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Stick Figures

Stick Figures

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Stick Figures

287 pagine
4 ore
Dec 9, 2016


You've seen them. Stick Figures. Walking through life but...differently. Mattie deals with them every day. A young girl, confused. She can't understand why her life is different from the other children she meets. Loving fathers and mothers are curiosities. Why were hers so different?

Who am I? she thinks. Not lovable. Not pretty. She must be the reason for her mother’s 'purple' times, she is certain.

The complications of life unfold for Mattie when she meets others in her neighborhood and learns from them that life is more than Stick Figures.

Depression, suicide and family dysfunction are not new to society. They were hush-hush, whisper, gossip topics. But they were real. Especially for a little girl that had to learn about life watching other people’s families.

Dec 9, 2016

Informazioni sull'autore

Carol Kehlmeier is an extremely talented creator of characters. Whether set in the 1950's or today her characters move you, resonate with you and sometimes exasperate you. Regardless, they always ring true and never contrived. A former newspaperwoman and columnist her freelance work, both fiction and non fiction, has appeared in magazines, web sites, ebooks, newspapers, and anthologies. Her work has also been recognized at writers’ gatherings. She writes from Westerville, Ohio.Strawberry SeasonStick FiguresReal TreasuresI Wanted to Write a SongA Christmas Medley write to Carol Kehlmeier and let her know what you thought about her book. Thank You!

Correlato a Stick Figures

Anteprima del libro

Stick Figures - Carol Kehlmeier



To My Family.

Chapter One

All my life I’ve heard other women tell of their loving relationships with their fathers. I’ve stood by quietly, listening, wondering what was wrong with me that I never enjoyed what I always longed for with Buster.

I’m certain my father wasn’t a bad man. As far back as I could remember he always had many friends stopping by the house. They would gather around the kitchen table, the ceiling swallowing the smoke from their cigarettes and a bitter brown odor filling up the room. Shyly, I would peek around the corner to see them pluck their guitars and fiddles. As empty bottles lined across the table like amber soldiers, the voices of the men filled the house with their boisterous songs.

The next day Mama would clear away the empties, her jaw clamped tight and her back stiff as concrete. She’d discard the overflowing ashes and cigarette butts, then open the windows and doors to allow fresh air to wash away the stench of leftover smoke and the lingering sour smell from the bottles.

But there are other memories. Over these many years, I’ve often thought of the time when Buster showed me how to draw a stick figure. It was my sixth year. We sat in the waiting room while Mama visited the doctor. Buster must have been nervous because he paced the floor, picked up a Life magazine, leafed through it, and then sat down in the straight back chair next to me.

I was anxious. Mama had been sick. She wasn’t getting any better, so Buster drove her to see Dr. James. I knew it was serious because otherwise Mama and I would have taken the trolley.

After sighing, squirming in his chair and wringing his hands, he took a pencil from his shirt pocket and rolled it back and forth, the ring on his finger making clicking sounds as the pencil passed over it.

You got any paper? he asked.

Any other father would have known his six-year-old always carried a small notebook. I had carried it ever since I started first grade. Miss King had suggested to her students that carrying a notebook was a good idea, because when they were riding in a car or waiting for a trolley on the corner or sitting in a waiting room, they could practice their letters. If I’d been with Mama, I would have been drawing my letters. I had trouble with Cs and Gs. I had to concentrate hard because I always drew them facing the wrong way. But when I was with Buster, I never felt comfortable with reading or writing. Whenever I made a mistake, he laughed. It wasn’t a chuckle of fun, but a sound of mockery. So I was always on guard when I was with Buster.

I opened the small black patent leather purse Aunt Gretchen had sent me for Easter and took out the little notebook. He took it from my chubby fingers and flipped to a blank page. He didn’t stop to see how I was doing with my letters, like I thought other fathers would do. I took a long deep breath and looked up at the cream colored ceiling and stared at the blistering paint peeling away in the corners. I swallowed hard, waiting for expected criticism.

I’m sure there were many things in my past I’d forgotten. But there in the waiting room next to Buster, I looked down at the tiny pink scar on my wrist and recalled how as a small child I tried climbing up on his lap. He’d been at the kitchen table, a cigarette in one hand and a brown bottle in the other hand.

Daddy, I called.

