Monday, July 30, 2012

The Returning

Once while visiting the giant Sequoia’s in King’s Canyon in California, I was struck by the silent, but breathing beauty of the spirits in these majestic beings.  We asked the park ranger how it was kept so clean and free from yelling teens and loud music.  He answered…”The trees do it; they have a power over people that's mystical and beautiful.”  It’s true, I felt like I was in God’s Cathedral. I remember my dad talking of the huge virgin Pines that were cut for lumber when he was a young man in 1928, working in his papa’s sawmill.  I had to wonder what these beautiful beings must have felt being so violently thrown from their trees.   We all think of the animals losing their homes during the felling, but what about the tree itself.
                   What would happen if one got so damned mad, he became evil?

The Returning

                                 By F.J. Wilson 

       A spirit was released the day the huge virgin pine was felled.  Dislodged from its nesting place in the three hundred year old tree; the spirit emerged slowly and followed the great tree as it was floated down the Pascagoula River to the lumber mill twenty miles away.  Large muscular Men hauled the giant log out of the water and deposited it on the riverbank. The spirit; confused and angry hovered around the dead thing that was its home. It watched other souls coming out of the water, lingering and mingling around trees that were alive one moment and dead the next.  The big spirit gathered those souls into itself and grew.  It grew in strength and it grew in anger and it vowed to stop the men who destroyed its nesting place.  Some spirits felt the evil and escaped its power and went back into the big woods to find new trees and new lives.  But the great Pine spirit was not as easily assuaged as the young and began to take his revenge on the humans who were murdering the trees on a daily basis; ignorant and uncaring of the souls being displaced and abandoned.  These men, blind to the devastation of the land, and the little universes living among them, continued making a living off the misfortune of these unseen worlds. 

The Pine spirit’s first victim was an old man, carelessly working the great saw after so many years.  It was an easy job for the angry spirit; it took no energy at all really, just a quick breath of evil and the old man, lost in his own reverie, looked up too soon and became bloody human parts of a lady’s dresser. 

The funeral was sweet and conventional and only the little widow truly mourned.  No one suspected foul play.

“It was bound to happen sooner or later, and don’t we all have to go sometime?  He was too old; he should’ve retired years ago.  I warned him, but he wouldn’t listen.”  The old man’s boss told everyone at the funeral.

The young strong workers thought nothing of an old man’s tragic death.  It made morbid stories, telling of the blood and body parts strewn around the mill yard.  The story was told again and again over beers down at the local juke joint, until a wreck on the highway captured their sick attention and the old man became a bar tale forgotten.

So the little mill continued to kill the beautiful trees and the young men took over the saws from the old, and no one noticed the number of accidents produced by the big saws and the logs.  No one noticed that the young men were dying as well as the old, and their wives were dying in childbirth taking the babies with them. 

As the years passed, the Soul Eater Vigilante as the other trees named him, lost his soul to the essence of evil.  What once was revenge was now a way of life.  His evil continued to grow and continued to be joined by the souls of other trees, especially the old and confused big virgin Pine, who didn’t make a quick transition from death to eternity, but were caught unaware by the evil. Their goodness trapped by their own fear, within the large evil.  The young Pine souls made quick their leaving, in the presence of such powerful hate, and so any good strong spirits that could’ve helped to release the caught souls, were swept away into the Universe to come again as young innocent saplings.

Over the years, even the furniture and lumber made from the original Pine of the Soul Eater took on an ominous feel and began to rot and fall apart; floors began to sag and in the end, all became compost for a landfill.  But the huge evil kept growing until it spread passed the little mill, long since deserted due to the countless accidents and tragedies, and into the surrounding countryside.

Crops began to fail and farmers moved away, selling their small parcels of land to the modern developers to be used for large gaudy Mac’mansions.  Little communities and towns talked of the Soul Eater, and scared children into being good, but only a few believed it’s true powers.  The little communities became deserted and the young moved into the cities. The old community became known as “the country”. 

The evil liked the solitude he’d created.  Going into the cities for his mischief was too frustrating.  The evils that lived in the great cities were foreign and some more powerful, so he found his victims among the campers and hikers who dared enter his woods.  Some lived to tell the tales of his work, but most found death to be a sweet release from the torture he gave in large helpings.  The Soul Eater was good at his work. Getting into the minds of his victims, he’d discovered their fears.  He could produce death by fright in a heartbeat, or in most cases a stopped heartbeat.  Only the very ignorant could escape his mind play; they were too closed to the spirit world to fear it, but, they became easy victims of their own carelessness around snakes and old well’s hiding under thick carpets of pine straw and dead leaves. 

Morgan bought the little deserted farmhouse in the piney woods so she could have quiet days and nights for her painting.  She’d been six years in New York, and she loved it.  The energy, the excess, everything everyone goes there to have, she’d had, but she had to work every minute of every day, of every week of the year, just to keep herself in the lane she’d chosen.  The last year was hard, over bearing and senseless. Her creativity had stopped and nothing inspired it to start again.  She came home for her father’s funeral and to mend a broken heart by a man who’d taken advantage, and mistreated her.  For the first time in six years, she realized how badly she’d abused the beauty of her roots and what they could do to mend the spirit.

 Her soul had to recuperate and the little farmhouse was the perfect haven.  She bought it with the money left to her by her Father, the last man killed at the little saw mill.  She knew he’d have loved it here in the shadow of the tall Pines, they both loved.  His stories of the evil Pine spirit that roamed the area terrified her as a child, making the “boogieman” seem harmless in comparison.  She’d bury her head in his chest when hearing the last moments of a man’s life being filled with the odor of pinesap and fear.  But, with her face buried in his chest, all she could smell was ‘Ole Spice’; his last cigarette and safety.  She’d forgotten these stories of so long ago, but moving into the little house brought them all alive to her again, and she thought she might paint the woods with the horrible spirit in the trees. Morgan always knew there were souls wandering the earth, but she’d never taken the evil Pine spirit as truth. It was just a local legend to scare children, and make little girls feel safe in their Daddy’s lap.  Other people believed it though; enough to move away and start new lives elsewhere. She’d started a new life, but she came from elsewhere to start it here. 

Morgan used her painting as a catharsis for her pain and she depended on it to help her now.  She was left, bewildered and deeply hurt, not understanding how a man can say such wonderful things from his heart; make you believe you are loved, and then walk away.  Times like these a girl could use her Dad’s chest in which to bury her face.  Maybe if her Mom hadn’t died so young, Morgan would ‘ve known better how to go into a relationship, how to watch for the pitfalls, red flags of warning, how to tell when a man lies.  But her mom died young and her Dad was not the sort to give advice on romance, so she’d muddled along on her own, getting hurt more times than not. 

Maybe this little house was just the place for her.  It’d already begun to smell familiar. The smell of pine straw and a faint odor of old cigarettes from the last owners wafted around as she walked down the hall, or as she was going to sleep.  She knew she should have the walls cleaned to rid the old house of the nicotine, but she didn’t want to just yet; at this time in her life she needed the smell of her Dad’s chest.

The first night in the house, she dreamed of her mom’s funeral.  She was walking up to the coffin, so large and large from her four year old point of view, the thing so big and her mom so small, there must be room for her to get in and go along too.  Then the black lapel with the white carnation bends down  and picks her up and lifts her over to say good-bye to her mom.  Her mom is asleep and pretty in her beautiful white silk gown and robe that was for “special” times. She is lying in white satin on a little satin pillow, and someone has placed red roses around her dark hair. Her Grandma’s gold cross and chain are entwined in her hands, folded over her chest, like she’d sit up and put it on, as Morgan had seen her do so many times, sitting at her old pine dresser.

Then her Dad’s voice.

“Kiss Mama, Sugah.”

Morgan’s Dad can hardly speak for the tears, and love, and death, in his throat; all caught there, not knowing how to escape and release the pain that has settled and made a permanent home.

