Ashley Elizabeth Hewitt :: Woodsia Lane ::

Creative Non-Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Born in Jackson, Mississippi, I attended Millsaps College and more recently completed my MFA in Creative Writing at the Mississippi University for Women. I have lived in New Orleans for twenty years but built a log cabin on the Bogue Chitto River, deep in the Mississippi woods. My time there heavily influences the nature of my writing.

Woodsia Lane

I turn on to Woodsia Lane and stop at the little yellow house as I do every visit home. This visit, I’m stealing the 152 oak placard that hangs to the right of its front door and commemorates the only home I ever shared with my parents. But now the little yellow house is Easter egg blue, and the 152 oak placard is gone. No cars sit in its driveway. No kids run along the street. Mail overstuffs the slot and puddles at its threshold. 

Not a living soul is out washing their car or fetching their newspaper to notice me cross the front yard to where the mid-day sun reflects off the aluminum foil, sealing my bedroom window and blocking me from seeing inside. I stare just a little too long, and my sight becomes filled with the stitched-together stars of my bed’s patchwork quilt then from one sensation to the next, my memory follows the vibrant pattern of my life’s design. 

My eyes adjust to the wooden shutter where the green anole lizard once lived. Not just any yard lizard, he would stroll inside and bask on my window seat like he knew I was an only child and needed the company. His color would change from brown to green when he entered, and his pupils would study me while I sang along to my records. He didn’t mind that after my parents took me to the Jackson Browne concert, I sang Rosie over and again for months, discovering my voice and amused by how the name reminded me of our adopted beagle who sniffed all around like a half-grown female pup—not the wayward beauty who runs off with the drummer. Rosie the beagle she became, as did any living thing that needed a name, but quietly my dad broke the trend and named the lizard who lived in my bedroom shutter. Leonard the Lizard he became. 

Bestowing a name was not an act my dad took lightly, though with very little effort he could skim the contents of someone or something and award a name which lived up to expectation like no other name could. Never did a name he gave not stick until he met John Urebe and Red Cat became Gato Rojo. This name change wasn’t purposeful but a boozy conversation between the two of them in which John Urebe simply translated red and cat. What appealed to my dad was how this well-meaning embellishment on his deliberately ordinary name gave Red Cat a more distinct ordinary name. Hence, the name stuck as if my dad and John Urebe had known each other for years. 

Much like the two hitchhikers my dad picked up on I-55 not long before, John Urebe one day appeared. And since the hitchhikers being wanted by the feds only came to light after they spent two nights at the little yellow house and made off with my dad’s Fender Telecaster, my mother worried over his soft spot for those down on their luck and how easily he trusted them. Such a profound lapse of judgement made no room for any reasoning by which she could ever understand his decision nor overcome her state of disbelief. 

Even more, the hitchhikers unearthed a flaw in my dad that my mother sensed originated from a more conflicted and deep-rooted place. And when John Urebe came around, she was reminded of it. Having studied her reservations, he expressed his good intentions by bringing her a purse made from an old horse’s saddle when he returned from a visit home to Colombia. It was John Urebe who painted the little yellow house yellow. And it was John Urebe who showed up with a lawnmower for the grass finally to be cut. 

Goldenrod grows waist high through the path alongside the little yellow house, but I force through its tangles and walk the remembrance of its shape—curving around my mother’s flower beds where she planted the gardenia bushes beneath our bedroom windows. Just ahead, I recognize a branch reaching across the path and the familiarity of its leaves move like open hands, waving and welcoming me closer. My eyes trace its stems and observe its ripening fruit, changing from pale green to violet depending on how close that fig is to the sun. I choose the fig I sense is the sweetest by the way it droops a little from the branch then I enter my fig tree as I did long ago—through an opening on the farthest side of the little yellow house, facing the field. 

