Greta as a Girl

Mamaw Issa stood over Greta in her old house dress, hair piled on top her head in a floppy bun, looking as pissed as always.

“Y’all move aside,” she told the paramedics, and to Greta’s surprise, the two young men listened, parting to make room for the old woman, who knelt beside Greta’s head.

Issa lifted Greta’s dirty shirt— the side soaked clear through with blood. Greta bit her lip to keep from chucking at the sight.

“You’re gonna be alright.” Mamaw lay her hands on Greta’s ribs and looked her straight in the eye. “You’re gonna stop bleeding now, you hear?” Greta nodded, and just like that, the blood clotted up— got thicker and stickier, til it felt like tacky paint. The memories of the accident were thick and sticky too, jamming up Greta’s head. The car had felt like a tilt-a-whirl when it flipped. Daddy’s skunky beer had splashed her right in the face. She hadn’t been afraid of dyin’, more just curious about how much it would hurt.

She was alive now, though, and that hurt plenty. Greta stared up through the dogwood flowers at the bright sun and tried to focus on the cool bony fingers of Mamaw’s hands.

Greta’s Mama let out a sob of relief and rushed over, kissing her forehead again and again. She had a busted lip, Greta saw, a puffy pink pillow near the size of a gum ball.

As Mama slobbered and cried on her, Mamaw Issa took out a spool of red string and cut a piece, tying it tightly around Greta’s left wrist. “We’re fine now. Y’all can get going,” she said to the paramedics, waving them along.

“Ma’am,” the taller man started, sticking his hands deep in his blue uniform pockets.

“Hush.” Issa made a shooing motion with her hand. “I said we’re fine.” The men looked at one another for a moment, then shrugged before climbing back into their ambulance and heading back down the street the same way they’d came. “We don’t need no doctor bills, now do we?”

Daddy held one of his arms, limp as a black snake, in the other, but shook his head no. Mama was still too busy kissing Greta to answer.

“You get on outta here too,” Issa said to Greta’s Daddy, her hands on her hips. “Go on. I can’t stand the sorry sight of you.”

“Mama, my arm,” Daddy protested, but Issa didn’t show an ounce of sympathy for her son. She could tell just by looking at him that he was drunk out of his head, as was usual.

“You done got yourself in this mess. You can git yerself out.” Greta’s Daddy hung his head and slunk on down the street, the opposite way from the ambulance. It was the last Greta ever saw of him— his sagging overalls and dirty hair stumbling and tripping over a crack in the sidewalk. She’d remember it later and feel sorry for him, the way he looked back, embarrassed, to see if they’d noticed.

“Issa,” Mama started.

“You hush up too, Brenda” Mamaw Issa lifted a wrinkled finger to Mama’s busted lip and rubbed it back and forth. “You and Greta’ll stay here til you get things sorted out. That’s not forever, mind you, but I feel half responsible for that peckerwood son of mine, so you can stay a spell.” Mama nodded. When Issa lowered her finger, Mama’s mouth was back to its normal size. Issa pulled the spool of thread back out from her pocket and tied it around Brenda’s wrist, just like she’d done with Greta.

Greta and Mama followed Issa up the porch steps and into her and Grandaddy’s house. They’d come real close to making it there in one piece, but Greta was secretly glad they hadn’t. Something would change now. Mamaw would make sure of it.

She remembered what her Daddy always said. His mama didn’t tolerate no bullshit.