The Beans of Egypt, Maineby Carolyn Chute
“Chute’s novel pulses with kinetic energy. It seizes the reader on its opening page with a rhythm, a language, a knock-about country humor unmistakably its own.” —Newsweek
The Beans of Egypt, Maine introduced the world to the notorious, unforgettable Bean clan of small town Egypt, Maine—from wild man Reuben, an alcoholic who can’t seem to keep himself out of jail; to his aunt, the perpetually pregnant Roberta; and his cousin Beal, a man gentle by temperament but violent in defeat who marries his pious neighbor, Earlene Pomerleau before poverty kills him. Through her story of the Beans’s struggle with their inner demons to survive against hardship and societal ignorance, Chute emerged as a writer of immense humanity and unparalleled insight into a world most of us knew little of—if we’d recognized it at all.
“If you care about fine writing, you owe it to yourself to read this book. We are present at the birth of a great American artist.” —The Boston Globe
“Chute’s novel pulses with kinetic energy. It seizes the reader on its opening page with a rhythm, a language, a knock-about country humor unmistakably its own.” —Newsweek
“No matter how desperate its present or dim its future, we hope Egypt lasts forever. We do not ever want to let these people go.” —The Miami Herald
Lizzie, Annie, and Rosie’s Rescue of Me with Blue Cake
We’ve got a ranch house. Daddy built it. Daddy says it’s called RANCH ’cause it’s like houses out West which cowboys sleep in. There’s a picture window in all ranch houses and if you’re in one of ’em out West, you can look out and see the cattle eatin’ grass on the plains and the cowboys ridin’ around with lassos and tall hats. But we ain’t got nuthin’ like that here in Egypt, Maine. All Daddy and I got to look out at is the Beans. Daddy says the Beans are uncivilized animals. PREDATORS, he calls ’em.
“If it runs, a Bean will shoot it! If it falls, a Bean will eat it,” Daddy says, and his lip curls. A million times Daddy says, “Earlene, don’t go over on the Beans’ side of the right-of-way. Not ever!”
Daddy’s bedroom is pine-paneled . . . the real kind. Daddy done it all. He filled the nail holes with MIRACLE WOOD.
One weekend after we was all settled in, Daddy gets up on a chair and opens a can of MIRACLE WOOD. He works it into the nail holes with a putty knife. He needs the chair ’cause he’s probably the littlest man in Egypt, Maine.
Daddy gets a pain in his back after dinnah so we take a nap. We get under the covers and I scratch his back. Daddy says to take off my socks and shoes and overalls to keep the bed from gettin’ full of dirt.
After I’m asleep the bed starts to tremble. I clutch the side of the bed and look around. Then I realize it’s only Rubie Bean comin’ in his loggin’ truck to eat his dinnah with other Beans. Daddy’s bare back is khaki-color like his carpenter’s shirts. I give his shoulder blades a couple more rakes, then dribble off to sleep once more.
Gram pushes open the bedroom door. “What’s goin’ on?” Her voice is a bellow, low as a man’s.
Daddy sits up quick. He rubs his face and the back of his neck. Beside the bed is a chair Daddy made. It is pine. Very pretty. And over this chair is them khaki-color carpenter’s clothes, the shirt and pants, laid flat like they just been ironed. Gram’s eyes look at the pants.
Gram plays the organ at church. Her fingers in her pocketbook move around in many directions at once, over the readin’ glasses, tappin’ the comb, pressin’ the change purse and plastic rain hat, as if from these objects one of my favorite hymns WE ABIDE will come. One finger jabs at a violet hankie. Then she draws the hankie out and holds it over her nose.
I sniff at the room. I don’t smell nuthin’.
It is warm. But Gram always wears her sweater. You never see her arms. “Lee!” Gram gasps through her hankie. Lee is Daddy’s name.
Gramp comes into the bedroom doorway and holds a match over his pipe. Whenever Gramp visits, he wears a white shirt. He also wears his dress-up hat. Even in church. He never takes it off in front of people . . . ’cause underneath he’s PURE BALD. Daddy says he’s seen it years ago . . . the head. He says it’s got freckles.
