Posts Tagged ‘church’

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 38

May 23, 2019

At first, Addie wasn’t sure what it was. It didn’t look exactly like anything she’d ever seen. But when she picked it up and turned it over in her hand, it was as plain as anything that it was a fish.

Or more like the distilled, concentrated idea of a fish—a fish shown the way it might think of itself, if you could imagine such a thing. How could wood be made to do the things this piece of wood did? fish

She’d found the smooth, polished curve of linden lying on the corner of her porch, in the same place she had taken to leaving treats for Ned Overby on the days George Hutto drove him back from the YMCA. She’d found it last Tuesday morning as she was sweeping; she guessed it had lain there since the previous Saturday. The linden, almost bone-white, made little contrast with the whitewashed porch planking. If she hadn’t scooted the carving with the broom, she might never have noticed it.

She smiled as she looked at it now. She’d placed it on her mantle in the parlor. It soothed her eyes from the strain of her candle-wicking. The flow and bend of it invited her hand like an old friend.

She was almost finished with this bedspread. Just one more corner of the pattern to stitch and then it would be ready to wash and dry and take to Dub.

She was still surprised at how quickly the spreads sold. She could tell, at first, that Dub only let her put the spread in his store as a family favor—or maybe to keep from having to put up with Lou’s displeasure. But it sold within the week. After she gave Dub the store’s share—over his protests—she still had more than three dollars left over. And the next piece sold just as quickly. And the next. Dub soon stopped trying to act like he didn’t care about the money and started asking her how soon she could get the next bedspread on his shelf. Mr. Peabody had recently offered to start having one of his boys drive out with her cloth and thread and notions, and he let her know if she needed a few days on credit, that’d be just fine.

Addie was leery of credit, though. She liked the thought of the money in the ginger jar in the back of her closet, and she especially liked knowing all of it belonged to her, to do with as she saw fit. Credit muddied the water.

The Ingraham clicked and rattled, then struck. Ten o’clock—the mail was probably here. She finished out the row she was on and laid aside the cloth. She went to the front door, brushing her hand across the fish’s back as she passed the mantle. meadowlark

She stepped out onto the front porch. A meadowlark sat on the top rail of the lane fence. Its black necklace puffed out, dark against the yellow breast, every time it piped. She came down the steps, and the meadowlark blurred away toward the tree line.

The sound of hammers battered at the clear midmorning air. James Potts had sold off a piece of his pasture fronting the road, and somebody was building a big house on it. Every fair day since early spring she’d been waking to the sound of the project, first the sawing and shouting as they cut down enough of the big sweet gums and ashes to make a notch in the woods for the house to sit in. She’d watched as they leveled the plot, then watched the frame go up and the clapboard siding wrap slowly around the house. Now they were nailing down the roof planking. One of these days, Addie knew, she needed to find out who her new neighbors were going to be. Not that she minded neighbors. It’d be a comfort, in a way. And it would sure be nice if they had a little girl about Mary Alice’s age. Take some of the pressure off.

Good. Her summer Delineator was in the mailbox. Beneath it was an ivory–colored envelope addressed in a very decorative hand. She ran her thumb beneath the flap and opened it. An invitation to Callie Watson’s wedding.

Addie looked down the road, tapping the invitation against her palm. In a little while, she dropped it into the pocket of her apron and started back toward the house, thumbing through the Delineator as she went.

The magazine was a bit of an indulgence, she guessed, but one she thought she could afford. Looking at the smart fashion plates and reading the elegant descriptions of each costume allowed her to dream a little, to imagine herself able to pick and choose among the delightful outfits for herself and her children, just like the ladies in town who lived on Cameron Hill, whose daughters went to Epworth League and whose husbands came home every night to sit in an armchair and smoke and read the paper. The Delineator was an hour or two of pleasant escape, delivered to her mailbox four times a year. Not a bad bargain for twenty–five cents per annum. delineator.jpg

She went back in the house and dropped the magazine on the side table near her sewing chair. She promised herself a nice, long read after lunch—after she finished this spread.

Addie put the last stitches in her work just before noon. Miraculously, though Jake woke up, he was content to coo and gurgle up at the ceiling of his room until she had tied off the last thread and clipped the final row of wicking. She got him out of bed and carried him on her hip into the kitchen, calling up to Mary Alice to come down and get something to eat.

She fed the children and herself and got them both interested in some toys. She went into the parlor and settled herself in her chair, then reached for the Delineator, when she felt something rub against her thigh. It was the envelope in her apron pocket.

She sat back in the chair with a sigh. She’d managed to forget all about Callie Watson and her wedding until just now. She took the invitation out of her pocket and laid it on top of her magazine. She looked at it, cupping her chin in her hand.

She’d known Callie since she was born; the Watsons sat in the pew behind the Caswells at Centenary Methodist, Sunday after Sunday for years. She really ought to go to the wedding. She reached over and thumbed open the card. “William Jefferson Briles,” the groom’s name was. Addie didn’t recollect any Brileses. The boy’s people must be from somewhere else.

Addie wondered where they’d live after they were married. Would William Jefferson Briles settle in Chattanooga, become a partner in his father-in-law’s business? Would he and Callie move into the family pew? Would he be a class leader someday, or even a messenger to the Conference? Or would he follow some strange dream, drag Callie hither and yon, and leave her the day she finally gathered enough gumption to say, “no more”?

Lately, there were whole days at a time when Addie didn’t think about Zeb—when she didn’t wonder what he was doing, where he was living, whether he and this other woman had any friends, any fun, or if they were even still together. Days when she didn’t try to figure out where she’d gone wrong, what signs she’d missed, how she could have done better by him, or by herself, or by somebody. invitation

She turned the wedding invitation over in her hand a few times, then tossed it onto the table beside her magazine. She’d send a gift by Lou. A nice tufted bedspread, most likely. She picked up her Delineator and started looking through the ladies’ evening dresses. Here was one: “Absolutely guaranteed to make the lady wearing it the very cynosure of any gathering, and the gentleman on whose arm she enters the envy of all the swains present.”

*******

George slowed as he approached the lane, then clenched his jaw and turned the wheel, aiming the auto toward Addie’s house. Ned looked at him, a question on his face.

“I’ll just take you on up to the house this time.”

She came out onto the porch, holding the little baby boy. Her daughter trailed behind her, holding onto her apron strings. George braked to a stop and took the car out of gear. Ned got out.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you next time, Ned.”

He nodded and started toward the trail to his house. She was smiling down at the boy.

