Authors: Constance C. Greene
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Constance C. Greene
For Audrey Benson
who cried with me in the movies
a long time ago
“I don't want to kneel,” Jud said, “I won't if I don't want to.”
“You must,” said Dotty Fickett. “I am the princess and you are my servant. You must kneel when I tell you to.”
“You don't look like any princess to me,” Jud said. “You can't make me if I don't want to. You just try and make me.”
“Oh, come on, baby. Don't be a spoilsport.”
“Don't call me baby,” Jud said, scowling. “I'm eight years old and that's no baby and you know it.”
“But I'm twelve,” Dotty said in her most princess-like voice. “I'm older than you by far. I am the one who decides what is what.”
“Who says? Why don't you pick on somebody your own size?” Jud demanded, his eyes bright with spite. “I'm just a little fella.”
Dotty whirled in a huge circle, causing her burlap cape, which she had made from old feed bags she'd found stored in the barn, to swirl about her in a very satisfactory manner. Then she reached out her long arm and got a grip on Jud's shoulder.
“One minute you say you're not a baby and the next you tell me you're just a little fella,” she said. “Make up your mind.” She tightened her fingers. “Your bones feel like a chicken's bones. If I wanted, I could crush you into a pulp. If I felt like it.”
Jud stood still as a stone, nostrils flaring, breathing hard. She let go. “I have this to say and I will say no more. When I get my suitcase, I won't take you with me if you don't obey my commands.”
“So?” Jud said. “So? When you getting it? You been talking about getting it so long I thought you already had it,” he added, untruthfully and with malice. If Dotty had gotten her suitcase the whole world would've known.
“When I get my suitcase”âDotty let her tongue move slowly, deliciously over the wordsâ“I'm going on a long journey that I was planning on taking you on also. We will go first to Africa, I believe. We will take a small boat up the Nile.”
“You got seasick that time we went fishing on the lake,” Jud observed.
“There are many alligators on the Nile, my dear little friend,” Dotty continued. She was pleased to see the look on his face when she mentioned alligators. It was growing increasingly difficult to keep Jud in his place. He seemed to think that because he was now eight he was gaining on her. She had tried to explain that she would always be four years older, therefore four years wiser. He rejected this.
“I don't want to go to Africa,” Jud said. “There's lions and tigers there and they bite.”
“Who told you that?”
“My brother!” Jud shouted triumphantly.
“What does he know? Has he ever been there?” Dotty asked scornfully. “When we get there, we'll send him a postcard with pictures of mango trees and ostriches and crocodiles. And things you never dreamed of.” Dotty's voice went slow and soft, like the hypnotist she'd heard last summer at the carnival. “There's gold and jewels of great price in Africa. And dancing girls with diamonds in their belly buttons.”
Jud's jaw dropped. “Diamonds in their belly buttons?” he said in a hoarse voice. “How'd they get there?”
“They were born with them there,” Dotty said in the same slow and dreamy voice. “Didn't you ever hear of babies born with diamonds in their belly buttons? It's God's way of saying the female is superior to the male. I myself was born in such a manner.”
“You never,” Jud said, narrowing his eyes. “If you got one, show it.”
“I removed it in the dark of the moon and sold it for a king's ransom,” Dotty said, closing her eyes and smiling at the memory.
“You're lying!” he hollered. She had pushed him too far. “You never had a diamond in your old belly button and you know it. Besides,” he said slyly, “if you sold it for a king's ransom, why don't you go buy yourself that old suitcase and stop talking about it?”
Sometimes Jud surprised her. “You know nothing, wastrel,” Dotty said in a singsong. “You know less than nothing, little turd. Here”âshe threw aside her cloakâ“come close and look sharp. There are still a few diamond chips left. If you look carefully, you may see them glittering in the light.”
Jud crept close.
“See!” she cried. “See?”
“Looks like your old undershirt to me,” he said sourly.
Dotty wriggled, pulling at her clothes. When she felt the cold air on her stomach, she cried, “See!” again.
Jud squinched up his face so he looked like an old man deep in thought. “I don't see anything,” he said. “Not a blamed thing.”
Dotty whipped her clothes into place. “You must need glasses,” she said.
“Give me another peek!” Jud howled.