Gram puts her hankie back in her purse, straightens her posture.
On Daddy’s cheeks have come brick-color dots and he gives hisself a sideways look in the vanity mirror.
“LEE! I’m talkin’ to you!” Gram’s deep voice rises.
Daddy says, “I’m sorry, Mumma.”
Gram sniffles, wrings her hands.
I says, “Hi Gram!”
She ignores me.
“HI GRAM!!!” I say it louder.
Through the open window I hear the door of the Beans’ mobile home peel open like it’s a can of tuna fish. I see a BIG BEAN WOMAN come out and set a BIG BEAN BABY down to play among boxes of truck parts and a skidder wheel. The woman Bean wears black stretch pants and a long white blouse with no sleeves. Her arms are bare. The baby Bean pulls off one of its rubber boots.
Somethin’ else catches my eye. It’s the sun on the fender of Daddy’s little tan car. Inside the trunk is some of Daddy’s carpenter tools and some of the birdhouses and colonial bread boxes he made for the church fair. On the bumper is Daddy’s bumper sticker. It says ACCEPT JESUS AND YOU SHALL HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE. The sun shifts on the fender, almost blinds me, like it’s God sayin’ in his secret way that he approves of Daddy’s nice car.
But in here in Daddy’s bedroom it’s different. The light is queer, slantin’ through Gramp’s smoke. Gram covers her face with her hands now, so all I can see is her smoky hair. She says through her fingers in her deep voice, “Earlene, you don’t sleep here at night, do you?”
I says, “Yep.”
The dots on Daddy’s cheeks get bigger. Gramp looks across the hall at the thermostat to the oil furnace which all ranch houses got.
Daddy swings his legs out from the covers, hangs on the edge of the high bed in his underwear, with his little legs hangin’ down. He says, “Mumma . . . I’m sorry. I didn’t think.”
Daddy has said a million times that this house is a real peach . . . good leach bed . . . artesian well . . . dry cellar . . . the foundation was poured . . . lots of closet space. He went by blueprints. He says all carpenters can’t read blueprints.
“Praise the Lord!” shouts Gram. She holds her clasped hands to her heart, a half-smile, a look of love. “Praise God!!” Her pocketbook is hooked over her elbow. Her arms go up and she waves them and the fingers march, stirrin’ up the queer smoke overhead. She says croakishly, “What the Devil loves is a situation where temptation might come!! He wants you to make room for him, Lee! He hates Jesus! And they are wrastlin’ over you. The Devil, Lee! The Devil is going to get in!! Praise God! Praise Jesus!”
Daddy’s eyes go wild. “But Mumma! It don’t mean nuthin’. She’s just a baby!”
“I ain’t a BABY!” I scream. I drop to the floor from this high bed Daddy made, made with his lathe, hand-carved acorns on the posts, stained khaki like everything else. I don’t remember him makin’ the bed. Daddy says he made it before my mother went to the hospital to live. He says he and my mother used to sleep in it and she had the side he’s got now.
I like my side of the bed best. I can, without takin’ my head up off the pillow, look out across at the Beans’ if I want. As I look out now I see a pickup truck backin’ up to the Beans’ barn. A BIG BEAN MAN gets out and lifts a spotted tarpaulin. It’s two dead bears. I look back at Gram.
I pull Gram’s sleeve. “Oh Gram . . . What’s the matter?”
“Where’s your jeans!!?” she says. “Your jeans!!?”
“Under the bed,” I says.
“Well, get ’em,” she says.
I pick up a sock.
Gram’s cool bony fingers close up around my wrist. She yanks me off my feet.
Daddy stands up in his underwear and folds his arms across his chest like he’s cold. But it ain’t cold. He looks the littlest I’ve ever seen him look. Gram pushes past Gramp and hauls me to my room. My bed is covered with cardboard boxes and coat hangers. She says deeply, “Start pickin’ this stuff up!”
