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Pat was blue and feeling awkward at the harsh age of thirteen. Grace was her only friend, and understood, since she was the same way. One day, they were on their way home, when they walked by the local hangout for the rich kids. They both confessed they wanted to be there and be a part of it all. It looked like so much fun and excitement, with all kinds of friends. Pat had an idea. She thought on it for a few days, and then one day, she said to Grace, â€śLetâ€™s go in there. Come on with me. I have some moneyâ€ť. She bought them each a cherry lime coke, and put a quarter in the jukebox. Being with the cool crowd was more fun than they imagined. Pat almost felt like she was a part of the group. She imagined what it would be like to dress like and be friends with the rich kids. She wanted so badly to be a part of it all. They left, Grace stopped at her house close by, and Pat walked on. She stopped at a little five-and-dime variety store. They had a few clothes, and some cheap bright-colored dresses. Pat looked at them, and held one up to her in front of a big mirror, while the lady clerk eyed her suspiciously. The next day, Pat and Grace went back to the hangout and bought vanilla cokes and played the juke box. They went on, and Pat stopped at the store again, but this time she tried the dress on, while under watchful eye of the sales clerk. She looked in the mirror and was shocked at how utterly gorgeous it was, and how grown up she looked.
The next day, Pat and Grace stopped at the hangout, and she bought them some of the â€ś800â€™sâ€ť they had heard the rich kids talking about. 800â€™s are chocolate milk and crushed ice. They had twice as much chocolate as the 400â€™s. Pat and Grace didnâ€™t play the jukebox, but stayed a little longer than usual, because the rich kids had started to notice them, and might even include them eventually. It was a heady experience for them, and they couldnâ€™t stop talking about it when they left. Pat went on and stopped in the store. To the surprise of the lady clerk, she had just enough money to buy the dress. She put it in a sack, and made it home with it. She hung it up in the back of the little closet she shared with Sue. The next morning, she put it back in the sack so she could show it to Grace in the locker room after school. When they got near the hangout, Pat told Grace she had to hurry home, because she was late yesterday. Pat got in the house with the dress, and carefully hung it in the back of the closet again. She sat on the bed feeling drained, and listened to Sue and little Tommy saying that in a month, tomorrow, the circus would be in town. She thought, â€śOh Lord in heaven, what have I done? What have I done?â€ť
She remembered her daddy showing a big neighbor boy a pistol and saying, â€śitâ€™s a Colt 45 that my granddaddy had, and he always told me it was real safe because you had to cock the hammer, which was pretty stiff, and pull the trigger, or it wouldnâ€™t shoot.â€ť Pat knew where it was in their sparsely furnished house. She got the pistol, and went around the side of the house to the barn. She sat in a shallow feed trough, but it was uncomfortable, so she sat on a bale of hay that was next to the big stack. She sat and she sat; she heard the flies, the cow switching her tail, the gelding stomping his foot. She smelled the barn, the wood, the feed, the hogs, and hay. The gun smelled like steel and oil. It was cold and so heavy. She had to cock it with both hand and turn it around. All she could think about was her Mamma, Daddy, Sue, Little Tommy, Grace, and the dress. She wondered out loud if the trigger would be as hard to pull as the hammer was to cock. It wasnâ€™t.
Josh was sitting in his old squeaky rocker looking at a farm catalogue. He could hear Sue and Little Tommy talking about the circus, the locust in the big trees, and Beth frying something that smelled like onions. They all heard a â€śwhoompâ€ť, like a metal can blowing up from heat, or a shotgun in the water. The kitchen was in the back, closest to the barn, so Beth said, â€śIâ€™ll see about itâ€ť, but Josh had a weak, sick feeling in his stomach. He jumped up and walked fast through the house, and to the barn. He was right behind Beth when she screamed out, â€śOh my God, please, no!â€ť Josh turned and saw Sue and Little Tommy running across the cow lot, and said in his calmest voice, â€śGo back to the house!â€ť They pitifully said, â€śPlease oh please!â€ť Josh hugged Beth around the shoulders with his left hand under her arm. He grabbed the pistol with his right hand and started to the house. As he made his way by the horse trough he took the gun and didnâ€™t throw, didnâ€™t chunk, just sort of pitched it in the water; never pausing or stopping.
The neighbors came, the church people came, and a few of the town and school people came. Beth sat at the table, where she sat when Josh brought her from the barn. She didnâ€™t cry or talk much at all. The old folks said it was shock. Walter said he had seen it in the war. Even the old country doctor that had to come with the justice of the peace and ambulance said it was shock. The neighbors tried to console Beth by saying, â€śYou always took good care of her. You always took her to church.â€ť One woman even said, â€śYou always made her nice dresses.â€ť Then Beth straightened a little and said, â€śI know, we can take the circus money and buy her a real pretty dress.â€ť Then Little Tommy said, â€śAnd a big bunch of red roses.â€ť Sue then gushed, â€śMama there is a pretty new dress with the tags still on it in the back of our closet!â€ť Beth stood bolt upright in an instant, and then almost robot-like, in slow motion, went to the cabinet and took out an empty oatmeal box. She dropped the box and let out an unearthly, unforgettable scream. She got her breath back, and slowly cursed the drought, the debt, the farm, and their hard living conditions, but she didnâ€™t cry. She wept bitterly.
Stan Johnson lives and works in Nolan County. Comments about this column can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.