Elizabeth Howard lives in Crossville, Tennessee. She writes both fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in Appalachian Heritage, Wind, Big Muddy, Now & Then, Mobius, Motif, Cold Mountain Review, and other journals.
Goldie Fairborn was bent over setting out cabbage in her garden. When she rose, she saw the forsythia in the Rader’s yard. From a distance, it was beautiful, but at close inspection, it was a jungle--forsythia, quince, multiflora rose, blackberry. The quince was blooming, little red flowers (and thorns) almost hidden in the lushness.
Inside the six-foot fence with a wide red metal gate, three boys romped with ten sleek black puppies, boys shouting, puppies yipping. The female Doberman napped on the porch by a bowl nearly full of Pedigree dog chow. The male Doberman, sprawled beside the red Ford truck, yawned and rose on one elbow to scratch his ribcage.
The yard was home to other dogs. A chow hiked his leg and peed on the hubcap of the aquamarine Plymouth van, a boxer slept fitfully near a puddle in the driveway, a mutt ran along the fence barking at a passing tractor.
The Raders had too many dogs, too many kids, too much noise and upheaval. She tried to keep her distance. She’d had noise and upheaval enough; she was looking for peace. But the Raders kept intruding in her life.
She moved down the row, digging holes with Oby’s tobacco peg, setting in cabbage slips, tamping dirt around them. It was time to plant, and she’d not finished cleaning up last year’s garden. She’d felt strange all winter, not sick exactly, but not up to ripping out, digging, sowing.
When she came to Swayze and Marvine, the scarecrows that had stood in the garden for two years, she stopped to rest. She’d put them there a few weeks after her husband Oby died, Swayze dressed in Oby’s overalls and flannel shirt, Marvine in a faded blue-and-white checked dress Goldie had patched several times. She decided to burn the old dress and put a new outfit on her, clothes she’d bought for herself but never worn outside her bedroom.
The shirt was white and ordinary, but the skirt was gypsy-bright, a gauzy thing she’d bought at a flea market. It represented who she’d like to be, not who she was--a plain woman in jeans and shirt or a simple dress. She’d thought she would wear it to church. She pictured herself walking in and sweeping past the wad of women talking about canning and childcare. She put it on a dozen times, but could never leave the bedroom. The women at the Rose of Sharon Independent Baptist Church would burn up the telephone wires calling each other to discuss her skirt. She couldn’t wear it to the grocery or the outlet mall where she sometimes window-shopped. She finally hung it in the back of the closet. When she thought she couldn’t stand her life another minute, couldn’t stand Oby another minute, she’d go into the closet and bury her face in that wonderful skirt.
She pegged another plant into a hole. The dogs set to barking, and she straightened to see what was going on. Her head started spinning, the world revolving. She reached for Marvine’s skirt, a flimsy stabilizer, but as substantial as the only other thing in reach, leftover bean sticks.
Someone coughed. A little girl peeped through the bramble of bushes next door. She had no coat, but wore around her shoulders the faded curtains that had been hanging out the broken window of the Rader’s back bedroom since Christmas.
Goldie had worried about the curtains, about boys sleeping in an icy bedroom. When it came a blizzard, she picked up the phone to call the sheriff, but recalled the red face of Rader, his wild screaming voice, his boot lashing out at the boxer who cowered away and lay heaving in the dirt. She wept for the poor boys when she saw them coax it onto the porch, wrap it in rags, and feed it kernels of Pedigree dog chow, dipped in milk. Would she have made the call if she’d known a little girl was sleeping there?
She’d seen curtains similar to the little girl’s in Fuller’s Department Store. She loved the gauzy fabric, like Marvine’s skirt, the ruffles, the color and design. They were blue, every shade of blue in the world, the way the Caribbean must look after a storm. She’d never seen the Caribbean, but she’d seen pictures in a doctor’s waiting room while Oby was sick. She’d yearned for the curtains, but Oby controlled the purse strings. “You got curtains,” he said.
The little girl’s curtains had faded. Goldie couldn’t tell what the pattern was. The ones in Fuller’s were covered with butterflies, brilliant, iridescent creatures. The child’s curtains were a pale blue, even paler than the tiny butterflies that flutter about creeks and puddles. She used to see them when she went fishing in Laurel Creek. She’d take her supper, sit past sunset, watching the brilliant colors, the same colors in Marvine’s skirt, ripple in the water.