The little girl is lowered over the side into the open arms of her mom, who takes the little girl to her breast.  Morgan can feel the smooth silk of the robe and the loving arms of her Mother, and smell the elegant, fresh scent of her Dad’s carnation mixed with the fresh  smell of his clean suit, and her life is good and blessed.  Then the dream changes and she melds into something resembling a lost fog, seeping through damp matted old pine straw covering the ground in a woods and she knows it has something to do with her Dad.

When she woke the next morning, she expected to feel better.  Such a beautiful dream about her mom should soothe any pain, but she felt worse, somehow empty for the remembering. Morgan began to write in her journal about her lost affair, and at first the pain was heightened by the attention it was getting, but then a soothing release, as the memories began to turn and become a new beginning for her.  She looked forward each morning to having her coffee on the little porch, writing in her journal and letting the truth unfold from her heart.  She knew she had made a wise choice in coming here, close to her roots, close to the pines.

She’d been in the little house a week when the dream came again, but this time she was in the coffin and a little girl was crying over her, tears falling onto her face and ruining the make-up so meticulously applied by the undertaker’s assistant.  She was irritated that the make-up was itching and running onto her pretty satin pillow.  Then her Dad was looking down into her face with so much worry and pain and fear that she woke immediately and turned on the light.  She hardly had nightmares, but the look on his face had really knocked the breath out of her and she needed reality in huge doses.  Morgan turned on each light as she made her way to the kitchen.  Her heart still pounding, her hands shaking, she reached up into the liquor cabinet and pulled down the brandy.  She picked a juice glass out of the strainer by the sink and poured it half full.  She had all intentions of downing it in one swallow, but the fire that came with the first taste held her in check for a single sip.  The second sip was easier, and the third was beginning to do the trick.  Not enough Xanax in the world to calm what she just felt from her father’s face, only the liquid power in the brandy bottle. The soothing smell of the carnation on her Dad’s suit came up from the bottom of the juice glass as she downed the last bit of brandy.

Sitting on the front porch of the little house feeling the effects of the drink, losing the effects of the dream, she began to form a painting of this place and wondered if spirits still lingered and why.  The breeze moved the old swing on the porch and it took on a slight and ominous sway that was not of the breeze. Morgan was too lost in her ideas and brandy.  She noticed neither the breeze nor the evil that sat so close to her, there, on the swing, next to her rocking chair.  The moon frowned as the slow moving cloud cleared it’s vision of the little house, and the wan young woman sitting in an old rocker, in the midst of the bile colored being, playing with her very soul.  How many would have to die before the moon could look down and not see pain on this land?  But, the moon and the smell of the woods and the brandy had done their jobs, and Morgan could return to sleep and dream again.

So, the weeks passed and the dreams came more frequently and the ghostly paintings found a good market, and were sold. More dreams came and became so terrifyingly real that the public went crazy over them and couldn’t get enough.  She began to write instead of paint and the books were made into movies and they all had the same ending; evil won.  People said it was a new expression, a new art form.  Morgan didn’t know anymore what it was; because it’d been so long since she’d had a thought of her own, she wasn’t sure what she was writing. She thought she was just the fingers on the keyboard.  The computer took on a life of it’s own.  She didn’t know when or why, but she was as much a slave to the little gray box as she’d been to the lover who misused her and made her so unhappy. 

But, Morgan wasn’t unhappy, she was ecstatically happy.  She lived in a state of euphoria, in love with a feeling that came so naturally and so lovingly to her bed each night; she trusted it with her soul.  It made love to her in her sleep like a handsome succubus, and kept her drugged with pretty words of poetry and good feelings, with promises of more.  She had no reason to eat, and no reason to take time for anything but writing the books on the wonders and beauty of evil. 

There were bad things happening in the world relating to her stories and books.  Young people unhappy in their own lives from body and mind-changing hormones began to act out from the written evil in the books and on the screen.  The evil was lovingly portrayed and promised a better world to the loved starved teens. They were killing their parents, because one of her characters commanded it. They were killing their classmates, because the books said, “Yes, do it.”  The parents became outraged at the irresponsibility of the writer; the schools banned her books; and the churches banned her movies, and her sales doubled.

Morgan was very rich and very ill and no one could contact her.  She stopped answering the phone and wouldn't answer the door. She hadn’t bathed nor combed her hair in weeks and she was down to ninety-eight pounds.  Her teeth were rotting and her fingernails were misshapen and broken.  The house smelled of rotting food, urine and un-flushed feces.  The cat died from starvatoin and was lying halfway out of the bathroom window, decaying and awful. 

The bedroom, however, was pristine white with an un-worldly quality of freshness.  Her beautiful Italian linens were perpetually clean and fresh with the sweet smell of pine, as was she when she entered the room.  She became a goddess for the evil spirit, just by walking over the threshold. She was cleansed and made beautiful again each time she entered the room, the sweet vestal virgin going to her rape, surrounded by the sweet intoxicating smell of fresh pine and the safe smell of carnations.  Each time she left the room, she became, again, the scum of her own undoing.

 Her publisher was frantic to hear from her.  Other than the manuscripts and movie treatments that kept flooding into his e-mail, he’d had no contact with her in months.  Her friends gave up months before, assuming in her newfound fame and fortune; she’d snobbishly  “outgrown” their friendships.

The great evil Pine soul was happy living in the little gray box on the filthy desk in the little house by the big Pinewoods.  He’d found a home to replace the great Pine he was forced to desert.  He could reach more people through this system, and all he had to do was keep this human happy and satisfied in her own unhealthy need for romance and abusive love.  He could enjoy this vessel, but she’d been getting weak and her fingers were not as strong as before.  He doubled his attempts at seducing her, he’d even added her father’s carnations to keep her off her guard, but she was getting weaker in the beautiful bedroom he preserved for her.  He had to get her to eat more food, but the rats and birds he killed and brought to her made her sicker.  If he could only get her to eat something, he could continue his work.  He’d have to think on this and decide what to do, and he knew he’d have to do it fast.

The Baker family lived in these woods since deserting the militia in the Revolutionary war.  Two brothers, John and Arnold ran through Virginia and across the mountains of Tennessee in their desire to get away from their responsibility and the fear of being shot by the British.  They hadn’t stopped, except to sleep and eat, nor looked back until they were safely hidden in the great Pine forest of South Mississippi.  They found wives among the Choctaw, propagated, and became known over the generations as respected fore fathers and veterans of the Revolutionary war.  As their fore fathers before them, the sons came down in the bloodline, thieves, deserters, cowards and drunkards until the last generation had I.Q.s lower than the catfish they tried to raise and couldn’t.

Jake and Zeke Baker were double first cousins and brothers.  No one asked what that meant.  No one ever asked that of a Baker for fear of the real answer.  Suffice it to say, they were the two stupidest men in the world.  They’d taken Zeke’s car on this particular venture driving up to see what mischief they could find at the little deserted house on the edge of the woods.  Jake wanted to take his pick-up since there could be things to sell from the little house, but Zeke was cutting his toenails with his big hunting knife, the one he used on people who crossed him, and would hear no more on the subject, so Zeke drove.  Zeke’s trunk was full of junk and stolen contraband.  The mess had been cluttered in together for so long, some of the sellable items had rusted, ruined and become part of the  garbage of old food cartons tossed in with his fishing gear and clothes, picked up on the sides of highways.  Zeke was always defending the things in the trunk, as valuable antiques and worth a lot of money.

“Things back thar is valuble, and I don’t want’um stole out the house while I’m gone.  Now shutup bout my things.”

Which usually brought about the end of the argument, as Zeke outweighed Jake by a hundred pounds.

“You aint got no clue what’s in ‘arre.”  Jake whispered to himself as he spat out the window at a stray dog on the side of the road.

Zeke drove half way up to the little house and turned off the engine to coast the rest of the way into the sloping front lane.  Jake got out quietly.

“Jesus God, Zeke, whatchu been a eatin?  You rotten.”

Zeke laughed, thinking Jake was trying to blame him for one of his own horrible just ate possum yesterday, farts.

“First hen that cackles, Jake.”  As he stepped out of the driver’s side door, the smell nearly knocked him down.

“Damn, Jake, what’s that smell?”

