Posts Tagged ‘YMCA’

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 41

June 13, 2019

Ned cinched the strap around his books, and when the teacher rang the bell, he was the first one through the door. He walked at a good clip down the sidewalk and turned right along Ninth Street. He needed to get to the YMCA and find out whatever it was that Mr. Hutto wanted to tell him. Then he had to catch the trolley out to the Orchard Knob end of the line. bookstrap

He stuck his hand in his pocket and felt the note the girl had brought from the principal’s office during geometry. “See Mr. Hutto after school at the Y,” it read. “He has some news for you.”

“Ned! Ned Overby!”

He looked around and saw Willie Lewis trotting toward him. Guess the colored school must get out the same time we do.

“Where you goin’, Ned?”

“YMCA.”

“What you goin’ there for?”

“Man wants to tell me somethin’.”

“What?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t have to go.”

“What y’all do at the YMCA?”

“Different stuff. Basketball, calisthenics—”

“What’s that?”

“Exercises. And there’s Bible classes, and other stuff.”

“How come you in such a hurry?”

“You ask a lot a questions.”

“You ask a lot a questions,” Willie said in a perfect imitation of Ned’s voice. “How come you white folks so tetchy about somebody just wanta know somethin’?”

“Ain’t tetchy. Just not used to answerin’ so many questions from somebody that ain’t my mama.”

Willie laughed. Ned thought he ought to be mad about it, but he couldn’t quite get there, somehow. He grinned at Willie. “Ain’t you got someplace you oughta be goin’?”

“Yeah. The YMCA. I want to find out what them calisthenics is.” exercise

“Well, I ain’t doin’ no calisthenics today. I’m goin’ to talk to Mr. Hutto, then I gotta get home.”

“Who’s Mr. Hutto?”

“He runs the place. He’s the one got me set up with my art lessons.”

“Art lessons? They teach you about that too?”

Ned nodded.

“You an artist?”

Ned gave a loose–limbed shrug. “Shoot, I don’t know. I just like to do stuff, that’s all.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Draw. Paint a little. But I mainly like to carve.”

“Who started you out doin’ that?”

“Nobody. I … I just always did it, I reckon.”

They walked along awhile before Willie said anything else. Willie had a loose, springy way of moving, as if every part of him had a mind of its own and only decided at the last second it wanted to come along with the rest. Ned wanted to find a piece of wood for Willie. Blackjack oak, maybe, or hickory. Yes, hickory. It would render Willie’s angles so much better.

“How long you been working for Miz Addie?” Willie asked.

“‘Bout three years, I reckon.”

“She pay you good?”

“All right, I guess.”

“I’m gonna get me a job, and when I done saved up enough money, I’m gonna ride me a train all the way to New York City.”

Ned gave out a snort. “What you gonna do in New York City?”

Willie wore a funny look that seemed like it started out to be a smile but wound up somewhere else. “Things I can’t do here,” Willie said.

A few boys leaned against the walls beside the main entrance of the Y. There was a game of mumblety–peg going on on one side of the doorway, and some of the smaller boys had scratched out a circle for marbles on the other side. Ned walked up to the boys lounging against the wall. marbles

“Hey, Ralph.”

“Hey, yourself.”

“Mr. Hutto in?”

“Yeah. He just got here.” Ralph’s eyes flickered toward Willie.

“Okay. I’m supposed to go see him.”

Ned opened the door and started inside when he heard Ralph say, “Where you think you’re going?”

He turned around. Ralph stood in front of Willie, blocking his way.

“I was going inside with my friend, here,” Willie said, nodding toward Ned.

Ralph looked a question at Ned. Ned shrugged.

“Niggers ain’t allowed,” Ralph said. A couple of the other boys near the doorway slowly uncrossed their arms and stood away from the wall, watching Ralph and Willie with narrowed eyes.

“Ain’t gonna stay but just a minute,” Ned said. “Mr. Hutto asked me to come by after school.”

“He ask this coon to come with you?” Ralph said.

Ned studied his shoe tops. “Just ran into him on the way.”

“Well, if he knows what’s good for him, he can just—”

“What’s the problem, boys?”

Ned felt his chest loosen with relief. It was Mr. Gaines, his art teacher. “Mr. Gaines, I’m here to see Mr. Hutto. Willie came along with me. He just wanted to see what goes on here at the YMCA.”

“Oh. I see.” Mr. Gaines looked at Willie for a few seconds. “Ralph, you other boys. You have something to do?”

“Yes, sir,” Ralph said. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets and slouched inside. Two of the other boys followed him, looking at Willie out of the sides of their faces as they passed him. scowl

“Now, ah—what’s your name, son?” Mr. Gaines said.

“Willie Lewis.”

“Now, Willie. The boys do have a point. This is for white boys only. I guess Ned forgot to tell you that.”

Willie looked at Mr. Gaines for a second or two, then let his head drop. He nodded, looking down at the ground.

“Well, fine. Why don’t you just wait right over there, in the shade of that tree, and I’m sure Ned’s business won’t take long.”

Willie was walking away before Mr. Gaines could finish what he was saying. He watched Willie’s back for a moment, then flashed a big smile down at Ned. “You better come inside, Mr. Overby. Mr. Hutto’s got some news I think you’ll want to hear.”

Ned followed Mr. Gaines inside.

Where you goin’, white trash? Come on, peckerwood. Let’s go outside …

The voices snickered and sneered in his head. They were all he could hear, and all he could see was the way Willie’s head hung between his shoulders after Mr. Gaines spoke to him. What was the difference, really, between him, walking back to Mr. Hutto’s office with his art teacher, and Willie, turned away at the door? He didn’t dress any better than Willie—shoot, Willie’s clothes were probably cleaner. He wasn’t any smarter, most likely. From the minute Willie walked up to the woodpile at Addie’s, holding the halter rope of the mule he’d borrowed to come fetch his mama, Ned had known here was somebody he could talk to. From the way Willie held himself, Ned could tell here was a quick mind that wanted to see out, to know what there was to know. Ned could see it the same way he could see the agility of a deer in its hindquarters, the same way he could see the shape of a blue jay’s flight in the spread of its wing. portrait

But Ralph couldn’t see it, nor the other bullies. Even Mr. Gaines couldn’t see it. The man who’d taught Ned to let himself really see what he saw—he was as blinded by Willie’s dark brown skin and nappy hair as the rest of them. It confused Ned, put him off. He wondered what else he didn’t understand that made perfect sense to the rest of the world.

Mr. Hutto was standing at the doorway of his office. “Ah, good, Percy. You found him.”

“Here he is.”

They were both grinning at Ned like he was a prize hog. What was going on?

“Ned, come on in and sit down, won’t you?”

Ned shrugged himself into one of the oak chairs in front of Mr. Hutto’s desk. Mr. Gaines sat beside him, in the other chair.

