Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

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

 

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Sunday Clothes, Chapter 9

December 2, 2017

“So, anyway, like I was sayin’, these ol’ boys went to this fancy hunting lodge and man, they was just made outta money. So they says to the feller at the lodge, ‘We don’t care how much it costs, we want the best quail dog you got on the place …’ ”

Will Counts was fairly shouting in the front seat, but Addie still could barely hear him over the commotion of the horseless carriage. She held on to her hat with one hand and tried to brace herself against the bumps and swerves with the other. She gritted her teeth and prayed they’d get to church in one piece.

“Will is so proud of this silly thing,” Beulah Counts shouted in Addie’s ear. “He figured 1890's Duryeaout a way to build a backseat out over the engine, so us and the boys could go driving together. They’ll be just sick when they get home from my brother’s and find out they missed out on a trip in the horseless carriage. Will don’t take it out every Sunday, you know.” Beulah’s smile testified that she held a far higher opinion of Will’s generosity than Addie.

“And the feller says, ‘Well, boys, the best thing for quail around here ain’t a dog.’ And they say, ‘What you talking about?’ And he says, ‘Well, ol’ Uncle Jake here can find a covey quicker’n any pointer this side of the mountains.’ And they’s this old feller setting in the corner, half asleep. And the hunters says, ‘How much?’ And the feller says, ‘Five dollars a day per gun, and y’all have to buy Uncle Jake a plug of tobacco.’ And the hunters says, ‘Well, all right, then, if you ain’t pulling our legs.’ And they pay their money and go to hunting …”

The Duryea clattered down Granny White Pike, and Addie’s insides curdled with each jolt. She wished she and Zeb had taken the trolley, as usual. Compared to this rattletrap, the trolley was like a leisurely afternoon on a still pond. But Will had been anxious to show Zeb his new toy, and she hadn’t known until this morning of the perilous invitation he’d accepted.

“Well, I mean to tell you, them boys went through the quail like you-know-what through a goose. They limited out that day, and the next day, and the next. They’d go along, and ol’ Uncle Jake would stop, all of a sudden. He’d point at a little scrap of cover and say, ‘They’s a brace right there,’ or, ‘they’s four of ’em settin’ under this ‘simmin bush right here.’ The gunners ‘d get all set and Uncle Jake ‘d step in there and put up the birds, and blam! blam! Ol’ Jake’d pick up their birds and hand ‘em to ‘em and they’d go on to the next place. These ol’ boys was in some tall cotton. I mean, they was just tickled sick…”

“Now, how you feeling these days, honey?” Beulah’s meaty hand thumped on Addie’s arm. “Having any morning sickness?”

“Not too much,’’ Addie said. “Some days are worse than others.” She squeezed a wan smile onto her face.

“Well, now don’t you worry about it, honey,” Beulah said. “You know what they say: ‘sick mother, healthy baby.’ ”

This young ‘un ought to be stouter than garlic.

“Now, for the whole next year, all these ol’ boys can talk about is getting back to that place and shooting birds over ol’ Uncle Jake. They walk into the place the next season and go straight to the feller and say, ‘We’re here to hunt with Uncle Jake.’ And the feller gets sorta sad-looking and says, ‘Boys, I’m sorry, but Uncle Jake passed on.’ Well, the hunters are just dumbstruck, you know, and finally, one of ‘em asks, ‘How’d it happen?’ And the feller says, ‘Well, he got to running the chickens, and we had to shoot him.’ ”

Zeb’s sudden guffaw splashed back over Addie. When she glanced up, she could see the Red Brick Churchapproaching spire of the church. She clenched her jaws and gripped the arm rail. She sucked deep draughts of the cool autumn air into her nostrils and allowed it to escape from between her lips. At last, the end was in sight. Lord, if you’ll let me get there without heaving up my insides, I promise you I’ll never ride in one of these hellish machines again.

Will herded the Duryea against a curb near the front door and set the brake. They all clambered out as several knickered boys broke away from their families and raced over to the machine, eyeing it and pointing at it. Zeb offered her his arm and they walked up the five steps onto the portico, blending with the rest of the faithful going into the building.

The Twelfth Avenue Church of Christ met in a red-brick church house purchased from a Baptist congregation that went out of business. Their first act upon assuming ownership was to remove the bell from the steeple, since they held that bells, like pianos and organs, had no scriptural authorization and were mostly for show, anyway. They sold the bell to some Methodists and used the twenty dollars to buy a new front door and a sign to hang above it. “Church of Christ,” the sign proclaimed in terse block letters, black on a field of unspotted white, and the members all agreed the twenty dollars had been well spent.

When Addie and Zeb got inside, the elders were already seated in the two large chairs on either side of the pulpit. Addie and Zeb scooted into their customary place about halfway up on the right side of the aisle, just as the song leader strode to the front to announce the first hymn.

Hark! the gentle voice of Jesus falleth

Tenderly upon your ear;

Sweet his cry of love and pity calleth:

Turn and listen, stay and hear.

Ye that labor and are heavy-laden,

Lean upon your dear Lords breast;

Ye that labor and are heavy-laden,

Come, and I will give you rest.

Heavy-laden—that about summed it up for Addie. If Louisa were here, things would be better. Someone to talk with, really talk with, not just pass pleasantries while the men amused themselves. Someone to understand without needing everything spelled out. Someone Addie could trust to tell her what was happening to her body, to her feelings, to her life. Someone to give her a hint of what might lie ahead.

Take his yoke, for he is meek and lowly;

Bear his burden, to him turn;

He who calleth is the Master holy:

He will teach if you will learn.

Ye that labor and are heavy-laden …

*******

Though he was mouthing the words of the chorus, they barely registered in Zeb’s mind. He needed to decide what to do about the offer Mr. Griffs and Mr. Carleton had made him. He knew he could turn the Little Rock agency around and make it a paying proposition. He knew he was being given these challenges for a reason, and he knew one day his consistent successes would be rewarded by a plush home office position. He had to think of the future—now more than ever. Surely Addie could understand that.

And then he thought of her tears, of the flat, scared look in her eyes when he had first Victorian Biblementioned the promotion. It had knocked the wind out of him, that look. He thought she’d be proud of him, excited by the possibilities before him—before them. But all she could see was the uncertainty.

He knew as sure as sunrise he shouldn’t turn his back on this new chance to prove himself. But he couldn’t figure out how to bring Addie around. He’d promised to take care of her. And he was doing that, wasn’t he? He was bringing home more money now than he ever had. And the prospect Griffs and Carleton offered him promised even more. But Addie …

His glance fell on the sloping shoulders of Will Counts and his wife. Beulah Counts sure seemed like a good woman. Seemed like she doted on Will and everything he did. Zeb wondered if Beulah might be able to talk to Addie. Zeb liked Will just fine. He might see what Will thought about the idea. Maybe all Addie needed was another woman to talk to her, to help her see things.

*******

They sang two songs, and then one of the men led a prayer. Another song, and it was time for the sermon. Brother McCrary went to the pulpit and stood with his head bowed for a moment. He took a firm grip on the sides of the lectern and leaned into his text for the day. The light glittered from the lenses of his wire-rimmed spectacles.

“In James the second chapter and verse fourteen, the writer says, ‘What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

“ ‘Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone …’ ”

He quoted more of the passage, never looking down at the open Bible on the lectern. He Lecturnengaged the eyes of the congregation one by one, as if he had handpicked each verse as a personal oracle for the individuals in the pews.

“Brethren, it’s easy to talk good religion. It’s easy to say all the right things and put up a good front for the eyes of men. What’s hard,” he said, his voice dropping a half-tone, “is living good religion. James knew this, brethren. And that’s why he gives us this warning. We all need to listen, to pay attention to his words. And we all need to obey. Error waits on every side to snare the careless, the heedless. The only way to keep your feet on the strait and narrow path of our Lord is to be constantly vigilant …”

Addie tried to get interested in Brother McCrary’s sermon, but her mind slipped off his words like ice skidding on a hot skillet. Her eyes wandered the sanctuary. She and Zeb hadn’t really gotten to know anyone at Twelfth Avenue. Of course, they’d only been here for a month and a half or so. Beulah and Will Counts were the only people they’d visited with at all, other than when they came to this building on Sundays. She tried to let herself really see the individual people around her. She knew scarcely a handful of them, but she tried to imagine what they might be like.

Two rows in front of her and across the aisle sat a desiccated old woman, her back bent nearly double with a dowager’s hump. She reminded Addie of old Miss Ruthie at Centenary Methodist in Chattanooga. Miss Ruthie had never married, never even been seen with a man. Once, at a church social, Addie and several of her friends were gathered around Miss Ruthie. One of them asked her why she’d never taken a husband. Addie, a little embarrassed by her companion’s cheek, watched as the frail old maid smiled and stroked the girl’s pinafore with her twiglike, bent fingers. “Well, sweetie,” she said in her high, airy voice, “the fact is, I was in love once.”

Addie and her friends drew closer, as if Miss Ruthie were about to reveal a great and necessary secret no one else could tell them.

“Oh, it was many years ago,” Miss Ruthie said. Her eyes closed in reverie. “Long before the war. He was the sweetest boy I’d ever seen. His daddy had a grist mill down on Chattanooga Creek, just down the riverbank from Brown’s Ferry. He was just the kindest thing, and so polite, even though he’d never had much schooling at all.

“Oh, my papa wasn’t too happy about the whole thing.” The color rose on Miss Ruthie’s withered cheek. “But Mama wouldn’t allow him to scold me.” Her thin, bluish lips parted in a smile as she removed a lilac scented kerchief from the front of her dress. Addie noticed the trembling of her brown-spotted hand as she daubed at her lips. “I never said anything to Mama about it, but somehow she knew.”

There was a long silence. A group of young boys rioted past, but the girls didn’t even blink in their direction.

“I thought he was the most wonderful thing in the world,” Miss Ruthie said finally, folding her hands in her lap.

When she could stand it no longer, Addie asked, “Well? What happened, Miss Ruthie?”

The old woman pursed her lips and turned her head slightly to the left. She wasn’t looking at them now. “He died of typhoid during the autumn of ’32. It broke my heart.”

And that was all she would say.

Addie remembered that one of her friends went and got Miss Ruthie a glass of iced lemonade from the table where the church ladies were setting out drinks—as if that might help, somehow. She remembered how Miss Ruthie’s story stayed with her in the days that followed. Like a sad, sweet, old song, it echoed around in her mind at the oddest times—when she was doing chores or skipping rope, playing with dolls or working on her lessons.

She remembered thinking there was a sort of mystery about old men and women. They knew things, had seen and remembered things. They were harder to surprise. She remembered trying to imagine herself as an old woman; she could never conjure up any image other than a slightly wrinkled version of her own ten-year-old face, still capped by the same chestnut hair in ribboned braids.

These days, she was starting to understand a little bit of why she couldn’t see the old woman she would become: a child can’t comprehend all the different kinds of living there are. A child thinks mostly about the visible differences. She doesn’t imagine that all the really important differences are on the inside, tucked away where they can’t be seen. Everybody was like that. Much of the real truth about people was hidden from view—sometimes until it was too late. You mostly just had to wait and see.

“A lot of people will tell you that it’s more important to be a good person than to follow the teachings of the gospel,” Brother McCrary was saying. “They’ll tell you it doesn’t matter much whether you pay attention to the Scriptures or not, as long as you’re living a good, moral life. But these words of James’s stand in contradiction to that sort of thinking, brethren. It’s not enough to say ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the will of the Father in heaven—Matthew seven, twenty-one … ”

*******

The thought of traveling to Little Rock gave Zeb an odd, secret feeling of excitement. For all his seriousness about his business, there was still a towheaded, eager part of him that stood on tiptoe and watched as he did new things, gained admittance to better and higher circles. Successful men travel on business, this part of him whispered, goggle-eyed and breathless. He was becoming important to the company, or they wouldn’t send him so far away.

He thought of seeing new country, eating new food in places he’d never been. Zeb had Mississippi River at Nightnever crossed the Mississippi River. He thought of all that wide water, sheeted brown beneath him as he rumbled over the new bridge at Memphis. Strangeness and distance chanted to him, pulled at him.

And it was, after all, an opportunity. It wasn’t just some lark he’d made up for himself. Griffs and Carleton were depending on him. He couldn’t afford to disappoint them, to let the company down. He really ought to take the bull by the horns.

Zeb sensed the faint, sour taste of resentment. A man couldn’t be shackled to his wife’s uncertainties, could he? If he was to be the provider, shouldn’t he do it in the way he saw best?

But her anxious face, the bluntness of her apprehension …

The baby in her womb.

It wasn’t fair. How could a man argue with a woman when she was carrying his offspring? She was proof against any attempt at logic or persuasion. It was almost as if she held a hostage and was, in turn, held hostage. And there was a kind of selfishness about her, too, as if she now contained inside herself her own final reason for everything.

He knew he ought to go. But how could he?

*******

“Brethren, is there someone here today who is ready to shoulder the task our Lord has set? Is there someone who is ready to answer, as the prophet Isaiah, ‘Here am I; send me’?”

The congregation sensed the approaching end of Brother McCrary’s sermon and began reaching for the hymnals in the racks.

“If you’re ready to get busy for God, if you’re tired of carrying the useless load of sin and are ready to be washed in the blood of the Lamb and begin walking in the footsteps of Jesus, won’t you come down front today, while we stand and sing?”

The two elders rose from their chairs and paced to the front of the dais as the congregation stood. The song leader strode to the front, singing the opening notes of the altar call.

What can wash away my sin?hymn book

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus …

*******

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 8

November 22, 2017

 Nashville, Tennessee

October 18, 1899

Dearest Lou,

Well I guess there’s not much doubt about it. I haven’t had my time of the month for two months now. I haven’t told Zeb yet, but I guess I won’t wait too much longer as he needs to know.

I trust this finds you and yours well. We are fine here. I’m finally getting settled in since our move. The men here at the home office seem real proud of Zeb and the work he did with the Murfreesboro office, and he assures me that this move is a real first-rate thing for him, so I guess I’m happy about it. But it does seem a bit hard, just being a newlywed and all and having to up and move so soon.

In a way, I hate to tell Zeb about the baby. Is that terrible of me? Sometimes I fancy I can feel that little life down inside me, and the privacy of it comforts me somehow. But I know these are foolish thoughts. Zeb will be so proud and happy to know he will soon be a papa.

Addie held the pen suspended above the paper. Her eyes left the page and wandered to fountain penan empty space somewhere between her bureau and the window. She ran her other hand over her belly, trying to imagine what was happening inside her body. If a new person was growing inside her, why did she feel so much like she always did? Why wasn’t she shining like the sun, or laughing all the time? There ought to be some extravagance. But, no; this was quiet and slow. She smiled.

How are your Robert and Katherine? And baby Ewell? Is he still gaining weight as fast as he was at first? I know they keep you plenty busy, and I guess I’m fixing to find out just how busy, here in a few months.

I don’t suppose there’s been any change with Papa, has there? I’d like to at least let him know about his future grandchild. That is, if he’d really want to know.

