When I was twelve, Uncle Billy told us to steal a load of corn out of Mr. Aspenwall’s field.

“I’m going to unlock the trunk on your Aunt Jack’s cadillac.   Now here’s what I want you to do. I want you to drive down to the turnaround, park the car, get out, and then pick me some corn out of Aspenwall’s field. Then come on back.  I mean a whole trunk full now, not just a few ears, you hear?”

“What if they catch us?” I asked

“Then they’ll put you in jail and throw away the key, so you’d better move fast”, he said.  He, like all of my family, believed the best way to control children was to keep them scared.

My little sister looked like she was going to cry.

“Julius?”, said my cousin. Julius was the gardener for Uncle Billy and sometimes for Mr. Aspenwall. He was a dark-black, skinny, man and the story was that he’d killed his wife with a butcher knife.  He liked to hide in the corn on hot afternoons and drink paregoric. He didn’t like children “fretting him”.

“Don’t worry about Julius.  You can out run him barefooted”. Uncle Billy wasn’t going to give up, so we got in the car and went after the corn.

We took Aunt Jack’s pink Cadillac.  Aunt Jack was an invalid due to a stroke and stayed in bed mostly.  I’d been driving her car around the grounds for a while because Uncle Billy didn’t like it to sit idle for too long, bad for the motor he said.  I was the oldest at twelve, the only one who could see through the windshield while holding my foot to the gas pedal so I drove.

I rocked down the road by pressing the accelerator down so that the car jumped forward, and then taking my foot off the pedal to let the car glide. I would then step on the brake  before stepping on the accelerator again. My sister looked like she was going to throw up on the white leather seats.  She had car sickness, because she was so sensitive.

“If you are going to throw up.  I am going to make you get out of the car, and walk home”, I said.  She just got whiter, and her eyes looked wider and darker, and she slumped down in the seat.

When we got to the turn around. I stopped and we all jumped out except my sister who was still sitting there all pale and pop-eyed.  We grabbed ear after ear of corn and ran back and forth dropping it into the trunk.  It was hot. There were green worms on lots of the corn usually toward the tapered end of the ear.  I was trying to knock a worm off without touching it with my fingers when I heard a conversation a few rows over.

“No suh I ain’t stole no corn,”

“You are a liar.”

“No I ain’t.  Them children stole that corn and carried it up the road.”

I looked at my cousins both of whom were frozen like deer listening for the approach of a predator.

“Who is the other one?” I said because we knew the first voice was Julius.

The locusts sang loud then soft then silent. Then they repeated.  The voices had stopped.

“I think he’s doing both voices,” my younger cousin pointed to our right as he spoke.

“Yeah, it’s just him,” said the other cousin.

We stood there sweating.  I was wondering how long it would take me to get that car started if I could make it to the car before he grabbed me.  He’d stopped talking and we heard him rustling through the corn plants.  I hoped he was leaving.

Then a the plants swayed, and parted, and he was standing before us holding a little brown bottle of paregoric in one hand and a hoe in the other. I could run maybe, but I knew not to back down from anything like a wild dog and Julius seemed to fit into the same category as a wild dog.

“What you doin’ with that corn.  It ain’t belong to you,” he took a sip of paregoric as he spoke.

“What are you doing”? I heard myself say back to him.  I sounded like my mother.

His eyes were yellow where eyes are usually white, and full of red veins.  His hands and wrists hung down too far from the dusty cuffs of his shirt.  He smelled like sweat and licorice.

“Hoin’ weeds in this here cornfield, Mr. A’s cornfield. You all ain’t posed to be in here, an’ what you doin’ with Miss Jackie’s caddylack?”

“We are gathering some corn, like our Uncle told us to”,  I said.

“You is? Mr. Aspenwall say that Mr. Webb can hep hisself?”

“I don’t know but we are supposed to mind Uncle Billy,  and he told us to get him some corn, didn’t he?” I turned to my cousins who nodded

“Well I reckon I can stop hoin’ for a while and hep ya’ll” he said.

He staggered around and knocked over several corn plants but he did help.

“Y’all got a dollar?” He asked when we had the last of it in the trunk.

“For what? You’re not supposed to drink paregoric.  It is for sick people and veterinary purposes”, I said.

“Ain’t for no paregoric child.  Julius just needs some tuney fish”.

Well that sounded okay so we all checked our pockets and gave him almost fifty cents.

He took it, bowed his head, and thanked us.

When we got home Mr. Aspenwall’s truck was in the driveway.  We parked and got out and went to the back door to rinse off with the hose before we went in.  Mr. Aspenwall and Uncle Billy were drinking beer and smoking cigars on the back porch.  I wanted to walk right up to Mr. Aspenwall and tell him we took the corn and I wanted him to know that Julius didn’t take it but I was afraid.

  • Christine

    What a great Voice this story has! Strip away the details
    and the setting, and you’re left with the voice of a classic Bildungsroman
    protagonist, who is learning about life. The oldest child of a group has
    figured out that fear is the secret weapon adults use to keep kids in line. We
    feel their fear of getting caught, and then we understand that they are not
    alone in their fear of authority—Julius stands with them, although he’s pretty
    scary himself. But the narrator has overcome her fear of him by the end, and I
    want to know more about how that happened, and what will happen next. Next
    chapter, please!

    • Mariaanne

      Thank you so Christine. I wonder if I could use them as the basis for a book. You are such an insightful reader. I wish I could think like you do.

  • oddznns

    What is panegoric Marianne. I loved this story first time I read it. It’s gotten better since you edited it.

    • Mariaanne

      Oddznns. – I thought I replied to this the other day but I don’t think I know how to use this blog thing right. it should say paregoric – Suzie caught that. Do you have a website?

    • I just saw this comment. Paregoric is diluted opium

  • Marianne, this is a lovely tale with well rounded characters and a few at the side that could develop if given more lines. Julius, is perfect, although I have paregoric not
    panegoric as the opium based medicine.

    The moment when a child realises fear is adults’ only weapon is a scary place for all concerned. Read Graham Greene’s “The Destructor’s” or Alan Sillitoe’s “The lonliness of a long distance runner” It is the moment in those 1950’s movies with Brando or Dean.

    • Mariaanne

      Suzie – Thank you so much. It is paregoric. Thanks for catching that. I am so happy some people are reading this. it is bad for children that are “sensitive” and although I put that on my sister we were all just children. They told us there was a bear in the attic to keep us from going up there, and until we were about four or five we believed them. Thanks again Suzie.

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