“Ned, how about taking a loaf of bread to your mama for me?” she asked. “I’ve got you a slice already buttered, with some honey on it.” bread.jpg

Ned shoved his hands deeper in his pockets but didn’t show any signs of leaving without the bread. She went inside and came back out with a bundle wrapped in cheesecloth and Ned’s slice balanced on top. “Here you go.” She handed it to him, and George saw the quick way she glanced away from Ned, toward him. A sliding–away look, like she might be feeling a little bad about something, but not bad enough to say anything out loud.

Ned took the loaf in one hand and the slice in the other. He started to take a bite, but stopped long enough to mumble, “Much obliged.”

“And thank you for the fish,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Will you carve something else for me sometime?”

Ned’s chin fell onto his chest, and he gave what might have been a nod. A flush crept up his neck. He shuffled off around the corner of the house.

Her eyes swung back toward George. He was still sitting behind the wheel of his car, and when she looked at him, he suddenly realized he had no notion of what he might talk to her about.

“George Hutto.” She gave him a slow, greeting nod.

“Addie.” He touched the brim of his hat.

“Fine day for a drive.”

“Yes, I guess it is.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Somebody building a house across the road from you.”

“Pretty good–sized one too.”

“Yes, pretty good sized.”

The little boy grabbed a fistful of Addie’s hair and tried to put it in his mouth. She craned her head away from him. “Jake, now stop that.” She reached up and pulled the chubby arm away from her hair. He made a squalling sound and tried to snatch his hand away from her.

“No, sir. You stop that,” she told him. He squalled some more.

“Well, I guess I’d better get back,” George said, looking away as he worked the gear lever.

“All right, then,” she said, still wrestling with the little boy. She gave George a sort of distracted wave and went back inside, grabbing at Jake’s hand.

George backed carefully down the lane. Today was Saturday. Why hadn’t he asked her if he could pick her up for church tomorrow? She seemed in pretty good spirits, considering all she’d been through. But maybe that was how it was with most folks—they absorbed the bad in life, then went on. Maybe Addie was going on, that was all. Just doing what people did. toddler

He backed out into the road and put the auto in low. As he drove past, he glanced at the house going up across the road from Addie’s place. This wouldn’t likely be the last house built out this way. He’d heard James Potts was going to divide up a good deal more of his land. Probably a good move, what with the government starting on that dam out by Hale’s Bar and all the talk of the army camp going in just a few miles east. He wouldn’t be surprised if more and more of Chattanooga crawled out this direction.

George felt a vague kind of sadness, thinking of Addie alone in that big house of her daddy’s, just her and the two little children for company. Come to think of it, what made him turn in at her lane today? What did he think he was going to say or do?

Today was Saturday. In a week’s time he’d be back out here, picking up Ned Overby and bringing him home again in the afternoon. Maybe he’d pull down Addie’s lane again. Maybe they’d talk some more. Maybe next time her little boy wouldn’t be quite so cantankerous. Maybe he’d ask for his own slice of bread with some honey on it.

“Old Leather Britches” started running through George’s mind. Pretty soon, he was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel of his car and whistling as he drove back into town.

*******

Addie broke off a corner of the communion wafer and passed the tray to Sister Houser, seated to her right. She had a pretty good spot today, fairly close to the front and no dippers or chewers ahead of her. One Sunday, she’d been late and had to sit at the back, beside Will Tucker. She didn’t know if he noticed her turning the communion cup as he handed it to her and wasn’t sure she cared. It was nearly enough to make you stop taking communion. No use complaining to J. D. or any of the elders, though. They’d just send her to Matthew 26:27 and Luke 22:20 and say the Lord only authorized a single cup when he instituted the Lord’s Supper, and if it was good enough for the Lord and his apostles it was surely good enough for his church. Addie had thought once or twice about asking them if they thought any of the apostles chewed tobacco. communion

Addie knew she was supposed to be meditating on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as she partook of the communion, but her mind was an unruly thing today. As she took a demure sip from the cup and passed it to Sister Houser, she had the guilty realization that she’d been trying for the last little while to remember where she’d put Mary Alice’s pinafore that needed mending. She sat a little straighter in the pew and tried to imagine the scene at the Crucifixion: Jesus on the cross, his woeful eyes turned to the stormy heavens; the Roman guard on his knees, realizing this was the Son of God; Mary leaning on the shoulder of the apostle John, her newfound son; Peter and the other men somewhere a little distance off, trying to figure out whether to run or pray.

Poor Peter. Addie could easily picture the look on his face—that scared, confused look men get when they suddenly realize they are about to have to do something they never thought they’d have to do. She remembered the first time Zeb was around when Mary Alice got a soiled diaper. He’d called from the other room, announcing the problem. “Well, there’s some diapers right there on the floor by her bed,” Addie had answered from the kitchen. A minute later when she went into the room with Zeb and the baby, he’d been sitting there, looking from that pile of diapers to his newborn daughter, looking like he couldn’t decide whether to bawl or break for the front door. She’d laughed at him till she had to sit down on the edge of the bed to catch her breath, then shooed him out of the room and gone about her business with Mary Alice.

That was in Nashville, in that little bungalow that had been the servants’ quarters behind the big house on Granny White Pike.

Jake twitched in her lap. She looked down at him, sleeping with his fist bunched in front of his face. Mary Alice was leaning into her side, her face sweaty where it was scrunched against the bodice of Addie’s dress. She brushed a damp strand of hair out of her daughter’s face. Sister Houser looked down at Mary Alice and smiled at Addie. She smiled back. They held each other’s eyes for a moment, the old woman and the young one, as the cup moved steadily along the line of the pews somewhere behind them.

*******

The organist mashed a dense hedge of chords out of the bank of pipes at the back of the church, and everybody stood up, sidling along the pews toward the center aisle. Louisa spoke to the people on either side of her, then noticed Callie Watson standing near the end of the pew, faced by a small half–circle of women. She moved toward them.

“Callie, I was so happy to get your invitation in the mail,” she said. “I sure hope you sent one to Addie.” Louisa kept her eyes steady on Callie’s face so she wouldn’t have to decide what to do about the looks the other women would be exchanging at the mention of her sister’s name.

“Oh, yes, ma’am, I sure did.”

“Well, fine. Guess you and your mama are busy as beavers these days, getting everything ready.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well. I’m happy for you, honey.” She patted the girl’s hand.

“Thank you, Mrs. Dawkins.”

Louisa walked away. “Ma’am,” Callie had called her. “Mrs. Dawkins.” When, exactly, had she crossed over from “Louisa” to “Mrs. Dawkins?” She felt a faint sadness and, at the same time, a wry amusement at herself. The thought came to her that it had been a good little while since she and Dub had pleasured themselves with each other. If he wasn’t already asleep tonight when she got in bed, she might just do something about that.