Mr. Hutto laced his fingers together and leaned across at him. “Ned, Mr. Gaines has been telling me you’re doing some really good work. He says you’ve got a lot of talent with your art.”

Ned looked at the corner of the desk and said nothing.

“In fact, he tells me he thinks your work is good enough to get you into a special art school where you could learn from some of the greatest artists and teachers in the country.”

Ned felt his forehead wrinkling.

It was still wrinkled fifteen minutes later when he walked out of the office.

He stepped outside and was surprised to see Willie sitting under the tree. He’d figured Willie’d be long gone after what happened when they got here. He walked across the yard and Willie stood up. He looked at Ned and cocked his head to one side.

“What happened?”

“They just told me I’m goin’ to New York.”

*******

George didn’t know when he’d felt so good. When he locked the front doors of the Y and started his walk home, he was still wearing the grin he’d found when Ned Overby left his office.

“He doesn’t think it’s real,” Percy Gaines had said when Ned walked out.

“He’ll figure it out soon enough when I hand him the train tickets.”

“I’d like to be a fly on his shoulder when that boy gets off the train in New York City,” Percy said.

George rounded the corner of Eighth and Georgia. He looked up and saw a swallow wheeling around the cornices of the Milton Building. He stopped for a minute to watch the bird arc back and forth across the purpling sky. It looked like it was kissing the corner of the building before darting out again, dodging and tumbling and always circling back to the same place.

Ned Overby was going to get his chance. He was going to find out what he was capable of, and if the reactions of Professor Koch at the Institute were any gauge, that was quite a bit. George wondered where Ned might go, what he might see. He wondered how living in New York would change him.

Would the tumbledown shack where his family lived ever seem like home again? Would his father’s rough, good–natured voice come to sound strange in his ears? George’s walk slowed as he considered. It was the right thing, wasn’t it, to extend this opportunity to Ned Overby? Didn’t Ned have the right to find out what was inside him? Didn’t the world have the right?

When George went up the front steps of his house, his mother was sitting in the huge white wicker armchair on the porch. It was dark now, and Mamie had set a coal–oil lamp on the small side table by the chair. Candle bugs flittered all around the light. It was a pretty warm evening, but Mother had a woolen afghan draped over her shoulders. George smiled at her. Her poor old eyes looked faded and watery. She smiled back at him.

“What are you doing out here, Mother? It’s getting dark.”

“Just sitting. It’s nice, sometimes. Just to sit.”

“Aren’t you getting cold?” porch

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“I’ll go find Mamie—”

“Sit down with me a minute, George.”

He perched on the edge of the footstool.

“Honey, why don’t you sit in the swing? You look like a toad on a toadstool.”

“I’m fine.”

She shook her head and gave him a sideways smile. “You put yourself in such awkward places, trying to accommodate. You always have.”

“Ma’am?”

“Nothing.” She leaned back against the chair and let her head fall to one side. “Lots of lightning bugs tonight.”

George looked out across the front lawn. The tiny yellow–green lights flickered on and off, hanging almost motionless in the humid air. He nodded.

“Your father always liked to look at the lightning bugs. But he never wanted anybody to know he did.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. But he’d sit out here and watch them. Sit here in the dark for hours. And if I said anything about it or anybody else came out on the porch, he’d clear his throat and say how late it was getting and go straight in and get his nightshirt on.”

George gave her a puzzled smile.

“I guess he thought it was foolish for a grown man to enjoy lightning bugs.” She shook her head. “But I never thought so.”

“Why didn’t you just tell him?”

She looked at George. “Good question. There were lots of things I never got around to telling him.”

They sat for a minute, watching the lightning bugs.

“I’m sending Ned Overby to art school in New York,” he said. fireflies

“Who’s that?”

“They live out past Orchard Knob. Perlie Overby’s his father.”

“The fellow that used to work odd jobs for your father?”

George nodded.

“He’s got a son that’s an artist?”

“Yes, ma’am. A good one, looks like. The Peabody Institute took him sight unseen.”

“And you’re paying for it?”

George nodded. “I can afford it, Mother.”

“Of course, you can.” She tilted her head and gave him a narrow–eyed look. “What do you want, George?”

“Ma’am?”

“You heard me.”

“Well … I guess I want to see him get a chance to—”

“I’m not talking about Ned Overby, honey. You. What is it you want?”

George stared out at the lightning bugs. They reminded him of brakemen’s lanterns, signaling a train to a siding far away in the dark. They blinked on and off at him, flashing a cool, mysterious code he couldn’t follow. They were like tiny stars set in the stillness above his lawn, guiding lights to some destination he hadn’t guessed. Couldn’t, most likely.

“I don’t know. Haven’t thought much about it, I guess.”

He wouldn’t look at her, but he knew she was looking at him. He just watched the lightning bugs and listened to the moist, settling dark.

*******

“New York?”

Ned nodded.

“And all you’ve got to do is say yes?”

He nodded again.

Perlie took a deep breath and let it out with a funny little whistling noise. He stared out the front door like he was waiting for somebody. Ned cut his eyes at his maw. She was whipstitching a torn place in a flour sack quilt. She gave no sign what she’d heard.

“Well, son, that’s sure a long ways off.” nyc

“He’ll pay for it, he says.”

“I ain’t talkin’ about the money,” Perlie said, scratching his head. “It’s just … none of our people’s ever done nothin’ like this, and … I don’t know.” Perlie got up and walked over to the door. He leaned against the frame and stared out into the night.

“Where’s Brother going?” Percy said. “How come he’s leavin’?” The little boy came over and stood in front of Ned. “Where you goin’?”

“Be quiet, Percy,” said Mary.

Ned looked at his father. How could he explain to him what he didn’t understand himself? He had no more notion than a goose what he’d do once he got to New York. He was as confused and uncertain about all this as anybody. When he thought about all those people rushing here and there and all that racket and all those buildings blocking the sky, he felt as jittery and shy as a hoot owl in the sunlight. But beneath that, beneath the commotion and the stir ran a low, steady voice that told him this was right, it was his time. Even in Mr. Hutto’s office back at the Y, while he was listening and figuring out he was being offered a chance he’d never even had any excuse to dream about, something was off in a corner of his mind, whispering to him that he was going to grab this thing like a prize and run with it as far and as fast as he could.

How could he make his father hear that voice? How could he tell a man who’d never even been as far as Nashville that he wanted—needed—to go to a place that scared him and pulled him like a magnet, all at the same time? Shoot, Ned had never been to Nashville either. And then he was ashamed and angry because he could look at the man who’d raised him and sung to him and given him a Barlow for Christmas and see that he wasn’t as big as he used to be. And the worst of it was, he didn’t know for sure if he was angry at his father for being less than he had been or himself for knowing it.

His mother was still stitching the quilt. Her hands never paused; her eyes never left her work.

“I’ll be all right, Paw. I will.”

His father’s face swung slowly around, and the way he looked made Ned want to run, or hit something, or bury his face in Paw’s chest. Then Perlie smiled, and Ned’s throat started to feel like he’d swallowed a green persimmon.

