The boys from St. Anne’s had come back to look after the animals and check on what was left of the field. The police were back too, and people from the bank and insurance companies. They weren’t saying much to me yet,
mostly they wanted to look around draw whatever conclusions they had in mind that they wanted to draw. I waited in the kitchen with another cup of coffee. Denny was the one to notice Jennie come downstairs, and I started
listening when I heard him say “Good Morning.”
“Who are these people?” Jennie asked.
“Oh, they’re bankers and stuff,” Denny told her. “Nothing for you to worry about.”
“But it’s my house,” Jennie said.
She walked into the kitchen and spotted me sitting at the table. She didn’t say anything. She stared at me the way any nine year old would stare down reality coming to take her away.
I stood up, “My God! Mary Jeanette,” I exclaimed.
Jennie ran straight back to Denny and grabbed his arm. Looking at this girl was like seeing a version of me, and I suspected by Jennie’s expression that she was having a similar reaction.
Denny tried to introduce me, but Jennie kept staring at me, and clung tighter to him.
“Molly never told me Mary Jeanette was so fond of you,” I said.
“It seems to me Mama never said a lot of things,” Jennie told me. “A lot like everyone else.”
“All right, Mary Jeanette,” I said. “What would you like to know?”
The question seemed to throw her; I don’t believe anyone had ever asked her what she wanted to know. No one had ever asked me.
“First of all,” she said, apparently pulling a sense of authority out of the air, “I go by Jennie. Nobody but Mama ever called me Mary Jeanette.”
“Okay, Jennie, “I said. “What would you like to know?”
“Who are these people looking around my house? What do they want?”
The people were from the bank and the insurance company. When my parents left they had let Molly and Nate take over the mortgage payments on the farm-after refinancing and taking the early retirement money out to
Arizona with them. For a while, it worked fine, but they got behind, and foreclosure became a certainty. I explained to Jennie that the bank was the real owner of the house, and the farm, and that her parents had been buying it
up little pieces at a time.
“So I get to keep little pieces of the house.” she said.
I didn’t know what to say next. Jennie had me there and she knew it.
“I know all about banks,” she said. “Mama told me.”
“Really?” I said. “What did she say?”
“Well,” she said. “Satan runs the banks, you know. It’s his big plan; to take all your money, your blood and your sweat. He takes the food right out of babies’ mouths. He stands there month after month, lurking like a vulture
waiting for its prey. He waits for the one month when things are a little too hard before he swoops in and takes everything. It doesn’t matter what you’ve paid, or what you’ve earned. All bets are final.”
“Your Mama told you this?” I asked.
Jennie nodded. “She told Daddy, really, but I heard her. Was she wrong?”
“Probably not,” I admitted. I didn’t usually agree with Molly’s Satan rants, but this time I thought she might’ve been on to something.
“Can you stop them?” she asked.
“No, Jennie, I can’t,” I told her. “I know it’s hard watching the house and the farm go. I grew up here too, you know.”
“It can’t be that hard for you,” she said. “You never came back.”
“I came for you,” I told her.
Jennie grabbed an apple out of the refrigerator and sat at the table.
“Mama wouldn’t like it,” she declared. “Mama likes Taffy. He has a nice little house in town and I could walk to school. I wouldn’t even have to take the bus anymore. Sure, the house needs a little fixing, but I can help….”
“Jennie that’s enough,” Denny interrupted. “Your Aunt Lucy’s family, and she lost your Mama too. You need to show some respect.”
Jennie got up, knocked the chair to the floor and slammed her apple on the ground. She tried to leave the kitchen, but Denny stopped her in the doorway. I looked straight at him and he glanced back to me and focused in on Jennie.
“Listen, Sweetie,” he said. “You know I love you like a piece of my own heart. But you belong with family, and that’s all there is to it. I’ll visit you, I promise, and you can come and see me, but that’s the best I can do.”
I watched the two of them at that moment, and I knew that Denny had become more like family to this little girl than I was, probably more so than I ever could, and I could tell how much it tore Denny apart to send her away. I
thought for a moment, that if we tried hard enough we could work out away for Jennie to stay after all. I was afraid to break the moment, but I finally spoke.
“She’s right, you know,” I said. “She doesn’t know me from Adam.”
Denny’s emotion dropped out of him like grain from a chute. “Well then, I guess you’ve got your work cut out for you. I’d better head into work for a while. I’ll see you ladies at the funeral.”
Jennie did her best to recover as Denny walked out the door.
“Why can’t we stay here, in Leifton?” she asked me. “We could find someplace.”
“I can’t live here, Jennie,” I told her.
“I just can’t.”
“You said you would tell me whatever I wanted to know.”
“I meant you could ask, and I think you know enough for now.
Besides, with the way your Mama died I think it’s better for you if you leave Leifton for a while. You know the way folks talk.”
“Folks whisper,” she corrected.
“That they do,” I told her.
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