Chicken Wire Children, by Mikael Covey

Grand­ma Bea’s son was killed in the war. Lots of peo­ple were. In Ham­burg Ger­many there’s a pil­lar in the mid­dle of the riv­er, it says “50,000 sons of the city died for you.” It says that in Ger­man. In the ceme­tery in the lit­tle vil­lage of Polceni­go Italy, there are tomb­stones with row after row of the same names, same year. Whole fam­i­lies lost. Grand­ma Bea didn’t know that, she’d nev­er heard of those places. She wasn’t a trav­el­er or par­tic­u­lar­ly well-edu­cat­ed.

She knew her son was dead and her hus­band was gone. He was old and ill, con­fined in the state hos­pi­tal, near the town where she lived, but that didn’t make any dif­fer­ence. There was no one left to run the farm. They’d peti­tioned the gov­ern­ment to keep her son from the war; but it didn’t work. He went and nev­er came back. War is tough on the poor. Her only daugh­ter, Mag­gie, was dying of can­cer. She was twen­ty-four.

Mag­gie had two lit­tle boys, Tom­mie and Dav­ey. They didn’t know their mom­my was dying. She’d got­ten sick when Dav­ey was born. She was awful­ly sick for a long time. Her hus­band Dave senior, hired a local woman to care for Mag­gie. Her name was Lucia (Loosha). She wasn’t a nurse, but she was won­der­ful­ly sweet and kind and gen­tle. Mag­gie died any­way. Grand­ma Bea would some­times take care of Tom­mie and Dav­ey. She was good to Tom­mie but not so good to Dav­ey. She thought Dav­ey killed her daugh­ter.

Soon after­wards, Tom­mie and Dav­ey went to stay with my grand­par­ents, just like I did years lat­er when my mom­my left. My grand­par­ents were sad­dened by Maggie’s death and by how lit­tle Dav­ey was blamed for it. They were very good to Dav­ey but not as good to his broth­er Tom­mie. Dave senior, was also sad­dened by his wife’s death. But he was very appre­cia­tive of Lucia car­ing for her. He and Lucia got mar­ried. Grand­ma Bea said her daughter’s body wasn’t even cold in the grave yet. But that didn’t mat­ter either.

Tom­mie and Dav­ey had a new moth­er, and a new big sis­ter. Lucia had a lit­tle daugh­ter named Janette. Lucia’s hus­band had also been killed in the war, on Iwo Jima island along with a lot of oth­er peo­ple. Janette had nev­er even seen her father, only a dead pic­ture in a scrap­book. War is tough on the poor.

But even though Tom­mie and Dav­ey had a new mom­my, it wasn’t their real mom­my; nor was Dave, Janette’s real dad­dy. And the three of them weren’t real­ly broth­er and sis­ter. But they all got along just fine.

Things went well for them. Dave was a vet­eri­nar­i­an. He’d just been start­ing out when his first wife died, and mon­ey was tight. But he became was a wealthy man, and the farm was just a hob­by for him, some­thing to do on his days off.

Some time lat­er, Lucia and Dave had a lit­tle baby daugh­ter named Mer­ri. She was the sweet­est pret­ti­est hap­pi­est lit­tle girl I ever knew. I was relat­ed to all these peo­ple more or less, since Dave and my dad were broth­ers. In the sum­mers I would go and stay with my cousins at their farm. It was like being in heav­en. We weren’t rich, but they were; and all these many acres of green grass, creeks, fields, and pine for­est, was their play­ground. I loved play­ing there. I espe­cial­ly loved play­ing with Mer­ri because she was so wild and care­free and hap­py. I could nev­er be that way, only when I was around her.

For some rea­son Grand­ma Bea was always around at the farm too. I don’t know why. I didn’t even know how she was relat­ed to any of us. I guess for the most part, she wasn’t. She wasn’t very grand­moth­er­ly either; not short or fat or even very old. She looked kind of tall and skin­ny with a dark wrinkly face and brown hair. And she talked so fast in such a high-pitched heavy accent; it was hard to under­stand what she was say­ing. I felt dis­tant from her, even though she seemed like a real nice per­son. She was always smil­ing and had kind of a twin­kle in her eyes like every­thing around her was fun­ny in some way.