My name’s Buster, he’d slurred, pushing me away. I’d fallen back and felt the hot sting of the tip of his cigarette against my wrist. When I cried out in pain, Mama appeared.

What have you done? she shouted at Buster. I pointed to the tiny burn. You’ve hurt her. She took me up and stamped from the room. Buster is bad. Stay away from him.

See? Buster said, interrupting my thoughts. He drew a straight up and down line. This is the body. He drew a circle on top of the line. And here’s the head. These are the arms, he said, swooping the pencil. And legs, he said, adding marks downward. His hands were trembling.

My palms were wet and there was a fluttering in my stomach. Was Mama going to die? If she did, what would happen to me? Buster couldn’t take care of me. He didn’t know my needs or my likes and dislikes. He didn’t even know my favorite food.

Then, he continued. You add clothes to the figure to make it a man or woman. He proceeded to fill in a triangle facing the bottom of the figure like a skirt. He drew long sleeves over the arms, then scribbled hair and put a bow on top. A little girl about your age, maybe six, he said. Just like you. His voice cracked.

I looked at the crude drawing and wanted to laugh. The sketch looked nothing like me or any other child I knew. I held back my laughter. I didn’t want to hurt him. I sensed he was already hurting. I smiled and nodded. At that moment, I felt like he might take me in his arms and hug me. I could feel his unusual need to touch someone, to feel another human heartbeat. But he turned to look down at the worn carpet.

The door to the doctor’s examining room opened. Buster jumped to his feet, towering nearly to the ceiling.


Nothing serious, Mr. Benton, Dr. James said. He looked down at me and smiled. Your mother will be fine, Mattie. No need to worry. He took several steps over to me and rubbed his thick soft hand across my stringy red hair. You get prettier every time I see you, Mattie. And to think I brought you into this world. He smiled, then turned to Buster. They walked to the other side of the room, talking in whispers.

I looked down at the notebook that Buster had dropped to the table. Taking it up in my hands, I ran my fingertips across the stick figure, trying to absorb any love he may have leaked out onto the paper. I took up the pencil from the table and tried to copy what he had drawn. I remember concentrating really hard, my tongue curled up around the corner of my lip.

What are you drawing? Mama asked. I looked up. My mother’s dark hair was pinned up away from her face with bobby pins. She was paler than usual and blue half moons were beneath her soft brown eyes. I slid down from the chair. I wanted to run to her and put my arms around her. I wanted her to wrap her arms around me, pull me close, and tell me everything was all right. But I knew that wasn’t her way. She occasionally patted my head or maybe squeezed my shoulder, but hugs and kisses were few and far between. I walked over, looking up at her sad smile. She brushed my hair away from my eyes with her fingertips.

I’m going to cut that hair, she said. Dr. James was next to my mother, handing her a slip of paper. This is his name, he said. If you change your mind, come back and see me. He patted her gently on the back. I observed the gentleman shut the examining room door softly behind him.

Did he really bring me into the world? I asked Mama.

Certainly. Why would he lie about a thing like that? She turned to Buster. Well, what do you want to do? she asked softly.

Whatever, he answered, shrugging his broad shoulders. Mama opened the door that led out to the soft spring sunshine. I followed her, feeling Buster close behind us. I stuffed the notebook into my purse and carried the pencil tightly. I’d return it to Buster.

Chapter Two

Alone in my room, I turned the pages of my notebook to practice my letters, stopping at Buster’s drawing of the rigid stick figure. The cold lead pencil eyes stared up at me. Not wanting to fill my notebook with stick figures, I took a piece of lined paper from my dresser drawer and began to draw. I decided to create a better, more elaborate figure. I drew a smile on the face and made softer curls about the oval-shaped head. I sketched eyes with eyelashes and brows, then held it up to examine it. It was much better than what Buster had created and I smiled proudly to myself. I could hear Mama and Buster talking below in the kitchen. I went to my open door and listened hard, trying to make out their muffled words.

It’s your decision, Buster was saying.

Mama was quiet. She was quiet most of the time. I hadn’t thought anything about the way my parents reacted to one another until I started school and was asked to visit a classmate’s house. There, I was surprised and embarrassed to see a mother and father kiss each other.

Well? What are you going to do? I heard Buster shout. There was a cold silence. The front door slammed, the old Ford rumbled and I knew another discussion between my parents had been cut short by their failure to communicate.

