Monday, June 23, 2008

Big Hand

It has to be a really dark night, still, no moon.

It has to be a red dirt country road in the South, no streetlights, no pavement, no cars.

It has to be still, no breeze, and warm and sticky.

It has to be quiet. The only sound can be junebugs and chuck-will's-widows and katydids and locusts and a distant hound. And the nervous titter of little children and the long, crunching strides of grown-up feet on dirt and rocks, with the quicker, irregular pat-pat-pats of the kids.

Way down the road is someone with a broom--the Big Hand--hiding in the brush in the ditch or behind a cedar stand on the side of the road. No one knows where the Big Hand is. No one knows.

And everyone walks, single file, ten feet or so apart, down the road in the dark in the stillness and the quiet, waiting and walking.

The grown-ups have broad smiles on their faces in the darkness, remembering what the kids are feeling right now.

The kids are about to throw up from excitement and fear--but not really, because Daddy is right behind me.

Please don't let the Big Hand get me. Please let me be the one the Big Hand gets.

At some point, unpredictably, the person with the broom LEAPS out into the road, shrieking "BIG HAND!!!!" and runs after whatever shadowy shape is closest. Everyone goes wild, screaming, laughing, running, tripping, hearts pounding out of ribcages, and the ruckus can be heard in every holler for miles.

The first person to get swatted becomes the Big Hand, and the game starts over.

Once we get back to the house, Mamaw gives us water from the well bucket and we all get on our pallets on the floor in the various rooms. She goes from kid to kid with a basin and cloths, washing first our faces and then our feet. We cover up with the sheets and giggle, still juiced up with adrenaline. We hear the muffled conversation and laughter of our parents and aunts and uncles out on the porch and finally, like a drug has taken effect, we bat our eyes more slowly, let go of our cousin's hand under the covers, and drift off to sleep.

It's a good game.

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