I says, “But Gram. Our nap is over. It’s time to get up. Ask Daddy!”
“I ain’t askin’ that stupid man nuthin’!” She hurls a pile of dresses I’ve outgrown upon the wall. I watch ’em slide down. Gram roars, “You stay in this bed for the rest of the day, maybe two days. And no suppah!”
She is panting.
“GRAM . . . I’ll be HUNGRY!”
“Don’t sass!” She narrows her eyes. “The Lord’s good meat and tatahs ain’t for no dirty little girls.” As she hauls the covers back, she’s whimperin’. And I hear Daddy out there in the hall. He’s pullin’ on his pants out there . . . right in the hall. Gramp just stands there, lookin’ lost under the brim of his little brown hat.
Gram takes up both my wrists and shakes them in my face. She says into my eyes, “Of course nuthin’s happened!! Of course. I ain’t sayin’ somethin’s happened! But you are making room for the Devil, Earlene! Room for the Devil!”
Daddy’s in the kitchen being reeeel quiet. Probably just sitting there at the table like he does every time Gram scolds him. He made all them supper chairs hisself. With his lathe in the cellar.
Gram fits me into my bed, then kisses my cheek. She smells like rubber. Like rubber when it’s hot. I see the lions and tigers of my bedspread reflectin’ in her eyes. She says, “Are you Gram’s little towhead pixie?”
I says, “Yes.”
She pulls the door shut.
Daddy stays out there in the kitchen a long time . . . a way long time after Gram and Gramp are gone. The water runs in the kitchen. Prob’ly Daddy’s got his favorite jelly glass out of the dirty dishes and is rinsing it out. Our well, Daddy says, will never go dry. “It’s artesian,” he always says. That is the good kind of well. Then Daddy likes to say how the Beans got the worse side of the right-of-way for water and their well is the bad kind. Just dug out with shovels. “All ledge and clay!” In summertime you see ’em back one of them old grunty trucks to the door and they go in and out with hundreds of plastic milk jugs.
As I lay here I can still smell Gramp’s pipe tobacco. It’s the sweetest kind. Where Gram and Gramp live up in the village, Gramp stopped smokin’ in the house. He gets in his car with the plaid blanket on the seat and has a smoke out in the dooryard. Or he scuffs over to Beans’ Variety to sit with his friends near the radiator. Gramp’s got a trillion friends . . . even Beans. When he goes over to the store, he always wears his little brown hat so nobody there has seen his bald head with the freckles either. Gram has given up scoldin’ Gramp about wearin’ his hat indoor . . . ’cause it seems some stronger power keeps his hat from comin’ off.
In the middle of the night Daddy finally comes in my room. It is hard to sleep without him so I am wicked relieved. But I am very worried about this Devil thing Gram has mentioned. If the Devil came out of the walls now, Daddy would run and scream ’cause he is the scaredy type. When he puts the hall light on, my heart hits the sheet. He stands in the doorway with the hall light on his back, his hands in the pockets of his khaki pants, and his face is gray and for a little second I think he’s somebody else. He stretches across my bed. He is so little his body across my ankles and feet is not much heavier than one of Gram’s cotton comforters.
It’s Saturday morning. All clouds. Very cold.
When Daddy’s downcellah busy with his lathe, I go to the edge of our grass to get a look at the Beans. The Beans’ mobile home is one of them old ones, looks like a turquoise-blue submarine. It’s got blackberry bushes growin’ over the windows.
I scream, “HELLO BEANS!”
About four huge heads come out of the hole. It’s a hole the Bean kids and Bean babies have been workin’ on for almost a year. Every day they go down the hole and they use coffee cans and a spade to make the hole bigger. The babies use spoons. Beside the hole is a pile of gingerbread-color dirt as tall as a house.
I say, “Need any help with the hole!!?”
They don’t answer. One of ’em wipes its nose on its sleeve. They blink their fox-color eyes.
