Gingham

Little girl standing by the railroad tracks
brown pigtails sticking out akimbo from her head
blue gingham dress
checked
with an apron that started life as white
before it went through three cousins
and one older sister.
Little girl standing all alone,
looking down the track and
wondering
When’s Daddy comin’ home?

Little girl sitting on the porch
gingham dress too short and threadbare,
knobby knees poking out
the first beginnings of bumps under her apron
just starting to swell and show.
still enough of a little girl to sit cross-legged on the porch swing
waiting for big sister to come home
off her date with the Swain boy
who drives the fast car and smells like whiskey,
looks at her behind while she walks up the steps
telling little girl to go to bed
“you wouldn’t act like this if Daddy was here.”

Little girl walking across a stage,
flat cap on her head
hot June afternoon in a blue gown
grabs that piece of paper and
Looks
up in the stands
where sits a proud mama
big sister and her baby girl
and that Swain boy
who made a decent husband after all
but still a Daddy-shaped hole
in the air next to Mama.

Little girl sits on a porch
in a black dress
as aunts and uncles
and more cousins than you can shake a stick at
sit in the living room swapping memories and telling lies
knees drawn up cross-legged under her on the porch swing
again
sweet tea glass sweats untouched on the porch rail
with a slice of lemon on the rim
drawing flies
as she looks down the driveway
until at last an old man
looking uncomfortable in a shiny new suit
and never broken in shoes
limps past the rusted mailbox into view.
He stops at the gate,
takes off his hat,
looks at the little girl
and she looks back.
He nods,
she waves a shy little girl wave with half her hand
like she was six instead of twenty-six
and goes back inside the house
leaving the old man
at the end of the driveway
watching the tea glass sweat in the August dusk.

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