Born and raised in western North Carolina, Angelyn DeBord is the recipient of an Arts and Activism Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, several Southeast Media Fellowship Scholarships; the winner of the 1992 Poetry Prize with North Carolina's Writer's Workshop in Asheville, and is listed in Who's Who in Women in American Theater. She has performed at such venues as Lincoln Center, Los Angeles Center for the Arts, Cornell University, London International Festival of Theaters, and others.
Molly Muse is sprawled out in the middle of the road, eating dirt. Not dirt like on the sides of the road and down in the swamp. Not dirty dirt like that. Molly is chomping on a mouthful of clean as clean can be white sand. Sand is like sugar, she decides, without the sweet.
Her head is hot. Her black hair stuck wet to the nape of her neck with strands, slick and shiny, plastered across her face. Hair stuck with glue made of sweat and sand.
She lies like a dead girl. The only movement being the slow munch, munch munching of her jaws and the fine sweet dripping of the trickles of sweat.
She lies still and hot. Hot hot hot in the middle of the road. The sandy white road.
Oh, she could have laid somewhere else. Underneath one of the big black walnut trees marching down the sides of the road. There are plenty of cool shadows under their high limbs. Spooky dark shadows that crawl and slither across the road. She really has seen rattlesnakes locked together, having SEX, in those shadows. Locked together, with two rattlers shaking at her! Looking at them, she had felt her vision blur. It had been hard to keep looking at them. “You were witched by them snakes,” is what Granny had told her later on. “Oh, they can do that!”
But Molly Muse feels okay out here in the bright sunlight. Safe enough. No way, no how is she going to get near those shady spots.
“I’m just a pee-in-my-pants baby,” she remembers, digging at a chigger bite behind her knee. “A scaredy-cat-sissy-brat,” is what her sister says.
Molly Muse rolls over on her belly, propping her chin in her hands. She spits out the sand. She spits and spits and spits, watching the slobber-strings changing color like rainbows. She licks her flannel shirt, twice, cleaning off her tongue. Then she crosses her arms and lays her head tiredly on them.
Quiet as can be. Too late for the morning birds. Too early for the frogs squawking. Just a fly buzzing her scabs. She twitches and swats and wallers herself a bed in the hot white sand.
Sunday had been Easter and she’d had the prettiest dress in the world. Her momma had sewed it right up. Then, with the same fabric, her momma had covered a tin coffee can and made her a little purse. It had a string that she could slip her hand through, and the purse dangled from her wrist. Pretty as could be. Momma had put lard on her patent leather shoes. Daddy said over and over that Molly Muse was a sight for sore eyes, no two ways about it! As pretty as a picture!
Oh, but she wished he wouldn’t say that. She wished he wouldn’t go on about her being as cute as a bug. Wished her folks wouldn’t say a word, but, they didn’t know, they didn’t see Big Sister’s mouth tightening and that look in her eyes . . . hard and cold and her tongue had been sharp as an ice pick, pecking away at Molly Muse all day long, and when the aunts and uncles and Mean Cousins had all come over after church, Big Sister had pinched Molly Muse hard and called her ugly and a sissy and prissy, and when everybody gathered for the family photos to be taken they had called and called. Where was Molly Muse? And then Molly Muse shuffled down the stairs. She had taken off that pretty dress and crammed it in the corner, under her chest of drawers. Molly had on her old shorts and a t-shirt. When the grownups saw her, they shook their heads because Molly Muse had also put on Big Brother’s football shoulder pads and his helmet and his baseball catcher’s mitt, and she was holding a deflated football. She got in line with everybody else. And that’s how she looked in the Easter picture. Standing there like that, somewhere in the middle of the group, with everyone else in their pretty Easter clothes.
So what? So what, so what, so what, Molly says now, out loud, but mumbling into the sand. Out here, on this lonely, sandy road, swatting flies, Molly Muse knows in her deepest heart that no matter how hard she tries, no matter how many scabs she has on her knees and elbows and, more times than not, on her nose, no matter how hard she runs to keep up with the others, with her legs pumping and her heart jumping like a rabbit, Molly Muse knows deep down inside that she is clumsy and soft to her very core and that she is a cry baby, too. She is nothing but a pure-t-coward with fear swelling up so hard inside her that sometimes she’ll shake all over and waller under the bed with her tears turning the dust to mud.
But out here in the road she can lie down and rest and think and day dream and scratch and eat dirt and nobody will have a word to say because not a soul knows she is here or anywhere.
