Daddyville

Dead or alive, Daddy smells like hay and sawdust and scotch. How many times have I been to my father’s funeral? Erma says three times, but I can only remember two. Each time, she says, I was riding Sugar, and I kissed Daddy’s lucky signet ring. At his funerals he is all decked out in spangles and brocade, with gold epaulets and his red top hat. The last one I remember he was in a casket lined in blue velvet—it was right after he broke his neck on the roller coaster.

Daddy’s like a cat, only he’s got more than nine lives. Once he drowned in a flood and once he was zapped off a telephone pole. One time he dove into a lake to save a drowning boy. “He was at the bottom of that lake for nigh on fifteen minutes,” Erma says. “He came up limp and drippin’—not a sign a life in him. But that little boy, he was a-coughin’ and a-sputterin’ in your Daddy’s arms.” There was the time he had a fall from the high wire and the time he was mauled by tigers. And then there was the time with the snakes. “He was in that viper pit all day and all night. Struck more times than you could count,” Erma says.

Most of my life I lived in Daddy’s red caravan, the one with ringmaster printed on the side in fancy gold letters, but now I usually bunk with Erma. When I was little and he used to go away I’d cry and beg him to take me with him. But I don’t cry anymore.

I am practicing for my first crossing. I want to be ready by my birthday because I know Daddy will be home by then. Emmett is teaching me to cross on the wire—he’s a clown but also part of the Flying Tillman Brothers. When I’m on the wire, he tells me to imagine I’m a tree, with strong roots and swaying branches. He says to hold still with my roots and let go with my branches.

I was born here, in one of the caravans, the day my mama died. My first memories are of costumes damp from the rain, my little pony Sugar, townies swaggering on the midway, bottles of Ne-Hi in a metal washtub with ice, a shark swimming in a tank of seawater—25 cents. My mother I only know from a photograph, but Erma says she died giving birth to me. “Your Daddy loved her something fierce, just like he loves you,” she’ll say. Mama was beautiful—she had long, long hair the color of broomsticks, and she could twirl faster than the eye could see. Her name was Margarita. Erma tells me how my mama could ride, how she was the prettiest girl in the Lone Star state. Daddy always says, she could swing by her hair and she had legs as long as Texas.

When I was little, I wore a tutu and gossamer wings and I careened across the big top, swooping low enough to smell the sawdust. Daddy would be in the middle of the ring and no matter how fast I flew by, I would always spot his red top hat. Most times, though, he would look up and I could see his ruddy face, his big mustache and his sparkly eyes smiling up at me. Now that I’m bigger, I want something I can work at, so I’m learning the wire. Erma says you got to do a thing fully, with all your heart, and then you’ll be free of sin.

In the daytime, I take lessons with Miss Lilly. And when I’m not at my studies it is my job to wash the ladies’ linens—the petticoats, chemises and bloomers—and hang them on the line to dry. Sometimes the delicate things are so lovely in the sunlight—tulle, muslin, organza, gossamer, the beribboned bodices, the abalone stays—that at night I see them fluttering about in my dreams.

I have a special tub just for Erma’s petticoat—she says it’s the size of the Big Top itself. Sometimes she loses her appetite and that puts her into a panic. “You can’t be the Fat Lady lessen’ you can eat,” she’d say. Erma may have swollen ankles and racing heart, but she says the Lord has blessed her with a very healthy appetite: for breakfast she could eat a whole loaf of raisin bread, a rasher of bacon, and a quart of milk in a glass bottle. She lets me peel off the little plug of coagulated cream in the neck before she drinks. She has a lover named Fidel who she calls “my Cuban,” but really he’s Mexican. He’s circus people like the rest of us and he comes and goes most days, pitching stakes, hauling tarp, mucking stalls, and gambling late at night with the other men.

Erma does a couple shows a day out of the Sideshow tent; she puts a big bow in her hair and wears a dress she made out of yards and yards of yellow gingham with eyelet lace at the neck and sleeves. She does her long glossy chestnut hair in fat sausage curls. Her face is broad and her mouth is a delicate cupid’s pout in fleshy pink. When she smiles, her eyes disappear in the folds of her cheeks. Mostly, Erma stays put, but when she has a show she drives over in her wagon. “Doctor says I got to stay off my feet, but that don’t mean I can’t have my fun,” she’ll say. And then she’ll turn to Fidel and say, “I’m lively. Ain’t I lively?” and he’ll toast her and smile. She has a whooping, gleeful laugh that you can hear throughout the compound. Usually when she’s laughing like that, it means Fidel is visiting.

