Daughters of the Dirt
/ Sarah Higdon
by Leslie Forbes
There was so much that she already knew, but just couldn't communicate.
Way down by the fence, at the
edge of the property where the snow fence leaned over into the gravel
alley, there was a tree. The little girl, who was only two, had not yet
noticed the tree because she'd not had sufficient cause. Down by the
snow fence, near the alleyway - - that was where her brothers called out to
the neighbor kids, the Gallantine boys. It was a grown-up spot, a
place she didn't feel learned enough to explore.
One day her mother gathered her up along with her two brothers and told
them they were going to make an egg face. Her oldest brother, who
was then seven, seemed to be in charge. He always seemed to be in charge.
He was larger, smarter, louder. He commanded in the car, screaming
orders and howling out the car windows when his mother slapped his face
for showing his uncontrolled temper.
Her mother gathered together a large square of wood from the basement and
a magic marker. This part didn't involve the little girl. Her brother and
mother were drawing something on the board. She didn't know what, but she
She sat in the kitchen as her mother passed by her to the basement and
then up and down the stairs to her brother's room yelling out directions
or answering his questions about what to do next. Her mother liked to plan
things like this. She was always full of plans, full of bringing together,
full of words and directions. As her mother passed by the kitchen table
holding the piece of wood with the little girl's two brothers trailing and
skipping behind, she said, "Well, come on. We've got to go nail it
The little girl followed slowly, not quite able to keep up. Her legs were
so short and the diaper was clumsy.
The mother took a nail and hammered the board onto the tree above the
little girl's head. She finished and smiled down at the little girl. She
gathered the three children around the tree with the board on it and said,
"Now, when you get angry you can come out here and yell at this egg
face! You can yell at the top of your lungs! You can come and ask me for
eggs and throw them at his ugly face!"
The face was a line drawing made by her brother. A round circle
with one single curl of hair coming right out the northern most point. Two
large misshapen ears stuck out of it and there was a snaggle-toothed smile.
The eyes were two black circles that looked less like eyes than natural
knots in the wood. The mother was smiling down at the little girl and
touched her cheek. All four of them ran up to the house to get eggs out of
the refrigerator to test out the board.
The little girl's mother had collected several eggs and held them in the
crooks of her arms as they carefully walked back down the hill to the
tree. Everyone was staring at the eggs nestled deep within the mother's
elbows. The mother started off by
"You old Egg Face! You
make me so mad. I hate you!" And she threw an egg. Splat! The egg ran
down the right side of the marker face. The mother turned to the oldest
boy, handed him two eggs and said, "Here. Your turn. You try."
The boy was smiling. He was
feeling self-conscious perhaps, or insecure about how to do this the right
way. Perhaps he was just enjoying himself. The little girl didn't know
which but she knew she was smiling because he was smiling, because they
all were smiling. She thought it must be the thing to do.
you!" he screamed and threw his first egg, hitting the board in the
eye. He immediately threw his second round and hit the board right where
the nose should have been but wasn't.
They all took turns. The mother handed the little girl the eggs, picked
her up and balanced her diapered bottom on her knee. The mother's hands
were holding the little girl snugly in her armpits so she would not fall
but it made it hard for the little girl to maneuver her arms to throw the
Everyone watched as she threw the first egg silently. It
sailed down into the grass, the only sound the parting of the blades and a
soft thud on the dirt. It fell open, yolk intact. They all looked
at the failed egg attempt.
The mother said, "Try again. Really yell."
The girl smiled. They all smiled as she threw the second one and yelled a
child's breathy, "Hey, you!" The egg arced gracefully down and
hit the bark of the tree below the nailed-up board. The mother yelled
"Good!" and kissed the little girl on the cheek, as she put her
down on the grass.
They stood while the two
brothers threw the rest of the eggs. No one noticed as the little girl
wandered away, unable to participate by lack of experience, lack of
temperament, lack of intelligence, maybe all of those things. The girl sat
down in the grass and thought about Egg Face. She liked the solidity of
the board and the nail holding it up. She liked the ugliness of his face.
She liked the luxury of throwing good eggs; it seemed lavish and she felt
she must be very worthwhile to waste food in this manner. She didn't like
that there were only a dozen eggs in a carton. That just didn't seem near
enough. The thing that troubled her the most was that she wasn't angry at
Egg Face. She felt shy next to him. It kept her from ever venturing out to
the tree again.
Summers passed. Years grew to decades. There was so much to learn. Again
and again she would remember the bits of frustration that stuck with her
that day, and the lingering intentions that never seemed to wash off no
matter how heavy the rain.
Leslie Forbes is a writer and singer in Round Rock, Texas.