Your loving sister,

Adelaide C. Douglas

She sealed the envelope and affixed the stamp. She placed it on the edge of the bureau so Zeb would see it on his way out in the morning.

A horseless carriage clattered and banged past the front window. Addie glanced at it on her way to the tiny kitchen. There were more horseless carriages here than in Murfreesboro or Chattanooga. Granny White Pike was a busy thoroughfare. Sometimes carloads of youngsters woke them at night with their hollering.

She scooted the cane-bottomed chair under the bureau. She smiled at herself. Youngsters! Here she was, an old lady of nineteen, thinking such things. She paused and passed her hand absently across her belly, imagining the curvature that would become more and more pronounced in the weeks to come.

Ten steps away from the bureau and Addie was in the small kitchen. She had a dutch oven full of white beans simmering on one back burner of the Crown stove and a pan ofVictorian Kitchen chopped potatoes stewing on the other.

She wrapped a dish towel around her hand. She opened the oven door and removed a pan of cornbread, setting it on top of the stove to cool. Addie went to the cupboard above the sink and removed two plates. She scattered the silverware beside the plates, humming under her breath.

Yonder over the rolling river,

Where the shining mansions rise,

Soon will be our home forever,

And the smile of the blessed Giver

Gladdens all our longing eyes …

It wouldn’t take a mansion to make her happy. Even this little cracker box of a place would be fine if she could just stay in it for awhile, see the same scenery for longer than a three-month stretch.

*******

Zeb came in at a quarter past six, his tie loosened and his collar unbuttoned. Despite the slightly cool evening air, his face had a sheen of sweat.

“Had to walk all the way uphill from the Edgehill Street stop.” He brushed her cheek with his lips as he set his briefcase on the floor.

Victorian Trolly

“Why didn’t you get off at the regular place?”

Zeb smiled and ducked his head. “Well, I got to studying about a proposition Mr. Griffs made me, and I guess I just forgot where the trolley was. Good thing I looked up when I did. I like to went clear to the other side of Vanderbilt.”

“Must’ve been pretty serious, then.”

He looked at her a moment, then resumed peeling off his coat and yanking loose the knot in his tie. “Yeah, I guess you might say so.”

Addie set a blue-striped crockery bowl of stewed potatoes on the table, then turned to look at him, wiping her hands on her apron.

He folded his coat over the back of a kitchen chair and draped his tie atop it. He shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘‘Addie, they want me to open a new district office.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“In Little Rock.”

“Arkansas?”

He grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”

She went toward the stove, bunching her apron in her hands to pick up the pan of cornbread.

“What’s wrong, honey? It’ll be a real—”

“Opportunity? Like Murfreesboro and here?”

“Addie, what—what’s the matter?”

The cornbread clattered to the tabletop, and she covered her face with her hands. She skillet cornbreadfelt his arms around her, and she pushed him away. “No, don’t, Zeb! I’ll be all right in a minute, so just … don’t.”

When she looked up at him, his shoulders were slumped. She regretted her loss of control. She daubed at her eyes with a corner of the apron.

“Zeb, I’m sorry. I’m just a little upset right now, and … I’m expecting.”

His forehead wrinkled, like he was trying to work a cipher in his head. And then, something took off behind his eyes, and he jerked himself up straight, like a puppet when somebody twitches the string.

“You’re what?”

She had to smile. “I’m expecting,” she said in a quieter voice. “In a family way, Zeb. You’re fixing to be a daddy.”

He still didn’t move, except for his eyes. They were popping and jerking all around the room. He reminded her of some little boy who’d just been asked a hard geography question by the teacher. He stood there with his hands still in his pockets, looking like he was trying to figure out the right answer.

And then, he grabbed the chair with his coat lying across the back, pulled it out from the table, and sat down like a boxer after a rough round. She didn’t know what to do, so she went to the icebox for the buttermilk pitcher.

“How do you know? Are you sure?” His eyes still weren’t focusing on anything in particular; his arms hung loose at his sides.

“Well, yes, dear, I’m sure. Women know these things.”

Then the smile came, rounding the side of his face and spreading in all directions like molasses on an empty plate.

“A daddy,” he said. His grin went rubbery around the edges. “I’m gonna be a daddy.” He got up from his chair and dropped to his knees in front of her. He placed his arms tenderly about her waist. “Oh, honey. I don’t know what to say.”

A warm gush of love welled up in her. She placed a palm on the crown of his head, stroking gently down the back of his neck, over and over.

“Well, I guess we better eat this before it gets too cold.”

He sat as if he hadn’t heard. “Addie, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mr. Douglas, but if you don’t get out of my lap, your supper won’t be fit to eat.”

Later, as he spooned a helping of potatoes onto his plate, he said, “When do you reckon the baby might come?”blue striped crockery

She put down her fork and thought for half a minute. “I guess about springtime—maybe sometime in April.” She toyed with her napkin, then asked him, straight out. “Zeb, how soon do you think we’ll have to go to Arkansas?”

He didn’t answer right away. He chewed his potatoes and took a slow drink of the frothy white buttermilk. He daubed the corners of his lips with his napkin. “Well, today they sounded like it might be pretty soon, but what with you being in a family way and all, I just don’t know … ”

“Zeb, I’d sure like to have Louisa with me when my time comes. That’d be a lot easier here than in Little Rock.”

He nodded. “Yes, that’s a fact.” He buttered a slice of cornbread. “I’ll talk to ‘em tomorrow and see what I can work out.”

A hundred questions crowded onto the back of her tongue. What if they don’t care about me and the baby? Why does it have to be right now? Why Little Rock instead of someplace closer: Lebanon or Manchester or even Memphis, for goodness sake? There must be one or two people in a place the size of Memphis who don’t have enough insurance. Why can’t we stay someplace long enough to see the seasons change?

But she sat silent, with her left hand properly folded in her lap, lifting her fork to her lips and sliding the food into her mouth without letting it scrape against her teeth. She would wait and see what Zeb arranged with the company. He’d be able to manage something. And she did love him so. Surely everything would work out.hands

*******

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 7

November 10, 2017

The lawyer arched his eyebrows and leaned forward onto his elbows, bridging his fingertips together. “Well, all right, Jacob. What exactly did you want changed in here?”

Caswell huddled into himself for a spell.

“I want my youngest daughter written out of the will.”

Dan made himself count to ten, then on up to fifteen, just for good measure.

“Jacob, you and I’ve known each other a long time, and you know good and well I don’t often give my clients advice on much of anything outside the law. But I think you better be mighty careful about what you’re fixing to do.”

Caswell sat with his arms crossed on his chest.

“Now, Dan, I been all over this in my mind, so don’t you start preaching to me about—”

“All I’m saying is that I’ve never seen any good come from something like this.”

 

“Dan, I didn’t come here to—”

“I know why you came, Jacob, and I’m trying to make you see sense, which would probably be a flat-out miracle. Don’t worry, I won’t charge you extra for the breath I waste on your bullheadedness.”

By now both of them were half out of their chairs. Dan glared at Jacob for a few seconds, and Jacob finally blinked.

“Dan, she’s betrayed the family,” he said as he sank back into his seat. “She’s ground her heel into her mother’s memory, and she’s turned her back on the way she was raised. I don’t see why she ought to benefit from what belongs to the family when I’m gone.”

Dan studied his fingernails. ‘‘Are you sure the rest of the family feels the same way you do?”

Will

“I don’t care what they feel!” Jacob slapped the desk and jumped to his feet. He stalked three paces toward the door, then whirled, aiming a finger at the attorney. ‘‘I’m the one that made the money! I’m the one that’ll blamed well decide who gets it when I die.”

 

“Now, you know I’m not much of a churchgoing man myself,” Dan said, “but I’d be careful about making free with what’s gonna happen when you die. The courts of Tennessee don’t have jurisdiction in the sweet by-and-by … assuming that’s where you end up.”

“Fine one you are to be lecturing me about the hereafter,” Jacob said, jamming his fists into his pockets. “Maybe I’ll find me another lawyer who’s willing to spend more time lawyering and less time preaching.”

“That’s up to you, Jacob. But you know all-fired well I’d be less than a friend if I didn’t say what I thought about this.”

“I hired a lawyer, not a friend.”

Sutherland stared hard at the other man for a full fifteen seconds.

“No, I guess you’re right, Jacob. You can hire a lawyer. But you sure as blazes can’t hire a friend.”

“Now, Dan, you know how I feel about strong language—”

“What did she do that was so unforgivable? Marry a hard-working, good-looking boy from over the state line? You’d disinherit her for that?”

“No! Not just for that! Is that all you think this is about? Well, let me tell you something, Dan. Let me just tell you something.” Jacob was leaning on the desk, looking like he might leap across it into Dan’s face.

“When Mary was on her deathbed, I made her a promise. I promised her I’d raise Addie the way we would’ve done it together. I—”

Jacob’s mouth moved, but the words hung in his throat. The line of his lips blurred. Dan looked away.

“I told her I’d raise Addie to make her proud,” Jacob said a few seconds later. He stared into a dark corner of the room. “It was the only promise I ever made to Mary that I didn’t keep.”

“Jacob, that’s not true. You did the best you could. No one in Chattanooga that knows you would say otherwise. You provided for Addie, and you did your best by her—”

“And what thanks do I get? She runs off with some fella that looks more than half Cherokee—”

“Now, Jacob, there’s not a family in Hamilton County that’s been here very long that doesn’t have a speck or two of Cherokee blood—”

“Who goes to some backwoods church that thinks folks like me are hell-bound! Well, no sir! I’ll not have it! I’ll not let her shame me and get by with it!”

Sutherland flung his hands in the air and came out from behind his desk. He strode to his door and opened it.

“Jacob, I don’t believe there’s anymore I can do for you today. If you want to estrange yourself from your own flesh and blood, I can’t stop you. But I won’t be a party to it!”

Jacob Caswell’s eyes bulged, his face flooded with crimson. He snatched the will in his fist and stalked from the office. He strode past the clerk and slammed the door, making the window panes shudder.

“Mr. Caswell! You forgot your hat!” the clerk said.

“Let him go,” said Dan from the doorway of his office. “Man that hotheaded got little enough use for a hat anyway.”

*******

The ginger tom leaned against George Hutto’s leg, and he glanced down, then back to the hull he held in his fingers. He maneuvered the piece through the bottleneck and settled it onto the wet glue on the platform inside.

Again the cat twined its body against his shin, giving a small, interrogative meow. George lifted the bottle to eye level and studied the alignment of the hull on the base. The man-o’-war was large enough that there was little margin for error. If the hull wasn’t centered just right, the three masts might not have clearance. He kicked at the cat. “Cut it out, Sam.”

But the cat rubbed against him again, then rose on its hind legs and placed its forepaws on his thigh. The cat flexed its claws just enough to let George feel the prick, all the while peering into his face.

George huffed and glared at the cat, then caught himself chuckling at the insistent expression on the feline face. “Well, you’re not one to let a body ignore you, are you, fella?” George placed the bottle on the table and scratched the cat behind the ears. “All right. I’ll let you out, if nobody else will.”

As he reached the bottom of the staircase, he pulled his watch from his vest pocket. Ten Ginger Tom outdoorsminutes to two. Almost time to walk back down to the office. He unrolled his shirt sleeves and fished his cufflinks out of the other vest pocket. He went through the kitchen to the back door, unlatched the screen to let the cat outside, then walked back into the parlor to fetch his jacket from the armchair.

It was nice and cool inside the house. He dreaded the thought of the hot walk downtown and the dreary afternoon in the office. He sometimes could have sworn the columns in his ledger grew when he wasn’t looking.

He stepped to the doorway of the library and peered into the darkened room. Mother was dozing in one of the leather armchairs. He turned to go and a board squeaked under his foot.

“George, honey? That you?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m going back now. “

“All right, dear. Ask Mamie to come in here before you go, would you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He settled his panama on his head and walked down the hall toward the front door. Mamie was dusting the crystal in the sitting room, singing quietly to herself.

“Mamie, Mrs. Hutto needs you in the library, please.”

“Yessuh. She be wanting her headache powders, I imagine. Bye, Mister George.”

The first person George saw when he reached the office was Matthew Capshaw. He and Daddy had known each other since they served on opposite sides in the Civil War. He never tired of telling the story of how he and Daddy had met. He was doing it now, in fact.

“Yep, me and old Hutto was in the war together,” Uncle Matt said, “but one of us—I won’t say who—was wearin’ the wrong colors. “

George felt sorry for the young man Uncle Matt had trapped. He was a courier for one of the Nashville firms they dealt with. In fact, George could have sworn Uncle Matt had told this same fellow this same story within the last year. Uncle Matt had a hard time remembering whom he had favored with which one of his tales. Most likely it wouldn’t have mattered anyway; when Uncle Matt took a notion to tell a story, there wasn’t much you could do.

Civil War Soldier

 

“Well, like I was sayin’, I was on picket duty, back in the fall of ‘63 durin’ the siege. It was late at night, you see, and I was wore plumb down to a nub. I’m a-leanin’ up against a tree—big ol’ elm, I believe it was—and I say, kinda out loud, but talkin’ to myself, I say, ‘Lordy; I’d give a five-dollar gold piece for a chaw a tobacco.’ And then this voice from the dark says, ‘Well, here, soldier. I’ll give you a chaw, and I won’t charge you but six bits.’” Uncle Matt slapped his knee and guffawed.

 

George smiled politely, trying to slip around Uncle Matt and the courier. As he walked past, Elizabeth, Uncle Matt’s youngest daughter, rounded the corner from the back with an armful of file folders. She rammed into George, spilling the folders onto the floor.

“Oh, my goodness! I’m sorry, George, I didn’t see you!”

“No, it’s my fault, Betsy. I should’ve been watching where I was going.” He knelt down and began scooping up the scattered sheets of foolscap.

Uncle Matt barreled ahead. “Well, when I heard that voice out of the dark thataway, I like to of—” He broke off, glancing at the figure of his daughter. “Well, anyhow … I was mighty startled. And then this ol’ boy comes towards me and I can see he’s wearin’ blue. ‘Here you go, soldier,’ he says to me. ‘Unless you’re afraid to take a bite from a Union plug.’ And that was how me and ol’ Hutto met, and I still ain’t convinced him the North was just luckier than the South … ”

George handed Betsy the last handful of papers. As she reached to take them, the backs of their hands brushed. “Thank you, George,” she said.

Her voice stopped him. It sounded low and buttery. George knew she was looking at him. He felt the blood burning his cheeks. Without meeting her eyes, he touched the brim of his panama and retreated quickly to his tiny office at the back of the warehouse.

He removed his hat and coat and filled his pen from the inkwell at his desk. The problem of Betsy Capshaw tugged at his mind. She was a dozen years his junior, and he had always thought of her pretty much like a younger sister. But in the last few years it had become more and more difficult to ignore the fact that she didn’t reciprocate his perception.

He was at a loss about how to discourage her and spare her feelings at the same time. He’d thought for a long time that the best course was to say nothing, acknowledge nothing. Then, when he married …

The image of Addie Caswell—Addie Douglas—flashed across his mind, and he paused in his addition of the column. He put down his pen and rubbed his eyes.

