O.T., Walt, and some Butterflies


It has been a month, or thereabouts, since I’ve posted any content on this blog. I feel bad about that, but I did warn you all…

I haven’t really been in the spirit of self-promotion or blogging lately, and haven’t written much, to be honest. I did manage to win NaNoWriMo this year, rounding out at 50k words somewhere around the 18th of November. And I’ve been steadily plugging along on the novel, doing a tad of editing and revising here and a good bit of writing there. I’m nowhere near done. I’ve written 103 pages and I’m halfway through the novel (and that’s being generous). I do this. I know I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway. I am much too wordy, I write far too much, and then when it’s time to cut, I scream and rail against it.

Well, I earned it, so I may as well show it, eh?

I do very much enjoy what I’ve got so far, though. It’s drastically different than anything I’ve ever written, so much more so that it makes me incredibly nervous, far more nervous than I was while writing Aroha – which is weird, because that was a work from my heart that was ten years in the making, and due to the subject matter, really should have given me fits. It did, but not like this novel does. I want so desperately to get this one right, to really say something with it. I suppose I want it to mean something. I feel a tad overwhelmed, and out of my element.

My beloved David Bowie, who I will quote every time when given half a chance, always said that when you’re just out of your depth, that’s when you produce your best work. I hope that applies when it comes to me. I’m treading water in the deep end right now, and those words are my floaties.

For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to think of what to write, what sort of post I could do that is relevant to what’s going on in the world right now, how I’m feeling about things, the holidays, etc. But I’ve come up blank. All I’m working on creatively is this, and I’m not much in the headspace to write thinkpieces right now. We’re all just so tired, aren’t we? So I decided instead, as my little holiday gift to you all, to post a tiny snippet from the prologue of my novel. This is likely the only excerpt I will post, as I’m holding this one a lot closer to my chest than my other writing. It is still becoming.

I give you O.T. and Walt, twin brothers from Five Forks, my brain babies, for whom I have very high hopes. And I would love to hear your feedback.

“Daughter of Farmer who will be Resettled – Wolf Creek, GA 1935” by Arthur Rothstein. I snapped this photo out of an Erskine Caldwell book because I fell head over heels in love with her (it was mainly because of the shoes, but also – her expression slays me).


Five Forks, GA

The two monarch butterflies were flitting uselessly around, battering against the air, dancing on the mid-afternoon breeze, as O.T. Lawrence and his brother, Walt, sweated in the fields. One butterfly was orange, and one blue. Walt stood up from his work for a minute, watching the two butterflies air dance, a blade of grass stuck in his mouth. He chewed on blades of grass pretty much round the clock, but especially when he felt a nervous spell coming on, or if he was concentrating hard. O.T. stopped too, leaning on his hoe, looking exasperatedly at his brother.

“If’n you don’t hop to it, we ain’t gon’ be done in time for the tent revival,” he reminded his brother, but his tone was gentle. “What you lookin’ at, anyhow?”

“Them butterflies.” Walt replied, his voice far-off the way it sometimes was. “One of ’em is orange, and one blue. Ain’t that something.”

“Not partic-ly.” O.T. went back to his work. The ground was harder than it should be. The drought had just about ruined the dirt – it had no nutrients, no moisture. How anything could grow in it was beyond him. Hoeing was a harder job than it already was, this year, and was taking twice as long. He wished Walt would hop to it. He was itching to get in the house for a bath and to spruce up before revival tonight. Betty Lou Pittman was going to be there. At this rate by the time they got in, the water in the wash tub would be ice cold. He wasn’t studying on butterflies.

“It is, though.” Walt continued, still chewing on the blade of grass. “You rarely see the two together. Orange and blue, I mean.”

“They’s both monarchs, ain’t they?”

“Yeah. But the two colors don’t usually mix comp’ny.”

“Like people, I reckon.” O.T. said.

“What you mean?” Walt said, the joke sailing past him.

“Last I checked, you wadn’t no butterfly expert.” O.T. didn’t bother to explain. He enjoyed teasing his brother, though Lord knew why, because most of the time Walt didn’t even know he was teasing. He just carried on in that far off voice about whatever it was that had struck his fancy on any given day. Once he got on his prattling, there was no use in trying to pick at him or get a word in edgeways. Walt was smart, that was sure, but he was off with the faeries. That’s what Hazel, their older sister, always said about him. Her husband, Tom, was less kind about it: “He’s tech’d”, he often said with a smirk. Well, maybe Walt was touched, but who cared, anyhow?

“No expert, no.” Walt replied, finally looking down at his own hoe, as if considering it. “But I like’t observe things.”

“Observe that cotton patch, there, then.” O.T. said, irritated. “I’d like to get finished ‘fore next year, if’n you please.” He didn’t want to look at the butterflies anyhow. Butterflies brought him bad feelings, dumb as it was.

Walt went back to work, and O.T. breathed a sigh of relief. Any other time he’d be glad to chaw the fat with Walt about any old thing he wanted, because he loved his brother and indulged him, but not today. He was positively twitterpated today. Everybody in Five Forks had been looking forward to the tent revival and the fish fry afterward at Misrus Maybelle’s for a solid month. That would have been enough for O.T., just the possibility of getting out of the house for an evening out from under Hazel’s stern, watchful eye, but adding even more to his excitement was the fact that Betty Lou was going to be there.