There is no danger more frightening to a stupid man than the smell of death and rot.

Morgan crawled to the bedroom door before she died, just two feet from the beauty and love waiting for her in the wonderfully sweet smelling room. One hand reaching for the illusive safety she’d sought all her life.  She died looking up, seeing her mother lower the lid of the beautiful white satin coffin over her, wrapped in love.  The evil one was busy thinking of his next book and hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t been near the desk in awhile.  He knew how to summon her when he needed her though.  He wasn’t worried; he just needed that next plot, the next great American novel, the Pulitzer Prize that had eluded him until now.  He knew this next one would bring followers and the prize.  He just needed the right venue.

Zeke went around back to see what was dead.  Jake went up on the front porch, both men frightened of finding something that’d make them vomit.  Dead bodies couldn’t scare them, they both knew ghosts didn’t exist; they had robbed enough fresh graves to know that.  But a rotting corpse, now that was different, that could make you lose a nice lunch and a few beers to boot.  Jake walked in the front door and called to Zeke.  The smell was the house itself, the fresh body stunk from being unwashed and the death stink hadn’t settled in as yet.  Zeke came around to the front door pulling his shirt tale over his face and stepped inside.

“Jesus, some people sure live like pigs, look at ‘is mess.  Anything  worth takin?”

Jake didn’t want to take anything.  This smell would linger on anything in the house for a long time and he was already beginning to gag.

“Naw, man, let’s get the hell outa here ‘fore they blame us for that.”  Jake pointed to Morgan lying almost in the bedroom. 

“What’s a matter wit at?”  Zeke was looking into the fresh clean bedroom and comparing it to the rest of the house.

“I donno man, but I’m gonna puke if ‘n I stay here.” Jake was out and taking deep breaths before Zeke even crossed to the desk.

The computer was sitting open and idle with the moving stars saving the screen, keeping life going in the machine.  He reached down and typed with two fingers, searching for the right keys.

“M,Y,  D,O,G, H,A, S, F,L,E,A,S, hey this could be fun.  C’mere Jake, look at this computer.  I myte just tek me a lesson or two one day.”  Zeke closed the little lap top computer and reached for the plug; pulled it out of the serge protector and wrapped it around the little gray box.  

The great evil, fearless and strong felt someone other than Morgan handling the computer.  He released the toxic odors so familiar for driving off unwanted visitors.  But they came back on himself; there was no escape for the smell.  It’d been trapped with him in the box.  Just as in the great virgin Pine, he was encased again, but with no escape and no power over this man who was so impertinent as to handle him and entrap him and defy his great evil.  The great soul, was dazed, how had this happened?  Where was Morgan?  But his powers were fading, becoming soft and wispy; he couldn’t remember who Morgan was or why he needed her.  He was drifting off to sleep.  He’d come back, as soon as he got out of this box, he’d be back.  Someone would open it and he'd be…

Zeke stepped over Jake vomiting over the side of the porch and opened the trunk.

“I got myself a ‘puter, Jake. I’m gonna take some lessons.”  He tossed the gray box into the back of the trunk where it landed next to an old typewriter, with no keys; that he was going to fix and sell one day. 

“Get in Jake, and try not to hurl.”  The two drove down the lane and Jake wondered if a beer would make him feel better.  He picked up an old flannel shirt from under the seat and blew his nose, trying to get rid of the smell in his nostrils.

The state of Mississippi took the estate, which was considerable.  The National Fan Club bought the little house from the state and made a museum: The Morgan Wallace Museum, but there was always the question of Morgan’s computer.  It’d been reported missing from the house the day they found her body.  The board of directors of the little museum knew there must be other stories and even a novel left in the computer, so they offered a large reward for its return and advertised it for a solid week on the local TV and Radio stations.

Zeke was drunk again, watching the news on the Friday of the last “reward’s announcement”, and had just raised himself on one elbow to see what the reward was about when his wife came in from the bedroom (the resemblance between the two was uncanny, they looked like twins, though no one ever mentioned it) and stood in front of the TV. 

“Hey,” she screamed loud before his head could adjust to her volume.

“Don’t you ever wanna screw me nomore?  You just gonna set round an drank the rest of yore life?”  And with that, she turned off the TV and went back into the junk filled, filthy bedroom and shut the door.  Zeke, farted and went back to sleep.

The first blast of thunder didn’t wake Zeke or his wife.  The rain came down like water poured out of a bucket and dripped through the holes in the old car trunk.  The little gray laptop began to fill with water puddling in the floor of the trunk.  Zeke eventually took it to the museum for the reward, but the rain had destroyed it.  Once again in his life, he was the object of ridicule and laughter for trying to pass off this mildewed mess as Morgan’s valuable computer holding stories not yet published.

                                                The End

Sunday, July 29, 2012


“Movin On” is a 6 page short story inspired by young men and women all over the south who found promise in the Casino’s on the Gulf Coast and in the job openings at the big Wal-Marts around the south. Otis is an amalgam of men I’ve known who married women their mama’s didn’t like. But in our lives; who knows what makes a person happy. Birty is perfect for Otis, he’s comfortable with her barroom personality, since those are the only women he’s ever dated; but she also holds mystery and promise of a better life… and she adores him. Otis is perfect for Birty. He’s decent; kind; would never hurt her… and he adores her; she snatched him up in a heartbeat. I’ve met this couple many times in my life, and from New York to Los Angeles to South Mississippi, mothers are pulling their hair out over women from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ leading their sons into sinful and reckless lives. Sometimes the mother’s come to accept and love these daughters-in-law; sometimes they manage to destroy the marriage and never know how evil their act was and sometimes they just ignore it like the martyr they believe themselves to be, and suffer in silence.