*******

George was about to step into the center aisle, but he saw Louisa Dawkins coming and waited for her. As she passed, he gave her a polite little nod and a smile, but she must have been thinking about something else; she didn’t acknowledge him. peter

Something Rev. Stiller had said was troubling him. At the time it had seemed an offhand remark, really, just an aside from the main gist of his sermon. But it was stuck in George’s mind like a cocklebur in a horse’s tail, and he couldn’t shake it loose.

Rev. Stiller’s text today was from St. Matthew, the fourteenth chapter. He was talking about Christ’s provision for his followers, starting with the feeding of the five thousand and continuing with his rescue of the terrified disciples from the storm on the lake. He’d said something about how, usually, preachers liked to berate St. Peter for the lack of faith that caused him to start sinking when he tried to imitate his Master’s miraculous walking on the water. “But when you think about it,” Rev. Stiller had said, “St. Peter was the only one who had sufficient fortitude to step out of the boat.”

He’d gone on then, talking about Christ’s love and compassion, about how it was displayed even for those who didn’t understand his mission, like the five thousand, or his power, like the storm–spooked apostles. But George had stayed back in that tossing boat, pondering Rev. Stiller’s chance comment. He tried to imagine himself, like St. Peter, seeing Jesus stride across the waves and asking boldly for the ability to join him. No, he decided, it was a lot easier to place himself with St. Andrew, St. John, and the others, fearfully gripping the gunwales of the bucking boat and staring wild–eyed at their crazy fishing partner as he climbed out of the boat in the middle of a roaring gale. Or, even more likely, somewhere at the back of the crowd of five thousand, grateful for the fish and the bread, but otherwise mostly confused about what had just happened.

He was at the door. He nodded at Rev. Stiller and said a complimentary word or two about the sermon. The pastor shook his hand and said he’d see George next Saturday at the YMCA, which reminded George he’d never had that talk with Rev. Stiller about the Bible class, nor had he approached the young Baptist minister about coming in to teach. George smiled, settled his hat on his head, and picked his way down the steps of the church.

*******

Willie felt his stomach grinding. He was glad Bishop Jefferson was talking loud so the noise from his stomach wouldn’t make Mama look at him from the sides of her eyes like she did sometimes. It wasn’t his fault his stomach was empty, and church went too long. But Mama would probably look at him anyway. And Clarice would laugh at him.

Willie bet the white folks were already out of church, maybe home by now. He didn’t know why colored folks wanted to string church out so long. He looked up at his older brother, Mason Junior, sitting all serious and still with the choir. Just for a minute, Willie wished he could be sitting up there with his brother, out from under Mama’s elbow. But up front like that, he’d have to be still too. Everybody would be able to see him. No, that was no good.

He wished there’d been more to eat this morning than a half pan of cornbread that he had to share with his brothers and sisters. Not even any milk to wash it down, just water. Mama said hush complaining. Daddy didn’t say anything, just went on shaving at the kitchen sink. Daddy usually didn’t say much. Even when he was reaching for his razor strap.   trumpets

Willie listened to Bishop Jefferson. Not the words, really, just the sound of them. That was about the only thing he really liked about church—the way Bishop Jefferson half spoke half sang his words. Willie liked the rhythm of it, the way the words dipped and swooped and rumbled around low right before rising up all of a sudden, like trumpets blaring. Willie liked it that colored folks talked different than white folks. Put their words together different.

His stomach growled again. He liked to listen to Bishop Jefferson, all right. But Willie wished right now he’d finish on up so they could go home.

*******

The pains hit about halfway through the service. As he helped Becky down the front steps of the small white church building, Zeb wondered vaguely what it was about him and women and babies and church services.

He stopped thinking about that when he saw the crimson stains on the back of Becky’s dress as he helped her into the seat of the hired surrey. “Honey? Is something wrong?”

“When was the last time you looked at a calendar?” she said. “It’s only the seventh month, Zeb.” Her breath was coming in quick, shallow pants.

Fear dried his mouth as he yanked the horse around and slapped its rump with the reins. He had to think a minute to remember where he’d seen the small, squarish, two–story frame building that housed the hospital. He prayed there was a doctor around on a Sunday morning.

*******

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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So Fair and Bright (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Sunday Clothes, Chapter 35

April 25, 2019

Addie drew her head back slowly, slowly, until she could look into Jake’s face. His eyes were closed, and he breathed in soft, sudden puffs. She stood as gingerly as she could and carried him to the bed, careful to step over the squeaking board in the doorway. She reached the side of the bed and leaned over with him, so gradually that the muscles in her back started to complain. She got him onto the mattress and pulled her arm from beneath him, watching his face for any sign of disturbance. Just as she pulled her hand from beneath him, he gave a little whimper. She froze. His eyes never opened. She covered him with the Dutch doll quilt and tiptoed from the room. baby

Finally. Jake had been cranky all morning, needing her every second. And naturally, Mary Alice had seen to it that Mama’s attention had to be divided. After a meager lunch of toast and milk, she’d made Mary Alice go to her bed for a nap. But only after nearly two hours of alternated rocking and walking had she been able to get Jake to sleep.

Addie felt like lying down herself. But she was afraid if she stopped moving or doing, she’d fall down in a hole so deep she’d never climb out again. It was hard today; the sadness was on her like a lead–lined overcoat.

She went to the window and pulled aside the curtain. The winter sunlight lay thin on the late afternoon. She let the curtain fall back in place and looked around the parlor. Her eye fell on the Bible her Epworth League class had given her as a wedding gift. It lay on a side table at the end of the horsehair sofa. She went over to the table and picked up the Bible. The binding was still stiff, almost like new. She carried it to the armchair near the window. She sat down and put the Bible on her lap. She thought about trying to pray but decided she lacked the strength to wrestle with the Almighty.

She opened the Bible, spreading the pages out from the center, handling them like fine linen.

 

And Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came unto me,

saying, Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall

come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth:

for the right of redemption is thine to buy it. So Hanameel mine

uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the

word of the LORD, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee,

that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for

the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine;

buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of the

LORD. And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that

was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen

shekels of silver …

 

Her eyes drifted on down the page. She read God’s promise to the imprisoned prophet: his real estate investment was to be a sign that even though Babylon was about to destroy Jerusalem and enslave her people, houses and lands would again one day be bought and sold in Judah. But it sounded like that day was on the far side of a lot of suffering and trouble. bible

Addie leaned her head on the back of the chair. She didn’t want Zeb’s money, not really. Come to think of it, he didn’t have anything she wanted. She wanted to be completely free of him. Maybe she didn’t want to leave him with any excuse, any way to take credit for whatever she might do or make of herself. Her children had his name; that was enough. It was more than you could say for the poor child being carried by his paramour.