“Sacred scripture decrees that only one look is allowed to a mortal,” Dotty intoned. “Perhaps another day when the moon is in eclipse.”
“You're a cheat and a liar!” Jud shouted.
The sound of a bell rang out across the field. “Hark!” Dotty said. Jud stopped in mid-shout. “Hark,” she said again.
The sound of the bell was very loud, very imperious. It called for instant obedience.
“It's your old Aunt Martha,” Jud said. He took off up the hill.
“Liar!” he flung over his shoulder, on the run. “Cheat!” He disappeared into the bushes.
Alone, Dotty picked up a stick and brought it slowly down upon the shoulder of an imaginary figure kneeling before her.
“I deem thee Knight Jud in the name of Princess Dorothea of the royal family,” she said in a dignified voice.
The wind sighed a secret message through the trees. An early owl hooted a reply.
Dotty drew in a long breath, lifted her face, and shook her fist at the sky.
“I shall live forever and ever!” she shouted. “I am invincible. I am indestructible. I am â¦” In vain she tried to think of something else she was and failed. The bell clamored again, telling her it was the last time and she had better come without delay.
Dotty broke into a gallop and headed for home.
“I declare, Dotty,” Aunt Martha said, squinting fiercely at her, “I don't know what you do to yourself. I put lots of starch in that old dress last time I did it up, and look at it. It looks like an old dishrag.”
Dotty looked down at herself. She thought it a very satisfactory dress, covered as it was with blue and white polka dots and possessing puff sleeves. Both her sisters had worn it before her. She loved that dress. The skirt flapped against her legs in a fine fashion, and she tied the half belt as tight as it would go without giving way at the seams.
“I can't let down that hem one more time,” Aunt Martha said. “It's down as far as it'll go. And your socks.” Aunt Martha's eyes roved the ceiling, and with her tongue she made clucking noises. “Never saw anything like your socks. From the back it looks like you don't have on any socks at all.”
“I know,” said Dotty, trying to pull her white socks up out of her brown oxfords and failing. “It's like there's something down there, quicksand maybe, sucking them down inside. I can't help it.”
“And I swear I don't know what you do to your hair,” Aunt Martha continued. “Washed it only two days ago and just look at you.” She circled Dotty. “Looks like you been rubbing bear grease into your scalp.”
“Bear grease is good for the hair,” Dotty said. “And it also wards off evil spirits and keeps away flies.”
“Oh, you! You and your tall tales.” Aunt Martha grabbed Dotty and hugged her. “I just wish you'd find some nice little girls to play with, girls your own age,” she said, releasing Dotty, “instead of holing up with a book all the time or bossing that little Jud boy around.”
“Can I help it if Olive moved?” With a start of pure pleasure, Dotty felt her eyes fill and her lips tremble.
I am Katharine Hepburn. I am Jo in
, and Beth is dying. Dotty squeezed her eyes shut, forcing the tears down her cheeks.
was a movie she would remember for all her days. Except for
A Farewell to Arms
, starring Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper,
was her favorite. She and Olive had gone to see it to celebrate Olive's birthday. Olive had made so much noise crying at the end that people had turned to stare. Dotty had skinned across the aisle to another seat so no one would know they were together. When they came out into the sunshine, Olive's eyelids were swollen almost shut, and Dotty had to lead her to the drugstore where they were to cap the day by having a black-and-white soda. It had been a memorable day.
And now Olive was gone, all the way to Boonville, seventy miles away. It might as well have been seven hundred miles. Olive's father had picked up and moved his family practically overnight when he heard of a possible job to be had in Boonville. In 1934 jobs were hard to come by. He'd been out of work for some time. Without a by-your-leave he had announced they were going, and they went.
“You've got to learn to make new friends,” Aunt Martha said, her back to Dotty, wiping off the top of the stove. “Just because Olive's gone doesn't mean you can't make new ones. Take a leaf out of your sisters' book and be a mite more sociable.” She turned and saw the tears coursing down Dotty's cheeks.
“Lands, child,” she said, stricken, “I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.”
“I was thinking about Katharine Hepburn as Jo in
” Dotty explained. “It wasn't you. As for my sisters, I wouldn't be like them for all the tea in China.” She blew her nose and wiped her face.