She started going there after Oby’s cancer returned. The treatments made him too sick to eat, and the disappointment of the cancer’s return made him crabbier, bitterer, angry at her, as if she’d willed it. She quit going to the creek after Oby’s death. She hadn’t felt the need for some reason.
The child coughed again. She probably had pneumonia, living in such a house. Where had she come from? She had to be one of the Raders, but why had Goldie never seen her?
She saw the three boys last October when the Raders moved in. She couldn’t remember their names, but thought of them as Snap, Crackle, and Pop because of the noise they made, running about, firing toy guns at each other, at the dogs, at Goldie as she went to the mailbox or worked in the yard or sat on the porch.
Snap was the biggest, the spitting image of the monster who had whiskey for breakfast, roared about the yard spitting fire and curses like a dragon gone amok, slapped kids and kicked dogs indiscriminately.
Crackle was the middle one, small and dark like the woman who came and went, disappearing for days, returning with armloads of Wal-Mart bags. Goldie wondered if she was Rader’s wife, if she was mother of the boys. She was surely Crackle’s mother. Where did she go? What was in the mind of a woman who left children at the mercy of a man like Rader for a whole week?
Pop, the smallest Rader, or so she thought before she saw the girl, was his own person, blond as cornsilk, with eyes like chicory, but Goldie sensed he might have more fire in him than the other two. She wouldn’t be surprised to see his mug on the news someday, wanted as a serial killer or as a terrorist who’d blown up the Capitol while the whole U.S. government was meeting inside.
She’d caught them fishing in the pond without so much as a please or may I. She trod down to the pond, yelling, “Get out of there. That pond don’t have no fish. If you want to fish, try Laurel Creek.”
The pond was not fit for anything but mosquitoes and snakes. Oby had it dug years ago as a water source for a nag he bought for no reason. After it died of the blind staggers, cattails and lilies took over.
The boys thought she was lying about the pond; she could tell by the looks they gave each other. Little smart alecks. What they needed was somebody to teach them manners, to set them straight about neighbors and neighbors’ rights to their own property. She glared at them until they took their cane poles and went home. But that was not the end of it. They kept sneaking back. She’d lost count of the number of times she’d chased them away.
She’d also lost count of the number of times she’d chased the dogs out of her yard. When someone left the Rader’s gate open, the dogs crashed into her yard, tore up her garden, tried to eat her cat Cicatrix alive. Cicatrix had learned to leap into the maple as soon as she caught a whiff of dog. She’d learned the hard way, for on first meeting, the dogs had mauled her so bad Goldie thought she would die. She wrapped her wet, squishy body in old towels, intending to take her to Sparrow, but before she got her into Oby’s truck, Sparrow drove up.
He crawled out of his truck, a 1970 Ford, mostly rust, with a shiny red bumper and a shiny blue door, parts he’d welded on after he’d had a set-to with a bridge railing. He’d obviously been working on his sculptures. He smelled like singed chicken and his face was smudged with soot.
“You seen Sassafras and Spiderwort?” he asked.
Those danged hens, Goldie thought. “If they’ve been in my garden again,” she said, “I’ll pluck their pretty feathers and roast them for dinner.”
She surveyed the half-finished row of cabbages, the patches of weeds, Marvine and Swayze and the clump of bean sticks. Something chirped in the weeds where she’d grown tomatoes last year. Those dumb hens, scratching and clucking as if they owned the place. She grabbed the hoe and started toward them.
“Now, hold it, Miss Goldie.” Sparrow chased the hens back and forth, trampling dead vines, knocking down bean sticks, leaving huge boot tracks in the earth she’d already tilled. He finally caught them, tied their legs, and stuffed them in the truck. “I’ll take ‘em home. Take measures to keep ‘em there. My word o’ honor.” The hens squawked and flopped, dust and feathers swirling about.
As he rattled away, Goldie heard the hens still squawking. He was gone and she’d forgot to mention Cicatrix.
She unwrapped her from the towsacks and towels. She mewed weakly and crawled under the porch. Goldie put out a saucer of milk, called and called, but Cicatrix did not come out all day.
That evening Goldie sat on the porch with a cup of coffee. She wondered what to do about Cicatrix. She couldn’t ask the Raders to help. Should she go ask Sparrow to come? Or could she depend on his help any longer?
She heard a scrabbling sound. Cicatrix crept out, listing sideways, crawled up on the porch, and lay down at Goldie’s feet. Goldie poured half her cold coffee in Cicatrix’s bowl. Cicatrix rose and lapped it up, her squishy body heaving with each swallow.
