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Authors: Rilla Askew

Kind of Kin

BOOK: Kind of Kin
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Kind of Kin

Rilla Askew

Dedication

For the two Carmelitas in my family

y para las familias separadas en todo el mundo

Epigraph

A little more than kin, and less than kind.

Hamlet,
Act I, Scene II

Contents

Part One

A Felon and a Christian

Sunday |
February 17, 2008 | 12:30
P.M.

Sweet Kirkendall's house
| Cedar, Oklahoma

“Y
our
grandpa is a felon
,
” Aunt Sweet said. “A felon and a
Christian. He says he's a felon
because
he's a
Christian. Now, what kind of baloney is that?” She jerked the bib strings tight
around Mr. Bledsoe's neck. The old man coughed. “Sorry, Dad.” Aunt Sweet
loosened the ties and snatched a baby food jar off the table. She pointed the
spoon in her left hand at me like I might be fixing to argue. “Tell him I'll be
up there tomorrow. You tell him I said he's got a serious amount of explaining
to do.” She scooped up a dab of prunes. “Open your mouth, Dad. Carl Albert,
hurry up.”

My cousin kept licking the Cheez Whiz out the sides
of his sandwich like we had all the time in the world, which we didn't. Visiting
hours start at one, the preacher said, and it was already twelve thirty. I heard
a car motor outside and I ran to the front room to look, but it was only old
Claudie Ott driving her Chrysler home from church. I squinted across the
railroad tracks and the highway toward First Baptist at the far end of the
street, but I couldn't see Brother Oren's car coming.

“Dustin Lee! Get back in here and wash your
hands!”

I did like she said. My aunt's kind of high-strung
at all times, but for sure I didn't want to cross her right then because Uncle
Terry got called in to work the night before and he hadn't got home yet. Aunt
Sweet wanted to go with us to see Grandpa but she can't leave Mr. Bledsoe by
himself on account of one time he rolled his wheelchair out the door and
straight across the highway to the E-Z Mart and everybody's afraid he'll get hit
by a BP truck or something. I thought to ask her how come she didn't make Carl
Albert stay home so she could go, but I was afraid she might take the notion for
me to be the one to babysit the old man instead. He's all right but I can't
stand to watch him eat, and anyhow I wasn't about to take a chance on missing
out on seeing my grandpa. When I came back in the kitchen, Aunt Sweet was still
trying to get Mr. Bledsoe to open his mouth.

“Aw, hell,” she said, and jammed the spoon back in
the prunes. I don't know where she got the name Sweet. It don't exactly fit her.
Anyhow, her real name is Georgia. She reached up over the sink and got down a
different jar. “Look here, Dad. Peach cobbler, your favorite.” Mr. Bledsoe isn't
her real dad—my grandpa is. Mr. Bledsoe belongs to Uncle Terry, and he's not
even his dad, either. He's his stepgrandfather. “Carl Albert,” Aunt Sweet said,
“if you don't hurry up with that mess, I'm going to take it away from you.”

My cousin licked faster. I don't know how come he
can't eat a sandwich like a normal person but he can't. I popped him in the back
of the head on my way to the sink. He swiped at me and missed, but he didn't say
nothing. He didn't want to get any more of his mom's attention. He gave me the
look, though, like
Don't worry, Dustbucket, I'll get you
back.
We been fighting more since Grandpa and Brother Jesus wound up
in jail. That's Brother Jesus Garcia, from over around Heavener. They locked him
up with Grandpa, but they took all the other Mexicans someplace else. Aunt Sweet
don't like us calling him Brother Jesus. She says it's a sacrilege to call
somebody after Our Lord and Savior. She don't even like to hear us call him
Brother Hey-soos, and that's his real name. Carl Albert says Grandpa's going to
get sent to the state pen and there won't be no place for me to live except in
town with them, and if he's got to share his bedroom with a dweeb, he's going to
make the dweeb pay. He says they aim to throw the book at Grandpa for
transporting illegals and our only hope now is the Supreme Court of America on
appeal, and that could take years. I said having Mexicans in your barn don't
mean you're transporting them—this was in the bedroom that first night when we
were getting ready for bed—and Carl Albert said, “Use your brain, Dustface, they
had to get there some way.” I punched him then, and he jumped me and got me down
with my arm twisted till I hollered, “Okay, okay, I give!” But really I didn't.
I aimed to get him back. That pop on the head at the table was just a
reminder.

