By: Kathryn M. Hamilton
Because the sun peeked through the window beside her at just the wrong angle, Raggmopp had to squint to see downstairs, though as she squatted at the top of the stairway listening to the noises coming from the bedroom, she didn’t need to see anything really, just hear. And she heard very odd noises. She wanted to sneak downstairs and look through the open door to see who was making them, but realized rather quickly that she’d probably be seen. Something told her she didn’t want to be seen, especially if Richelle were the one in that room making those awful sounds. And, indeed, it sounded like Richelle, a high-pitched kind of squeal that could only come out of her. But she must be with someone else, someone else making other, deeper noises every once in a while. Sounded like an old pig grunting is what she thought.
Raggmopp scooted down a couple of steps—carefully so her bottom wouldn’t thump against the thin, worn carpet—two more, then stopped. The noises had softened a bit; maybe whoever in there would be coming out and Raggmopp wanted to be able to dash right back to her room without getting caught snooping. She figured that Richelle had plain forgotten she, Raggmopp, was even here today, should have been at school, but because the teacher had warned them they’d have an arithmetic test she failed to study for, she thought it best to fake a stomach ache and stay home. Fooling Richelle was plain-out easy.
The house smelled like Granddaddy’s breakfast. Raggmopp could almost see the streaks of bacon in the air, could feel the grease as well, like soggy clouds surrounding her. She hadn’t been up when Granddaddy left probably at least an hour before, knew, though, that he had likely cooked his own breakfast; Richelle wouldn’t touch the stuff he ate, she said. Granddaddy laughed at folks who thought bacon and sausage and butter and eggs were bad for you, said he’d rather die with that food in his blood than eat crap like yogurt or oatmeal. That was for sissies. If Raggmopp was around when he said it—and he said it so often she frequently was around—he’d give her a wink. Raggmopp would sometimes have this image of little sausage patties or fried eggs zipping through Granddaddy’s veins, bumping into the other stuff he ate like fried pork rinds and potato chips both Dr. Phillips and Richelle told him he shouldn’t have but he ate anyway.
Raggmopp believed that Richelle didn’t really care if Granddaddy ate all that stuff when you got right down to it. If she actually didn’t want him to have it, she wouldn’t keep the refrigerator stocked with it, would she? But, oh no, she never let that bacon run low, kept at least a dozen eggs on hand. Then she’d fuss at him—just a little—when he’d come to the table with his loaded plate: “I just don’t know why you keep putting that junk in your body, Ralph. You know it ain’t good for you; Dr. Phillips said.” She always told him that, but their refrigerator never ran out.
Granddaddy still worked at Walton’s Shell Service Station a few blocks away as the service manager where he had worked for as long as Raggmopp remembered. When she was really little she would sometimes walk down there with her real grandmother (whom Richelle decidedly was not) to take him a lunch and she would see him, hands all black with grease, talking to the other men there, their hands, arms, often their faces too, smeared with that black grease as well. Granddaddy would always walk out to meet the two of them—Granny and Raggmopp—wiping his hands on a dirty cloth, all smiles, telling the other guys, “Well, look who the cat’s dragged in today.” Raggmopp loved her granddaddy but she’d never really liked going down to the Shell station, having to hug him, smelling the oil all in his clothes and hair, realizing even at her young age that he acted different there than at home. By different she meant that at home Granddaddy rarely talked, sometimes coming in from work and heading straight to his LazyBoy chair, yelling to Granny to bring him the paper and a beer, not speaking to either of them again until they sat around the kitchen table for supper. But she didn’t have to worry about going to Walton’s Shell Station anymore, not with Richelle anyway. Shortly after Granny had passed away—almost two years ago, she guessed—Richelle had moved herself into their house along with her teenage son Dwayne. Richelle never fixed a lunch for Granddaddy, not for anybody else either.
Raggmopp listened. That had to be Richelle making those noises downstairs. Now she could hear someone talking. Sounded like a man! What would a man be doing in Richelle’s room at this hour? Should she go peek? Raggmopp didn’t usually get scared of much, but she felt a little uncertain of this. She knew, too, that Granddaddy had said he’d come back later this morning so he could take her to school if she felt better. Not Granddaddy’s voice, though. He never talked so softly. Raggmopp didn’t think Richelle had been listening to Granddaddy when he told her that, though. She scooted down one more step.