Goldie shook herself. The little girl was still standing there in her curtains. Boys and dogs and hens worried her to death. Now here was a little girl for her to worry over. Had she lived there since October, and Goldie not known she existed? Or had the Rader woman brought her here recently?
She studied the child. She was a delicate fairy-like creature, probably five years old. Her hair was like fresh cornsilk, eyes shaped like almonds, but green as a clover. Chin and teeth were pointed, nose too big for her thin face, upper lip scarred as though she’d once had a harelip.
Cicatrix had a scar, too. At least, Goldie thought of it as a scar, though it was just a trick in coloring. Cicatrix was black, but her nose was tan. From a distance, it looked like a scar. Oby had found the scraggly kitten in the ditch as he drove the tractor to Sparrow’s. He called her Scarface, but Goldie had renamed her after he died.
The girl waved the curtain ruffles at Goldie. She’s shy and frightened, Goldie thought. “What’s your name?” she whispered.
“Trella,” Goldie thought she said. Or did she say “trellis”? Trella might be a form of trellis like those Latin nouns Goldie once knew, words used in magic incantations.
The big dark-bearded brute next door roared. Goldie grasped Marvine’s skirt, trembling; Trella disappeared in the thorny bushes.
Silence fell over the boys as if a curtain had lowered on a stage play. The grown dogs cowed down, but the puppies kept on yipping.
Goldie stood spellbound, Oby’s tobacco peg clutched in her hand. She was fairly undone. She’d drunk too much of that tonic she’d bought at the health food store. Or perhaps, she needed another dose. She ought to go see Dr. Torelli, but she couldn’t afford him and his prescriptions. If the tonic fixed her up, she could save a lot of money.
Look at all doctors had put Oby through, dangling health in front of him like a carrot he could munch on forever. Eventually, he was following mere weeks and then days down a knotty road, but they kept frying his body, poisoning it with chemicals, building it up to start over again. No telling how long he might have held on to a life worse than death if he hadn’t died suddenly of pneumonia.
A wren flew out of the bib of Swayze’s overalls. A bird’s nest! Well, that was more than Oby’d had in those overalls.
Oby had been past help when she married him twenty years ago. Already sixty and verging on senility. She knew now that she’d married him out of despair. Her forty-two years old and dreaming of a faceless man who came and covered her while she was sleeping. She thought she needed someone to sit on the porch with her, to share a pot of coffee, to help her till the garden. But Oby had been more aggravation than company. He’d moved his junk into the house she’d inherited from her parents and sat down with his hand out, taking but never giving.
She was free of Oby and his foul temper, had been for two years, the best years of her life. Until the Raders moved in next door.
That poor little girl! Goldie needed to talk to somebody about her. The only person she could think of was Sparrow, but he’d gone home because she raised a ruckus over his hens. What did he mean when he said he’d “take measures” to keep them at home?
He lived a half-mile down Turkey Pen Road, her closest neighbor except for the Raders. She had liked him once. They’d talked about things she could never talk to Oby about. She used to think she’d feel just fine in her gauze skirt if she’d married Sparrow. After all, Sparrow was more her age than Oby. She’d give him another chance to be her friend. She’d call on him and see what he thought about the little girl.
Until recently, she’d been able to walk miles without breaking a sweat, but since last fall, she’d felt shaky, light-headed. She’d have to take the truck. She backed Oby’s Chevrolet truck out of the shed and drove slowly down the road, yanking at gears as if she’d never driven before. She hated the truck. It was cranky as an old sway-backed mule, and made horrible screechy, clanking noises. Something was wrong with the transmission or the engine or the crankshaft or some part she didn’t even know the name of. The right-hand door wouldn’t open. And she couldn’t lower the visor to keep the sun out of her eyes. She was as blind as a bat.
She pulled into Sparrow’s driveway, crossed the wooden bridge over Laurel Creek, and parked by the shed where he used to shoe mules, repair farm tools, work on machinery. He’d changed as times changed, learning each new thing as it came along.
All at once, for no reason anyone could see, Sparrow had quit. “Retired,” he called it. Nobody in the Laurel Creek neighborhood had ever retired before. They just kept doing the same things they’d always done until they died.
Sparrow lived in a small frame house in a jungle of trees and bushes. His yard was a museum of exotics: strange animals, Martian castles, Picasso-like females. He had constructed each piece from odds and ends: old tools, household items, metal scraps, and driftwood he’d found along Laurel Creek.
