Good morning. Here is another work in progress. It is an introduction to the longer tale as it follows the life of Bevan.
“Jump, Gwennie, jump!”
Three year old Gwendolyn O’Brien turned from the hay loft window to look back at her brother.
“Gwennie yump?” she asked.
She followed Bevan everywhere, so this attempt to convince her to do something on her own, without his lead, was frustrating. Bevan was nearest her in age, of the seven children, just three years older, but he was big – as big as an eight year old, and he resented the way his sister followed him around all the time. He had, like his brothers and other sisters, inherited their dad’s black Irish features – dark hair and pale skin, while Gwennie was light haired like their mother.
“Jump Gwennie,” Bevan commanded, peering over her shoulder, at the haystack far below.
As she leaped, Bevan saw the pitchfork sticking up out of the hay. How often had his father ranted at his older brothers when they left the pitchfork lying down instead of propping it against the wall?
Dangerous, was what his father said.
Gwennie jumped and Bevan reached out his hand and it caught her blonde hair. A lock came off in his hand, pink bits of flesh stuck to the place where the hair had pulled out of her scalp. His sister plummeted down. Bevan dropped the lock of hair. His hand clenched and unclenched as he watched.
Gwennie’s small body hit the stack.
He leaned out of the window, and he watched as her little yellow cotton dress turned bright red, and he saw the four tines of the heavy pitch fork, sticking up through her body, from her chin to her stomach.
Bevan screamed, and almost fell from the hay loft window himself. He stopped in time, regained his balance, and ran to the ladder. He scrambled down, and raced out of the barn. He expected to see someone, at least one of his brothers or sisters, but the yard was deserted.
“Mamma! Papa! Come quick!” he yelled. He raced to the house.
“Mamma! Papa!” He threw open the door as he shouted, and both his parents rose from where they sat at the big wood table. “What’s the matter, Bevan?” asked his father.
“Papa, it’s Gwennie! She fell. Come quick!”
Bevan turned and ran towards the haystack, not stopping to see if they followed. They ran behind Bevan, and Mamma screamed out when she saw Gwennie. She and Papa knelt beside the little girl. By this time, the other children began to gather around. Mamma started sobbing. A couple of Bevan’s sisters screamed. Papa put both his hands on the pitchfork, and pulled it out of Gwennie’s body. Papa stood up, with the little girl in his arms. Bevan noticed how her arms dangled limp, as Papa ran towards the house. He took his daughter inside, and the oldest of the boys, Carrick, led his wailing mother in the direction of the house.
The other children followed, silent.
Once inside the house, Mamma became quiet. She wrapped the little girl’s body in a blanket. It was Gwennie’s favorite, the blue and pink squares crocheted by Mamma just for her. Bevan caught his breath and thought that maybe he would stop breathing, too, just like Gwennie. He ran to Mamma and put his arms around her knees, where she sat on the wood rocking chair next to the place where Gwennie lay. Mamma patted his head, but it was a slow and absentminded patting.
Bevan gulped and said, “Mamma, I’m sorry Gwennie is dead.”
Mamma took a deep breath. Bevan could feel her whole body shake for a second.
“Bevan, it is not your fault. It is no one’s fault.”
She raised her head and looked at the other children, all standing close to her.
“But Mamma, the pitchfork -” This from Edith, seven years old and always the talkative one.
“Never mind that. We will never again talk about the pitchfork,” said Mamma. She was silent then, tears rolling down her cheeks. She rocked in the chair. Bevan looked up at his mother, and then he tried to squeeze some tears from his eyes, but he couldn’t.
Bevan watched his father’s shoulders shake, the man’s eyes never leaving Gwennie, as he told the older kids to go and get the chores done.
Papa called the undertaker and the tall, somber man arrived a little later, in his big black hearse. He took Gwennie’s body away.
The family gathered that evening, around the fire and Papa read the Bible. Bevan liked some parts of the Bible, especially when God punished the bad people. But tonight Papa read about Jesus and how everyone would be with Him in Paradise. Bevan wasn’t sure he would like to live there. It sounded boring. Papa said a prayer for Gwennie and then the children took turns praying.
The day of the funeral dawned bright and sunny. It was going to be another hot day, with dust blowing across the Kansas prairie. The children, as well-dressed as Mamma and Papa could afford, piled into the old wagon, huddling together. Papa sat in the driver’s seat, and Mamma sat beside him, Edith and Nora sandwiched between her and Papa. Bevan pushed at his brother Hiram, who was elbowing him.
“Stop it, you!” said Carrick, smacking both Bevan and Hiram on their heads. He sat next to Hiram, and Edith sat next to him. The others crowded into the back of the wagon.
They pulled up to the little church and they went inside. The tiny white casket was at the front of the church. There were flowers all around it, picked that morning by the ladies who ran the Good Wives Society, Bevan thought. He didn’t like the ladies. Sometimes they met at his house, to talk and pray with Mamma. They smelled of old age and perfumes that made him sneeze.
The minister droned on, then Carrick got up and said that everyone would miss little Gwendolyn, and then he cried. Mamma began to sob. Bevan tried again to bring tears to his eyes, but they remained dry. He kicked the seat in front of him, and his big sister Helen turned and glared at him. He shrugged his shoulders and made a face at her. Bevan wondered if Helen would jump from the hayloft if he could convince her to come up there.
To be continued….