“Keep it down, Frank. You’re being too noisy!” Raggmopp heard that loud and clear—Richelle for sure. Frank who?
R! R-A-G-G—R-A-G-G, M-O-P-P—Raggmopp! That’s how she got her name. A song Granddaddy sang to her when she sat on his knee and he bounced her to that tune, bellowing out those silly letters like they meant something. It made her giggle, though—at least it had back then. Now she hated it when he wanted her to sit on his knee. Because she knew he wasn’t just going to bounce her and sing anymore. She was too big for that; now he wanted her to sit on his lap so his thing would poke her in the butt when he bounced her up and down, up and down. Didn’t he realize she knew what his thing was doing? If she tried to scoot forward so she’d be too far from it, he’d always pull her back closer and she’d feel its stiffness pressing against her. Back when Granddaddy first started singing that song to her, though, he also began calling her Raggmopp, then seems like everybody else did too. Not at school, though. At school she was still what her mama named her, Wanda, which she hated almost as much as she hated Raggmopp, but not for the same reason, of course.
Why she hated the name Wanda was that there was another girl in her class with the same name who acted mean and whom nobody liked, who would try to trip you if you got near her desk when you walked to the pencil sharpener or to the board to work a problem or write a sentence like the teacher asked. Even if the teacher saw the other Wanda trying to trip you and fussed at her, you didn’t want to fall down in front of the whole class and get laughed at. Raggmopp hated having to share that name with somebody like her, and it also meant that the teachers—and a lot of other people too—would call you by both names, like she was always Wanda Smisson, and the other one was always Wanda Rubineck. Even on the playground, it was “Wanda Smisson, you’re on the Red team,” or “Wanda Rubineck, stop throwing the ball at those first graders!” Nobody else had to go by two names that she knew of.
When Granny still lived here, Raggmopp’s life had been a whole lot easier, that’s for sure. Granny loved to cook, which meant they ate supper at 6:30 every evening, supper that consisted of more than microwave dinners or canned soup or KFC—depending on Richelle’s mood. Granny would cook up her own fried chicken with gravy, homemade biscuits; Raggmopp even missed the green beans they used to have. Of course, Granddaddy still bounced her on his knee back then, but having Granny around somehow made it not as bad.
Granny got cancer, though. It seemed like one day she was fine and dandy, the next day coming home from the hospital and never getting better. That’s how Richelle had entered the picture. She worked for the Home Health and came to help Granny out in the end of her life. Raggmopp wished now that the Home Health had kept its nose out of their business; she, Raggmopp, could have done just as good a job helping Granny as Richelle had done—better even. She had learned how to bring Granny whatever it was she wanted, wipe her face off with a nice, wet washrag, turn on the TV or radio when she asked—all kinds of helpful things. And doing it with a smile, too—not acting like it was a big favor every time. They wouldn’t have to be dealing with Richelle and that dumb Dwayne now.
Dwayne was another story entirely. Raggmopp knew for a fact that Granddaddy hated the sight of him; she’d heard him say exactly that to Richelle one night after she’d gone to bed and they thought she was asleep. That was just one of the nights Dwayne came in way later than Granddaddy thought he should, had been brought in by the cops as a matter of fact—for what Raggmopp wasn’t exactly sure, but he’d kept himself in his room for a couple of days after that, probably—Raggmopp thought—to keep out of Granddaddy’s way. Richelle never punished him, not that she’d noticed anyway. Dwayne had an enormous brown and gold snake writhing around his left arm and another tattoo on his neck—a small eagle with red eyes. Different rings and studs emerged from surprising places, like on his tongue and under his nose (sometimes Raggmopp thought Dwayne needed to wipe his nose before she remembered it was a little ring poking out).
Having Dwayne here wasn’t all bad, though, Raggmopp had to admit. A couple of times she figured that he had circumvented Granddaddy from getting her on his lap for those bounces. Once, right when Granddaddy had grabbed her from behind and was laughing, tickling her, while backing himself into his chair, Dwayne had yelled, “Hey, look at that! Ain’t that your friend ol’ Harry Rhoades on TV? The guy you work with at Walton’s?”
