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Dimple's Dilemma : Jonathan Odell

      Dimple Burge was in the grips of a dilemma. She clutched a drumstick of fried chicken in one hand and a sugar-glazed doughnut in the other. Dimple only had one mouth.

      Her window was open, and even though a nice breeze wafted upwind of the neighbor's chicken houses, the air in the bedroom was close, smelling not of live poultry but of stale clothes and fried foods. The muffled sound of thunder rose out of the humid Delta distance, maybe from as far off as the river. Pat Boone's otherwise perfectly dreamy voice crackled on the radio next to her bed.

      As she lay there in her unwashed, shapeless nightgown, her head propped up on her pillows with two fists to her face and overwrought by indecision in all areas of her pathetic life, a droplet of sweat beaded up on her forehead and rolled precisely between her eyebrows, down her nose, over her lips, smack-dab through the dimple in her chin and then hung there precipitously. Time stood still.

      Dimple closed her eyes, shut off her brain, and left the looming gastronomic decision to that unbridled craving she was so famous for. The doughnut beat the chicken to her mouth.

      Pacing. That was her problem and she knew it. She wanted everything at once. "Now or never, but never later!" was her philosophy.

      In Dimple's experience, Later was nothing but a weak-kneed maybe. A dried out promise as brittle as dead leaves. Before Later ever showed up, tides were known to turn and take off with your hopes. People changed when you weren't looking. "I love you's" grew cold and hard like day-old biscuits. Later was nothing but a stiff arm to the chest.

      But Now meant for sure. Now was one-sided and ironclad. Dimple believed that Love and Joy and all the other itty-bitty words that meant everything but were rare as hen's teeth ought to be snatched when they came into range. They might never come calling again.

      The door flung open and her mother marched into Dimple's bedroom, interrupting Dimple's ruminations on "now or later." The first thing Mrs. Burge did was to flip on the switch, dispelling the gloom that had gathered around her daughter over the past hour. Even though it was still morning, and the day had started out fair, the world outside had gradually dimmed until now it was dusk-dark.

      "Layin slung across that bed ain't gone to bring that boy back any sooner. Now come on and get up." She took another step into the room and felt a layer of crumbs gritty beneath her shoe. "It's a wonder you ain't been carried off by ants, anyway," she said.

      Dimple rolled her eyes.

      "If you ask me, Dimple, he's where he belongs."

      Mrs. Burge was a squat, energetic woman who had little patience for her daughter's histrionics. Never much approving of Dimple's taste in men, Bobby Ray was just another in a long line of no accounts. She made no bones about it—Mrs. Burge was good and glad this last one got sent off to the prison farm. Knowing that boy was put away made her mind rest a lot easier those nights she had to work the late shift at the electric blanket factory.

      For a few moments she studied her daughter intently. Her dark, unwashed hair hung in heavy, limp strands about her pillow. Mrs. Burge sniffed the air like she did the stalk-end of a melon, checking for ripeness, and then commenced to shake her head and frown. Dimple had always been such a neat girl, if a little plump like her mother. But day by day, staying in her room, eating like every bite was going to be her last, Mrs. Burge had watched Dimple grow bigger as well as messier. Being big was one thing, but being slovenly and smelly was quite another.

      "Pee-u, Dimple! I didn't raise you up this way. What if company was to come up on you like this? They would surely lay it on me." Mrs. Burge blew at a wisp of gray hair that had fallen over the lens of her glasses. "I'd like to blame it on them chickens, but today you outdone a thousand broiler hens."

      "Hmm," Dimple droned, hoping to get by without saying anything more.

      "You want to make yourself useful, you can get up off that bed and help me get in that last load of washing."

      "You just hung it out," Dimple mumbled, still not bothering to look at her mother.

      "Don't talk with your mouth full. Judy Moon said they was some possible severe thunderstorms coming this way and put the rain chance at ninety percent. That low pressure cell and all."

      Dimple rolled her eyes again, unimpressed. Her mother was as good at weather talk as she was at quoting the Bible. Her favorite person in the world next to Jesus was Judy Moon, the Channel 3 Weathergirl. Petite, blonde and eternally optimistic. When it came time for her weather segment they introduced her as "the weather gal with a sunny Christian outlook." Dimple was no fan.