“Well, boy …” Paw shrugged and gave a real slow nod. “Yep. Just like ol’ Ned Hutchins.”

Ned heard the snap of the thread as his mother leaned over to bite it.

*******

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 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

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 37

May 16, 2019

“I wish you’d look at that,” Louisa said, nodding toward Jake. “He’s trying to see where the sound’s coming from.”

The baby writhed in Addie’s lap, twisting his face toward the front of the auto. At first, Addie had expected the noise of the engines to frighten him, but from the first time Dub had picked them up for Sunday lunch in his Curved Dash, Jake had been fascinated with every one of the loud, smelly contraptions he encountered. This morning, when Jimmy came to fetch them, Mary Alice had stayed on the front porch with her hands over her ears, but Jake had acted like he was trying to jump out of Addie’s arms and crawl into the driver’s lap. loud

They turned off the road into Addie’s lane. “Isn’t that Dan Sutherland’s rig in front of your house?” Louisa said, craning her neck.

“Looks like it might be.”

As they got closer to the house, they saw Dan get out of the sulky and walk around to his horse’s head. He held the halter as the chestnut tossed its head and tried to back out of the traces.

“Stop here, Jimmy,” Louisa said, leaning over the seat. “This car’ll spook Mr. Sutherland’s horse.”

“Yes’m.” Jimmy eased off the throttle and pulled on the hand brake. He started to get out.

“That’s all right, Jimmy. We can manage,” Addie said.

“Yes’m.” He touched his cap as Addie stepped onto the ground.

Addie helped Mary Alice down and gripped Jake with the other arm. He made an irritated noise and tried to climb back into the Oldsmobile. Louisa handed out the bolt of broadcloth. Addie waved to her as Jimmy backed slowly down the lane. She turned and walked toward the house. Jake tried to climb over her shoulder and get back to the auto. She made Mary Alice carry the cloth so she could wrestle with him.

“Getting so you can’t take a peaceful drive out into the country anymore,” Dan said when they reached him. The horse had quieted, but Addie could still see the whites of its eyes as it rolled them toward the receding noise of the car. Lather dripped to the ground from where it nervously tongued the bit. horse

“Sorry, Dan.”

“Oh, that’s all right. I guess I’ll have to give in and get me one of the clatter–traps pretty soon. Scare somebody else’s horse, for a change.” He touched the brim of his hat. “Good to see you again, Addie. How you doing?”

“Fine, thank you.”

He looked at her. “Really?”

“What brings you out, Dan?”

“Why don’t we go inside and sit down? I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Do you have any candy?” Mary Alice said.

“Mary Alice!”

Dan laughed. “Well, yes, ma’am, it just so happens I do.” He looked a question at Addie. She rolled her eyes and nodded. He reached into his breast pocket and took out a shiny peppermint stick. “How’s that?” he said, leaning over to Mary Alice.

She grinned, then dropped the cloth and took the stick. She turned around and flounced up the front porch steps. Jake made a noise and reached toward his sister.

“No, sir, not until you’ve got a few more teeth,” Addie said.

“I’ll get this,” Dan said, bending to pick up the cloth.

They went inside. She put Jake on the floor in the nursery and went into the parlor. Dan sat on one of the armchairs, his legs crossed and his hat on his knee.

“Would you like some coffee? Or, I’ve got a spice cake.”

“No, thanks, Addie. I’ve got things waiting on me back at the office.”

She sat across from him, on the settee. “Well, what brings you all this way on a workday?”

He looked at her. “Addie, Zeb’s gone.”

“Gone?”

“Left. Lit out. Him and that other woman. Got a telegram from my man down there yesterday evening. A couple of weeks ago, looks like, he drew all the money out of his bank accounts, bought two railway tickets, and neither he nor the woman have been seen in Little Rock since.”

It was several moments before any words would form in her mind. “Where?”

“Don’t know. My man couldn’t find that out.” hat

So somebody really could do this, Addie thought. They could share your life, father your children, and then they could just leave, just vanish. They could pack up and go and never look back.

“What’ll I … How can—”

“Addie, he’s been served the papers. If he doesn’t appear in court, the judge will rule in your favor on every element of the complaint.” He waited for awhile, watching her. “Still, I think I’d advise one more thing, just to make sure we’ve covered ourselves.”

“What?”

“There’s a thing called constructive service. Usually, it’s applied when a party wants to sue for divorce, but the spouse can’t be found. That’s not exactly where we are; we sued him and served him, but now we can’t find him. What I’d do is I’d take out ads in the newspapers. I’d post notices in the courthouse, whatever. Just to make double sure he can’t come back later and say he didn’t know our intentions.”

“But he’s not in Little Rock anymore.”

“No, but there’s plenty of folks there who knew him, and the woman too. Word’ll get back, I bet. If anything can flush him out, this is it. And if it doesn’t, we haven’t lost anything.”

“We haven’t?”

He looked at his hat, dusted it with the heel of his hand. “You know what I mean, Addie.”

He stood up. “Well, I’ve got to get on back. No rest for the weary, I guess.”

“I guess not.”

“Addie, I’m—”

“I know, Dan. Thank you. It’s all right. I’m all right. Just go on and do what you need to do.”

“Well. All right, then. Good day to you.”

“And to you, Dan. Thank you for coming.”

“Least I could do.” dreaming

He left. Addie stayed on the settee, thinking about constructive service. An odd term to apply to a divorce proceeding. What would Dan’s notice say? Would the Little Rock newspaper carry a catalog of all her hurts and grievances? No, probably not. There would probably be a long paragraph made up of a single sentence, salted with lots of semicolons and wherefores and parties of the first part aforesaid. It would say exactly what it needed to, most likely; it would achieve exactly the aim Dan Sutherland had in mind.

But the words wouldn’t tell any more about the truth of Zeb and her than the label on a tin of powdered milk would tell you about a cow. Dan’s words would be proper but not accurate. They would be like a screen; they would protect, but they would also conceal.

She tried to imagine herself writing the notice. If she got to choose the words, what would they be? Adelaide Caswell Douglas is divorcing Zebediah Acton Douglas on the grounds that she has no choice. He loved her, and then he didn’t, and there was nothing she could do about it, so why bother to try?

She couldn’t even tell you when it started happening, could she? Couldn’t pinpoint the hour or even the week when her weight of expectation and unfulfilled hopes started to drag him down and make him wish for something else, someone else—which he found, as it turned out.

What was she like, this other woman? What was the shape of her hands, her face? Did she resemble Addie in any way? For a minute, Addie wondered if she’d feel any better if she knew Zeb had left her for someone who reminded him of his wife on a good day. But somehow, she doubted it. Doubted a man would do that and doubted it would make her feel any better to know.

Adelaide Caswell Douglas wishes to announce her permanent disengagement from the man formerly known as her husband. May he rest in peace, amen.

