Posts Tagged ‘infant’

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.

Advertisements

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 15

November 15, 2018

Zeb stepped off the train into the midafternoon heat and bustle of Union Station in Little Rock. He set down his valise and motioned with his free hand for a nearby porter. The uniformed negro approached, trundling a hand truck in front of him. Zeb pointed at his suitcase, then handed him the valise. “Is there a hack that can take me to the Gleason Hotel?”

“Yessuh. Right this way.”

Ducking through the shouldering crowd as he followed the porter, Zeb noticed a poster advertising a traveling Chautauqua troupe. There was a show at seven o’clock that evening in the city park. He wasn’t in the mood to sit up in the room and brood. Might be good for him to get out, be in a crowd, hear some music and talk and laughter. He decided to go, after a nap, a bath, and supper. 74315afebe33b0af9ad8c99a2aa2a0e7

When the bellboy set his luggage down on the lumpy bed, Zeb dropped two half dimes into the waiting hand, tossed his hat on top of the suitcase, and stepped across the room to open the curtains. He heard the door close behind him. Zeb stood with his hands in his pockets, staring down from his third-story window onto Markham Street. Just across the way rose the dome of the state capitol building.

He wondered how Addie and the baby were doing. He hated to leave only two weeks after Mary Alice’s birth, but the days of inactivity had begun to chafe more and more. He was worried about his new agents here. A couple of them seemed like real good men, but there were others who wanted constant propping up. He couldn’t afford for the Little Rock agency to falter, now that Griffs and Carleton were beginning to take such a personal interest in his career. If he could keep things going here, it might be the next step to a home office assignment—and he had yet to reach his thirtieth birthday.

Addie had started to tear up some when he was taking his leave. She’d been standing in the front door, holding the baby in her arms.

“Well,” he’d said, looking away, “I guess if I wanna catch my train, I better get going.” The hack was standing in the street, the driver staring fixedly over his horse’s rump.

“Yeah,” she said, or he’d thought she said. Her voice was soft and airy. Her chin was dimpling, as if she were trying to hold it still.

He’d leaned over and kissed Mary Alice on the forehead, then did the same to Addie. He turned and walked away, toward the hack.

“I’ll write as soon as I get there,” he’d called over his shoulder, afraid to look at her, afraid she’d burst into tears in front of the hack driver. He’d thrown his bags into the cab, and the driver clicked his tongue, and he was away, wishing he could ignore the dull ache in his throat.

But he was feeling better now, thinking about all that needed to be done here, all the opportunity waiting for him. It was his responsibility to make a good life for his family. It was his God-given duty, if it came to that, and he was determined to make the most of this chance. Addie would understand. When he had a home office job in Nashville, he’d buy her a nice, roomy house with a big nursery for Mary Alice. He’d be home every night, and they would have nice things—the kinds of things his mother had never had.

He felt a heaviness around his eyes and remembered he’d promised himself a nap. He loosened his cravat and unbuttoned his collar. Setting his luggage on the faded carpet, he stretched out on the single bed with his hands behind his head and closed his eyes.

After tossing and turning for quite a while, Zeb finally accepted his failure at the attempt to actually sleep. He sat up, rubbing his face, and realized the shadows in the room told him dusk was approaching. No time to bathe now if he wanted to get something to eat and get to the Chautauqua show on time. He ran a hand through his hair and straightened his collar and tie. Giving himself a final once-over in the streaked mirror on the opposite wall, he walked out, locking the door behind him and pocketing the skeleton key.13276554a106be32740c2ad6b8276f71

By the time he arrived at the park, a crowd was already pooling under the tent. A brass band was thumping out some march or other; the muffling of the tent and the crowd made the tune indistinct. Zeb hurried up and snagged one of the last rickety wooden chairs on the end of the back row just as the band collided with the final note of the march. The crowd applauded politely, and a large, pot-bellied man with luxuriant sideburns and a florid complexion mounted the steps to the podium and approached the lectern.

Slowly and dramatically, he unbuttoned his coat to reveal a brocaded waistcoat. He took a deep breath and looked at the audience. “I shall perform Antony’s funeral oration from Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare,” he announced in a booming bass voice. He gripped the sides of the lectern and gazed out over the heads of the crowd. Taking three paces away from the lectern, he raised his right hand in a graceful, beckoning gesture.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him …”

There was a slight disturbance by Zeb’s elbow, and he glanced up to see an older man and a young woman standing beside him. The man pointed at the two empty seats to Zeb’s left and asked with his eyebrows if they were taken. Zeb shook his head and stood to let them pass. The man entered first, followed by the woman. They settled themselves, and Zeb resumed his seat.