I lie beneath its canopy, absorbing its understory of two seeds pollinating in the exact place in time, accidentally growing into one another and comingling their arching boughs that span fully around, touch the ground, then stretch toward the sun again. Inside my fig tree’s lush enclosure, I would seek protection from summer’s late afternoon downpours, from the sting of the sun, and from knowing things I hadn’t yet learned. I gaze up to where its leaves merge with the sky, to where my shirtless body would climb, attach a rope, and swing from its branches.

It was how assuredly and intuitively I explored the outside world that convinced my dad to let me spend the night under my fig tree, not how many times I asked him. Every kid needed a fort was how he positioned it to my mother—it served an important developmental purpose. He paused to choose his words from there, but she reminded him of when a limb crashed down as I swung from it, scaring her from the kitchen to rescue me from under its weight. 

But playing pretend in my fig tree was good for my imagination, my dad argued. I could have broken my neck, my mother argued back. But I didn’t break my neck, he pointed out. But I could have, my mother demanded, adding that a weak imagination was not something they needed to worry over—that if anything my imagination had begun to run wild. 

Upon coming into agreement, my dad lowered the attic ladder to search for his boxes of camping gear. He gave me his canteen, sleeping bag, metal dishes, a lantern, and a stack of National Geographics he’d started collecting back when he was in the Merchant Marines. So, I’d have water, he drove me to the hardware store for a galvanized washtub and an extra-long garden hose, which he loaded in his orange Chevy pick-up along with rolls of chain-link fencing, four posts, and a few bags of concrete mix. I asked why we needed the rolls of chain-link fencing, four posts, and few bags of concrete mix. He was building a pen for Rosie, he said, that she had made a habit of sleeping in my mother’s flower beds and flattening them.

A steel pen seemed harsh for a dog who, aside from sleeping in my mother’s flower beds, had never done much of anything wrong. Rosie not roaming as she pleased, as she was accustomed, wasn’t consistent with what I knew of my mother’s views on the treatment of living things. When we first moved to the little yellow house, we passed by a school where goats grazed in an oversized fenced yard and the following day, she enrolled me where I would learn to plant and harvest a garden, cook scrambled eggs with fresh herbs, and where goats and bunnies and mice would be my equal companions. 

That my dad nearly failed shop class and had a rudimentary understanding of the tools in his storeroom made it unlikely the decision to build Rosie a pen was made rationally. It’s the countless turtles he’d saved from the middle of the highway, the lost mourning dove he nursed back to health with a dropper, and the grey appaloosa in the field my dad fed apples and talked to that reflected his true nature.

But fuck my mother had said when she discovered her flower beds were flattened again and because fuck was not a word she was known for saying, a solvable problem escalated into her social work career. His law school aspirations. Her graveyard shifts at the state mental hospital. His unfulfilling government desk job. The stolen lawn mower. The mountain vacation we hadn’t yet taken. Neither could locate the heart of the matter or what Rosie flattening my mother’s flower beds had to do with it. The way my dad saw it, the rolls of chain-link fencing, four posts, and few bags of concrete mix were already paid for and in the back of the truck. Building a pen for Rosie was more immediate. It was more of a sure thing when compared to repairing a bond my parents rushed to city hall and vowed to protect.

He clicked on the kitchen radio, and my dad shaped hamburger patties. Not that he knew it, but he was preparing for the most anticipated household project of his marital life by charcoal grilling and drinking beer in the backyard. He lit the coals, and my mother came from the back porch to join him for a beer. She waved to me then reclined in the lawn chair, bending her knees, and making room for him to sit. They laughed when the lawn chair tipped forward then they shared a bag of chips. After another beer, they danced and sang, and my dad picked a marigold and put it behind my mother’s ear. She extended her arm around his waist and watched him stoke the coals—feeling how it was his originality that first drew her to him but thinking how the lack of seriousness that turned her on then was the quality she most hoped he’d outgrow. 