      "She sure did," Mrs. Burge said, "not five minutes ago. Said storms were popping up like biscuits in this heat."

      "Must be so if Judy Moon says it," Dimple said distinctly with an empty mouth.

      "She says we can expect two or more inches. Maybe heavy at times."

      "Heavy," Dimple said, her voice sad and remote. "Heavy at times." She lifted her left leg a few inches off the bed, checking its weight, as if trying to determine by the pull of gravity whether she had gained any in the last few minutes. She let go of her leg, sighed dramatically and gave the drumstick its fair turn. There was just no use.

      "Dimple, please get up off that bed! I could use the help and you could use the fresh air. It'll do you good, honey."

      "Nothing will ever do me good again, Momma."

      "Mouse mittens!" Mrs. Burge waved her off.

      "Momma, are you blind?" Dimple said, tears rising in her throat. "Bobby Ray's up for parole and what's he going to say when he sees I gained instead of took off? I promised him, Momma."

      "Dimple you not as big as you make out to be," her mother reassured. "Sure you put on some. Ten, fifteen pounds? It ain't hardly reached your face. You'll take it off. Give it some time."

      "That's just it, Momma. I've run out of time."

      Mrs. Burge planted her tiny fist on her hips. "The trouble with you, Dimple Burge, is you want everything to happen now, and if it don't, then the world's going to end."

      A stiff breeze lifted the curtains that hung by Dimple's bed. They were adorned with pink poodles wearing black berets and smoking what Mrs. Burge supposed were tiny French cigarettes. Dimple, only eight years old at the time, had thrown a fit when she saw them at the Woolsworth. Said she would just die if she didn't get them.

      "They ain't for children, Dimple," she tried to explain. "Them is bad dogs. Look it. They smoking cigarettes."

      "Daddy smokes cigarettes," she said, daring her mother to say anything ill about her recently run-off father. Dimple got her way. Mrs. Burge bit her tongue and bought the curtains.

      She looked at her daughter. "You're just too impatient, honey. You get this way about ever man you meet. It's all gone pass. Everthing has its season."

      Dimple scowled at her mother. She was in no mood to be encouraged.

      Her mother wouldn't give up. She picked up the empty chicken carton and sat down on the edge of Dimple's bed. "Dimple, Judy Moon said the cutest thing about time at the end of her extended weekend forecast the other day. She said, 'The reason why God invented time was to keep everything from happening at once'."

      This was about the fiftieth time her mother had recited this stupid quote to Dimple.

      "God didn't invent time, Momma," Dimple said tersely, able to suffer the infallibility of neither God nor Judy Moon any longer. "The Babylonians did. I think it was on a Tuesday afternoon in 3001 BC. Around two in the afternoon. Or thereabouts. It's hard to be sure. They were still getting the hang of it."

      Her mother flashed angry. "Couldn't have! Nobody Babylonian never did nothing worthwhile."

      "And why is that, Momma?" Dimple asked, ready for a fight she could win by lying. "Why is it that one of the greatest civilizations in history, lasting thousands of years, never managed to do nothing good enough to suit you?"

      Mrs. Burge shot to her feet, the chicken carton tumbling to the floor. She was all red-faced now. "'Babylon'," she began quoting from the Bible, "'mother of whores!' so sayeth the Lord!"

      Dimple dropped her smugness. She had always suspected that her mother relished being able to say dirty words, as long as they were nestled neatly in a Bible verse, but the way her mother had come down so hard on the word "whores," made her think there might be something personal implied. Did her mother know?

      "Who said a whore can't be worthwhile?" she blurted defensively and then went red-faced, surprised at herself for coming out so strongly on the side of whores, even Babylonian ones.

      Her mother was even more surprised. Mrs. Burge just stared at her daughter open mouthed, her encyclopedic knowledge of Biblically sanctioned curse words having temporarily failed her.

      "If you ain't going to help me, then I'll just do it myself." She stormed out the door, the word "whores" still hanging heavy in the air like a storm cloud.

      The wind had picked up considerably, and now began to howl. The broad, leathery leaves of the fig tree scratched against her window screen, like a pet pleading to get in from the weather. But Dimple had no pet to love, neither cat nor dog. All she had was a man in the pen.

