Archive for January, 2018

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 12

January 26, 2018

Louisa noticed a buttercup blooming in the tall grass just beside the front steps. Without yellow buttercupexactly knowing why, she approached the simple little yellow blossom and knelt down, touching its petals gently with a gloved finger. Rising and looking about somewhat self-consciously, she realized it was the first thing since Katherine’s death that she had perceived for its own sake.

The automobile was still coughing its death throes when Dub joined her on the front porch. “Don’t understand what’s wrong with that cotton picking thing,” he muttered. “Guy at the livery said he adjusted the carburetor–whatever in thunder that is.”

“Place looks kinda bad, doesn’t it?” she said, looking about her. A tread on one of the front porch steps gaped loose from its stringer, and paint was flaking in numerous places from the porch railing and trim. The grass in the front yard of her father’s house appeared not to have been cut since last summer. In several places, jimsonweeds and cockleburs reared almost knee-high above the unruly lawn.

“Well, he’s never been the tidy one in the family,” Dub observed, pushing his hat back on his head.

“It didn’t have to be this way, Dub,” she insisted in a low voice. Her husband made no reply.

She went to the front door and rapped. “Papa, it’s Lou and Dub! Papa, you home?”

They heard steps coming down the hallway inside, approaching the front door. The door opened, and Jacob Caswell stepped out onto then front porch, carefully pulling the door shut behind him. “Hello, Lou,” he nodded to his daughter. He shook hands with his son-in-law. “Dub.”

“Jacob.”

“Papa, will you come eat lunch with us after church tomorrow?” Her eyes raced over him as she asked the question, spotting details with a woman’s trained eye: the missing button on the waistcoat, the soiled cuff, the wrinkled trousers. It wasn’t hard to imagine what the inside of the house looked like. No wonder he pulled the door to, she thought. He still has some pride.

“Yeah, hon, I guess that’d be all right,” he answered, his hands jammed in his pants pockets. He rocked on his heels, staring out across the road, recently covered with fresh, orange gravel. “Thank you. I’ll be there. Dub, how’s the hardware business these days?”

“Not too bad, I don’t guess. Summer coming on, the farmers are coming in, getting ready for … ”

Louisa strolled away, the men’s voices fading to a nondescript hum in her mind. She Victorian Little Girlwent down the steps and paced slowly around the side of the house, looking at everything and nothing, feeling inside herself the gradual swelling of the familiar empty space. It wasn’t as bad now as right after the funeral, after everybody went home. Those few days were the worst, when there wasn’t even the prospect of a public service to prop her up, only the remainder of a lifetime with a Katherine-shaped void. No, it was some better now. Not easier, exactly. Maybe she was learning to accept the numbness in her heart. Maybe she was learning to expect less.

She sat down on a stump about halfway between the back door of the house and the tree line of the wood covering Tunnel Hill. When she was still living here, this was a hoary old ash tree whose shade had accommodated many a quilt-top tea party, attended by herself and Addie, then barely more than a toddler.

Addie. I should be with you now, helping you and doing for you. Or you should be here, staying with me while Zeb goes off and does whatever it is that takes him away for so long at a time. But . . .

There used to be a soft cushion of bluegrass beneath the old ash, she remembered. But now the ground around the stump was mostly worn bare, with a few scraggly clumps of dandelion and wild rye scattered here and there. The tree had been struck by lightning one night during a wild summer thunderstorm when she still lived here. Louisa still remembered the searing crash that pounded her chest and sounded like the roof being ripped off the house. The next morning, the old ash tree was a smoking, charred splinter. No more tea parties.

Hearing footfalls, she looked up to see Papa walking toward her, his hands still jammed in his pockets. Seeing her glance at him, his eyes dodged to a spot on the ground beside the stump.

“Lou. How … how you doing?”

“Fine, Papa. ‘Bout the same, I reckon.”

“Dub says business is good.”

“I guess. I wouldn’t know.”

He scuffed the toe of his shoe beneath a tuft of rye grass and started idly trying to root it from the ground. “Boys all right?”

“Yes. Robert still mopes some, and the baby’s too little to know much.”

“Well, I expect they’ll be fine. Just take some time.”

“Yes. Just time.

He pulled a hand from his pocket, wiping it hesitantly on his pant leg. He walked up beside her, finally, and laid it on her shoulder. “Lou, I … I’m sorry. Real sorry.”

She sat perfectly still and expressionless, for so long that he removed his hand. He rubbed his face and stuck his hand back in his pocket. He looked away, toward the trees. Just beneath the eaves of the wood stood a sprig of dogwood, halfway through the change from blooms to leaves.

“I’m sorry, too, Papa.”

It was such an odd thing for her to say, dropped without warning into the silence, that he forgot his diffidence and stared at her. “What?”

“I’m sorry too.” She looked up at him. “We both lost a daughter, Papa. The Lord took mine, and there wasn’t anything to be done about it.”

She stood, staring into his shocked face.

“What’s your excuse, Papa?”

She turned and walked back toward the house1890's Model T

She could hear Dub grunting as he tried to crank the motor car. As she rounded the corner by the front porch, she glanced over her shoulder. Her father was still standing by the stump, staring at the place where she had sat.

*******

As she entered the final month of her pregnancy, Addie began to feel more and more like a beached whale, and Zeb just couldn’t seem to understand–although she thought he wanted to. This morning, for example, she felt his irritation at her slowness in getting ready for church. She could hear him pacing the parlor, hear the click of his watch cover every two or three minutes. He might blame her sloth, but he wouldn’t allow it past his lips. That was something, at least.

She snapped home the last clip on the last garter, sighing as she straightened her skirts. Then she gazed hopelessly at her stockinged feet, so far away, and the high-topped shoes on the floor beside them. Bending over to fasten the buttons on her shoes was far beyond her ability this morning, even allowing that her puffy, swollen feet could be coaxed into the strict confines of the lace-up boots. “Zeb, dear, could you please come help me?” she called, unable to think of any better plan.

Zeb walked into the bedroom, his mouth a tight line of impatience. He looked at her. She handed him the buttonhook. “I can’t do my shoes,” she said with a shrug. ‘‘I’m really sorry, dear, but … ”

Without saying anything, he knelt before her and held up one of the shoes. She pointed Black buttoned bootsher toes and pushed, and he wriggled it back and forth until her foot was encased in leather. Then he began working the buttonhook in and out of the fasteners.