She guessed she needed to tell Dan Sutherland. As far as she knew, the lawyer was still planning to get everything he could from Zeb. No point in that, as far as she could see.

Of course, that also meant she’d have to do something about her own support that much sooner. The little bit of money Junior had loaned her was about to run out, and she strictly did not want to live off her brothers and sister, however willing they might be to help out.

She pushed herself up out of the chair. Dropping the Bible onto the side table, she wandered back through the house. She arrived at the door to her bedroom. She hadn’t even made up her bed today; the sheets and quilts still lay tangled up, just as she’d crawled out of them this morning. She could see the edge of her new bedspread, draped haphazardly along one side of the bed.

Addie went over to the bed and picked up a corner of the spread. She ran her thumb along the line of the tufting, then bunched the material in her hand. Didn’t seem to be all that much to it. Maybe she ought to go out and talk to the old German woman at Brown’s Ferry, see if she ever needed any piecework. quilt

Orange light slanted through the windows. Nearly sunset. Part of her wanted to just let Mary Alice sleep, wanted to go and sit in the parlor and let the house fall dark around her and do pretty close to nothing for as long as she could. But she guessed she’d better try and find something to feed the child, or she’d wake up hungry and scared and twice as hard to manage as before her nap.

Her steps sounded dry and insubstantial, creaking on the floorboards as she walked back toward the kitchen.

*******

Becky smelled him before she saw him. He’d slid off one side of his bed, it looked like; he was crumpled between the bed and the wall. The front of his clothes was sodden, she guessed with his own vomit.

“Lord, help us all,” she said. “Is this what we’ve come to?”

One of his eyes tried to open but couldn’t. “Becky. Oughtta not use … Lord’s name in vain.”

“Oh, is that what you thought I was doing? No, Zeb, I believe that was about as sincere a prayer as I’ve ever said.” She tossed the divorce bill onto his chest and stood over him with her arms crossed.

He fumbled for the papers a second or two before he could grasp them. He held them up and tried to look at them. His head lolled back and he moaned. The arm holding the papers fell limply to one side. “How’d you get hold of this?”

“You’d better not worry about that. That’s the least of your problems, don’t you think?”

“Becky—”

“Zeb, how could you! You lied to me—and to your wife, too, looks like. If my father knew—”

“No! Now, Becky …” He struggled, then pulled himself into a sitting position. He grimaced and grabbed his forehead, like he was afraid it might come off. “Becky, what good’s it gonna do for you to tell Pete?”

“I’m not sure it’ll do any good,” she said. “But if it got you a good horsewhipping, it might be worth it anyway. If I could see that before he turned me out of the house—” The rest of it lodged in her throat. Then the sobs built up enough force to break the jam. She sank down on the foot of the bed and held her face in her hands, and the desolation poured out of her in a sour–tasting flood. “Oh, God. Please, God, help me.” sobbing

In a little while, he got himself onto his feet. Holding on to the wall, he made his way to the washstand. He splashed some water on his face and wiped it on his sleeve. He weaved back toward her and sat heavily on the bed beside her. He tried to take her hand, but she pulled it away.

“I’m not in the habit of holding hands with somebody who smells like puke.”

“Becky, now listen to me. I’ve … I’m sorry. I never meant for you to find out this way.”

“Oh. When were you planning to let me know?”

He kneaded his forehead. “I don’t deserve anything from you but a cussing, I guess.”

She got up and walked across the room, hugging herself. “Zeb, what in the world am I going to do? I’m carrying your child, and that’s bad enough, but I let myself go too far because I loved you, and I thought you loved me. And now I find out—”

“I do! Becky, I do love you, that’s what I want to say. I love you, and … and we’ll work this out. I’ll stand by you, Becky. I will.”

She turned and looked at him. “Like you stood by your wife?”

For awhile he just sat there, staring at the floor. “Becky, I’ve made some bad mistakes. I’ve done some wrong things.” He looked at her. “But loving you wasn’t one of them. Addie, she—”

“That’s her name?”

“She never saw me the way you see me. She never could.” He stood, and for a second, she thought he was going to topple. But he balanced himself, then came toward her. He put out a hand, and for some reason she didn’t understand, she took it.

“Becky, I just need some time to think. There’s a way out of this, I know it. I just have to figure out what it is. I promise, I won’t leave you. I couldn’t.”

She looked at her hand in his. Then she looked into his face. “Well, you better get to thinking, Mr. Douglas. I’m nearly two and a half months gone, and before long I won’t be able to keep our little secret anymore. So you’d best come up with something good, and do it mighty soon.” She pulled her hand from his and walked to the door. “I’ll be waiting to hear,” she said, and then she left.

*******

Mary Alice was squirming again. She wanted to lay her head in Addie’s lap. So, for at least the third time that morning, Addie peeled back her bonnet and Mary Alice lay down. The heels of her shoes clamped loudly on the pew as she stretched her legs.

Then Jake began to fret. He couldn’t be hungry; she’d fed him just before the service started. She jogged him up and down and tried to get him to take the fooler in his mouth, but he just spat it out every time she plugged it in. She blew little puffs of air in his face. That distracted him for a minute; he blinked and tried to see where the strange sensation was coming from.

It was hard to pay any attention at all to J. D.’s sermon, though she was trying. He’d employed a chart today, a tattered sheet tacked onto the wall behind the pulpit. J. D. had his main points daubed onto it with tempera paint. He couldn’t talk his wife out of one of her good sheets, Addie guessed, even if it was for the Lord’s work. cross

There was a big red cross painted in the middle of the sheet, representing the cross of Christ. On the left side of the cross were the laws of the Jews, the Old Covenant; and on the right side, the laws of the Church, the New Covenant. It would have been a tedious enough sermon even without the two children to entertain. J. D. cited two or three Scriptures for every law on both sides of the cross. His main point was supposed to be the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old, but Addie was about to get to the place where she’d vote for either one if it would help J. D. to finish what he had to say and let her take herself and these children home.

“Well, brethren, the Lord’s established his New Covenant kingdom, and he’s set its laws in place. They’re good laws, laws meant for our protection. But before we can get the benefit of those laws, we’ve first got to enter that kingdom.

“We’ve got to hear the word and believe it, for faith cometh by hearing—Romans ten, seventeen. We’ve got to repent of our sins and our former ways of life, and confess the name of Jesus before men, for with the mouth confession is made—Romans ten and verse ten. And brethren, we must be baptized for the remission of our sins, ‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ’—Galatians three, twenty–seven.”

