Mattie Sue plodded out to the boat. Splash. Splash. Splash. Her galoshes squished on the muddy lake bottom. Just when the lake threatened to overtake her galoshes, flooding her feet and weighing her down, she clambered aboard the little craft. It was a sturdy little boat, not given to capsizing. And she was a slight girl–wispy, folks called her. But she was strong, too. She took the piece of tree branch she’d carried from the shore with her and pushed the boat out off the sandy bottom and into the lake.
She considered starting the motor, but then thought she might draw attention to herself. She wasn’t sure if anyone was awake to hear it or not. Based on the brilliant explosion of stars above, she guessed it was close to 10p.m. She didn’t really need to crank up the motor to get where she was going, though. Better to take it slow and just let the water move her.
All said, it probably took an hour for the boat to meander across the glassy lake. A few times she’d tried to use the tree branch as an oar–but that threatened to send her in endless circles. She’d opted to search out constellations instead. Which is why, when she reached the other side of the lake, she was snoring softly. And why she didn’t realize she’d drifted aground until she heard her own name.
“Mattie Sue?” a timid whisper of a voice called out to her. She shook the sleep off, grabbed her bag from the boat and hopped out. Immediately, her galoshes filled with water.
“Oh, hellfire,” she hissed.
Almost imperceptibly, a giggle came from somewhere along the shore.
“Bizby! Where you at, Bizby?,” Mattie Sue whisper-yelled.
A mess of blond hair popped up over the blackberry bushes. Bizby had obviously been busy with the blackberries; his freckles–which usually stood out like constellations themselves–had all been obscured by sticky, purple juice. “Bizby!” Mattie Sue fussed, “you’re gonna make yourself sick. All them blackberries.” She shook her head. She trudged out of the lake, stopping to empty her galoshes at the shoreline.
When she finally made it over to Bizby, she glared at him and muttered, “I ought to give you a whoopin’ for laughin’ at me.” Then, quickly, before he could get his feelings all hurt, she flashed him a smile and ruffled his hair. She knew she kinda babied him, but she couldn’t help it. Bizby’d had a hold of her heart since he was just a little guy. He still wasn’t all that big, if you really thought about it, his being 5 and all.
“Brought you some supper,” Mattie Sue said, plunking the sack of food down on the ground. Bizby grabbed it, in search of a peanut butter sandwich no doubt. This kid was gonna turn into peanut butter, sure enough, if he didn’t lay off.
He turned to Mattie Sue. “Fank ooo,” he choked out, over the sticky peanut butter and white bread.
“Welcome,” Mattie Sue said solemnly. They liked to try to keep things light, but the reasons Bizby was out here weren’t no joke. Mattie Sue pulled back her blonde hair into a ponytail. “Now you wait til I holler at you to come back, you hear? I don’t want you wandering up while he’s still there.”
Bizby nodded without looking at her.
“Pinky swear me, Bizby. C’mon. I need to know you’re takin’ this serious.”
Bizby stuck out his pinky, and Mattie Sue looped it in hers. “Promise I’ll come fetch you when he leaves tomorrow. This one’s a long haul–probly 2 weeks on the road at least. Reckon that’ll give us enough time to build you a little lean-to out here for the next time he comes through town.”
Bizby wrapped his arms around Mattie Sue and squeezed. She felt tears sting her eyes. She swatted at them with the back of her hand before Bizby could see.
“You sleep good now, hear?” She whisper-yelled over her shoulder, as she pushed the boat out into the lake.
As soon as she’d cleared the sandy bottom, she closed her eyes, bowed her head, and whispered earnestly, “God, if you’d keep Bizby safe, I’d be real, real grateful. And please, God, gimme the strength not to kill that mean ol’ sonofabitch ‘fore he leaves town tomorrow. Amen.”