I died the summer of 1976. Thank God it didn’t stick. I blamed The Brothers. That’s what I called them. They were a collective rather than singular beings.
I often tattled on them for using me for live target practice with their Daisy Red Ryder. I could have lost an eye. My stuffed polar bear did. He wasn’t ever right in the head after the BB gun incident on April 8,1976.
Eventually, my brothers tired of me tattling, so they stuck me on top of the chicken coop. Five years old and terrified of heights, a drop of six feet made me want to pee my pants. I stayed on the scorching tin roof listening to the chickens squawk for an hour before someone rescued me. My parents said I should have jumped. I think I shouldn’t have been put up there. With that kind of attitude, they guaranteed my eventual death.
Back then, my mother was a homemaker. She ran interference on my brothers’ numerous murder attempts. I didn’t always escape unscathed, but it didn’t amount to much more than a scraped knee or a bruised arm. Everything changed that summer. We finally drove her to get a job. Some moms drank vodka or popped Valium. Ours went to work as a bank teller.
My parents decided my older brother Scotty was responsible enough to babysit. He was eleven, and his voice cracked and squeaked like an overplayed album. They left him in charge of my brother Randall and me. I was an angel. Randall, however, was a dust devil, swirling and destroying everything in his path. They tried to medicate him, but it took the spirit and joy right out of him. I didn’t care. A zombie for a brother was safer. Zombies trudged slow as snail snot, and if you threw raw meat at them, you were home free. Daddy thought giving Randall a pony would hold my brother’s attention. Goldie was untamed like her boy. She refused a saddle and nipped with regularity.
That summer, RC cola appeared on store shelves with 1776 emblazoned on the bottles, and we couldn’t wait for the bicentennial celebrations planned around the Fourth of July. The fireworks promised to be phenomenal. Randall’s hyperactivity reached new levels as his anticipation for the big day grew.
The Saturday morning before the Fourth started bright and glorious. I parked myself in front of the television with a bowl of magically delicious cereal, engrossed in the antics of Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby Doo. Cut Daphne and Fred from the show, and it was still awesome. Scooby Doo was the brains of the operation. The Brothers finished their cereal and pulled out their new boxing gloves. Another brilliant idea to channel a certain brother’s energy. Guess who got to be the punching bag to test if they hurt.
Fifteen minutes later, my mother stomped into the den, her hair still in curlers and housedress in disarray. “Go outside. I have to be at the bank this morning and don’t have time for foolishness.”
“But I was watching––”
She pointed toward the door. I knew better than to argue. Ten minutes later, dressed in a pair of cutoffs and a yellow t-shirt, I slipped out the back door and whistled for our dog. His name was Jeff, but we all called him Boo. Perhaps because his breath could scare the curl from a poodle’s fur. He and I trotted out to the barn to find my siblings.
“Pinch her nose,” Scotty said.
Randall reached out with one hand to hold Goldie’s nose while his other hand clutched a bridle. “How about helping instead of flapping your lips?” Goldie opened her mouth. Randall slipped in the bit, then tightened the leather straps of the bridle.
“I want to ride her,” I said, scuffing my tennis shoes in the dirt. “I never get to ride her.”
“You’re too little, Amy,” Scotty said. “Go read a book or something.”
I stamped my foot. “I’m telling.” With all the attitude my small body could muster, I spun around, ready to run back to the house.
Randall grabbed my arm and twisted it. “Listen, crybaby. If you narc on us, we’ll get stuck inside cleaning the basement all day.”
I let loose with a dramatic wail guaranteed to draw attention. Scotty stepped forward. “Let her go.”
Randall dropped my arm and whirled to face our older brother. “You always take her side.”
Scotty shook his head. “I just don’t want to listen to her bawl. Take her for a quick ride, and then you can have a turn by yourself.”
In one swift motion, Randall swung up onto Goldie’s back. She nickered, but she didn’t move. Scotty motioned me over, then he stooped down and formed a sling with his hands. “I’ll help you up.”
I lifted my foot into his hands, and he boosted me until I could swing my leg over Goldie’s broad back. “Don’t go fast,” I pleaded with Randall. I closed my eyes as I hugged my brother as tightly as I could.
Randall loosened the reins, and the pony ambled toward the open field. “I’m taking it slow, but you’re squeezing my guts. Let go.”
I released my death grip and tried to enjoy the ride. We had moved about ten feet when Randall kicked his heels into Goldie’s sides. Fast as an arrow loosed from a bow, she shot forward and galloped down the path.
I screamed. Scotty cursed. Randall laughed, and Goldie didn’t stop. Maybe she thought she was at the races. Randall yanked the reins back as hard as he could, causing Goldie to rear. With a shake of her head, she bucked, and I flew off the back end of that pony like a cannonball. I landed on a pear cactus, and my head struck a sharp rock. As my world turned black, an object in the shape of a boy landed on top of me with an “oomph.”
The swinging woke me. Hands grasped my ankles while another set held my wrists.
“Where are we going to bury her?” Randall asked.
“I don’t know. In an old ditch at the edge of the field. It’ll take them longer to find her body,” Scotty answered.
I struggled to open my eyes. Spots danced and pirouetted. I opened my mouth, but only a small gasp escaped, not loud enough to hear.
“If Daddy finds out, we’ll get a whipping. You should’ve grabbed another shovel. We need to bury her deep,” Randall said. His grip tightened on my legs. I could tell it was him because my feet were lower than my head. He was short and wiry. Scotty, two years older, towered over him.
The world spun and turned black again. When I regained consciousness, sharp rocks poked into my back. A shovel bit into the ground near my head, followed by the sound of falling dirt.
“That ought to be deep enough. She’s little.” Scotty dropped the shovel, and the handle hit my leg.
Fighting unconsciousness, I blinked my eyes open. They felt crusty, like my tears had evaporated and left behind all their salt and dirt. “I’m alive,” I croaked. It came out whisper quiet. I tried again. “I’m not dead.”
“Did you hear that?” Scotty asked. He dropped to his knees beside my formerly lifeless body. He reached down and held his hand beneath my nostrils. “Yep. She’s breathing. She’s alive.”
“Great. Now we’re really going to get our butts whipped when Mama finds out. We should kill her again since we’ve already dug the grave,” Randall said.
I struggled to sit up, and a horrible pounding started in my skull. Scotty brushed my tangled hair out of my face. My eyes focused. I squinted at Randall, who stood with his arms crossed. Two trails tracked down his dirty face. He must have cried when he thought I was dead. The Brothers love me. The thought surprised me.
“I won’t tell Mama,” I said, pulling a twig from my hair.
Randall frowned. He squatted down and looked me in the eye. I leaned back since the swift movement caused him to multiply into two. “Pinky swear?” He held out his little finger.
I blinked my eyes and stared hard back at him. “Pinky swear,” I said, hooking my pinky around his.
After I died that summer, my brothers sometimes let me tag along with them on their adventures. I still drove them crazy, but I learned the less I tattled, the more fun I had with them. Now and then, Randall’s ornery nature still came out. I would look him dead in his eyes and say, “Remember that one time when you killed me?” It worked so much better than any pill the doctor prescribed.