Getting close to the end for sure, now. As best Addie could tell, there wasn’t a single person in the room old enough to make sense of J. D.’s words who wasn’t already a baptized member of Post Oak Hollow Church. But he had to give his altar call, just the same. You never knew, an unbaptized sinner might’ve slipped in the back door without him knowing it.

The congregation stood to sing the final hymn. Addie roused Mary Alice and got the bonnet back in place, after a fashion. She bounced Jake on her hip until the final chorus slid to a halt and the crowd started to disperse. bonnet

“Good to see you, Addie.”

“Morning, Sister Clay. Good to see you too.”

“That little one there is just growin’ up a storm, isn’t he?”

“Fussing up a storm, anyway.”

Sister Clay grinned and wiggled a forefinger at Jake, who twisted his face away as if he’d been insulted. The old woman patted Mary Alice on the head and gave Addie a final look before moving away down the aisle toward the back door.

That last look was what Addie dreaded—the pitying, pious look. Poor woman, raising those two precious children without a daddy … She knew the thought came from a good place, a well–meaning place. But it was also a constant reminder of things she wished she didn’t have to think about. Things they all knew, too, but would never speak of. Not to her, at least.

The back door was open now. Addie bundled the blankets tighter around Jake and checked to make sure Mary Alice’s coat was buttoned all the way up. She shuffled along the aisle, balancing Jake on her hip with one hand and holding onto Mary Alice with the other.

“Mama, we go Aunt Lou’s?”

“No, honey, not today.”

“Aunt Lou’s.” Mary Alice whimpered. “Go Aunt Lou’s.”

“Sweetheart, not today.”

“Why not?”

“Just because.”

“Go Aunt Lou’s.”

“No.”

Lou and Dub and their boys would be leaving Centenary Methodist about now. They’d visit with the people Addie had known all her life, they’d speak a complimentary word about the sermon to Rev. Stiller at the back door. They’d walk down the tall flight of concrete steps to the sidewalk and have a nice stroll along Georgia Avenue until they came to their street. They’d go in the house and smell the roast or whatever else Lou had baking in the oven for their Sunday dinner.

Every now and then, Addie wondered why she kept on coming out to this dingy little whitewashed clapboard building in the middle of nowhere, Sunday after Sunday, where the people knew her only as the woman Zeb Douglas had left—if they even knew that much about her. Dub and Lou would gladly come out to the house and pick her up. They’d take her and the children with them to church in the lovely old building downtown, then to their house for a delicious lunch Addie wouldn’t have to cook. There would be other sets of arms to hold children, cousins to distract them, a fire already laid in the hearth.

But something reared up stubborn inside her every time she thought about it. Going back to the Methodist church seemed to her like just one more way of admitting she’d been wrong about everything all her life. Well, Zeb’s not around to tell her what to think anymore, so maybe now she’ll come back where she belonged in the first place … It was too easy, somehow—too expected. She wouldn’t let her weight down on it.

And would things really be much different at Centenary Methodist? Wouldn’t she get the same pitying looks? Wouldn’t the same tut–tuts be whispered behind her back? She released Mary Alice’s hand, so she could mind her skirts going down the outside steps.

“Sister Addie, we’re ready whenever you are,” Dink Gilliam said as she turned to help Mary Alice down the steps. His wife and four children were already in the buckboard. Addie was glad; as cool as it was, she hadn’t relished the thought of standing in the churchyard making conversation until her ride was ready to leave.

She handed Jake up to Dink’s oldest daughter and took his hand to make the step up into the wagon. Dink lifted Mary Alice up to her. He climbed in on the other side and the springs complained loudly. “Get up,” he said, and his jug–headed bay leaned into the traces.

“Nice weather, for February,” Maud Gilliam said awhile later as they clattered over the Cellico Creek bridge. Addie smiled and nodded.

“Mama, look at him. He’s smilin’ at me,” said the daughter who was holding Jake. Addie hated to tell her it was probably just a gas spasm. babygas

“Brother J. D. sure had a good lesson today,” Maud said.

Addie nodded again. She hoped Maud didn’t ask her opinion; she was too brain–tired to be up to the polite fib she’d have to tell.

“Mama, ‘s go Aunt Lou’s,” Mary Alice said, jouncing along in the bed of the buckboard between Addie’s knees.

“No, honey. I already told you.”

“You mind your mother, sugar,” said Maud, giving Mary Alice a fond, admonishing look. “You want to be a sweet little girl, don’t you?”

Mary Alice looked at Maud as if she’d just suggested asparagus for dessert.

“I got me one of those new turfed bedspreads,” Maud said. “Have you seen ‘em?”

Addie shook her head, confused. “Turfed?”

“Yeah, you know—a row of turfing on a smooth background.” Maud gestured in loops and circles.

Tufted, Addie guessed. “Oh, yes, I got one for Christmas from my sister.”

Maud looked a little disappointed. “I found it up by Brown’s Ferry.”

“The German woman?”

Maud nodded. “Land, she’s sure got the business. The day I was there, they was two in line ahead of me and more comin’ behind. These turfed spreads are all the fashion nowadays. Wished I’d of thought it up.”

“I guess so. I sure like mine.”

“Me too.”

Addie was relieved to see her lane coming up. Dink hauled up in front of her porch and got off to help them down. He set Mary Alice on the ground and handed Addie down. She turned and took Jake from the daughter.

“I wish I could keep him all the time. He’s so sweet,” the girl said.

Addie smiled up at her. “You’d get tired of him pretty quick, honey.”

“But he’s so sweet.”

“Well. Thanks for holding him.”

“Need me to do anything ‘fore we leave, Sister Addie?”

“No, thank you, Dink. We’re fine.”

Dink climbed back in the wagon. He slapped the reins lightly on the bay’s rump, and they trundled off. “Come home with us some Sunday; I’ll show you my bedspread,” Maud called as they pulled away.

Addie smiled and nodded. She waved, then turned toward the house. “Come on, Mary Alice, let’s get inside. It’s cool out.”

*******

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

Creative Commons License
So Fair and Bright (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 30

March 15, 2019

Trusting as the moments fly, singing

Trusting as the days go by;

Trusting Him what e’er befall

Trusting Jesus—that is all …

 

Becky wasn’t much in the mood to sing about trust, which, it seemed to her, was getting harder and harder to come by. She mouthed the words to keep up appearances, but she couldn’t bring herself to really think about what she was singing, as she knew she should. Mercifully, the song ended, and Woodrow Stark took up his station behind the massive, brown–painted pulpit. She was able to focus on the empty air just above his head and allow her mind to drift away from the service. Drifting was what she seemed to do best these days, anyway.