In the kitchen I dried my hands on the dishtowel
and told Aunt Sweet I was going to go watch for the preacher. “Holler when he
gets here,” she said, pressing the spoon against Mr. Bledsoe's shut mouth. “Come
on, Dad,” she said. “Open up.” I hurried to the front room and squinted along
Main Street past the closed video store and the boarded-up bank building with
its caved-in roof from the straight-line winds last April until I seen Brother
Oren's car backing out of his driveway. I yelled toward the kitchen, “He's
here!”

When the preacher's rattly old Toyota pulled in,
Aunt Sweet was waiting with me on the porch in her pink rodeo boots and her
bluest jeans, which goes to show how much she still thought she'd be going to
the jail with us when she got dressed that morning. She was shivering because
she didn't have on a jacket. I had on my black hoodie with the hood pulled up,
not because I was cold. I just like my hood up. Carl Albert came racing out the
front door in just a T-shirt and still zipping his britches. He squeezed past
the preacher coming up the steps and ran out to the car so he could grab the
shotgun seat. I tried to lag back, but Aunt Sweet told me to go on. She had her
arms crossed and her mouth set, so I did like she said. I took the long way
around, though, by Mr. Bledsoe's ramp. Carl Albert leaned up for me to flip the
seat forward, and when I climbed past him, he knuckled me a good one, but I
didn't do nothing, just settled into the backseat. I was still biding my
time.

I felt kind of bad that none of us had made it to
church that morning, especially with Brother Oren giving us a ride to Wilburton
and all. I was kind of hoping Aunt Sweet might be explaining about Uncle Tee
getting called in to work, but it appeared more like she was bossing him by how
Brother Oren just stood on the porch in his brown suit, looking down at the
concrete and nodding and frowning. He kept reaching up with his fingers to rake
his skinny hair across the top of his head. Come on! I was saying in my mind,
come on, come on, come on. When the preacher got in the car, he gave us a big
grin. “Tell you what, boys, we'll stop at Sonic on the way home and pick up a
sack of burgers.” He said it like that was what Aunt Sweet had been telling him,
though I was pretty sure it wasn't. The preacher laid his arm across the top of
Carl Albert's seat and twisted half around so he could see how to back out of
the driveway. I looked at my Iron Man watch. It said 12:42. Wilburton's thirteen
miles from Cedar, so traveling sixty miles an hour I figured we'd actually be
three minutes early. But then east of Panola we got slowed down behind a semi
hauling a giant piece of drilling equipment that took up half the road. We were
practically crawling. I was about to go out of my skull. “Can't you go around
him?” I said.

Brother Oren glanced back at me. “We don't want to
be breaking any more laws, do we, boys? It's illegal to pass on a yellow
line.”

“Yeah, Dustball,” Carl Albert said. “Don't you know
nothing? Quit bouncing. You're making my seat rock.”

“We're going to be late!” I said. “They might not
let us in.”

“They're not going to keep you from seeing your
grandpa, Dustin. Just relax.”

But I couldn't. I counted every gas rig and dead
armadillo and roadside grave marker from Panola to Lutie until finally,
finally,
we got to Wilburton, and the preacher turned
off Main Street and drove to the courthouse and stopped next to the little
cinder-block building with the chain-link fence out back. There's no sign saying
it's the Latimer County Jail, but you could maybe guess by the barbed wire
strung crossways along the fence top. I leaned around Carl Albert for the door
handle, but the preacher said, “Hold on, Dusty. We'll wait here till they bring
your grandpa out.”

“Bring him out?” I said. “He's coming home?”

“Not exactly.”

Right then the back door of the jail opened and out
into the fenced yard came five ladies in orange coveralls like the guys at the
Poteau Jiffy Lube wear. They were blinking a little, looking around, but they
all went pretty fast over to one side of the fence and lined up.

“Shoot,” the preacher said. “I was afraid of
that.”

“What?” I said.

“What?” Carl Albert said.

“Oh, it's women's visitation first. I get the times
mixed up. It's been a while since I've been up here.”