She wished it were that easy.

She heard an automobile popping and backfiring, slowing as it neared her lane. Why would Lou be coming back? She got up and went out onto the front porch.

It wasn’t Lou. The car had stopped at the opening of the lane. Someone got out of the passenger side and crossed in front of the car. A boy. He waved to the driver and walked down her lane.

Ned Overby. So the car belonged to George Hutto; he was bringing Ned back from a meeting at that new boy’s club he’d started in the old cotton warehouse downtown.

Addie hurried back in the house, to the kitchen. She found an apple and quickly sliced off a hunk of the spice cake. Wrapping the food in a dish towel, she went back to the front porch. When she came out, Ned was just stepping off the lane to cut across her yard toward the woods. spicecake

“Hello, Ned. How about a treat?” She held up the bundle.

He glanced toward her, then turned and walked over to the porch. He wouldn’t look at her. He never did.

“There’s an apple in here, and a piece of cake. Thought you might like a little snack for your walk home.”

He shrugged and nodded. She put the bundle in his hands.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“You’re welcome, Ned. Tell your mother and daddy I said hello.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He shambled off around the corner of the house.

She turned to go back inside and noticed George’s car was still stopped at the opening of the lane. He waved, and she returned the wave. He pulled a little way into the lane and stopped, then backed onto the road to return the way he’d come. He waved once more and drove off toward town.

*******

Louisa opened the door and paused in surprise. Lila stood there, all right, but a little boy was with her.

“Good morning, Lila.” Louisa’s eyes went to the boy.

“Willie with me today. He won’t be no trouble, Miz Lou.”

“Well, certainly, but … shouldn’t he be at school?” He didn’t look sick.

“No’m. Not today. He won’t be no trouble.” boy

“Well … of course.” She stood back from the door and they came inside.

As he passed her, Willie slid a look up at Louisa, a look somewhere between curiosity and distrust. He appeared to be about nine or ten. He clearly had his mother’s features, and he was as neat and scrubbed as she would have expected any of Lila’s children to be, but something told Louisa he would bear watching. She smiled at him and he looked away.

He took a little too much interest in his surroundings, she thought, just a shade too observant.

“Lila, the drapes in the parlor need to be taken down for cleaning today.”

“Yes’m.”

“And if we have time, I’d like to air the mattresses in the boys’ room.”

“Yes’m.”

“This where y’all eat at?” Willie said. He stood in the kitchen doorway, staring at the polished dining room table.

“Hush, now, Willie,” said Lila, moving to him and taking him by the shoulder. “You come on and help me. Stop botherin’ Miz Lou.”

She pulled him after her toward the parlor, but not before Louisa saw his scowl.

All morning long, Louisa found excuses to check in on Willie. Once, as she approached the doorway of the parlor where Lila was working, she heard the boy’s whining voice, then Lila speaking to him in short, sharp words. “You should have thought of that before you sassed Deacon Green. Now get over here and hold this.” Louisa must have paused in the doorway without realizing it; Willie and Lila noticed her and quickly busied themselves with the drapes.

At lunchtime, Louisa went into the kitchen and asked Willie if he’d like some cathead biscuits she had left over from that morning’s breakfast. Willie and his mother sat at the little breakfast table by the window, sharing a section of cornbread Lila had brought and some warmed–up black–eyed peas and buttermilk Louisa had given them. He shook his head. “Don’t like no cathead biscuits,” he said. His mother gave him a tightlipped stare. He ignored her and took a swig of the buttermilk in the Mason jar they were using for a glass. He put it down and licked the white froth from his upper lip. peas

Louisa wished she had some old toys the boys didn’t use anymore, something she could give Willie to pass the afternoon. But she’d cleaned out all the old stuff in the last Christmas toy drive for church.

Early in the afternoon, she climbed the stairs and started down the hallway to the boys’ room, where Lila was tugging the mattresses off the beds. The door to Katherine’s room was open. She stepped inside and there was Willie, standing in the middle of the floor, looking around as if he owned the place. He turned around to look at her.

“Willie, you need to get out of here, right now.”

“Whose room this?”

“My daughter’s.”

“What’s her name?”

“Katherine. Now you get—”

“Where she at?”

“She’s—passed on. Now will you go back where you belong?”

“My meemaw passed. My cousins moved into her house.”

Louisa took a quick step to him and pulled him toward the doorway.

“You get out of this room. You don’t have any business in here. This room stays closed.”

He shuffled down the hallway toward the room where his mother was working. Louisa stood with crossed arms, watching him go. He turned and looked at her just before he stepped through the doorway.

*******

There was a time, Zeb thought, when he knew what he wanted and how to get it. Had it really been so long ago, or did it just seem that way? And since when had the days gotten so heavy and long and useless?

Last night he’d dreamed about his mother. She was out in the hillside field behind the old house back in Georgia, and she was trying to plow the red clay with some kind of contraption made of boards nailed together. He kept trying to tell her to give it up, but it was as if he wasn’t talking. He couldn’t even hear himself.

That was the strange part of the dream, he’d decided, maybe the part that caused him to wake with sweat drenching his pillowcase: he could hear every sound except his own voice. He could hear the rooks croaking in the pines at the crest of the hill; he could hear Shep yapping at a squirrel in the woods below the house. He could hear the grunts his mother made as she tried to force the pitiful and rude wooden thing through the soil. But when he tried to talk to her, there was nothing. And somehow, in the dream, he knew there was no point in going to her either. He wasn’t really there. Not in any way that could do anybody any good. plowing

He’d started to just tear up the telegram from Ab, just tear it up and throw the pieces away and pretend he’d never gotten it. But Becky would’ve known, somehow—seen it in his face, maybe. He’d had to tell her.

And it was as bad as he feared—maybe even worse. For a long time, she said nothing, but he could see it working up inside her, twisting her in knots. And when it came out, oh, it was bitter.

She railed at him, called him names he never knew she’d heard. She’d never see her mother and father again, never be able to look them in the face, and that was only if the public shame didn’t kill them outright, she said. By now everybody in Little Rock thought she was a flat–out whore who’d stolen another woman’s husband and did he think for one minute she’d have given him such encouragement as she had if she’d known the truth about him? And now here she was, stuck in some pitiful little boarding house room in Texas with an illegitimate child in her womb and a man who’d lied to her every step of the way and her name on a marriage license that meant pretty close to nothing and the worst of it was she had no place else to go. And then she crumpled onto the floor at the foot of the bed and sobbed.

He was afraid to get close to her, much less touch her. So, he sat on the little stool in front of the scarred maple dressing table and listened to her cry and tried to think of some way things could get any worse. The stool was short, and his knees stuck out. As he tried to look anywhere but at Becky, his eye swept across the table’s vanity mirror, and he had the absurd urge to laugh; he looked like a grasshopper, ready to jump.