Erma sews the costumes; she sits with a needle between her teeth and a bunch of muslin in her lap. Sometimes she spends hours sewing on sequins. She makes fine tiaras with feathers of pink and gold, and headdresses of all sizes. And she patches the rubber girdles and the stockings the ladies wear. Somebody is always stopping by Erma’s wagon to ask if their laundry is mended or if their costumes are ready. Erma prays a lot, and she tells me, God moves in you, honey. He loves you, just like your Daddy does. And when she says, Go ahead and tell him what you feel, I don’t know which one she means—God or Daddy—but it’s only Daddy I got anything to say to. When I was little, at night when I would say my prayers, sometimes I would ask, “Don’t you miss me, Daddy?” and Erma would say, “Do you miss the sun when it goes down at night? No sir. Cause you’ve got the moon instead. Count your blessings, young lady.”

I do the washing out behind the bathhouse and some days I can practice my balance and listen to all the talk of loves won and lost in the time it takes to hoist the Big Top. Sometimes Erma will pull up in her buckboard, with Fred, the big Clydesdale, in the reins, or Miss Lilly (“she can twirl by her teeth!”) will be telling the other ladies about one of her boyfriends. I can slip behind one of the wagons—it smells like lion’s piss back there and there is dust everywhere—and listen to the sound of stakes being pounded, or the scrape of wooden chairs, or elephants dragging poles, or bits of conversations between the tattooed lady and Santini, the sword swallower, or Emmett the Clown and his son, Wiley.

In the afternoon I often spend time with Mr. Torso, who is the boss of the cookhouse. Most nights you can find him smoking around the fire, dealing cards, and most days he spends at the cookhouse, making pots and pots of coffee in the big silver percolator. Mr. Torso has no legs at all, just a trunk, and two long, powerful arms. When he wants to move about, he sits on a board with wheels and propels himself forward with his massive arms. When he catches somebody staring, he stares back with his fierce, brooding eyes and then he pounds his chest. “Head, heart, and hands,” he’ll say. “That’s all a man needs to make a world.”

Without his board, he scoots sideways across the floor, moving quickly on his powerful arms. He walks hand over hand, and he can outpace me. His body is as light as a bean bag or a bird’s nest and he hoists it up onto counters and tables. He makes the pancakes sitting on top of the stove. Like Erma, he does a couple of shows a day out of the Sideshow tent, where he is billed as “the Missing Link—he walks on his hands like a Simian!” In the ring, he wears a brocade loincloth, a turban and a waistcoat with a silk cummerbund. He does a handstand and balances a small table on his body. Then Thumbelina comes to dine—she sets the table with plates and silverware.

The cookhouse can get pretty busy late on a Friday afternoon when the pay packets have been handed out, and so I’ll stop by to help out. One Friday Mr. Torso had made a big pot of beans and we were baking some cornbread to be ready in time to serve the meal. He wore a loose cotton shirt open at the neck and his loincloth. His powerful upper body allowed him to move about the cookhouse with expert efficiency, leaping onto counters, slipping down to the lower shelves, hoisting bowls and pans as he needed them.

“Do you think Daddy ever—you know, diddled Erma?” I asked.

He looked at me and laughed. “No, no, nothin’ like that. Erma knew your Mama—before she died. She made Erma promise to take care of you.”

“Not Daddy?”

“Well, she figured your Daddy was gonna need some help.”

“Do you think he knows what it’s like for us here, without him?”

He was stirring a big yellow bowl of batter. “Your Daddy comes from a long line of travelers—he’s always got a destination in mind.”

“I know he’s going to be home by my birthday.”

He hesitated and stopped stirring. “Your Daddy, he’s touched by sadness.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it started with your Mama.”

“You mean his accidents? Like a curse?”

“Well, his heart’s too big, that’s all. When you got love enough for this whole world it can make you hincktey.” He continued to stir the batter, very slowly, as he spoke. “The first time was when your mama died. She lost a lot of blood trying to birth you and she wasn’t going to make it. So your Daddy, he just opened up his veins and they caught his blood in anything that would catch. And he just wouldn’t hear of stopping the bleeding. He drained every drop he could. He got enough blood in her to save her, he did. She lasted most of a day before she passed. But your Daddy—well, they gave the funeral that day. You were there, that was your first. But . . . but somehow he rose up out of that box—”

“Erma says he had to come back to raise me.”