“… The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious; if it were so, it was a grievous fault …”

From the corner of his eye, Zeb saw the woman pull a fan from her handbag. The short, soft drafts bore the scent of her perfume: lilac. In an instant, he was carried back to a moonlit promenade beside the pond in East Lake Park, in Chattanooga. Addie always wore lilac perfume in those days, and the smell made him long for her with a sudden, bodily ache.

“… ambition should be made of sterner stuff …”

She had seemed like an angel to him in those days; her every movement had enchanted him, had hinted at secrets, suggested the possibility of delightful discoveries. He could look at her for hours on end and never grow tired. She dispensed happiness to him, simply by being in his presence. He thought he could never again lack for anything if only he might have her.

And then he had won her. Over Jacob Caswell’s disapproval and the entangling ties of her Methodist upbringing, he had won her. He, the outsider, the poor boy from the hardscrabble farm in north Georgia. The one with the ambition and the drive and the determination—he had won her. And for a time, the sweetness of his life had been everything her enchantment had intimated. She was like the magic pan of gingerbread in the fairy tale; each day he fed on her love until he was satisfied; and the next morning she was still there, fully as beautiful and charming and delightful as the day before.

When had he first noticed the fading of the sweetness? Was it something he had done that had broken the spell? How had he failed her? He had been a faithful husband and a diligent provider. He didn’t run with the drinking crowd, didn’t gamble or carouse. He had based every decision on what he believed to be best for them in the long run. He didn’t like all the moving around and traveling, but what else could he do? This was his opportunity—their opportunity.

He thought of her face in the moonlight of East Lake Park, then remembered the drained, resigned, suffering expression she’d worn yesterday as he walked out the front gate. Where had he gone wrong?

“… O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason …”

The woman beside him stopped fanning for a moment, leaned over and whispered something to the older man. Zeb heard their chuckles mingle softly. He cut his eyes to the left without moving his head. She was well dressed, and he could see strands of blonde peeking from beneath her lace bonnet. She bore a slight resemblance to her companion, and Zeb wondered if she might be his daughter. She was fair-complexioned, but there was a sprinkling of faint freckles across the bridge of her nose. She resumed fanning, and Zeb returned his eyes to the podium. 05dd87b9baa1c7ae95447287a6b7dbc4

After the orator, there was a handbell choir, and after that, a male quartet dressed in wooden shoes and knee breeches and singing in Dutch. Then a man made up like Abe Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, and a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty recited “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus. Finally, the pot-bellied Antony came back and gave a long-winded, stentorian benediction, and the program was officially over.

Zeb stood and tried to work the kinks out of his legs. He turned to go, and felt a hand on his arm.

“Thank you for saving the seats for us,” said the young woman, smiling playfully. “I told Daddy we’d be so late we’d have to stand, and if it hadn’t been for you, we would have.”

The man stuck out a hand. “Pete Norwich.”

Zeb shook his hand firmly. “Zeb Douglas. Pleased to meet you.”

“Yes, indeed. And this is my daughter, Rebecca. She drags me to these cotton-pickin’ cultural sessions, whether I want to come or not.” Zeb chuckled with them and took her proffered fingers gently. “Pleased to meet you, Ma’am.”

“It’s ‘Miss,’” she corrected him, “and the pleasure is mutual.”

He looked at her a trifle longer than was strictly necessary. “Well, folks, I’d best be getting back,” he said. He touched the brim of his hat and walked away toward the park entrance. He decided to write a letter to Addie just as soon as he reached his room.

*******

Rose deftly slid the diaper under Mary Alice’s tiny, elevated behind and gently lowered her onto it. She folded and tucked it around the baby’s waist and legs and fastened it with safety pins. “There you go, Missy. I reckon that’ll hold you for awhile, at least.” She rearranged the little white Alençon lace gown and carefully picked up the child, bringing her to her ample bosom. Humming a tune under her breath, she paced slowly toward the parlor, bouncing the baby in a soothing, easy motion.

“Do you really have to go back?” Addie asked. Her expression was wistful as she sat in the cane-bottomed rocker and watched Rose with her daughter.

“Mmm-hmm. ‘Fraid so, Missy. I done wore out my welcome at Freeman’s place, and you ain’t got room for me here.”

“When does your train leave?” lacedress

“In the mornin’, ‘bout eight.”

“I’ll miss you, Rose. You’ve been so good for me—and for Mary Alice.”

“Well, you gettin’ stronger now. You can manage just fine by yourself, I imagine. I’m a old woman, and I been gone from my own place just about as long as I can stand.” Rose eased herself into the overstuffed chair, still gently bouncing the baby and humming softly.