      She might have just as well told her mother the truth then and there, since they were already talking about whores. "Your daughter is as bad as any Babylon whore whoever was," she should have said. "Hauling her trade down to the prison farm on Sunday while her poor mother was in church pleading for her daughter's soul."

      Dimple finished off the chicken leg.

      Maybe God did invent time, she thought. If He did, Dimple figured that's where He made his first mistake. Time screwed everything up. Time was what got Adam and Eve thrown out of the Garden. God showed them that apple tree, made their mouths water and then told them not to eat it. Then what he He do? He went off and left them alone. With Time on their hands and apples on their minds.

      It was Time that did them in. Not the snake. Time had made the wanting so bad it hurt. So bad they could taste it. It made them break their promises. God didn't need a snake or even a devil. He put Time smack dab between Now and Later. That's what got them thrown out of their garden. Time could sure enough make anybody go bad. Like her Daddy, when he left the house one fine spring morning calling back to his Bible quoting wife, "We'll talk about it when I get home, Ethel. I got to get to work."

      Mrs. Burge dragged Dimple out of the house by one hand, gripping the King James in the other, and marched across the yard toward his truck.

      "What you got to do, George, is to stop your drinking," she had called after him. "Drinking is wicked and it makes you do wicked."

      "Don't be too hard on drinking, Ethel," he called back in a growly whisper. "Being drunk is the only thing that keeps me here as it is."

      " 'For if God spared not the angels that sinned', " she screamed running after him, waving her Bible over her head like a hatchet, " 'but cast them down to hell!' "

      Dimple still remembered how vicious the word "hell" had sounded, flaring hot out of her mother's mouth.

      "Stop preachin at me, woman!" her father had shouted from the window of his shabby red pickup. "Nothing's broke that can't be fixed." Noticing that the neighbors were up and about, busy loading sacks of feed on a flatbed truck for their chickens, he said in a lowered voice, "We'll see to it later. Just shut up about it, ok?"

      "You wrong, George," she said, standing at his truck now, her voice icy cold. "Some broke things can't never be fixed. Can't never be put back the way they was." Her mother squeezed Dimple's hand so hard it brought tears to her eyes.

      Her father looked down at his eight-year old daughter, and gave her a pained smile, like he was about to say something, but instead he yanked the bill of his Pioneer Seed Corn cap down over his eyes and began backing out of the driveway. She tried desperately to break loose from her mother's grip, wanting to run after her father and give his neck a hug, but her mother's hold was too tight. It was the last she saw of him. Maybe, in time, he could have changed. But her mother had fixed that. He sped off, throwing a trail of gravel dust between Now and Later.

      She popped a section of Almond Joy in her mouth and then patted around on the bed to recover a packet of Nabs Cheese Crackers that had gotten loose from her earlier.

      A boom of thunder rattled the house and she heard fat drops of rain begin to pelt the tin roof over the carport. Damn! she thought. Chalk up another one for Judy Moon. Judy Moon would be the kind of girl Bobby Ray would want when he got out of prison. Dimple knew all about what men wanted.

      Sex was the first corner of her life she swept clean of Laters, starting with a high school senior who had wiry red hair and a face that hinted at good looks. She was fourteen and some said pretty, with Now blinding her eyes. After the first time, she kept doing it with anybody who asked, without even thinking. All they had to say was, "Now."

      Then she met Bobby Ray Sumrall and fell in love. She knew it had to be the real thing because love with Bobby Ray felt a lot like panic. Of course Bobby Ray's philosophy ran more on criminal side of the tracks than Dimple's. Where hers was "Now or Never," Bobby Ray's was, "Hand it over, goddamnit."

      Dimple was smitten. She would have done anything in the world for Bobby Ray as long as it was Now; but when Bobby Ray got sent away, everything for Dimple became Later. She just couldn't handle it. Eating became the new Now in her life.

      That was two years ago and Bobby Ray was coming up for parole in less than two days. In just the last month alone, Dimple's "Now or Never" menu must have netted her another ten pounds, making the overall gain 30 since he began serving his sentence. She had gone from Big Women's to...who knows what you graduated to next. Ringling Brothers? She was too afraid to put on anything close-fitting for fear it would just confirm the extent of her gain.