They were just finishing the other shoe when they heard the slowing chug of an automobile, the squealing of brakes, followed closely by the obnoxious, gooselike honking of the brass horn. “Beulah and Will are here,” he said in a terse voice. “You ready now?”

She stood. “Just hand me my purse, over there by the dresser.” They went to the front door. Addie noticed that Zeb slapped a grin on his face as soon as they stepped outside.

*******

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

 

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms …

Addie wished she could lean on something. The burst of energy she had felt a day or two previous had by now completely evaporated, and she felt all used up. The congregation arrived at the end of the song, and Brother McCrary motioned from the pulpit for them to sit down. Scarcely had she settled herself into the pew when she felt a wet spot. She was horrified to think she might have soiled her undergarments. The baby had settled awkwardly in the past few days, and sometimes, lately, she had barely been able to control her elimination functions. She felt her face burning with humiliation. How on earth could she politely excuse herself during the sermon without embarrassing herself and Zeb?

Just then, a sharp pain speared her midsection, starting from just beneath her breastbone and rippling down her stomach like cascading fire. It felt like the time her calf muscle had cramped while dog-paddling across the deep hole in Cellico Creek—but much, much worse. Despite her best efforts, a gasp escaped her lips, and her hands went to her belly.

Zeb looked at her, his face confused at first, then wide-eyed. “Is it time?” he asked in a half-whisper, grabbing her elbow.

She nodded, biting her lower lip. “I think so,” she managed.

Zeb stood, stepping over the ankles and knees of the other startled worshippers seated on the pew, making his way toward the aisle. He pulled her after him. “Scuse me. Pardon me,” he said in a low voice, keeping his eyes carefully averted from the surprised faces of those he was stepping over. Addie trailed behind him as fast as she could, one hand holding his, one hand gripping her abdomen, her nostrils flaring in and out as she grappled with the pain clamped like a vise on her stomach.

Beulah Counts, seated two rows behind Addie and Zeb, punched Will in the ribs. Will jerked his head up, saw the Douglases threading their way toward the center aisle, and half-leaped from his seat. The four of them paced hurriedly toward the front door of the church.

And all the while, Brother Charles McCrary never paused in his delivery, never faltered in the rhythm of his homily.

Pacing quickly toward the Duryea, Zeb asked Will, “How far is it to the closest hospital?1890's Duryea

“No!” grunted Addie, walking half-doubled over. “Take … me … home!”

“Now, honey, it may be fine and dandy,” Beulah lectured, “for them hillbilly women in Chattanooga to drop their babies in the cabin with nothing but a granny woman, but here in Nashville, we got doctors and hospitals for such things! You just get in the car and we’ll get you to–”

Her pain made Addie reckless. “Beulah, hush!” She turned to look at Zeb. “I want to go home. And I want you to go get Rose.”

“Oh, Lordy! The old nigger!” howled Beulah. “What next?”

Zeb looked at his wife, panting and hanging on to his shoulder. Then he glanced at Will, who was staring back at him, trying to avoid his wife’s angry glare. “Will, I believe you better get us to the house, quick as you can,” Zeb said. ‘‘And then—I guess you better go get Rose.”

*******

Seated beside the bed, Zeb watched helplessly as his wife’s grip suddenly intensified on his hand. She pulled her knees up and rolled to one side, letting go of a long, low moan.

He prayed harder than he ever remembered praying in his life. How much longer couldhands Addie hold on? Where in the name of heaven was Will Counts? He half suspected Beulah had talked him into driving to the hospital and trying to convince someone to come back to the house, even though Addie had given him the piece of paper with the address of Rose’s cousin scrawled in the old black woman’s spidery hand.

He looked on as his wife wrestled alone with her misery, feeling as helpless and lost as an abandoned child. In her agony, she seemed distant and locked away from him. He was frightened by it but had no words with which to resist, even had she been able to hear through the fearfully intimate cords of travail that separated her from him, from knowing, from everything that had been before now. She was far, far beyond his help or even his recognition, and he was bewildered, defenseless, and insufficient.

He heard the backfiring of an automobile and craned his neck to peer around the doorway into the parlor and out the windows facing the street. His heart leaped into his throat as he saw Rose stepping out of the car almost before Will could get it stopped by the curb, and striding in short, side-to-side steps toward the front door.

“Honey, Rose is here! Hang on, all right? She’s here, Addie. Can you hear me, darling?”

“I’m having a baby, Zeb, I’m not deaf! Go on and let her in the house!”

Gratefully, he rose from his chair and strode to the door, but before he could reach it, theVictorian Kitchen door flew open and Rose marched past him as if he were a hatrack, shoving her purse, hat, and coat at him as she went by. “Get some water boilin’,” she commanded, “and bring me some clean towels. We in for a long haul, so you might as well get comfortable.”

Beulah stood in the doorway; arms akimbo, a tight-lipped, disapproving expression on her face. Will was standing a pace or so behind, hands in his pockets, peering sheepishly in at him. Zeb came to himself and tossed Rose’s things on the rocking chair. “Will, thanks for everything.”

Will waved his hand in dismissal. “Weren’t nothin’ at all,” he said. “You need us to do anything else?”

Zeb looked into the bedroom, where Rose leaned over Addie, murmuring low and smiling, wiping her face with a cloth moistened in the washbasin on the bureau. Carefully avoiding eye contact with Beulah, he replied, “No, I don’t guess. I think we’re all right now. We’ll send word when … when the baby comes.”

“Well, all right, then,” Will said, backing gratefully away from the door. He glanced at his wife’s stiff, unmoving back. “Beulah,” he said in a low voice, “I don’t believe we’re needed here now.”

She drew a loud breath through her nose and let it back out the same way. “No, I’d say not,” she huffed, picking up her skirts and flouncing past her husband. Zeb closed the door as Will turned to follow.

*******

“Let’s get you outta them skirts and into somethin’ more practical,” Rose said, raising Addie to a sitting position. She took her feet and carefully swung them down to rest on the floor.

“Oh, Rose, I don’t think I can manage! Do you think there’s time?”

“Honey, this your first child. We gonna be here awhile before anythin’ much happen, other than some hurtin’ and some strainin’. Next time, it’ll be some easier, but this time you got lots o’ work to do.”

“If I have to hurt this much for very long, I don’t think I’m gonna make it,” Addie despaired.

Rose chuckled deep in her throat as she unbuttoned Addie’s dress and slid it off her shoulders. “Oh, I imagine you make it,” she smiled.

“Besides, you in too deep now, honey. Ain’t no backin’ out.”