Goldie passed creature after creature, stopping to look at the new ones. Sparrow’s latest statues surpassed “strange.” She could scarcely tell eye from breast, heart from uterus. There was the trowel she’d searched for. It was the uplifted hand of a Statue-of-Liberty with grapevine wound around her head. Her scrambled organs were made of copper spools and wiring. They glowed a livid sick color in the sunlight.
If Goldie looked about, she might find other things that had disappeared: pliers, wrenches, garden shears. Did Sparrow steal from other people, too? Such as the Raders, whose yard was cluttered with junk?
A great tangle of metal lay beside the old well casing. Pitchfork tines, hubcaps, discs of various sizes, unrecognizable fragments.
Sparrow was in the yard working. Welding pieces of metal. He looked sinister in his helmet, a black knight, eyes hidden. The blowtorch sizzled, spitting a tongue of fire, heat radiating.
When he saw Goldie, he shut off the blowtorch and raised his visor. “Weren’t my hens this time. They’re over yonder.” He pointed to two coops.
The hen’s right legs were tied to the coops with frayed shoestrings. Flimsy shackles, Goldie thought. “They don’t have any water,” she said.
“I’m teaching them a lesson. No food or water till they learn to stay at home.”
Goldie swallowed. And she had come to this man for help?
“I have new neighbors,” she said, “the Raders. A passel of dogs and children. A brute that screams at them.”
Sparrow nodded. “Seen ‘em and heard ‘em. Ain’t much you can do. Ain’t no law against having more dogs and younguns than you can feed.”
“There’s a girl, wearing curtains.”
“Don’t surprise me.”
Goldie couldn’t think of anything else to say.
The hens lay in the dust, mouths gaped open. She pointed. “Let me give them some water.”
“Not a drop till they learn.”
“They’ll be dead by then.”
Sparrow shrugged his shoulders. “Their choice.”
He lowered his visor, and the blowtorch sizzled.
“Well, I never.” Goldie retraced her steps past the sculptures, got in Oby’s truck, and drove home.
The next morning, she returned to her garden. The cabbage slips she hadn’t set out yet looked wilted. She’d have to tote water from the pond and douse them after she got them in the ground.
She worked as fast as she could, bending and rising, growing dizzier and dizzier. She was going to faint dead away, and somebody (she couldn’t imagine who’d care enough to look) would find her wilted body among the wilted cabbages.
The wren flew out of Swayze’s overalls, and Cicatrix leapt out of the bean vines at the same instant. “Scat!” Goldie shouted, slapping at the cat with a cabbage slip.
Cicatrix tiptoed away, in one of her moods, whipping her tail back and forth. As she neared the road, the dogs—Doberman, chow, boxer--raced out of Rader’s gate, barking wildly. The gate was supposed to protect neighbors from the dogs, but the boys often forgot to latch it. Sometimes, Rader forgot when he came home drunk. Twice, he’d smashed his truck into it.
The dogs rushed into Goldie’s garden. Cicatrix bounded to the maple, scrabbled up and watched the dogs wind about the tree, yelping furiously.
Goldie flailed the dogs with the hoe. She struck the Doberman in the ribs. He yelped and cowered back. The other dogs sidled away, tails dragging.
She called Cicatrix, but she would not budge. Goldie was too shaky to stand there calling. She went into the house, sank into her chair, and leaned back. Her chest pounded, her limbs quivered.
She fainted or dozed off, she couldn’t say which. She might have been in a trance. She heard the dogs, growling and barking. She imagined Cicatrix’s limp body, wet with dog drool, crumpled in shriveled bean vines. But she couldn’t move. She was frozen to her chair, just as Cicatrix had been frozen to the tree limb.
When she came to herself, she got up gingerly, and made her way to the kitchen, holding onto furniture, doorway, wall. She poured leftover coffee into a saucepan, heated it on the stove, and gulped it down.
She was afraid to look in the yard. Cicatrix had already escaped one vicious attack. She couldn’t expect a second miracle.
She gathered her courage and went outside. Cicatrix was sleeping on the porch, not a scratch on her. Goldie leaned over and felt her stomach to be sure she was breathing. Cicatrix purred, but didn’t move.
The dogs had surely torn something apart. If not Cicatrix, what?
She got three rusty lard buckets and the cart from the barn shed and went to the pond for water. Pale blue butterflies fluttered about the water lilies and cattails. No discretion, those butterflies, choosing this green, sludgy pond instead of the clear, sparkling water of Laurel Creek.