I realize now Mama wasn’t good at communicating. She wasn’t one to mix with neighbors. She stayed pretty much to herself. Mrs. Perry lived down the street from us. She had three kids, the oldest was a boy, Keith, just ten days younger than I was. Joan was a year younger and Susie was four. I had seen Mrs. Perry try to make friends with Mama. She invited her for coffee. Mama always said no. I couldn’t understand why. Mrs. Perry seemed nice enough to me. A couple days after Mama’s visit to the doctor she told me to go to the Perry’s after school. I was scared. This had never happened before.

Why? I asked, afraid something bad was about to happen.

Because I said so, was Mama’s answer. Then she exhaled a long sigh. We have errands to do and may not be back when school’s out. Mrs. Perry said you could play at her house until we come home.

My stomach rumbled nervously, and I was afraid I was going to vomit as I walked home with Keith to his double house at the other end of the block. At one time, before the great flood of 1913, the houses in our neighborhood were occupied by prominent businessmen. After the flood waters rose, destroying some of the homes, the men took their families to higher ground. The bigger homes in the area became rooming houses, many renting rooms to Ohio State University students. The houses that had been damaged were torn down and double houses had been built in their place.

Our block, one of the areas closest to the Scioto River, had all double houses except for the one at the corner where Mrs. Farley lived alone. No one knew much about her. Mama said she was weird. You could see her most of the time working in her garden, mumbling to herself as she went up and down the rows of rose bushes. I had seen her at night from my bedroom window walking up the street. People said her husband had been a professor at Ohio State. He’d had the house built for their retirement, then died of a heart attack before they could enjoy it. She wore long dresses to her ankles and tennis shoes. She was a short woman and in her long skirts walking up and down her garden, her wide straw hat on her tiny head, it looked like her bottom half had been swallowed into the ground.

I felt left out of the neighborhood events because Mama refused to neighbor. When we first moved into the mustard-colored double, ladies came by to introduce their families. Mama would meet them on the porch, never inviting them inside. There, in the sharp cold wind of winter, she half-heartedly accepted their gifts of home-baked cookies and bread. She stood shivering, listening to their attempts to be friendly. They would leave with bewildered expressions on their faces and Mama would go back into the house to dust her dime store knickknacks and water her houseplants.

So when Mama told me to go to the Perry’s, I sensed something was wrong. It was a warm spring day and the Perry kids and I were building a tent over the clothesline in their backyard when I heard Buster’s Ford rattling out in front.

It was only a few seconds when Mrs. Perry called out the back door, Mattie, your folks are here.

Could I stay and play awhile? I called. There was a short pause.

Your father said no. Come ahead. The days following, Mama didn’t do her usual routine. She stayed in bed late. I’d get myself ready for school, finding whatever I could to wear, sometimes wearing what I had worn the day before. I would pour out cornflakes, watching them tumble into the bowl like dry autumn leaves, then carefully add the milk. I was late many mornings and Miss King always asked me what was wrong.

My mother’s sick, I told her.

If things don’t get better, I’ll have to see her, she said in her kind, but firm manner.

At lunchtime, my stomach grumbling, I’d watch the children sit at the long tables gobbling down peanut butter sandwiches and half pint bottles of icy milk. Miss King took pity on me when she noticed I had no lunch and bought me a bottle of milk and a bowl of soup. After that I began making my own peanut butter sandwich and taking it to school.

Every day when I came home Mama was still in her robe huddled on the couch and staring at the ceiling, cold and stiff like the stick figure in my notebook. The windows were closed, even on bright warm days, and the curtains shut tightly to block out the light. The dirty dishes continued to fill up the sink and soiled clothes overflowed the clothes basket. Mama didn’t even bother to dust her knickknacks or water her plants.

Buster never came home for supper and she would open a can of soup for the two of us. As I ate in silence, she ran the spoon around and around her bowl, scooping up the soup, then emptying the spoon back into her bowl.

The blue half moons beneath her eyes grew bigger and turned brown, then black. Mama was naturally a quiet person, but now she became absolutely silent. Late at night I would wake to the sound of Buster stumbling through the darkness and climbing the stairs to bed. As his footsteps sounded past my room, I wondered what I had done to cause the trouble.

Chapter Three

I tried to figure out how long it had been that Mama wasn’t herself. Walking home from school that afternoon I knew I had taken three spelling tests since her illness, so it must have been three weeks. Entering my backyard, I was immediately aware of a change. Fresh laundered clothes flapped from the clothesline.