His mind slewed around like a hog on ice. He was probably supposed to say something, but right then “I’m sorry” seemed about like spitting on a house fire. Maybe he ought to hang himself or go to Little Rock and let Pete Norwich give him that horsewhipping Becky had talked about. Something extravagant, something to even things up.

That was three days ago, and she’d barely said a dozen words to him since. Each morning, he’d half expected to wake up and find her gone. But she’d been there in the bed beside him. Using her back like a fence, but there, all the same. She wouldn’t go out of the boardinghouse, would barely go downstairs to meals.

Well, there had to be some sort of prospect going, even in a catch–as–catch–can place like Texarkana, he decided. He’d gotten up this morning and dressed and shaved like a man with places to go. Becky lay in the bed and stared at him like she thought he was crazy, but he went right on. Went down and ate a good breakfast and came back upstairs with some dry toast and weak tea. He set the food on the bedside table, kissed Becky on the top of the head, put on his hat, and left.

It was a little on the warm side this afternoon. He’d have liked to loosen his tie and unbutton his collar, but it was more important to make the right impression. barbers

This morning he’d had a pretty good conversation with a cotton buyer who was thinking about hiring an agent. Zeb didn’t much like the idea of working for somebody else, but the money he’d brought from Little Rock wasn’t going to last forever.

He stood on the street corner and tipped back his panama to mop his forehead. About halfway down the block to his right sat the columned façade of a bank, and right across the street from the bank was a barbershop. Zeb headed for the barbershop.

There was always some kind of prospect going. You just had to know where to look.

*******

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 34

April 19, 2019

A basketball bounced against George’s shins as he walked across the south end of the gymnasium. He picked it up and tossed it back to the boy who had been chasing it.

“Sorry, Mr. Hutto.” basketball

“That’s all right, Tim.” George watched as little Tim Dobbins dribbled back across the crowded floor, dodging through the calisthenics class toward the game in progress under the single goal on the north wall. Ever since that team from the Buffalo YMCA had played an exhibition game here just before Christmas, the boys had been wild about the new game from up north. They’d nearly warted him to death until he got the goal installed and some balls bought. He needed to find some volunteers to start a league, he guessed.

A Bible class was in session in the meeting room. George stepped inside quickly and closed the door against the noise of the gym. A few of the boys looked up at him as he stepped quietly along the back of the room toward the office. He slipped out his watch. Rev. Stiller was running over time, as usual. Some of the younger boys in the back were swinging their legs and staring at the ceiling. George wondered if he ought to give that young Baptist preacher a try for the next class. He’d heard the man held the view that a sermon should be strictly limited to an hour’s length. Maybe he’d know how to liven things up a little for the boys.

George stepped into the office and sat behind the desk. The last stack of receipts still sat where he’d left it yesterday at lunchtime. He sighed. He needed to work down here full time, it seemed, to keep up with all the paperwork. But it wouldn’t do the club any good for him to let his business die for lack of attention, either.

He heard the noise of the Bible class breaking up. He needed to say something to Rev. Stiller, but he had to get these receipts signed and posted to the donors. His door opened. He looked up, and there stood Ned Overby with a rough–looking character that could only be his father.

“You Mister Hutto?” the man said.

George stood and held out his hand. “Yes, I’m George Hutto.”

The man wiped his hand on his pants leg and shook George’s hand. “Overby. Perlie Overby. Ned here says you know each other.”

“Ah, yes. Hello there, Ned. I was pretty lost one day out close to your place, and Ned got me back on the right track.”

“Well, he knows the country pretty good, I reckon. Anyhow, Ned told me about this here club. Says there’s book reading, and such.”

“Yes, we’ve got several classes of various kinds.” The pungent smell of Ned and his father—a mixture of bacon grease, tobacco, and body odor—was rapidly filling the small office. George stepped from behind the desk and held open the door. “Can I show you around?”

“That’d be fine, I reckon,” Perlie said. “All right with you, boy?”

Ned shrugged and nodded.

George walked across the meeting room. “The Saturday boys’ Bible class just left. Maybe you saw them as you came in.” He opened the door to the gymnasium. “And out here we’ve got all kinds of exercise classes: calisthenics, weights, boxing—”

“Yeah, a boy needs to know how to take care of hisself, that’s for sure.”

“And Mr. Allen from the Carnegie Library comes over once a week to teach literature and loan books to the boys.”

“Ned can read pretty good, can’t you, boy? Now, uh, Mr. Hutto, I just wanna make sure of somethin’. We ain’t got much in the way a money—”

“Oh, no, Mr. Overby. Some of the boys pay dues, but the YMCA doesn’t exclude any boy on the basis of payment.”

“Ned said it didn’t cost nobody nothin’.” Perlie’s eyes flickered darkly toward his son. “Didn’t you say so, boy? Now, we ain’t interested in no charity.”

Ned looked back and forth from his father to George. shabby

“Of course not,” George said, trying to think of something. “We’ve … we’ve got lots of jobs that need to be done around here, and I’d expect Ned to help out with his share, just like the others.”

Perlie scratched his beard. It made a coarse, grating sound. “Well, then, in that case … I think he’s pretty set on it, if you’ll have him.”

Ned was looking up at George. It was the first time George had ever been able to tell the boy really wanted something.

“I’d be especially happy for Ned to be here, if he wants to be.”

Perlie looked at his son for a long time. “I guess that settles it, then. When can he come?”

“Why, he can stay here today, if you like. I can even bring him home.”

“No, now, I’d hate to put you out like that. His two good legs got him here; they can take him home.”

“No trouble at all. I’ve got another boy that lives out past Orchard Knob, and I can drop Ned off along the way.”

“All right, then. Ned, boy, you pay attention to what Mr. Hutto says, you hear? You mind.”

Ned nodded. George could see, even through the grime, the flush of excitement in the boy’s cheeks.

He walked to the door with Ned and his father and waved Perlie on his way. When he closed the door and turned around, several of the boys were looking at Ned. They stared until they noticed George watching them, then they quickly went back to what they were doing.

*******

Dan Sutherland looked at the telegram and shook his head. He looked at it again and rubbed his temples. There it was, plain as Western Union could make it. He ought to be pleased, or at least satisfied for his client. He’d hired out to protect Addie Douglas’s interests, after all.

But he wasn’t pleased and he wasn’t satisfied. He was put out, was what he was, put out with the whole sorry world. This Douglas boy had seemed like a decent enough fellow. And Addie was dead–set enough on him to go up against her bullheaded Methodist of a father. Even without her father’s approval, two young people could have made a worse start. And now this.

What went wrong? Something always did, seemed like. Churchgoing people or not, moneyed or not, town folks or country, people just had a hard time not treating each other poorly if you gave them enough time and chances. And you never knew, that was the thing. What started fair ended up foul; what started with love and promises ended up in spite and lies. People fooled you. Fooled themselves, most likely. He’d seen it often enough, he ought to be used to it by now. But he wasn’t.

