Lies My Father Told Me  

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Chapter XII

   Cleo and I sit on the haystack, under the eaves of
the Dutch barn. Nellie is with us. Lying there passively.
On her back. Feet in the air.
   Nellie is pregnant, and I am asking the age-old ques-
tion. Where do babies come from? From whence
comes the body, let alone the soul? More immediate-
ly, and practically, I ask, "How do the puppies come
   Cleo explains how each of the puppies is in its own
sac, and how they will come out of the vagina, and
she points. Her mother has told her more than my
mother's told me.
   I protest, "They can't come out of there. It's too
   Cleo explains, with emphasis, "It gets bigger!" And
she goes on to explain how the puppies will feed, will
suck milk from their mother. This, of course, I know.
   Nellie lies there, feet in the air, and Cleo counts her
nipples. Fourteen. Cleo explains how there will proba-
bly be just six or eight puppies, but Nellie is ready, in
   Cleo lifts her dress to examine her chest, and says
she has breasts too. I feel my chest, and muse, "Why
don't boys get breasts?"
   "You have breasts," says Cleo.
With disdain I answer, "These are nipples."
   Now Mrs. Tannenbaum's voice topples in among
us. "When are you going to make him move that
stinking stable, Mr. Herman?"
   Cleo and I listen intensely, and watch. We can see
Harry, my father, neatly dressed as always, making his
way out through the courtyard.
   "You know very well, Mrs. Tannenbaum, if it were
up to me, I'd shoot that smelly old horse this min-
   Harry tries to keep walking, but Mrs. Tannenbaum
complains. "Remember what you promised, Mr. Her-
man . . ." and catches hold of him, ". . . when you
moved in? There wouldn't be a stable anymore?"
   Harry, impatient, stands in the courtyard, trying to
ease Mrs. Tannenbaum's scorn. "I did promise that,
Mrs. Tannenbaum, and I don't have to tell you how
sorry I am I couldn't keep the promise."
   Tannenbaum is mollified. "At least you understand,
Mr. Herman."
   Yes, they seem to understand each other.
   "I don't blame you for complaining, Mrs. Tannen-
baum. The whole thing is an embarrassment to me."
   "Mr. Herman, speak to your father-in-law again."
   "I will," Harry assures her. "Good afternoon," and
continues on his way.
   I motion to Cleo to come closer. I have a great
idea. "Let's put some horse manure on Mrs. Tan-
nenbaum's stairs right now!"
   Suddenly the hatchway above the bin swings open.
Grandpa has been behind it all the time, listening.
   "Davie, I don't want to hear you say that again,
and I want you to forget you ever heard me say it."
I stare at Grandpa. I am quite assured, down to
my soul, that the horse-shit project is a good idea, and
I stand, undaunted. "It would do her good."
   Grandpa shakes his head. "It would do you good
to forget you heard me say it. All right?"
   I look to Cleo, and then back to Grandpa. "Weren't
you telling the truth? Wouldn't it do her good?"
   Grandpa looks across mildly on us, and drops his
voice to a whisper. "I was telling the truth, but some-
times it's better to keep the truth to yourself. Do you
   And Cleo says, "I understand."
   "She understands!" says Grandpa. "So you try to
understand too!"
   Grandpa swings closed the hatch and disappears.
   Irritated, I turn on Cleo. "You don't understand."
   "Yes, I do. Nellie made poo-poo on our stairs, and
my mother hit her."
   I sigh. But, yes, I understand.

Chapter XIII