The Cornstalk Man
From, The Cornstalk Man


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Missouri is cold in December. By the tenth, the mercury was dropping below freezing most every night and on the eleventh Will and I woke up to a thick, cotton blanket of snow. It slept on the ground outside our window. We could tell by how high it stacked up to the trees that there would be no school and probably none for a few days to come. Will, thrust into a good mood by the sight of snow, offered to scramble up some eggs.

Happy, we left our pajamas on and bounded into the heart of the house, which always seemed bigger when we were snowed in. Maybe Momma would let us get all bundled up and play snow ball tag in the back yard. It was hard to say. Her mood was heavier everyday. New layers of complexity were added on by the hour, and there just didn't seem to be any predictable outcome anymore. She was constantly on the phone trying to reach Cynthia, but she never had any luck. Either no one answered or Tom told her that Cynthia was gone. And when Tom answered it sent Momma into cussing fits that lasted well after Tom had hung up his end of the line. Somedays Momma just dialed, immediately hung-up and then dialed again. She would do this until she complained of sore fingers.

Momma decided to look for Cynthia at the Blue Haven. I was with her. She stepped up to the counter and asked a long faced waitress when Cynthia would be into work.

"Cynthia? She quit. 'Bout a week ago."

"She quit?" Momma asked.


"You're fuckin' lyin' to me."


"You're all liars," Momma said under her breath. She spit on the floor on her way out, leaving a trail of yellowish goop.

Momma stood at the picture window, staring into the snow. The big picture window was like a frame. Momma cut a striking figure against the blazing light reflected from the white snow. She looked like a sad, blue woman I had seen in a painting once in one of the books at the library. Except that woman had been staring into an endless ocean.

"I'm gonna fix some eggs, Momma." Will said.

"Fine, son." She was miles away.

I went to the window. To see what Momma saw.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Momma asked when she noticed me at her side. She put her hand on top of my head.

"What's that Momma?"

"The snow. When it first falls. It the most pure and peaceful, perfectly white thing in the world. When nobody has walked on it and there are no footprints to muddle it up. It always seemed a horribly violent thing to me. To walk in new snow. When I was younger I used to dream that I was the snow and that I had just fallen on the ground in the middle of the night in a perfect, quiet blanket. I would lay there in peace. I am the snow and no one knows I'm here. I guess that's pretty silly, huh?"

"I don't know, Momma." I assumed the snow was there for me to play in.

"Well," she said, "too bad this snow's already been fucked up."

"What do you mean, Momma?"

"Yep. Once again the sons-of-bitches in this God forsaken town have let their dogs run wild. They came stomping across our yard about six this morning. I was up watching the roads to see if your school bus was going to come or not. Look at the yard now, fucking pitiful. Yellow spots and piles of shit scattered all over the place. They've given our fuckin' yard leprosy."

"What you gonna do, Momma?" I was afraid she was going to have Will and I stomping through the snow ourselves to deliver these goods back to their owners again.

"Well, I tried it the mean way so I guess that this time I'll try it the nice way as much as it pains me to do it. I dug around until I found a few old cardboard boxes. One I'm gonna keep just as it is and set it at the end of the driveway by the mailbox. I broke the other one down to make a sign. It's in my room if you want to go look at it.

I did. Momma had unfolded the box in a way that gave her plenty of room to write on it. The sign was very big and written across it was "Please collect your own dog shit and if it's too much trouble for you to dispose of it please place it in this box and I will dispose of it for you."

"Pretty good idea, huh?" Momma asked after I came back out of her room.

"Yes." Thank God her plan didn't include any sort of stunt that Will or I would have to pull off.

"It's just my way of giving something back to the town. I think I'll do that from now on. Try to give as much back to the town as I can. Maybe I can cure this town of its evilness. You and Will can put it up out by the mailbox when you go out to play later. But remember, somebody always steps on the snow baby, oh maybe not on deserted mountain tops, but here somebody always comes along to fuck it up."

The scrambled eggs Will made were fluffy and good, even better than Momma's or Cynthia's, he was a natural cook but hated when I said so. As soon as we were done eating we bundled up in as many clothes as we could. We could barely move our arms, but it was a small price to play.

Momma handed us her sign and box on the way out. It took us only a minute to put it up. Almost before we were finished Will had laid a snowball upside my face.

"You," I laughed and started to chase him. We ran all over the yard. Stomping through the snow and scooping up snowballs and throwing them at each other. Will got me a lot more than I got him. He got me once right in the teeth and it made them sting. But I didn't care. I got him a few good times and that was enough for me. It didn't take long for us to get cold though, we didn't have any gloves and we often had to run in the house to run warm water over our hands.