Entering the kitchen, I could see the sink was empty of dirty dishes and the floor was shining clean. The curtains were open and the windows were pushed up, and fresh air was flowing in, washing the stale rooms clean. The aroma of cinnamon and freshly brewed coffee filled the house. Mama was sitting up on the couch, a cup of coffee in her hand and a half-smile on her pale face.

Is that my Mattie? A loud shout came from the stairway, and Aunt Gretchen whirled into the room. Look at you! she called, wrapping her long arms about me and hugging me close. You’re beautiful! I felt my cheeks flush. Your hair needs a little trim, but I can do that, she said, standing back and looking at me. Sarah, she said, looking at Mama. Have you been ironing this child’s clothes?

Mama sighed. I’ve been sick.

Aunt Gretchen’s here now! Things are going to change. She stamped her foot, opened her arms and pulled me close. It felt good to be in the warm soft embrace. I put my head against her softness and breathed in the scent of her perfume. I wanted to stay in her arms forever.

That night Aunt Gretchen made a luscious dinner of pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy and fresh green beans. The cinnamon aroma turned out to be a fresh-baked apple pie. Mama and Aunt Gretchen did the dishes while I sat at the table practicing my letters and listening to the women. I didn’t always understand what they were discussing.

He doesn’t come home until late? Aunt Gretchen asked. Mama sighed, nodding her head sadly. You shouldn’t have done it. Why didn’t you talk to me? God knows I’ve had enough experience I could have helped you. Mama didn’t answer. For crying out loud, Sarah! You’re just like Mom. No wonder you have a bad time with Buster. He probably gets disgusted just like Pop did. Why don’t you try to communicate? Mama just continued wiping the dishes. You gotta think about Mattie. You just can’t let this get away from you. Ask me. I know.

You don’t have any kids. What do you know? Mama asked in a sarcastic tone.

Aunt Gretchen groaned. Oh, poor, poor Sarah, she said, slowly shaking her head. She emptied the water and turned on the water to rinse the sink. You think... Her words were drowned by the running water.

Aunt Gretchen was Mama’s older sister. She was vivacious, pretty and had two ex-husbands, not to mention I don’t know how many ex-lovers.

I’d love to have children, she said, drying her hands on her apron. Just like Mattie. She turned to run her hand across my head, then kiss my cheek. She’s a treasure. I giggled. Where’s your ironing board? This girl needs something to wear to school tomorrow. Then, I’m trimming her hair to show off her pretty green eyes. Egad! I’m surprised she can find her way to school with that hair covering her eyes. She pushed my hair away from my face.

I’m tired, Mama said, dropping to a chair opposite me, but she seemed better a few minutes ago at the table.

You’re lucky that’s all you are. Aunt Gretchen reached around the corner to the pantry and took out the ironing board and set it up. Dangerous, she said, shaking her head.

Mama stood and took the iron from the cupboard above the sink. I’m weak, she said.

Aunt Gretchen grunted as she plugged in the iron and turned it to high. She went to the pantry and carried out the basket of dampened laundry.

How do you spell Gretchen? I asked.

My pretty aunt smiled, stepping behind my chair and looking down to the letters I was drawing. You need to relax that pencil, she said. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll like it. It’s fun! She reached down and loosened my hold on the pencil. Do you write with your tongue? she asked, pointing at my tongue curled up at the corner of my mouth. G-R-E-T-C-H-E-N, she said slowly.

I drew the letters, making the G facing the way it should. She repeated the letters over and over until I had the name spelled out across the paper.

You did good. She patted my shoulder and then walked to the iron. She wet her fingertips with her tongue, touched the iron, listening to it hiss. Good and hot, she said, taking my favorite plaid dress from the basket.

You really think I did the wrong thing? Mama asked.

Honey, you did the wrong thing a long time ago. I don’t know why you ran off like that and got married without talking to your big sister. I could have told you a thing or two. I would have helped you.

Mama’s face grew red. She took a deep breath, clenched her teeth, and exhaled a long sigh. Biting my lip, I breathed in the clean sunshiny scent as the hot iron glided across my favorite dress.

Chapter Four

Give me a hug, Aunt Gretchen said, pulling me close. "Your mom’s lots better and I have to

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