Dan folded the telegram and tucked it into his breastpocket. He went to the chair in the corner and got his hat. “Louis, I’ll be out for awhile,” he said as he passed the clerk’s desk. “Ring up the livery and tell ‘em to get my sulky hitched up.” He paused in the doorway. “Oh, and draw up a check for three hundred dollars, payable to Albert Purvis of Little Rock, Arkansas. In the memorandum, put ‘final payment.’ I’ll sign it when I get back.”

*******

Addie stared at the words on the yellow Western Union sheet. She thought she’d been prepared for this; for weeks now she’d imagined herself sitting at this table or at Mr. Sutherland’s desk, hearing news like this. She’d imagined herself crying or shouting or angry. But she’d never imagined what she felt now, with the proof in front of her. It was as if she sat at one end of a huge, long room, and Mr. Sutherland was at the other. She stared at the words until they blurred, but all she felt was a cold, hard void. telegram

 

LITTLE ROCK JANUARY 17 1904

DAN SUTHERLAND, ATTORNEY

CONFIRM SUBJ Z DOUGLAS CONSORTING WITH

WOMAN HERE STOP CAN PROVIDE TIMES AND

PLACES IF NEEDED STOP REASON TO BELIEVE SHE

IS WITH CHILD STOP

SEND USUAL AMT STOP PURVIS

 

“Addie.”

She blinked and looked up at him.

“Addie, I’m sure sorry to be having to bring this to you. But you had to know. For sure.”

“Yes, sir, I— With child?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“Who is this Purvis person?”

“That doesn’t matter, Addie. He’s just a man who finds out things for me sometimes.”

She nodded. She swallowed, then brushed back a stray lock of hair. She looked around. “Jake … where’s … I’d better—”

“Addie, now listen to me. We’re going to have to sue him on the grounds of adultery. He’ll be found at fault. And the way the laws read—here in Tennessee, anyway—he won’t be allowed to marry this woman as long as you’re alive. I don’t know for sure what they’d do about it in Arkansas.” pregnant

“Not marry?”

“That’s right.”

Addie thought about that for a minute, and then she was thinking about this other woman who was—who might be—carrying Zeb’s child. Once he was divorced, he was banned from marrying her? She hadn’t known that. But then, she hadn’t spent much time thinking about the legalities of divorce. Not until Zeb informed her of his intentions, anyway.

Then she started to be surprised at herself for being able to form such sensible thoughts at all. Why, she might be a judge herself! What if Zeb had to come before her bench, plead his case in her court? What would he say? Would he apologize? Beg for clemency? Or would he list her sins against him, the ways she had driven him to this other woman’s arms? No one thought of himself as truly wicked, did he? Surely Zeb had reasons that seemed fair in his own mind. What case would he present?

She realized Dan was saying something. He was looking at her strangely. “Addie, I need your approval to go ahead with this.”

“My approval?”

“Yes. You have to have what the law calls ‘a nearest friend.’ A man to act on your behalf.”

“Oh, of course.”

“Might as well be me, I figure.”

“Yes.”

“All right, then.” Mr. Sutherland got up from the table. “I’ll be on my way. Need to get the papers drawn up.” He turned his hat in his hands and gave her a studying look. “Addie, I’m real sorry about this. I’d sure never wish any of this on anybody.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.”

“You want me to send for Junior? Or your sister?”

“Oh, well … yes, I guess that’d be nice.”

He gave her one more long look. He put on his hat. He leaned over and took back the telegram. “I’ll need this for evidence. You sure you’re all right?”

“I’m— Yes.”

He touched his hat brim. “Good day, then, Addie. I’ll be in contact with you soon.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sutherland.”

“Now, I told you—”

“Oh, yes—Dan. Thank you, Dan.”

“That’s better.”

*******

Zeb walked into the agency and saw the man at Abner’s desk. Abner looked up. “Well, speak of the devil. Zeb, somebody here to see you.”

The man swiveled around. He held a light brown derby in one hand and a thick–looking envelope in the other. “You Zeb Douglas?” he asked. seal

“Yes. I don’t believe I caught your name?”

Zeb stuck out his hand, and the man slapped the envelope into it.

“Legal papers, Mr. Douglas.” He stood, put on his derby, and quickly walked out the door.

Abner stared after him for a few seconds, then looked at Zeb.

“What in thunder was that all about?”

Zeb looked at the envelope. There was no writing of any kind on the outside. He thumbed open his pocketknife and slid the blade under the flap. The first thing he saw on the sheaf of papers as he unfolded it was the seal of the State of Tennessee. The next thing he saw was the large, ornate printing across the top: “Bill of Divorce.”

“Zeb? You all right?”

“Oh, I … yeah, Ab, I’m fine. I just …”

He wandered back toward his desk, his hat still on his head, his coat still buttoned. He sat down. His eyes swept back and forth across the close printing. There were blank lines in the document, and someone had penned, in a very neat hand, the words “D. L. Sutherland as nearest friend of the plaintiff, Adelaide Caswell Douglas.” The same careful scribe had written Zeb’s name in the blank reserved for “defendant.” Zebediah Acton Douglas. He hadn’t seen his full name written out like that since the announcement of their engagement was printed in the Chattanooga paper.

“… sues on the aforenamed plaintiff’s behalf for the cause of adulteries committed by the aforenamed defendant …”

Zeb had a sudden image of the man with the old black derby. What had he seen? Zeb clenched his jaw, trying to think what kind of scum would take money to spy on another man’s private business. What had been relayed to Chattanooga to be pawed over by some lawyer? Zeb wanted to punch the derby man in the face. He wanted to make somebody pay, right now. This wasn’t supposed to be the way it happened.

What in the world was he going to tell Becky? derby

He had to get out; he needed to think. He shoved the papers in the bottom drawer of his desk, all the way to the back. He pushed himself away from the desk and strode toward the door. He was vaguely aware of Abner’s upturned, surprised face, and then he was outside.

He walked quickly, his arms swinging. He didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t care. A horse pulling a dray down Cumberland Avenue shied and splashed water on him, and he barely noticed. He walked until he came to the railroad tracks fronting the river bluff, and he turned west. The wind hit him in the face and made his eyes water.

He came to the crossing of Water Street and North Ringo Avenue. He could see the trestles of the railroad bridge across the Arkansas River. His breath was coming harder now, and he was walking slower. He needed to stop somewhere. There was a small, mean–looking saloon on the northwest corner. The faded sign over the door named it “The Golden Horseshoe.” He’d never been in a saloon in his life, but now seemed like a good enough time to start.

The first thing he noticed inside was the quiet, and that surprised him; he’d always imagined saloons as noisy. When his eyes had adjusted to the semidarkness, he saw an empty stool next to the plank bar. He straddled it and propped his hat on one knee.

“What’ll you have?”

What does a man order in a saloon, anyway? “Beer,” Zeb said.