He wondered how she was getting on. He’d heard rumors of her father’s wrath at her marriage, and he hoped they weren’t true. Zeb Douglas was a good fellow, if a little flashy, and he hoped for Addie’s sake that Jacob could come to accept that fact, at least. Addie shouldn’t be blamed for choosing a fellow like Zeb, instead of …

He sighed and picked up his pen. He couldn’t find the place he’d left off, and the sum had gone dean out of his head, so he began again at the top of the column.Ledger

There was a shuffle of feet outside his door and a knock at the frame. He glanced up. “Come on in,” he said. He laid his pen aside.

Ben Thomas and Joe Whitehead stepped in. “Hello, fellas.” George smiled. He stood and extended a hand to the nearest. The two men shook his hand and greeted him, then took the seats in front of his desk. The office was small, so they had to scoot carefully between the wall and the desk to keep from banging their knees. Whitehead, especially, with his gangly build, looked cramped.

“Sorry, Joe. I’ve been meaning to talk to Dad about getting a little more space, but—”

“Don’t worry about it, George,” Joe said.

“What brings you boys down here today?”

Whitehead glanced at Thomas, who cleared his throat. “George, Joe and me—and John Lupton, too; you know him, don’t you?—well, the three of us are starting a little business venture, and we were just wondering if you might be interested in coming in with us.”

George leaned back in his chair and scratched his chin. “Well, ah … I don’t know, boys. What’ve you got in mind?”

“You know who Asa Candler is, don’t you, George?”

“You mean that druggist down in Atlanta, the Coca-Cola man?”

“Yeah. Well, right now, the only place you can get Coca-Cola is in a drugstore or a soda fountain, right?”

“Well, yeah, but where else would you—”

“What if you could buy Coca-Cola in a bottle, premixed?” Ben Thomas said. “What if you could bottle it and put it in an ice chest—say, at a grocer’s or a livery stable or … anywhere! Anywhere there might be thirsty people.”

George peered at the top of his desk.

“Think about all the people already drinking Coca-Cola,” said Whitehead. “This thing could go national, George.”

“What thing? All I’ve heard so far is an idea.”

Thomas leaned forward. “Me and Joe and John Lupton have been talking to Candler about getting the sole rights to bottle Coca-Cola. We think he’ll come around to our way of thinking, once we convince him we’re serious. We want to bottle premixed Coca-Cola, seal it in a pressurized container, and sell it in stores for a nickel a bottle.”

“What’s to keep some old boy in the next county from doing the same thing?”

“I don’t know, for sure,” Whitehead said. “Maybe we’ll come up with some unique design for the bottle. We’ll have patent protection, once we get going. But think of the possibilities, George! Chattanooga is a rail hub. We could ship Coca-Cola anywhere in the country from our bottling plant! The iron business isn’t going to make it around here, and you can see that, if you’ll just look. Birmingham’s going to wind up with most of the business because they’ve got better grade ore down there. Shipping hasn’t got a prayer until they do something about the lower Tennessee. The best opportunity a man’s got right now is for something that’s portable, something he can sell anywhere at a price that anyone can afford. Something he can pay somebody else to sell for him, and rake some profit off the top. Coca-Cola in bottles! Just think about it, George!”Victorian Coke Bottles

George massaged the bridge of his nose. “Sounds to me like you fellas already have everything worked out. What I haven’t figured out yet is why you need me.”

Ben Thomas thumped an imaginary piece of lint off the crown of his hat. “Well, strictly speaking, George … we need money. It’ll take money to set up the plant and buy the equipment. When we go back to talk with Candler, it’d be nice to show him some deep pockets, convince him we mean to stick to this thing till it’s done right. We were sort of hoping—” Thomas cut his eyes at Whitehead, then back to George “—hoping you might could come in with us, maybe talk to your dad … ”

George leaned back to stare at the ceiling, cupping his chin and rubbing his cheek with the tips of his fingers. “I don’t know, boys, I just don’t know. Sounds like a pretty risky proposition to me. I don’t know how Dad’ll feel about something like this.”

“We understand, George,” said Whitehead. “It’s something new. Course, we think it’ll work. But it takes some getting used to, no two ways about it. Why don’t you give it some thought, talk it over with your dad, and we’ll check back with you?”

“We’d sure like to have you for a partner, George,” said Thomas. “You and your family are real fine folks, and we’d like to have you on our side of the fence.”

“Well, thanks, fellas. I appreciate your interest, anyway. And I will give it some thought, I promise you.”

“Well, good,” said Thomas, standing and extending his hand.

“Thanks for talking to us, anyway.”

“Sure, Ben, sure, Joe,” he nodded to Whitehead, taking his hand in turn. The two men replaced their hats and walked out the door.

George sat back down and peered into space, his arms crossed across his chest. He liked Whitehead, Thomas, and Lupton, all three. He’d known them for a number of years. But … putting Coca-Cola in bottles and shipping it all over the country? He sighed. This business was doing all right. His family was comfortable, well respected. Why would he want to take a chance?

He found his pen, inspected the tip, and bent back to his column of figures. Maybe he ought to stop by imagesPeabody’s on the way home and order more ship bottles. He’d been thinking about building a steamer.

*******

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 6

November 3, 2017

May 28, 1899

My Dearest Zeb,

I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for seeming so cruel in dismissing you last month. I assure you it was not done with malice or without extreme soul-searching on my part. Since then, I have shed many tears and spent much time in prayer. Zeb, I have decided that we should marry without further delay, if you still will have me. I do not think that we should wait until the announced date in June as I am not sure my nerves can withstand the tension of the weeks involved. I hope you will not think me immodest or forward in this. I realize this may rush things a bit, but I truly believe it will be best to have the entire business done at the earliest opportunity.

Awaiting your quick reply, I amLove Letter

Your own,

Adelaide M Caswell

*******

The window squeaked against its track. Addie winced. Slowly, with many glances over her shoulder, she raised it as high as it would go. A cool puff of night air brushed against her cheek, and the insects’ chorus trebled in volume. She hoisted her carpetbag to the sill and eased it out onto the roof of the front porch. Moving as stealthily as her skirts would allow, she climbed through the window and onto the shake-shingled roof. She turned around to close her window, then changed her mind. Let them find it open. They’ll know soon enough anyway.

She looked around. The stillness and the moonlight turned the home place into an old-fashioned daguerreotype, frozen in place for this silent moment, for her eyes only. Something to be looked at. To stand outside of.

Moving out to the edge of the roof, she reached cautiously around the corner of the house and felt her fingers slide over Papa’s fifteen-foot ladder. Normally the ladder stayed farther along the side of the house, but she had been inching it toward the front porch over the past several days. She dragged the ladder to her, careful not to allow it to bump the side of the house. She dropped the carpetbag over the side of the porch roof. It thumped into the thick bluegrass of the side yard. She held her breath, waiting for one of the dogs to bark, or for the front door to open below her. After maybe a minute, she swung herself onto the ladder.

Reaching the ground, she gripped the handle of the carpetbag and set off toward the hill behind the house. There was a three-quarter moon, plenty of light for her to find the path that led over the shoulder of the hill and down toward the river road. As the carpetbag’s weight dragged at her shoulder, she half-regretted telling Zeb she’d meet him by the old abandoned springhouse on the river road. This was the only way, though. If Zeb had tried to slip up close to the house, the dogs would’ve raised Cain.

“Kinda late for a stroll, ain’t it?”

The voice came from just inside the tree line, ahead and to her left. A figure stepped out into the moonlight.

It was Papa.

She stopped, her body ramrod-stiff. Her fist gripped the handle of the carpetbag so tightly that her fingernails dug into her palms.

“I expect you’re going to meet your fella,” he said. Her tongue seemed locked behind her teeth. Finally, she nodded her head.

He snorted, shoving his hands into his pockets. He looked away from her.

“How’d you know?”

“Ladders don’t walk down the wall by themselves,” he said without looking at her.

A long hush grew stale and heavy between them.

“I’m glad your mama didn’t live to see this happen,” he said. His voice sounded strange.

“Papa, that’s not fair,” she said, barely controlling her voice. “What Mama asked me to do—it was too much.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I did my best, Papa, but you—” She swayed with the effort of holding in the sob that needed to be released. “I did my best to take care of you, but you— You didn’t want to be taken care of. You didn’t want to understand or listen.”

“Addie, I don’t know what you’re—”

“I’ve got to make my own way now, Papa,” she said through clenched teeth. “I can’t live your life anymore, nor Mama’s. I’ve got to live my own now. Try to see that. Try to understand.”

They stared at each other for a moment that lasted forever. And then she walked past him, toward the hillside.

“Addie, I hope you understand what’s going to happen.”

“You do what you think is best, Papa,” she said without turning around or breaking her stride. “And I’ll do the same.” Squaring her shoulders, she strode into the shadows beneath the trees.

*******

Jacob watched her go until the trees hid her from him. Then he crumpled to his knees and held his face in his hands.

*******

Zeb was waiting at the agreed place. He beamed at her as she came out of the trees, and she did her best imitation of happiness as she lifted the carpetbag up to him. She didn’t start crying until the buggy was moving down the road toward Chattanooga.

“What’s the matter, honey?” Zeb asked. He pulled up the horse and turned toward her.

“Papa,” she said through her sobs. “He caught me leaving.”

“Addie, did he hurt you?”

She shook her head. “He didn’t try to stop me. It’s just hard, Zeb. It’s real hard.”

He placed his hands on her shoulders. ‘‘Addie, look at me. Honey, look at me. I’m going to take care of you now. You aren’t in your father’s house anymore. You’re going to be my wife, and I’m going to do right by you. You hear me?”

After a second or two, she nodded her head.

“All right, then. I want you to dry those eyes and stop worrying. It’s gonna be all right, honey. Do you believe me?”

Another pause, and then she nodded.Eloping

“You sure you believe me?”

She nodded again, sooner this time.

“All right. Then how about a smile. Just a little one, huh?” He chucked her lightly under the chin. At last he coaxed a quavering half-smile from her. “There you go. Now you just sit back and let’s get into town and find the preacher, all right?”

They drove into town to the house of a minister that Zeb knew. Addie would have preferred that ]. D. Carson perform the ceremony since she at least knew him slightly, but it was seven or eight miles to his place over by Harrison.

Though the man was about to retire for the evening, he agreed to perform the ceremony. His wife witnessed. The impromptu wedding party gathered in the small parlor of the minister’s house, the minister’s four nightgowned children ranging big-eyed in the background, and Zeb and Addie were joined in matrimony.

With Zeb’s first kiss still moist on her lips, she turned to the minister and said, “Now I need another favor. I want you to baptize me.”

The man stared at her, at Zeb, then at his wife.

“Well, Arliss,” his wife said, “didn’t you hear the young woman?”

“Of course I heard her, Mother,” he said. “But I don’t know anything about this … situation.” He looked at Zeb. “Does she understand what she’s doing?”

Zeb looked at Addie, and his smile was as wide as she’d ever seen. But as he opened his mouth to answer the preacher, Addie said, “Yes, sir, I believe I do. I’d like to be baptized. Tonight.”

Half an hour later, Zeb was holding aloft a coal-oil lamp and watching with the minister’s wife as Addie and the minister stepped gingerly into the waters of the Tennessee River below the Walnut Street bridge. Addie was wearing an old shift that the minister’s wife had found in a trunk.

River at Night

Addie stared at the blackness of the water and tried not to shiver as it rose higher and higher up her legs; stared at it, trying to read some message there. But it was only water, and it was night. The lamp Zeb held aloft glimmered and rippled on the surface, and it seemed to her that its faint light only darkened the unseen. It was only water. But she was here now, and it was too far back to the bank. Much too far.

They waded out until the waters reached to their waists, and the minister turned toward Addie. He murmured a few instructions. He placed one hand on her shoulder.

“Addie, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he died for your sins and rose on the third day to ascend to the right hand of God?”

“Yes, I do.”

He raised his other hand. “Then, because of your confession of faith, I now baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, for the remission of your sins and that you might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” He placed one hand between Addie’s shoulder blades and cupped the other over her hands, covering her face. He tilted her backwards into the dark, swirling water and then raised her up again. She gasped as she came out of the water, then began wiping the water and hair out of her face. She felt the minister take her arm. He led her back toward the bank.

Zeb handed the lamp to the minister’s wife and stepped into the water to meet her.

“Zeb! Your boots!”

“Never mind about that.” He took her into his arms.

Some moments later, after hugs and smiles all around, they climbed into the minister’s buggy. Addie was wrapped in the towels they had brought.

“Where will you go?” the minister’s wife asked.

Addie looked at Zeb. She just now realized that she hadn’t given the first thought to where they’d spend their first night as man and wife.

“Well, I believe we’ll go spend a little time in Nashville,” Zeb said after a few seconds. “Then, I guess we’ll go back to Murfreesboro. I’m in the insurance business there.” Zeb fished a business card out of his vest pocket and handed it to the minister’s wife.

“Well,” she said, beaming at them, “it’s a fine way to begin your lives together—with a new birth into Christ! I’m so happy and proud for you both.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Zeb said. He grinned from ear to ear as he pulled Addie closer to him.

There was no train out of Chattanooga until morning. Addie knew they’d have to stay in a hotel, but she was surprised when Zeb pulled up in front of the gleaming, just-completed Patten. The yellow glow from the lobby’s electric lights gave her a feeling of comfort as Zeb helped her down from the buggy.

They went inside. Addie was at once taken aback and thrilled to hear Zeb casually inform the desk clerk that he needed a room for the night for Mr. and Mrs. Z. A. Douglas.

She tried the name in her mind. Mrs. Zebediah Douglas. Addie Douglas. Adelaide Caswell Douglas. She smiled, savoring the newness, the adventure of it. The bellboy came and collected their bags, and the clerk handed Zeb a gleaming brass skeleton key. “Room two-twelve,” he said. “Top of the stairs and halfway down the hall to your left.”

*******key

Addie stirred and woke. There was a momentary sense of dislocation as she stared at the unfamiliar ceiling. A movement in the bed caused her to turn her head and see Zeb’s back and shoulders, still rising and falling in sleep.

For a few seconds everything seemed unreal, off-kilter. What am I doing here? Am I really supposed to be in bed with Zeb, really supposed to be married? Is this my real life? How can I manage this?

But then, as she lay still and allowed her waking to reorient her, she knew with a warm certainty that this was real, was her life; that Zeb was her husband—and that everything was just as it should be.

The wedding night was a rush of images and sensations—unfamiliar, anticipated, splendid, and dreaded, all at once. Louisa had told her some things, of course, and hinted at others. But she was still nervous about being alone with Zeb, her ignorance of what was expected of her.

But Zeb was so gentle, so loving. As his arms enfolded her and his lips pressed against her face, her hair, her neck, she found hersdf worrying less about what should happen next than savoring what was happening now. Something bloomed inside her, responded with a warm uncoiling to Zeb’s tender urgency. She knew, as they clung to each other, that she would give willingly whatever was required to sustain this timeless moment, this sudden need, this enfolding nowness.

