Posts Tagged ‘stubbornness’

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 23

January 24, 2019

“Dub, I’m worried about Papa.”

“What’s the matter, Lou?”

Dub slapped at his pillow. It had been a hard day at the store; he’d caught one of the new clerks stealing from the till. Dub hated conflict and avoided it whenever possible, but he couldn’t tolerate theft for one instant. He’d had to confront the clerk, who had denied everything and turned surly. He’d had to have some of the other men remove the fellow from the store. He’d decided not to press charges, but the whole matter had given him a headache that had lasted the rest of the day. He was hoping that he could go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow without a tenpenny nail in the center of his forehead.

“Well, he won’t go to the doctor, and he’s been coughing like a lunger for two weeks now. I’m afraid he’s got walking pneumonia but won’t do anything about it.” headache

Dub sighed. He rolled from his side to his back, staring at the ceiling of their bedroom.

“He won’t stay at home,” Louisa said. “He gets up every morning of the world and goes in to that store. He’s trying to kill himself is what I think.”

Dub knew he had to try to make some sort of reply. “Well, honey, surely if he felt that bad he’d stay home.”

Her silence was not that of a satisfied person who was ready to let things drop and allow her husband to go to sleep. He waited, blinking at the darkness above his head.

“Dub, I can’t help worrying about him. Course he won’t let anyone close to him, but I’m his daughter, after all.”

“Lou, if you’re that worried, why don’t you say something to him?”

“Why, Dub, you know good and well he won’t listen to anything I say. That’s about the most hardheaded man in the world, and you know it as well as I do.”

And he’s got at least one hardheaded daughter. “Honey, I don’t know what else to say.”

She sighed. “Well … Good night, dear.”

“Night.” He rolled back onto his side and pulled the quilt over his shoulder. He waited.

“Would you go with me to see him, Dub?”

“If l thought it would do any good, which I don’t.”

She sighed again. He felt the mattress rock as she leaned over to blow out her bedside lamp. He waited.

“I sure wish you’d get this bedroom wired for electricity.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll tend to it one of these days.” lamp

Another sigh. The light went out and Dub closed his eyes at last.

*******

Louisa sent the boys off to school the next morning, then put on her coat, gloves, and hat before she could talk herself out of her mission. The hack deposited her on the boardwalk in front of Caswell’s Dry Goods, and she paid the driver, squared her shoulders, and marched up the front steps.

She tramped up the stairs at the back of the store and pushed through the swinging gate into the office area. Her father’s desk was unoccupied. She was about to ask Mr. Sloan, the bookkeeper, for Papa’s whereabouts when a rasping, rattling cough from the vault told her. She went into the vault. Jacob was standing and turning around with a box of receipts in his arms when she saw his face. Before she could stop herself, she let out a gasp.

His face was ashen, and his eyes looked like tunnels in the side of a washed-out clay bank. He wheezed with every breath. He looked at her, and for an instant he wore a guilty expression, before he remembered himself.

“Well, what are you staring at?” He tried to draw himself a bit straighter.

“Papa, you’re going home right this minute! You’re in no condition to be—”

“Last time I checked, I was still your daddy, and I can still—” A coughing fit took him, and he nearly dropped the box. Louisa thought he was about to fall, but he leaned against the vault wall until the spell passed. “I can still look out for myself, without your help,” he finally managed in a half–choked voice before another cough shook him.

“Besides,” he said, “there’s nobody back there at the house anyway. I’m as well off here as I would be there.”

She moved to him and pulled the box from his grasp. “What are you talking about? I thought Lila was—”

“I ran her off.”

“What?”

“She didn’t suit me,” he said as he pushed past her. “If you’re gonna stand there gawking,   you might as well bring that box to Abe.” He shuffled out of the vault and turned toward his desk. sunkenface

Mr. Sloan appeared in the vault doorway. He glanced over his shoulder at Jacob’s receding back, then at Louisa. “Lou, he don’t need to be here,” he said quietly, bending over to pick up the box of receipts. “He’s mortal sick, if you’ll pardon my saying so, and I wish he’d go to the doctor, but he won’t listen to nothing nobody here says to him about it.”