“Will it really be as long an ordeal as all that?” Addie asked quietly. ‘‘Are you sure?”

bureauRose shrugged as she pulled a fresh nightgown from a bureau drawer. ‘‘Ain’t no one sure but the good Lord,” she said. “But I done had seven of my own and helped a sight more into this world. If your baby here by sundown, you be better off than some I know.”

Addie heaved a deep sigh as she settled the nightgown around her. Then she felt a warm, familiar hand on her shoulder. “I be here with you, honey,” Rose said, patting gently. “I be here till you don’t need me no more. Ain’t much in the way of birthin’ babies I ain’t seen.”

And then another contraction ripped downward from Addie’s breastbone and clenched her belly in a steel band.

*******

For the next eight hours, Zeb alternated between pacing the shrinking confines of the Mantel Clockparlor and fetching various items at Rose’s command. When the early spasms came, he was frightened by the sounds coming from the partially closed bedroom door. He wanted to either go in and hold his wife or run out the door and down the street, to return when it was all over.

As if divining his thoughts, Rose had poked her head into the parlor during that time. “You the only help I got,” she said. “You stay close by where I can call you easy and quick. Now, go warm me a towel on the stove!”

He carried to the doorway a dizzying succession of warm towels, cold cloths, ice chips, steaming water, cups, saucers, blankets, and other assorted paraphernalia. Each element disappeared in a flash of brown hands and arms into the birthing chamber. These instant errands were interspersed with bouts of pacing and an inner turmoil that mounted with each agonized moan from his wife’s tortured body. She sounded like she was dying! Maybe Beulah was right; maybe she needed a doctor. Once, during an apparent lull in Addie’s labor, he crept to the door and timidly raised a knuckle to tap and inquire whether anything was needed. Scarcely had he rapped once when Rose’s head thrust from inside. “Scald a big dishpan and bring it to me,” she ordered, shutting the door in his face. And so it went.

As the afternoon light began to slant long and golden with the coming of evening, the sound and activity in the bedroom reached a flurrying crescendo. Zeb’s blood ran cold as he heard the brutish grunts and growls coming from Addie’s throat.

He heard Rose chanting in a low, insistent voice: “Come on, now, honey. Push for me, baby, push for me. Come on now, puuuuush for me, baby. That’s it, that’s it. All right, let go for a minute, let go … Now! Puuuuush, honey! Come on, now … ” Sounding now like a mule skinner, now like a revival preacher, Rose cajoled and urged and scolded to the rising and falling accompaniment of his wife’s groans and exhalations and half-articulate cries.

“Just a little more! Just a little more now, baby!” he heard, Rose’s voice rising half an octave, as Addie panted loud and rhythmically. “Just a little— there you is, you little dickens!” Rose cried in triumph. A few seconds later, Zeb heard a sound that made his knees wobble: the thin, high wail of a baby exhaling its first lungful of air in a cry of protest.

He would have gone to the door if he thought he could take the five or six paces withoutdoor falling. His heart was yammering in his chest like a thing gone mad. Without realizing it, he had collapsed onto the divan and sat there, staring at the partially closed bedroom door as if it were suddenly the gateway to a foreign country.

*******

This post is a chapter from the novel Sunday Clothes, by Thom Lemmons. Sunday Clothes will soon be available for purchase as an e-book at www.homingpigeonpublishing.com

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Sunday Clothes, Chapter 11

January 19, 2018

There was a moment of shocked silence. Then Addie covered her face with her hands. The sobs started in short, silent bursts, then deepened and broadened into a river of grief, pouring from her in huge gasps and loud moans. She felt Rose’s arms around her, smelled the dusky, warm scent of her, and for a moment she was again that bewildered, abandoned child of thirteen, buffeted by a loss that could never be fathomed, only endured. And again, Rose crooned her untiring incantation of comfort: “It’s all right, Missy. You can make it. It’s going to be all right, by ‘n’ by.”Sweet By and By

*******

In the days that followed, they settled into a routine. Rose would come midmorning, after Addie had gotten herself out of bed and in some semblance of order. She would stay through early afternoon, leaving only after she had prepared something that Addie could warm up for supper. On the fine days, if Addie felt up to it, they would go for short walks up and down the streets of the neighborhood. If Addie needed anything from the grocer or butcher, Rose would go around and give orders to have it delivered. She heated towels on the stove and made hot packs to ease Addie’s aching lower back muscles. She massaged Addie’s calves when the frequent cramps would tie them in knots. She helped in piecing the baby’s quilt.

They would sit for long stretches of time without speaking—Addie in her overstuffed armchair, Rose in the cane-bottomed rocker. During the day, the light from the parlor windows was more than adequate to piece or sew by. Addie felt no need for speech, no need to hold up either end of a conversation. Every so often, Rose would ask, in her low, monosyllabic way, if Addie needed anything. And Addie felt not the slightest hesitation about making any request. This, after all, was Rose. Her presence was like the feel of an old, well-worn quilt on a cold night.

Addie sometimes wondered how Rose had managed to get Papa’s permission to come and help out, but she could never make herself ask. Even more, she longed to ask Rose if Papa ever mentioned her, if he ever thought of her. But she was terrified of the answer to that question and left it well alone. And besides, thinking of home invariably led her thoughts back to little Katherine—her adorable lisp; the silken feel of her cinnamon-colored hair as Addie brushed it out for her; the beautiful, perfect curve of her chubby cheek; the sound of her laugh … No, it was better not to speak of the things of home. For now, it was enough that Rose was here. The nights were less lonely, knowing she would see a familiar, caring face the next day.

About a week after Rose’s arrival, Beulah Counts came to call. She blustered in on the coattails of an unseasonably warm south wind. “Lord-y, I tell you that wind like to blew the hair off my head. How you doin’, honey? Mercy, I never seen such a wind as—”

She stopped in midsentence, staring at Rose, who was just then coming from the tiny Coffee cup with flowerkitchen bearing two steaming cups of coffee.

“Who’s that?” Beulah blurted.

“This is Rose, my— She’s come to help me out these last few days,” Addie explained, glancing nervously from Rose to Beulah. Rose gave no sign of recognizing Beulah’s presence, carefully placing first one coffee cup, then the other, on the two crocheted coasters on the small table by Addie’s elbow. “She’s … Rose has been with my family for years, and it’s so kind of her to come when I needed her,” Addie said, smiling sweetly, first at Rose, then at Beulah.

