Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted


Four O'Clocks

by Ferris Gilli


On a certain afternoon in the spring of 1950,
my mother and I sat on a sunlit porch with Aunt Lizzie
and Uncle Ned. I was with people I loved, and had just completed second grade, so naturally, I oozed contentment. Like the adults, I was lulled by the gentleness of what Aunt Lizzie called “a golden day.” The soft air and the heady mix of kitchen spices, honeysuckle and crabapple blossoms, strong soap, coffee beans, and dried tobacco had drugged us.

My mother and I were wearing matching blue-and-white sundresses, and we had light suntans. The natural color of our hosts was the warm, rich brown of fresh cinnamon. Aunt Lizzie was wearing a pink cotton dress, and Uncle Ned was in his familiar faded blue overalls. He wore a red scarf around his neck.

Their house, its walls and porch, and the handmade porch furniture were a worn, grayish-brown. The trees and bushes were bursting with color. The morning glories twining over the gate had great purple blooms, and wildflower blossoms hovered along the board fence. Noticing that several bushes were full of unopened buds, I pointed. “Why are those flowers all closed up?”

Aunt Lizzie smiled. “Honey, those are four o'clocks. They open late in the day and close again at dark. They'll be opening soon. We have to wait until they feel like it, I expect.”

Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Ned lived alone in that house next to the dirt road, on my grandmother's farm in Georgia. They'd lived and worked on that land all my life and most of theirs. Aunt Lizzie was famous for her homemade pies, and had a large clientele from the women in town. My mother sat in a wooden rocker, and I sat between Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Ned in the old slatted swing. While Aunt Lizzie and Mama talked, Uncle Ned listened and shook his grizzled head in approval or disbelief. The swing creaked on its rusty chains when I wiggled, and a shower of sunlight through the trees warmed my head and face and bare feet.

Aunt Lizzie removed the rubber bands at the ends of my pigtails and began to comb her fingers gently through the straight, whitish-blond hair, saying to my mother, “Miss Jane, do you have a brush in that purse?”

She began to brush gently, and Uncle Ned said in his deep rumble, “Lizzie, when you pull the brush in such a way, that baby's hair is agleamin' with the sun. My, what a precious sight.”

“I expect her hair'll turn darker one day,” murmured Mama, her eyes suddenly shining.

Just then a cloud of dust accompanied by a tinny rattle appeared up the road from the direction of town, but we paid little attention. Aunt Lizzie brushed, and I basked.

“My, that's something,” said Uncle Ned, and reached out one impossibly long forefinger to touch my hair, though he  immediately withdrew his hand.

“Give Uncle Ned the brush,” suggested Mama.

Aunt Lizzie's hand twitched at what may have been a tangle, just for a moment. Mama smiled and nodded, and Uncle Ned took the brush. He made a tentative pass with the tips of the bristles, light as a butterfly.

The car that we'd heard earlier was drawing closer.
“Go ahead, Uncle Ned, brush it hard. It won't hurt,” I said.

“Humm,” he rumbled, and made another delicate sweep, holding the brush up and letting my hair fall from it in a thin, sun-shot curtain.

The car stopped in a swirl of dust. The driver's door opened, and Maybelle Swann stepped out. “Good aftuhnoon," she said, her whine cutting the air. “Wahm today, idn't it?”

That afternoon Maybelle was positively radiant, looking somewhat like a huge poppy. Her dress was pale yellow, loose-bodiced and flounce-skirted, and she wore a floppy yellow hat. However floral she was in outward design, Maybelle was not one of my favorite people, and I ignored her while Mama and Aunt Lizzie muttered something in greeting. Uncle Ned seemed to jerk a little, and I no longer felt the brush against my scalp.

“Jane Merrill,“ Maybelle shrilled. "I don't believe my eyes! "Did you know that old black man was touching yo' child's hayuh?”
She walked quickly to the gate and stopped. She opened the gate a little, though no one had invited her in.
Suddenly uneasy, I looked from Mama to Aunt Lizzie, and saw that Uncle Ned was slumped into the corner of the swing. He had clasped his long fingers together in his lap, his head was bowed, his chin sagged into the red scarf. Aunt Lizzie, sitting stiff as a porch rail, stared straight ahead, gazing at some fixed point beyond the plowed fields.

Mama asked, her words shaved from ice, “Have you some business with Aunt Lizzie today, Maybelle?”

Aunt Lizzie lifted her hand and began to brush my hair. The bristles trembled against my scalp. I placed one of my hands over Uncle Ned's prayerful clench. He looked suddenly shrunken, and his only response to my touch was to shrink even more. I sent waves of hate toward Maybelle.

Maybelle dropped her voice to a hiss, and it tore the air like butane gas from an open, flameless valve. “You mean to say you
let him touch hu hayuh?”

I stared wide-eyed at Mama. Aunt Lizzie hesitated as I felt her eyes lock with Mama's, then she dragged the brush against my scalp. “Brush it hard, Aunt Lizzie,” I begged, and she did.
Mama rose from the rocking chair and walked down the steps, approached the gate, and yanked it from the white-gloved hand. She began to speak, so low I could hear only fragments of her sentences, but I recognized the danger in her tone. If I had been Maybelle, I would have been real scared.

Mama's tone could have cut through rock. “Who do you think you . . . Don't you ever . . . these, lovely, dear people, you narrow-minded, congenitally malicious bitch!”

Mama turned her back on the other woman and returned to the porch. Fluttering toxic yellow petals, Maybelle stalked to her car. She slammed into the seat, and tortured the engine for a few seconds before she rattled off in a whirlwind of dust. “Loathsome creature!” spat Mama, as we watched the brown dust settling. “Don't pay one bit of attention to her.”

“Yes'm,” murmured Aunt Lizzie. No other words were uttered while she plaited my hair and replaced the rubber bands.

I couldn't bear the silence. “Uncle Ned? Uncle Ned?”

“Yes, ma'am?”

I stared at him. I was only a child, and he'd never called me 'ma'am' before. I didn't like him doing it now. “Uncle Ned, I love you. We don't like that mean old Miz Maybelle. We like you a hundred times better.”

“The Lord knows that's the truth,” said Mama.

Uncle Ned lifted his head and laid his huge palms on his knees. “Thank you, ma'am.”

Ferris Gilli is one of the world's best loved poets of English-language haiku and other related forms, both traditional and modern. Multi-award winning, she judges, edits, and teaches internationally. An Associate Editor of The Heron's Nest,
she was also editor of Treetops, a column in the on-line journal World Haiku Review, from 2001-2004.
    A series of her haiku tutorials has been translated into Romanian and is now being used in high schools and middle schools across Romania and at the University of Bucharest and the University of Bacau.
   Currently living in Florida, she was born and grew up in Georgia (USA), and though she has lived in different places around the world, her heart remains in the Deep South.
AT notes: Ferris Gilli doesn't just write poetry, and she doesn't only write. She is also an artist and potter, though her bio to me began: "wife, mother, grandmother".
   And though she could write, teach and judge to the glory of  mummified pendantia, the essence of Ferris Gilli is the very opposite — as clear, as invitingly delvable as an 'undiscovered' creek.
Here's a little sample of some of her haiku, in this case also translated into Serbian.
Ferris Gilli can be contacted at hgilli (at)

The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"Four O'Clocks" copyright © 2005 by Ferris Gilli
This short story appears here with thanks to Ferris Gilli, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This story is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2004-2005