                                                                 “Movin’ On”
                                                           By F.J. Wilson
            Otis sat on the edge of the porch watching the sun set over the newly deserted fields. Thank God he didn’t have to plough those damned things anymore. He could afford to buy his vegetables in town now. This place could go to rot for all he cared; he’d burned too many muscles and sweated enough water to cause a rain in those friggin’ fields, and nobody ever appreciated it. What did he care for corn on the cob or a cow chewin’ on alfalfa, and if he had to pull one more leathery cow teat, he’d pull the damn thing off and drown himself in the milk. He had himself a good job at the new Wal-Mart and he was going places. No more being broke and down on his luck, no more years of trying to fill his Daddy’s shoes, making a living on a place that had no more living to give. There’d be no more day dreaming up on the old tractor that stole a mans soul from dawn to dusk. Birty found them a little place to rent in walking distance of the new casino, where she’d be dealing black jack. And there was plenty of open sandy beach to have a coastal holiday everyday, if they wanted. In a year they could think about having a baby, maybe two. Hell this was America; he didn’t have to answer to any man but himself, as long as he could pay his way and work an honest day’s labor. Otis knew farmers who loved growing crops, loved saying the Prayer every morning of their lives that God would bless the land pregnant with the planted seed. That was bullshit. It was hard, backbreaking work; with rewards so small he never saw them. He couldn’t remember a Thanksgiving when he felt thankful for the summer’s harvest. He wasn’t a farmer, and didn’t understand how anyone could be. After his daddy died his mama left this place and moved to town, leaving him the remnants of his family’s hard won existence to either play or fold. He finally decided to fold. Hadn’t the world changed for the better though, with the big Wal-Mart, and all the casino boats hiring and giving a man a new start? He and Birty were going to take advantage of the new wonders of this world. Birty came out of the house with another box full of last summers canned beans and tomatoes to put in the back of the old Ford truck. “Birty, why you takin’ all that junk? Hell I can’t eat anymore of that crap, I tole ya that last nite, now.” “Otis, please, just put the lawn mower in the truck, the yard down there is small and sandy but I ain’t pullin weeds in this life time again… get the mower!” No other woman was able to boss him so, how can any woman so pretty; bark like a Marine Sergeant? He lived between hell and heaven with this woman. He stepped down off the porch and went around to the old one-car garage and got the mower and a little two-blade hand pusher that’d been a part of his world since he was tall enough to push it. If there were just weeds, he could get them with this and sell the old mower for a few bucks in Biloxi. He looked around the old garage, home of fall cleanings, games of marbles with friends on rainy days, and childhood whippings. He could still smell the summer’s newly mown hay and grass and see the old Ford that was his Daddy’s pride and joy. Otis kicked the dirt and cursed at himself. “No, now, no memories; just get the hell out.” If it hadn’t been for Birty and her sophisticated ways he would’ve lived and died right here in his past with a miserable present and no future. He took a deep breath; a lifetime of gasoline soaked dirt floor, motor oil and rat piss, the familiar smell of the garage. He reached up and pulled the dirty string to the hanging light bulb before he went in for the night. Otis woke up before the sun as he had all of his life. That was going to change by damn, even if it meant staying awake until the sun came up, he was going to finally sleep and wake up to sunshine. Birty was still sleeping, her nightgown made a bump under the covers, where she left it last night after their lovemaking. Otis thought it was odd that the bump of her night things under the covers always made him hornier than hell the next day, but no use bothering to wake her. Birty wasn’t a morning lover. Of course not, his mornings as a farmer were still night for Gods sake, maybe once he began to have real mornings she’d be willing. He tried to go back to sleep but he knew as well as the pillow that it wouldn’t happen, so he got up and went outside to the shower on the side of the barn. His one real accomplishment was installing this outdoor shower so he wouldn’t track the smell of his sweat and the barn into Birty’s clean kitchen. It’d turned into more than that. He and Birty began to use it on long hot summer nights as refreshing fore play to sweaty love making in the sweet grass under the pecan trees behind the barn. Birty loved making love under the old trees with their lacy leaves making moon shadows on his back and big arms; then gently bathing under the shower on a full moon, before going in to sleep the good sleep of fulfilled love. He was going to miss this shower, but maybe he could hook up one in their new place. Of course walking out of his house naked to take a shower in the morning was probably not an option in the little neighborhood they’d chosen, and outdoor sex would be out of the question, but then there were so many more promises of the good life, he could live without these perks. Birty joined him at the shower; damn she looked good in the morning. The few other women he dated before Birty were pretty worn out and make-up stained by morning, and he was glad to get away before they woke up. But then most of them were quickly picked by him from the few remaining women in the bar at closing time. Yes, his life in the love department had pretty much followed the lyrics of a country western song before he met his Birty. Not that he couldn’t have his pick of the farm belles in the area; he was as handsome as a movie star, with black curly hair and blue eyes that held laughter and danger in the same degree, and could flash either, faster than lightening. Birty was the one who saw through that though. She knew he’d used those eyes since he was a kid to protect himself from his older brothers; he could make them laugh or scare them to death with just a change in intensity. It never worked on Birty and he loved her for it. Birty was his savior. He would’ve stayed right here and rotted if she hadn’t come along and forced him to be happy. It took everything she had in her to convince him there was a happier life for them off this farm. He was just stuck on thinking he was stuck, and day-to-day wallowed in his misery, wearing it like an old ratty coat. Sometimes people just don’t know they can change or that there is change. “Do you want eggs or cereal?” Birty was wrapping her hair in a towel and walking toward the house, flip flops flinging water back toward his legs. “Cereal. Don’t unpack the skillet; we’ll get something on the way… Hey Birty?” Otis saw her look back at him; he knew he was the man she loved more than life. Standing nude in the sunrise, his farmer’s tan fitting him like a white T-shirt, his dark forearms meeting, not blending into, the silvery white of his large biceps and chest. They’d have to fix that on the beach this summer. His blue eyes were flashing the happiness that she’d brought to him, by the promise of this new life. “What, my angel?” “Did I tell you today that I love you gooder’n pudd’n?” Birty blew him a kiss as she prissed and wiggled her butt through the back door letting the old screen slam behind her. They pulled out of their driveway past the “For Sale by Owner” sign, onto the blacktop road, the truck so full of their shabby, tattered worldly goods they could’ve been headed to California seventy years back. They were just south of Perkinston, on Highway 49, when he began to feel a new since of freedom. It was really happening, he and his ladylove were moving up and out. A new life, a better life, this wasn’t just a holiday. They were starting the rest of their lives on the beautiful Gulf Coast. It didn’t get any better than this. Otis reached over and pulled Birty next to him -so close it looked like two people driving at one wheel; the way they used to ride when they were dating up at Red Creek. “C’mere, pudd’n, I need some of your sweet lovin.” He could see his reflection in her sunglasses, but he didn’t see the big eighteen-wheeler barreling out of control across the freshly mown median of the highway. Otis was swimming in a lake with crystal water but Birty was swimming away, and he couldn’t swim fast enough to catch up to her, she was calling back to him and he couldn’t hear what she was saying. He knew he needed to hear what she was saying: it became very important that he hear what the hell she was saying… “He’s waking up, get the Doctor.” Otis wondered why they needed to get a Doctor, what he needed was a faster swimming arm, he was missing something very important, and he kept trying to tell the people around him, to help him swim faster. Then he was being gently shaken and he woke up with a start as Birty swam out of his vision. He looked around the room, it looked like a hospital room, this must be a dream too; he knew how dreams could meld from one to another making no sense at all. “Are you ready to wake up now, Mr. Cole?” His head hurt so badly, he could hardly see. He and Birty must have laid one on last night. Jesus, what had they drunk, he couldn’t move from the pain? He never could hold liquor without paying for it the next day; Birty should’ve stopped him. He was becoming conscious of his surroundings. It really was a hospital; what the shit was going on. “What the shit is going on, why am I here?” His heart knew he didn’t want the answer. “Oh, dear sweet Jesus, don’t tell me; let me just lie here until I can bring back yesterday.” “Mr. Cole, you were in an accident, Mrs. Cole…” Otis interrupted him before he could finish; his eyes so dangerous the Doctor called for an orderly. Otis felt himself scream, but heard nothing but his own heart beating thunderously in his ears, making his head hurt worse, but the pain in his soul was unbearable and he knew he wouldn’t be able to live through it. “Oh God, she needs me, she’s calling for me, Kill me, kill me, kill me, God Damn it, do what I said, you asshole”. Otis was pulling the tubes and needles from his arms as he struggled to leave the bed; he’d become a trapped animal willing to hurt himself in order to get away. The sounds in his throat had become gurgled begs of mercy mixed with the fear induced vomit that was trying to strangle him. “Kill me, kill me, please Jesus, kill me, she was calling for me, sweet Jesus this isn’t fair, she needs me.” But pulling on the last tube caused morphine to be released into his arm and he sank onto the floor next to the urine filled catheter bag and passed into a few hours of escape. Most people thought all the booze hindered his recuperation, but his mama knew he just didn’t want to live anymore. She never liked Birty, but she must have been wrong; her baby wouldn’t feel like this if he hadn’t loved her a great deal. His mama bought the booze, because she knew time would stop his drinking, but his not drinking, would bring his suicide and she just wasn’t going to allow that to happen. She’d rather have a drunk for a son, than no son at all. After three months he began to watch a little TV and once or twice a week she could get him to take a shower, but usually he was just curled up around his bottle, blaming God and himself for killing his sweet Birty. His mama wasn’t stupid; she’d seen tragedy before. She knew he had to drink the poison out of his heart or it would wrap around his belly and make a home. Every other night or so she’d rent a funny video from the local Block Buster, hoping it would spark some interest and divert his attention for a few minutes; but the breakthrough didn’t come from the movies she rented, it finally came one morning when she dropped a jar of Birty’s canned tomatoes and they exploded, because they hadn’t been sealed properly. Otis started to laugh and couldn’t stop, tears of release ran down his face, he laughed and cried until he got such a head ache he had to sit down. His Mama thought he was hysterical; maybe he’d gone too far into his own wounded world. She thought she should call somebody, but suddenly, he stopped. His breathing came in labored gasps, his eyes were clearer than his mama had seen them since the accident. “Mama, you know what? I told her not to pack those damned things, they wasn’t any good nohow, but she was so proud of ‘em. She had that ole truck packed solid with em. She wasn’t very good at cookin’, Mama.” Otis sat still staring at a piece of tomato floating in the cream pitcher. “Son can I get you a beer? You want a beer? You want some whiskey?” Otis looked up and saw his mama for the first time in months. Somehow she’d walked out of the fog of his clouded mind, his sweet mama; his savior was staring down at him like she did when he was too sick to go to school. “Maybe it was just her time to go, Mama, maybe it wasn’t meant to be my fault, just her time to go.” Otis began to cry hard child sobs from relief and grief, hanging onto his mama’s waist; holding on so tightly she thought she’d fall, but she knew her baby was getting better; it’d take more time, but the pain had burst, the hated guilt was out and the healing could begin. Otis left his mama’s house and moved back to the farm one year and a day after he and Birty left it. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast and the little house they’d rented. He had no place else to go. He drove the new Ford truck the insurance money bought up to the front of the old garage and got out. The smell of the place made him sick; he felt like he’d just been here five minutes ago? He backed the truck out away from the garage and parked it back down the drive. He hated this place, he left this place a happy man and now he was back, to the same dead place before Birty. “No, by God, NO.” He walked back into the garage, reached over to the dusty shelf where his Daddy kept the gasoline for the lawn mower; the matches were old, but they still had life. He struck one against the ancient pine shelf. The old match ignited on the first strike, beautiful blue sparks then the little flame itself, holding steady in its short lived but important life. He bent down and laid it gently to the musty gas soaked floor of the garage. Within seconds the flames were headed to the door, and he barely made it out before the old timbers flew into flames, taller than his head. Rotted, dry wood began to smoke and fill the sky, as his past went to its fiery death. Otis walked to the house without looking back. He was thrown under the big azalea bushes when the old tractor exploded and blew the roof off the garage. “That one’s for me, Birty.” He was a proud man as he got off the ground brushing the knees of his jeans and walking into the house. He hadn’t meant to burn the house, but he saw the flames catching on the old roof and made a decision to let it go. “That one’s for you, Birty”. He reached the new truck, as the front porch became solid fire. He’d get a map for California. He heard there were prospects there for a young man. Nothing there looked, smelled, or thought like the woods of south Mississippi. She’d be so proud of him. She’d approve. He’d live this life for both of them now; live it like she wanted, feeling every moment, good or bad, trying new but savoring the old. And most importantly of all, make something of himself, for his Birty. He turned onto the blacktop road and passed the cemetery, her cemetery now, with the beautiful angel statue towering over the other graves and their pitiful little headstones. He bought the statue with what he considered her portion of the insurance money. He looked over at her angel as he started down the old highway. “Birty have I told you today I love you good’rn pudd’n?” He was relieved to know he could smile without a drink in his hand. The end Note: My Dad told my Mother “I love you gooder’n puddin’ and gooder’n dirt” in love letters before they were married and forever after in their lives. It made my Mother happy to hear the words. He wasn’t an “I love you” kind of guy.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Here is the story I described yesterday.  Please enjoy.  Comment at