There was pain, for which she was not quite prepared. But she almost laughed at the dismay on Zeb’s face when she cried out. He was consoling almost to the point of silliness. “It’s all right, honey,” she said, gentling his concern with her voice, her arms, her hands. “I think it’ll be better now.” And it was.

Now, watching him sleep, she smiled at the memories. So many changes, so many things she had learned in the space of two weeks. She felt wise now, miles and ages away from the girl who hiked over the hill with her carpetbag in her hand. How could life come so far, so fast?

Zeb snorted and jerked. She reached over and patted his shoulder. He rolled over to face her.

“Good morning, Mrs. Douglas.” He smiled, his eyes still half-lidded with sleep.

“Morning, sir. About time you woke up, I guess.”

He raised himself on one elbow and looked at her.

“What? What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

‘‘I’m just thinking about how lucky I am, that’s all.”

She felt her face go warm. “Oh, Zeb. You better go on and get ready for work.”

He placed his palm on her cheek and turned her face toward his.

“Zeb, what are you doing? You’ll be late for work. Zeb, this isn’t exactly the time—”

But it was, all the same.

Later, she sat in front of the mirror, basking in the afterglow as she brushed out her hair and listened to Zeb in the next room, whistling as he worked at his cravat.

“Zeb?”

“Yes, ma’ am?”

“Do you think we might find us a little house to let? The folks here at the boarding house are nice and all, but … I guess I’m not used to so many people living all around me.”

He came into the room, a thoughtful look on his face. “Well, now, Mrs. Douglas, I don’t guess I’d thought about that. Not since last night on my way home, when I signed the papers on the cutest little bungalow you ever saw, just about three streets over.”

“Zeb! Did you really find a place?”Victorian home

A slow grin spread across his lips as he nodded.

It crossed her mind that she’d like to have seen the house before they were obligated. She hushed the thought and reached out to grab his hand. “You do beat all, Mr. Douglas! You sure do beat all!”

He held her hand a moment more, then went back into the next room.

“Better finish up, honey,” he said. “It’s almost seven o’clock. If we don’t hurry up and get downstairs to the dining room, the grits’ll all be gone.”

*******

Jacob Caswell trudged up the steps and into the offices of Haynes and Sutherland, Attorneys-at-Law. A clerk seated near the front door stood from behind his oak roll top desk and extended a hand. “Good morning,

Mr. Caswell! How can we—”

“Dan here today?”

“Uh—yes, sir, I believe so. Did you have an app—”

“Tell him Caswell’s here and I need to see him right away.”

The clerk excused himself and went through the low swinging gate in the banister that divided the front area from the lawyer’s offices. Jacob heard the quiet knock, heard the creak of hinges, heard the low murmuring. He started walking toward the swinging gate while the clerk was still turning around to invite him in. He marched into Dan Sutherland’s office and pulled the door shut behind him.

Dan Sutherland had just seated himself behind his massive mahogany desk when Jacob came in.

“Morning, Jacob. Nice to see you in such a good mood.”

“I don’t have time for your folderol today, Dan. I got something on my mind to do, and I want it done proper and quick.”

Dan leaned forward in his chair as Jacob thumped into one of the chairs across the desk.

“Well, I can see you’re in a hurry, Jacob, so why don’t you just give me a quick once-over?”

Jacob reached into his inside coat pocket and produced a set of papers about a quarter–inch in thickness. He slapped the sheaf onto the inset leather pad atop Dan’s desk. “That’s a copy of the will you drew up for me after Mary died,” he said, thumping the papers with his index finger. “I want it changed. Now.”Will

*******

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 5

October 23, 2017

The drive back to the Caswell homestead was as long as a dreaded chore, and very quiet.

Addie sat in the sulky and sobbed as the service wound to its conclusion. Zeb, of course, had stayed inside through the communion service and offering until the very end, to lead the final prayer requested of him. That suited Addie fine because she really didn’t want to have to explain to him feelings she didn’t fully understand herself.

When the congregation was finally dismissed, Zeb stepped briskly from the church door, striding toward the sulky. His expression was a mixture of embarrassment, concern, and confusion. But at that moment, Addie couldn’t bring herself to care about what he was thinking. She was too busy with trying to organize and understand her own thoughts.

They were almost halfway back to Orchard Knob before either of them spoke.

“Addie—what’s wrong?” Zeb finally blurted as they neared the one-lane bridge across Cellico Creek.

She shook her head and stared away from him, across the flats toward the Tennessee River, glittering in the noonday sun. She didn’t know how to begin to tell him what she felt. Or maybe she was afraid of what she might say if she tried.

“Honey, I— Is it something I did that upset you?” he asked in a limp voice as they clattered over the tiny wooden bridge.

She turned in her seat and stared at him, unbelieving. Could he really be in some doubt about what was bothering her? Was he that blind? Again she could summon no words suitable to her purpose, and turned away.

After another eternity, they arrived at her house. He stopped the sulky

in front of the porch steps just as Rose, still wearing her Sunday dress with a white apron tied around her waist, stepped out of the front door with a broom in her hand. As if the sulky and its occupants did not exist, she began methodically sweeping the porch.

“Well … I, uh … I wonder what’s for dinner today?” Zeb stammered into the stony silence.Goodbye

For the first time since leaving the church house, Addie found her voice. “I don’t think you’d better come in for dinner today, Zeb,” she said, staring straight ahead. “I think you might ought to go on back to Murfreesboro for awhile. I … ” Her tone wavered, then caught again. “I think it might be best if we didn’t see each other for awhile.” She placed her hand on his arm to steady herself, then caught up her skirts as she stepped down from the sulky.

“Do what?” he asked, incredulous. ‘‘Addie, why won’t you tell me what—”

But she had already gone up the steps and was crossing the porch and reaching for the front door. And then, as he stared after her, she was inside, and gone.

*******

Rose grunted softly as she placed the platter of fried chicken in the center of the table. She glanced at Mr. Caswell, then backed into the corner and bowed her head.

Jacob glanced at Addie, who sat listlessly in her chair, staring at a vacant corner of the dining room.

“Shall we pray? Our gracious heavenly Father, we thank thee for this thy bounty that we are about to receive, and for all thy many blessings. Amen.”

Reaching for a thigh piece, Jacob again glanced at his daughter. “Where’s your beau? He not joining us today?”

For a long moment he thought she hadn’t heard him. “What’s that, Papa?” she responded, finally. “Oh, Zeb … No, he’s not coming in today. He … he had to go on back to … to Murfreesboro.”

Jacob received this news with a lift of his eyebrows. He spooned a heavy dollop of mashed potatoes onto his plate and reached for the bowl of cream gravy.

“Guess maybe he decided Methodist chicken was off his menu.”

Addie stared sharply at her father, then turned away. She grabbed for the bowl of green beans and flicked a spoonful onto her plate.

Rose poured buttermilk into Jacob’s glass from a large crockery pitcher. “Rose, pass me that plate of corn while you’re here, would you?” he said. He selected an ear from the platter.

images-2

“Still, I guess it makes sense. After all, there ain’t nothing in the Bible that says it’s all right to eat fried chicken on Sunday.”

“Papa!” Addie flung her napkin from her lap and vaulted to her feet, glaring at him.

“What? I was just making conversation, is all. Nobody else at the table seemed to much want to talk to me.”

“Neither one of you understands a thing! Not a blessed thing!” Addie whirled about and knocked over her chair as she stomped into the hallway and up the stairs.

Jacob stared after her. As Addie’s footsteps pounded up the staircase, he peered questioningly at Rose, who returned his look with a flat, judging glint in her eye.

“What did I say, Rose?” he asked. “I was just going on; she knows that, doesn’t she?”

Rose moved to Addie’s place and began removing her plate and silverware. ‘‘Ain’t what you said,” the black woman replied without looking at him. “That child beggin’ you for help, but you ain’t listenin’.”

*******

The train ride back to Murfreesboro barely registered in Zeb’s consciousness. He felt as if he were in a black, muffled box, and the sounds and sights of the outside world reached him only as vague bumps and muted murmurs.

He couldn’t believe Addie was going to call it quits with him. He just couldn’t bring himself to accept it. And the hardest part of it all was that he didn’t have the faintest notion what had set her off. The more he thought about it, the more maddening it became.

On Monday morning, he flung himself into the work of the agency: canvassing residential and commercial districts for prospects, going on appointments with junior agents, making calls on policy holders who were late with premium payments. He kept himself busy, trying to crowd out the numb place at the center of his chest.

But it was no use. When he went back to his boarding house at night, the answerless questions came rushing back to nag at him. He followed them round and round inside his head, mesmerized by the pain and confusion like a bird charmed by a snake.

Reading BibleSome of the other bachelors at the house invited him to join them at their evening roisters, but Zeb had no taste for such activity, even if his convictions had permitted it. Instead, he sat in his room and read the psalms of lament from his Bible and tortured himself with his impossible longing.

*******

The year turned the corner into May, and an unseasonable hot spell settled down onto Chattanooga like an unexpected visit from a freeloading relative. Addie spent her days searching for a cool draft and her nights tossing on sweat-dampened sheets. You expected to be hot and distracted by, say, mid–July or August. But in May you expected to be enjoying cool night breezes and days just warm enough to make a glass of lemonade taste really good. But these days, a glass of lemonade didn’t seem to do anything but emphasize the discomfort.

She sat on the front porch one morning, already worn out from fanning herself. She heard the telephone rattle, just inside the front door. It was still a new enough sound to startle her. This past spring Papa had grudgingly placed the order and had the line run out from the nearest trunk, in Orchard Knob. Addie puffed a stray lock of hair out of her face and pushed herself up out of the rocking chair.

She reached the apparatus, pulled the black earpiece from its brass hook, and stood on tiptoe to get her mouth near the mouthpiece.Victorian Telephone

“Hello? Who’s there?”

“Addie? Is that you?”

Addie thought she recognized Louisa’s voice through the static. “Yeah, Lou, it’s me. How are you?”

“Fine, honey. Can you come over this afternoon? I’m having a quilting—”

Louisa’s voice dissolved in a burst of static and electric squeals, and Addie waited patiently until the noise on the line subsided.

“—someone to watch the babies so I can get everything done,” Louisa was saying.

“When did you say you wanted me to come over?” Addie said, mentally filling in the gaps.

“Sometime this afternoon, if you can.”

“All right. I’ll see you after lunch. Bye.” She hung up the earpiece without waiting to hear Louisa’s farewell. As bad as the lines were, it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

*******

Louisa and Dub had recently moved to the newly fashionable Cameron Hill neighborhood. When Addie stepped down from the horse–drawn trolley at the foot of the hill where they lived, she was already drenched in perspiration. By the time she had climbed to the top of the street, she thought she might drown standing up.

The door swung open. “Hi, Aunt Addie.”

It was Robert, her sister’s oldest. The six–year–old grabbed her around the waist in a fierce hug. Patting his back, Addie asked, “Where’s your mama?”

“She’s in the carriage house, looking for her parasol. We’re going to town! And you’re coming with us!”

Some time later, they trooped inside the open doorway of Peabody’s Dry Goods Emporium on Market Street.

“Now, Robert,” Louisa said, “you keep your hands to yourself while we’re in here. I don’t need you handling every string of licorice in the store, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.” The boy made a beeline for the candy counters.Emporium

Louisa shook her head as she shifted the baby from the crook of one arm to the other. “That young ‘un says all the right things, but I don’t think he listens to himself.”

Little Katherine tugged on Addie’s hand. “Aunt Addie, can we go look at the bowth and thingth?”

“Sure, honey. Just let’s keep our hands to ourselves, all right?” The four–year–old nodded solemnly.

“I hate not going to Papa’s store anymore,” Louisa said as they moved among the bolts of cloth and barrels of molasses and other staples stacked on the pine-planked floor. “But it’s just so far over there from where we— Robert Eugene Dawkins! What did I just tell you?”

Robert yanked his hand away from the lid of the jar holding the peppermint sticks. He rubbed his palm on his backside as he peered over his shoulder at his mother.

“Well, anyway,” Louisa said as she began inspecting a stack of bunting, “how’s Papa these days?”

“Oh, he’s … fine, I guess.” Addie hoisted Katherine up so she could see the satin bows on the top shelf of the glass display. “I … I don’t talk to him much these days.”

“You spoken to Zeb since last time?”

Addie shook her head.

Mr. Peabody approached. He wore black sleeve garters and sported a pencil in the band that held his eye patch in place. He had lost an eye during the siege of ‘63, and for as long as Addie could remember, there had been a persistent rumor among the children of Chattanooga that he led a secret life as a pirate. The chance of maybe seeing what really lay beneath the patch, along with his well-stocked candy cases, drew many a young boy into his establishment.

“Can we help you with some bunting today, Mrs. Dawkins?”

“How much is this a yard?”

He peered at the material. “Believe it’s twenty cents.”

“All right, let me have … five yards, I guess.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He went behind the counter to get a pair of shears.

“Well, Addie, you’re going to have to tell Zeb something before too much longer. Your wedding is announced for June, and—”

“I know, I know,” Addie said. “What else do you think I’ve been doing the last few weeks, except going round and round about all this? Oh, Lou! I don’t know what to do!”

“About Zeb, or about the church?” Louisa said. She picked up a paper sack and started shoveling navy beans into it from the bin where they now stood.

“It’s all the same thing, Lou,” Addie said. “I can’t marry Zeb unless I’m willing to join the Church of Christ. I can’t just decide on marrying the man I love—I have to marry his church too. And you know what that’ll mean. It’s just too much for me to think about. Have you … have you talked to Bob or Junior about this at all? What do they think about it?”

Louisa set the sack on the scales, noted the weight, then placed it on the counter. “Two and a half,” she said to Mr. Peabody, who waited, pad in hand. He scribbled down a figure. She turned back to her younger sister.Scale

“Well, Addie, they feel kind of the same way I do. The boys think you’ve got to make up your own mind about this and do what you think is right. Junior says you ought to pray about it.” Junior was the oldest brother, the lay minister.

“Don’t think I haven’t been,” Addie said. “And I keep waiting for God to give me an answer. But he just listens, I guess. So far, I don’t feel any closer to knowing what to do.”

“Addie, maybe he’s waiting for you to decide. Maybe he doesn’t care which way you go on this, just so you give yourself the go-ahead, one way or the other.”

“Lou! That almost sounds—blasphemous!”

“Why? Getting married is an honorable thing, and not getting married is too. Why should God care which one you do, as long as you get on with it and quit bothering him about it?”

Addie stared at her sister. “Well, Lou,” she said finally, “this is my life, and things don’t look so cut and dried from where I stand.” She whirled away and stalked to the other side of the store. “Robert,” she called in warning to her nephew who stood, fingers twitching in desire, before the toy shelves, “you better not mess with that stuff Remember what your mama said.”

Louisa made several more selections and waited for Mr. Peabody to figure the total. She signed her ticket and gave instructions for the goods to be delivered that afternoon. They were almost halfway back to the house, trudging with the children up the side of Cameron Hill, before anything else was said.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Addie,” Louisa said. “I didn’t mean to sound so hard and all. I just wish you could get on with your life, either way. That’s all I meant.”