The barkeep turned around and did something, then swung back and clumped a heavy glass mug onto the bar in front of him. Some of the beer slopped out and ran down the side of the mug. Zeb looked at the drink. It didn’t look the way he’d generally heard beer described; it had a meager layer of suds on top, like dirty dishwater. He picked up the mug and took a tiny sip. The taste was bitter; he wrinkled his face but swallowed it anyway.

The barkeep was staring at him. “That’ll be a nickel.”

Zeb fished a five–cent piece out of his pocket and flipped it on the bar. It vanished under the barkeep’s grubby fist.

Well I’ve paid for it; might as well drink it. He picked up the mug and took a half dozen large swallows, trying not to taste, just get it down. He set down the mug and took a couple of deep breaths, then turned it up again until he’d drained it. saloon

A thought flew through Zeb’s head, a memory of his father. Daddy would’ve never set foot in a place like this. But then, Daddy wouldn’t have gotten himself in such a mess, either. Zeb waggled the mug at the barkeep and dug out another nickel.

What was he supposed to do? Zeb guessed he’d need to talk to a lawyer. But did it matter? Once the divorce was done, he’d be shut of Addie, and good riddance. This whole thing was his idea to begin with, wasn’t it? He was getting what he wanted, in a manner of speaking. He might just let her have her day, if that was what she wanted. Not even give her the satisfaction of darkening the courthouse door.

But … were there penalties for not showing up? What could they do to him if he didn’t defend himself? Yes, he needed a lawyer.

One that didn’t know Pete Norwich, preferably.

He was starting to feel a slight teetering sensation, somewhere in the center of his skull. It wasn’t unpleasant, to tell the truth. He was sitting in a saloon drinking a beer and holding his problems out at arm’s length, where he could see them. That’s all it was—a problem. He’d solved problems before. He took two large gulps of beer and slapped another nickel on the bar.

*******

Abner glanced up from his paperwork and saw her just as she stepped onto the boardwalk in front of the agency doorway. He had a quick thought of hiding but realized she was already too close; he’d never make it. He bent to his work and waited for her to come in, feeling a little bit like a condemned man listening for the step of his final escort. The door jangled. He met her with the best smile he could gather up.

“Afternoon, Miss Norwich.”

“Good afternoon, Abner. Where’s Mr. Douglas?”

“Well, now, I don’t know, just exactly. He left outta here about an hour and a half ago, I guess, but he didn’t say where he was going.”

That didn’t set well, it was easy to see. She had a light blue parasol in her right hand, and she was staring real hard at Zeb’s desk and tapping that parasol across the heel of her left palm. Abner didn’t think he wanted to know what she might do with that parasol if she had Zeb here right about now.

“Didn’t say where he was going?”

“No, Miss, he sure didn’t.” She’d dropped all notions of smiling by now. Abner devoutly wished he was somewhere else.

“There’s his valise, on the floor beside his desk. He didn’t take it with him?”

“No, Miss Norwich, I guess he didn’t.” valise

“So he wasn’t going out on business. Did he take anything with him?”

“No, not a thing. Except his hat and coat. And he—” Abner had a sudden desire to bite his own tongue.

“And he what?” The question came out quick, like a hen pecking at a june bug. She was looking at him now, and it wasn’t a friendly look.

“Aw, nothing, really, Miss Norwich.”

‘‘And. He. What?”

“And … he’d just come in a minute or two before he left, so he never even took them off. His hat and coat, I mean.”

She got a white, pinched–looking place around her lips. “Abner, did Mr. Douglas do or say anything else before he left?”

Keeping his eyes on the parasol, Abner said, “Yes, I guess—I guess there was one other thing. He … he looked at some papers right before he left.”

“Papers?”

*******

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 29

March 8, 2019

Addie passed the next few days in a buzzing fog of murmured condolences; she passed unseeing and unhearing through the tatters of muted conversations. Most of the time she felt as if she had blundered onto the stage of a play for which she neither knew the lines nor had the script.

She was dimly aware of Louisa, of her concern and care. And of course Beulah Counts fluttered around the edges of her consciousness in a perpetual tizzy of Christian concern. There were many hours when Addie had the sensation of watching herself pretending to be alive.

The children, though, were a different matter. They forced her awareness, demanded her involvement. Some mornings, the crying of little Jake or the nagging and whining of Mary Alice were the only things that could drag her from her bed. infant

A week or so after the arrival of Zeb’s letter, Junior and Dub pulled up in front of the rented house with a wagon and two muscular men. Junior knocked on the door, and when she opened it, he said, “Addie, we’ve come to take you home.”

She fell into his arms and sobbed on his chest. She could speak no words; she could utter only huge, heaving cries of grief and devastation.

Arrangements began to happen all around her: rail tickets bought, the household goods loaded into the wagons and transported to the freight yard for shipping to Chattanooga, Junior and Dub and Louisa loading her and the children into a hired car and driving them to the station.

They moved her, Mary Alice, and Jake into temporary lodgings at Louisa and Dub’s house. When they had been there for perhaps two days, Dan Sutherland came to see her, at Junior’s request.

The graying attorney sat across the kitchen table from her. Louisa sat beside her and Junior stood behind, a hand on Addie’s shoulder.

‘‘Addie, I know this is awful hard for you,” Dan said, “but you’ve got to pull yourself together and think about the legalities of this situation. Your children are depending on you.”

At Dan’s mention of the children, something happened inside her. It was as if she suddenly remembered to start breathing again.

“No one—not even their daddy—can love those babies as much as I do,” she said, staring into Dan Sutherland’s faded blue eyes. ‘‘I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure they stay with me.”

“I’m glad to hear you say so.”

“Dan, he don’t have a leg to stand on, does he?” Junior said.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what the grounds’ll be. At this point,” he said, looking carefully at Addie, “I don’t even know who’ll sue for the divorce.”

“His letter said Addie should sue him,” Lou said. “Why shouldn’t she do just that? I mean, after all, he just dropped this on her out of the clear, blue sky! Why shouldn’t she sue?”

Dan rubbed his chin. “Well, in the state of Tennessee, it’s pretty hard for a woman who ups and wants out of a marriage to take her children with her.”

“But she doesn’t want out!” Lou said. “Can’t you see that?”

“Of course I see that,” Dan said, “but I’m trying to tell you how the courts’ll see it. They’ll see a man whose wife has sued him for divorce, and if he chose, he could present the case that she was the one who took the first action to end the marriage. That being the case, if he was to decide he wanted to keep the children, I know a lot of judges that would let him do it. Unless of course—”

“What are you thinking?” Junior asked. judge

“Addie, you say this came from nowhere?” Dan said. “You had no warning whatsoever? None?”

Addie pushed herself up from the table and walked away a few paces, hugging herself. She turned back toward them but kept her eyes on the floor. “Things hadn’t been … real good between me and Zeb for awhile.”

“How long?”

“Well … really since about … nine months ago.”

