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That terrible floral dress. The one she always wore when company came. As he peered up between the boards, he could see the edge of that dress. Terrible, because the minute that dress came out, he knew he would be banished to the dark, dank space beneath the floor.

Ever since he was a child, she would hold his face in her hands and say, “You are my best-kept secret”. She always looked a little guilty when she said it, although she tried to make it sound like an honor. Out in their isolated farmhouse, he’d been birthed alone, raised alone and schooled alone. For almost 18 years, his mother was the only person the boy ever saw, ever spoke to. He was her glory and her shame, conceived on a night after her father had finally died, when a man was the last and only thing she needed. The life she had been waiting to live was short. The boy was her awful truth. She hid him away in the house she’d always lived in, full of peeling paint and rusty water. On those occasions when someone from the church decided to be neighborly, she donned the floral dress and sentenced him to the crawlspace. From there he watched and waited.

Recently, he’d been wondering about all these things. He wasn’t terribly smart or worldly, but he did sense there had to be something more somewhere.  They had a few books, but no television. She taught him basic sums and reading just to keep them both from being bored. He thought maybe he’d just refuse the next time she told him to get below. Or, maybe he’d just come on up and introduce himself. He knew his own name, didn’t he? He’d just say, “Hello, my name is Jimmy”. Now what could be so wrong about that? The last time he tried to discuss this with her she slapped his face and said, “Put that right out of your head! If anyone knew, they’d come take you away. You don’t want that, do you?” He thought that maybe he’d like that very thing. The dream of leaving had been enough to fill his imagination for years.

Yesterday, someone had called. After hanging up the phone, she told Jimmy that company would be coming the next day. Right away, he started to review his plan. Over the years, he’d found a dime here and a penny there. He kept them in an old cloth bag. Once when she forced him into the crawlspace, he put the bag in his pocket and left it way in the back. It scared him half to death to wiggle back there, but this was his “best-kept” secret and knowing about it made him brave. He had collected quite a bit of money and that made him happy. Whenever he found a coin or two, he put them under a stack of old Reader’s Digest that lay in his bottom drawer. Since she put his clean clothes away in the drawers above, this felt safe.  Then, he added the coins to the cloth bag when a visitor showed up. One time, when a lady from town came and took his mother to church, he added a brown faded jacket that belonged to his dead grandfather and an old crow bar he found in the back of a kitchen cabinet. He wasn’t sure about the crow bar, but it seemed like something he might need. If nothing else, he enjoyed having it along with the money and the jacket. The following day, when she said, “You need to get below”, he was glad he had them all.

She said to hurry and as always, he did as he was told. Jimmy slid down to the dirt floor, hardly thinking about the bugs and mice that might be there. He worried about them a little less today than usual. Considering his plan, he started to think about the look on his mother’s face when that piece of floor opened.  He liked the pictures in his head when he thought of the faces of the church folks when he said, “Hello, my name is Jimmy.” Peeking through the cracks, he could see the edge of the terrible floral dress as she brought them in, saying, “Oh, yes, it is a hot one. Come on in for some cold tea.” It was then that he gripped the jacket and the money and the crow bar and started to push the boards up.

 

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