Coot lives on out this white sandy road. Nobody drives on this road but Coot Blackburn. Molly Muse, anytime she wants to, can walk right out to Coot’s house and she does that now. She stands right up, not knocking the sand off her wadded up shirt, not dusting the sand out of her curly black hair, not pulling her shorts out of her bottom crack. Molly Muse just walks on that hot sand, walks on her tough bare feet, closing her eyes in the shady spots. She runs quickly through the speckled shadows on the sand. She opens her eyes in the sunny places, and then she is there. She can see Coot’s house, setting still as can be, like it isn’t used to being looked at, with a sagging front porch, surrounded on three sides by swamp. The light is always different at Coot’s house and then Molly Muse does the secret thing. She walks around Coot’s house and stands underneath the windows. She leans against the house and she listens . . . to Coot moving around in there and Coot’s girl, June, listening to the radio. Molly Muse can smell June’s toenail polish and hear the click of the ice in her Coca Cola.
Today Molly Muse doesn’t look in the windows. She just moves, quiet as a shadow, from one window to another, leaning against the house, looking up at the sky, listening and smelling.
She has never smelled the like of smells coming from those windows.
Coot is a waitress in town at Dent’s Café and her husband, Blackie, isn’t hardly ever home because he drives a truck, a big one, and is gone a lot.
Now June, the daughter, she’s a waitress, too, in Cherokee at The Warrior Motel, and these two women listen to the radio and get ready for work and they spray their hair and paint their toenails and spray perfume on their necks and wrists and read magazines. When they aren’t getting ready for work they are resting from being at work and they put up their feet and wiggle their painted toenails and sip Coca Cola on ice in clear glasses and they read magazines with pictures of people kissing on the cover.
To Molly Muse, Coot and June are a queen and a princess and she is sure of that. Sometimes she gets so full of them and the smells and the music and herself and the sky that Molly Muse just has to fling out her arms and twirl and dance in the sandy yard. She feels free as a bird, but somehow always remembers to stay close to the house while she dances. Even with her head back and her eyes closed, Molly Muse touches the rough planks of the house with the tips of her fingers from time to time, making sure she isn’t moving too far from the house, not moving out into the yard where she might be seen.
This is Molly Muse’s dancing place and no one knows she is here. No one.
Not Big Sister, or Big Brother, or the Mean Cousins. When the Mean Cousins come to Toot Holler to visit, they clatter and clank with their big city ways. Asheville is sixty miles away and the road twists and gallops high over Soco Gap and down the other side. The trip isn’t easy.
Last Sunday the Mean Cousins came to Toot Holler bringing an air rifle with them. After church, they all went down to the springhouse to play. And they were playing down there and the neighbor woman, who is a big fat lady in a floweredy dress, came out and told them they couldn’t play in the springhouse. That is was HER springhouse. That they were making the water nasty and that that was her drinking water and they’d just better get home! She was standing there fussing at them, shaking her finger and the Mean Cousins snuck around and one of them packed that air rifle full of mud and shot that fat lady right on her big rear end.
Molly Muse was surprised to see big old dirt flowers appear all over that fat lady’s rump. There were lavender flowers and pink flowers and white flowers and big old dirt flowers.
Molly Muse had never been as scared in her life. She knew her life was no longer worth a plug nickel. And while the Mean Cousins and Big Sister and Big Brother argued with the Fat Lady, Molly Muse darted like a rabbit through the woods, went in her back room and up to her brother’s room (they wouldn’t find her there) and under the bed and laid there sweating for surely hours.
And then, downstairs, there came the knock knock knocking and the Fat Lady’s loud angry voice and then all hell broke loose and Molly Muse stayed under that bed til suppertime. And there must have been enough bottoms to spank because nobody remembered to ask her one single word about any of it.
But today Molly is out from under the bed. She is free and brave and not worried at all. Today she is dancing in a sandy yard and she hears radio music and nothing matters but that. She dances until she’s dizzy and then she lies on the ground, as close to the house as she can get, her leg pressed hard up against the house. Then she stands up and with one bare foot in front of the other one, she walks back home with her eyes wide open all the way.
Then the day comes, not long after that, when Molly Muse knows that she must sacrifice a frog and that’s when the big trouble starts. The Mean Cousins say they’ll tell on her and she knows they will.
Molly Muse can’t remember who found the frog, but there it is, laying in one of the Mean Cousins’ hands. The cousins, of course, are from the city and they don’t know about frogs.
“Oh, Lordy! You’re gonna have warts all over your hand!” Big Sister says.