                                      The Writer

                                         By F.J. Wilson           

Essy Jane and Marian

Essy Jane and Marian often sat on the front porch of an afternoon drinking co’colas and going over the events of the day.  Discussing anyone less fortunate was a balm to their own misery.   Sitting in the low hanging swing with the soft, chintz cushions crushed behind her back, one foot touching the floor; just enough to keep the swing moving, Essy Jane went on and on about old lady Fairly, her neighbor across the road. 

 The Fairly place was a five-room cypress cabin built before God created light.  It was a Cajun cabin with a large front porch and an outside staircase going up into the attic, or garconniere, the boy’s rooms; of which there were five of varying age.  The front door opened directly into the large living room which led past the huge fireplace to the big country kitchen.  To some it’d be called an open floor plan, but to the small community in south Mississippi was just an old log cabin that needed updating. There were two bedrooms off the living room; one for Ma and Pa Fairly and one for elderly Granny, Pa Fairly’s mother.  The girls, five to be exact, slept on a variety of mats and quilts in the living room close to the fireplace in winter and closer to the front door in summer.  The last repair to the house and yard was a split rail fence added in 1870.  The yard was dirt; swept so clean by Fairly women and children over the years it was as hard and shiny as brown marble.   Children looking for a blade of grass to cool their hot summer feet had to find it elsewhere, but after an afternoon rain it turned to a cool chocolate glaze oozing between toes and fingers - a muddy delight to small hands and feet, and  slippery as ice.

There was a universe of difference between Myrtle’s place and the Fairly’s.  Essy Jane kept her house painted pristine white with little black shutters framing each window.  Her yard was landscaped within an inch of its tidy life, and her window curtains blew softly all day after their weekly washing and ironing.  Her whole venue was a monument to Betty Crocker and June Cleaver created to hide the ugliness of the lives within.

The Fairlys were part of the neighborhood, but not to Essy Jane. To her they were an ignorant bunch of trashy people who couldn’t even afford paint for their old run down house.  They’d been a thorn in her mean side for years.  She sat on this very porch most of her married life judging the lives across the road.  Even though Old lady Fairly had no money and no wish to paint that ancient cypress home with the beautiful grays of weather and years, she did have a green thumb and a love for beauty.  The Fairly yard was the most colorful show place in the county; though most people couldn’t see the beauty for the poverty of the people living it.

 “Lord help us, Marion, is that a banana tree she’s got planted in that washing machine in the front yard?”

“Why I believe it is.  I love banana trees.  Have you ever heard gentle rain falling on banana leaves on a hot summer afternoon, Essy?”

“Hmph!  For Pete’s sake, Marion she’s got a banana tree planted in that rusted out thing.  Doesn’t that look horrible to you?  Right there across the road from my prize winning climbing roses and my newly whitewashed fence?” 

          Essy Jane never got over Claude Fairly, the oldest boy buying his Mama that automatic washing machine after he joined the army in 1955.  He bought it with his own money, even before he bought his first car.

He gave it to his mama hoping to replace the hand carved cypress log she used for washing clothes.  The log used by the women in his family for a hundred years or more to scrub the clothes clean.  So many clothes were scrubbed by so many hands through the years in that old log, the wood felt like satin and smelled of clean things and lye soap. But Claude was a man of the future and felt like his Ma deserved better.  No one else in the neighborhood used the old hollow logs anymore.  They had ringer washers and even considered those old fashioned.  His Ma was going to have the latest model, no ringer, just plug it in and turn it on.  He stood fascinated in the Sears & Roebuck store when the man gave the demonstration.  He could’ve watched it all day, but people began to gather and he knew his ignorance was about to draw laughs.

Marion took another gulp of her co’cola and settled back to listen indulgently to Essy Jane’s daily gossip and complaints on the neighbors.

“Claude knew his mama didn’t have electricity in that house, but he bought that brand new appliance anyway; came all the way from Gulfport. What could he a’ been thinkin?  Well, she sure didn’t have to let that washer set out in that muddy yard in the rain and sun until the damned thing rusted clean through.  Turned it into a planter for heaven’s sake. Can you beat that, Marion?”

 “That shouldn’t surprise you, Essy Jane.  The whole yard is already full of enameled buckets and slop jars spillin’ over with beautiful plants and flowers.  She can’t help it, Sweetie, she just has that green thumb and can’t afford no store bought pots.  Look at that lavender against the gray cypress of the chimney wall, my Heavenly days Essy, it don’t get no prettier’n that.”

The Fairly’s flowering roses and geraniums, were an orgy of beauty.  Old rubber tires bordered the path to the outhouse, holding anything that’d flower. The front porch of the old house was covered with sweet peas climbing up to the roof on a trellis of cotton string.  The place was alive with Bumble Bees and Hummingbirds, celebrating the beautiful life inside the old fence and the love inside the old house.

 Essy Jane chose to ignore this compliment to her nemesis.

 “I ain’t had a new washer since Julie was a baby and my dryer sound’n like it has a old tenny shoe caught up in it.  Do you know what I went through settin’ here on this porch all those months watchin’ that beautiful piece of machinery rustin’ its way into landfill?”