For the third time in as many weeks, Zeb wasn’t at church. She had stood around the entrance longer than was decent, hoping to see him coming—but no. Becky just couldn’t understand the man. One day he would be all smiles; warm, confident, and full of fun; and the next time she’d see him he’d be distracted and edgy, would hardly speak a civil word. Or, she’d go for days and not see him at all. Camera 360

Becky felt her mother’s presence in the pew to her left, sensed the looming worry in her erect posture, in the angle of her neck—cocked to allow her to study her daughter’s profile without seeming to. Mother had the little New Testament she carried in her handbag dutifully cracked open to Brother Stark’s text for the day, had a gloved finger laid on the verse currently under discussion. But Becky knew her mother’s real attention was on her distracted, frustrated daughter. In the last few days there had been a few too many carefully disguised questions, a few too many jests left open–ended, capable of serving as the invitation to a mother–daughter talk. Yes, Mother was anxious about her little Becky. Oh, if she only knew … And, of course, there was Daddy, seated on the other side of Mother, arms across his chest, his head lowered in an attitude of bemused contemplation to disguise his boredom. She tried to imagine what he would be like if he suspected what she was really doing on some of those Saturday afternoons when she was “catching up the books at the store.”

Becky had told herself she ought to have nothing more to do with Zeb—more times than she could count, she had told herself. But … when things were good with Zeb, they were so good. When he was right, when he was behaving in the manner she’d come to think of as “the good Zeb,” something just loosened, came unwound inside her. There were times when they saw each other when his face would bloom like a starving man who’d just smelled a home–cooked meal; times when she felt she was his lifeline. It was good to be needed in that way, good to spend and be spent for someone she could sustain and provide for. In those moments, she felt herself to be a necessity to him, felt helpless to deny him anything he wished from her—and that had gotten her in farther than she’d strictly intended to go, much more than once. Even as she reviewed her indiscretions with him, though, there was a part of her that knew it couldn’t be helped, a part that felt as if she already belonged to him in every way that mattered. Lying in Zeb’s arms seemed to her the most natural thing in the world. Their lovemaking was to her like a secret conference in a world that would never understand a passion like theirs. Why, that part of her asked, should she deny herself something that was so obviously right?

Because it wasn’t right, the rest of her said. Zeb might be as good as the apostle Peter, but he wasn’t her husband. Not yet. There were no promises between them, no commitments. She tried to hush the accusing voice inside her mind, but it wouldn’t be stilled. There were things about the man she just didn’t know, things she needed to know before she put much more stock in him—if, indeed, she hadn’t already invested more in him than she could afford to lose.

“… words of the apostle Paul as he writes to the church in Corinth,” Brother Stark was saying in his dreary, endless voice. “He cautions them against the charms of this world and their former lives when he says, ‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?’—chapter six and verse nine. Hear the catalog of sins from which the gospel had rescued these folks: ‘Be not deceived,’ the apostle says, ‘neither fornicators, nor revilers, nor …’” flushed

At the word fornicators, Becky felt her face flush, hot and guilty. She prayed no one was watching her closely but felt as if all eyes must surely be upon her—scrutinizing her for any trace of reaction to hearing herself labeled. And then she was talking herself past it. It’s not like that with Zeb and me. We love each other, and we mean to stay together. It’s not really like we’re just doing … that … for base reasons.

“Listen again to the warning of the apostle, folks,” said Brother Stark. “‘Flee fornication’—verse eighteen. ‘Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body …’”

Won’t the man give it rest? Then the scold that lived inside her forehead took up the cry: fornicate, fornicate, fornicate … Laid over her gentle, softening remonstrances about the goodness of their times together, of the sweetness and, yes, the innocence of the love she shared with Zeb, was the jarring, sweaty ugliness engendered by that word, fornicate. The scold heaped coals on the furnace of her guilt, fanned the flames and shamed her with the heat of her own weakness. You’re a lewd woman, living in sin and too spineless to admit it to yourself

Becky felt the dull ache beginning behind her eyes, making a slow, pummeling progress down her neck and back until her body felt as if it had been hung like a ham in a smokehouse for a month of Sundays. She retreated into the pain, hiding her hurting mind in it as the words of the sermon drifted tonelessly over her head and out the open windows of the church house.

*******

George shuffled through the reddish, rattling carpet of fallen leaves, doing his best to step past the broken limbs that littered the floor of the woods covering the flanks of Tunnel Hill. Why he hadn’t stopped to change into more suitable clothing before coming out here, he couldn’t imagine. Lately, though, he had found himself doing a number of incautious things. He was going to have to learn to adapt to his newfound bursts of impetuosity, he guessed. leaves

Today his urge had taken the form of a sudden notion to try and locate the abode of Ned Overby. He had driven out from town and parked his vehicle behind the old Caswell place, then picked his way along the footpath that led back into the woods, up one side of the hill and down the other.

He felt a little silly, traipsing through the woods on a gray December afternoon when he really ought to be sitting in front of his grate at the office, but he had forced himself to continue with what he had planned. Since their encounter back in the spring, he had not been able to get the image of Ned Overby out of his mind: the bedraggled, defeated, vulnerable boy who scarcely spoke a half–dozen words. The Young Men’s Christian Association of Chattanooga was nearly ready to open, and George was determined that Ned Overby would be one of its first members, if his family would permit it.

He finally emerged from the tangled undergrowth at the edge of the woods and laid eyes on the small, shabby dwelling by the railroad track. He nearly turned back. How in the world could he, who lived on practically a different planet from these people, possibly communicate what he had in mind for their son?

A woman came out of the door of the house as he approached and made her way toward the haphazard woodpile by the side of the house, a hatchet in her hand. When she was halfway to the woodpile, she noticed George’s approach. She made as if to walk back toward the door. George tipped his hat and smiled. hatchet

“Hello, ma’am. Is this the Overby home, by any chance?”

She stared at him, taking a double–fisted grip on the hatchet. George slowed his steps, then stopped at what he hoped she regarded as a respectful distance.

“Ned probably hasn’t told you about me, but one day this past summer—”

George suddenly realized that if he told Ned’s mother about his ride in George’s automobile, he might be getting the boy in trouble.

“—about the first week of June, I guess it was, I was out this way and … I asked your son about some directions. I was lost, you see, and …”

George felt his face flushing with the strain of inventing the fib off the cuff, and he hoped fervently the woman would let him finish before she sicced a dog on him, or threw the hatchet at his skull. He wondered what would come out of his mouth next.

“At any rate, we got to talking, and— This is the Overby house, isn’t it?”

“My man ain’t home right now,” the woman said. “But I reckon Ned’ll tell me if you’re lying or not. Ned!” she shouted, never taking her eyes off the stranger in front of her. “Get out here! Ned, boy! You hear me?”

