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Suppertime
by Bettye Hudson Galloway



Julie sat under the shade of the pear tree beside the muddy stream and selected a pear which had fallen to the ground. She ate down to the core on the good side of the fruit. She edged her way around the pear toward the decaying portion and stopped nibbling only when her tongue touched the fermenting stickiness of the rotted side. She examined the core, noticing the opaque seeds exposed to the light, and allowed a bee to settle into the space dug by her teeth before she tossed it with an underhanded motion into the ditch. The bee left its refuge and droned upward as the remains of the pear sank into the muddy stream.

Julie got up and plodded down the path to the house. She opened the ragged screen door that provided no barrier for the flies that swarmed around and through the house. At the back of the hall she heard her mother in the kitchen, and she made her way to the sound of activity. She crawled onto the backless bench and popped her elbows on the faded red-checkered oilcloth covering the table.

"Move your elbows, Julie. Murray and Marie will be through with the milkin' in a minute, and I've got to get supper on the table."

Julie watched as her mother placed a pot of peas in the middle of the table. She walked back to the stove and returned with a black skillet filled with cornbread.

"It's a cryin' shame we ain't got any buttermilk," said Estelle. "Sure would taste good with this hot cornbread. Julie, run out and get us a few of them big red tomaters off the far vines. I'll slice up some, and we won't even miss the buttermilk."

"Okay."

She slid off the bench and held the door open as her brother and sister entered, each with a foaming milk pail. The door slammed behind her as she made her way to the garden. She selected four firm ripe tomatoes. Holding them cupped in her skirt, she made her way around the house to the pear tree. She carefully let the tomatoes slide to the ground, stood on tiptoe, and picked a pear for each member of the family. Folding them in her skirt, she replaced the tomatoes, one by one, and returned to the house with added touches to the family's meal.

Murray and Marie were already seated at the table. Her mother finished pouring glasses of milk before sitting down at the head. "Bring a knife before you come," she said to Julie, seeing the rest of the supper had arrived, "and we'll slice up some of these for our plates."

"Momma," said Julie as she slid back into her place on the bench, "the ditch has got water in it and it didn't rain."

"I know it," said Estelle, "that's 'cause I spent half the day pourin' it in there."

"I helped, too," added Murray, indignantly. "Yep, we drawed water all evenin' and poured it out."

"What were you drawin' the water for?"

"Well," said Estelle as she bit into a hunk of cornbread, "you know how bad the water's been tastin' and how bad it's been smellin' lately? Well, today, when I pulled up the bucket it had part of the old tomcat in it. I guess that's why we ain't seen him around lately!"

"Yep," said Murray. "We had to keep drawin' for the rest of him with the well bucket. We had to get him all out 'cause I hate to get cat hairs in my mouth when I drink out of the dipper. Julie, hand me the peas."

Julie picked up the pot by the still-warm handle and moved it across the table to her brother. She picked up her fork and shoveled the peas from her plate onto it. She glanced at the fork as she raised it toward her mouth and stared at two peas, side by side, that stared back at her, just like the eyes of the old tomcat when he dared her to bother him while he was lazing in the sun.

She hesitated, the hot bile rising in her throat. She looked around the table. Estelle, Murray, and Marie were fully attentive to the food in front of them. They ate on, paying no attention to Julie as she gagged and slid from the bench. She made it to the screen door and to the edge of the back yard before her stomach cleansed itself, spewing its contents onto the ragged grass. She leaned for a few minutes against the post supporting the hit-and-miss barbed wires that served as a clothesline. Although still pale and weak, she felt better and re-entered the house. She walked past the family, still zestfully gorging themselves, through the kitchen, into the back room, and lay down on the bed she shared with Marie. Nobody noticed her as she passed through the kitchen; in fact, nobody had noticed her absence from the table.

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Bettye H. Galloway was born, reared, and educated in Oxford, Lafayette County, Mississippi. She has now retired from Mississippi state service (primarily the University of Mississippi) and as executive vice president of a drug testing laboratory.

Write Bettye at this email address: bgalloway@watervalley.net
And read more of her stories:
The Last of His Kind
A Christmas I Will Never Forget
Chickadee

Want to leave a comment about Bettye's story?
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or write Ye Editor at bethjacks@hotmail.com.
Thanks!

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