Louisa closed her eyes, massaging her temples with one hand and cradling her elbow with the other.

“I was glad to see you coming up those stairs, ‘cause I figured if anybody could talk sense to him, it’d be you.”

‘‘Abe, he won’t listen to me either,” she said. ‘‘At least, not yet.”

Abe Sloan shook his head and turned to go back to his desk. “I sure wish he’d listen to somebody. He don’t need to be here, and that’s the Lord’s truth.”

She walked out of the vault and turned the corner toward her father’s desk. Jacob sat slumped in his swivel chair. He appeared shriveled, shrunken within himself. He was looking away from her, out over the sales floor. She pulled a cane–bottomed chair over and sat across the desk.

“Papa, why are you doing this?”

“Doing what?”

“Killing yourself.”

“Just got a bad cold, is all.”

“Papa, you and I both know better than that. Why is it you’ve decided to quit living?”

He flicked an angry glance at her, then turned away again. He started to cough and scrabbled hastily in the lap drawer of his desk for a handkerchief. Though he tried to hold it crumpled in his fist as he brought it to his mouth, Louisa saw the rusty speckling of dried blood.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, wiping his lips. “I’ll be all right. If you came down here to henpeck, why don’t you just go on back home?” handkerchief

“Papa, don’t you know I love you?” she said, trying to keep her voice even. “Don’t you think I care about what happens to you? I can’t just let you sit down here and die and act like it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other! Why won’t you let somebody help you?”

“I don’t need anybody’s help!”

He immediately went into another coughing spasm. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw some of the customers on the sales floor stare up at the office. She started to come around and hold his shoulders, but he waved her off.

When he could speak again, he said, “I’ve been alone since your mother died, and here lately I’ve decided that suits me just fine. Nobody to tell me to pick up my stuff, nobody to get in my way around the place, nobody to worry about whether I come or go. Nobody to lecture me about what I ought to do, nobody to go off and leave me. Nobody except me to bother with. That’s how I like it. You hear? Now go on. You’ve shown your Christian concern, and I’ve turned it down. There’s nothing else for you to do.”

She felt the tears stinging the corners of her eyes. “Papa, please—”

‘‘Abe,” he said, standing and walking toward the bookkeeper’s desk, “did you get those receipts totaled up yet?”

Louisa flung herself out of the chair and dashed toward the stairs, covering her mouth with her hand. As she clattered down the steps, she heard him start coughing again.

*******

Zeb walked into the agency and Abner immediately waved a telegraph message at him. “Western Union boy just brought this over, Zeb. Says it’s urgent. Says it came from Nashville.”

Zeb tore open the envelope and extracted the wire. He read it twice before the meaning penetrated. He puffed out his cheeks and his eyes went wide.

“What’s the matter? Bad news from home?”

“Well, you might say that.” Zeb tried to sort out the thoughts as they scrambled past his consciousness. He looked up at Abner. “I’ve got to go back, Ab. My wife’s father died.” telgram

*******

They filed slowly into the young attorney’s office and seated themselves around the long table, the dark–suited men carefully holding the chairs for their wives. Louisa eased into her chair and felt Dub’s hand rest lightly on her shoulder for a moment.

When they were all sitting, the bustling, nervous–mannered young man went to the head of the table and carefully stacked some documents, then seated himself. He cleared his throat and looked at them all. He tried to smile, without much success.

“Well, now that we’re all here,” he said, “I guess we’d better get started. As you may know, your father had filed a revised will with me quite some time prior to his death—”

“Revised?” said Junior, the oldest sibling. “I knew Papa had some kinda falling out with Dan Sutherland, but I didn’t know anything about changes in his will.” Junior peered a question at the rest of them. He looked back at the lawyer. By now a sheen of perspiration was visible on the young man’s forehead. “Well?”

“Yes, ah … Mr. Caswell brought his former will to me at about the time he … he left Mr. Sutherland and asked me to make some, ah … some changes.”

“What kind of changes?” Louisa said.

The attorney dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief. “Yes, well … Why don’t we just read the will, and I think everything will be self–explanatory.”