“Uh-huh,” Beulah snorted, placing a hand on her hip. “Well, thank you for the coffee, Addie. I guess I wouldn’t mind a taste, even on a day like—” Beulah’s hand, stretched toward the coffee cup farthest from Addie on the table, froze in midgesture as she watched Rose nonchalantly grasp the cup and bring it to her lips, sip noisily, and replace it on the coaster, never once looking in Beulah’s direction.

“Yes, that’s a good idea,” chirped Addie into the awkward silence. “Rose, why don’t you bring Mrs. Counts a cup of coffee? How do you like it, Beulah dear?”

Beulah’s jaw hung slack on its hinges as she turned to regard Addie. “Addie!” she began in a stage whisper, “do you honestly think it’s proper—”

“Why, of course, Beulah!” piped Addie, at once flustered and secretly delighted at Beulah’s discomfiture. “I think if you want a cup of coffee, it’s perfectly proper for you to have it. How do you like it? Cream, sugar, … or both?”

Beulah stared at Rose’s broad, disappearing back, momentarily framed by the kitchen door. “Both,” she said, finally, pinching her lips together like a miser closing a purse.

“Rose, did you hear?” asked Addie.

Mmm-hmm.”

Beulah seated herself, perching uncharacteristically on the edge of the small settee, Setteeaccepting from Rose the coffee cup as though it were a live rodent. She balanced the cup and saucer carefully on her knees and strove gallantly to ignore Rose’s presence while she made several abortive attempts at chitchat. She never separated the cup from the saucer.

In a few minutes, Rose took her own cup to the kitchen and came back out wearing her old, ratty shawl and a nondescript kerchief over her head. Without a word to anyone, she walked toward the door.

“Rose, are you leaving?” Addie asked.

“Yes’m. I be back in the mornin’.”

“Well … All right, then. Good-bye—and thank you.”

Mmm-hmm.” And then she was gone.

“Who is that old nigger woman?” Beulah demanded as soon as the door was shut. “And why on earth were you … drinking coffee with her?” she continued, her lip curled in contempt. “Having her to wait on you is one thing, but that’s so, so … familiar!”

“Oh, Beulah!” Addie laughed. “Rose just about raised me! In fact, she did raise me after my mama died. And I’ll tell you what else: she cares more for me than—” The words my own father died in Addie’s throat. “—than lots of folks who’ve known me as long,” she said. “She’s just … Rose, that’s all. You can’t let her get to you. She’s just like that, is all.”

“Well, you better listen to me, Adelaide Douglas,” Beulah lectured, shaking an admonitory finger, “she’s a little too big for her old britches, is what I think, don’t matter how long you’ve known her. And people in Nashville ain’t like some might be in Chattanooga.”

No, I guess not, Addie thought.

“You let her keep carrying on like that around you and you’ll be sorry, mark my words. You give ‘em an inch, and they’ll take a mile!”

Despite her best efforts, Addie began to smile while trying to calculate all the inches Rose had accumulated during her lifetime. “Well, anyway, Beulah, I’m so glad you came. Your hand is so much steadier than mine—would you please help me baste the batting into a quilt?”

“I guess so,” she sighed, leaning over to place the cup and saucer on the side table. “Where is it?”

“At the end of the settee, by the door. The bow tie.”

“Yes, I remember the bow tie,” Beulah said. “This room’s not big enough to cuss a cat without gettin’ fur in your mouth. How in the world you gonna set a quilt frame in here?”

“Oh, it’s just a baby quilt,” Addie said. “I didn’t figure on using a frame. I thought I’d probably just lap-quilt it.”Thread spool

“Well,” Beulah said, shaking her head, “where’s your needles and thread?”

*******

Despite Addie’s fretful impatience, March 20 did finally arrive—the day on which Zeb was to return. She was nervous and agitated all day, picking things up and immediately setting them down again, pacing the small parlor like a lion in a cage, staring habitually out the windows, though she knew Zeb’s train wouldn’t arrive in Nashville until ten o’clock that night.

“You better set down and rest, Missy,” Rose said. She was seated in the rocker, and she had the bow tie quilt spread across her lap, taking fine stitches through the cotton batting into the backing, then back through the top. “You gonna wear yourself plumb out before your man even get home.”

“Oh, Rose, I’m sorry. Here, I’ll sit down and talk to you. I’m acting just like a schoolgirl today!”

Mmm-hmm,” came the murmured reply. Rose kept her eyes on her stitching as she asked, “How long he been gone, honey?”

“Oh, it seems like forever! But, I guess it’s really only been … about a month.”

Rose made no reply.

“He’s doing very well in Little Rock, really,” Addie went on. “His bosses are real proud of him. And … and so am I.”

Mmm-hmm.”

“Oh, but I wish it were ten o’clock already!” Addie pushed herself out of the chair and paced toward the front door, then back, hugging herself.

“I miss him so much!”

“You ain’t going to hurry that train none, wearin’ out this here floor,” Rose said. She brought the thread to her lips to bite off an end. “He be home pretty soon, and then you be wishin’ you save your strength for somethin’ besides walkin’ around all day.”

“Rose! You crude old thing! I’m—I’m expecting!”

“Yeah, you is.” She grinned at Addie. ‘‘And so is he!”

Addie stared at her, mouth agape.

“Honey, I done had seven babies,” Rose went on, squinting one eye to rethread the needle, “and I knows how mens thinks, and what they thinks about. He been gone from home a solid month, and he be needin’ you. Don’t worry about that baby; you ain’t gonna hurt him. De good Lord know what he doin’ when he made us the way he do.”

A flush was creeping up Addie’s neck, and a smile twitched the corners of her lips. She turned away, unwilling for Rose to see the effect her advice was having.

The day wore on toward afternoon, and presently Rose stood and walked into the kitchen. She came back, carrying her shawl and kerchief.

“Oh, Rose, don’t go!” Addie urged. “Please! Stay with me until Zeb—until Mr. Douglas gets home. I don’t think I could stand being by myself today, as fidgety as I am. Will you stay? Please?”

Rose looked at her a long moment, then smiled slowly. “Well, all right. I reckon I can stay a little while more, at least. I don’t know if I can catch a trolley after ten o’clock, though—”

“Oh, thank you, Rose! I need someone to talk to, to make the time pass faster.”Mantel Clock

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Rose said, tossing her wraps on the settee and slowly settling herself back in the rocker. “Seem to me like time pass on its own lookout; don’t make no difference whether folks be tryin’ to pass it or not.”