The front door squeaked and rattled, and George was immensely relieved to see the tousled head of the boy appear. Allowing for a few months of growth, George easily recognized him as the youngster he had rescued in the alley behind Market Street.

“Hello there, Ned! I was just telling your mother here about talking with you last June, when I saw you on the side of the road, through the woods, there.” He stared at the boy, hoping he would pick up on the alibi and play along.

Ned glanced back and forth between his mother and George.

“Howdy,” he said. The boy shoved his hands in his pockets and tucked his chin into his collar.

“You know this man?” the woman asked.

“Yes’m.” child

The hatchet now hung at her side. George hoped that was a good sign.

“Anyway, Mrs. Overby, my name is George Hutto. I live in Chattanooga, and I’m starting up a Young Men’s Christian Association.”

“We don’t need no charity.”

“Oh, no, ma’am! No, ma’am, nothing like that. This is just a … a sort of club, you see, for young fellows like Ned, there. Place to exercise, and read, and … well, just a place to come and sort of … associate with other boys and … well, I was just thinking about Ned, here, and …”

He had run out of words. He stood there with hat in hand, smiling like a fool at this poor woman who clearly didn’t trust him as far as she could spit.

“Go on back in the house, Ned,” she said in a low voice. When he had gone in, she hugged herself, cradling the hatchet with an odd gesture, as if it were an infant. She spoke, staring at the ground in front of George’s feet.

“We make our own way, mister. We ain’t got much, but we ain’t beholdin’ to nobody for what’s here. It’s a hard life, but it’s all we know. I don’t see much call for anybody puttin’ notions in a boy’s head—notions that ain’t gonna do nothin’ but let him in for hurt later on.”

George blinked at her, the idiotic smile still frozen on his face. She knew! She knew there was another sort of life out there for some people; she just didn’t think Ned could possibly aspire to it. She had completely circled him in her mind, and was already in the road in front of him.

“I understand your point, Mrs. Overby, and I won’t try to talk you out of it … today, at least. But I wish you’d think on it some more, and maybe let me come back another time, maybe when Mr. Overby is here and we could talk.”

Still hugging herself, she turned her head to the right and stared off in the direction of the place where the railroad tracks curved slowly to the left and out of sight behind the shoulder of Tunnel Hill.

“I ain’t gonna say. Perlie’s runnin’ traps this time a year, and I never know when he’s comin’ or goin’.”

George touched the brim of his hat and backed toward the woods.

“Well, good day to you, ma’am. I’ll be on my way.”

When he got back to the old Caswell place, he was startled to see two people standing beside his automobile. They had heard his rustling approach through the fallen leaves and were staring at him when he ducked from under the eaves of the woods. He realized he was looking at Addie Douglas and her oldest brother.

*******

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

Creative Commons License
So Fair and Bright (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 19

December 29, 2018

… Anywhere with Jesus I can go to sleep,

When the dark’ning shadows ‘round about me creep,

Knowing I shall waken never more to roam; 

Anywhere with Jesus will be home, sweet home. 

Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know; hymnal

Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.

 

The song coasted to a halt, and the noise of hymnals sliding into pew racks momentarily filled the church house. Then the room quieted as the worshippers stood, waiting for the benediction.

“Our Father in heaven, we thank thee for the blessin’s a this hour,” the gangly, bespectacled man prayed in a singsong voice, “and for the truths spoken unto us by Brother Woodrow. We ask thy blessin’s upon each that’s here, and that thou’d bring us back at the next appointed time. In Christ’s name, amen.”

A chorus of male “amens” answered, and the racket of conversation swelled as the congregation shuffled along the pews toward the center aisle and the front door. Zeb moved with the others, laughing and talking. A firm, meaty hand clapped him on the shoulder, and he turned around.

“Zeb, my wife has fixed up the biggest ol’ mess a chicken and dumplings you ever saw, and I figure you’re just the man to help us eat it,” said Pete Norwich. “Whaddya say?”

And Zeb knew immediately the source of his malaise before his last return to Little Rock: it rose up in him instantly now, flared into a klaxon of danger, blaring away inside his head. He was a married man, and the tendrils of guilty pleasure that beckoned him to accept this opportunity to be with Becky Norwich were forbidden to him, and he knew it. He shouldn’t go. He should decline Pete’s invitation as gracefully as possible, and he should go back to his rooms and pack his things and get on the next train to Nashville, and he should never come back to Little Rock again.

But … he was in charge of his own life, wasn’t he? He’d managed things in Little Rock very well, and he was in control of himself, and what was wrong with having lunch with some of the new friends he’d made for himself in this place that was his own? Why should he turn tail and run, why raise all kinds of awkward questions with Griffs and Carleton—not to mention worrying Addie needlessly? He could handle it. He was equal to this challenge too. And these were church folks, for Pete’s sake. What could happen?

He grinned at Pete Norwich and said, “Sure, Pete! I’ll be there! Thanks!”

*******

Zeb leaned comfortably back in the chair and patted his stomach. “Pete, I’ll tell you one thing: Ruth knows her way around the kitchen. How in the world have you kept from getting big as the side of a barn, way that woman cooks?” barn

“Self–control, son. Nothing but self–control.”

“Yeah, but I’m talking about you, not her.”

“Watch it, boy. I’ll toss you out on your ear, you keep that up.”

Pete rustled the newspaper, and Zeb listened to the women’s voices coming low from the kitchen, just audible above the noises of splashing water and the clink of dinnerware. Becky’s voice was lighter in timbre than her mother’s, though much the same pitch. Zeb imagined her, sleeves rolled to her elbows, perhaps a wisp of blonde hair falling to her shoulder as she washed and dried …

Norwich made a disgusted sound. “I tell you, Zeb, I don’t understand what Roosevelt thinks he’s gonna accomplish with this Labor and Commerce Department foolishness. Sounds to me like just another way for some Washington bureaucrat to get his hands on the public funds.”

Zeb made a noncommittal reply. It was almost reflexive with him: he seldom allowed himself to be drawn into political or religious discussions with prospects. Just as Pete was launching into a diatribe against the wasteful ways of the federal government, Mrs. Norwich came in from the kitchen, bent over the back of his chair, and whispered something in his ear.

“Huh? Why? I’ve just started my paper, Ruth! Can’t a man at least—”

“Pete.”

He stared at her for maybe five seconds and gave in with a shrug. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be right there.” He looked at Zeb, shook his head, and sighed. Zeb gave him a small, sympathetic smile in return as Pete laid aside the newspaper and followed his wife from the room.

No sooner had they left than Becky came in. Zeb looked at her and smiled. She ducked her head and seated herself in the chair her father had just vacated. She lifted a corner of the newspaper, smiling fondly. “Daddy and his Sunday afternoon rituals.” She shook her head.