Images flashed through Addie’s mind: Zeb home from Little Rock; the presents he had brought for her and Mary Alice; the fondness they had somehow found for each other during that brief interlude; their passionate embraces in bed … Then, subsequent scenes: Zeb asking her to move to Little Rock; her angry refusals; his silent, brooding hurt …

She forced her eyes to meet Dan’s.

‘‘I’d say it was about then that things began to get worse.”

Dan peered at her a few moments, chewing on a thumbnail.

“Y’all reckon Addie and I could have a minute or two in private?”

When Louisa and Junior had withdrawn to the parlor down the hall, Dan faced her.

‘‘Addie, this is an awful thing to have to ask, but I’ve got to know: did you ever think Zeb might be seeing another woman?”

Addie felt the floor tilt beneath her, then right itself. Another woman! In all the dark confusion and blunt loneliness she had felt, despite her growing dissatisfaction with their marriage, Addie had never suspected Zeb of betraying his wedding vows. Zeb, who had placed such stock in knowing what the Bible said about everything, who had been so insistent that agreement on religious matters precede their marriage—how could it be that Zeb could do something so overt as violating the Seventh Commandment?

“I … I don’t know, Mr. Sutherland. I mean … I never would have thought it of him, but—”

“Let me tell you what I think, Addie. I think the best thing you can do right now, at least until we know a little more, is to refuse to sue for divorce.”

She looked a question at him.

“I think you need to wait and let him sue you. I think you’ll stand a better chance of keeping the children.” mother

“I don’t understand.”

“Addie, for whatever reason, Zeb doesn’t want to be married to you anymore. My feeling is that there’s another woman involved but leave that aside for now. If he wants out bad enough and you won’t sue him, he’ll have to sue you. And to do that, he’s got to give grounds. This day and time, there’s only a few reasons for divorce recognized by the courts of Tennessee: desertion, cruelty—which most men don’t use—deprivation of conjugal rights, and adultery.” Dan paused. ‘‘I’m making the assumption that none of these would apply to you.”

“Certainly not!”

“All right, then. That’s about it. If he sues you, he’s got to prove that one of these fits. And if he can’t prove it, he won’t be granted a divorce. If, on the other hand, my guess about him is correct—”

“But, Mr. Sutherland, how would you ever find out? And if you did, how could you prove in court that—”

“Leave the lawyering to me. And my name’s ‘Dan’ from here on. ‘Mr. Sutherland’ was my dad, and he died three years ago.” He smiled at her and got a faint smile in return. “Now, like I was saying, if my guess is correct, you’ll be granted a divorce, and no court in Tennessee would take your children away from you if he’s involved with someone else.”

“Then … I have no choice but to go through with this?”

He looked at her and sighed.

“No, ma’am, I’m afraid not. Unless, of course, your husband comes to his senses.”

She turned away and looked out the window, once again cradling her elbows in her hands.

“I don’t hold much hope for that, I’m afraid.”

She stared out a window into Louisa’s backyard. Louisa had taken Mary Alice outside, and for a moment Addie watched her daughter bobbing joyously back and forth between her aunt and the pile of toys she had heaped in one of the wrought–iron yard chairs—blissfully ignorant of the shambles her mother’s life had become. child

Addie thought of what her marriage had turned into and realized all she could feel was fatigue. She turned again to Dan Sutherland.

“I’ll do whatever you say, Mr.— I mean, Dan. I’ve spent more time with these babies than he has, by a long shot. They know me—they don’t know him. I mean to do whatever I have to do to keep them.”

“All right.” Dan settled his hat on his head. ‘‘I’ll get to work.”

As Dan walked toward the front door, Junior called him aside into the parlor.

“Dan, Addie’s been left with little or nothing except what we brought back from Nashville. She may not can pay you much for the work you’re doing, but you know I’m good for it, don’t you?”

Dan gave Addie’s oldest brother a direct look.

“Junior, I don’t expect you’ll see a bill from me for this.”

“What do you mean, Dan?”

“Way I see it, your little sister’s had a dang poor run of luck with the men in her life. Meaning no disrespect, but the day your daddy came to my office, I shoulda drubbed him on the head before I let him go down the street and write her out of the will. I guess this is something I can do to ease my mind on that score.”

Junior stared at the lawyer for several seconds.

“Dan, I sure appreciate this.”

“Don’t worry. I might let you buy me a train ticket or two along the way.”

*******

And so it was that on a brilliant afternoon in October, Dan Sutherland received at his office a telegram from Little Rock, Arkansas. He had had to take certain actions that he personally found distasteful, but he had steeled himself to it by thinking of Jacob Caswell’s daughter, abandoned first by her father and then by her husband. Sutherland knew a man in Little Rock who had a knack for acquiring information and an associated talent for making few ripples. He tore open the Western Union envelope and withdrew the wire.

 

LITTLE ROCK OCTOBER 10 1903

DAN SUTHERLAND, ATTORNEY

TALKED TO SECY STOP YOURE ON RIGHT TRACK

STOP MORE LATER STOP SEND USUAL AMT STOP

PURVIS

 

Dan leaned back in his chair. Purvis would keep digging until he either hit rock or the hole was plenty deep. He withdrew a bank book from a desk drawer and began penning a draft payable to A. Purvis, “for services rendered.” He guessed it would probably be only the first of several such payments.

*******

George Hutto walked through the rickety, abandoned warehouse, his footsteps echoing from the wide, knotty pine plank floor up into the dark spaces under the roof. The rafters were festooned with the untidy nests of sparrows and speckled, like the floor below, with black–and–white droppings. George stood in the middle of the floor, his hands in his pockets. He turned slowly through a full circle, his eyes roving everywhere through the big, empty structure. It would need a good deal of fixing up. The roof hadn’t been patched in a few years, and the floor planking was buckled and water–stained in several places. They’d have to clean out all the birds’ nests and haul off the three or four bales of moldering cotton hulking in the northwest corner. There’d be a good deal of carpentry too; there were numerous gaps between the wall slats and underneath the eaves, which explained the sparrow and swallow nests. Paint would be needed, and more lighting. They’d have to cut some good–sized windows. They’d have to heat the place, somehow. Then there was all the equipment they would need. And at some point he’d have to begin recruiting volunteers to teach classes and lead calisthenics and … warehouse

In his mind, George stepped away from the immediate tasks and allowed himself to peer past them. He thought about boys chanting in unison as they performed exercise drills, boys eating hot meals, boys huddled around men with open Bibles or literature books. George tried to imagine the building’s appearance, its sounds, once he had succeeded in filling it with his vision. For just a minute or two he let himself savor the fulfillment of the mission. He needed to memorize the shape and taste of his future satisfaction to get ready for the plain old hard work it would take to make it real.

But even in the midst of calculating the difficulties, George’s dream allowed him to feel reckless and capable; this idea of his was a good thing. He was coming to relish the sensation of inner certainty. Besides, other cities had had good success with the Young Men’s Christian Association; why wouldn’t it work in Chattanooga?

*******

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.