The closer the woman came, the more uneasy and stung with disappointment Effie felt. The strange, young-old woman looked to be in her last week or even in her last day of a long pregnancy. With a face pale as old sheets, the only color was her fatigue, curved under her eyes like slack, blue thumbs. Loose strands of hair dangled at her cheeks and the rest was piled atop her head and held with twigs. Like a nest. The woman’s bare feet scuffed dust. The puckered and bunched waist of her worn dress rode curved over the top of her huge stomach, tucked under her breasts. The hemline a foot higher in the front than the back. She carried a loaf of unwrapped bread and a red rooster. Reaching the bottom of the slope and crossing the sand, she shifted the bread and the chicken with its dull red comb and yellow eyes from one hand to the other. Smiling, she offered the bread to Effie. “I brung this here for you.”
Spurred by the fear of the wretched-looking creature possibly climbing onto the porch, Effie left Bridget’s side and forced herself to move down the steps. She felt upended. Not knowing what else to do, she accepted the hard, dry loaf with an unsteady hand.
The woman smiled again. “I go by Mae Thayer.” A lilt in her voice. “You can call me Mae.” The name given with satisfaction, as if the woman thought it as much a gift as the week-old bread. And at Effie’s stunned silence, “I’m your neighbor. My man, Mr. Thayer, he said a woman was down here, but I didn’t believe it. I was right. Yous just a couple of kids.” A bee buzzed around the chicken’s head and she swatted at it. “How old you be?”
How old are you? Effie wondered. Was Mae twenty years older than herself ? Or only ten, maybe five? Her face, with study, looked young enough beneath the pallor. Was it the number of years she’d lived or their harshness that had ruined her? Were all Nebraska women so beaten? Effie hadn’t married out of love—few women had that luxury—but she’d married with the hope of being secure, with a home and children. Not the sort of existence this creature bespoke in her ragged dress with its sorry-looking bit of old lace around the neck. Lace Mae had tried to fix with too-thick thread and clumsy hands, needing to hold on to the idea of owning lace.
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