“Aunt Dottie I Didn’t Do It” * Short Story * David P. Stewart

The following story about watermelon baseball and other dangerously fun childhood activities comes from Cornbread and Lace: The Privileges of a Mississippi Farmboy, which  was written by an author with both feet firmly planted in Mississippi. In David’s thought-provoking manuscript, the anguish of racism, classism, bigotry, patriarchy, war, segregation, and revisionist history are mixed with vivid stories about winged snakes, hot donuts, an old farting mule name Kate, and dinner on the ground. Thought-provoking wisdom from a loving grandmother and an African American maid named Maude are intertwined with touching stories about blood brothers, the wacky weed, sleeping under the stars, a single mother’s superpowers, and Native American romance. There are gripping stories about rape, bomb threats, LGBTQ alienation, divorce, death, sex, and redemption.

 

Aunt Dottie I Didn’t Do It

One day, I courageously confessed to Moma that I had doused her favorite switch bush with half a gallon of gasoline every time I cut the grass. My original tall tale was that God musta hexed it cause it had bloodthirsty thorns like the ones the Romans used when they mocked

The! Good! Lord! Above!

Most times, when Moma was mad, she went and got her own switch. But, sometimes, when I crossed a line,

Moma would send me outside to git my own

Tool! Of! Correction!

Of course, I would do my best to pick off all the spiny thorns as fast as I could. But, if I took too long, Moma would yell,

Donchu git one that’ll break easy cause I’ll use it up. And, then I’ll go git a bigger one. And, I’ll wear ya out with that one too.

The biggest switch bushes in Canton served as the official greeters out in front of the Center Terrace Southern Baptist Church. Every Sunday, I prayed that Moses would send one of them plagues on um cause they were frequently used to set manya boys, includin me, back on the straight and narrow path.

There were manya Sunday mornins when ya could hear some sainted moma tellin her sobbin youngun,

Donchu cry when we go back inside this here church. I promise ya that I will take ya right back outside and give ya somethin real to cry about.

I don’t know why momas always wanted cryin in church to be somethin secret. All the new preachers loved it when people cried. I also don’t know why anyone created the clip on tie, or any tie for that matter. Juss like thorns, all they create is eternal sufferin.

Fun and spankins multiplied when my cousin Billy came down to the farm from Tupelo. One swelterin summer day, we were sellin red and yella meter melons and cantaloupes to the nigras as they drove up and down our dusty road. Business was as slow as the dawdlin summer sun. So, I got out my bat and started battin the rocks that made up our driveway. When that got borin, Billy screamed,

Here! Hit! This!

A fast flyin cantaloupe zoomed towards me. I swung my bat with all the strength my husky boy body could muster. The cantaloupe exploded inta a million pieces. And, guts and seeds went flyin everywhere. My sister and girl cousin Susan squealed with unbridled hysteria.

Billy and me took turns battin til all the cantaloupes were good and gutted. That’s when somebody shouted,

Try a watermelon!

We started with the small ones. And, we discovered that watermelons were even more sidesplittin. Rinds and red guts and yella guts and black seeds covered the yard and us. Our jaws ached from laughin and eatin so much mellon. But, the laughin abruptly stopped when Moma looked outta the livin room picture window and shrieked,

What!   In!   The!   Sam!   Hill!   Are!   Ya’ll!    Doin!?

The immature hairs on the back of my neck snapped to attention as an invisible army of fire ants ran races up and down my spine. My girl cousin Susan took off runnin towards the house screamin,

 

Aunt Dottie! Aunt Dottie! I didn’t do it!

But, she got spanked anyways. So, the rest of us prayed like Saturday night sinners promisin to straighten up and fly right as we walked as slow as our shoeless feet would go towards the mad wet hen wavin a light blue fly swatter in her right hand.

That day, I learnt that enjoyin the joys of watermelon baseball was an unwritten and unforgivable sin. I also learnt that spankins sting twice as much when you’re soakin wet and sticky with melon gut drippins.

That day was also the last day we all had to all take a bath together. The soap sharin had juss begun when the blood curdlin screamin started. My sister and girl cousin Susan jumped outta the tub like scalded toads. Then, they started cryin and runnin round like headless egg layers. Moma came flyin in with a broom in her hand to see what was happenin.

A turd!

A turd!

was floatin in the newly drawn bath water.

I jumped outta the tub as quick as I could. And, when my feet were firmly on the floor, I looked at Billy with condemnin eyes. And, he couldn’t help but start laughin cause he knew he was guilty.