 “You’re right, Sweetie, if old lady Fairly wanted to keep washin’ her clothes in that old log, fine, but she should’ve sold that new washer to you, Essy.”

“Hell no, Marion, that old lady was proud as punch of that thing, as if Jesus hisself was settin’ in there takin’ a bath.  You know how those people are, they love to have nice things, they just don’t know how to take care of ‘em. Ignorant, just plumb ignorant! “

Marion, as usual, is drawn into Essy Jane’s gossip, more to please her old friend than anything else.  She sees nothing wrong with Old lady Fairly and her brood, other than living poor with bad luck and that hundred year old family curse.

“How could anyone stay in that run down shack after raising ten kids, each one of ‘em born in that ole four-poster bed, except for Imogine.   R’member, Essy, Earl decided to take ole Lady Fairly to the hospital?  Well, She went alright, but then changed her mind.   Heck, the only reason Imogene was born in the hospital at all, was because her head was crowning as the poor woman was trying to crawl down the hall on her way back home to the four poster.”  

“I hear they got so much junk under it, the four posts don’t touch the floor anymore, just teeter on top of all the boxes of junk underneath.”

Marion has a moment of guilt.  She never can be mean for long, it gives her indigestion.

“Those people sure have had their share of sorrow though, Essy Jane. Hap and Cletus, the twins robbed and murdered in that bar outside Wiggins and Verna Mae, the youngest girl, killed by her own husband down in Mobile.”

“Oh my God, Marion, remember that winter?   It rained for six days straight, without even droppin’ to a drizzle; just poured down from the sky like tears for a dead baby?  I reckon I’d a killed somebody if I’d a had to live through that in a little trailer like Verna Mae’s.”

The women sit and move the swing slowly back and forth sipping their co’colas and thinking; both remembering the horrible time of the girl’s death and how it terrified them with their own abusive husbands.  Each knew it could happen to them, but both thought their own abuse a well kept secret from the other.

“Earl Fairly went all the way up to Parchman Prison with a broken heart to forgive that boy for shootin’ Verna Mae?  I just about never got over that.  Herbert said if his son-in- law shot Julie, he’d be found hangin’ from a tree by his pecker.”

“Hell, Essy, they shouldn’t never have let that girl marry Dwayne in the first place. He was never no good, everybody knowed that.  Even his own Mama didn’t like him.  Earl is a good man though.  Why do you think he can’t keep a job?  God knows he’s always trying.” 

“It’s that curse.  Everybody knows it’s the curse.  Ole Lady Fairly could’ve gone to work down at the chicken factory, but she never did, too lazy.”

“Oh, Essy, only thing she knows how to do is raise babies, if she hadn’t had them young’uns she wouldn’t have nothing to show for her life. Poor ole thing.  She sure can grow beautiful things.”  Marion looked over at the flowering Fairly place.  “Either way though, Earl sure can’t keep a job.  Hand me that fly flap, Essy Jane, these things is goin to carry us off this summer.”

Marion stretched.  “I’m gonna go get the mail, in a minute.  Shall I check yours on the way back?   Lord, I hope B.J. left enough gas for me to get to town and back.”

“Okay, bring me a root beer.  I’ll have it after supper.”

Marion felt so good since B.J. moved into the spare room.  She wasn’t going to complain about anything or anyone anymore. God answered her prayer about that man and his animal needs, and she felt she owed it to God to be patient with Essy. 

“Ya know, Marion, sometimes I think we’re the only two people in the world got any sense. I sure wish whoever chooses the Queen over there in England would just come on over here and make us Queens of the earth.”

“Everybody’d be a hell of lot better off, a whole lot better off, I can tell ya that right now.”  Marion liked a laugh better than anything and Essy could sure give her one.

 So there they were, two old friends passing the time, drinking co’colas and planning world retribution. They sat for a long time in silence, rocking and sipping; nothing to say, no need to say it, enjoying the quiet that comes with old friends. It’s all been said, just needs repeating sometimes. Oh, there was a time though, when silence would’ve made both women so nervous, they’d chatter on top of each other’s words to keep from living in the quiet moment.   Those years and all their season’s had passed.  Now there was a time for speaking, and a time for quiet, neither one threatening to the ear or the friendship. 


Earl stood in the back yard relieving himself onto the base of a Crepe Myrtle.  He was worried about Ma; she was keeping something from him.  All the years they’d been married, they’d shared everything, everything, no secrets, not even the times when it hurt to tell, hurt like hell, but they told each other. 

“Earl, wash your hands at the pump and bring in the towels if they’re dry.  I’ve got fresh coffee ready.”  Ma stepped back into the house from the back porch.  At least she was talkin’ to him; that was a good sign. 

Hadn’t he told her about that woman down in Biloxi years ago?  He sure didn’t want to, nearly broke his heart to see the look on her face, then she nearly broke his head with that skillet. By damn a man might lose his way once and go after the devil in a tight skirt, but to lie to his wife was a mortal sin.  Besides, that woman couldn’t carry a candle to Ma in any way, not looks, not cookin’, and the Lord Jesus knew not in love makin’.  Earl leaned  into the handle of the water pump and dreamed of his wife lying on that old four poster bed on clean white sheets fresh from the line, smelling like hay and sun, waiting for him; the moon full, and falling in the side window right into her beautiful eyes, looking up at him; partly closed and dreamy; wanting him so bad.  No man could ask for anything better than that, no sir, no man living.  After ten kids and three deaths, she still looked like the first time he set eyes on her. Oh sure, maybe a little leathery and a wrinkle here or there; her tits were gone, all dried up; he missed those, but he understood. When a woman has ten young’uns pulling on her tits for so many years, no man can expect young firm breasts, but she was still there, his baby, his love, same as the day she came to him fresh from her Mama’s arms.  He’d always been gentle, even when her eyes wanted more and took on that hungry look that nearly drove him wild, he forced himself to be slow, steady and gentle.   He just didn’t see how a man could love a woman more than he loved her.   He wondered if she’d be in the mood tonight, he’d worked himself into a pretty sad state thinkin’ about Ma and that bed.

“Towells aint quite dry yet, Sweetie.  I’d say another thirty minutes in this heat and they’ll be fine.”  Earl walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table.  He flicked an ant off the oil cloth as it worked its way toward the sugar bowl.

Earl was a proud man, his people lived here forever, so the house was old when he brought her home, but he had fresh paint on the walls and a new roof.  He worked hard to make the place livable for his new bride.  She was grateful too; you could tell it in her shy ways even though she never came out and said it.  She knew what the house meant to him and his family and how proud he was of its past.  The only thing his Daddy left him was the house and 300 acres of land.  It was sold off now except ten acres that included the little patch for a front yard and that big kitchen garden in back. That’s okay; the land allowed him and his family to eat when times got hard, some rich farmer was always ready to buy a few acres here and there.  Hell, the neighbors all lived on land bought from his people at some time or another.  Someday when his ship came in and he could manage to get steady work, he’d buy some of his land back.  He’d fix the place up for Ma, but till then, he wasn’t gonna cry over spilled milk.  Besides, the 100 years of the bad luck curse was due to run out this year.  He never really believed in it, but shoot, one couldn’t be too sure about these things.  Some people believed the curse had taken his Ma and Pa and maybe his twins Hap and Cletus and his daughter too.

Ma set a steaming cup of coffee in front of him. Earl kept this construction job a whole week now; maybe things were looking up.  He could do a hard day’s labor as well as any man living; he just couldn’t seem to keep focused while he worked.  Ma was proud of him for keeping the job; he could tell, but she’d never mention it.  She’d never mention it because she’d die before pointing out her husband’s history in keeping jobs.

“Tomorrow being Saturday, you want to drive over to Lucedale and carry me to the Library?”  Ma never learned to drive even though she insisted on each of her brood learning before they left high school.   Earl liked her dependence on him; it was part of being a married couple.

“Sorry, sweetie, but I promised Mr. Buford I’d give him a hand tomorrow. He wants to finish this job and start another one next week.”

