My Cotillion

by Debra Varnado

Mom traded me for a horse one Sunday. A trial offer. I went to live in a tarpaper shack on an Arkansas strip of dust. My new Mom and Dad dipped bitter snuff, slept in razor-sharp silence, pierced by crazy roosters, angry crickets and Cotton Belt freight trains that blew through the town of Sunshine leaving a thicker hollow in the night. I was a kid. All I wanted was a horse, but I had to be the child of this Uncle and Aunt who ate fried squirrel brains; pushed a plow for a living. Eventually, I learned sweat like they did, not just from my brow…to drench myself in fluids, to pee, do my business behind the spare pecan tree in the field, without missing a solid minute of work. The fear-drenched child that I was, I thought they were in hiding and everything around them was cooperating. When it was dark outside, there was nothing but dark. Shadows didn’t come out. I tried to be invisible too, but I had to learn to run barefoot and like it, to wade in muddy ditches filled with rainwater and leeches, broken glass, rusty nails and lockjaw, to dodge snapping turtles and mosquitoes the size of bats and rats the size of pigs. After a while I almost didn’t itch after rolling in grass and dirt. Uncle J.W. and Aunt Willie Mae actually wanted me, I was their filly who screened the world through the screen-less windows of their shack and hid my scents in waste paper baskets in dark, curtained-off corners of the night. They called me their crawdad. The more I shrank into squishy mud-holes of earth, the more they dangled rancid pigfat to draw me out. But I continued to act like a cockroach, terrorized by their light, till one day, I began to seek the pure cocoa shade they sported year round. My eyes drew toward the row after row of their still-empty fields. Scorched air still waved at me, but I had begun to love the lure of seed and dirt, married in barren sunshine.

An Arkansas native, Debra A. Varnado is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Antioch University, Los Angeles. She received a fellowship to attend Summer Poetry in Idyllwild (2003) and has recently published in the Banyan Review. She also enjoys painting and has exhibited in California, New York and Pennsylvania.