Millie sat on the back porch unzipping pods and thumbing
the peas inside into the metal pot she held between her feet. She smiled: The peas made a satisfying thunk
in the bottom of the pot.
“Afternoon, Miss Millie.” Etta Mae stood on her own porch, a wicker
basket of laundry held against her hip. “Hot
enough for you?”
Miss Millie nodded.
“I got some lemonade in the icebox, if you want to set a spell.”
“I don’t got to shell no peas, do I?”
“Naw.” She liked shelling peas;
liked measuring the progress of her afternoon by the speed at which she could
cover the bottom of the pot. She liked
watching the peas climbing up the sides; predicting how full the pot would be
when the empty shells lay in the colander at her side. “I’m freezing them tomorrow. Do you want me to save you a quart?”
Etta Mae smiled.
“That’ll be fine, Miss Millie.”
She envisioned the peas, tucked carefully into the deep freeze. ‘Course she would set some by for tonight’s
dinner. Earle loved peas swimming in
butter and salt; a bit of ham on the side; a couple of biscuits, if it wasn’t
too hot to bake.
“Just look at these shirts, Miss Millie.”
Millie looked up.
“What’d Junior do, roll around in the dirt?”
Etta Mae shook her head; reached into the pocket of
her apron and stood on her tiptoes to peg a clothespin over the shoulder of one
of her husband’s tee shirts. “I swear, Junior's no better than a little boy.”
She sighed and hung up the last shirt.
“I believe I’d like that lemonade now if you don’t mind, Miss Millie.”
“Come on over. You know the way.” She went into
the kitchen and poured two tall glasses of lemonade; pressing one against her
forehead to take away the heat, if only for a moment.
“Here you go, Etta Mae.” Millie set the glasses on the porch and resumed her
shelling. Etta Mae, as Millie had
predicted, absently grabbed a handful of peas and set to work.
“Junior’s driving me crazy, Miss Millie. Been driving me crazy for near forty years
now. Went and got his salary docked on
account of another fishing trip.”
Millie laughed, exposing chipped and broken teeth. “That’s men’s jobs, ain’t it? To drive their wives crazy? Least, that’s where they pick up after the
kids have gone off. Soon’s I got the
last one to college, Earle started acting all child-like.”
Etta Mae nodded.
“When do you get completely used to a man’s presence in your life?”
“Never.” Millie hooted and scratched at a scab upon
her knee. “You spend all your time
cleanin’ up after ‘em; sweeping up after ‘em; running away from ‘em when they’s
“Miss Millie,” Etta Mae whispered. “Did you ever wonder why you got married in the
“Least once a day, Etta Mae.”
Three weeks later to the day, Miss Millie and Etta
Mae both lost their husbands. Earle was
out plowing the fields across the street when he was surprised by a heart
attack. Everyone was astonished: Earle
had always been the model of health.
Junior had waded too deep into the pond to go after the trout he swore
lived smack-dab in the center of the pond.
Junior never was much of a swimmer.
In order to save the Ladies of the First Baptist
Church an extra day of cooking, to save the pastor an extra day of preaching;
to save the choir another day of singing in the heat of the summer, Miss Millie and Etta Mae decided to have a joint funeral.
It was nice, they realized, to have someone else to depend upon in this
time of decision-making, paper signing…in this time of absence.
Eventually, the houses of the mourners emptied: sons
and daughters gathered up the grandchildren and returned home; the Ladies of
the First Baptist Church cycled through each of their twenty-seven members and
quietly ended their visits. Silence settled
all around them.
And despite their constant complaints about their
husbands, each found they missed having another person in the house: a person
to feed; to lecture; to scoot out of the way of the silverware drawer so a set
of dry spoons could be put inside. Who
would Miss Millie shell peas for, now that Earle had been tucked into the ground? Whose collars would Etta Mae scrub, if not Junior’s?
“Etta Mae,” Miss Millie said, taking a sip of her
lemonade, in the middle of August. “I
believe the funeral went quite well, don’t you think?”
“Very well, Miss Millie.” But then, having spoken of their troubles
with their husbands for so many years, Miss Millie and Etta Mae fell into a
Miss Millie scratched at her elbow. “Etta Mae,” she ventured. “What do you say we combine households? We can rent out one house and share the
Etta Mae nodded; looked out over the horizon as if
she could picture it out there somewhere.
“I think that’s a fine idea, Miss Millie. We’ll live in my house, of course. It’s got a bit more room.”
“But my house has been...” Miss Millie searched for the words that
wouldn’t offend. “…updated.”
Etta Mae waved her hand at this comment. “Too modern.
Besides yours will rent easier.
We’ll get more cash.”
Etta Mae had a point.
“Miss Millie, I am tired of eating peas,” Etta Mae
said, that December, as one year closed and another prepared to open. “You put too much salt in them. And the butter? Oh, my Lord, woman, ain’t you never heard a’ cholesterol?”
“Earle liked my peas just fine.”
Etta Mae raised her eyebrows. “Probably sent him to a early grave with them
Miss Millie stood; tossed the bowl of peas at Etta
Mae. “At least I didn’t send my husband
to his eternal rest with ring around the collar!”
Etta Mae glared.
“I did no such thing!”
“You just jealous, that’s all. Me and Junior had something special.”
“I ain’t jealous of your dirty laundry. Woman, you can’t even fold the towels proper. I swear if you was a man, you’d leave the
toilet seat up.”
“Get out of my house,” Etta Mae shouted and pointed.
Millie stormed out of the house and headed next
door. There were lights in the house;
welcoming lights. They were the lights of
the tenant. She headed back. Knocked on Etta Mae’s door.
Etta Mae opened the door. “You all don’t have to knock, Miss Millie,
you live here now.”
“I guess we’ll just have to make the best of this-here arrangement.”
“I miss Junior,” Etta Mae said, dabbing her eyes on
The two looked at each other through tear-filled
eyes and laughed.
“What do you suppose we do now, Miss Millie?”
Miss Millie cleared her throat. “We must live it, now, a day at a time and be
very careful not to hurt each other.”
Etta Mae nodded.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Michael challenged me with "'We must live it, now, a day at a time and be very careful not to hurt each other.' --Ernest Hemingway" and I challenged Kit with "A potter at her wheel; a photographer behind his camera."
Labels: Fiction, Indie Ink Writing Challenge