I mutter, “Must be the STUPIDEST hole.”
The heads draw back into the hole.
A white car with one Bondo-color fender is turnin’ off the paved road onto the right-of-way. It musta lost its muffler. It rumbles along, and the exhaust exploding from all sides is doughy and enormous from the cold.
The blackberry bushes quiver, scrape at the tin walls of the mobile home like claws.
The white car slowly backs into Daddy’s crushed-rock driveway and a guy with yellow hair and a short cigarette looks out at me and winks. His window’s rolled down and he’s got his arm hangin’ out in the cold air.
I scream, “NO TURNIN’ IN DADDY’S DRIVEWAY!”
There’s another guy in there with him. He has a sweatshirt with a pointed hood so all that shows is his huge pink cheeks and a smile. The car pulls ahead onto the right-of-way and the two guys get out.
I scream, “Daddy says KEEP OUT! You ain’t ALLOWED!”
The men look at each other and chuckle. The yellow-hair guy is still smokin’ his cigarette even though it’s only a tiny stump.
My eyes water from the cold. My hair blows into my mouth.
The sweatshirt guy opens the back door and I see there’s feet in there on the seat. The sweatshirt guy pulls on the feet.
The other guy helps. They both tug on the feet.
Out comes a big Bean, loose, very loose, like a dead cat. His arms and legs just go all over the ground. His green felt hat plops out in the dirt. About five beer bottles skid out, too, roll and clink together. The guy with the yellow hair snatches a whiskey bottle off the seat and puts it in the Bean’s hand, curls his fingers around it. Both the guys laugh. “There’s your baby!” one says.
They get in the car and drive away.
My heart feels like runnin’-hard shoes. I look around. No Beans come out of the mobile home. No Beans come out of the hole.
I take a step. I’m wicked glad Daddy’s in the cellah with his lathe. I can picture him down there in the bluish light in his little boy-sized clothes, pickin’ over his big tools with his boy-sized hand.
I take another step.
Now I’m standin’ right over the Bean. He looks to me like prob’ly the biggest Bean of all, like Hercules who holds the world. He’s got one puckered-up eye, bright purple . . . a mustache big as a black chicken. I cover my nose. I think he musta messed hisself. His green workshirt has yellow stitching on one pocket. I read out loud, “R-E-U-B-E-N.” I squint, trying to sound out the letters.
The whiskey bottle rolls off his hand.
I says, “Wake up, Bean!”
Then some heads come out of the hole.
A noise comes from the big Bean on the ground: GLOINK! And I say, “Wowzer!” It’s blood spreadin’ big as a hand in the dirt.
The kid Beans are comin’ fast as they can. They bring their spade and spoons, cans and a pail.
I look into the Bean man’s face. I say, “YOU! Hey you! Wake up!” I scooch down and inspect the pores of his skin. His wide-open mouth. Big Bean nose. My quick hand goes out . . . touches the nose. I say, “Stop bleedin’, Bean.”
His good eye opens.
I jump away.
Out of the open mouth comes a hiss. The chest heaves up. Somethin’ horrible leaks out the corner of his mouth, catches in the hairs of the big mustache.
The kid Beans stand around starin’ down at the green workshirt with the blood movin’ out around their shoes.
I says, “Some guys brought him.” I point up the road. I look among their faces for signs of panic. I say, “R-E-U-B-E-N. What’s that spell?”
They look at me, breathin’ through their mouths. One of ’em giggles and says, “That spells coo coo.”
Another one pokes at the big Bean’s shoulder with its green rubber boot. The big Bean goes “AAAARRRRR!” And his lips peel back over clenched yellow teeth.
A kid Bean with a spade says to a kid Bean with a pail, “Go get Ma off the couch. Rubie’s been stabbed again.”
“Go tell ’er yourself,” says the kid Bean with the pail.
“No . . . you!” says the one with the spade.
“No-suh. I ain’t gonna miss gettin’ to see Rubie die.”
