Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry

BOOK: Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry

To Autumn Cook, who loves books.

To Missy and Camille and Sandy and Bonnie,

still holding down the fort in Oxford.

To Jennifer Fritz, for opening her heart and holding my hand and Gisele's as we walk toward our own little piece of equality.

To Karen Forester, who always loves us anyway.

To Square Books, because it rocks.

The past is never dead. It's not even past.

—William Faulkner (
Requiem for a Nun
, 1950)


Excerpt from
Night on Fire
(1969), by Avadelle Richardson, page 2

In 1960, Maud Butler Faulkner died, and two of her grown sons didn't survive another three years past her last breath. One of them, you won't know. The other, a fellow name of William Cuthbert Faulkner, him you might remember.

That boy dropped out of high school, failed his military physical to become a pilot in World War I, and impersonated a British citizen to join the Royal Canadian Air Force for a few years. Then he went and got himself fired from his job as postmaster at Ole Miss. While all that was going on, though, William Faulkner wrote himself a few books and plays.

“The sun, an hour above the horizon, is poised like a bloody egg upon a crest of thunderheads,” he said in
As I Lay Dying
. “The light has turned copper: in the eye portentous, in the nose sulphurous, smelling of lightning.”

That book was published in 1930, but Faulkner's ghost might as well have penned those words in 1960, about Oxford, Mississippi. Poised on a crest of thunderheads. That's what we were, no mistaking.

A squall line had formed from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mason-Dixon Line, and the storm threatened to kill anyone caught in its path.

Talk to them in public, but don't bring one home.

Thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed.

They got strong backs, but they ain't as smart as us.

That's what the best ones said. The best White folks. What the worst had to say, that doesn't bear repeating.

What the worst would do—


That's the stuff of hurricanes and Armageddon.

future, and I am so not the queen of witty comebacks. If I needed any proof of either of those facts, which I really, really didn't, I got it from Mackinnon Richardson at exactly 3:17 p.m. on the last day of eighth grade, at my locker at Ross-Phillips Academy, Oxford, Mississippi, in front of ten thousand people.

Okay, okay. Maybe it was only a handful of sixth-graders—but it
like ten thousand people. And ten thousand people, or even a bunch of sixth-graders, that's way too many folks to be paying attention when a big chunk of your life turns from sunshine to sewage, and you realize that not one thing in life is exactly what you thought it was.

“Dani Beans,” Indri Wilson intoned in her best vintage actress voice, “you
the cornado.”

I snorted at her as we started the next and probably last cornhole inning. The score was twenty to three, in favor of me. Even if I kept a cowpie on the bright red board, I'd win. Since I couldn't play any other sport known to humanity, I didn't feel guilty for pummeling Indri at cornhole. After all, it was the last day of school, and the sun was out, and everything had gotten warm and relaxed. The teacher policing the cornament had wandered off, and nobody was trying that hard. Indri and I had the pit to ourselves, bookended by two groups of seventh-graders playing a round of doubles.

Indri wiggled her eyebrows over her yellow cat-eye sunglasses as she lined up her next shot. “Mac likes you,” she said as she threw a screaming eagle so far to the right, she smacked one of the seventh-graders in the shoulder. He caught the bag, glared in our direction, saw the pretty girl in the bright golden sundress with the clover crown woven through her long black hair, gave her a stupid grin, and pitched the beanbag back to us. Indri waved at him, adjusted her sunglasses, and gestured for me to take my turn.

Just as I was about to throw for the win, Indri said, “What I mean is, I bet that's what Mac wants to talk to you about. He likes you. As in,

My bag smacked the board and skittered hard left, clipping a different seventh-grader on the other side of the cornhole board. He wheeled around, saw the short girl in the jeans shorts with the wild frizzy hair, and aimed the beanbag right between my eyes.

I caught his pitch with one hand and pointed the bag at Indri. “Mac doesn't like me that way, and you completely exploded my toss on purpose. No fair.”

She shrugged one delicate shoulder. “Throw again. It's what, twenty billion to nothing? And you've got five minutes before you meet Mac.”

I gave her a look, then lined up the white bag, ready to give it a gentle underhand.

No way did Mac like me. Well, he was my friend. That's how I liked him, and how he thought of me, and that was pretty amazing given that our grandmothers were mortal enemies. Our parents didn't even totally approve of us hanging out. So the friends thing, it was kind of a victory.

I adjusted the bag. Took a breath. Thought about Mac. Took one more breath. Mom always told me I dwelled on things and had a . . . what was it? Oh, yeah: tendency toward the dramatic.

“Are you going to throw that stupid thing or give it a sloppy kiss?” Indri grumbled.

was the one with the tendency toward the dramatic. Plus, she had an attitude because her mom—who was my mom's best friend—was an archeologist at Ole Miss, and she had named Indri for the largest living lemur in the world. It was a species native to Madagascar. When you're named for a lemur, you have to do some serious compensating.