He stopped stirring. “Yeah, well, it’s a powerful force that can raise a man up from the dead.”

I can’t stop from crying then, harder and harder. “Nobody knows how much I love him,” I manage to say after awhile.

“Of course you do,” he says, patting my back. “Honey, of course you do.”

“Why isn’t it enough to bring him back, to make him stay?”

He hoisted himself up on the counter and stared at me a long time. “You got a boyfriend?” he asked finally.

I shook my head.

He busied himself with the baking then, grabbing a set of tin pans and applying butter, and then dipping out measures of batter into the pans. “So you’ve never been in love,” he said after awhile.

He glanced over at me and I shook my head. He was at the big stove now, deftly pushing pans to the back, the front, the sides. He leapt up onto the highest shelf, far above my head, and grinned down at me. “You know, I’ve had my share of love in this life.” He leaned over on one elbow. “Know what a man can do with this?” he asked, sticking out a muscular, vibrant tongue. “Know what a man can do to a girl’s pussy with his tongue?”

I slowly shook my head. He threw back his head and the cords of his neck stood out from laughing. “When you’re ready, you bring your bottom half to Mr. Torso,” he said, smiling broadly. “I’ll show you what the top half can do.”

Many days if I’m not at my lessons or practicing with Emmett, I just do some traveling around the camp to see what I can see. Mr. Igor Stepanovich is usually sitting out on his camp stool smoking a cigar. He is the Strong Man and also the ringmaster when Daddy is away. Or sometimes Zephyr, Daddy’s horse, will have broken down his stall again. Zephyr is nothing like my Palomino, Sugar. He’s big and black with a stormy temper and nobody but Daddy can ride him. Erma says he’s “mettlesome.”

Erma says I need watching and I shouldn’t mix too much with the roustabouts. Lately, though, I’ve been timing my walks so I can go by when Miss Lilly is taking a break from practice and one of her beaus has come by for a visit. She has a beau named McGreevy who’s a townie and “a gentleman.” Miss Lilly is the schoolmistress and she tutors me in the afternoons three days a week. She’s also the Daring Young Woman on the Flying Trapeze, only up close she isn’t so young anymore. Erma says that doesn’t matter ‘cause Miss Lilly has a body that shows off the costumes well. When she was younger, she was “pretty as a picket fence,” and that’s how come she still has so many suitors. I heard her tell Erma that she’s worried McGreevy will never really love her ‘cause she’s “circus people.” Miss Lilly has another beau, Santini, the sword swallower and knife thrower, and Erma heard tell that he once asked Miss Lilly to marry him, but that was many years ago.

When Miss Lilly is entertaining suitors, even for just a brief chat on the grounds near the bathhouse, she never appears in her costume, but always in street clothes. But this afternoon she had been longer at practice than usual and hadn’t had a chance to change out of her costume—a tight-fitting bodice all covered with spangles and a short, filmy skirt in mauve. She has a thin white body and she always wears heels, gold or silver ones, to increase her height. She has big melancholy eyes, but everything else about her is upturned: the dark waves of her carefully pinned hair, her bosom, her feet in the glittery shoes. When she is performing, her body is perfectly aligned: Erma says that her posture and her timing have given her a good twenty extra years in the ring.

As the Daring Young Woman on the Flying Trapeze, she’ll drop down head first, her dark hair swinging, and then slip down and down until finally she has caught the trapeze with only her heels. She swings out wide, her outstretched hands waiting to grab those of the Tillmans, any of the flying brothers. When she twirls, the whole house catches its breath as she grasps the mechanism in her teeth and lets her body fall back, her arms hanging at her sides, her toes pointed at the floor so very far away—and then with drums and hearts pounding she spins faster and faster.

