Dolly fakes her death by starvation while the others at the table take seconds from the bowl of mashed potatoes and slices of meatloaf. Mama announces there’s no pie for dessert, just butter cookies. She has little tolerance left after 20 years spent as a Civil War reenactment soldier’s wife. Papa never learned to clean his rifle right and blew half his scalp off, leaving Mama a widow and me an orphan, in a sense. Mama spent more time crouching her way through the woods with a shotgun hunting rabbits than she did teaching me my lessons.
Dolly is my only girl and she has grown into two girls. One has eaten the other. Sunday suppers are usually spent with great aunt Lila, cousin Bennie and his two boys, and occasionally Uncle Rick and Mort, his deaf and blind cocker spaniel. I spend most of my time during the meal harpooning Dolly to her seat, slapping her hands as they reach for the buttered bread rolls, the game hens, and the chocolate pudding. My husband left me four years ago for a truck stop waitress who wears earrings in the shape of pineapples. Mama likes to sneak Dolly caramels from her knitting bag. Dolly stares at her with adoring eyes. The kind of stare I never get. You’d think I was starving her. I tell her, you’ll thank me for this when you grow up. That no man alive will marry her in the state she’s in now: swollen and pink like a spoiled lap dog. No decent man, at least.
We never had sweets in the house. Not until Papa blew his brains out all over a Kansas corn field. A month after his funeral, Mama told me to get in the Chevy and we bounced our way down the gravel road to the Pick and Save. She filled an entire grocery cart with clearance sale Easter candy. Breakfast was Cadbury Crème Eggs melted on top of butter rich pancakes. Lunch was Peeps placed precariously amongst sweet potatoes, their beaks poking up like tiny mountain peaks. Supper was barely a slice of meat followed by huge lumps of ice cream topped with chocolate covered marshmallow bunnies. After months of eating sugar my teeth ached every time I heard a candy wrapper being opened.
I tell Dolly, you would have such a pretty face if you just stopped stuffing your cake hole.
When everyone hoists themselves out of their seats and retires to the sitting room, Dolly runs upstairs to the bathroom while Mama and I clear the table like we do every Sunday. Supper plates and cups are gone in a single trip. I wait until Mama is bent over the sink, her hands covered in lemon-scented suds, to sneak into the sideboard. I grab the bottle I hid there earlier, tuck it inside my apron pocket and step outside on the porch into the night. I stare at the cornfield where the scarecrow hangs, a messy Christ figure in a straw brimmed hat. The crows like to gather on him as a meeting place. Their talons grip and tear apart the faded garments that were once Papa’s old button up shirt and trousers. They consider me a useless threat as I take a long swig from the flask—Maker’s Mark, sometimes Vodka–as they regard me. I hear Dolly crying from the open window upstairs and Mama humming as she finishes up the dishes. Uncle Rick is arguing with Great Aunt Lila over the cost of butter beans again. I lean against the side of the porch and take another swig, eyeball the crows. They have a funny way of picking at each other’s feathers. They have a funny way of cawing and squawking at each other also, like they’re having a squabble. Maybe they’re deciding to settle in for the night. Maybe they’ll decide to fly away, taking that old scarecrow along with them.
Hillary Leftwich resides in Denver with her son. In her day jobs she has worked as a private investigator, maid, and pinup model. She is the associate editor for The Conium Review and Reader/Marketing Coördinator for Vestal Review. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart and appears or is forthcoming in Hobart, Matter Press, WhiskeyPaper, NANO Fiction, Monkeybicycle, Dogzplot, Cease, Cows, Pure Slush, FlashFiction.net, decomP MagazinE, Smokelong Quarterly’s “Why Flash Fiction?” Series, NANO Fiction's "How I Write" and others.