      The last couple of weeks had been the worst. As the date of his hearing neared, the waiting had become so unbearable, her panicked hunger for him so great, she had gone to the Piggly Wiggly and plucked the rows like a cotton picker. Then she shut herself up in her room, surrounded her bed with the six sacks of non-perishable groceries. No item was more than an arm's reach from the edge of the mattress, and she refused to get up except to shuck a grease-stained gown and put on a clean one, or to drag her feet down the hall to the bathroom.

      Once in a while she was able to talk her mother into running to town to the Chicken Shack or Perry's Catfish House or the doughnut shop for sudden and very specific cravings that struck without warning. At first her mother refused, but Dimple acted so distraught, Mrs. Burge would finally throw her hands up and head to town in the Plymouth Fury. Dimple just couldn't stop herself. She felt Bobby Ray getting closer and closer with each hushpuppy and catfish fillet.

      Mrs. Burge sped into Dimple's room again, going about fifty. Dimple could tell her mother was not about to leave her alone today. Impending weather always excited her mother, and today she was like a demon on wheels. Without even looking at her daughter, Mrs. Burge commenced to picking up candy wrappers, shunting clothes across the floor into a pile with her foot, and scolding Dimple all at the same time.

      "I think you tried to get me off track a while ago, Dimple, talking about Babylonians and everything. All I was trying to say is how long you gone keep this up? Laying up in bed. Wasting a junior college degree?"

      "Not long," Dimple mumbled, her mouth once more full of bakery goods, her hand still patting around the bed for the lost Nabs. "Soon as Bobby Ray sees how big I got and throws up, I reckon that'll be it for me. I'll jump to my death."

      Lost in Dimple's covers somewhere, was a magazine story about a woman in New York City who lived in one of those high-rise buildings where they kept their old people. For weeks, they say, she had been seen on the top floor standing beside the garbage chute, staring off into space, smoking cigarette after cigarette, neatly flicking the ashes into the palm of her hand. When asked what she was doing, she never gave but a one word reply. "Thinking," was what she said.

      Then one day they found her dismembered body down in the basement, all her pieces in the garbage bin that collected whatever refuge came hurtling down the chute. The woman obviously didn't want anybody to go to the trouble of having to clean up after her. In the last moment of her life, just before her diving fifty stories down a sharp-edged, metal-lined passageway to death, she was mindful of littering. Dimple had cried when she read the story.

      Her mother wanted "tidy?" Well she would give her "tidy."

      "Off what?" her mother asked, on her knees now, raking broken potato chips out from under the bed.

      "Hmm?" Dimple asked, emerging from her suicide reverie.

      "I said jump off what?" If nothing else, Mrs. Burge was a practical woman, always seeing the pitfalls in a person's dreams. She rose up from the floor, her fist full of crumbs. "This is the Delta, Dimple. You can't sprain an ankle jumping off anything around here."

      "Well, a cotton gin then. I'll jump into the compress and let them bale me up and ship me by rail to Memphis." Dimple was sure that would make every bit as good a story as the considerate woman in New York.

      "The nearest gin is all the way up at Sardis," Mrs. Burge offered.

      Dimple scowled at her mother. "Thanks for the directions. You think you might even ride me up the road when the time comes?"

      Her mother didn't get the irony. She never did. That was the trouble with fundamentalists. Good irony was wasted on them.

      "Momma, I'm talking about killing myself. And you telling me the shortest route."

      "Mouse mittens! You're gonna do no such thing. Not over white trash. If you're bound and determined to kill yourself, please find a better excuse than him to put in any suicide note that goes public. I refuse to have even the coroner know that the loss of my only daughter was on account of an unsaved heathern like him."

      "Bobby Ray, Momma."

      "Ever since he got caught stealing cars, you been moaning and groaning around this house like a movie star with a migraine. Plain silly. Simple people like us don't get migraines. We get headaches. We take a Stanback Powder. Then we get on with it."

      "Momma, Bobby Ray might be getting out in two days! I'm in love and he ain't gone want me anymore. Not the way I look now." Dimple kicked at the covers despairingly, sending a little shower of crumbs to the floor.

      "See it from the bright side Dimple. He probably won't even get paroled. Give you time to come to your senses."