“Oh, that’s good, that’s fine.  I can go next week.  I’m in no hurry.  The Library’s not going anywhere, I can go another time.” 

Maybe his bad luck was ending.  Maybe this time it’d all work out.  He knew she kept feeling like he’d be home any day with that sad, embarrassed look he’d worn so many times before.   He’d just come in the back door, put his lunch box on the top shelf of the pantry and go to the woods with his gun and bird dog. 

Earl got up before dawn on Saturday to get to Mr. Buford’s.  He was so proud of this job and the chance Mr. Buford was giving him, he sure wasn’t gonna do anything to mess it up.  But, how could a man be out on this beautiful day and keep his mind on digging up bits of stubborn roots and large tree stumps?  Earl looked over at the back hoe.  It sure seemed working closer than usual to the men with the shovels.  God it was a beautiful day.

The man on the back hoe was new, some guy hired from up around Petal.  Everyone on the job was talking about how drunk the man was.  They said he was the boss’ brother in law, and needed a second chance.  Well, everybody needed a second chance.  Earl sure had, and was grateful for each one he was lucky enough to get.

“Earl, look alive, now”.  Mr. Buford’s voice gave him such a start.  Earl was day dreaming again with his head resting on the top of the shovel.  He came up so fast a splinter from the shovel handle caught him on the left cheek. He stood for the fourth time that afternoon listening to the boss yell at him for day dreaming. Trouble was; he knew the man was right.

 “No wonder you can’t keep a job with your lolly gaggin.  Look alive, man or I’ll have to let ya go, and I mean it, Earl”.  All the while Mr. Buford was giving him hell, Earl was trying to fish the splinter out of his cheek with his dirty thumb and forefinger.  Right about the time Mr. Buford told him he’d have to let him go, Earl looked at the splinter he pulled out of his cheek and didn’t see the drunk man swing the side of the back hoe sharp to the right and directly into Earl’s chest.  The most God awful pain swam through his chest and he watched in slow motion as the muddy ground came up to meet his face.  Earl couldn’t breathe, and he was choking on something tasting of iron, a familiar taste, blood, yes that was it; why was his mouth filling up with blood?  He tried to think what was happening, but the world began to darken, and there in a pool of light was his sweet, dead daughter, Verna Mae, smiling close to his face and breathing sweet life into him.  “Daddy, hold on, Ma’s waitin’ for ya at home.  Hold on, Daddy, Ma’s waitin’ for ya….  Earl was trying to hold on, but sleep was coming in to relieve the pain and soothe the God awful fear.

Old Lady Fairly

She stood just inside the front gate holding the envelope; she almost didn’t recognize the name, Mrs. Avalon Jean Fairly. Was that still her?  If you didn’t use a name in more than forty years was it still good, or did it disappear like the person inside?  She’d been called Sister , Ma and Old Lady Fairly so long, she could hardly remember the little girl named Avalon Jean.  Mama called her Sister because she was the oldest girl in the family and that’s what the rest of the kids called her, her own kids and her husband called her Ma and she knew the community called her Old Lady Fairly, even though, she was younger than most of them.  She never knew why they thought she was so old, maybe it was because she didn’t need to wear make-up on her face, or dye her hair. Her coloring had always been good, black hair with only a little gray at the temples. Her black eyebrows shaped like little crescent moons, dark lips and light skin, was a perfect mixture of her Cherokee and English blood.  Her cheeks were hollow and it made her front teeth a little more prominent, and her waist was about to move up to where her tits used to be. But she could still wear the wedding dress Mama and Grandma made for her what seemed like a hundred years ago.  Maybe it was because she wore her skirts long, always had, even before the fashion came in and then went out again   She didn’t like her legs. When she was a girl, when she was still Avalon Jean, and Grandma was still alive and loved her and saw the girl behind the name. The boys in the one room, Holy Jesus Church, used to call her turkey legs and chase her home through the woods in the fall.  They’d yell at her that “Thanksgiving” was on its way and she better run fast or jump in the cook pot; mean little boys, tormenting a sensitive little girl into hating her legs forever after.  That was a memory she kept buried deep inside.

When Imogene brought home that beautiful suit for her from J.C. Penny a few years ago, she almost died from the beauty of it, but the skirt wouldn’t cover her “turkey legs”.  She knew the cotton band she added around the bottom of that suit embarrassed Imogene, but it matched the color perfectly, and nobody noticed it hadn’t come that way, except Imogene.  She still loved that suit, but Imogene never bought her another one, even though Avalon Jean hoped for one on Christmas mornings.  Now she just waited for her annual box of Whitman’s Sampler that’d give her the toothache if she ate it, but she didn’t dare pass it around for everyone to have a piece, for fear of hurting Imogene’s  feelings.

 “Now, ya’ll, that’s Ma’s candy, just for her, now stay out of it.”  Imogene would blurt out each year.  Oh lord, she sure had raised some damned sensitive kids.

 Like that washer Claude always promised her and finally bought. He knew his Daddy couldn’t afford the electricity run into the house from the pole down the road.  It wasn’t only the cost of running it from the pole, but who was gone’ pay for it every month.  Claude knows his Daddy’s job history. He should know that his Daddy’d just die if Ma had something nice like electricity and lost it because he couldn’t make the payments each month.  It’d been best for all concerned to let the washer sit in the yard, until finally Billy couldn’t stand it anymore, and planted one of the banana trees in the thing to give it a reason for being. 

Avalon Jean’ a writer.  She started putting her life on paper before the kids were born; around the time Earl had that life altering experience with that whore in Biloxi.  The only thing that stopped her pain for a few minutes was to write it all out.  Try to make since out of it by writing it over and over again.  Just the way he said it happened.  After she’d written it probably a thousand times, all she could come up with was how stupid he’d been.  The thought of his face looking down into another woman’s was so painful that she wrote it into a short story and called it “The Day He Died”. She kills the husband in the last paragraph when the wife comes in and discovers him looking into the eyes of the whore beneath him.

A miracle happened with the release of those angry words onto paper and she was able to forgive him.  The miracle is there, under the four poster bed; with all of the other boxes of papers, full of the words of her life. Every experience, every event, the full length novel about the family curse and her short stories filling old boxes and hidden from the family. Some just bits of life recorded as happened, but all there.

 “Ma” loves her children and her husband more than any woman has a right to – “Old Lady Fairly” doesn’t exist except in the minds of the neighbors - but Avalon Jean loves her words the best. They keep her going, they keep the love flowing from her, they keep her sheltered and they keep her very strong.  She protects them like small sweet children. On those long summer days when everyone is out of the little house, she pulls the boxes out from under the old four poster, and changes the tissue paper.  She keeps them in fresh boxes, so the mice won’t get at them. She still doesn’t know that Avalon Jean is the owner of them, the protector, the mother, of these words. When her children were babies it was hard to find time to write, but she did write.  She wrote when the kids were in the creek, while she sat on the bank with the mosquitoes. She wrote while they slept; she wrote when Earl took them to gather firewood in the piney savannahs, and she wrote when he took them to pick up pecans at Old Joe David’s for a nickel a pound; and she wrote all day while they were in school.

When Imogene was about to be born and Earl had that nice job in Lucedale; he wanted her to go to the hospital to have the baby.  It was Avalon Jean, not ma who knew her babies were stronger and healthier for being born on top of their history, not just the old four poster, but the words under it.  She felt if she could’ve made it home, Imogene wouldn’t have all the bad luck in her life. In a way, she always blamed herself for letting Earl talk her into that damned hospital. He never believed the spirits of his house used the spirits of her words to keep the family strong. 