Today I notice that McGreevy arrives first and he gives her, as usual, a nosegay, and she, as usual, responds with a curtsy. She is carrying a blue watering can with yellow daisies painted on it. Miss Lilly grows daisies and petunias in flower boxes outside her trailer. McGreevy has come from “the job,” as he puts it, and is dressed in dungarees. His body is lean and he has big, dusty hands. He pushes a straw hat back on his head and laughs softly at something Miss Lilly says. In my lessons, she always cautions me about “elocution,” but to McGreevy she speaks softly and very fast. He is carrying a heavy length of rope coiled about his arm and as he speaks he moves in close to her and slowly winds and unwinds the rope. There is a smear of lipstick near his chin. He grasps the rope and then touches her body. He moves in and very carefully puts a big rough hand on her hip. She smiles and pirouettes away from him, clutching the watering can, but then she turns back and her face is very serious. “I’m sorry,” she says in a loud, clear tone.

Santini the sword swallower has arrived. He is dressed in green silk bell-bottomed trousers and a white shirt with billowing sleeves. He is wearing full makeup and sheets of white tissue paper protrude from the collar of his shirt, to protect the fabric from the greasepaint. He still has chalk dust on his hands. “Lilly,” he says, nodding at Miss Lilly. She nods back, primly, and indicates McGreevy. “You know Charles,” she says, and Santini nods.

“You the one who throws knives?” McGreevy asks, shifting his feet in the dirt.

“In a manner of speaking,” Santini says. His posture is the same as Miss Lilly’s—what she would call “an erect carriage.”

“You ever throw any at her?” McGreevy nods his head toward Miss Lilly.

“Many.”

“Gosh. You don’t say.” He looks over at Miss Lilly, who gives another prim nod.

“You ever hit anybody?”

“Just—” he looks over at Miss Lilly—“how you say? A graze. Only occasionally.”

“You got good eyes, I bet.”

Santini shakes his head adamantly. “No no. It is not the looking. A blindfold—always.”

“Lordy, don’t tell me you throw them knives with your eyes closed. I got to see this!”

Santini draws himself up to his full height. “I will show you, of course. It is nothing, nothing for me.”

“Alberto, no,” Miss Lilly says, but he is already stalking off toward his trailer for the knives. She turns to McGreevy. “Charles, this isn’t a good idea.”

“Honey, I gotta see this. He’s gonna throw knives at you blindfolded. Tarnation, I gotta see this!”

I ran to get Erma then, but as soon as I told her, I knew it would take too long for her to get out of her trailer and into her wagon, so I ran back. When I arrived, there they were behind the bathhouse, Santini tying on his silk blindfold and Miss Lilly backed up against a wall. Her eyes were open and she was staring directly at McGreevy. I knew that look—it was like he was a pupil who had misbehaved.

“Baby,” he said “it ain’t nothin’—I’m just tellin’ you what the man said. It ain’t nothin.”

Miss Lilly stood against the wall in her mauve skirt and gold heels and it was like she was a sapling growing there: very slender and fine-boned but with deep roots. Santini stood a distance away, holding a knife gently in his hand. He fingered the handle a bit and felt the weight of it. As he took aim, Miss Lilly seemed to know just what to do: she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. A thin line of white flesh appeared between her bodice and skirt. Santini hoisted the knife, took a quick step back, and then McGreevy hit him hard from behind. Santini went down, McGreevy on top of him, and they began to grapple in the dirt. McGreevy punched Santini hard, spattering him with blood, but the blindfold remained in place. Santini scrambled after the unsheathed knife as McGreevy continued to deliver punches.

“Behind you! Behind you!” Miss Lilly suddenly cried out, and Santini reached behind him to grasp the knife. McGreevy leapt to his feet, but he was too winded to move far. Santini got up, but still did not remove the blindfold. He waved the knife in McGreevy’s direction.

“You want to fight, eh? So come, we fight now.”

Just then Erma pulled up in her wagon, kicking up a gale of dust. Fred, who wasn’t used to having to pull Erma anywhere going fast, overshot the mark and almost plowed into McGreevy. When he saw the big Clydesdale sliding toward him, McGreevy turned tail and ran. Santini slowly removed the blindfold and then his shirt. He walked over to the wagon. “Please, you repair the shirt,” he said as he held out the bloodied silk to Erma. Then he returned to where Miss Lilly stood. McGreevy’s nosegay lay in the dust at her feet. Santini stood before Miss Lilly, bare-chested and blood-spattered. “I come for you at 8:00,” he said. She nodded and they parted.

I climbed up on the buckboard next to Erma. “She ain’t forgot who her people is,” she said as Fred began to pull away.