“Now, Rose, you know what I meant. There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you these last few days. I’ve been wondering: what was it like for you when you had your first baby? How did things change for you?”

Rose rocked slowly back and forth, her hands folded on her bosom. Her face was angled to one side; she appeared to be looking beyond Addie, out the window toward Granny White Pike. For several moments she stayed like that—rocking and looking and saying nothing.

“James come into this world during the worst thunderstorm of the spring, back in ‘57, I guess it woulda been,” she said. “He was my first, an’ I guess I was plenty scared, not much knowin’ what was happenin’. Oh, I done helped at lots o’ birthins, but this one was mine, see, and that make everythin’ different.”

Addie shifted in her chair, moving the pillows at the small of her back so she could face Rose with more ease. The afternoon sun bathed the room in warm, languid light. The traffic on the street outside was infrequent, and the ticking of the Ingraham mantle clock loaned a settled, comfortable feeling to the small parlor. Rose’s well-worn voice droned along the paths of her memory. Addie felt the pull of the voice, felt it summoning her steadily and pleasurably into the reminiscence, like a firm, sure hand on the drawstring of a well bucket, bringing water from a deep, sweet source.

“It was nearly midnight when I felt the pains comin’ on, and I sent my man Leland down to Sister Hattie’s house—oh, I guess maybe a quarter mile or more.” She let out a deep, bubbly chuckle. “Honey, I ain’t never gonna forget the look on that man’s face when I told him it was time. I done had to jab him in the ribs four or five times with my elbow to get him awake enough to ‘tend what I was sayin’. Directly, he set up. ‘What you doin’, woman?’ he say, like I done stabbed him.

“‘It’s time,’ I say, ‘the baby comin’.’

“For a minute, I think he don’t hear me. He just sit there, rubbin’ his face and yawnin’. Den his eyes, they pop like this!” Rose laughed again, shaking her head at the memory. “‘What you say, woman?’ he holler. He like to fall out the bed trying to get his britches on.

“We was stayin’ down by the freight yards in them days, and the closest help was Sister Hattie Sorrels. Leland light out for her house like the devil hisself was on him. He ain’t no more than go out the door when the lightnin’ flash so close by you could hear it crack like a whip, and right on its heels a clap o’ thunder that like to wake the dead.”

“Oh, Rose! Weren’t you scared?”

Rose shrugged. “I guess . . . maybe. But it was too late to do much more than wait. And pray. I done plenty o’ both.”

Several quiet moments passed.

“How long has your husband been—gone?”Rose and Leland

“Fourteen years, the tenth of next month,” Rose answered instantly.

“Was … was he sick?”

Rose shook her head. “He got hurt workin’ on the incline railway up on Lookout. He was standin’ behind a car loaded with blast rock, and a couplin’ bust, and he get run over. He live about three days.” Rose mused a few seconds. “Leland was a crew boss, so the company pay for the funeral, and they give me fifty dollars.”

The clock ticked patiently. An electric trolley clattered past on the street. “How long did it take before you got over it?” Addie asked in a half-whisper.

“You don’t never get over it, honey,” Rose said in a creased voice as low as a moan. “You just learns to live with it, that’s all. And the Lord give strength for the day.”

*******

The afternoon wore on, and despite Addie’s objections, Rose had to leave. The Nashville negroes were boycotting the traction company just then, but Rose’s cousins had told her about a group of blacks who were attempting to run a hack service to compete with the trolleys. The hack picked up not too far from Addie’s house, but it stopped running after dark.

“I got to get on, honey,” Rose said, gathering her things. “I’m too old to walk all the way to Freeman’s house, and I’m too scared to try it at night.”

“Of course, Rose. Thank you so much for staying with me a little longer.”

“Yes’m. Don’t get up, now. I can make it out the door by my own self. You don’t worry about your man; he be here soon’s he can, I imagine. You just take it easy, and send for me, you be needin’ anything.”

Addie watched Rose talk herself out the door, watched the door close behind her, watched her amble off down Granny White Pike with her back-and-forth, purposeful gait.

Addie looked at the mantle clock and sighed. Only a quarter till five …

*******

The brakes jolted the car, shaking Zeb awake. He blinked groggily, wincing as he rubbed the back of his stiff neck. He must have fallen asleep somewhere just this side of Jackson, he guessed. He peered with bleary eyes through the window and watched the Nashville station platform crawl past; slowing, slowing, and stopping with a far-off hissing of steam. “Nayshville, folks, this is Nayshville,” sang the conductor as he walked back through the car. Zeb creaked to his feet and reached into the luggage rack for his valise.

He felt kinked and crusty from the journey, but despite his weariness, a warm anticipation bloomed within him. He was anxious to get to the house, to see Addie. It had been a long month. A corner of his mind teased at the question of whether she’d be glad to see him, whether she’d be at all inclined toward—

No! Mustn’t be thinking about such things, he lectured himself. After all, Addie was approaching her time. Such things weren’t decent to contemplate, and it would surely harm the child anyway. Addie was a fine, upstanding woman, and she deserved the utmost resect, especially from a husband who had been so long absent. Especially in her delicate condition.

He shuffled down the aisle of the car. The air coming through the open doors was chilly, after the comfort of the heated coach. He pulled his watch from his vest pocket and flicked open the cover. Ten-oh-seven. Just about right. The trolleys wouldn’t be running, but he could probably hire a hack to take him home.

He found a slightly dilapidated hansom waiting in front of the station, the horse Hansom cabchamping noisily in a nosebag and the cabbie dozing in the seat. “Say, there,” he called, tapping the side of the cab, “you for hire?”

“Yes, sir,” the cabbie replied through a yawn. “Just climb in and tell me where to.”

“Granny White, up past Vanderbilt. You know where Edgehill is?”

“Yes, sir, sure do,” the cabbie answered, untying the nosebag. “Have you there in a jiffy.”

Half an hour later, Zeb got out of the hansom and flipped a fifty-cent piece up at the driver. “Thank you, sir!” he heard as the cab clattered off. He realized he probably shouldn’t have tipped so much, but he was glad to be home, and he felt generous. Besides, he thought as he strode toward the front gate, I can afford it! He felt his pulse quickening as he opened the gate. The gaslights in the parlor were glowing through the windows, so Addie was waiting up for him. It would be so good to see her again.

An instant after the gate catch banged home behind him, the front door flew open. She was striding toward him, as fast as her girth would allow. He set his valise down and she was in his arms, and he was smelling the sweet scent of lilac soap and feeling her silken hair and drinking a long, glad draught from her lips.