The pond was overgrown. It would be hard to fill a bucket. She could fill it in a second at the creek, but it was too far away for her to pull the cart. She would have to use pond water. Cabbage plants were like butterflies. They wouldn’t know the difference.
She tugged at cattails and water lilies until she had cleared a bucket-sized hole. She filled the buckets, set them in the cart, and started back. She stopped under the bodark tree to catch her breath. Every year, the tree was loaded with horse apples. Too bad they weren’t Winesaps.
She poured a drab of water on each cabbage plant. She set the buckets aside, saving the rest to pour on the remaining cabbage slips, once she had them in the ground. Before she could set them out, she had to finish cleaning off debris from last year’s garden.
She pulled up bean sticks, piled old bean vines, morning glory vines, and weeds by the driveway. She looked over the Rader fence. Trash grew in their yard instead of grass. The truck was full of plastic bags. Some had split open and trash
--cellophane wrappers, cans, Styrofoam, paper, rags--had spilled onto the ground. A clump of dogs lay on the front porch. She stopped, blinked, turned away. Oh, God, she muttered. Feathers were scattered all over the yard and two tattered brown feather dusters lay near the bushes.
Sassafras and Spiderwort. They’d escaped starvation for a quicker, surer death. It was her fault. She should’ve known better than to complain to Sparrow. She’d have to bury them somehow.
Trella rose out of the thorns, curtain ruffles around her waist and neck. She had a crow with a huge yellow beak. It was dressed in straw hat, black-fringed shawl, red sash, yellow string tie, blue jeans with red patches. A crow disguised as a scarecrow. “Dogs,” she said.
“We have to bury them,” Goldie said.
Trella laid the crow down, grasped the hens’ legs, and handed them over the fence. Goldie carried them to the back of the garden, dug a hole, and buried them. The girl and the crow watched her across the fence.
Trella lifted the crow. “Crawford,” she said.
Goldie threw up her hand, as if warding off a blow. That look in the crow’s eye, very like the wicked glint in Oby’s eye when the devil was upon him. She dropped the hoe and hurried inside. Her hands shook. She needed a cup of coffee. She was scooping grounds into the pot when someone knocked on the door.
She didn’t want to talk to anyone, but the knocking compelled her. She opened the door, and there was Sparrow, black cowboy hat in his hand. She’d almost forgotten what he looked like without either his welding helmet or a coating of soot. His face was etched with deep grooves, as if he’d chiseled it with the tool he used on his sculptures. He seemed more weathered than she remembered, shoulders stooped, hair and beard white, but neatly trimmed. She felt he had just come from the barbershop. He wore a new plaid shirt and new Wranglers. Surely, he hadn’t dressed up for her.
He was wasting his time if he had. He was like his blowtorch, a fire smoldering inside. Sometimes when she’d lain in a cold bed beside Oby, the man who came to her in her dreams had worn Sparrow’s face. But she was through with such dreams now.
“Care for a cup of coffee?” she asked. “I’m brewing a fresh pot.”
“Sure,” he said, looking around the yard in a distracted manner.
“Come on in,” she said, waving Sparrow into the living room. She swept a stack of newspapers off Oby’s armchair. “Have a seat. The coffee’ll be ready in a minute.”
She went into the kitchen, stuffed the papers between the refrigerator and the counter, and turned on the coffeepot. She dallied, dusting out a cup, looking for a saucer that wasn’t chipped, finding a spoon. She couldn’t remember if Sparrow used cream, but he was out of luck if he did. She poured coffee, put cups and sugar bowl on a tray, and set it on the coffee table in the living room.
She handed a cup to Sparrow. “You seen Sassafras and Spiderwort?” he asked.
He’d tried to starve them to death, but as soon as they disappeared, he’d come looking for them. Men were like that. Treat you like dirt, but come after you every time you try to get away. Tears came to her eyes. She should’ve kept her mouth shut about the poor hens and the mess they made of her garden. Nothing Sparrow could do to them now though. They were safely out of his reach.
She motioned for him to follow. He set the cup on the tray and put on his hat. The door banged behind him.
Goldie made her way past cabbage plants and bean vines to the back of the garden. She pointed to the grave, a single grave for two poor sisters, torn apart like martyrs for an unrighteous cause.
Sparrow dropped to his knees and bowed his head. He was grieving, grieving for two silly hens.