Now she stood just inside the front yard holding a letter written to Mrs. Avalon Jean Fairly from  “ University of Mississippi Press”.  Her breath caught in her throat, she knew that publisher, and she’d read about them before.  They’d published some of her favorite reading books. One of the kids has been under the bed; someone had gotten into the words, her soul, her beloved stories and sent them off to be read by strangers.  At this very moment strangers were looking into her heart, her pains, her joys, hers… hers.  It was all there under the bed, each birth, each death, the twins murder, losing Verna Mae to Dewayne’s deranged mind; Earl’s going to see Dewayne.  Imogene’s cancer, all of it was there, even that damned washer, sprouting that stupid banana tree.  Now it was corrupted, the power was gone, weakened by the violation.  What would she do now? How could she ever write again?  How could she ever heel herself again when the pain got so hard she couldn’t breathe?   She looked at the envelope again and began to open it.  As she pulled out the letter, a check fluttered to the ground, made out to Mrs. Avalon Jean Fairly, for $5,000.00.   It was for her novel.  They wanted to publish her novel.

She stopped reading and began to stare at the fence. She stared at the mailbox and she stared at the stupid banana tree growing out of its stupid planter.  She stared straight ahead, because she couldn’t make sense out of what had just occurred.  She’d never know peace again, not as long as she worried about the safety of her “word children”.  How could she’ve been so selfish?  How could she have stolen so much from her family?  All the time her words could’ve been buying them the things they needed, but she squirreled them away in some vain attempt at having a world of her own.

She knew what she had to do, she’d have to bring them out and see if they could live in the light.  She’d have to let them be read or destroy them and the latter was out of the question. 

Was this the premonition she had  lately of something awful happening?  Not since before Verna Mae’s death had she felt such foreboding?  Earl felt it too; he mentioned it that morning.

“Something in this house aint right, but if you aint ready for me to know, I guess I can wait till ya are.” He’d said.

“It’s not me Earl; I feel it too, like a giant thunder cloud rolling in from a really bad place. Oh, God, Earl, we’ve already lost three of ours, you don’t think…”

 Earl walked over to his love and gently pulled her to his chest.

“No baby, Earl aint gone let nothin’ happen to any more of our babies, you just trust me, sugar, I’ll take the trouble myself before any more of our babies gets hurt again.”

She saw it clearly in her mind remembering the morning.  As usual, Ma wiped her eyes, shushed her fear and handed him his lunch box.  She watched with pride as he walked down the road, starting one more job; God she loved that man.  She’d write about this moment, about her love, about his refusal to give up over the years.  Maybe the light should shine upon her writing, other people should know about this man, and how strong and brave he was.  Maybe bringing out some of the words wouldn’t be too bad, as long as she was the one to choose which ones from now on.  There certainly seemed to be more strength and power in the showing than in the hiding.  She’d never seen $5,000.00 before.  It’d be a gift for Earl.  Her gift to him to show him the curse never existed, that problems came every day, curse or no.  It’d thank him for all the years he kept them all going.   Oh, dear Jesus, how many hours to sundown so she could see the look on his face when he sees his troubles are over forever? 

                                       CLAUDE FAIRLY

Claude awakened alone again.  Charlene hadn’t come home after her shift.  He heard his daughter fixing her own breakfast in the little kitchen off the den.  He dragged  himself out of bed and went in to help Claudine get breakfast.  The one thing he knew was that a kid shouldn’t have to fix their own breakfast before school.  His ma was there every morning, sun-up if need be, to make the gravy for the biscuits and send the family out with a full stomach.  He and his brothers and sisters may’ve been poor, but they always had enough to eat. Charlene was missing the best days of her daughter’s life and she didn’t even seem to care.  He knew she was seeing someone after work.  He also knew she wasn’t happy in their marriage anymore.  For a long time he thought her disappointment in him would pass, but it hadn’t.  If anything it’d gotten worse.  He saw it in her eyes.  The same eyes that mystified him in the beginning were now turned on some other man.  How could anyone as beautiful as his wife come out of that dumpy trailer park?  He knew better than to marry for a woman’s beauty, but the person who said that had never seen Charlene.  Well he could try to save a bad marriage, or he could save himself.  He decided to save himself and in the process make life easier for his daughter.  He was going to move back in with his Ma and Pa.  They didn’t have room, but he could build on to the old place.  He’d build on a nice size room and add electricity to the whole house.  His Ma and Pa deserved to have a bathroom and he could fit one on the end of the back porch.   He’d already been pricing bathroom appliances.  He could get credit at Mr. Durbin’s store and buy a toilet and a sink and a friend of his had some old bathtubs he was trying to get rid of.   Claudine could come with him and Ma’d take care of her while he was working and while Charlene was doing whatever she wanted to do from now on.  After all, he’s a carpenter and Henry does carpentry work with the Sea Bees, they should be able to make a mighty fine room, maybe even with a fireplace.  Maybe he’d give the new room to his folks and he could take the old room.  Claudine could have his grandmother’s old room.  Yessir; save himself and Claudine; that was what he needed to do.  Money’d be tight, but he knew how to live on “tight”.  To be back home with his Ma and Pa after living these last few years in various and sundry bars and juke joints trying to keep up with Charlene, was the most refreshing future he could imagine.  Maybe he and Pa could even do cabinetry work out of the old barn.  Pa was always good with his hands and it’d give him something to do and he could be his own boss.  He’d heard Mr. Wilson was planning to sell some land, Claude decided he’d approach the man about doing farm work to pay for a couple of acres.  Maybe he could get some of his Pa’s land back.  Yep life was looking up.        

“Come on, baby girl, Daddy’s gonna drive you to school.  Here, let me pack you a lunch.  You want ‘baloney’ or cheese?  I know, I know, no mayonnaise.”

                             ESSY JANE AND MARION

Essy Jane was coming out of the front screen door with two iced teas, when she looked over and saw Old lady Fairly sitting on the front porch holding a letter, and just staring into space.  Marion was walking up onto the porch, dabbing at the sweat around her hairline with a wilted handkerchief.

“Marion would you look over there?  What a strange bunch those Fairly’s. Look at her just settin there starin into space and you know she must have a ton of work to do in that house.” 

Essy Jane handed Marion one of the iced teas. 

“Leave her be, Essy, she’s about to have some real bad news.  Earl’s been hit by the back hoe down at the new construction site.  B.J. was on ambulance duty, says it messed up his spinal cord, be in a wheelchair the rest of his life if he don’t die first.”

“Sweet Jesus, bless her heart.  You think we should go over and be there so she’ll have somebody when they come to tell her?”

 “No, Essy, let’s stay out of it, one thing I don’t like is stickin’ my nose in those folk’s troubles. I don’t mean to be mean about it, I just think she’d feel funny with us over there.  She bein such a loner and all.  Besides, this could turn out to be mighty lucky for them.”

“Well, Marion, I’m ashamed of you, how the hell can you get luck out of that poor old man losing his legs? Sometimes, Marion I swear I wonder about your immortal soul.”

“Now get off me, Essy Jane, I just mean that… well… B.J. said Earl was standing there listenin to a lecture from the boss when that drunk brother-in-law of Buford’s run over him with the backhoe.  Now if that ain’t reason for a big fancy law suit, you tell me what is.  B.J. says… he could be in a wheelchair… but then they’ll be rich for the rest of their lives?”

 “Well, my heavenly days imagine that.  The Fairlys rich.  Course, you know those people will spend it overnight on cars and stuff. And it aint like me or you losing a husband, those kinds of people don’t have the same feelins’ for each other as our kind do, they don’t feel hurt like we do.”

Essy Jane started in to the kitchen; having rich neighbors would be a plus for the old community.

 “I’ll bake a casserole and we can take it over later, once she’s been officially told.  You want more sugar in that tea, mine’s not sweet enough, how bout a sprig of mint.  Poor ole soul, I do feel kind ‘a sorry for her.” 

Marion thought what if her B.J. lost his legs, it’d be a trial for a while, waiting on him and all, but she’d never have to hear him cross that hall to her room again.

Essy Jane felt sorry for Old Lady Fairly, but she couldn’t dwell on it, if her supper wasn’t on the table by 5:30 she’d be in for another slap; and that’d just ruin her whole night.  She wondered if Julie would come by this Sunday - she hadn’t been home in so long – Oh well, she’ll come when she comes.  Essy Jane decided to use a leftover casserole from the freezer for the Fairlys instead of making a new one.  “They won’t know the difference.” She sighed to herself.

The End