I look down at the big Bean and his hand slowly drags across the dirt to his side to the torn fabric, a black place in the body, like an open mouth. And blood fills the cup of his hand.
Daddy opens the front door and hollers, “EARLENE!”
The big Bean’s eye is lookin’ right at me.
I says to the eye, “In heaven they got streets of gold.”
Daddy screams my name again.
The big fox-color eye closes.
I say, “Oh no! He’s dead!”
The kid with the spade says, “Nah! He’s still breathin’.”
Daddy comes off the step. “Earlene! Get away! NOW!!”
I says, “Bean wake up! Don’t die!”
Rubie Bean don’t move. His mouth is wide open like he’s died right in the middle of a big laugh. I see the blood has surrounded my left sneaker, has splashed on my white sock. I can hear the Bean kids shift in their rubber boots.
I drop down on all fours and put my ear right there on the shirt pocket where it says R-E-U-B-E-N.
“Get away from there!” Daddy almost whimpers. He’s comin’ fast across the grass.
The heart. A huge BOOM-BANG! almost punches at my temple through the Bean’s shirt.
“Hear anything?” a Bean with a coffee can asks.
The fox-color big Bean eye opens, the teeth come together, make a deep rude raspy grunt. He says, “You kids . . . get the hell away from me, you goddam cocksuckin’ little sons-a-whores!!”
’Bout then Daddy’s boy-sized hands close around me.
I stand by the stove and Daddy gets out a new bar of LAVA soap, unwraps it. I says, “Daddy! I didn’t say no swear words.”
He gets one of the chairs from the suppah table and faces it in the corner where he keeps his boots. “Okay, Earlene,” he says. “We’re all set.”
I says, “But, Daddy, soap’s for swear words!” I fidget with the hem of my sweater.
His face is white with afraidness. He pats the chair. I get on the chair facing the corner. I open my mouth. He sticks in the soap—hard, gritty. My mouth is almost not big enough.
He says at my back, “How many times have I told you to stay on your own side of the right-of-way?”
I take the soap out. “Daddy! I was in the middle!” I wipe my mouth with my sleeve. I sputter.
“What those Beans would do to a small girl like you would make a grown man cry,” he says.
I sputter some more.
Daddy says, “Earlene, put the soap back in.”
“When I used to do what Gram told me not to do, I got the strap,” Daddy says.
I narrow my eyes. I says, “But those was the olden days, Daddy.”
“Spare the rod, spoil the child,” Daddy says.
We hear the siren. I start to get off the chair. Daddy puts his hand on my shoulder. “Earlene, I’m serious. Listen to me.”
Them rescue guys outdoor are makin’ a racket, radios and everything, havin’ a time gettin’ Rubie Bean off the ground. But Daddy don’t seem to notice. He puts his face close to mine. “If I ever . . .” he says slowly, “ever . . . ever . . . see you near them Beans again, you are gettin’ the horrible-est lickin’ the Lord has ever witnessed.”
I says, smiling, “Daddy . . . you wouldn’t really do that.”
He folds his arms over his chest. “Then I’ll get Gram to do it.”
It’s Thanksgiving and I help Gram set out the matchin’ dishes. Every Thanksgiving is the same. Auntie Paula comes with her kids and Uncle Loren comes in his pig truck alone. You can see snow between the tree trunks goin’ up the mountain overway and the gray air cracks with guns.
I says, “Gram, did you used to hit Daddy with a strap?”
Gram’s sharp little fingers move over the potatoes, feelin’ for bad spots. She says, “Spare the rod, spoil the child. Praise God!”
Loren keeps going out on the back steps to get some air.
Gram says, “Darn fool dresses too warm. He’s got at least ten shirts on, you know.”
I look out through the kitchen glass. It’s raining on Uncle Loren. His arms dangle down through his legs. He smokes hard and slow.