Junior sat back in his chair with a frown covering his face, still staring at the sweating lawyer. The rest of them inched forward, their elbows on the table, and waited for the attorney to begin reading. Dub and Zeb were doing their best, Louisa thought, to maintain an attitude of respectful disinterest.

“I, Jacob Isaiah Caswell, being of sound mind, do hereby declare this to be my last will and testament … ”

As the young man’s voice droned on, Louisa studied Addie and Zeb from the corner of her eye. She had been watching them ever since their arrival for the funeral, two days ago. If Papa’s death had affected Addie, she wasn’t showing it. To Louisa, her younger sister seemed disinterested, somehow—apart. Zeb, on the other hand, appeared to be going out of his way to be the same old, glad–handing, smiling, good–humored fellow he’d always been. Courteous, proper, and well–mannered, he looked to Louisa to be a more prosperous, more confident version of the person who had left Chattanooga nearly four years ago.

But something had changed. Louisa couldn’t miss the polite reserve between Zeb and Addie. Allowing for his solicitousness toward Addie’s expectant condition, Louisa sensed a certain aloofness. Zeb treated Addie with the respect one might show an esteemed but distant relative. Louisa was worried about them, even though she couldn’t put her finger on the exact reason why.mourner

“ … do hereby direct that the remainder of my estate be distributed, per stirpes, among my three surviving children—”

“Do what?” said Bob, the younger brother. “What did you just read?”

The young lawyer wiped his forehead and cleared his throat. He looked around the table at them, then read again, in a quieter voice, “The remainder of the estate is to be divided among the three children Mr. Caswell mentions in the following—”

“I don’t guess you can count, son,” said Junior, leaning forward in his chair and carefully placing his folded hands on the table. “There’s four of us: me, Bob, Lou, and Addie. Four.”

The attorney’s only reply was to begin reading again in a flat, weakened voice. “ … my three surviving children: Jacob Isaiah Caswell Junior, Louisa Marie Caswell Dawkins, and Robert Wilkes Caswell. I hereby direct that—” The lawyer’s voice faltered, then resumed. “—that Adelaide Margaret Caswell Douglas, by reason of her willful disregard for the peace and well–being of this home, be stricken from my inheritance, that her right to any proceeds of this estate be revoked, and that she and her heirs and assigns be specifically and perpetually enjoined from any of the benefits that they might otherwise have enjoyed.” The lawyer’s voice faded to a halt.

There was almost a minute of stunned silence. For the first time, Addie showed emotion. All color had drained from her face, and Louisa could see white half–moons beneath her fingernails as she gripped the edge of the table. Even Zeb had lost his usual self–assured air and sat with his mouth agape, staring sightlessly at the empty center of the table.

It was Junior who broke the hush. “Do you mean to tell me that you let Papa write his own daughter out of the will?”

The attorney’s face had a strangled, desperate look. “Now, Mr. Caswell, you must understand that in the state of Tennessee, a person of good judgment can do anything he wants to his estate as long as—”

“Good judgment?” Bob said. “You call this good judgment?”

“No wonder Dan Sutherland and your daddy parted ways,” Dub said. He put his arm around Louisa and softly patted her shoulder as she wept quietly into her handkerchief. “Dan wouldn’t have been party to something like this.”

They all stared accusingly at the young lawyer, who remained absolutely still, except to shrug.

“Mr. Caswell wanted it this way. I’m just the lawyer.”

“Yeah,” said Junior with a snort. “How much did he pay you, boy?”

“Now, Mr. Caswell—”

“I’ve got to get some air,” Addie said, shoving her chair back from the table. She stood, took three steps toward the doorway, and crumpled in a heap of black satin and taffeta.

*******

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.

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Sunday Clothes, Chapter 16

November 29, 2018

Addie hadn’t heard anything from Mary Alice for some time, so she paced back through the house, trying to locate the too–quiet toddler. When Zeb had moved them into this new, larger place, she’d thought she’d enjoy the increased room, but at times like this she found herself missing the little servant’s cottage on Granny White Pike: there was less space there for a toddler to wander.