Addie leaned her head back and closed her eyes, rocking slowly and listening to the husky half-whisper of Rose’s voice.

“What’s that song you’re singing?”

Rose increased the volume just enough for Addie to make out the words.

Come and go with me, to my father’s house,

to my father’s house;

Come and go with me, to my father’s house,

to my father’s house.

There’ll be no dying there,

There’ll be no crying there,

No sorrow there, in my father’s house,

in my father’s house.

There was barely enough contour in the tune for it to be called a melody; it was more like a chant. Nudged along by Rose’s voice, it rolled forward and forward, the words barely changing from verse to verse, hypnotic and comforting as the well-worn creases in Rose’s hands.

All will be well in my father’s house, in my father’s house …

The slight creaking of the rocker made a sort of plaintive counterpoint to Rose’s soft singing. Addie felt her mind bobbing aimlessly along the slow, thick current of the tune, whirling lazily in the eddy of the refrain.

In my father’s house, in my father’s house …

Addie thought about her father, imagined him sitting alone in his red leather chair in the parlor, sequestered behind the Chattanooga Times. She wondered if he even knew about her baby; he hadn’t written or sent any word since her marriage. She thought about the things he had said to her when Zeb proposed. Addie questioned whether he still considered her part of the family. In her worst moments, she doubted it. But sometimes, she held out some small hope that Papa would relent, would see that she was still his daughter, no matter what church she attended on Sundays.

Mary Alice’s eyelids fluttered a final time, then closed. Rose peered at her a moment, then eased herself out of the chair and padded to the bedroom. A moment later, she came back into the parlor, having deposited the sleeping baby in her crib. Cradle

“Rose, you never did tell me how you talked Papa into letting you come here to help me.”

Rose glanced at her, then seated herself heavily in the chair. “Slave days is over, honey,” she said, looking down as she arranged her skirts. “Don’t reckon I need your daddy’s say-so to come to Nashville if I got a mind to.”

“Then he didn’t send you to me,” Addie said in a sinking voice. She’d known all along, really, but she’d beguiled herself with the faint hope that Papa had at least given grudging permission for Rose to come and help his daughter in her time of need.

Rose studied her a moment, then looked out the window. “Honey, your daddy done changed when your mama died. I seen death do that to folks—make ‘em hard inside, make ‘em forget how to love them that’s left.”

“I wish Papa could at least try to understand how I feel,” Addie said softly.

“I wish he could, too, honey,” Rose replied. “But sometimes, when somebody hurting—even somebody who love you, deep down—they can’t see nothin’ but they own hurt. It ain’t right, and it ain’t fair, but there it is anyway.”

Several silent moments passed; the mantle clock ticked sedately. Addie’s rocking slowed, then stopped. She crossed her hands on her lap and stared out at Granny White Pike. “I wish Zeb could come home this weekend.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“He works so hard, Rose. Sometimes … sometimes I worry about him.”

Rose said nothing.

*******

Zeb peered again at the piece of paper in his hand. “Eleven-oh-seven Ninth Street,” he said aloud. He looked around him, scratching his head, until he spied a knot of people walking up the steps of a small rock building in the middle of the block. “Must be it,” he muttered, and stepped quickly toward them.

It was Sunday morning, and he had really intended to go home this weekend, but at the last minute, one of his agents had requested his help to close an important sale. They hadn’t been able to see their prospect until late yesterday afternoon, long after the last convenient train to Memphis had pulled out from the station.

He had been meaning for some time to try to locate the local congregation of the church, but today was the first time he had been able to find the meeting place. Two or three days earlier, he had been idly thumbing through the newspaper and noticed a small advertisement for a “gospel meeting” to commence the next Sunday morning. The evangelist was some Texas fellow Zeb had never heard of, but the way his name was printed in large, bold letters, he figured to be really something. flyer

Zeb mounted the steps to the building and entered the small, cramped vestibule. It appeared the church house was packed to the limit. Evidently the Texas preacher commanded quite a following in these parts. He spotted a vacant place on the last pew, against the wall, and immediately made for it. A bonneted woman was seated next to the open place. Zeb touched her shoulder. “Scuse me, ma’am, but are you saving this for anybody?”

She turned to him, and the first thing he noticed was her good-natured smile. The second thing he noticed was the spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and the third thing he noticed was the lock of golden hair that fell from beneath her bonnet to the middle of her forehead. “Well, I guess I get to return the favor, Mr. Douglas. But, it’s ‘Miss,’ remember?”

“Yes, Miss Norwich. I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Fine. Then I guess you can have a seat.”

*******

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.