“Well, we better get in the house,” he grinned at her a moment later. “Folks’ll talk.”

“Oh, let ‘em,” she sighed, putting her arm around him as they walked toward the front door. “I’ve missed you so, Zeb.”

‘‘And I’ve missed you,” he replied, opening the door for her.

They went inside. He dropped his valise beside the settee and tossed his derby on the lamp table by the door. Addie took his hand and pulled him forward. Toward the bedroom. He stared at her.

“Addie, what . . . Are you sure . . . Is this—all right?” Despite his protests, his voice was thickening with onrushing desire, and her eyes said everything he wanted to hear.

“Why, we ain’t gonna hurt that baby none,” she said in a weak imitation of Rose’s gutteral voice. “The Lord know what he doin’ … ”

Gas light

Half an hour later, he remembered to come back into the parlor and douse the gaslights.

*******

This post is a chapter from the novel Sunday Clothes, by Thom Lemmons. Sunday Clothes will soon be available for purchase as an e-book at www.homingpigeonpublishing.com

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 10

January 7, 2018

Addie knotted the stitch and leaned over to bite the thread with her teeth. She squinted at the piecing, turning it this way and that. She reached over to the gas lamp and brightened it a bit, then continued inspecting her work. Satisfied with the stitching, she removed the straight pin. She laid the completed “bow tie” on the stack with the two dozen others she had finished.

She felt a dull ache starting behind her eyes. She had been piecing for most of two hours. It was time to get up and move around a little. She levered herself out of the kitchen chair, putting a hand to her back as she stood. Standing was getting harder and harder, along with everything else–she was now almost in her seventh month. The morning sickness had abated, however, which was a blessing. Beulah Counts had assured her of that, recounting in uncomfortable detail the story of her sister, who had “been sicker ‘n a bloated mule” for the entire duration of her pregnancy. Addie dared not complain in Beulah’s presence after hearing that.

Beulah had also let it be known that it was foolish to be making a bow tie quilt for the baby. “What if you have a little girl?”

Addie had shrugged. “I guess the bow tie’ll keep her just as warm.”

Beulah had mumbled something about crowing hens.

Addie didn’t care. She liked the bow tie. She had decided to alternate pink and blue ties, Bow Tie Quiltbut it had nothing to do with Beulah and her opinions.

Addie had begun to notice an odd effect Beulah had on her. Beulah was so plainspoken, so cut-and-dried about everything, and, above all, so bumptious and rough in her manner that Addie felt she had to compensate by going the other way. Lately, it had seemed that the longer Beulah lolled on the settee, the more primly Addie perched on the edge of her seat. The more Beulah swilled her tea or coffee, the straighter Addie’s little finger extended from her own cup handle. The more blunt Beulah’s speech became, the more Addie found herself searching for the most delicate and proper language possible. Addie hated herself for doing it, but she didn’t seem capable of stopping; it just seemed to irritate Beulah so.

There was a quiet tap at the front door. Addie pulled aside the curtain, peering into the early spring dusk. Mr. Chester stood on the doorstep, blowing into his cupped hands. She undid the latch and opened the door. Her landlord smiled at her and touched the brim of his derby. “Evenin’ Mrs. Douglas! Just checking by to see if you’re needing anything.”

“Thank you, no, Mr. Chester. Won’t you come inside? It’s pretty nippy out.”

“Oh, no, I ‘spect I’ll be getting back, ma’am . Mrs. Chester thought I oughta look in on you, make sure everything’s all right.”

“Yes, sir, I’m fine, thank you.”

“Well, all right, then. Good night.” He touched his hat brim again as he backed away from the door.

“Good night, and thank you.” She closed the door and latched it. She hugged herself against the cold draft from outside, rubbing her upper arms. And that was another thing. . . . Her feet hadn’t been warm since January, what with the baby taking more and more of the right-of-way. She could pile on ten quilts at night, and though her face and neck might be sheathed in sweat, her feet would still feel like two chunks of ice.

She never felt cold at night when Zeb was at home …. She glanced at the bureau, where his last letter lay open, read twice since its receipt this morning. It was on the stationery of his hotel in Little Rock, dated one week previous. It was scrawled in the curvaceous, elegant hand of which he was so proud and began, as did all his letters, with the salutation, “My Darling Addie.”

I trust this finds you & our (son? daughter? ha) well. Have had good success this week, hope to close two contracts within the next few days. Have several promising leads on prospective agents for Area. All else pretty good here. 

Will plan to leave in three weeks (Mar. 20th) on the ten o’clock (morn.) train. Should pull into Nashville, barring anything out of the ordinary, by about ten o’clock that night. Am most anxious to once again see my lovely Wife.

Much love,

Zeb. A. Douglas

Addie sighed. Another two weeks to wait.

The days seemed ages long these last few weeks. She had almost reached the point of looking forward to Beulah’s social calls. Beulah, for all her bluster and unsolicited advice, was at least nearby and could be depended on for some diversion every once in awhile; a little conversation–however one-sided. Why hadn’t Louisa answered her last letter? Addie wondered. She had written her what seemed weeks ago, asking her to consider coming to Nashville to help in the days following the baby’s arrival. She really thought she’d have heard something from her sister by now.

Massaging the small of her back, she paced slowly into the ten-by-twelve bedroom that Cradleopened off the parlor. She ran her hand around the new cradle that sat on the floor beside their bed. It had just come a few days ago. Zeb had ordered it from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and had it delivered. She and Zeb had looked at a few cradles, had briefly discussed their various merits and faults, but she had never really made up her mind which one she wanted for the baby.

She sighed. It didn’t much seem to matter now. The cradle was here and it would do just fine, she supposed. It was good of Zeb, really, to go ahead and make the decision. She would probably have just dawdled needlessly over details that wouldn’t matter to anyone but herself. She could almost imagine Beulah’s assessment of the situation: “Honey, that baby’d sleep just as good in an egg crate, long as it had plenty of padding…” And a bow tie quilt would keep her just as warm, she told Beulah in her mind.

*******

“All in favor, say ‘aye.’ ” There was a tired murmur of responses.

“Opposed, same sign.” Silence. “All right, the motion carries.”