Addie took several steps before answering. “I know. You’re just trying to help. Everybody’s just trying to help, though. Well … almost everybody. That’s part of what makes it so hard—”Sisters chatting.jpg

At that moment, George Hutto came around the corner, headed straight toward them down the hill. He walked in his usual slow gait, his eyes on the ground in front of his feet, but since they were downhill from him, they came into his field of vision anyway. He glanced up at them and, seeing Addie, stopped in his tracks. After a moment, he swept his bowler from his head.

“Hello, Mrs. Dawkins,” he said. “Hello … Addie.”

“Hello, George!” Louisa said in a hearty voice. “How are you today, other than it being too hot?”

“Yes, ma’am, it is awful hot, isn’t it?” He was answering Louisa, but his eyes stayed on Addie as she bore down on him.

“Hello,” Addie said, following her words with a curt nod. She never broke stride as she drew even with him and then she was past, marching up the hill like Sherman through Georgia.

“Aunt Addie, slow down!” said Katherine, trailing along at the end of Addie’s arm like a dinghy on a tow rope.

As she strode up the hill toward her sister’s house, Addie knew what she must do. As much as she hated to admit it, Lou was right. It was time to quit mealymouthing. It was time to do something.

*******

Addie stared long at the letter she held in her hand. Then, with elaborate care, she blotted it and folded it and slid it into an envelope. She sealed the flap and carefully inscribed Zeb’s name and the address of his Murfreesboro boarding house. Before she Mailboxcould change her mind again, she walked quickly to the postal clerk’s window and purchased the two-cent stamp that would take her missive to its destination.

*******

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 4

October 1, 2017

The spanking two-wheeled sulky and neat-stepping bay were costing Zeb more than he cared to admit, but this weekend he wanted to cut the best figure he could.

Zeb figured Addie’s father was doing everything he could to throw a wet blanket on their marriage. Surely Jacob Caswell wouldn’t disinherit his daughter for marrying outside the Methodist church. But lately Addie’s letters had dwelled more and more on his opposition. Zeb wondered if she was trying to let him down easy. Or maybe there was another reason.

George Hutto, for example. Did he think Zeb didn’t notice the way his eyes lingered on Addie when they met in the street? And George Hutto was here in Chattanooga, while Zeb was in Murfreesboro, trying to improve his lot in life—and Addie’s. George Hutto would solve Addie’s problems in neat fashion: the family was Methodist, and old Deacon Hutto had held onto the money he’d made. Unlike most of the leading citizens of Hamilton County, he’d avoided wild speculation during the panic of ‘93. Zeb had tried more than once to get an appointment with Old Man Hutto to discuss financial matters but was always bluntly rebuffed.

Zeb pulled up in the yard of Post Oak Hollow Church. The thrushes and blue jays were holding their own noisy prayer meeting in the greening branches of the surrounding trees. He stepped down from the sulky and looped the reins over the hitching post, then turned to hand Addie down. He gave her his best smile. Her gaze slid across him without so much as a howdy.images

*******

Addie rested her hand on Zeb’s arm as they walked toward the church door. He was working too hard at his good mood, and it made her nervous and aggravated at the same time. Why couldn’t he just let her be? Since when did a person have to grin every time somebody else wanted her to?

The fact was, she was getting scared. She still honestly believed she loved Zeb, and when she was with him, things seemed to be the same as always. But it was so hard to remember that during the long weeks when he was in Murfreesboro and she was here. On the other hand, Papa’s disapproval was every day. The silent drag pulled at her like a trotline weight. Would Zeb stand up to everyday life? Till death do us part is a long time, she told herself as they went up the steps into the meeting house.

“Brother Zeb, good to see you!” said the toothy deacon at the door.

“Say, could I get you to lead a prayer for us today?”

They found a seat just before the service started. Old Brother Houser stepped to the front. The congregation quieted amid the rustle and thump of hymnals grabbed from the racks on the backs of the pews. “Let’s all get a song book and turn to number one–oh–five,” he announced. He hummed to himself to get the starting pitch.

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?

Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you fully trusting in his grace this hour?

Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

hymnal

Brother Houser led out in his raspy warble, waving his right hand in the air to keep the time. The congregation chimed in by degrees.

Addie felt nervous, as if she could see and hear too much. The man seated behind her sang in a booming bass, almost on key. She could smell his tobacco-tinted breath, hear him belt out the words of the chorus.

Are you washed in the blood?

 In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?

Are your garments spotless,

 Are they white as snow?

 Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

She tried to concentrate on the words of the hymn, but she found her thoughts drifting toward the unseen man behind her. In her mind’s eye, she constructed a vision that resembled Perlie Overby, with his stained, ragged clothing, his bushy beard, and his rough-hewn courtliness. As far as she knew, neither Perlie nor his family had ever darkened the doorway of any church. But the man sounded like Perlie Overby would, if Perlie were singing this hymn. Except maybe this man was a little closer to the tune.

Addie thought about the pitiful way Perlie and his family lived. And about the tender way he held his infant son, how he had crooned to him in his unmelodious voice. About the way the older children had gathered to him.

Addie realized her heart was pounding in double time. Why was she so restless today? She felt like one of the squirming children, impatient to be somewhere else, anywhere else. On the outside she was still, but inwardly she was fretting and hot and distracted.

A middle-aged man walked toward the front to lead the congregation in prayer. Dink Gilliam—he had a blacksmith shop and livery on the eastern edge of Chattanooga, just down the street from her father’s store. Dink was a square-cut slab of a man with a thick neck bulging over the restraint of the buttoned white collar of his Sunday shirt. As he reached the pulpit and prepared to launch into his prayer, Addie could see the dirt between the split calluses on his fingers. He had a ruddy face and a wide-lipped mouth. “Let us pray,” he said, ducking his head as if he was dodging something.

“Our father which art in heaven, we thank thee for this day, when we can come together to worship thee in spirit and in truth. We pray that thou’d bless us as we gather, and that all that’s done here’d be pleasing and acceptable to thee … “

A little boy on the second row from the front began to fidget and fuss, but if Dink heard, his only sign was to raise his voice and plow ahead. “Lord, we’d ask thee to bless the sick and afflicted wherever they may be, especially those of our number, that they might soon be returned to their muchly wanted health, if it be thy will, and if not, thy will be done in all things …“

The man behind her shifted in his seat and the pew creaked. Some man in the back of the church cleared his throat.

“Lord, we’d pray thy blessin’s on Brother J. D. as he breaks unto us the bread of life. We’d ask that thou grant him a happy recollection of the things he’s learned, and that we might take it into our hearts and apply it to our lives … “

A mud dauber wasp hummed through one of the open windows and buzzed among the open rafters.

“Lord, be with us now through the rest of this service and the rest of the day. We ask all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

“Amen,” chorused several of the men seated about her. Dink, looking relieved, made his way back to his seat, and Brother Houser returned to the front. “Number twenty-three,” he said.inside

Sing them over again to me,

 Wonderful words of life;

 Let me more of their beauty see,

 Wonderful words of life …

 

The hymn concluded and J. D. Carson stood from the front row and took his place behind the pulpit. He had a shock of unruly brown hair, trimmed close on the sides of his head but blossoming in profusion everywhere else. His farmer’s hands were rough and nicked, and his face was a weathered brown up to a line that ran just above his eyebrows. Above that, his forehead was stark white. His wife and two young daughters sat on the right-hand front pew.

“Brethren, it’s good to be with you on this Lord’s Day morning,” he said. He flipped through the pages of his Bible to locate his text for the day. “I’m especially glad to see Sister Hawkins able to be back with us after her long sickness.” He smiled and nodded toward an older woman seated in the second row on the aisle. Sister Hawkins gave a little cough into a crumpled handkerchief.

“This morning, brethren, I want to talk about last words. Some of you know what it means to say good-bye to a mother or a father. Some of you know about saying good-bye to a husband or a wife. And if you’ve ever said that final good-bye to someone like that, you know you’ll always remember the last words that loved one spoke to you while they were here on this earth.

“Last words are something that can’t ever be forgot, brethren, because they’re the most important words we’ll ever hear. They’re important because of the person speaking ‘em. They’re important because of what that person means to us. And they’re important because they’re what stays with us. They’re what we remember.

“Well, there’s lots of last words in the Bible. This morning, I want to look at a few of those last words, and let’s see what we can learn from ‘em that might help us live more like the Lord wants us to … ”

*******

Addie’s vision drifted in the empty air just above the preacher’s head. She was remembering the last hours of her mother. Mama had languished for months as the cancer gnawed at her vitals. There was nothing Dr. Phipps could do for her but gradually increase the dosage of morphine. One day in summer, Mama sent for her. Addie could still see the brilliant June sky as it had appeared through the window of Mama’s room, could still hear the fluting of the mockingbirds and cardinals in the trees outside.

But the warmth and gaiety of summer halted at Mama’s windowpane. Her sickness dimmed the sunlight to a dull haze as it came inside. Mama lay propped up against the headboard of her bed, a dried-out husk. Every so often a spasm took her and her eyes would squint with the pain. Her hair hung dank and limp. Her eyes were dulled by the torture of the disease and the drugs that sometimes held the misery at bay. Addie went to her bedside and took her hand. Mama opened her eyes and looked at her for a long time before saying anything.window

“Addie, honey. Pull my curtains for me, would you, darling? The light hurts my eyes.” Her voice was a gray glimmer of what it had once been.

“Yes, Mama.”

“Sweetheart,” Mama said, “I want you to know how much I love you.”

“Yes, ma’am. I love you, too, Mama.”

Mama had patted her hand—once, twice. Her palm felt pasty and insubstantial. Addie wanted to cry, but Mama was trying to say something else. Addie leaned closer to catch the whisper.

“Addie …  take care of your papa. He’ll need you more than ever when I’m … gone.”

It hadn’t occurred to Addie to question Mama’s words. Or perhaps she had been too grieved to take issue, to make the weary, obligatory protest against her mother’s assessment.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mama died that night, during the wee hours. Addie was thirteen. She could still feel the knot of anguish she carried in her chest for months and months afterward. If she hadn’t had Rose’s ample lap to cry into, she probably couldn’t have survived at all. The colored maid seemed to know when Addie was longing most for her mother. Addie could still feel Rose’s warm, dry hand gathering and sifting her hair, rubbing along the back of her neck, patting her shoulders.

“Hush, now, baby,” Rose said. “Your mama with Jesus, honey. You can make it. It just take time, baby. It just take time.”

Addie could still smell the starch in Rose’s apron, could still remember its feel against her cheek as she wet it with her tears.

She tried to remember a time when she had been able to share her grief with Papa, but there was nothing to remember.

Take care of your papa … Last words. Impossible words.

*******

J. D. Carson held his open Bible aloft. “So when Joshua had all the people of Israel gathered together, he gave them a speech. And what did he say? He said this, brethren: ‘Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’—Joshua twenty-four and verse fifteen.”

J. D. lowered his Bible. “Mighty strong words, brethren, and a question that still bears asking: ‘Choose you this day whom ye will serve.’ Think about it. Who are you gonna serve? God? Or something else?”

*******

Zeb nodded, his eyes fastened on J. D. He hoped Addie was listening. J. D. was a little rough around the edges, but he was sincere, and Zeb knew where he was headed with this first point. Addie needed to decide if she was going to continue to serve her family’s traditions or follow the truth of the Bible as he’d tried to lay it out for her. He tried hard to be patient with her, tried not to force too much on her at once. But often he despaired of ever winning her completely from the domination of her father’s sectarian attitude.

Sometimes he wondered why it was so hard for people to agree on what the Bible said about things that seemed so plain. As a boy, he’d assumed it was just because folks hadn’t had the opportunity to hear the truth. But now, he knew that some people were just too attached to their own traditions to turn loose, even when they’d had the chance to listen to correct doctrine being taught.

He remembered once, when he was a boy, being at the feed store with Daddy on a Saturday morning in midwinter. It was a year or two before Daddy died, he remembered. A bunch of men were gathered around the stove, and Zeb was eyeing the horehound candy in a jar on the counter. The men were talking low and lazy. Then, for whatever reason, the subject of religion came up.

“By the way, Gus,” one of them said to Daddy, “ain’t you one a them Campbellites? Outfit that believes you’re the only ones gain’ to heaven?” The lull in the talk by the stove pulled Zeb’s attention from the candy jar, drew his eyes to his father’s face. Daddy was staring into the grate of the stove, a little smile on his lips. But his eyes weren’t smiling. “Now, Shep,” he said, “that ain’t exactly a fair way to put it—”

“Why not?” said one of the others. “That’s what I’ve always heard about y’all too—that everyone that don’t believe the same way y’all do about everything is going to hell.”

There was a silence. The inside of the feed store, so cozy only moments before, had suddenly become uncertain, menacing.

“Tell you what, boys,” Daddy said, “I ain’t sure what minded y’all to get on this subject, but … ” He shifted on the nail keg where he was seated. He glanced at them, then back to the orange glow in the stove grate. “It’s true that we believe the Bible teaches a right way to do things. And we believe that folks ought to try to—”

“Try to do everything like y’all do, right?” said one of the men. “Ain’t that what you’re trying to say, without saying it? That y’all have figured out what the Bible says, and anybody that don’t agree with you is wrong?”

“Say, now, fellas,” said John Hatchell, the store owner. “It’s winter, all right, but I don’t believe we need this much heat inside here, do y’all?”store

Daddy gave Mr. Hatchell a grateful glance. The others left off at that, but Zeb still remembered how, just a few minutes later, he and Daddy loaded their ground sorghum onto the wagon and drove back out to the house, huddled against the cold. Daddy kept quiet all the way home. And Zeb never said anything about the horehound.

Those men were the type J. D. was talking about. They weren’t interested in hearing the true word of God. They were only interested in guarding what they already knew—whether it was right or not. Men like Addie’s father.

*******

“Now, then. Take a look over in the book of Acts, the twentieth chapter and verse twenty-eight. The apostle Paul is just about to leave for Jerusalem, and he knows he’ll never again see the Christians at Ephesus. A course he’s sad about that, and they are, too, but even more important, he’s got some things he needs to tell ‘em. Some things they need to know to keep their faith sound, ‘cause Paul knows there’s plenty of trouble ahead. Listen to what he says … ”

*******

Trouble ahead. Addie wondered if J. D. had just given her a private prophecy. Sometimes she thought Zeb had no appreciation at all for the sacrifice he was asking her to make. It looked as if he thought her joining his church was no more rigorous than changing the style of her hat.

Oh, she knew he took his faith seriously. And there was no question of his devotion to the teachings of the Bible as he understood them. But he acted as if she should just immediately see things the way he did. As if his views were so self-evidently correct that only a simpleton or a reprobate would reject them. As if it were that easy to turn her back on her upbringing. On Papa. She knew Papa was neither a simpleton nor a reprobate. Where did he fit into Zeb’s scheme of things?