She rounded a corner into her bedroom and spied her daughter in the act of plucking one of her crystal figurines from the top of the dressing table.

“No, ma’am!” dressingtable

Mary Alice’s head wheeled about, her eyes big with guilty surprise. Addie paced quickly to her and snatched the figurine from her chubby fist with one hand, spatting the child’s hand sharply with the other.

“You are not to bother these! No, no!”

The baby’s face quickly clouded up and began to rain. Addie picked her up and marched back toward the front of the house, plopping the squalling infant down in the parlor in front of a pile of rag dolls and brightly painted toys.

“If you’d stay in here and play with your own things,” she said, “you wouldn’t get into trouble.”

Mary Alice, the very picture of wronged innocence, bawled unabated at her mother.

Addie sighed and rolled her eyes and searched beside the chair for the mail-order catalog she’d been perusing just before. She thumbed it back open to the jewelry section and began again to look at the men’s rings. She’d decided to buy Zeb a wedding ring for Christmas this year. She’d always felt a little guilty for never having procured him a band. He claimed it didn’t matter to him, but it did to her. He’d gotten her a fine, stylish gold band for their first anniversary, and she intended to have a ring for him by Christmas. She had almost enough money hidden in the pantry Mason jar to pay for the ring she’d chosen. She enjoyed looking at the picture and imagining how it would look on Zeb’s finger. She thought he’d like the ring. It was a gold band, about a quarter-inch wide, with a bead of finely inlaid silver on each border. It would look elegant on his hand, set off by his clean, crisp white cuffs and the dark suits he favored. goldband

Her eyes stayed on the pictures of the rings, but her mind wandered toward Little Rock. In the beginning, Zeb had assured her that successfully turning around the Little Rock agency was the final stepping–stone to his home office position here in Nashville, but it had been more than a year now, and he was still spending at least two weeks each month in the Arkansas capital city—sometimes, like this month, even more. From his talk of things there, it seemed the agency was doing well. She wondered why the men in the home office couldn’t be satisfied with Zeb’s work and offer him the Nashville job he said he wanted. But, on the few occasions when she’d tried to ask him about it, he’d become distant, almost annoyed. “There’s still a lot to do there, Addie,” he would assure her. “Griffs and Carleton are depending on me to leave Little Rock in good shape. I can’t just walk off—not until the job’s finished.”

There were times when Addie wondered what had changed between her and her husband. When they were courting and first married, he couldn’t seem to get enough of her presence. She smiled wistfully as she thought of some of the grand surprises he’d manufactured “for no reason,” as he sometimes said, “but to see that dimple on your right cheek.” It had seemed so easy to enjoy each other in those simpler days: a sunshiny afternoon was a good enough excuse to walk hand–in–hand up Cameron Hill; a night with a full moon carried a honey–scented enchantment that made words unnecessary; seeing the look on his face when she came down the front porch steps was like the secret opening of a longed–for gift.

When had the little joys begun to disappear? What was it about the daily friction of living together that rubbed so much of the shine off two people who thought they loved each other? And could they get it back? She hoped Zeb got that home office job real soon.

Mary Alice’s sobs had subsided to an occasional sniffle and whimper by the time Addie saw the postman walk past the front window. She laid aside the catalog and went to the door. The bright Indian summer afternoon sun was warm on her forearms as she opened the mailbox and removed the contents: a solicitation from someone running for county magistrate, a circular from a sewing notions company, and a letter addressed in a familiar hand … from Lou!

Smiling, she went quickly inside and tossed aside the other two pieces, eagerly running a finger beneath the flap of Lou’s envelope.

 

Dearest sister Addie,

I suppose you thought I dropped off the face of the earth, since

you haven’t heard from me for nearly two months now. I am some

better each day, it seems, altho there are still days when I’m not sure

I want to make the effort to keep going, but those seem to be fewer

and farther between, thank the Lord. It has now been twenty

months since my precious Katherine’s death, and tho I never

thought life could go on without her, it seems to, just the same. I

still miss her terribly, but things aren’t quite so dark anymore, somehow.

