You see he was watching.  He followed her.  He followed Bethany on her walks to Sissy’s porch, hearing from a distance the Blues that came from records playing in the kitchen window.  His name was Jeremy, the son of the local doctor for black folks living around Hemphill—a man uninvited to Bethany’s birth though he paid visits after she was born to see if she was growing well, if she was healthy.  Robert Labeau paying him with a pig after she had a bad bout of strep throat when she was three.  Jeremy’s head was misshapen.  The proportions weren’t right.  Not from a bad birth—that went well—but from an accident as a toddler, a fall down the stairs.  He wasn’t retarded.  He just looked it when you saw his profile.  Only his eyes bright below his high forehead, and with long hair, if he let his hair grow—you wouldn’t notice his deformity.  And he was good with numbers, from an early age.  In fact that was what he was doing when he fell down the stairs.  He was counting them, counting the steps as he went down.  Jeremy heard the numbers in the music playing from Sissy’s window.  He would touch his fingers as he hid behind Sissy’s house.  Starting over when the music—the count of it—started over.

And Bethany knew.  She knew he followed her.  She liked how he kept it a secret.  Her visits to Sissy.  What he knew she grew in her garden.  He knew about the bible.  Sissy’s bible—the compartment in it.  You see that’s how Bethany was introduced to it—her first time.  How she got introduced to marijuana.  That summer after she turned thirteen.  The summer she began to bleed.

“Well, I figures you old enough… it’ll help.  Help with the pain—the cramps.  It’s always helped me—he, he!”

Sissy Walker opening the bible—a family bible given to her at her wedding, her wedding to Wishbone.  Showing Bethany the hole in it.  Jeremy peeking around the corner of the porch—watching.  He saw the hole in the bible.  The paper with words on it cut out, rolled into joints, almost as many as in a pack of cigarettes.  That’s what was in the hole.  What was hidden in the bible.  The hole perfect—its sides symmetrical—the edges where the paper was cut, the hole deep, un-jagged, smooth.

“And I know what you’re wonderin’.  Why’s I keep it in here.  It’s a symbol—symbolical, I guess.  ‘Bout what I choose to be the truth.  The architecture on how small worlds build into bigger worlds.  Somethin’ you’ll come to know when you’s get older.  What you’re already learnin’ ‘bout with the pain you’re feelin’ now—becomin’ a woman.  Because you see I just told you somethin’ without sayin’ nothing.  By giving you this, in how it’s given.  What I hide.  What I reveal by showin’ you what I hide.  It’s the art—the art of woman.  And you’re becomin’ a woman now so you should learn it.  Like the music, the music you’re hearin’ here.  Why you come here to listen.  Like cookin’.  There’s a recipe.  And thing’s gotta be mixed right, in the right proportions, if it’s goin’ to taste right…  If it’s goin’ to have the right taste…  And it’s the same.  The same with truth.  How you feel somethin’ to be the truth.”

And after that day.  The day Bethany got introduced to Sissy Walker’s bible, Jeremy began to walk with her.  Along the dirt road that led from Sissy’s house to her father’s mailbox.  And they had talks about it.  Talks about what was in that bible.

“Does your Daddy read it to ya?”

“Read what?”

“Don’t your Daddy read to ya from the bible.  Don’t you go to church?”

“We go on Christmas Eve… and Easter.  Daddy makes us go then, but I don’t think my Momma likes it.  She says he does it just so other folks don’t talk.”

Bethany is looking down at her feet.  Her bare feet.  She didn’t wear shoes on her walks to Sissy’s house, and the dirt is caked on them.  There’s dirt between her toes.  Jeremy’s looking down too, and he’s counting.  He’s counting their steps silently as he talks to her.

“My Momma says you got to ask him.  You gotta ask Jesus into your heart…”

“My Momma don’t say that.”

“Sometimes when I’m layin’ in bed I listen to it.  I listen to my heart.  I try to count it.  Count it beating…”

“That’s strange…  I could hear it in my ears.  I took a few puffs of Sissy’s cigarette and I could hear it in my ears…”

“Well you’re ‘sposed to ask Jesus in… though I don’t know how he could live in there.  It seems awful small.  How do ya suppose he lives in there?”

“Maybe our heart’s bigger than what we think.  Maybe it’s a symbol—like Sissy says.”

“I like numbers.  They’s symbols I guess.  I see numbers everywhere.  I hear numbers in that music you like listenin’ to.”

“Well then maybe it’s like a big number.  Small numbers make up big numbers, and numbers can be really big, but it’s small to say them, to think about them.  They seem small, but they’re big in what they represent…  Maybe it’s the same with our hearts.  Maybe they seem small, but they’re big in what they represent.  Small worlds makin’ up bigger worlds—like Sissy says…”

Jeremy’s eyes still look down.  They’re almost to the mailbox.  He reaches out.  He reaches out to grab Bethany’s hand.  She smiles, and takes it.

“I’d like it if you were in my heart,” he says, almost in a whisper.

“Do you think there’s enough room?”

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