzing in my ear. It’s the red whelps down my legs. It’s a litter of kittens under the porch.
Life is everywhere. But Raymond Ellis is fixed on death.
Mom held the ice to my eye. It was puffy and warm, but not as hot as my head. I was crying, tears leaking out of my good eye, more upset than hurt.
It was always “Relax Eliza”. How could I relax? With my skin flashing and my heartbeat feeling like it was going to thump right on out of my eye. My arms shook. My dangling feet kicked from the chair. “He was smashing a frog, Mom. Just smashing it against the street.”
Just thinking about it caught my breath. Mom pressed the ice to my eye, trying to cool things down.
“Honey, you can’t go picking a fight with every boy who does something stupid. You hear?”
I shook my head, my way of talking back without talking back. It was crazy, Raymond Ellis hauls off and punches me in the eye and I’m the one told not to pick a fight. Every time I closed my eyes I could see it, that lifeless frog, legs hanging from his fist.
“Easy now. Take a breath, Eliza.”
I took a breath. Then another. Kept taking breaths until my blood stirred with rage. I knew one thing, sure as the sun rose against my window. Raymond Ellis was going to pay.
The next day I showed up early, before we gathered in the yard waiting for Miss Stella to arrive and open the doors to the school. I set the bucket on the ground, wiped my nose, then took the rope with me as I climbed the old maple tree. I shimmied out on the branch, hidden well by thick leaves on account of all the rain.
My eye throbbed like a drum as I tossed the rope over another branch, about a foot or so over my head. I used it as a pulley to lift the bucket, coughing from the smell of the horse muck and pig splat as it came to rest under my nose. I’d been up since sunrise, doing my chores without being asked, cleaning the stalls, scraping our horse Dale’s road apples off the floor and plotting my revenge, even as Mama had offered to do them for me on account of my eye.
Then I waited. And I’ll say this, revenge may be sweet, but it smells rancid.
Sure enough, that big headed boy came waltzing down the road, loud and brash, laughing about whatever evil he’d inflicted on the world since he’d gotten his sorry behind out of bed. I readied myself, taking the bucket by the handle, all that mess slopping around.
As luck would have it, he was wearing his finest shirt and suspenders being how Mr. Eli was coming with his Kodak today to take our class photograph. Raymond had already ruined that for me, my eye swollen up like a prize-winning tomato.
My bucket was heavy and ripe. I held it steady as I could as he wandered under the tree, coming and going, still spewing lies as I adjusted and timed it, trying not to spill. He paused for just long enough to where I closed my eyes and let go.
It crashed down like a wave, five or ten pounds of Dale’s finest excrement. That boy screamed like a newborn. I leaned over the limb, seeing how it was a direct hit, splatting the crown of his head and washing over him like top dressing, behind his ears and down his collar as he danced like he was on fire.
I nearly fell out from the tree. And it didn’t take long for everyone to look up, find me up on the branch, legs hanging and giggling. Everyone but Raymond, had gone arms-wide screaming down the road, leaving a trail of manure drippings in his wake.
I called after him, with the line I’d spent most of the night in bed rehearsing. “There, Raymond Ellis. Next time you want to go throwing frogs or punching girls, you be ready for the shit storm that follows.”
Soon as I said it I saw Miss Stella, wide-eyed and covering her nose. My bucket sat in the sludge of barnyard rot, the rope leading the way to my guilt. Martha and the girls were pulling at their skirts, trying to keep them clean. The boys were still giggling.
Miss Stella looked like she was fighting off a smile, through I couldn’t be sure. She called up to me. “Eliza, why don’t you climb down that tree right now.”