Deep in the Heart of Me 1


There are enough of us Cullens to fill a whole pew at church. I go in first, then the rest ending with Granma, then Mom and Dad. That's twelve of us.

I want to sit in the back with the grown boys but Dad says I can't before fifteen. So when the long services are finally over we boys congregate behind the building and smoke or have fights, mostly with the Smiths from Dewberry cause they are always up to fight.

Yesterday after service Jim claimed he had a postcard his father carried back from the war. A French woman and she didn't have clothes on.

We all said he was a liar, that he'd not seen such a thing. Jim said he would prove he had it. He'd bring it to school on Monday. For us older boys who'd been working the harvest, Monday was our first day of school. Everyone else had been at it for a month.

Jim would be expelled if such a thing as that picture was found on him. But he was that kind of fool.

So I'd argued with myself about it all night, if I'd take a look or not.

Thing is, if I look, my brothers will too, cause James has a big fat mouth. He'd even take a punch just to be important enough to say, "Tonio looked."

And I don't want them to—look. Especially if I'm not going to. They shouldn't see that—before I do.

And if my sisters get a flash—I'll kill Jim. And I can't say to put it away if I am gawking too, now can I?

Here I am thirteen, almost a man Dad said. He knew a kid in The Great War same as me, doing a man's job. He was a Brit just thirteen. And maybe I'd like to look at that card, just me, so I could know. But I have the gaggle and herd to consider and never a minute private unless I go so far into the woods they can't find me. Dad says, "You are your brothers' keeper, and your sisters' too."

So I'm thinking about all of this as we walk the mile from the farm to school. Ours is the first farm outside of town and our lane is named for us, Cullen Lane cause that's all there is on that lane and any other around—Cullen land.

My brothers walk ahead and that's the herd, and my sisters fall behind and that's the gaggle.

We're nearly to town when Jasper and Emmett break into a run. Jim waits up ahead on the tracks and two or three others are already there and they are hooting and calling out.

"Get back here," I say stern to my brothers and they slow a little, Jasper does at least, and looks back.

"Ain't you coming?" he says.

Emmett barely looks and he's running again.

I turn away. An automobile is coming from behind and it's getting closer. "Get out of the road," I call to my sisters cause they can't talk as much as they do and keep up so I have to look front and back like I'm bringing in cattle.

The girls break apart and walk single file. And that car keeps coming, and I can already see it's a black Ford. There are gangsters here about, well in Indiana and up near Chicago, but I've got my eye out cause you never know.

That Ford passes the girls and they wave and coo even though they hate the dust. I watch it approach me and two are in it. It's not a car I know and I'm looking. The hat is lawman-we got us a new one. The other is a girl. She looks at me and I almost wave like we do around here but my hand stops there and her hand goes up and she gives a little smile.

I look ahead and my brothers are standing in that group around Jim and I hear Emmett above the rest and now they've seen that picture and I'm so mad I could punch somebody.

But my sisters are running toward me carrying on. Oh the new sheriff has a daughter. A new girl at school. You'd think Claudette Colbert just rode by. This is why I call them the gaggle. That's what they are.

Five little sisters in all. Five little canaries. That's what people say when they sing at church. I call them do-re-mi-fa-so-what.

They look sweet on Sundays standing up front near the pulpit wearing matching flour-sack dresses, each dyed a different color. They sound sweet too, like angels, that's if you don't know them.

And then we have Pee-Wee, youngest of all. Born too early is what happened. He is the runt and they called him that though Dad didn't like it and made them say Peter—my brothers, not me. But Pee-Wee is still too young for school. He's barely out of dresses.

So I come on Jim, he can't stand still one foot to another, holding his card against his shirt so I can't see it and all of the looks on their faces.

He has no self-control. Dad says there were men in the army without it too, and they were the first to spread fear. Dad says a man with self-control loves his woman and his family and he works his land. He does not drink much and make a spectacle, he does not owe money he cannot pay. He does not hit a woman, not ever. He does not swear before the gentle sex, he goes to church and holds his tongue and listens and does not share his business. He does not cry or be a coward. He is not given to temper. He keeps his mouth shut and his eyes and ears open and carries on honest and proud.

Dad says the fool has a loud voice and he calls out and tries to lead you astray.

"Tonio, are you looking or not?" Jim says.

Someone makes the sound a hen makes, a broody chicken.

My sisters are catching up from behind. There's only a short walk to school now. They mustn't be late.

"Her name is Sobe," Elsie says to me.

I don't know how she knows that. It's got my interest. More than anything.

"Hurry up," I say to my brothers and they break from that pack of jack-asses and straggle after.

"Ain't you going to look?" Jim calls out. But it's no good. They're in a group now, the gaggle and the herd. I'm eager to look, all right. But it's not what they think.

Her name is Sobe. I've never heard such a name. And unless it is some trick of the sun on the glass in the window of her father's car, I've never seen such a girl.


"Class this is Isa…," Miss Charlotte says.

"Sobe," her dad, Lawman, interrupts.

"Sobe," Miss Charlotte says careful to make the vowels long like we are all deaf.

I picture myself walking up to her and saying something clever like, "What's that other name?" and I get hot in the ears thinking it cause I have baling wire holding the flap of my sole onto the front of my boot. I'd been meaning to fix it but we've been damn busy and there wasn't a reason to care before.

So I have to hear it from my sister on the walk home. "She's Isabella," Elsie says.

She just got to town this morning. She spent the night with her father at Roger's farm over in Dannenburg. Now she's going to live in town in Daniel's old house. That's how they go on—my sisters-and now it's useful.

I felt her in the room today. Miss Charlotte gave her the desk one row over and two up from me. She wore a calico dress with little pink flowers and I think I could smell such a sweetness. Even in our classroom the sun seemed to shine on her dark hair, and she crossed her ankles and she has a form…slim but she's…she's round in the hip. And she moves like she's graceful.

Is she a saint? Pretty as anything I'd ever seen, new calf, fawn wobbling behind its mother, a new colt, puppies, kittens…. I have to laugh at myself.

I was straining to see and hear and trying to look like I wasn't doing either.

I've done my best to ignore her. I sat in back with the grown boys, boys newly come to school with harvest done. I am the tallest, not the biggest, but tall like Dad.

I am strong and not shy as a rule. I don't moon or mope and there's work a-plenty to catch up on.

But I noticed her and my eyes followed her rightly curious and the others made a beeline for her during recess, but not me. I played ball and told the others what to do cause they have no organization and they were passing around that dumb card, the older boys, ones grown like me, then talking to the older girls, the ones that sway back and forth and giggle.

After school her father came and she hurried to meet him and get in the car.

And I walk way out ahead of the herd. I tell them to stay away from me and I don't want to talk and if they try to I'll kick the shit out of either one of them, so they let me get ahead. I want to be by myself. The gaggle is further up. There is work waiting at home. I welcome it cause in my head are so many thoughts to turn over.

I want to think. I want to think about the girl with two names.