Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Blue Tail Fly


Here's our age three memory for the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge:

by Kim Van Sickler

Wash day. One of Clay's favorites. Ruby tied one end of the rope to Clay's waist and the other end to the removable wooden post in the middle of the top deck. She gave him a metal bucket filled with tepid water, a scrub brush with splayed bristles, and a raggedy white shirt.

Three-year-old Clay knew it wouldn't do to sit idly by while everyone else was working so hard. He mimicked the woman who was the closest thing to a mama he had. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Rinse. Squeeze.

The difference was Ruby washed lots more than one shirt. And after she squeezed the water out of them, she hung them on another rope that stretched from stem to stern on their canal boat.

The strains of Clay's newest favorite song floated over from the towpath, where Owen guided the mules. Clay sang along at the top of his lungs.

When I was young, I used to wait
on Master and hand him his plate
Pass down the bottle when he got dry
And brush away the blue-tail fly...

The booming voice from the tiller shut Clay up fast. "If it ain't bad enough that my son sings all the live-long time, I gotta put up with this orphan stripping my ear drums too?"

Desperate to please the prickly owner of River Phoenix, Clay held up his limp shirt. "Ruby and I are washing!"

"You're making an infernal racket, that's what you're doing!"

Clay pinched himself so he'd remember to stop being so loud.

"Look alive up there, Loomis," Captain Seamus shouted toward the bow.

Clay saw they were approaching a lock. He couldn't wait until he was old enough to do men's work like running the boat. He knew what everyone needed to do to get the boat through, but he always watched anyway.

Loomis threw a rope around the snubbing post and jumped onto the wooden beam attached to the swinging doors. Grasping a beam and pulling hard at it, he opened the gate, then jumped back aboard River Phoenix. Seamus tilled the boat in, always yelling at Loomis to push here and there to keep the boat from hitting the sandstone walls of the lock. Once the boat was inside, Loomis jumped back onto the lock to push the doors closed and opened the paddle gates, letting the water rush in to raise the boat or out to lower it, depending on whether they were going upstream or downstream. Meanwhile, Owen unhitched the mules and walked them to the far side of the lock to re-hitch them after the boat came through.

While Owen waited for the boat, he kept right on singing. Clay knew better than to join in again so soon after being yelled at. He just listened.

Jim Crack corn and I don't care
Jim Crack corn and I don't care
Jim Crack corn and I don't care.
The master's gone away 

"Owen, if it weren't for the way your caterwauling calms those mules, I'd a shut you up long ago."

"Yessir, they sure do like it, Cap'n," Owen paused long enough to say.

Clay wasn't sure, but he thought he saw Owen wink up at him.
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Memory of 12-year-old orphan muleskinner Clay from an HF WIP with fantasy elements, set in 1844 on the Ohio-Erie canal.




17 comments:

  1. This is a very well crafted story, Kim! Love it :)

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  2. I'm so tickled that you're working on an HF, my favorite genre!

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  3. Thanks, T.J, Susan, and Kathy! I've always been fascinated by this period in Ohio history. One of my favorite bike rides is on the canal towpath that starts in Cleveland and is renovated through Zoar, but will soon reach New Philadelphia.

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  4. This is delightful. I love the image of him tied to a post, scrubbing away. I will have to keep an eye on your progress with this WIP, as it seems like something I'd really enjoy reading.

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    1. Well, I'm always on the lookout for beta readers if you'd like to exchange manuscripts sometime...

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  5. Lovely story...now I've got that song stuck in my head! That ever happen to you?

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    1. All the time! I love the post about your grandfather. So eloquent.

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  6. Replies
    1. High praise, coming from you! Glad you enjoyed it.

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  7. Terrific interactions. I love the song and the responses to it as well as all the descriptions of work and how that plays into the action.

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    1. Thank you, Joy! Loved your curly-haired photos!

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  8. Way to go Kim, a treat for the sense's...

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  9. Such a telling scene - really gives a sense of the characters. I love the interplay between them. And how frustratingly true - how some people can just get away with something and others can't.

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    1. Thanks, Jane! And thanks for hosting this blogfest. I'm reading such great stories.

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  10. I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the best virtual strippers on my desktop.

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