Whenever the grandchildren are around, the same thing happens. The whole day gets spent cleaning up after them. Rachel loves the offspring of her children but Lord, she does wish they could be a little less rambunctious. She turns off the vacuum, taking a moment to look around the living room, noticing the layer of dust that had built up on the small things. Rochelle has been remiss in her chores. Honestly, you'd think light dusting and loading the dishwasher would be easy enough work for a teenager. The duster is still in the same place in the closet it had been for the past week. Well, no use fretting about it, the dust wouldn't remove itself. First the TV and stereo, and a moment to laugh watching the dogs bite at the dust that takes flight.
"Come on Leo, get these over here" as she starts the cleaning with the pictures on the wall.
Steadying it with her hand, she removes a months worth of grime off the picture of Carolyn. She's certainly glad that she took this picture when Elva passed away, so many of her brothers and sisters are gone now, so many are now just names in a family bible. She sits down, watching the dogs grow tired of the game, and lets her mind wander back, when the redheaded girl was more than a picture inside an old frame.
"...seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Ready or not, here I come."
Rachel was always good at hide-and-seek. The younger brothers and sisters are sure to be found in short order, especially the younger ones that somehow feel that lying flat just under the porch would make them invisible, and the fact that Rachel counted fast and skipped three numbers didn't help them either. Since they didn't catch her, it's fair play. She finds Danny first, then Janet, Myrtle, and Carolyn. One more and then, she could hide.
"Hey Elva, doanlet 'tall an gruesome' find ya under th' warsh tub" yells Mason, walking up the path with Jon, coming back from chores.
A loud bang of metal, and Elva is up and after them.
"You ain't suppose ta tell!"
The older boys laugh and run off, their good deed done for the day. It don't really matter, it isn't Elva's time to seek anyway, and Janet dutifully takes her place at the tree and begins counting. The children should have plenty of time, Janet always counts slow. Rachel hears a cackle of a hen from the yard, turning in time to see Ma twisting the neck of the old bird, the first step in preparing tonight's meal. In the other hand, she holds a basket, a clue that Rachel will be stringing beans later.
"...five, six, seven. eight." Rachel finds a place behind a bush between the house and the shed, and sits down in the dirt, safe in the knowledge that she will be the last to be found.
Rachel almost always has the job of cleaning the table and the dishes. Scraping the food off is no problem, since so little remains after the meal and they have barely enough to feed all. Papa sits at the end of the table, in his "place of honor". He'd long since finished his meal and drank the last of the coffee that formed a ring at the bottom of his cup. Mama didn't eat much tonight. She always does without to make sure that Papa has plenty to eat. She said that she doesn't feel good anyway. The slight bulge in her stomach indicates that she might be pregnant again. The older brothers, Jon, Mason, Eddie, had also long ago crammed their food into their never satisfied stomachs and were off dreaming of new mischief to get into the following day. All of the younger children had finished their plates, and left the table not quite satisfied. Carolyn stayed, still picking at the food on her plate.
"Hurry up girl, I want ta finish up, ain't ya hungry tonight?"
Carolyn crams the last piece of cornbread in her mouth, finishing the last of her potatoes in the process.
"Not really," she replied, "I'm kinda tarred."
She gets up, leaving the plate on the table, and Rachel retrieved her plate, putting the last chicken bone with meat into the dog's dish.
"He'll enjoy that little treat, to be sure," Rachel thought.
She could hear a distant wind, tonight would be a cool one.
Normally, the sound of the wind blowing through the valley and the rain beating on the tin roof above could be soothing, and induce sleep in short order after wrapping up tight in the patchwork quilts, but tonight, Carolyn was ill. She tosses and turns, and blankets aren't necessary when sharing a bed with her, her fever alone is enough to guard against the night chill. Mama is up with her now, trying hard to not show the fear she is feeling while still showing concern that her child is sick. The fever has gone up another degree in the last hour, forcing Mama to constantly replace the cool cloths on her forehead and arms and try to keep the illness at bay. At sunrise, Papa gets the doctor while Mama prepares a poultice and rubs it on her chest and arms, leaving the mixture open to the air. She keeps all of the children away, so Rachel doesn't really know what is the malady. The doctor arrives, and performs the usual checking of Carolyn's heart with the instrument that hangs from his neck like a name plate signifying his office, and demanding homage and respect. After examining Carolyn, he pulls Mama into the back room, where Papa waits and begins talking to them. Rachel sneaks closer to the door, close enough to see the fear in Mama's eyes grow larger. Next came the words that confirms that fear and raises the hackles on Papa's neck.
Carolyn has German measles, she may not have long.
The days to follow seem to slip together, without any real separation from night to day to night again. Outside, the rain falls, as if the heavens were crying with each ounce of strength that ebbed from Carolyn's now frail body. The doctor warned Mama to stay away from her, fearful that the measles would affect the unborn life growing within her. It became the responsibility of Rachel and the rest of the girls to tend to Carolyn's needs, each according to the skills learned by this point in their young lives. The younger boys made light of the whole ordeal, not truly understanding the magnitude of Carolyn's plight, until Papa overheard and gave each of them a sharp thrashing. Carolyn slips in and out of consciousness, each time she awakes she leaves a little more of herself in that dream world she visits. Finally realizing herself that she would soon no longer feel the illness within her, she calls for Mama and tells her that everything will be all right, a statement that brings a strange look of despair and elation to Mama's worn features. By the sixth day, the periods of awareness become shorter until, they no longer appear. She sleeps in fitful periods interspersed with periods of calm bliss. On the seventh day, Papa leaves in the rickety car, leaving the shed door open. When he returned later that day, Rachel sees the shovel that he had removed in secret, covered with a scum of thick wet clay. During the night, the shallow breathing slows more and more until finally, peacefully, as the rain slows to a trickle and stops, Carolyn leaves to join the angels calling for her. No longer feeling the pain, she smiles and slips away.
Papa and some of his kin gather Carolyn's lifeless form, while Mason and Jon help Mama into the car. The prayer at the grave site gives little comfort to the family, as even the youngest siblings understand now the final product of the demon that had attacked their sister. A nameless rock is the only thing that stands guard over her now. Carolyn now joins the row of other nameless rock on the hill in the quiet cemetery.