According to my earliest recollection, the first time I fully realized the true nature of my peculiar approach to life began at a time when life was the last thing on anyone's mind. My mama's thirty-six-year-old half brother, Gaylord Thomas Beane, known to the entire county as Sprout (apparently for his lack of stature as much as for his green thumb) had succumbed to God's final calling on a Wednesday, just after prayer meeting, and a pitiful five minutes short of laying on of hands.

Seeing that laying on would do little to bring the natural blush back to Sprout's tobacco-swollen cheeks, Pastor Edwin called the ladies of Circle Seven together and asked that they escort Mama home, both to comfort their bereaved sister in the Lord and to start cooking for the wake.

Thursday morning found our small, four room house alive with blue hairs and heavily shellacked beehive upsweeps, all clad in the uniform of the day, checkered aprons trimmed in various shades of ric-rac. As God commanded, Circle Seven had returned in full force to supervise the preparation of enough food to satisfy an army of mourners. As three dozen hands peeled, poked, and prayed, Edna Mae Wolcott practiced her magical, Parisian-inspired make-up effects on Uncle Gaylord's remains.

At six years old and counting, hardly anyone noticed me as I squirreled my way through whatever presented itself, heading for the solitude of our backyard and the dense line of pines that bordered our farm. I had never seen a corpse before, let alone a wake, but the clatter of pans and the rustle of support hose upon varicose veins all about my low-eyed spareness prompted me to fields of broader and less crowded comforts.

The warm summer rains that had fallen upon Clay County all the week before still drifted lazily in the furrows of the tobacco field that stretched south of our home, and I removed my only pair of shoes. The prized leatherette ankle straps showed only faint wear, due primarily to the careful preservation of my older sister and former owner of the shiny black shoes. Free from their imprisonment, my toes squished happily in the cool, red mud. Above me, a rain crow, no doubt a warning of future deluges to come, circled as it searched for seeds or perhaps a few grubs to feed the gaping mouths that beckoned a few yards away.

Munching on one of the three oatmeal cookies I had deftly liberated from their cooling spot on the back porch, I settled onto my earthen perch, fully equipped with a half-dried crawdaddy hole, and I surveyed my world.

"Quite a place, ain't it?" I asked the pale man who had appeared at my elbow.

"The house?" he asked, his mouth unmoving.

Shaking my head hard enough to dislodge several jet-black bobby pins, I dug my feet in to keep from sliding in the mud.

"Gosh! A sight not!" I giggled back, noticing the crawdaddy had joined our services. "The world, Uncle Gaylord. Jes' look at the world! All out there lookin' fer sumthin' to see, an' what they's missin' is right here, all the time! Onlies, they cain't see it, cuz they's not lookin' at it."

"That's a right smart sayin'," the ghost agreed, trying to lift one of my cookies, with little success.
"You cain't blame 'em," I laughed, brushing cookie crumbs off my pinafore. "Folks do what life brings fer the day, don't they, Uncle Gaylord?"

"Yep. Some days brings plowin', some days dyin'."

"Air you comin' back ever, Uncle Gaylord? Like Franny Wilkins did last year? She'd turned mighty cranky after buryin'. You gonna do that?" I asked, kicking at the crawdad.

Giving up on the cookie, Gaylord shrugged his whispy shoulders. "I reckon not," he sighed. "Well, Junebug, I gots to go. You pray fer me, now."

Watching him walk, I had a thought and jumped to ask one last question of my dearly departing uncle. "Gaylord, how comes you always calls me Junebug, when my name's Annie?"

Watching the crow flap languidly into the top boughs of a patriarch of pines, Gaylord scratched his disappearing head thoughtfully.

"Ain't I niver told ya'?"

"Not as I recall," I replied, swatting a greenbottle. "Hows come?"

Most of Gaylord had disappeared, but his unmoving mouth remained, and I could just make out his answer.

"Ain't you niver tied a string 'round a junebug's legs, girl? Jes' to listen to it howl as you flew it 'round the yard?"

I nodded, squinting to make out his fading eyes.

"Well, you're like a little junebug, Annie. This world's got you on a string, and the onliest way you kin fly free is iffin' you do like the junebug does."

"What, Uncle Gaylord?" I begged, but the iridescent trail his exit had left gave no reply. Sullen, I turned back to the crawdaddy hole, slumping mournfully against the muddy slope.

I had helped capture dozens of the large, buzzing bugs during the vacuumous days of summer, tying their small legs with fine cotton thread and circling them until they escaped, or died. Shaking my head, I gazed at the tiny cabin my grandfather had built, at the blue-haired women who crawled all around it like blind bees, and I knew the answer.

I could either fly on their string, jes' like my maw, or I could escape.

Course that would mean ripping my leg off.

No longer hungry, I tossed the last cookie into the ditch, scattering hundreds of newborn tadpoles in the bargain.

Damn, I thought, immediately saying a quick prayer to counteract the forbidden word. Just when I finally got a decent pair o' shoes.

The End