The day after the scene with Miss Lilly and Santini, Erma called me over to her wagon. She had just come from one of her shows and she was still a little shaky and breathless from the effort of getting up into her wagon. “You’re on the cusp of womanliness,” she said, breathing hard. “Someday soon I’ll be making your wedding dress and Daddy will be giving you away.”

“But I don’t have a beau, Erma.”

She just nodded and said, “you will,” and waited to catch her breath. She patted the seat beside her on the buckboard and I climbed up. “Remember the locket I gave you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, on your wedding night, you take out the picture of mama and replace it with one of your beloved. That way wherever he goes, wherever you go, you’ll always have him close to your heart.” She patted her own heart beneath the yellow gingham.

“But Erma, I don’t want a picture, I want . . . him.”

She chortled. “Him? Who you talking about—him—you just said you ain’t got a beau!” And her big laugh rang out so loud that Fred shook his ears. I couldn’t help but start crying just then and she put her arm around me and said ever so softly, “Honey, your cross to bear is you got a heart set on staying put.”

I dabbed at my eyes with Erma’s hankie. “But then why is Daddy’s heart so changeable? More than most?”

“Only thing that could make him stay put was your mama. . . .” She stopped and shook her head. “Your Daddy, he’s got a taste for leaving. I’ve traveled plenty, between towns. I’ve set up more camps than I can ever remember. But I know my place in this world and I intend to keep it.” She helped me out of the wagon and pushed the hankie into my hand. “My granddaddy, on his farm he had a big ‘ol sow and he kep’ her in a little bitty shed. You opened that door and there she was. Mean ‘ol thing, she was, spreadin’ right out to the walls. Wasn’t nowhere for her to go. Your Daddy—he’s got a heart that big, just reachin’ out right to the edges. He’s got love enough for everybody in this world.” She clucked to Fred and he slowly began to pull her forward as she turned back to me. “You go on to your lessons, now, hear?”

I went on to my lesson but later that afternoon I went to practice with Emmett. Without his clown make-up Emmett seems almost invisible, and he isn’t given to saying much either. He talks when he has to, but mostly he signals me with his eyes: stay up there, don’t you fall, and don’t look down either. I fell a lot in the beginning, and I looked down a lot, at the net swaying beneath me, and the dirt below that. As long as I keep my eyes ahead and feel the weight of the pole in my hands, I make it across more often than not. Erma says I got a heart set on staying put, but when I’m balancing the big pole and working my way across the wire, it’s like there are two girls up there, perfectly balanced—the one set on staying put, the other set on leave-taking.

That night I found Wiley and we went walking on the midway. I wanted to know if boys—men—if they all had hearts like my Daddy’s. I once kissed Nico, the shoemaker’s son, behind one of the big water tanks, but that’s all I know of love. Wiley was not my beau any more than any other boy was, but he was sweet and he sometimes brought me a dipperful of water from the pump on hot days when I was at the washtub. He had freckles and ginger hair and a lot better chance of growing up to be a clown like his father than a sword swallower or a strong man. A polka band played an accordion waltz as we walked and Wiley lingered near the games of chance. He wanted to play, but he didn’t want to be “bamboozled,” so we wandered on. At the sideshow we looked at the things we’d been looking at all our lives—an elephant penis, a finger, Siamese twins in a jar. Wiley showed me a long scratch on his back. “One of the tigers swiped at me,” he said. “My dad said not to let it fester.”

Wiley was one of the stable boys who laid down fresh straw and fed the animals. I thought, suppose I marry Wiley and we run off together—it could happen. The surest thing I have ever known was that if I love Daddy enough, he’ll always come back to us. But lately I reckon differently—maybe it’s something else that brings him back.

“Are you ever going away from here?” I asked as we walked along the midway.

“Why, sure. End of the week the whole camp is moving up the road.”

“No, I mean, from this—and I pointed round at the strings of lights hanging from the booths—from us.”

“Sure, I’m gonna,” he said.

“You are?”

“Sure.” He shrugged. “Someday.” And then he shrugged again. And I knew then that Wiley’s heart was a lot like mine.