I hum one of the songs Gram plays on the organ at church. Uncle Loren don’t go to church. Gram says Uncle Loren ain’t accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. Uncle Loren lives alone. We never visit him. We’ve seen the outside of his place about a million times. When we drive by, only his kitchen light is on. Daddy says Loren sleeps in the kitchen. Daddy says Loren’s big house is cold as a barn. Uncle Loren comes back indoor and trudges into the living room where Jerry and Dennis and I are playin’ the Cootie Game which Gram keeps for us kids. Uncle Loren sits on Gram’s flower-print divan and he looks me in the eye.
Gram hollers from the kitchen, “Loren . . . don’t go layin’ your head on that lace scarf!”
Uncle Loren wears striped overalls. When I look in his eyes, I get a shiver, which I like. I like scary things, I guess.
Gram comes to the living room door and says that Auntie Paula made that divan scarf and that the oils off Loren’s head would make it black . . . eventually. Auntie Paula doesn’t say much herself about it because she’s a quiet person but her expression is worse than words.
Uncle Loren ignores them both. He looks over at me instead. “Earlene,” he says, “Did you know I got ghosts in my house?”
Gram says, “He’s just tryin’ to scare you, Earlene. Don’t listen to him.”
He looks big and solid and square settin’ there on the divan . . . but he’s really as short as Daddy. He says, “Ghosts bust up my house all the time. They don’t hurt me . . . but they keep me awake rollin’ them big Blue Hubbards around and smashin’ up glass. They get right under the sheets with me and run around in there under the sheets.”
Gram’s eyes widen on him sayin’ the word “Sheets.” Sheets, beds, naps . . . this is all got somethin’ to do with the Devil, I guess.
Jerry and Dennis watch Uncle Loren with open mouths.
Gram snorts. “He just says stuff like that so no one will visit him and discover his squalor. He hates people visitin’ him. People, good Christian ones, upset him. He don’t know Christ as his Savior.”
Then he moves his deep pale scary eyes on me.
After dinner, I go out to where Uncle Loren is settin’ on the back step and watch him strike a match on the buckle of his overalls. It’s almost dark, but there’s still some shots up on the mountain.
Uncle Loren don’t say nuthin’, just squints his eyes as the smoke sifts up over his face.
I twirl a piece of my white hair and put it in the corner of my mouth.
Loren shifts his boots on the step.
“How’s the hogs?” I ask.
“Good,” he says.
I twirl my hair.
“Uncle Loren,” I says, almost in a whisper, “you ever heard this word? . . . ‘Goddamcocksuckinlittlesonsahoowahs’?”
Uncle Loren chuckles, sends his cigarette butt spinning through the rain. It hisses in the grass. “Why don’t you ask one of them in there?” he says with a jerk of his thumb at the house.
I trace one of my dress-up shoes with my pointing finger. I narrow my eyes.
Uncle Loren puts them pale scary eyes on me. And I shiver.
Across the right-of-way the Beans’ black dog stands by an old rug, looking at me. “Yoo hoo!” I call through cupped hands.
Daddy’s gone to Oxford to work on a bank . . . He’s late gettin’ home. They say the roads are greasy.
I take a step onto the Beans’ side of the right-of-way. The black dog watches me, the hair on its back raised. But it don’t bark.
I step over a spinach can with water froze in it, a clothespin, an Easter basket, the steerin’ wheel of a car.
Out of the dog’s nose its frozen breath pumps. I draw nearer to the hole with the spoons and coffee cans ringed around it. The dog charges. It gallops sideways with stiff rocking-horse legs.
I says, “You bite me and you’ll regret it!!”
I look up at the closed metal door. No Beans.
The dog’s eyes glow a bluish white. Its bluish tongue flutters. I say, “Beat it!” and kick a beer bottle at it.
It noses the beer bottle, picks it up in its teeth, and drops it at my feet.
“Go away! I ain’t playin’.” I look at the Bean windows. No faces. The dog smells my small moving feet. “You ugly grimy Bean dog. You’re goin’ ta BURN IN HELL!”