A few days later, Billy and me were horsin round at Granmaw’s house. One of his knees accidentally crashed inta my nose.

Well, at least he said it was an accident. Anyways, blood went everywhere. But, I knew what to do cause I got nosebleeds regularly.

Sit down. Lean forward a bit. Pinch your nose where the bones stop for about ten minutes. Don’t tip your head back. Ya don’t want blood to go down your throat.

Ten minutes later, I looked like a murder victim. So, I took of my right shoe and chucked it at Billy’s empty head. He ducked. And, the shoe smashed the window behind him. Glass rained down onto the bed he was sittin on. Moma and Aunt Murnita ran in to see if one or both of us had died. Billy laughed and pointed at me. And, I got wooped with the shoe.

On another day, we were playin Cowboys and Indians armed with the bottle rockets that were gifts from Mr. Clause. About midway through our skirmish, the Cowboys got in an unexpected lucky shot which set my entire weapons arsenal ablaze. I had to launch myself from the treehouse fort as two thousand unaimed bottle rockets turnt the backyard battlefield inta Armageddon. Thankfully, there were no fatalities, only a few fires in the pine needles which we quickly stomped out. The next door neighbor’s dogs, however, needed thoughts and prayers and medication.

War is never civil,
even the wild things are decimated by it.
To arms. To arms.
For some reason or none,
we plunge forward in a primordial dance.
Sound and Fury.
The secrets of Eden burn to cinders
while men revel in their own piss and blood.
No audience remains.
Rosebuds close.

On another sing song summer day, Billy and me persuaded my sister and some of her city friends stung by boredom to skip from tree to tree while we positioned ourselves on the other side of a broad drainage ditch next to the Little League field near Granmaw’s house. As the girls gleefully skipped back and forth, Billy and me attempted to shoot their shoes with our Daisy BB guns.

 

I have no idea why the girls didn’t tell Moma. And, I have no idea how Moma missed the temporary chicken pox outbreak on their legs.

Spankins avoided!

Our luck continued as we grew older. No one was ever maimed durin our impassioned lawn darts tournaments. And, no one ever died when we played Chicken and Arrows.

Chicken and Arrows? Oh, yeah. When the cousins came to visit, we would all go out to the back pasture and stand in a tight circle with our Buster Browns touchin tips. Then, we would watch while I shot a steel tipped arrow straight up inta the clear blue sky usin the bow that Mr. Clause had left for me unda the Christmas tree.

When the arrow started its fast climbin towards the stratosphere, we started runnin in different directions and countin out loud while lookin down at the ground. When the countin got to ten, we all looked up and tried to locate the arrow. Then, we would run to the spot where we thought the arrow might make its return to the earth. The person standin closest to the actual landin spot got a point.

A low flying black bird and my girl cousin Susan were the only ones that almost died.

On another summer afternoon, Billy permanently parted my hair while we were shootin shotguns in the back pasture. Luckily, I had followed the barrel of his gun as he followed a low flyin dove’s slow flight path towards the sun. The shotgun screamed,

BOOM! WHIZ!

Thankfully, I ducked down juss in time to avoid the fiery tongue of the explosive blast. But bein without armor, I was knocked sideways by the accompanyin shockwave and fried air. The whole world went strangely silent. Then, an unmeasurable fever and burnin visions seized me. Then, strange ocean swells crashed with impartial cruelty inside my skull. Then, an unworldly chill rushed in. I don’t really remember much after that.

When all the shadows had finally melted, I was able to see Billy standin over me laughin like a hysterical hyena.

My hair smellt like a bonfire for a week. And, of course, he missed the bird.

 

—About the Author—

David Paul Stewart grew up on a working farm outside the picturesque city of Canton, Mississippi. He and his partner and their two bulldogs currently reside in Arlington, Virginia. David earned an undergraduate degree from Mississippi State University and a Masters in Theological Studies with an emphasis on just-peacebuilding from Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC. His thesis, “Peace in the Poet’s Path,” calls on Muslim and Christian female poets to join in grassroots efforts to promote justice and peace worldwide. His soon to be published books on poetry include: Muted Screams, Cries for Justice, Echoes of Eros, Divine Pathways, and Sacred Stanzas.

—About the Artist—

Drake Scott enjoys making art and music, writing, performing comedy and ventriloquism, eating cheese and writing about himself in the third person. Most recently, he has been focusing on caricature art. Visit instagram.com/brushanigans and etsy.com/shop/brushanigans for Drake’s custom caricatures.