I thought every­thing around the farm was just fine. Well…except that Dav­ey stut­tered real bad. He was as hard to under­stand as Grand­ma Bea. I felt sor­ry for him, even though he was a lot old­er than me. He was always so nice and kind to us lit­tle kids. He’d sad­dle up the horse for us to ride and sort of take care of us like a big broth­er. It was too bad he couldn’t talk right, like oth­er peo­ple. I always thought Dav­ey and his horse were a lot alike, big and strong, but so gen­tle and nice. He could talk to the horse and not stut­ter. He’d say “whoa, boy; easy there old son” and open his hand to give the horse a lump of sug­ar. It was like they under­stood each oth­er, like they were two of a kind with a spe­cial sort of bond between them.

His broth­er Tom­mie wasn’t like Dav­ey. He was fat, and not very tall. Peo­ple said oth­er kids would tease him and make fun of him. They’d sing “Thoma­sine, Thoma­sine, fat­ter than a but­ter­bean” when he got on the school bus in the morn­ing. But no one felt sor­ry for Tom­mie. They just laughed at him. He didn’t like hors­es either, and he didn’t like to play and get all dirty like kids do.

Tom­mie liked to play the piano. Mer­ri didn’t, but she had to spend half an hour prac­tic­ing every evening between eight and eight-thir­ty. We’d count the min­utes so we could go back to play­ing. I don’t know what Janette did. It seemed like she was nev­er around. But then she was the old­est of all of us kids, so maybe she was out some­where. It nev­er even felt like I was relat­ed to Janette, and of course I wasn’t. None of us were.

One day my fam­i­ly moved a long ways away from where my cousins lived, from the farm as we always called it. We moved to Michi­gan, the farm was in Geor­gia. Years lat­er, Davey’s horse Son­ny got old and died. That was sad. I can’t help but con­nect Son­ny to my child­hood, and the farm. When Son­ny died, I was nev­er a child again and things were nev­er the same. Janette got preg­nant and eloped with her boyfriend. She nev­er went to med school like her step-dad want­ed her to. Dav­ey got over his stut­ter­ing some­how and he went to school to be a vet­eri­nar­i­an, but he had a ner­vous break­down and began play­ing with guns. He had rifles and pis­tols and even made his own bul­lets with caps and lead molds. Then he would shoot at trees around the farm.

His broth­er Tom­mie did go to med school but he too had a ner­vous break­down and stayed in bed for over a year. He would write let­ters about killing peo­ple like his moth­er who wasn’t real­ly his moth­er. He moved in with Grand­ma Bea at her lit­tle house in town and she took care of him. Sur­pris­ing­ly, it all worked out pret­ty well for them. Dav­ey even­tu­al­ly went back to school and final­ly became a vet­eri­nar­i­an. Tom­mie devel­oped schiz­o­phre­nia, but he grad­u­al­ly got more and more able to func­tion. He moved to Las Vegas and works as a bar­tender. He makes good mon­ey and comes up to vis­it us once in a while. He’s the only one that does.

Mer­ri who was always my favorite per­son in the whole world, died young. Even though she was the only one out of all of us who had both her real par­ents, it didn’t mat­ter. She became an alco­holic and lived a very tor­tured life after all that bliss­ful child­hood. Then she got can­cer and died. We all got togeth­er like a big fam­i­ly reunion to attend her funer­al. It was hard. I hat­ed to leave her there. Even after the ser­vices were over and every­one had left the ceme­tery, I stayed there and watched as the work­men shov­eled in the red Geor­gia clay that used to always remind me of home. I stayed there a long time.

Lat­er I walked around the farm, with all those mem­o­ries, but I couldn’t see very clear­ly. Maybe I hadn’t slept so well in the days after hear­ing of Merri’s death. And then hav­ing to dri­ve all the way down there and not want­i­ng to stop. Almost like going home and no home to go to. It was a bril­liant­ly sun­ny day, calm and warm like I always remem­bered it. I walked into the shade of the big pine trees and put my hand on a fence post. A fence we’d maybe crawled over and jumped over count­less times as chil­dren. The build­ings and trees and grass stood out so sharp and dis­tinct and all of it unre­al, like a mirage, like a dream, all gone. One of my cousins walked up to me, he was a lit­tle old­er than Mer­ri, but I think she was his favorite too. We looked at each oth­er, both of us fight­ing back the tears. “This is a tough one,” he said.

 

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