There’s a scalloped serving spoon at the edge of the hole. “So this is the hole,” I says to myself. The dog watches me pick up a trowel. I point it at the dog. “ZEEP!” I scream. “You are instantly DEAD!” The dog blinks.
The corridor of the hole is curved. I slide down on my bottom, workin’ my legs, the entrance behind me dwindling to a woolly little far-off cloud in the distance. I feel soda bottles along the way. A measuring cup. A rock drops from the ceiling and thwonks my shoulder. A spray of dirt lets go and fills my hair. I enter a big warm room. In apple crates are what feels like Barbie clothes and Barbie accessories. There’s a full-sized easy chair.
“Jeezum!” I gasp. I sit in the chair. “This is real cozy.”
I lean forward and feel of the dirt walls, dirt floor. My hand closes around a naked Barbie.
All of a sudden there’s a thunder up there.
The warm earth lets go, feels like hundreds of butterflies on my face.
“It’s GOD,” I says in a choking whisper. My heart flutters.
It’s Rubie Bean. The tires of his old logging rig hiss over Daddy’s crushed-rock driveway. There’s the ernk! of the gears.
“Uh oh!” I says to myself. “I’m trapped in this hole. I can’t go up there now.”
A rock from the ceiling punches my outstretched legs.
More Beans come. Three or four carloads. The mobile home door opens, closes, opens, closes. Out in their yard Bean kids big as men run over the earth’s crust above me. THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP. The soft slap of sand is on my neck. Sounds like the Bean kids are throwing something for the black dog to catch. It sounds like a piece of tail pipe or some other gross thing.
I hear Daddy’s car.
After a while there’s Daddy’s voice: “Earlene! Supper!”
It’s very very dark. The Beans have gone indoor.
The dog is up there at the top of the hole, sniffin’ for me.
Hours and hours and hours pass. Hours of pitch black.
I says to myself in a squeak, “I am goin’ ta get the strap.” I turn naked Barbie over and over in my nervous fingers. I mutter, “Well . . . I just ain’t ever gonna leave THIS HOLE.”
There is light again at the top. The light flutters. Boots tromp. They come down waving a flashlight—Annie Bean, Lizzie Bean, Rosie Bean. They put the light in my face. “What’re you doin’ in here?” one of ’em asks.
“Nuthin’,” I says. My stomach growls.
They make wet thick sniffin’ sounds. Their open mouths are echoey. They fill this dirt room with their broad shoulders, broad heads. Dirt sifts down from the ceiling through the enormous light.
“You runnin’ from the law?” one of ’em asks.
“NO WAY!” I scream. My scream makes more of the ceiling fall. I think I’m gonna gag from their light in my face. Now and then I can make out a Bean nose, a sharp tooth. Then it fades into the glare.
“You’re runnin’ away from home?” asks one of them.
I bristle. “No! I ain’t!”
“Well, how come your father’s up there callin’ you so much?”
One of ’em pushes a saucer with cake on it into the light. There is only the cake, the saucer, the hand. The cake is sky-blue. “Here!” a voice says.
Their clothes rustle.
“What’s that?” I scrunch up my nose.
“We was goin’ ta eat it, but you can have it. Ain’t you starved?”
I look at the cake, squinting up one eye.
“I didn’t run away,” I says softly.
“You prob’ly fell in here,” one says.
“No-suh!” I holler.
I make out a fox-color eye which is round and fierce on me.
I take the saucer and arrange it on my knee next to Barbie. I says, “I ain’t never leavin’ this hole. I’m stayin’ here forever . . . as long as I live.”
“You like it here pretty well, huh?” one of ’em says.
I am alone. Between me and them is this wall of light. I hold the saucer with both hands, careful not to touch the cake. A bit of sand spills from the ceiling onto the cake.
The three of them guys giggle.
The cake is the blue of a birdless airplaneless sunless cloudless leafless sky . . . warm steaming blue. “Prob’ly POISON!” I gasp.
“No way!” one of ’em says. “It ain’t. It’s Betty Crocker.”