My mother called from the back porch that the hamburgers were ready and after supper, my dad walked me back to my fig tree where Rosie lay curled at the foot of my sleeping bag. Her staying put, even if only during supper, meant my dad might see she didn’t need a pen after all. He crawled inside behind me and worked his long frame into a cross-legged position, and he rubbed between Rosie’s ears, letting her know she wasn’t the source of my parents’ unhappiness. He knew she was the type of dog who would have found somewhere else to go—even if it meant wandering off in the night to where her sleeping habits weren’t the source of anyone’s suffering. It won’t last forever he reassured her with a pat on the head then he went back inside the little yellow house after he knew I was good and asleep.

I woke early the next morning to the rumble of my dad’s Chevy idling. He released his tailgate, leaned the shovel against his truck, and unloaded the rolls of chain-link fencing, four posts, and few bags of concrete mix. I peered across the yard to where my mother stood on the back porch peeling potatoes and watching him so intently that she nicked her finger and ran inside for a paper towel. 

My dad made several trips back and forth to the storeroom before getting started, so I visited the neighbor’s rabbits and came back to check on his progress. Not much had changed, so I went inside for a pickle and stood with my mother in the kitchen. She couldn’t ever remember seeing her husband hold a shovel but the next time we checked, he had dug a hole. The next time we checked, he had managed to dig three more holes, and they formed an even rectangle the size of a small swimming pool. He mixed the concrete and stirred it with the other end of his shovel when John Urebe showed up to help him set the four posts that were taller than either of them. 

As the concrete dried, they sat on the tailgate and drank beer, but Rosie had long suspected they were building a pen for her, that my mother had had enough of Rosie sleeping in her flowers beds and flattening them, and that my dad had had enough of chasing Rosie out with the broom. Rosie had had enough too, as it turned out, and she bolted under the little yellow house. He uncoiled the chain-link fencing and after some time, my dad attached it to all four posts while John Urebe searched the neighborhood for Rosie. Suspecting she was hiding under the little yellow house; my mother gave him a piece of leftover hamburger patty to coax Rosie out with. 

Rosie squirmed in his arms, when John Urebe returned, and he circled the dog pen a time or two then stood still. He had no choice but to put her down, and she ran straight back under the little yellow house. He rubbed his beard, searching for the most helpful way to break it to my dad that he had forgotten to build a gate, but this misfortune didn’t immediately translate. Realizing that putting it lightly wasn’t working, John Urebe gestured as if heaving an imaginary object over the fence, emphasizing they couldn’t toss Rosie into her pen. The jolt of reality was like my dad walked into one of the fenceposts, but all either of them could think to do was sit on the tailgate and strategize. My dad lit a Camel, shot-gunned a beer, and spewed every cuss word he’d ever known. And when he ran out, John Urebe taught him every cuss word he knew in Spanish.

All the commotion and the sight of her pen cured Rosie from ever sleeping in my mother’s flower beds again, and I returned to the comfort of my quilted bed. I no longer heard the muffled exchange of conflict from the other side of the wall; I heard my dad’s voice from down the hall, repeating himself in Spanish. Gato Rojo circled my dad’s steps as night after night he stretched the phone cord from one end of the kitchen to the other, his bare feet pacing the linoleum floor. He’d cease only to write down the digits of a telephone number, and whoever answered that number would give him another, and whoever answered that number would give him another. 

John Urebe had split town with ten-thousand dollars my dad had borrowed from his parents to invest in a movie projector parts business back in Colombia. The night he finally gave up on tracking John Urebe down, my dad shut the storeroom door, sank to the floor, and he wept. He wept over the breakdown of his marriage. He wept over the thought of being an every-other-weekend dad. And he wept over the ten-thousand dollars he might as well have lit on fire. 

Slivers of light slip through my fig tree’s canopy and cast shadows I feel move over me during the sun’s longer than usual descent past the field and behind the tree line. The sun gives me a little more time and the fig, still warm from my hand, tastes as sweet as forever—only more savory and more complex. Its seeds burst into the bouquet each fig is designed to be. I can taste every flower of its inflorescence and every year of fallen leaves, blanketing our forgotten back yard, and pressing against me as I walk into the wind, back the way I came.