People were getting out of their vehicles all
around us, and that was the first I noticed other cars and pickups parked in the
alley and next door in the VFW lot. Mostly it was guys getting out of their
trucks, but there were also a few little kids and one gray-headed couple in
church clothes climbing out of a Mercury Grand Marquis. They must have all been
from Wilburton or someplace, I didn't know any of them. Inside the fence a
deputy sat in a tall chair next to the building keeping an eye on everything
while the families came and stood in front of whichever prisoner was theirs.
Well, that part was kind of sad, how the lady prisoners would reach through the
fence to touch their little kids' hands.

“We're not going in?” I said.

“There's no room inside for all the visitors they
get now.”

“What about when it's raining?” Carl Albert
said.

“Everybody gets wet.”

“Man,” Carl Albert said.

“When women's hour is over, they'll bring out the
men. Then you can see your grandpa.”

“You mean we got to sit here an
hour
?” Carl Albert said.

“Half hour,” the preacher said. “Y'all want to go
to Sonic now and come back?”

“No,” I said.


I
do,” Carl Albert
said.

“You just ate,” I said.

“Well, I don't want to just sit here. It's
boring.”

“Y'all could go take a walk. You could walk around
Main Street.”

“Nothing's open,” Carl Albert said. “It's too
cold.”

“I'm sorry, boys. I should've called to check which
was which. But it'll be time before you know it. Here, I'll turn on the
radio.”

But the station he put on had church music, which
didn't really help anything. Carl Albert kept messing with the glove box,
opening and shutting it and twisting the lock. I guess the preacher felt bad
about getting the times mixed up because he didn't tell Carl Albert to quit, so
I had to do it. Not that he paid me any mind. Carl Albert's only a year older
than me but he acts like he's the boss of everything. He found a Swiss Army
knife buried under all the papers in the glove box and that kept him busy a
while, pulling out the little scissors and nail file and stuff. I watched the
people by the fence. It wasn't that cold out, just sort of chilly, and the sun
was shining, but the lady prisoners looked cold anyway in their orange outfits
with their arms wrapped around themselves. Everybody was smoking except the
little kids and the old couple. Carl Albert was right though, it was boring,
because you couldn't hear what anybody was saying, and plus it was weird how the
lady prisoners kept smiling with their bad teeth and you knew they didn't mean
it. I mean, how could you be really smiling if the only way you could touch your
little kid's hand was through a chain-link fence?

After a while Brother Oren turned the radio off and
started saying things that made me nervous, like for me not to worry, they'd had
the prayer chain going since they got the news about Grandpa being arrested
Friday night. He was talking to me, not Carl Albert, because I'm the one that
lives with Grandpa. I've lived with him practically my whole life, or anyway as
far back as I can remember, and if he gets sent to prison like Carl Albert says,
that'll be the second time everything has gone from bad to worse. Brother Oren
said he was going to speak to the deacons about whether the church might want to
take up a special offering. I was scared to ask what for.

“They're going to throw the book at him,” Carl
Albert said. “You watch.”

“Quit saying that!” I punched my cousin in the
neck. He turned around and went to whacking at me across the seatback, but I
scrambled over behind the preacher.

“Boys! Boys! All right, let's get out, it'll be
time here in just a minute.”

So we got out and stood by the car. Carl Albert
started complaining about how he was cold, and I said, “You should've wore a
coat, Clodhead,” and he said, “You should've changed your ugly face, Dusthole,”
and the preacher said, “Boys, please.” Finally the deputy signaled to the lady
prisoners that they had to go in. They took their time putting out their
cigarettes and touching their kids through the fence again and then they all
filed inside the building and the families went back to their vehicles and left
while other cars and pickups were pulling in to take their place. The yard
behind the jail was quiet and empty-looking with just yellow grass and bare
brown spots along the fence where the grass was worn off and the dirt showed.
Then the jail door opened and the men prisoners started coming out. There was
more of them than the ladies so they had two deputies to guard them instead of
one. Man, I never knew we had so many criminals in Latimer County. You only hear
about people getting robbed or murdered every once in a while here, so probably
the crimes these men did weren't so bad. Or maybe like my grandpa they weren't
even criminals but just Christians and felons, the way Aunt Sweet said. Brother
Jesus came out the door combing his hair with his fingers, and then way at the
back of the line here came my grandpa, and I took out running.

BOOK: Kind of Kin
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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