by Teresa Powell Coltrin
My little brother is four. I am seven. I’m in our kitchen walking past my mom who’s been washing clothes all morning, in a ringer washer. I look out the screen door and push it open—slightly. Flies are lined up on the screen waiting to come in, some fly up, but with perfect timing I close it before they do.
“Stay in or out—the flies.” Mom reminds me again since I’d been running in and out, of the house, all morning.
Through the screen, I watch my brother jump off the low back porch to the grass and climb back on. He does this two more times. He has strapped around his belly, a holster. In the holster, he carries a shiny cap gun. He sees me, pulls it out of the holster and shoots. I’m not offended because he’s been shooting everything in his path all morning. He jumps off the porch again and disappears around the corner of the house.
It’s summer, mid morning and hot. I open the screen door again—wide this time. With my eyes squinting from the sun, I step out on the planked porch. I let go of the screen door and it slams behind me.
“Teresa, stop letting the door slam,” Mom says, emphasizing the syllables in my name. I hear impatience hovering in her quiet voice.
My brother jumps out of nowhere and shoots me again. “Play cowboys and Indians with me.”
I shake my head.
“Play with me.”
He jumps off the porch and shoots the sky. I’m hot and walk back inside again, letting the door slam. “I’m thirsty.”
Mom frowns and stops what she’s doing. “Get a drink.”
I go to the water bucket on the table against the wall. We’re not allowed to yet, but my parents draw the water from the well outside the back door. They use a long metal cylinder attached to a rope and a pulley that is lowered into the deep well. The cylinder collects the water and after it is pulled up out of the well it is centered over the bucket and the water is released by pulling a lever at the top.
I stand on tiptoes to reach inside the bucket to grab the cold metal dipper full of water and lift it up and over. Familiarity helps me expect the cool crisp taste before it reaches my lips. Later when we move to the city, I’ll discover how fresh our well water tasted compared to tap water. I try to steady the dipper and aim for my mouth, but it sloshes, spilling drops on my everyday dress and on the floor before I get to drink it. After I gulp down the water, I use the back of my hand to wipe my mouth and my dusty bare toes to wipe the floor, leaving a muddy streak where the water had been. I drop the dipper back in the bucket and walk to the screen door again. This time, I remember to close the door carefully behind me.
When I step onto the porch, my brother shoots me again. “Play with me,” he yells.
I’m feeling annoyed, but say, “I’ll play cowboys and Indians if first you play dress up with me.”
My brother is thinking, probably remembering that dress up means dish towels tied on his head with a ribbon to simulate long girl hair. He shakes his head no. I’m thinking on how to convince him to play what I want to play. I hear a gunshot in the distance and watch my brother collapse to the porch floor, his little gun falling beside his body. I run to the door and scream that he’s been shot—that he’s dead. My mother shoves the screen door wide open and runs to her little boy lying on the porch. As I watch him, my arms become weak and tears have rushed to my eyes. Then I notice his mouth twitches slightly and becomes a grin. His eyes pop open. Then just as fast as he had fallen, he jumps to his feet.
Perfect timing for a four-year-old cowboy.