Warts! Molly Muse knows about them. She had a wart on her pinky finger for the longest time. She’d picked at it until it bled but it wouldn’t go away. One day Uncle Bennett had given her a nickel for it and the next morning, it was gone!
She really hates warts.
Staring at the frog, still, but throbbing in the boy’s grubby hand, the plan comes to Molly Muse full blown.
She bends down and picks up twigs and breaks them and lays the broken sticks in a neat pigpen pile. She lays good-sized stones in a circle around this pile of twigs. She gets an old stove rack and she props that rack up on the rocks. Then she puts a match to the twigs and the fire leaps up. She adds more wood, bigger pieces. And while Big Sister, Big Brother and the Mean Cousins watch, Molly burns that frog up. It stinks and it isn’t long until it is all dry and black.
She’d burnt that frog alive, so the world would be free of warts forever more.
“That’s disgusting,” one of the Mean Cousins says. “I’m gonna tell,” says another. To shut them up, Molly takes them to her secret place.
Down the sandy road she leads them, running quick through the dappled shadows. Molly Muse stares at her toes brown and splayed out in the white white sand. Tromp, tromp, tromp go the children to the sagging house surrounded by the swamp.
Nearing the house, no one stops or even slows down. All of the sweaty young bodies clatter and clamor and stomp up to the front porch. One of them opens the screen door only to slam it hard again. They all dance a big bear dance, as if their bare feet are made of stones, all over the rough porch planks. And then, one by one, their voices take off. Flying like birds in a house, zipping here, there. They let loose with great barking shouts.
“Coot,” they holler, and “Coot poots!”
One voice, a small piping female voice, more dreadful than any of the heavier, louder ones, sings out, “Coot Poots in Toot Holler.”
And then they are ALL clattering off of the porch, running down the road and whoop, whoop, whooping. Molly throws her head back and makes a sound like a small braying mule. She looks down. Her feet are a blur beneath her. She doesn’t stumble. She feels the sandy road firm and even under her bare feet, and, if there are shadows, she can’t feel them at all.
Nobody says anything. Not about the frog. Not about Coot’s porch. Maybe Coot wasn’t home. Molly can’t remember.
The next day it is announced that Big Sister has to swim in the fishpond. Now the fishpond is cold and slimy. There are catfish in there, with huge gaping mouths and whiskers that sting! There are water snakes. You can see them twisting and making long lines in the water. There are snapping turtles as big as a washtub in that pond. That’s not a story, that’s a fact! And nobody has ever swum in that pond before. It is NOT a swimming pond.
The drain hole in the middle of the pond is clogged up. It’s a real problem and Big Sister is the one chosen to swim out there and unclog that drain. Everybody knows that Big Sister can swim like a fish and that she is tough as nails.
Big Sister comes out of the house. She is wearing her red Jantzen bathing suit. She is thin with muscles in her arms and as strong as can be. Everyone has gathered near the blackberry briars down beside the pond to watch her swim. But she doesn’t go right down to the pond. No, she walks back around to the side of the house. Molly Muse is watching her. When Sister doesn’t walk right back, Molly Muse goes to investigate.
There is a big snowball bush at the side of the house, beside the oil tank. Molly finds her big sister hunkered down there, wedged in behind the oil tank, scrubbing at her eyes with her knuckles. Her shoulders are hunched up and all bony and they are shaking.
Molly Muse just stands there and looks at her. Then Big Sister looks up. Her face is all scrunched up, her eyes red and puffy and her cheeks are wet.
“Get the hell out of here!” Sister growls.
Molly Muse turns and bolts, going back and standing with everybody else at the edge of the pond. There are briars and cattails growing thick. Snaky as can be.
Then, here comes Big Sister, walking barefoot, not minding the briars at all. Not slowing down for anything, she dives straight into that dark cold water and with clean strokes cutting like a knife, she swims to the middle of the pond and somehow treads that murky water while she peels disgusting gunk out of the drainpipe. Soon the drainpipe makes a big gulping, sucking sound. Then Sister swims back. When she gets out of the water, her lips are blue and her eyes are too, as cold and blue as ice. Without looking down, she takes one finger and flicks the pond scum off of her goose-bumped flesh. Then she takes the towel from Momma and throws it around her shoulders.
Molly Muse just stands there, watching Big Sister walk back to the house. Molly Muse nods her head up and down and up and down as she realizes that Big Sister’s towel is swinging back and forth EXACTLY like a queen’s cape!