Then again, sometimes the most unexpected things will set me 

off. I might see a little girl about her size and coloring, or I might

hear a snatch of a song she used to sing. And I still can’t bear it at

church when they do “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” like they did at

her service. Dub tries his best but he just doesn’t understand a

mother’s heart and I guess no man does, not really. He’s got to where

he doesn’t like to go out to her grave with me anymore.

Well, how are things with you? I’ll bet Mary Alice is just tearing

up Jack by now at her age and getting into everything, but just

try and remember that you’ll miss these times someday. Oh, goodness,

I better not get started that way again or before you know it

I’ll get back around to Katherine and be all down in the dumps

again. How is Zeb? Did he ever get moved back to Nashville, like

you thought he might? It’d be a shame for him not to get to be

around Mary Alice these next few months as she’ll be changing so

fast and you miss something if you’re gone for even a day, seems like.

I sure would like to see that little sweet thing, tho I know it will

make me sad. I hope we can come to Nashville before long but Dub

stays so busy down at the store and with Robert in school and all it

seems like the time just isn’t ever right.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that George Hutto said he was

mighty proud to hear about Mary Alice and he knew she had to be

a beautiful baby with you being her mama. I wonder how long it

took him to work up the nerve to say that much about you at one

time. He looked about like a little boy at his first recital.

Well I guess I’ve rattled on long enough and should close now.

You give that sweet baby girl a hug from her Aunt Lou and write

me back when you can. letter

Your loving sister,

Louisa C. Dawkins

 

Addie laid the letter on the table beside her and smiled into the middle distance. What she wouldn’t give to spend an afternoon in the parlor with her older sister, just talking about this and that, like two old married women.

But, of course, it wouldn’t do, not with Papa’s disapproval hanging over them like a curse. Addie noticed Lou had avoided any suggestion that she and Zeb should come to Chattanooga. They both knew it would be too hard, that Papa would be the invisible participant in every conversation. She would have to work so hard to ignore him that it was almost inevitable he would be the only thing she thought about. And Addie couldn’t imagine much good coming from that.

Mary Alice tugged at her skirt. Addie looked down and the child held up her arms. ‘‘All right, Miss, come on up,” she said, lifting the baby into her lap. Mary Alice snuggled close, the first knuckle of her fist in her mouth. Addie squeezed her gently and rubbed her cheek against the silky brown wisps on the crown of Mary Alice’s head. “Mama doesn’t like to get on to you,” she said, “but you have to learn to leave things alone, little dumplin’. Here you go,” she continued, giving her daughter a sudden squeeze. “That’s from your Aunt Lou.”

The baby giggled at the sudden movement. Addie squeezed her again, she chuckled louder, and so it went for several moments. Soon, the laughter of her little one had banished most of the trailing tatters of Addie’s hovering melancholy. She looked at the mantle clock and realized it was nearly three o’clock. “Come on, young ‘un,” she smiled at Mary Alice. “Let’s find you and me a piece of shortbread. I’m just about hungry!” Mary Alice babbled happily at her mother and clung to her shoulder as they walked toward the kitchen.

*******

Nothing was said when, after an absence of nearly three months, Rose resumed her duties at Jacob Caswell’s house. If he was surprised to find her standing on his doorstep on the July morning she returned, he gave no sign. If he was at all curious as to her whereabouts during her time away, he gave her no evidence, and he knew Rose wasn’t inclined to any unnecessary explanation. And so, with no more to–do than a slight nod from each, the two of them resumed their former arrangement.

Most of the time, Rose moved about the house as dispassionately as the shadows of clouds move across the landscape. She dusted, swept, straightened, cooked, and cleaned with the impersonal efficiency of a force of nature. Jacob, on the rare occasions when he noticed her at all, thought that sharing a room with her was about like sharing it with a piece of moving furniture. duster

But every once in a great while he would feel something brush against his awareness; a tingle on the back of his neck; an impalpable sense of being watched, or thought about, or disliked … or pitied. He would look up, and if Rose did happen to be in the room, he would generally see no more than the flicker of an eye or the slight turning of her head as she attended to whatever task engaged her. Sometimes, he would peer at her thoughtfully for some minutes. If she ever noticed his gaze, it wasn’t apparent.

