The Moonshiner’s Daughter by Donna Everhart Read Online (FREE)
We wander, question. But the answer waits in each separate heart—the answer of our own identity and the way by which we can master loneliness and feel that at last we belong.
The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings, 1971
The only memory I have of Mama, she was on fire.
I’d been watching my baby brother, Merritt, digging in the dirt, when I heard a subtle pop, then a loud explosion, and the big pot Daddy and Mama were always tending suddenly burst into flames, and so did Mama. The sight made me grip hold of Merritt’s hand hard enough to make him squeal.
Daddy would sometimes have to burn tent caterpillars. He’d hold a flaming end to the white cottony fuzz woven around the branches of the apple trees, and as the nests blazed, the black wormy bodies fell and hit the ground like the soft patter of raindrops. Fire always saved the fruit, but it’s what took Mama from us.
Mama took off running, going this way and that.
Daddy yelled, “Lydia!” and then, “Stay there, Jessie!” to me.
Merritt had already gone back to stabbing a stick in the mud over and over, making baby noises, completely unaware. Mama beat her hands against her head; then they caught fire too. She ran in a zigzag pattern, as if performing a strange and chaotic dance.
Daddy tried to catch her, yelling over and over, “Stop running!”
Somehow she evaded him, his efforts to help. He stumbled, twisted his ankle, and then he couldn’t run near as fast, staggering after her, limping badly.
She didn’t make any noise until the last seconds before she fell, when she shrieked his name, “Easton!”
The cry came long, and high-pitched, like a siren. She faltered, collapsed, everything from her head down to the tops of her legs consumed. Daddy threw himself over her, smacking his hands along her body. His movements frantic, he jerked his T-shirt over her head and pulled it down as far as it would go. If the flames singed him while he held her, he didn’t act like he noticed. Puffs of smoke curled and drifted around them like tiny gray clouds while an odd stench penetrated my nose, a distinct smell that held me rooted in place. The imprint of her face came through his shirt.
I quit crying and waited for them to get up, for her to start laughing and say, Did I scare you?
The fabric over her face where her mouth pushed against the cloth was a perfect oval. The only movement a slow sucking in and out of the now smutty material. That spot mesmerized me. In. out. After a few seconds, the area no longer moved. Daddy struggled to sit upright, still cradling her upper half. Her arms lay limp at her sides, hands blackened. He tilted his head like he didn’t understand what happened any more than I did.
He bent close, whispered in the area of her ear, “Lydia?”