She thought just maybe she had a clearer idea of the size of her step of faith than Zeb did. She knew he meant to be there for her no matter what happened, but it wasn’t the same for him; he wasn’t closing a door on anything. And she didn’t think he had the slightest idea how she felt about it. He was asking her to give away her entire world and accept a world she didn’t know anything about. If Zeb was right about everything, God would make it all come out, somehow. But what if Zeb was wrong? And even if he was right, would God give her back the family, the past, she would lose?

Mama, I wish you were here. I need to talk to you right now.

*******

“‘ … for I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also’ —now get this, brethren—‘of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”’ J. D. lowered the Bible, his brow furled. “Brethren, we sure need to pay attention to what Paul is saying here. He’s saying that not only will false teachers come from outside the church, they’ll also come from inside. There’s not any of us that’s immune to error, brethren. We got to study and pray, and watch ourselves all the time, to make sure we stay pleasing to the Lord … ”

*******

Zeb recrossed his legs and fussed with the knot in his tie. He flicked an imaginary speck of lint from his trousers and glanced at the rafters above J. D.’s head, where a mud dauber made lazy forays against the wood. From the corner of his eye, he glanced at Addie, sitting so still beside him in her high-collared dress and flower-trimmed hat. Before he could forbid it, a vision sprang into his mind: he was wrapping her in a passionate embrace, her face turned up to his, her eyes closed, her lips parted in rapture. His chest constricted in a rush of tenderest desire.

He pulled himself back toward the present. It wouldn’t do to torture himself with dreams of what wasn’t yet to be—what might not happen at all, he thought. Besides, this wasn’t the time and place for daydreaming. He needed to be paying attention to the sermon.

J. D. was right. You had to stay on guard. If you didn’t, you might drift into error and sin, like countless thousands throughout the ages. God was merciful and good, but he still had certain expectations. He gave his will to men in the pages of the Bible, and he expected obedience. Obedience wasn’t an easy matter. It was like walking a greased plank, and you had to give it all you had to keep your balance. Fine and dandy for the Methodists and the Baptists to talk about God’s grace and “once saved always saved,” but Zeb knew the Bible also said that faith without works was dead—James two, twenty-six.

*******

“Last of all, brethren, let’s look in the Gospel of Mark, chapter sixteen.” J. D. licked his thumb and turned several pages in his Bible. He scanned the page to find his place. “These are some of the last words the Lord spoke to his apostles before he went back up into heaven. Listen to what he says. ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized—’ Let me repeat that last phrase, brethren. It says, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”’

*******

Addie heard two older girls at the far end of the pew snickering into their hands as J. D. pronounced the closing word of the verse. Again she was conscious of her heart hammering against her breastbone. He that believeth and is baptized. What about she that believeth? She might be saved, but what then? And then she knew the true name of her vague agitation. It was the disguise she had constructed to cloak the anger she felt at Zeb, at her father, at herself, at the Church of Christ—even at Mama. It was the way she hid from herself her useless rage at the unfairness of everything and everyone that she cared about, her rage at her own inability to find a way to be completely happy. Why did it have to be so hard for her? Why did she have to be the one to reconcile comfort, truth, and love within herself? It was like trying to catch rain in a sieve. It was like trying to crochet with baling wire.baptism

*******

“Now, brethren,” J. D. was saying, “we all know that there’s lots of good folks out there in the sectarian world, lots of sincere folks who think they’re following the Bible. But the Lord said ‘he that believeth and is baptized,’ in that order. It ain’t enough to be sincere, brethren. You got to do right. Jesus said, ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,’—Matthew seven, twenty-one. And what is that will, brethren? Listen again to the Lord’s last words: ‘he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved … ’”

*******

Addie’s mind was a stump in Zeb’s pasture and he’d jammed a pry bar beneath it. With J. D.’s proof-texts as his fulcrum, he was prying, prying, trying to break her loose. Her thoughts of Papa screamed out against the dislocation, clung to the soil of her past with weakening tendrils. She felt as if everyone in Post Oak Hollow Church was staring at her. Well does she understand or not? When is she going to come around?

*******

“If you’re here today and you’re not a member of the Lord’s church, you need to make it right,” said J. D. “You need to come down front and confess Jesus as your Lord. We’ll go this very hour down to Chickamauga Creek and baptize you for the forgiveness of your sins, and you’ll be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. If you’re already a Christian and you haven’t lived right, you need to come and ask for the prayers of the church. Whatever your need is today, won’t you come forward this morning while we stand and sing?”

Brother Houser led into the altar call.

While Jesus whispers to you,

Come, sinner, come!

 While we are praying for you,

 Come, sinner, come …

Zeb felt Addie’s hand on his arm. He glanced at her and he felt a thrill along his spine. She was moving past him, toward the center aisle! Was she at last going to make the commitment for which he’d pleaded these last months? Was she going down front to get baptized? If she was, that could only mean …

*******

Addie’s face felt hot. The inside of the church was a blur as she moved toward the aisle. She felt every eye on her as she sidled past Zeb and stepped into the center. With her hand covering the sob trying to escape from her lips, she strode down the aisle and out the back door of the church as the congregation sang the final words of the verse.

Now is the time to own Him:

Come, sinner, come!

Now is the time to know Him:

Come, sinner, come …

*******

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 3

September 19, 2017

George Hutto stared at the marble top of the lamp table beside him. After a minute or two, he again picked up the society page of the Times and read the brief lines:

Mr. Jacob I. Caswell,

Proprietor of Caswell Mercantile Company, Orchard Knob,

Announces that his Daughter,

Adelaide Margaret Caswell

is

Engaged to be Married

to

Mr. Zebediah Acton Douglas

late of Chattanooga, recently moved to Murfreesboro.

The Nuptials are Announced for

Sunday, the Twenty-fifth of June,

in the Year of Our Lord,

Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-Nine

 When he finished the second reading, he started to wad the paper and hurl it into the fireplace. Instead, he crumpled it weakly in his lap and allowed it to fall onto the floor beside his chair. He stood up and paced toward the bay window, his hands clasped behind his back.

He had known Addie Caswell from the time they were kids in Sunday school class. He could never remember giving a plugged nickel for any other girl. He’d carried her books, endured her older brothers’ taunts, and sent her Valentines inscribed with pencil scrawls.

Well, it didn’t matter now. She was engaged to this glad-talking Douglas fellow, and that was that. No sense crying over spilled milk. He stared through the lace curtain. It was a gray day. Dry leaves scattered across the side yard, hurried along by the north wind. He shook his head, turning away from the window. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he slouched up the stairs toward his workroom.

His mother appeared at the bottom of the steps. “George, dear? You coming down to lunch, honey?”

He paused, glancing over his shoulder, then continued up the steps. “No, ma’am. Not hungry right now.”

He heard her heels clomp on the wood floor, going toward the kitchen. “Mamie, just set two places,” she said.

George entered his workroom and closed the door behind him. He went over to his table and picked up the painted hull of the frigate. Just about dry. He could go ahead and rig the masts. Placing the hull gently on the table, he took a paintbrush in one pudgy fist and a pair of tweezers in the other.

 With a knuckle, he shoved his spectacles higher onto the bridge of his nose. He dipped the tip of the brush into the glue pot, then took the toothpick-sized mainmast in the tweezers. He applied two tiny dots of glue at equal distances from either end of the piece, then took another pair of tweezers and picked up the spar that bore the mainsail. He placed the spar on the mast, then reached for the topsail spar. Now he had to let the glue set for a few minutes.

images

If Addie truly loved the Douglas fellow, there wasn’t much he could do about it. He’d never been one to force himself on folks or to act a fool, and he sure wasn’t about to start. She was a grown woman, after all.

And besides, he was too plain, too dependable. Shoot, he knew it as well as anybody else. Most likely, Addie wanted someone with more … well, more gumption. Zeb Douglas was easy with words, never met a stranger. He could talk to you five minutes and you’d feel like you’d known him back to his grandparents on both sides. He just had that way with folks. Put you right at ease, and kept you there.

Compared to Zeb Douglas, George didn’t make much of a show. He was just good, old, dependable George Hutto; never got in anybody’s way, never said a cross word. Kind of fellow who’d never embarrass you. No surprises. No excuses.

He picked up the bottle that would soon house the frigate. As he’d done maybe fifteen times already, he compared the size of the neck opening to the width of the spars. He already knew they’d fit; he’d measured them four times before cutting them. That was the joke of the whole thing: the spars were far too narrow in proportion to the masts—completely out of whack. But once inside the bottle, safe behind the concealing curvature of the glass, no one would notice. Inside, the sails would belly forever out, full of nonexistent air. His frigate would sit on his or someone else’s shelf, going nowhere at full sail across a motionless sea. George set the bottle down and folded his hands in his lap. He sat for awhile. He scratched his face and sighed. The glue on the mast was about dry enough now. He bent back to his work.

 *******

 Addie folded the table linens and patted them down into the cedar chest with the other things. She tallied the wedding gifts she had received so far: three hand-crocheted tablecloths, five place settings of silverware, several sets of serviettes and other assorted linens, and a brace of good, sturdy kitchen knives, each with a penny tied to the handle.

And of course there was the album quilt presented to her by the ladies of the Methodist Church. Made in the same style as the Baltimore album quilts Addie had seen pictured in Butterick’s Quarterly Delineator, it was a floral quilt in dark blues and deep reds and rich greens on a background of white muslin. Each of the ladies had appliquéd a block and embroidered her name at its lower left corner. There were flower baskets, bird-and-flowers, rose trees, and other designs Addie had never seen before. The sashing between the blocks and around the border was a walnut brown. Addie ran her hand along the quilt and smiled.

But thinking of the Methodist ladies brought back the worry that had been nagging her like a toothache. She was going to have to decide something pretty soon about the church situation.

When she and Zeb talked, she felt her resistance wilting. It was just too hard to stand up to his constant scriptural salvos. And when she went back to her room and read the passages for herself, they did seem to point the direction Zeb aimed them.

She was coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that she’d never really known what she believed about the Bible. She’d just sort of gone along, without really studying for herself. Oh, she had been involved, even been a member of the Epworth League. But, somehow, she never got around to really looking into things on her own.Unknown

And there was no doubt in her mind that Zeb would insist they ought to go to the same church after they were married. “It just isn’t right, Addie,” he’d stress, “for a husband and wife to be divided over religion. A home ought to be of the same mind on that, ‘cause if it isn’t, why, there’s no telling what else it’ll be divided on.”

That was true, she knew, but she was a little bothered by how the unity of their impending home was being achieved. Once, when she had asked him to come with her to the Methodist church on Sunday, he got an uncomfortable expression on his face and wouldn’t look her in the eye.

“Addie, I … well, I can’t, honey. We’ve talked about what the Bible says, and … ”

He wouldn’t say anymore, but he didn’t need to. Zeb couldn’t find anything about the Methodist Church he could use as a basis for compromise. She’d have to do all the compromising. But he seemed so convinced he was right.

As did Papa. She was stretched between the two of them like muslin on a quilting frame.

Quick steps pounded on the porch below her bedroom window, and someone rapped on the front door. “Is anybody home?” said a woman’s voice. “Oh, Lordy, please be home, and hurry!” It was Martha Overby, who lived just around the shoulder of Tunnel Hill from their place, and her voice sounded to be unraveling with alarm. Addie rushed to the landing and down the stairs. She flung open the door. “Martha, what’s—”

“Oh, Miss Caswell, please come quick! A rider just come up from the docks and said Perlie’s johnboat washed ashore down below the Suck. They’re a-looking for him right now, but it’s just me and the babies at the house, and—” Her voice caught and she put a hand to her mouth.

Addie slammed the door and leapt down the steps, clutching her skirts with one hand. “You get on down there, Martha. I’ll stay with your children until you get back.” She didn’t wait to see if Martha complied. She was already rounding the corner of the house and dashing uphill into the tree line.

Addie ran through the woods and over the shoulder of the hill. Soon she wished she had remembered to grab a shawl, at least. The cold air sliced into her breastbone as she dodged around fallen trunks and undergrowth.

She got to the small house about five minutes later, her breath coming in pants. The Overbys lived in a ramshackle shotgun house that squatted at the foot of Tunnel Hill, squeezed between the river road and the railroad tracks of the Chattanooga-Atlanta line. Addie could hear the children howling almost before she rounded the bend of the hill, and as she neared the doorway of the tar-papered shack, she could smell the odor of stale coal smoke, bacon grease, and unwashed bodies. Two of the older children were standing just outside the front door, bawling as they stared at Addie. A dirty-faced toddler sat in the doorway and whimpered. And Addie was almost sure she could hear an infant’s cries coming from somewhere inside the house.

She knelt down and pulled the two older ones to her. “Hush, now, y’all,” she said. “You’ve got to help me take care of the little ones. You hear me? Your mama’ll be here in a little bit, but she sent me to stay with you till she gets back. It’ll be all right, now; just settle down.” They calmed, a little at a time. The toddler put out a hand, and Addie pulled her close. Inside, the baby was still raising Cain.

“We better go inside. You’ll catch a bad chill in this cold air. Does your mama have any milk for the baby?” The older boy, who looked about ten, shrugged his shoulders and dug the scarred toe of a brogan into the dust.images-2

Addie disentangled herself from the grimy arms and fingers of the three children. She went into the house, fighting the urge to hold her breath, and beckoned them after her. She closed the rickety door against the chill.

A coal stove stood in the middle of one of the long walls; it doubled as a cooking oven. There were a few cane-bottomed chairs scattered about, all looking mostly the worse for wear. Pine planks laid across two sawhorses formed the kitchen table, and a few tack quilts, made out of feed sacks and backed with some of the homeliest homespun Addie had ever seen, spilled off the single shuck-mattressed bed onto the floor. The baby lay in a tangle of one of these, still squalling to beat blazes. Addie went to him.

“Now, you shush,” she said. “You’ve just about kicked all your covers off, you little dickens.” She scooped up the baby and tucked the quilt back around him. She rocked him in her arms as she scanned the shack for something to quiet him down.

She felt a tug at her skirts. The older girl, a finger stuck shyly in her mouth, held toward her a bottle half-full of milk.

“Thanks, honey! Where was it?”

The girl inclined her head toward the nearest chair. “Over there,” she said in a barely audible voice. “Maw was feeding him when the man come.”

Addie plugged the bottle into the tiny boy’s mouth, and he pulled hard at the contents. “Well, nothing wrong with your appetite, at least,” she said.

“They said Paw drowned in the Suck,” the boy said, his chin beginning to quiver again.

“Now, that’s not what your mama told me,” Addie put in. “He just wasn’t with his boat, is all. He’s probably fine. I bet they’ll find him. You don’t go giving yourself such notions, all right? You’ve got to be brave for your sisters and your little brother.”

The toddler, her eyes as round as teacups, edged closer to where Addie was seated. Lord, please let these children’s daddy be all right, she prayed silently as the baby squirmed, fussed once or twice, and settled back into his consumption of the milk.