George Hutto leaned back from the long walnut table. With what he hoped was an unobtrusive motion, he eased his pocket watch out and thumbed the cover latch. He suppressed a wince. Nine-thirty! They’d been at it for more than two hours, and Clem Osgood didn’t show any signs of stopping. Not for the first time, he scolded himself for allowing Dad to talk him into being on the board of Baroness Erlanger’s new hospital. He was as grateful for the baroness’s generosity as anyone else, but there were plenty of things he’d have preferred to be doing at nine-thirty on a Tuesday evening, rather than sitting in this hard chair and waiting for Clem to put things to a vote. And with a new hospital, there seemed to be no end of things on which to vote.

As Clem made full steam ahead into the next item on the agenda, George’s tired mind wandered. He had a new book at home that he’d been wanting to read, but at the rate this meeting was going, he’d be too tired to enjoy reading when he got there. And then, his attention was commandeered by the words “three more deaths this week.”

“Where?” one of the board members was asking.

“One up in Lookout. One out in the county, and one in Cameron Hill. This is the worst spell of scarlet fever we’ve had since I don’t know when.”Victorian Little Girl

“Cameron Hill … Who was that?”

“Little girl–Dub and Louisa Dawkins’s daughter.”

A shock of recognition jabbed at George’s midsection. “Little Katherine?” he blurted, the first words he’d said all evening, other than “aye.”

Clem looked at him and nodded. “Yeah, I think that was her name. You know the family?”

George’s face reddened. Was Clem mocking him? No, probably not. He doubted anyone in the room would know that the mother of the dead child was Addie’s older sister. Probably no one in the whole blessed state knew he had ever cared for Addie in the first place–including Addie. “I, uh– Yes. I’m … acquainted with some of them. From church.”

“Heard it was a mighty sad thing,” one of the other board members offered. “Heard that toward the end the fever turned her mind. Heard she hollered about angels coming for her, and such.”

“How old was she?” someone asked.

Clem shrugged. “I read the obituary, but I forgot.”

There was a moment or two of silence before Clem cleared his throat. “Next item: staff wants two more beds in Convalescent Ward C …”

As the talk droned on, George came to the guilty realization that he had already forgotten about Katherine Dawkins, except for speculating whether Addie would be attending her funeral. He removed his spectacles and pulled a wrinkled handkerchief from his vest pocket to clean the lenses. Resettling his glasses on the bridge of his nose, he risked another glance at his watch. Nine-thirty-eight. He sighed.

*******

W. G. Dawkins walked the elderly couple to the door. “Thank you for coming over, Brother Wilks. You, too, Sister Wilks. I know Louisa appreciates it too.”

The old woman was sniffling into a well-moistened lilac kerchief. “So young,” she murmured over and over, shaking her head. “So very young.” They were at the door, and the husband turned to shake Dub’s hand. Without looking him directly in the eye, he said, “Dub, she’s better off now.”

“Yes, Brother Wilks, I know. Well … thanks again.” The old people went into the night, and Dub leaned wearily against the door, latching it behind these, the last two callers of a very long and very difficult day.

He had started back toward the parlor, knowing Louisa would be maintaining her ceaseless vigil beside the small casket, when a quiet knock came at the kitchen door.

Oh, Lord! he thought. Who in the world, this late of an evening? He stepped across the plank floor of the kitchen and parted the shade slightly, at first seeing no one. Then, peering downward, he realized the knock belonged to the shortened form of old black Rose, the housekeeper of Louisa’s father. Now why would she be coming around again? he wondered. She already brought that platter of chicken this morning …

He parted the door a foot. “Evening, Rose. What can I do for you?”

“Mister Dub, I sure am sorry ‘bout coming so late, but I sure needs to talk to you.”

He sighed. “Rose, it’s nearly ten o’clock. Are you sure it can’t wait till in the morning?”

“No, sir. ‘Fraid not. I needs to talk to you tonight.”

Rose showed about as much likelihood of budging as an oak stump. She wouldn’t look at hrose?im, but neither would she back up an inch. Dub had been around Louisa’s family long enough to recognize that Rose had something on her mind. He could shut the door in her face, even lock it; she’d still be standing there the next morning, waiting to say what she came to say. Wishing desperately he could sit down somewhere, he let the door fall open. Rose stepped inside. A dark, threadbare shawl was wrapped round her shoulders.

“Mister Dub, I needs fifteen dollars.”

“Rose, good Lord! Why at this, of all times–”

“I got to buy a train ticket to Nashville, and I needs fifteen dollars. I got some money saved up, but I needs that much more than what I got, to do what I got to do when I gets there.”

“Rose, why do you need to go to Nashville right now?” he asked, rubbing his temples. “Why can’t you wait till after the funeral, at least?”

“Miz Addie,” came the instant reply. “She in a family way, and somebody got to tell her what happened to her sister’s child. She find out from a telegram, she liable to lose that baby. And somebody got to do for her, now she gettin’ along toward her time. Miz Louisa woulda done it, but she can’t now. Somebody got to do it, Mister Dub. You the only one close by I can ask. I needs fifteen dollars.”

Dub studied her squat, unmoving figure for several moments. “I don’t reckon you’ve told Lou’s daddy what you’re fixing to do?”

Rose’s eyes flickered toward him, then went back toward their resting place somewhere between the chair rail and the kitchen floor. Her face was as immobile as ever, but that single glance had told Dub all he needed to know.

He had to admit, he hadn’t thought about Addie in the time since Katherine’s death. She would certainly need to know, and Rose was correct about something else: the news shouldn’t just be dropped on a woman as far along as Addie was. Too bad Zeb was still in Arkansas.

“I guess you’re right, Rose,” he said slowly, reaching into his coat pocket for his wallet. “Let’s see, here … Five, ten … “He dug about in his pants pocket and felt the contours of a five-dollar gold piece. “That’d about make fifteen–”

She snatched the money from his hand and walked out the door. Just like that. He smiled faintly, despite his crushing weariness. “You’re welcome,” he said to the closed door.

He went into the parlor, and Lou appeared not to have moved since he had last seen her. She stood beside the open casket, staring down into the face of their dead daughter. The expression on her face was that of someone trying to recognize someone who looked familiar–yet not quite. Walking toward his wife, Dub averted his eyes from Katherine’s— no, its—face. It didn’t look just like her, no matter what the well-meaning visitors said. Everything that made her Katherine was gone; this was just what was left behind. This wasn’t what he wanted to remember.

“Lou, they’ve all gone,” he said softly, placing his hands on his wife’s shoulders. “Why don’t you come to bed? You’ve been right here all day, on your feet.”

“Who was at the kitchen door?” she asked him, without taking her eyes off her child’s death portraitface.