      "Now, listen to me on this. I'm not a psycho-ologist and I don't have no two year degree like my genius daughter, but maybe, just maybe you've got a little heavy 'cause down deep you don't really want him. You ever think of that? Maybe your stomach is trying to save you from your...your... nature. You know what I mean. Anyway," she said, her voice softening a bit, "fat is a lot easier to take off than a wedding ring." Mrs. Burge held up her hand, offering her own still-banded finger as proof. "Think about it, Dimple."

      "But Momma, that's just it. All I can think about is Bobby Ray. My fondest dream is for the day we can be together."

      "Yeah, and for the day Chicken Shack delivers." Mrs. Burge waved her off. "They go hand in hand, Dimple. I promise, lose him, and you'll lose the pounds."

      Mrs. Burge, sensing she had laid the perfect foundation, pulled out a clipping from her apron pocket. "Now look here, Dimple. I cut this out for you from the Guideposts Magazine. It's a diet personally endorsed by Anita Bryant. It's called 'The Orange Juice Flush for Hefty Christians'. And with Anita backing it, you got to know it's scripturally sound. All you do is drink... "

      "How can it be scripturally sound," Dimple interrupted, "when they didn't even have oranges in them days?" Dimple was treading on thin ice now. She was pretty sure she could bluff her mother about the Babylonians, but fruit of the Holy Land was something else entirely.

      "You and that smart mouth of yours. Who are you to argue? If Anita Bryant herself says they had oranges, then that's good enough for me. Two years at Hopalachie County Junior College and you already an expert on time and oranges and Babylonian whores and who knows what all. Education can be a dangerous thing, Dimple."

      For a moment, Mrs. Burge looked down hard at her daughter, but said nothing. Dimple could tell she was thinking through verses. The rain was now pounding the roof like gravel. On her bare arms, Dimple could feel a cool, spray of water off the window screen.

      Finally her mother quoted, "The gate that leads to damnation is wide!" A clap of thunder shook the window pains.

      But Dimple wasn't impressed. "Momma, if you want to say damn at me, just say it like a normal person."

      "I don't know what you are talking about."

      Dimple shouted at the top of her lungs, "Damn you!!"

      Her mother's eyes popped wide.

      Then Dimple smiled. "See? It feels good. Now you try it."

      "Is that what they taught you in that college? Is that what I get for my money's worth? To be cursed at in my own home?"

      "Please leave me alone, Momma," Dimple said, wanting no part of this conversation anymore.

      "Well, you at least could say 'please'."

      "I did, Momma."

      "I guess that smarty-mouthed tone must of drowned it out."

      Still Mrs. Burge disregarded her invitation to leave and commenced to clear a corner of Dimple's bed of candy wrappers. Then she made a great to-do of laying out the clipping in the center of the uncluttered spot, patting it twice. After stuffing the wrappers into her apron pocket, she headed for the hill of clothes she had piled in the middle of the floor.

      The thunder boomed again. The lights dimmed and then brightened. Mrs. Burge turned once more to Dimple. "Now tell me the truth, Dimple. It can't really be him you upset over, can it? I noticed you ain't been to see that boy for over a month."

      "Momma," she said, her tone exasperated. "I don't want to talk about that."

      Finally giving up, Mrs. Burge hefted the dirty laundry and left without further comment.

      Dimple had good reasons for not wanting to talk to her mother about her visits to Parchman Prison. For one thing, unbeknownst to her mother, when she went to see Bobby Ray it was for conjugal visits. Married couples got a little house on the prison farm to spend their Sundays in. It had a bed and a table and two chairs. They got to eat a meal like a real family and sit together with no bars between them. It took some doing to get the papers forged, but she had been passing herself off as Mrs. Bobby Ray Sumrall for a few months now.

      The second thing Dimple would never tell her mother was how badly she was treated by the man she professed to love so much. The last time she was there, after they had finished with the conjugal part of the visit and were lying in the bed side by side, Bobby Ray sat up and out of the blue announced he had a plan for a breakout and needed her help.

      Automatically she said, "Anything, Bobby Ray," and she meant it, as long as it was now and not later and she didn't have to think about it. "How we gone do it?" she asked.

      "Well," he said, reaching over for one of the new folds of skin around her belly and pinching so tight it bruised, "I'll just crawl up and hide in this here wrinkle. Take in air through a straw until you get me past the gate." Then he snickered, in a disgusted kind of way. She had cried all the way back to Marks.