Eventually, Momma got tired of us running in and out and tracking snow all over the floor so she told us it was time for us to stay in. We didn't mind much, though, Will had found some instant hot chocolate (left over from the year before) and we sat in front of the television, sipping it slowly so as not to scald the roofs of our mouths. Every year, on the first canceled school day I found myself amazed by the television. I was actually seeing what was on TV when I was at school. Of course, it was really pretty boring, but boring is fine as long as it's new. And the faces on our television screen were new to us. They were the secret faces that adults watched when the children were gone. Momma let us watch television all day. She stared out of the window. We were only interrupted when on the rare occasions a car happened to drive by, tires spinning, honking in glee at Momma's sign.

School was canceled again the next day and I looked forward to another day of hot chocolate and television, but Momma was already raving when Will and I crawled out of bed.

"So, that's how he wants it, is it? Well, I'll fuckin' give it too him, fuckin' mess with me, the goddamn cock sucker, I was trying to be nice but he had to fuck with me! Why are people always fuckin' everything up. Nobody in this town has ever been nice to me. Nobody ever comes to see me, nobody greets me, and I try to help them out and this is what he does! No body in this town ever gave me a goddamn apple pie!"

"What's wrong, Momma?"

"Sis, I want you to go out and check the mail."


"Go out and check the fuckin' mail."

"I only got my pajama's on."

"It'll only take you a goddamn second. Just slip on your shoes and go. Will, you go with her."

We did as Momma said, but we didn't have to get all the way to the mailbox to see what she wanted us to see. Someone had dumped a gigantic pile of dog shit into the box that Momma had set out. The box had been completely covered and the pile of shit nearly reached the mailbox itself. Will and I moved closer. Funny thing was, it didn't stink. It was frozen solid like a poop popcicle. I touched it, shocked at how smooth and cool it felt. Almost nice. Will laughed. "Would you get your hands off that pile of shit."

"Sure," I said, giggling myself.

"Somebody's really gonna pay for this," he said.

"Poor them." Momma wouldn't let this go without retaliating and I should have been worried but if you've ever seen a giant pile of frozen dog shit in your yard, then you know it's impossible to be serious. The school once sponsored a modern art exhibit. This would've been a big hit.

We studied the thing long enough to get bored of it and when we were sure our laughing fit was over, we went back inside.

"Did we get any mail?" Momma asked.

"Oh. I don't know." Will said.

"What the fuck were you doing out there if not checking the fucking mail? Now go out and get it, please."

Will sprinted out to get it and was back in no time, still empty handed.

"No mail, Momma."

"Oh well, it usually don't come till later," she said.

"Momma, what's that big pile of shit doin' outside?" I couldn't believe it. Will was goading her.

"That," she said, "is a declaration of war."

"From who?" Will asked, fascinated.

"Tom Orr, who else? If he thinks he can come into my house, eat my food, fuck my daughter till she's pregnant and then ruin my shit collector, he's got another thing comin'. Oh if he thinks those few little dog hairs in his mouth were bad he ain't seen nothin' yet. Mother fucker, I can crush him and this town like a goddamn grape anytime I feel like it and watch their juice ooze between my sexy fingers."

"How do you know it was Tom?" I asked.

"Who else would it be? He's out for revenge. The mother fucker's crazy as dogs sniffin' ass."

"What you gonna do, Momma?" Will asked.

"I'll tell you what I already did. I made up this list of names here and Sis is gonna give it too him first day back at school."

"So?" Will asked.

"I'll tell you so, smart ass. It's a list of all the boys your saintly older sister has ever fucked. She might not think I knew, but I knew about all of 'em. You kids best learn you can't keep nothin' from me. I know everything about all of you. Every damn single thing. Here take a look." She handed us the list.

My stomach turned with guilt but I looked at the list. Will went over it with hungry enthusiasm.

"I know what your thinkin'," Momma said. "Surely, he already knew that Cynthia wasn't no virgin, that she had dicks in her, sure, OK, maybe he did, but this is different. With men, they can pretend. They can pretend that their sweet little girls ain't ever had another dick in their sweet little cunts as long as they ain't got a face to connect it too, but as soon as they find out for sure one guy that she's slept with they'll go into a rage every time they see that other fella. It'll make them sick. And here, here is two whole columns of 'em. Tom won't be able to see anybody in this town that Cynthia ain't fucked and even with all his fancy ways and his education it'll drive him crazy. Trust me on that, children."

"Leon Geller!" Will yelled when he saw the name on his list.

"That's right," Momma said. "Shouldn't surprise you any."


"But he's a kid. Makes no difference to that whore sister of yours. God, I'll be surprised if Tom can even marry her after he reads this, probably have to leave town. Ha, now give me that list back. Sis, you can have it back come next school day."

"I don't want to give it to him." I said, for the first time openly defying Momma.

"But you will." She said. You will. She was right. I would give it to him. I prayed for snow.

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