“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.
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.
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.