The sound was faint, and at first Addie thought she’d just imagined it. But gradually, she realized a man was approaching the house. She began to make out the words of the song he was singing at the top of an untuneful voice:

 

Hot corn, cold corn, bring along a demijohn

 Hot corn, cold corn, bring along a demijohn

 Hot corn, cold corn, bring along a demijohn

 Farewell Uncle Bill, see you in the mornin: yes, sir!

 

Seconds later, the boy’s head jerked up from the place he slumped beside the bed. “That’s Paw!” he shouted, springing up and racing across the room to the door. He flung it open and dashed outside. “Paw! Paw!”

 Through the door, Addie could see Perlie Overby striding toward the house, bellowing at the top of his lungs. He paused as the boy dashed toward him.

“Hold on there, boy! You’re liable to knock—”

The two went down in a tangle as the son flung himself at his father.

“Paw, the man said you was drowned! He said you was drowned in the Suck!”

“Well, I ain’t,” said Perlie, “so git up offa me before I jerk a knot in your tail!”

By this time the older girl was rushing outside, and the toddler was standing in the door, once again whimpering in confusion.

“I wish somebody’d shut the door,” Addie said, left in the chair with the nursing baby. Feeling the cold draft, she pulled the dirty quilt closer about the slurping infant.

The three Overbys shuffled closer to the open doorway. “Well, I was settin’ a new trap down there on the other side of Moccasin Point, by Brown’s Ferry,” Perlie said to his tightly clinging offspring. “Right on the bank is where I was. The rocks is real mossy and slick right there at the edge, and just as I was a-leanin’ over to pull back the jaws of the trap, my foot slipped. I went down like a ton of bricks, made the biggest splash you ever heard, and my foot kicked the gunwale of the boat and knocked her just far enough out for the current to catch her, and by the time I could stand up and dump all the fish outta my pockets—whoa, now! Who’s this here?”

Perlie stood in the doorway, one damp boot on the threshold. Peering into the dark interior of the shack, he straightened. “Well, I’ll be! I believe that’s Miss Addie, yonder!”

“Hello, Mr. Overby. Your wife came to the house and was real scared, so I told her I’d come tend the children while she went down to the docks.”

Perlie had swept his battered plug hat off his head as he came inside. He held it in both hands at chest level, like a shield. “Well, now, Miss Addie, that was mighty kind of you, mighty kind. I shore appreciate you watchin’ the young ‘uns, but this here old dirty place ain’t a proper—”

“She told us you was all right, Paw,” the boy said. “She told us all the time you was all right.” He aimed an admiring look at Addie.

“Well, course I was all right,” said Perlie, crumpling his hat between his fists. “Just got a little wet, is all. And I reckon I’ll have to walk all the way down to the Suck now and get my johnboat back. And a course I lost a half-day’s work and still got traps to check, but— Scuse me, Miss Addie! There I go, lettin’ my mouth run off again, and you settin’ there without a coat on. Boy! Go shut that door!”

“I’m all right, Mr. Overby, really.”

“Now, Miss Addie, you just let me have that little ‘un there, and you can go on back to your house, you hear?”

“Oh, I don’t mind—”

“Nope. I’m back now, and I can tend my own young ‘uns.”

“But—you’re wet! Don’t you want to get some dry clothes on?”

Perlie shrugged and grinned. “Why, land’s sakes, Miss Addie! These here’s the only britches I got. They’ll dry out directly. Come on, now, hand him over here.”

“Paw, did you really catch fish in your pockets when you fell in?” the boy said.

“Why, course I did! But they was all too little to keep, so I put ‘em back in till they was growed up some. Move on over now, boy, so Miss Addie can hand me your little brother.”

images-3 Addie rose and offered the baby to his father, careful to keep the bottle in the hungry mouth. Perlie murmured and whispered to the tiny boy as he took him. Addie would never have suspected that the rough, tobacco-stained man could show such tenderness toward anything, but as he rocked and coddled the baby in his arms, she knew she wasn’t needed any longer. Perlie sidled over to the chair and eased himself into it. The boy moved in beside him on one side, and the older girl on the other, while the toddler came between his knees and laid her head on his grimy, wet pant leg. Addie could see the baby’s eyelids flutter, then droop closed.

“Well, if you’re sure you don’t need me,” she whispered.

“No, you go ahead on,” Perlie said in a low voice. “And take one a them quilts with you. That north wind’s colder than gouge.”

“No, I’ll be all right,” she said, glancing at the stained quilts piled on the floor. “I’ll just leave, then. Bye.”

“Bye, Miss Addie. I’m much obliged to you,” he said.

As she walked toward the door, she heard him singing softly, but no more tunefully than before:

 

Upstairs, downstairs, out in the kitchen

 Upstairs, downstairs, out in the kitchen

 Upstairs, downstairs, out in the kitchen

 See Uncle Bill just a-rarin’ and a-pitchin: yes, sir.

 Hot corn, cold corn, bring along a demijohn …  

*******

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 2

February 18, 2017

“Well, do you love him?”

Louisa peered at her younger sister, seated on the other side of the quilting frame. Addie ducked her head, but not before Louisa saw the blush.

“Oh, Lou… I don’t know,” Addie said. “He’s awful nice to me. He’s a hard worker, and he makes good money.”

“And he doesn’t clean up too bad either,” Louisa said. She felt the prick of the needle with her fingertip and pulled the stitch through from underneath. She pulled it tight, then placed the needle for the next stitch. “Zeb Douglas is a fine-looking man, and anyone who says otherwise would lie about something else.”

Addie stitched in silence. Louisa thought she could see a faint smile at the corners of her younger sister’s mouth.

“I tell you, I believe I’ve been working on this quilt all my life,” Louisa said. “If I don’t ever see another tree-of-life pattern, it’ll be too soon. Cora Dickerson down the street got one of those new portable Singer sewing machines, and she’s already started piecing tops with it.”

“Does it do as well as hand piecing?”

“Why, I reckon. She could do three tops in the time it took me to get this one pieced. I’ve been telling Dub I need one. Course, I’ll wind up ordering it from Sears & Roebuck’s for Christmas and telling him he got it for me.”

Addie laughed. “Lou, the way you talk about poor Dub! Anybody’d think you were mistreated, the way you carry on.”

Louisa smiled. “Well, I know. Dub’s a good man. I’ve got few complaints, really.”

The silence stretched, broken only by the soft popping of the two quilting needles as they pierced the taut muslin.tree-1

“Lou?”

“Hmm?”

Addie’s lips had that pinched-together, thinking look. Lou thought she knew what was coming next.

“Lou, I… I worry about Zeb and… Papa. Zeb’s not— Well, he’s not Methodist, you know, and—”

“Yes, I know,” Louisa said. “Of course… there’s always George Hutto.”

“Oh, George Hutto!” Addie jabbed her needle through the cloth. “I’m so tired of everybody throwing George Hutto up in my face. I’ve known him ever since grade school, and I don’t see what’s so great about him, even if he does go to the right church!”

Louisa had reached the end of her thread. She looped the needle back through her last stitch and pulled the knot down into the batting, then snipped the extra off down close to the quilt. She reached for her spool of thread and wet the end of the thread between her lips, squinting as she tried to poke it through the eye of her needle. “Well, sounds to me like your mind’s made up on that score, at least,” she said.

“Honey, all I can tell you is this,” Louisa said after awhile. “Comes a time when a woman has to do what’s right for herself, and nobody can tell you what that is, except you. Not me, not Zeb… not Papa.”

Addie’s hands slowed, then stopped. “You mean… You think it might be all right if—”

“I didn’t say that. I don’t know about all right. All I know is you’re a grown woman. This is the 1890s, Addie, and Chattanooga isn’t Istanbul or Peking or someplace like that. A woman has to make her own way, best way she can. And if Zeb Douglas is the way for you, why then—” Louisa sat still for a few seconds, studying the backs of her hands. “Then, maybe that’s what you have to do, that’s all.” She took a few stitches, then looked up, aiming an index finger at Addie. “Now mind, I’m not saying it’s right… or wise.”

Addie’s eyes questioned.

“I’m just saying that you’re eighteen years old, and you’ve got a right to have your say.”

While she stitched, Addie began remembering what she used to do when she was a child. Sometimes, when she felt the need to get away from everyone, she used to climb to the top of one of the sweet gum trees that ringed the backyard of the house. She would climb way, way up to the highest branches, until every breeze that came along would cause her perch to sway and rock. When she was in the top of a tree, Addie could let herself feel freed from the pull of the earth. The thick green foliage hid the ground, creating a special apart-place for her.amer-sweet-gum3

Addie longed for a refuge just now. Louisa had made her see that she had the responsibility of choice, and her position frightened her. Maybe she had climbed too high this time. Maybe a storm was blowing up, rattling and shivering among the tops of the trees, tossing her back and forth, a storm that might throw her down from her safe place. Was there a safe place left? Could she really just do what she thought was best? Was it as simple as that? Or would there be other choices beyond this one, other responsibilities and other finalities that would spin off this moment, like the felling of the first domino? What other choices was she making right now, without a chance to see them?

Her vision refocused on the quilt beneath her fingers. Pursing her lips, she took up her needle and made another stitch across the tree-of life.

 

*******

 

Zeb Douglas felt like a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rockers. His horse was cresting the final ridge between Orchard Knob and the Caswell homestead. He could look down the slope to the place where their lane peeled off from the road.

He had proposed to Addie the week before as they strolled along the gaslit promenade beside the glassy pond in East Lake Park. It had been a fine Indian summer evening. They’d walked for a long time, her hand in his; the sweet twilight air had seemed like it was whispering secrets in his blood. Then one silence stretched a little long, and before he knew it he was speaking up.

“Addie, you know how I feel about you, don’t you?” he said.

“Well … I think so.”

“Addie, I … I love you. There, it’s out. I want you to be my wife. I want to marry you, if you’ll have me.”

They had walked on slowly; that was the strangest thing, he thought later. To somebody standing on the other side of the pond, they were just two people walking together, moving along as smooth as silk. Who’d have known that his heart was slamming around inside his chest like a penned-up jaybird? He kept his eyes on the footpath, afraid to look at her, more afraid with every step. He started wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.

“All right,” she said.

“What?”

She laughed a little and squeezed his hand. “I said all right. I’ll marry you.” He had looked at her then, and she was smiling. “I will,” she repeated. She stopped walking and turned to face him, taking both his hands in hers.lights

Right then, he thought he might bust wide open. He felt his grin getting all long and rubbery. He wanted to jump up and down like a little kid on Christmas morning; he wanted to spin around in a circle and holler. He pulled her to him and squeezed her tight. Her wide-brimmed hat fell off, and he giggled like a schoolboy, snatching it up and planting it askew on her head.

“Oh, Addie, you don’t know how you’ve just made me feel! I’m the happiest fellow in Hamilton County!” He planted a chaste but sincere kiss on her lips.

“Zebediah Douglas!” She pushed him away. “You’d best mind your manners!”

“Aw, I’m sorry, Addie,” he said, grinning. “I just couldn’t help it.”

“Well,” she said, a smile stealing across her face, “I guess I didn’t really mind all that much. Just don’t get too fresh, that’s all,” she said.

“Zeb,” she said a few minutes later as they strolled on down the walk, “when are you going to tell Papa?”

And he hadn’t drawn an easy breath since. His horse started down the curving slope of the Caswell’s drive.

Jacob Caswell could sure do worse for a son-in-law. It wasn’t as though Zeb didn’t have prospects. He’d just been promoted to manager of the Murfreesboro office. He now had three other agents under him, and the company principals were very pleased with his work. He was an up-and-comer in the agency force.

You let your daughter marry me, and I guarantee you’ll never see her taking in washing while her sorry husband’s off running with his coon dogs…

But Jacob Caswell was a dyed-in-the-wool Methodist, and that was that. Every time Zeb called on Addie, he could feel her father’s hostility to his religion chilling the back of his neck. Even when he didn’t go in the house, he could sense Jacob’s disapproval brooding over him like a summer thunderhead.

He tried to tell himself not to take it personally. Addie had warned him repeatedly of her father’s uncompromising denominational compunctions.

She had told him about the time, one raw winter’s night, when a knock came on the front door of their home. Outside was a man huddled against the sleet, clutching his collar about his neck He told Addie’s father that his wagon was broken down just beyond the crest of the rise; a wheel had come off the axle. Could he board himself and his horse for the night? Addie’s father had brought the man in and given him a cup of hot coffee. He was just about to pull on his mackintosh and go out into the night to help the stranger bring in his horse when he chanced to ask the fellow what brought him to these parts on such a bitter evening.

The man answered that he was a circuit preacher for the Church of Christ and that he had come to conduct a revival service.

“Papa got a sick look on his face,” Addie said, “and started taking off his coat. The man looked at him kind of strange, and Papa said, ‘Sir, my religious convictions prohibit me from rendering aid to a person I believe to be a teacher of heresy. I am deeply sorry, but I cannot help you this evening.”’

Addie told how her father sent that man back out into the sleet and shut the door behind him. Jacob Caswell leaned against the closed door for several minutes, then slumped down in the hall chair with his head in his hands. “He felt real bad for the man,” Addie said, “but that’s just how he is about what he believes.”

Now Zeb was here. He reined his horse to a halt and eased down from the saddle. He looped the reins over the porch railing and straightened himself, staring at the front door of the house. He had to ask for Addie’s hand; it was the only honorable thing to do. He knew she would marry him, but he also knew she wanted the proper forms observed. That’s just the kind of girl she was.

He took a deep breath, then another. He dusted off his hat and put it back on his head. He straightened his tie and tugged his coat down all around. And then, like a man going to the gallows, he climbed the front steps.

He raised a knuckle to knock on the frame of the screen door, but before he could, the heavy inner door swung inward. Addie stood there, dressed in her newest crinoline-and-lace. At the sight of her, he almost forgot his nervousness. But then he saw the set of her eyes and the tense way she looked over her shoulder toward the parlor, and every trace of moisture instantly evaporated from his throat.

“Come on in,” she said, standing aside and trying to smile. “Papa,” she called, “Zeb’s here.”

Rose stepped into the hallway as he entered, drying her hands on a dish towel. Her eyes glinted from Zeb to Addie, then toward the parlor where Mr. Caswell waited. She ducked back into the kitchen.

Zeb had to concentrate on what his knees were doing as he paced toward the parlor. He expected Jacob Caswell to be seated in his red leather wingback chair, his face buried in the Chattanooga Times as he had been situated on the other rare occasions when Zeb had been admitted to the parlor. But this time he was standing, his hands clasped behind his back. He still wore his dark Sunday suit, his tie knotted at the throat. He was scowling at the floor, and he looked up as Zeb entered, with Addie following three paces behind.

“Papa,” she said, “Zeb’s here, and he wants—”

“I know why you’re here,” Jacob said. “I’m not blind, you know.”

He glared at Zeb. Zeb felt his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down like a fishing cork. Zeb thought of the words he had rehearsed on the way here. He drew a chest full of air and tried to square his shoulders. “Mr. Caswell, it must be apparent to you that your daughter and I—”

“It’s apparent to me that my daughter has set her mind on marrying you, Mr. Douglas. Only a fool would think otherwise, and I don’t much believe I’m a fool.”