“Just old Rose,” he said, surprised that Louisa had been aware enough to ask the question. “She wants to go to Nashville. To be with Addie.”

After a pause, Louisa nodded. Then turned and walked away, toward the stairs.

“Where you going, honey?” Dub asked.

“To bed, I guess. Maybe if I lie down, I can let myself cry.”

*******

Rose sat on the hard bench in the colored car, staring out the window as the night rushed past, featureless and punctuated only by the frequent glowing cinders from the smokestack.

The colored car was right behind the engine, so the air in the car was uncomfortably full of smoke and coal dust, and the noise and bumps and shakes were more noticeable. It was an old, ramshackle wooden coach, in sharp contrast to the sleek, upholstered, well-equipped steel coaches available to the white passengers of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis line. Rose would have liked to use the toilet, but the smell was unpleasant, even from where she was seated at the other end of the car. She wasn’t that uncomfortable—yet.

Not many folks, colored or otherwise, rode the late train to Nashville. There was a young,Train Wheels bright-skinned woman with a brand-new basket in her lap, seated two rows up and across the aisle, to Rose’s left. A little closer to the front and on the same side as Rose, there was an old man and two young boys, about seven and twelve, Rose figured. The man’s skin was the hue of water-stained chestnuts, and the boys were somewhat lighter. The boys were sprawled asleep on two of the benches, so soundly asleep that even when the train’s rough motion jogged them onto the floor, they crawled back onto their plank resting places without opening their eyes.

Rose watched the dark roll by and thought about everything that was happening. It was too bad about Louisa’s little girl. Addie would take the news awful hard, Rose knew; Katherine had been her favorite. She was a sweet little child, always so happy and content. Seemed like those were the ones that took bad sick most often. Maybe not, though, she reasoned. Maybe with them you just noticed more. But children were surely hardest to lose or to see lost. It was out of order; the wrong of it showed up more plainly. “Lord Jesus, please come ‘longside Miz Louisa and Mister Dub,” Rose mouthed silently. “You know what they needin’—give it to ‘em, Lord, amen.”

Rose thought about the bits of news she had gleaned about Addie during her errands to the Dawkins’s home during Katherine’s illness. Her stuck there in Nashville, coming to her time in the middle of a bunch of strangers, and that husband of hers way off somewhere . . . Rose shifted slightly to ease her lower back. Not that a man was much good when the time came, anyway. Rose had borne seven children and seen five of them raised to adulthood, and never once had her man been in the room with her to watch the birthing of his offspring. But Rose had been among friends, and the women of the church had always been there to aid as only those who also knew the sweet, grinding agony of childbirth could. Her man would come in when the blood and struggle was out of sight, and he’d look at the life he’d sired, and he’d maybe smile, maybe not. She’d had a good man—better than many—but there were some times that were just beyond a man.

The bright-skinned girl set the basket carefully on the bench beside her and stood, stretching the kinks out of her cramped legs. She turned and glanced at Rose, smiling briefly.

Rose had cousins in Nashville. She could stay with them and come during the day to do for Addie. Someone had to do for her. Louisa would have done it, if things had been different. Addie should have been able to draw comfort from the bosom of her kin, but …

Rose had worked for Jacob Caswell’s family since he was a young man, and it pained her soul to see his spirit shriveled by his bitterness toward Addie. “Sweet Jesus, won’t you change that man’s heart?” she mouthed, still looking out the window. “Won’t you soften him toward his own flesh and blood, for the sake of thy Word, which say, ‘he that trouble his own house shall inherit the wind’?”

The train rolled on through the night and into the dawn, winding up and down gradesvalise and in and out of tunnels carved into the flanks of the steep hillsides. At about seven in the morning, it ground slowly to a hissing halt in the Nashville station. Gripping her battered and creased cardboard valise in one hand, Rose stepped down onto the platform, glad her cousin’s place wasn’t too far from the station. Even if the trolley had been running at that hour, she doubted she could have managed to locate a colored car. As it was, she’d have to walk. Rose didn’t mind. She’d gotten where she had to go in life mostly on her own two feet.

*******

The persistent knocking finally penetrated Addie’s slumber. She worked herself to the side of the bed and managed to lever herself into a sitting position. Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she felt blindly with the other hand for her dressing robe, draped on a chair beside the bed. She sashed her robe and parted the curtains, peering out into the gray morning to see who was standing on her doorstep. At first, she didn’t recognize the short, broad shape. Then, as the caller reached toward the door to knock again, she turned her face slightly toward the window where Addie stood. Rose! With a gasp of joy, Addie weaved her way around the bed in the tiny room and stepped as quickly as she could across the parlor, toward the front door.

She yanked open the door and threw wide her arms to receive Rose’s squat form. The two women embraced in the open doorway. “Oh, now honey, we got to be careful,” Rose said a moment later, placing a hand on Addie’s protruding belly. “Way you done swole up, two be a crowd!”

“Come in out of this cold air,” Addie said, smiling. “I just can’t believe you’re here! How long can you stay?”

Rose pulled the door to, then turned to look carefully at Addie. “Long as you need me, honey. I’m here to do for you till your baby come. “

Addie stared at her, placing a hand to her mouth. “Oh, but … Papa. How did you manage—”

“Don’t make no difference,” Rose said. ‘‘I’m here, and I’m stayin’ till I ain’t needed no more or you tell me to clear out. Set yourself down, now! Ain’t no call for you to be standin’ up all this time.” Rose fussed over her, getting her seated and propped up just so, mumbling and clucking all the while. Addie sighed under the ministrations, feeling more comforted and at home than she had since …

“Now, Rose, you must tell me all about Lou and all the others. I was expecting to hear from her anytime, but she hasn’t written in the longest.”

Rose paused in her bustling about, giving Addie a slow, careful look. She straightened slowly, arms akimbo, and fixed Addie with a sad look, her head cocked slightly to one side. “Honey, that’s the other reason I’m here. Your sister ain’t going to be able to come.”

Addie’s eyes went wide. “Why? What’s wrong? Is it Dub? Or … or Lou herself?”

Rose shook her head and stooped again to lay a hand on Addie’s arm. “No, honey. Ain’t Sweet By and Bynone of the grown folk. It’s your niece, Katherine, sugar. The scarlet fever done took her. She done passed.”

*******

This post is a chapter from the novel Sunday Clothes, by Thom Lemmons. Sunday Clothes will soon be available for purchase as an e-book at www.homingpigeonpublishing.com