“Sure was a good lunch, Becky. Your mama knows how to rearrange the groceries, that’s for sure.”

“Glad you enjoyed it.” She wouldn’t look at him. He couldn’t stop looking at her.

There was a longish silence. Becky took a deep breath, patted her palms on her knees, and turned her face toward him. “It’s a nice, bright afternoon. Why don’t we put on our coats and go for a stroll?”

Zeb nodded. “That’d be all right, I guess.” He got up from his chair as she went to fetch their wraps. She handed him her coat, and he held it for her. As she slid her arms into the sleeves, she leaned back against him, ever so slightly. His heart hammered at his rib cage like a wild thing.

They walked out into the brilliant blue afternoon. The wind was still and every breath of fresh, cool air entered Zeb’s lungs like a shout of joy. He ambled along with his hands in his pockets. “Nice day, like you said,” he offered.

She murmured in agreement.

“Glad you mentioned a walk.”

She said nothing.

They strolled along for almost a hundred yards without speaking. “Excuse me for asking,” Zeb said finally, “but how come a woman as nice looking as you never found a husband?”

She made no reply for a long time, and Zeb feared he had transgressed. Just as he was about to attempt an apology, she said, “I haven’t been in a hurry about such things.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her glance at him, then away. ‘‘I’m still not,” she said.

They walked on. Ahead and to the right, the capitol dome glistened in the crystalline air. “How’d you come to work for your daddy?” Zeb asked. dome

“I’ve always enjoyed the company of men more than women. Guess it comes of being raised with brothers. I’ve never much been able to abide quilting parties and so forth. I’d rather be working on the store’s books than gossiping about chintz.”

Zeb looked at her and grinned. He could see the smile starting, watched with amusement as she tried to suppress it. At last, it broke free across her face and she looked at him, laughing.

“That’s the most words you’ve said in a row all day. I’d about decided the cat had your tongue for good.”

She shook her head and grinned at the ground. “I don’t know what’s got into me today. I’m usually not nearly so reserved.” She looked at him. “Especially around friends.”

They stopped walking and looked at each other. At the same instant, their hands reached out and found each other. “Friends,” Zeb nodded. They walked on.

*******

December 15, 1902

 My Dear Husband Zeb,

How anxious I am for you to come home for Christmas! I

think you’ll like the way the house looks, at least I hope so. The

wreath is real pretty, I think. Mary Alice is about to worry me to

death, trying to keep her out of the Xmas tree. 

I hope all is well with the agency. It sounds to me like you’ve

really got things going your way. I know you work so hard & I’m

very happy it’s paying off. Maybe the men at the Home Office will

soon figure out what a go–getter you are & give you that position

you’ve been looking for so long. I certainly hope so. letter

Had a letter from Lou the other day, she seems pretty good,

right now. Says Daddy doesn’t hardly come out of the house at all

anymore. It makes me sad, thinking of him in that big old house

all alone, with just Rose for company, her only part of the day. I

know he did wrong by you and me, but my heart aches for him. I

guess I can’t help it since he is my father, after all. 

Well I’ll close this for now. I love you with all my heart & I’m

looking forward to meeting you under the mistletoe (ha!). Hurry

home as soon as you can.

Your own,

Adelaide C Douglas

 

Addie read the letter one last time before folding it. She gazed wistfully for a moment at the envelope, thinking about Zeb’s hands holding it. She wanted to feel those hands again, to look into his face. She briefly considered adding a postscript to that effect but thought better of it. Zeb might think she was being affected—too romantic and gushy. He might think she wasn’t being brave.

Besides, if she started putting down on paper everything she wanted to say to Zeb but couldn’t, she’d never have time for doing anything else. How could she tell him how desperately lonely she was much of the time? How could she say how it made her feel sitting in church with Mary Alice on her lap and looking about at the other families, the children ranked in the pews between their parents like books between bookends? It took two parents to do that. And how could she tell him how she longed to cook for him, to put three plates on the table in the evenings, to hear him breathing beside her in the dark of their bedroom? How could she explain how badly she wished he were here with her, hearing Mary Alice’s babbled attempts at new words, smiling at the new things she was doing each day, marveling at the way their daughter’s personality was already bursting into bloom? Hardest of all, how could she give vent to her darkest suspicion: that Little Rock had stolen her husband from her?

No, it wouldn’t do. He would think she was trying to tether him to her with guilt. He would resent her interference in the pursuit of his dream. He would sigh and shake his head and secretly rue the day he had taken such a weak woman for a wife, and though he might accede to her wishes, there would be a hurt place in his heart that could never be hers again.

Stop it, she told herself. There was no point in thinking such things: Zeb loved her and Mary Alice. He was a good man, and he had more to do during the day than mope over her. He wrote faithfully, and besides, he was just trying to make his way in the world the best way he knew, and she should be ashamed of herself for being so selfish. He’d come back to Nashville soon enough, and their future would be secure, and all would be well, and he wouldn’t have to spend so much time away from home ever again. “Just try and stand it for a little while longer,” he’d told her the last time he was home. “And I promise some day it’ll pay off.” Someday. That was what she’d think about—how it would be, someday.tree

Nodding to herself she affixed the stamp and sealed the envelope. She stood and suddenly felt the room whirling about her head. She had to grab the back of the chair to keep from falling over. In a moment, the spell passed and the room got still again. She’d been having some dizziness lately, for some reason. That, and feeling tired all the time.

Before Addie posted the letter, she just had to look again at the ring. She slid out the lap drawer of the secretary and fished around in the back until her fingers closed on the small, square box from Sears & Roebuck’s. She removed the lid and admired the smooth, shining gold of the center section and the elegant, beaded line of the silver borders. The ring was even more beautiful than the picture in the catalog. She knew Zeb would be proud of it, and that he would be surprised. She tried to imagine the look on his face when he unwrapped it. Feeling a small glow of pleasure, she replaced the cotton padding atop the ring and put the lid back on the box.

She stepped out on the porch and clipped the letter to her mailbox with a clothes pin. It was a cold, bright day, and the blue sky was thickly littered with gray shreds of cloud, scudding along before the north wind. Gripping her elbows against the chill, she glanced up and down the street. Then her eyes fell on the bare branches of the two large hickory trees standing guard in her front lawn. She stood a moment, looking up to their tops, which swayed slowly back and forth. Even if she could climb them, she thought, there was no hiding place now, no concealing safety where she could sit and dream. Only the tossing, indifferent wind of December. I hope Zeb comes home soon, she thought, and went quickly back inside.

*******

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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So Fair and Bright (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.