And just like that I got my heart’s desire. Daddy returned to us on a dark night with lightning glazing the sky. Word spread round the camp like the lightning above as everyone prepared for the show. Right away I went to find Emmett to tell him I would attempt my first crossing tonight. It wasn’t my birthday yet, but it would be soon, and Daddy was home. I found some of the men smoking round the fire, but Emmett was not among them. The wind was kicking up and rain was on the way—the animals could sense it. The big cats were pacing in their cages, Zephyr was bucking and whinnying in his stall, the dancing bears were moaning, and the elephants were clanking in their chains. Mr. Stepanovich was pacing out in front of the Big Top, talking to Harry, the Illustrated Man, and some of the hands. “Lightning—that’s no good,” he said, “but we got to think of the till foremost.”

I found Emmett as he was setting up benches in the tent: he had his sad face painted on—the white greasepaint, his turned down red frown, and his curly wig and big red nose. He didn’t say anything but I could tell he didn’t want me to attempt the crossing—sometimes a clown’s silence can be a stronger force than words. “Full house,” he said, and I knew that he was worried I wouldn’t make it. “Your daddy?” he asked gently.

“He’s taming Zephyr—you know how he never lets anyone in before a show.”

“Bad luck,” Emmett muttered, and I nodded.

“Emmett,” I said, “you know what you said about the trees?”

He nodded and then smiled inside his red frown.

I pressed my feet into the earth and stuck my arms out from my sides, perfectly balanced. I was still the way trees are still, but inside they are plunging roots down deep, they are holding on, but they’re also pumping sap and letting themselves sway in the wind. I waved my arms up and down and kept my feet firm. “See?” I said, “I’m ready.”

“You better get dressed then,” he said.

Thunder swelled and lightning flashed as Daddy entered the ring on the back of Basheeba, the biggest of the elephants: she was in her fancy headdress and Daddy in his finest tails, with the gold epaulets and his red-spangled top hat. As I watched from the side, it seemed that tonight Daddy was everywhere. He was astride the guy wires, and then atop the rolling cages—higher and higher he went, to each new pinnacle of applause. At last he was at the very apex of the Big Top, where he sparkled and then vanished. Like vapor, like the thinnest ray of light, he was gone.

Zephyr appeared in the ring, riderless, plumed and glittering. He pranced around and around and suddenly Daddy leapt onto his back, all black boots and flashing gold. Zephyr was dark movement and heat and Daddy was light hovering over his dark back, like a cloud poised over a mountain. He somersaulted off Zephyr’s back in a flash of red and gold and landed on two feet with his arms raised. But he was not rooted there, he was moving already when he landed, flashing golden toward Zephyr’s dark body, catapulting into the air. Treading air, he sluiced back toward Zephyr and vaulted onto his back, already in perfect rhythm with the horse.

Just as the storm cleared it was my turn. High up above the crowd I perched on the platform, wearing the lavender tulle and gossamer wings that Erma made for me and the cape Daddy gave me two birthdays ago—it’s the color of midnight all spangled with silver stars. I removed the cape and steadied myself before the wire. I could barely see Emmett down below and I couldn’t see Daddy’s red top hat at all. Emmett signaled me, the orchestra played a drum roll and I put out my right foot. I didn’t look down at the net, which was far below me. I couldn’t see Emmett’s face but I could feel him telling me you got everything you need up there. As I started across on the wire I could feel it vibrate beneath me—it felt like it was alive, like it was coaxing me across. If I stayed very still I could balance there, but once I stepped forward, I had to sway with the wire. I imagined my roots going down deep and my branches tossing in the wind and I let myself be two girls up there, one rooted and holding on, one letting the wind take me where it wanted me to go.

Just as I made it across and stood for the applause I could see Daddy’s red hat glittering up at me. Suddenly I could feel that other force, as if a thousand wires were vibrating under me, like some kind of magic, like Mama spinning, or Erma laughing, or clowns’ clowning—it’s what holds Daddy and brings him back again and again. Whatever it is, it moves in him, and it moves in me too, whether I leave or whether I stay. You can’t will it—although I have tried mightily—but you can learn to let it be. Right then I knew that no matter how many leave takings the future might hold for me, I would always come back to the sights and sounds and smells of the circus—the elephants clanking in their chains, the distant roaring of the cats in their cages, Mr. Stepanovich’s cigar smoke, Erma frying up bacon in her favorite skillet, Mr. Torso hovering atop the stove, flipping flapjacks, Wiley with a pitchfork full of hay held aloft, Miss Lilly watering her daisies with the blue daisy can, and Emmett’s broad upturned face coaxing me across—“steady, ste-e-a-a-dy,” he says.

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