Southern Belles

by Emily Ould. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2022


June Florence Belle


And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest

I was eight years old the night my sister died. There was a fever in the house, sweeping through it like the boll weevil eats away at cotton.

I should’ve known it from the way my Mama was hollering. The way Pa tried to shush her. The way Rose looked at me, white eyed, as we both sat up in bed. We pulled the sheets close, like that would make Mama’s hollering stop. Like it would make time pause and we could go back to sleep.

But June was gone. She was four years old.

When Rose and I went in that room to say goodbye and we saw June’s face, we both started bawling. But Mama kissed my fingers and whispered, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay. She’s home, she’s home.’ Pa stood there, never saying a word, but he wrapped an arm round my shoulder and pulled me close. He smelled like tobacco and fine oil. Rose held on tight to my hand.

It was just us now; Rose, Pa, Mama and me.

I reached down over the bed and stroked June’s face softly. I swept a curl over from beneath her chin. She was still warm. 

It’s okay, it’s okay. She’s home, she’s home.

Mama’s words echoed back and forth in my head, like a pendulum from a clock. But no matter what she said, I didn’t believe none of it. Home weren’t with the Lord inside some pearly white gates of heaven; home was right there–in that house–with my Mama, and Pa, and Rose.