      And now it was too late to drop an ounce. She hated to admit it, but she almost agreed with her mother and wished they would keep him a little longer. At least till she could once again fit into a dress size they measured in numbers instead of cute epithets that tiptoed around the word fat.

      Dimple pinched the skin around her waist, even harder than Bobby Ray had, so hard it brought tears to her eyes. She reached down for the clipping her mother had left behind, but a violent gust of wet wind picked up the paper and carried it across the room. Not even Anita Bryant could save her now.

      No, Dimple would just have to face the truth. Soon Bobby Ray would not only be free to walk, he would be free to walk away from her. Especially since he was even more handsome now than when he went in. Once short and skinny and pimply, he now bulged with muscles from the field work and his skin had cleared up and was as tan as a movie star's. Even though he was still short, those rugged looks, along with the glamour of being an ex-con, would get him any girl he wanted. One who was pretty and slim like Judy Moon. Somebody he could reach behind and have enough arm left over to get at her unzipped without having to pivot her around like a refrigerator.

      "A dolly." That's what he had said she should bring with her next time she came. After he had pinched her and she had suggested that he might not be acting as romantic to her as he once had, he said, "If you expecting me to sweep you off your feet, Dimple, you best bring a two-wheeled dolly next time."

      He had no call to say that. Reaching up under her left thigh, Dimple found the missing Nabs. The crackers were smushed, but edible. Then she picked up the little tub of mashed potatoes and gravy that came with the chicken. The thunder cracked again. Louder this time. The poodle curtains were twisting into knots from the wind and her side of the mattress was getting soaked from the rain. She scooted across the bed away from the window. The prospect of serious weather made her even hungrier. And more decisive.

      "Nabs first. Potatoes second," she resolved.

      That's when she had her best idea yet. She would convince Bobby Ray she had been gaining weight out of devotion. That all these pounds of flesh were a kind of love offering. When you thought about it, it was symbolic, in a touching kind of way. She wasn't any "psycho-ologist" either, but maybe this was her way of being in prison, too, of sharing Bobby Ray's pain. Because her true love had to be confined behind bars, she had built her own penitentiary. It was poetic, if you thought about it.

      But what was poetry, if not another kind of waiting? And Bobby Ray would surely have no patience for that. The hard, unpoetic truth of the matter was he was getting out and she was still locked up in a 200-pound cage with no chance of parole. Talk about irony.

      Her only chance was to get him to look deep into her eyes, and pray that he would see the same plump-but-pretty girl he had fallen in love with.

      Dimple brushed the cracker crumbs off her chest and heaved herself off the bed for the first time since early morning. She shambled over to the dresser mirror and took a long hard look into her eyes, wondering what Bobby Ray would see there.

      "Oh my, God," she said aloud, "Even my eyelids got fat." The light flickered again and the radio sputtered. The electricity was out. And right in the middle of Perry Como singing "High Hopes."

      Dimple was standing in the dark before the mirror when she heard her mother come screaming down the hallway, "Dimple! Dimple! Judy Moon broke in on Edge of Night." She flung back the door. Her eyes were panicked. "She said a tornader's been spotted over in Falcon and it's headin this way!"

      Her mother rushed over to the window, fought her way through the poodles and slammed it shut. "No, that ain't it!" Then she raised it back up again.

      "Oh, Dimple! I always forget. Is it up or down in a tornader. I get it mixed up with the other thing."


      "Dimple, don't stand there in your bare feet educatin me. Just tell me, up or down?'

      "Up, Momma. And then we the ones that get down," she said condescendingly. "Didn't Judy tell you that?"

      "I swan. Smart-mouthed even in disaster."

      Dimple looked past her mother's frightened grimace and out the window. Sure enough the sky had turned a strange Coke-bottle green. She joined her mother where she stood and they both studied the landscape.

      The wind died down to nothing, and the trees in the yard became perfectly still—too still, like they were trying to go unnoticed by what they knew was coming. Then they saw it. Out on the flat horizon beyond where the chicken houses sat, a giant black funnel of coiled clouds, beautiful yet malevolent.

      They fled from the window and took off down the hall for the bathroom. Once inside, Mrs. Burge locked the door.

      "Why'd you do that, Mamma?"

      "Cause we in the bathroom!" Mrs. Burge shouted. She let out a sigh of exasperation. "Dimple, just shut up, will you? Let's just get on our knees and pray. You still got time to get humble."