I kept my eyes on the hole at the far end of the board. Mac didn't like me the way Indri was talking about. He didn't, even if Indri was usually right about all things connected to human beings. Understanding people and relationships was her special talent. I didn't have any special talents, except maybe winning cornhole games. The hot afternoon sun heated my cheeks and my whole face, because I wasn't blushing. I didn't care if Mac liked me or not.

Indri sighed. “This century, Dani?”

Okay, okay. If I got the bag in the hole, maybe Mac did
me, like me. If it just hit the board, he liked me a little bit. If I missed everything, he thought of me like a sister. The early summer air smelled like grass and felt like magic, and I tensed, relaxed, lined up one more time, and tossed.

The white bag sailed in a smooth, perfect arc toward the board. When it dropped through the hole without even brushing a bit of wood, I stared at the space where it disappeared.

Indri stuck her arms in the air like I made a touchdown and yelled, “Swish!” Then, “Thank every god in the whole world this idiotic game is finally over! I'm going to clean out my locker. I'll come over to your hall when I'm done.”

Before I could even finish collecting the beanbags, she was gone. I shook my head at the skipping streak of yellow with clover in her hair. Indri moved like she was in ballet class all the time. Kinda better than my clumsy stomping, but I guess we both got where we were going.

Mac doesn't like me. Not
me, like me

I had known Mac since fifth grade, and known about him way before that. Who didn't? He was the famous writer's grandson. The famous writer that my grandmother—another writer, respected in her academic field but not exactly famous—famously didn't speak to. “The Magnolia Feud.” That's what journalists called the relationship between Ruth Beans, scholar of American history and civil rights, and Avadelle Richardson, novelist extraordinaire. “One of the enduring mysteries of our time.”

Neither my grandmother nor Mac's would say a word to anyone about why they didn't talk to each other. They swore up and down they weren't angry and it was much ado about nothing, but they had been friends once, very close friends, and then they weren't. When I was seven years old, my grandmother actually left the Jitney Jungle grocery store downtown to avoid ending up in the same aisle as Avadelle.

With that kind of build-up for why Beans people didn't mix with Richardson people, I figured I'd despise Mac on general principle, but he was quiet and funny and he played electric guitar in a band, and I liked listening to their music while I did my homework.

I let out the breath I kept accidentally holding as I walked back to the nearest building, where my locker waited. Mac's locker was close to mine. This morning, he had texted that he wanted to talk to me right here, right about now, before school let out. That was weird, because we usually saw each other in school and after school too, but I hadn't seen him all day. Why had he gone to the trouble of setting up a meeting? What if Indri was right? What if—

I chewed my bottom lip and pushed the thought out of my mind. He'd probably say hi like always. I'd say hi like always. He'd ask if I wanted to go get ice cream like always. Regular and routine and nothing new.

No sign of him yet. I started clearing out my locker. This weekend, I planned to wake up whenever I wanted to, and all week, and maybe the week after that, too. Then I'd start Creative Arts Camp at Ole Miss, with Indri and Mac. I was terrible at all things art, but maybe I would finally find
(yeah, yeah, talent wouldn't hurt either) and start making masterpieces like my grandmother.

In years to come, people might say about the summer before I started high school,
That was when it happened. That was when Dani Beans started changing the world.

Artists really could change the world. My Grandma Beans did it with books she wrote about history and politics, back before she got Alzheimer's disease. Mac's grandmother had changed the world with
Night on Fire
, her novel about Southern life that some reviewer said “opened eyes and
shattered stereotypes”—and she was the meanest person in the entire universe. If Avadelle Richardson's hateful old butt could change the world with one book, I could do it ten times over. I just had to find that . . . thing. My special talent. My muse. My medium. Something. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it would morph me from wannabe brilliant transformationist to unstoppable creative force (you can shut up now, brain,
can be a word if I want it to be).

I dumped the last of my pencils and erasers into my carry-home bag, then stood and closed the door to my dingy red locker. That's when I came face-to-face with Mac Richardson.

“Oh!” My breath caught, and I almost dropped my bag. “You scared me.”

Mac didn't say anything. He stepped away from me, then stared at his feet. He stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets, and he wiggled one foot back and forth. The foot looked like it might be trying to claw its way out of the nasty black sneaker that was strangling it to death. Mac wasn't much on fashion. He was a T-shirt guy, and he kept his brown hair long, so it hung in his face.

I suddenly got too aware of the old red lockers and the cinder block walls, and the way the big square floor tiles seriously needed mopping. A lot of sixth-graders had shown up while I was cleaning out my locker. They were digging through their own lockers, chattering and glancing at us, and the air blowing through the hallway seemed warmer than it had been a
minute ago. Why was my heart beating all funny and fast? I made myself grin, even though Mac still hadn't looked at me.

Some of the sixth-graders giggled. I knew some of those girls thought he was cute.

He doesn't

Since Mac kept not talking, I thought I would help him out. “I'm sleeping until noon tomorrow, and Sunday, and all next week. Want to come over Monday and walk down University Avenue with Indri and me? We can eat ice cream until we explode.”

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