One day, as Rose was setting his lunch before him, he could have sworn she spoke. “What?” he asked.

She cut her eyes at him as she placed the gravy tureen in front of him, then turned to go back toward the kitchen. “Didn’t say nothin’,” she mumbled as she ambled away from him. When she came back a few seconds later bearing a platter of freshly baked cat–head biscuits, he said, “I sure thought you said something to me.”

She shook her head as she poured his coffee.

The silence lengthened, broken only by the taps of his spoon against the sides of his cup as he stirred in his cream and sugar.

“Well, Rose, I guess I never did ask you where you went this spring. I don’t recall being asked for time off.”

“Can’t nobody remember what they ain’t been asked. I went on my own and I didn’t ask no leave. You don’t want me around no more, all you got to do is say so.”

“Now, Rose, don’t go getting touchy on me. I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just curious, is all.”

She walked back toward the kitchen, muttering under her breath. When she returned, carrying a plate of cold sliced roast beef, she was still going. She clanked the plate onto the table in front of him and turned away. As she did, he was pretty sure he made out the words, “ … ain’t got as much sense as God give a goose … “

“Rose, why don’t you just turn around here and tell me what’s on your mind?” he said. “All this grumbling and mumbling’s about to give me the indigestion, anyway. You might as well have your say, all at once, and get it over with.”

She came about to face him, her hands on her hips and her face tightly set in a scowl of disapproval. “I done been at this house for more than eight years, and every time I think you can’t get no more bullheaded and hardhearted, you up and shows me how wrong I is!”

He stared at her, mouth agape. “Rose, what in thunder are you—”

“You let that child walk outta your life with no more thought than if you was turnin’ out a stray dog! You really think you gonna make out any better on the Judgment Day than that boy she married? Or is you so busy feelin’ sorry for yourself about losing Miz Mary that you ain’t got no time to try to understand somebody else’s feelin’s?”

“Now, Rose, that’s just about enough!” he shouted, slamming his fist on the table and rattling the dinnerware. “The Good Book says, ‘Honor thy father and mother!’ She—”

“The Good Book also say, ‘He that trouble his own house shall inherit the wind!”’ she said. bible.jpg

“What about, ‘Children, obey thy parents’?”

“‘Fathers, provoke not thy childrens to wrath!”’

“I’ll not sit here and be lectured about my own children by a nigger maid!” Jacob wadded his napkin and flung it on the floor as he shoved back his chair and stood. “It’s none of your business what I do or don’t do about Addie!” he shouted, pointing an accusing finger at her. “She’s the one who left, not me. I provided her a home, and she showed her gratitude by turning her back on me—and her mother’s memory! Don’t you stand there all holier–than–thou and condemn me for following my God-given conscience. It like to killed me to see her leave like she did! Do you think she’s the only one who’s hurt over all this?”

“You be a sight better off to listen to this old nigger instead of diggin’ yourself a deeper hole than you already in! You didn’t no more know that young ‘un than if she was a stranger, but you so bound up in yourself, you couldn’t see who she was!”

She turned her head sidelong and shook it at him as she spoke, as if admonishing a wayward child.

“She ain’t in pigtails and pantaloons no more! She a grown woman, and she got to find her own way, and you got to let her! But what did you do? You good as told her your way was the only way! She your daughter in more ways than one, can’t you see that? You tell that child to jump, she naturally going to squat! You tell her to gee, she’ll haw every time! You tell her she can’t have the man she got her eye on, you just as well be tellin’ her he the only man in the world! That child didn’t leave you—you run her off, only you too blind to see it!”

Jacob glared at her. He felt his fingers curling into claws. He spun away, swaying against the edge of the table and knocking his coffee cup sideways. He stalked out of the dining room into the hallway and half ran to the front door, flung it open and was gone.

*******

Rose stood perfectly still, hands on hips, her eyes fixed on the space where he had been. Slowly, her head began to shake, and her eyes brimmed with tears.

“Sweet Jesus, help that man. He dyin’ and don’t know how to tell nobody.”

*******

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.