      "Well, at least let's get on our knees in the bathtub. It's probably the safest place."

      "Dimple, we can't both fit in there. We ain't been in that tub together since you was a baby girl and I could lift you up over the side."

      Dimple looked at the woman standing before her. She appeared tiny and frail, and Dimple knew her mother would never be able to lift her again. Then she looked down into the tub, shaking her head sorrowfully. It was barely big enough for Dimple anymore, much less for the both of them.

      Dimple couldn't say why, but she was bound and determined that they were going to do it. They squished up tight, leaned back on their haunches, and pressed their knees into one another's, but they eventually managed. In this position, they had no choice but to look at each other, eye to eye.

      "Momma..." Dimple said. Then she thought she heard what sounded like a 1,000-car freight train coming bearing down on them.

      Her mother raised her brows expectantly.

      "Momma..." she said again, but the freight train had busted through a wall. A picture frame crashed to the floor somewhere in the house. A window pain shattered.

      "Hold my hand, Momma," Dimple screamed.

      "Don't be scared, honey," Mrs. Burge shouted over the racket, grasping both hands. "I got you."

      Something threw itself against the door and broke into a thousand pieces. Dimple shook her head frantically, as if denying entry to the storm, while pots and pans pounded the kitchen linoleum. A terra cotta pot of geraniums crashed through the bathroom window and exploded red and black on the pink tile floor. Tears began to fall down her cheeks.

      Her mother held her hand tight, as tight as she had the day her daddy drove off. "I'm here, baby!" she yelled.

      "Oh, Momma," Dimple cried, and then she let loose, wailing at the top of her lungs. "Don't let it come in, Momma!"

      Chairs overturning and the crashing of glass. She heard screams from the other side of the door, from a long, long way off, but getting closer.

      "Momma!" she tried to say, the word gurgling in her throat.

      It was her father's ugly taunts. She felt her own stomach lurch, and closed her eyes. She saw her mother as she scoops her up into her arms, urgently, but her words soothing, pressing Dimple's face against her neck. Beneath her mother's sweet powder, the metallic smell of fear. Her mother acting like nothing was wrong. Frantic laughter thrown like a thread-bare quilt over pure terror. Finally, the comforting click of the door locking behind them. The water running hot and loud. Fog filling the room and blurring their vision so that they could see nothing but each other. Her mother raised a box of Ivory Soap over their heads, spilling the flakes through the clouds of fog, letting them fall like snow, pretty enough to eat.

      Dimple couldn't stop sobbing long enough to get a word out or a breath in. Her mouth opened and closed, open and closed, pleading without sound.

      "Want me to pray for you, baby?" her mother called out over the roar.

      Dimple flailed her head up and down, feeling like a little girl again, "Yes," she managed to gasp. "Momma, pray for me."

      The roof tore off with a mighty groan and then disappeared into the gray-black maw, but still they closed their eyes and bowed their heads like they knew to do. Mrs. Burge spoke, her meek voice somehow lifting above the din of the raging storm. "Sweet Jesus, our Lord Savior, please protect me and my little girl in this here tub."

      In the instant that it took to say the simple prayer, the tornado withdrew and the storm subsided and the only thing it left behind was the ringing in their ears. But Dimple couldn't stop crying. Her mother held on, squeezing Dimple's fingers tight, for all she was worth. "I got you, baby," she said. "I ain't gonna let go of you."

      Dimple opened her eyes, and through her tears, the first thing she saw was her mother's face lit up by the afternoon sun shining through the uncovered house, smiling at her. Then she noticed a second thing. Between her and her mother the air seemed to be filled with lovely snowflakes, drifting downward, slowly covering them both. Her mother's hair was almost white with the snow.

      "Momma!" Dimple said not believing her eyes. "What was it you prayed for?"

      Her mother ran a hand over her hair. "What the..." She held a piece of the fluff before her face.

      It hit them at the same time, and they began to laugh. The laughed so hard Dimple's sides ached, pressed up against the ceramic like they were. The tornado must have taken a turn directly through the chicken houses. Lodged there in the tub, mother and daughter shrieked wildly, tears rolling down their faces, as the sky dropped a snowfall of feathers onto their roofless heads.