As soon as Granddaddy had stopped to look at the TV, loosened his hold on her, Raggmopp scooted out of the living room, upstairs to her own bedroom, her heart beating so hard she’d thought it might burst. She heard him hollering for her a minute later but had stayed upstairs until bedtime, knowing Granddaddy didn’t like climbing stairs. Nothing to watch on TV anyway. She never did find out if Dwayne had really seen Granddaddy’s friend or not.
Another time Dwayne might not actually have intended to help Raggmopp out—not that she knew he’d tried to help her out the other time for sure—but it had worked anyway. Granddaddy had just started his bounces with her when Dwayne walked in and announced that old Mrs. Rush next door was letting her dog poop on the lawn. That always got Granddaddy mad as a firecracker; he’d jumped up, Raggmopp almost turning a somersault as she was thrown from the chair. “I’mmo kill that fool animal!” Raggmopp heard him yell.
True enough, Mrs. Rush had been standing right by the mailbox with her little weenie dog, though Raggmopp couldn’t tell if she was letting it poop there or not. When Granddaddy hollered Mrs. Rush had moved right along; Raggmopp had moved right along too—away from Granddaddy’s chair to the backyard this time.
A long time ago, Raggmopp and Granddaddy had ridden a bus together. Where they came from she had no idea, no actual memory, just a foggy kind of dream of sitting next to Granddaddy and watching the world go by out a window, of eating pieces of apple Granddaddy cut for her, then of being woken up, carried into this house, Granddaddy and Granny’s house, where she’s been ever since. Nobody ever said a word to her about that bus ride.
Suddenly—so suddenly that Raggmopp jumped, nearly falling headfirst down the stairs—Richelle rushed out of the living room, yelling at the top of her lungs, “You idiot! You total idiot! I told you we should of waited till later!” Richelle didn’t have a stitch on her body.
At the same time Richelle was coming out and screaming, the front door opened and in walked Granddaddy.
Raggmopp immediately leaped to the top of the stairs, headed for her room, but when she saw Granddaddy come in and realized no one was going to be paying the least bit of attention to her, she decided to stay right there and watch. Sitting Indian-style (at school Mrs. Pearce made them call sitting this way “criss-cross applesauce” which Granddaddy said was a bunch of crap (he hadn’t really called it crap, but used the “s” word which Mrs. Pearce had told Raggmopp was not acceptable)), her eyes on first the two, then three figures directly below her, Raggmopp watched—like a tableau unfolding before her—Granddaddy, Richelle—still naked—and some skinny half-bald headed guy yell and scream at each other for what was likely only a few minutes, but seemed to Raggmopp to last far longer.
Then all yelling ended, doors slammed shut. The house seemed quieter than Raggmopp ever recalled it—during the day, of course, with people there. Raggmopp could still smell Granddaddy’s breakfast, thinking it strange that the house could hold both—the loud voices and the smell—at once.
Granddaddy had gone in his and Richelle’s room, thrown all her clothes outside, making trip after trip with them piled in his arms, while Richelle stood by screaming names at him (some Raggmopp had heard before, some not). Richelle had finally grabbed a few of the clothes herself, put them on, and stalked out of the house. Later that afternoon, long after Granddaddy had gone back to work, Dwayne slipped into the house and packed up his stuff. Raggmopp watched him drag the black garbage bags he’d stowed it in out the front door and throw them into the bed of his blue Ford F-150. Dwayne didn’t have much to move actually, so it didn’t take him but a few trips in and out. No slamming doors this time. His last trip out, he turned and looked up to where Raggmopp sat staring through the railings. “Bye, little darlin’. You take care, now, hear?” and he’d saluted her with his free hand, shut the door behind him. She saw a flash of his tattooed snake when he lifted his arm, almost like it actually moved.
Raggmopp watched the closed door, shivering a little, though it wasn’t cold, not at all. Funny, but her stomach started to hurt a little like she’d told Richelle it did this morning. She sat there for a long, long time.