This post was written as a part of the Indie Ink challenge. I challenged Jason with "the bitterness of coffee and the subtlety of..." Check out his blog here. Stefan (here) challenged me with "the universe isn't evil, it's just indifferent."
This is a continuation of a piece of fiction I'm working on.
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“What’s that boy a’ yours doin’, Daddy Sheriff?”
I look out the windows. Ransom O’Neill tips back in his chair and scratches at his elbow.
“Playing with his dollies, I ‘spect.”
One of the men laughs, tickled with the image. The five of them sit outside on folding lawn chairs, chewing and spitting directly into the vegetable garden that my mother had taken such pains to plant all those years ago.
The first thing she done, when Daddy Sheriff brought her home as his wife, was surround the little parched plot of land with squat garden fencing; decorative more than anything, because, believe you me, a one foot fence ain’t gonna’ keep out the deer and the rabbits. Now all the plants—the peas and the tomatoes; the green beans and the lettuces—are gone. All gone; the short white fence corralling nothing.
“Stop that sniveling, Dumbass and finish washing them dishes.” Lilly Jean whips the dry towel at me. “Lord a-mighty, no wonder your momma left. Lord knows, I never would’ve taken up with Daddy Sheriff had I known ‘bout you.”
“Boy? Bring out the coffee.” Daddy Sheriff looks towards the windows.
I set down the wash towel and pick up the coffee pot. I make the rounds of the men, pouring thick coffee all the way to the top of their mugs without acknowledgement.
“When’s yer boy head back to work, Daddy Sheriff?”
Largely, the men ignore me, believing me touched in the head. They prefer to leave me to the ministrations of the women who are better at that sort of thing.
“Good to be rid of him for awhile, I spect.”
Daddy Sheriff lights a cigarette and takes a deep drag. He meets my eye. “I expect it will.”
“Game’s on, Daddy Sheriff.”
Daddy Sheriff switches on the portable radio next to his chair. Tunes it to the Steelers game, even though half the men there are Browns fans. You don’t tell Daddy Sheriff what to do. Everyone knows that.
There’s a chill in the air. Along the edge of the woods, the goldenrod and queen Anne’s lace draw the last of the insects. I glance up at the sky. It will be a crisp night. A starry night. A telescope night.
“Dumbass, get yerself back in here and finish washing!” Lilly Jean, shouting through the window.
“You got yourself quite a talker in Lilly Jean Jacobs, Daddy Sheriff.” Moe Ellis grins a toothless grin.
Daddy Sheriff nods and spits. “I sure did.”
For eighteen years, we lived together, just the two of us, filling up the trailer with our heavy silences. Living together but never acknowledging the other, until the silences got too thick—so thick that the sound of a knife against a plate rattled my bones and caused Daddy Sheriff to jump and reach for the gun strapped to his side. He always was jumpy like that, after.
“Beats the quiet, I guess?” Moe again, looking at me.
“Sure does.” Daddy Sheriff thought that bringing a new wife home would change everything. But it changed nothing. Just made the place more crowded. Momma was too good for a doublewide. Daddy Sheriff ought to have known that from the minute he met her. She came from a rich family, a proud family. Daddy Sheriff sweet-talked his way into Momma’s heart and before she knew what had happened she was saying her vows in front of a justice of the peace. When they found out what she’d done, her family cut off all ties with her.
When she left us, she left in a hurry; said she couldn’t stand to be living with the likes of us, knowing what we’d done. She slipped away in the dead of night and we’ve never had a word since. I have no idea where she’s gone.
The air has lost the heaviness of August; it comes easier in the lungs. There’s a crispness to the air; nearly a chill. All around, the woods are ablaze in color: vibrant reds, bright yellows, oranges; and my heart was a mixture of gladness and sorrow: gladness for the beauty of the season: for school resuming and the temperatures cooling and Annie Fowler’s apple pie. But, autumn, too brings death: the memories of death, and death renewed. Every fall, before the season even begins, Daddy Sheriff is in those woods, bow and arrow or a rifle in hand, depending upon the legality of the situation—and he hunts. Invariably, he’ll bring home a deer, head lolling to the side, eyes staring at nothing, and cut it up on the front lawn, hacking the meat into pieces; dividing that deer into venison: venison steaks, venison jerky, ground venison, venison roasts. Call it what you will: a dead deer is still just a dead deer.
“Hey, Pansy. Put your dress on and go help Lilly Jean finish up them dishes.” Daddy Sheriff glares at me and so I head back into the doublewide and set down the coffee pot. A couple years back, Daddy Sheriff brought me a dress from Andee’s Thrift Shoppe. Try this on for size, Panty Waist, he said, thrusting it at me. But I just turned aside. Daddy Sheriff may be big with his words, but I’ve got him on size and he knows not to push me too far.
I don’t love Daddy Sheriff any more than I need him. I stay with him because I want him to look at me every day. Every day, I want him to look at me and remember. And I ain’t a pansy. Let’s just be clear on that right now. I had a woman, once. Perhaps I have her still.
I work down at the Medford High School, sweeping the hallways and cleaning up vomit. I can see the disappointment in Bitsy’s eyes every time I pick up the broom and begin pushing it down the long hallway. Her disappointment reminds me of Daddy Sheriff’s, when I told him I didn’t want to play football no more.
Sure, janitoring wasn’t my life’s ambition. Wasn’t what I planned for my life, by any stretch of the imagination. But it earns me a bit of money and a pension besides.
Most of all, the job allows me be close to her.
But she’s graduating this year, and if Bitsy Barns has anything to say about it, she’ll be packing her bags and leaving.
And then, where will I be?
“Trouble, Daddy Sheriff.” Moe lowers his voice.
I squint out the window.
“What’s Ellie Jackson doing coming out here?” Lilly Jean says.
Daddy Sheriff shifts in his seat. Looks away.
“Hey, Daddy Sheriff, you hear about that robbery down to the casino?” Moe again.
“Thieves took off with seven thousand dollars right under the nose of security.”
“The hostess was in on it, I expect,” Daddy Sheriff says.
“Naw, I know the girl,” Darryl Beauvont says. “She ain’t no criminal. Girl ain’t got an evil bone in her body.”
Ellie walks right up to the men.
“Don’t matter, Jessup. When money gets into your head, it just grows and grows until not another thought can grow there ‘cept the thought of more money.”
“You think there’s evil all around us, Daddy Sheriff? You think there’s even evil up there in Howard’s universe?”
“People are evil, Jessup. But the universe ain’t evil, it’s just indifferent, regardless of what my stupid son thinks, if he thinks about anything a-tall.”
“Howard isn’t stupid, Wes,” Ellie shouts and I tense. No one calls Daddy Sheriff Wes. No one except my momma, long gone from this place.
Daddy Sheriff stands so suddenly, his lawn chair flips over. “What’d you say to me girl?”
“I said Howard’s not stupid. Wes. And the universe isn’t indifferent. It’s full of good.”
Daddy Sheriff brings back his hand and punches Ellie Jackson so hard she falls over. He bends down over, hands upon his knees. “Now tell me your universe is full of good, child.” He turns back to the laughing men.
“There was a robbery down to the diner this afternoon,” Ellie says, holding a cupped hand over her nose. No one could reach you. She turns and heads back down the driveway.
“Don’t ever let me hear you call me Wes again, Miss Jackson, or I swear I’ll kill you.”
“You wouldn’t have the guts,” Ellie says over her shoulder.
But she’s wrong. She’s dead wrong.
I wish I could tell her.
Labels: Fiction, IndieInk