“No … no, sir. I expect not.”

“She’s eighteen years old,” Jacob said, his eyes glittering toward Addie, “and I know better than to try to talk a woman out of something her mind’s set on. That’s the one piece of advice I’ll give you, Mr. Douglas: don’t try to reason a woman out of something she already wants to do.”

Zeb swallowed. “Uh … thank you, sir.”

“But I’ll tell you this, young woman,” Jacob said, aiming a finger at Addie. “You know how I feel about this man’s religion. You were raised in a sensible Methodist family. If you choose to join this man’s church—”

“Ah, we don’t call it ‘joining the church,’ sir,” Zeb said. “We believe God adds the obedient to—”

“Zeb! Not now!” Addie said.

“Never mind,” said Jacob Caswell, his eyes still on his daughter. “You can call it joining, or being added, or whatever other fool thing you fancy, but I’ll say this once and for all: if you follow him into this religious group of his, you best reckon all the consequences. You best make sure you love this fellow enough to live with the consequences.”

No one spoke for a long time. Addie leaned against the doorframe, her hands behind her back. Zeb wondered if she was holding on to the woodwork to keep from falling. Her face was as white as the high lace collar of her dress, and her eyes looked big and dark as they flickered back and forth between him and her father.

Then Addie stood away from the doorframe. She walked toward Zeb and took his arm. She turned to face her father.

“Papa, I love him. I mean it.”hands

Jacob Caswell grunted, shoved his hands into his vest pockets, and stalked past them. He grabbed his hat from the hall tree and yanked open the front door. They heard his rapid strides thump on the front porch and down the steps.

A long breath went out of Addie, and her head fell on Zeb’s shoulder. “Well, that’s that,” she said.

Zeb couldn’t speak. He put an arm around her and patted her. Twice.

*******

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 1

January 21, 2017

Part I

August 1898

Addie shaded her eyes and stared up the dirt road for the tenth time in the last five minutes. There! And about time, too.

A horse and buggy crested the hill up from Orchard Knob, trailing a cloud of dust that plumed off to the north, gilded by the westering sun.

She turned and leaned toward the screen door. “Papa, Zeb’s coming up the lane. We’ll be back after meeting’s over.” She didn’t wait to hear his acknowledgment of her message. He’d be scowling.

Rose was sweeping at the other end of the front porch. “Rose, can you leave something out for Papa’s supper before you go home?” Addie said. “I may not be back until after dark.”

“Mmm-hmm.” The broom never paused.

Addie looked at Rose. The old woman’s plump arms moved rhythmically, twin metronomes keeping time to a well-worn tune. “Rose, you… you like Mr. Douglas, don’t you?”

The broom made two strokes, then a third. Rose turned her head slightly toward Addie. “Ain’t for me to say, Missy. He your man, not mine. Don’t matter whether I like him or not.” She went back to her sweeping.

Addie waited on the front porch as Zeb turned off the Orchard Knob road and into their lane. She smiled. How in the world had Zeb snagged the handsome, black-lacquered gig and the quick-stepping sorrel? He was always pulling off some dramatic gesture or other. It was one of the things she loved about him.

He drove up in the front yard, then pulled the horse around broadside and grinned up at her from the seat of the gig. “Well, did I tell you the truth?”

She smiled broadly and nodded. “Zeb, it’s— Well, it’s just something. How did you manage it—rob a bank?”

“I suppose so, in a manner of speaking,” he said, pushing up his bowler to scratch his scalp. “I wrote three policies on a banker up in Murfreesboro, and that put me at the top of the production list for the week. The boss said whoever did that could use his rig for a day. And that’s me! Now, are you gonna stand there gawking all evening, or are we going to meeting?”man_woman_horse__buggy

She came down the steps, and he stood to hold her hand as she stepped into the carriage. She settled herself beside him, and he clicked his tongue while brushing the sorrel’s flank with the buggy whip. When they made the final turn into the lane, Addie glanced back over her shoulder at the house. Rose was standing still, staring after them.

Addie wished that Papa could at least try to like Zeb. He was polite, hard-working, and cut a handsome figure. She enjoyed the feel of his dark broadcloth suit where her hand rested on his forearm, the stark contrast of his crisp white shirt and black string tie. And Zeb was a thorough gentleman. He had never made any gesture toward her that was the least bit improper.

But Zeb was a salesman, and Papa didn’t much approve of salesmen. He stayed put out with the daily stream of drummers that called on Caswell Mercantile Company, he said, and didn’t see why he ought to be welcoming one into his house. Zeb sold life insurance, and that didn’t help either: she’d heard Papa mutter about pigs in pokes.

Then, too, there was the fact that Zeb was a Democrat from Georgia, and Papa was Republican and didn’t completely trust folks from Georgia. That was harder for Addie to understand. Why, from the top of Lookout Mountain you could just about spit on Georgia!

But worst of all, Papa was a strict Methodist, and Zeb was a Campbellite. As far as Papa was concerned, the Campbellites were Johnny-come-latelies who thought they were the only ones going to heaven. Papa said that any group so worked up over total immersion baptism was bound to be all wet about something else. They were worse than the Baptists, he said. At least you could talk to a Baptist, he said.

“Zeb, who’s preaching tonight?” she asked, leaning a trifle closer to him as they turned onto the Orchard Knob road.

“Brother Charles McCrary, I believe. He’s come all the way out from Nashville to hold this meeting.”

“What’s he like?”

“A mighty fine speaker, from what I hear. I’ve never heard him preach, but old Brother Houser once heard him debate some Baptist or other, and he said Brother McCrary like to brought fire from heaven, he was so good.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Said he could quote whole books of the Bible from memory. Said he never once looked at a single note but just spoke extemporaneous. Said he whipped that Baptist like a tied-up goat and hardly broke a sweat.”

They rode on in silence for some time. Behind them, the sun reddened toward the horizon. Cicadas slid up and down their two-note scale with a sound like miniature buzz saws. The horse tossed its head and snorted. Addie felt Zeb’s arm encircle her shoulders, and she leaned into him a bit more.

“Addie, are you still my girl?”

“I guess so. “

“Guess so?”

She laughed and jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. “Zeb, you know good and well I am.”

“Well, all right, then.”

The wagon yard in front of the church house was three-quarters full by the time they arrived. The service hadn’t begun, though, because several of the men still lingered outside the front door, chewing, spitting, and smoking. They all looked long in the direction of Zeb’s borrowed rig as he pulled up the sorrel and looped the lines over the seat rail. Zeb helped Addie down, then unbuckled the bridle from the horse and clipped a tether to its halter. He pulled a grain-filled nosebag from the floor of the carriage, tied it behind the horse’s ears, gave it a final pat on the withers, and offered Addie his arm as they walked toward the door of the church.

“Evenin’, Zeb,” called one of the men. They all touched their hat brims and nodded at Addie.

“Howdy, Pete,” said Zeb. “Tom, Hershel. How y’all doing this evening?”

“Tolerable well,” said Pete, “but I’d be a sight better if we got some rain.” The others nodded.

“Well, like my daddy used to say, we’re one day closer to rain than we ever have been,” Zeb said.

“I guess that’d have to be right,” Pete said, smiling.

Zeb and the other men talked a little more. They swapped opinions on the war with Spain. Hershel said it appeared to be winding down, now that Cuba had fallen.

Tom peeked through the open door of the church. “Boys, we better get on in. They’re fixing to start.” He held the door and motioned Addie and Zeb inside. “Y’all go ahead.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hoskins,” said Addie.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Post Oak Hollow Church was a small one-room affair, its wood frame covered with whitewashed clapboard siding. There were windows down both sides and a raised platform across the front, in the center of which stood a sturdy oak pulpit. The two rows of pews on either side of the center aisle were constructed of rough-hewn hickory slats with no finish other than the gradual smoothing administered by the backsides of the congregation. The windows were raised, and a slight breeze wafted through, aided by the waving pasteboard fans wielded by many of the women. Most of the fans were from a local funeral parlor and bore an advertisement on one side and reproductions from the Doré Bible on the other. Even though the sun hovered above the horizon, the dale in which the church sat was already in shadow. The coal oil lamps, in brackets along both side walls, were lit.images

Brother Houser, a white-haired gentleman, stood and stepped carefully to a position on the platform just in front of the pulpit. He held a brown paperback book in his hand. “Folks, let’s all get a song book and turn to number sixty-seven.”

Addie and Zeb slid into a seat about halfway toward the front, on the left side next to the center aisle. With the rest of the congregation, they took a hymnal from the rack on the seat in front of them and rustled the pages to find the announced selection. In a reedy voice, Brother Houser began to sing.

 

I have found a friend in Jesus,

He’s everything to me.

He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul

 

The congregation joined in with a vigor undimmed by the general lack of skill.

At first, Addie had thought it curious that the Post Oak Hollow congregation sang without a piano or organ. But Zeb had carefully pointed out to her that there was nothing in the New Testament that prescribed mechanical assistance to musical worship. “We try to follow the Bible as our only guide,” he had said. “We wouldn’t want to take a chance on doing anything where we don’t have a New Testament example.” Addie hadn’t ever thought about it that way, but she had to admit there sure wasn’t anything in the New Testament about pianos or organs.

“Silliest thing I ever heard tell of,” Papa had said when she told him. “Course there ain’t nothing in the New Testament about pianos and organs—nor hymnals printed on a printing press, nor ladies wearing corsets to church.” He insisted it was just another case of useless, Campbellite hardheadedness. Addie had thought about pointing out to him that he was being just as dogmatic about his views as he was accusing them of being about theirs but decided discretion was the better part of valor.

After several songs and a prayer offered in an undulatory, singsong voice by one of the congregation’s elders, Charles McCrary rose from his seat on the front pew and walked to the pulpit. His back was ramrod-straight; he carried nothing with him except a black leather Bible. He laid the well-worn Bible on the pulpit in front of him and swept his gaze over the assembly.

He was slight-built and balding. His face was clean-shaven, and wire-rimmed spectacles glittered on the bridge of his aquiline nose. The light glanced off the lenses, giving Addie the fleeting, disturbing impression that instead of eyes he had only featureless panes of glass. He had a thin-lipped, hawkish look: a man who brooked no foolishness. He appeared to be in his mid-forties, perhaps early fifties. And then he began to speak in a fine, strong baritone voice—almost startling, coming from such a small frame.

“It’s good to be here with you, brethren in Christ,” he said. “I bring you greetings from the church in Nashville and from all the faithful brethren throughout Middle Tennessee. When Brother Houser invited me to come and speak to you, I had no idea that the saints in and around Chattanooga numbered as many as they do. I’m truly pleased to see such a fine crowd here tonight and doubly pleased by the fine song service offered by Brother Houser.

“As my text for this evening, I have chosen a passage from the second epistle of the apostle Paul to Timothy … ”

Addie noticed the long, drawn-out way Brother McCrary said “Paul”—as if he savored the name, was reluctant to release it from his lips. It sounded like “pole.”

“In the fourth chapter, beginning in verse one, Paul says, ‘I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”

He never looked at his Bible, never made a move to open it. Addie watched, intrigued.

“‘For the time will come’—now hear the next words carefully, brethren—‘when they will not endure sound doctrine—”’ He drove each word of the phrase home with special emphasis, as if hammering verbal nails into the lid of a coffin. He gripped the sides of the pulpit and leaned forward as he quoted the remaining verses. “‘—but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears—”’ He pronounced the last two words like a curse, or the name of an unspeakable disease. ‘“—And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”’

Two or three rows from the front, on the right-hand side of the meetinghouse, a toddler began to squall and fidget in her mother’s lap. If Brother McCrary heard, he gave no sign. His face wore a pained expression, as if he felt personally responsible for the sorry state of fallen humanity. After a brief, reflective silence, he looked up.

“Brethren, as we look around us today, we see flagrant evidence of the truth of the apostle Paul’s words, just read in your hearing. We see a landscape littered with so-called churches, where so-called Christians come together and profess their so-called allegiance to the Lord.”

No beating around the bush, Addie thought. He is going to wade right into it.

“And in these so-called churches, brethren, what do we find? We find teaching that proclaims as doctrines the commandments of men, Matthew fifteen, nine. We find those who say ‘Lord, Lord!’ but do not the will of the Father in heaven—Matthew seven, twenty-one. We find those who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof—Second Timothy three, five. Who profess that they know God, but in works they deny him—Titus one, sixteen—”

Each time Brother McCrary cited a Scripture, he punched his Bible forward in the air, driving gospel spikes.

“In short, my brethren, we find those of whom the Lord will say in the last day, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity,’ Matthew seven, twenty-three… ”

For the next hour, he fired broadside barrages into every other church for miles around. He laid about with great, circular swipes of Scripture, hewing away at the false teachings and creeds of men that were, in his words, “leading astray the unsuspecting hordes of the sectarian world.” He thrust and parried with the sword of the Spirit, and he never 0012249cf372c40d8f6005d921b4faf6mentioned any names; but as Addie heard him lambaste sprinkling and missionary societies and instrumental accompaniment to hymns and the christening of babies, she didn’t need to wonder how Papa would feel about what she was hearing. If he walked in the back door before Brother McCrary finished, there might be a killing.

And yet, despite the relentlessness of Brother McCrary’s onslaught, she was awed by his presentation. He never consulted an outline, never opened the covers of his Bible, but Addie never doubted that he was quoting his proof-texts verbatim. As he built his breastworks against the evil onslaught of denominationalism, Brother McCrary chinked each crack in the masonry with an appropriate New Testament citation. It was an impressive display of firepower. Addie had no idea the Bible was so hard on things she had previously thought proper, or at least harmless.

When Brother McCrary offered the altar call, Addie felt a tug within her. For some time, as she had been discussing various aspects of doctrine with Zeb, she had begun feeling curiously ambivalent toward her Methodist upbringing. Papa was a good man, although he’d seemed to grow harsher after Mama’s death. They had always been a churchgoing family, and all of Addie’s siblings—now with families of their own—were faithful members of their churches. One of her brothers had even been a class leader for some little church out in the country, before he and his wife moved back into town.

But something about the Campbellites appealed to her. Something, she told herself sternly, more than the charm and good looks of Zebediah Douglas. Something about their urgent appeal to Scripture. Something about their primitive, combative vitality. She had the sense that these folks really believed in something and were willing to fight for it. It gave them an identity that was clear-cut. It gave them a mission. Addie liked that. But, oh! Papa would never forgive her.

From the corner of her eye, she studied Zeb. His face was intent, serious. He appeared to be hanging on every word that Brother McCrary spoke. So sincere … so handsome.

The congregation stood to sing the invitation hymn. Brother McCrary stood expectantly at the head of the center aisle, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief, ready to receive the penitents his sermon had quickened to contrition.

 

There’s a great day coming;

A great day coming.

There’s a great day coming, bye-and-bye;

When the saints and the sinners

Shall be parted right and left.

Are you ready for that day to come?

 

Are you ready? asked the chorus. Are you ready for the judgment Day?

The day was coming, Addie felt sure. But it wasn’t going to be today.

*******

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