A Summer Secret
by Kathleen Fuller
It's not fair. Nothing in my life is fair.
Mary Beth Mullet stared at the words in her journal. She took a deep breath, inhaled the faint scent of pig on her skin, and let out a long sigh. She'd probably have to take two baths tonight. Maybe after that the stench would go away. Mary Beth had never realized how bad the pigs smelled until she had fallen into that gross mud in their pen. She wasn't even supposed to feed them this morning. That was usually her twin brother Johnny's job, but he had been helping hitch up Crackerjack to the buggy. She flipped over a couple of pages until she found a clean sheet of paper and began to draw, an activity that always settled her down. There were still a few parts of the barn that she hadn't sketched in her journal over the past several weeks.
Hearing the tweeting of a swallow, she looked up in the corner of the barn, noticing for the first time the nest tucked in the rafters. Applying pencil to paper, she quickly outlined the corner of the barn before adding the swallow and the nest. Were there eggs in the nest? She didn't know and couldn't find out since the ceiling of the barn was so high. She added three tiny eggs to her drawing anyway, carefully coloring little bitty dots on each one. She had no idea if swallows had speckled eggs, but she liked the extra detail.
When she finished her drawing, she closed her journal, placed it on the matted straw beside her, and stood up. She had started coming here when school let out in April, mostly as an escape from Johnny and her younger brothers, Caleb and Micah. Now it was the second week in June, and she hated to think that this might be the last summer she spent here. After finishing eighth grade next year, she would probably be expected to get a job outside the house. But she didn't want to think about that right now. She was thirteen and still had one more year to enjoy her freedom. She planned to spend as much time here as she possibly could.
But right now she needed to get home before she was missed. As she always did before she left, she picked up her blanket, shook out the strands of straw clinging to it, then neatly folded it. Tucking her journal beneath the blanket, she checked her stash of supplies--several small boxes of juice, a few granola bars, a packet of graham crackers, and one apple in a plastic baggie. Glancing around, she remembered what her father had said about the barn: he had told her not to go near it. "That old thing is on its last legs," her daed had said. If her parents knew she was here, she would be in big trouble.
Still, Mary Beth didn't think it was that bad. Sure, the wood was black with rot, and the entire barn leaned to the left. Huge gaps were in the wall where slats used to be, and the whole place smelled kind of musty, especially on really hot days. But there were enough holes in the walls to let in plenty of light, yet keep her dry when it rained. Anyone could see this barn had character--and it was her place. The one spot where she could be alone to read, to draw, to dream. Here she didn't have to worry about her brothers bugging her or her parents asking her to do something she didn't want to do. She snuck away to her special place whenever she had a chance.
The sunbeams had shifted from the east side of the barn to the west, and she knew her mother would be calling for her to help with supper. After making one last check of her supplies, she started to head for home when she noticed something glinting on the dirt floor. She knelt down and brushed away the dirt. A button. She picked it up. It was small and round, had four holes, and was made of a brass-colored metal.
Mary Beth frowned. The Amish didn't wear buttons. They used straight pins to fasten their clothes. Buttons were considered too fancy. How did this get here?
Mary Beth tucked the button in her fist and left the barn running. she ran across the field of thick grass that reached almost to her waist. The blades tickled her legs and bare feet as she made her way through them. The long strings of her black prayer kapp trailing behind her, she made it home in record time. But as she got close to the door, she saw something move out of the corner of her eye. Turning, she saw a black-and-white dog sitting near the back step, looking at her with big brown eyes.
"Where did you come from?" The dog was cute, but she didn't approach it. Stray dogs could be dangerous, and she had never seen this one before. The animal looked will kept, though. Its fur shone in the early evening sunlight, and it had a stout body, as if it hadn't missed a meal.
The dog didn't move, just wagged its tail and continued to look at her. Mary Beth grinned and then went inside. Soon enough the dog would get bored and move on, probably back to its owner.
"There you are, Mary Beth," Mami said as Mary Beth burst into the kitchen. Her mother shut off the sink and shook the water from her hands. "I was just about to call you. The potatoes need peeling."
"What's for nachtesse?" she asked, walking toward the stove.
Mary Beth made a face. She hated shepherd's pie. Plus, this was the third time in two weeks they'd had it. Why couldn't they have pizza every once in a while? Or McDonald's? But she didn't dare ask her mother for take-out food. More than once she had overheard her parents talking about money, their voices low and hushed. Mary Beth didn't understand, because both her parents worked. Her mother made jackets and coats and sold them to a woman who owned a small shop in Parkman. Just last week, she had started on a quilt she said she hoped would bring a good price. Yet one glance at her mami's worn work dress, with the hole in the frayed bottom hem, told her that money was tight, despite her father and mother working hard every day.
So shepherd's pie it would be, made with potatoes, green beans, and tomato sauce canned from their garden, plus hamburger from the cow they raised last year. Since there were no pockets on her dress, Mary Beth ran upstairs and put the button under her pillow, then dashed down to the basement to get the ingredients for supper.
She emerged a few moments later to chaos.