Betty Lou Pittman was O.T.’s sweetheart. She didn’t know it yet, but O.T. figured that it was alright enough. He’d decided he was just about ready to start courting her, if she’d have him. There was no other girl in all of Five Forks that he liked as well as her. He planned to make her his wife one of these days, or hoped to, if she was agreeable. He wasn’t really good enough for her – he knew it, thought her parents might say so, and he didn’t disagree with them – but he hoped to sway her over anyhow. He figured he had just enough charm and good looks to coast on, maybe. He was just itching to get out from his sister and Tom’s house and make it on his own, be a man. Have a house and family to call his. And Betty Lou was just as pretty as a speckled pup under a red wagon, as the old timers said. With her light blonde, almost white hair (he’d heard her Pa affectionately call her “cotton top” while patting her on her delicate head, and he’d been jealous as hell) and cool blue eyes, she made his heart skip a beat. She always smelled like talcum powder and roses, and her sack dresses were the cleanest and best pressed in the county. Yeah, he reckoned he was in love with Betty Lou Pittman.

Walt, who often read his thoughts, interrupted his reverie. “You gonna borrow some of Tom’s pomade tonight, you reckon? Did you ask Hazel to press your good shirt? Cause y’know Betty Lou is going to be there.” He stabbed his hoe into the ground and dragged it over the roots, cutting his eyes at O.T.

He pretended not to notice. “Yeah, reckon she’ll be there. Don’t go giving me hell about it, neither.”

“I ain’t.” Walt said, still cutting his eyes at his brother. They had the same eyes, the two of them. The same everything. They were identical twin brothers, the only ones in Five Forks, as it happened. They looked exactly the same, from their coffee brown eyes to their suntanned skin, both of them long and lean like stringbeans, just like their Daddy had been. They had the same light brown hair, fine and shaggy, which Walt didn’t give a flip about, leaving his unruly with cowlicks and a mess of tangles, always down over his ears like a hoodlum. O.T. was more careful with his, slicking it back, out of his eyes, using pomade when he could get it. The only way most people could tell them apart was by their hair. Walt ran a hand through his now, a finger getting stuck in a tangle. He pushed the mess behind an ear. “I just got to figuring you gon’ marry that girl, like. And leave us. You gon’ leave me, brother?”

His voice was teasing, but O.T. could hear the worry in it. Walt wouldn’t do well here alone with Tom and Hazel. Tom was rough as cob, and Hazel never took their part. She didn’t dare challenge Tom, who didn’t like boys to be “soft”. He was a respectable man, at least where it counted to most, and he took care of Hazel and her family, but he definitely didn’t believe in sparing the rod. “If’n me and Hazel ever have a son,” he liked to boast to Walt and O.T. at the dinner table, “he wouldn’t be soft. No sirree. You boys is raised soft as a ol’ egg.” Every time he took a switch to Walt’s tender skin, which was often, since Walt just couldn’t help acting so funny, O.T. would dig his fingernails into his hands to keep from crying himself.

“Don’t worry bout that.” He said, gesturing at Walt to keep digging. “Anywhere I go, you go too. If’n you want to, that is.”

“Really? You mean it? You’d let me live with you and yer ol’ lady?”

“Accourse. You’re my twin brother, dummy. I ain’t leaving you.” He grinned. “Unless you keep slacking on your work, that is. Jee-ma-nee, Walt, could you hop to it?”

He could see Walt’s relieved grin out of the corner of his eye, as he resumed his digging.

“Anyhow, I figger you might up and leave me soon.” He teased.

“How you figger that?”

“I heer’d that they’s a right purdy girl traveling with the tent revival. You remember that preacher man, that guy they call Billy B?”

“Yeah. I ‘member. Big ol’ fat man. Real jolly like. Wears white suits and that big ol’ hat, bigger’n his head.” Walt replied. “What about ‘im?”

“This year he’s got a new whatchacallit – a prentis – a gal. His niece, I heard tell. And they say she’s right purdy. And our age.”

Walt shrugged, his shoulders caving towards his chest like a V. “What’s that got to do with me?”

“Nothing atall. I don’t reckon. Since you’re too fool to go and talk to her.”

“I ain’t.”

“You are.”

“You calling me yaller?”

“Reckon so.”

“I ain’t.”

“Prove it, then.” O.T. said. “You go on up to her tonight, introduce yourself. Bet you cain’t.”

“I’ll go right on up and say how-do.” Walt said, chawing his blade of grass to a pulp. “That’ll fix you.”

“Yep, that’ll fix me but good.” O.T. said, turning his head to hide his smile.

The two butterflies were still flitting over their heads. Orange and blue, light and dark, as the mid-day sun crept through the sky towards dusk, one twin digging his hoe into the unforgiving hard soil, and the other twin chewing the blade of grass between his teeth, turning his lips green.

Copyright Lillah Lawson 2016

By lillahlawson

Author of Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree (Regal House, 2019), and the Dead Rockstar Trilogy (Parliament House, 2020). Georgia Author of the Year Nominee. Poet, Essayist, Genealogist.

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