He knelt so long she thought he was praying. But for what? For the hens’ souls? She’d misjudged him. She’d thought he didn’t know how to pray, and perhaps, he didn’t. The theology she’d learned from sixty years of sermons at Rose of Sharon didn’t allow chickens to have souls.
The Rader’s dogs started barking, and Sparrow got up, tipped his hat to Goldie, strode to his truck, and drove away. No condemnation, no thanks.
Goldie went inside. Two cups of cold coffee were on the tray. She dumped two spoons of sugar in each cup and downed all of it.
Saturday, Goldie went to the grocery. After that, she dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed kitchen and bathroom, washed a pile of laundry. At sundown, she was glad for a chance to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee. She heard Snap, Crackle, and Pop arguing and shooting their guns, but they kept their distance.
Sunday, she went to church and rested up from the hard work of the past week. She read the paper and worked the crossword puzzle. She woke up at dark, stiff and addle-headed from dozing in her chair most of the afternoon. She ate cornbread and buttermilk and went to bed. No sense sleeping in a chair when she had a perfectly good bed.
Something woke her in the middle of the night. Vehicles and bumping. Growling and cussing. Rader coming home drunk again, she thought.
Monday morning, she awoke to silence. No dogs, no children. She jumped out of bed, grabbed her robe, and rushed outside. The gate hung open. The truck was gone, the van gone, no dogs anywhere. Nothing but garbage bags piled beside the porch and trash scattered across the yard.
She was delighted until she thought of Trella. That poor fragile child. How could she survive in the Rader world?
Something had happened to Marvine. Her outfit was wrong. Trella’s curtain ruffles were around her neck like faded lei. Goldie started to rip them off, but decided not to. They made Marvine look festive, joyous.
She looked at the bushes where Trella had hidden--empty, lonely, forlorn. It had to be that mysterious child who’d put the lei around Marvine’s neck.
Something blue in the fencerow. She tiptoed across wet vines and weeds. It was Trella’s curtains. She picked them up. Wrapped inside was the crow, Crawford. It gave her the willies, the giant yellow beak, beady eyes, but she knew Trella had left it for her. She carried it and the curtains to the porch and dropped them in the swing.
She went in and brewed coffee. She sat in her chair, drinking coffee and pondering the curtain lei and Crawford. She rather liked the lei, but Crawford would have to go.
Oby would’ve liked Crawford. By golly, she’d give the crow to him. She dressed in jeans and t-shirt, got the crow, backed out Oby’s truck, and took off to the graveyard. Oby was buried in the Laurel Creek Cemetery, a short distance past Sparrow’s driveway.
She drove down Turkey Pen Road slowly, laboriously, yanking gears, fighting the steering wheel. The sun glared in her eyes. That darned visor. She should’ve sold the old truck and bought a car.
Just past Sparrow’s driveway was a sharp curve. The sun blinded her. She couldn’t see anything but sparkling light. The front wheel dropped into the ditch. She tried to drive out, tried to back out, but she couldn’t go either way. She got out of the truck, but had to hold the door to keep from falling. Her head was spinning. The morning had been so unsettling she’d forgotten to take her tonic. She’d never felt so helpless in her life.
She’d have to ask Sparrow for help. But she didn’t want to owe him anything. She had to get the truck out herself. She got in and gunned the engine, forward and reverse, rocking back and forth as she’d seen Oby do. She was about to give up when the truck lurched forward, gravel, weeds, dirt flying. The truck was out!
She drove slowly, shading her eyes from the sun with her left hand. She pulled in at the graveyard and got out. Oby’s gray granite stone glimmered in the bright light. She picked dead twigs off his grave and rearranged the bouquet of bright plastic flowers. She set the crow at the foot of the grave, its beady eyes facing Oby. “His name is Crawford,” she said.
She drove home slowly, but she had no problems, for the sun was behind her now. She’d take her tonic and have another cup of coffee.
Sparrow’s Statue-of-Liberty lady with the trowel hand and copper organs was on the porch. She knew what she to do with that thing. She planted it at the head of the hens’ grave, the lady a fitting marker for Sassafras and Spiderwort. She’d call her Saint Libertas. She giggled at her cleverness.
After she had her tonic and more coffee, she went out to work on her garden. She pulled up the rest of the old bean sticks, bound them, and put them in the barn to be used later. She cleaned the rest of the debris off and revved up the tiller. It was as rusty as the stuff on Sparrow’s junk heap, but it still did the job. As she plowed, she put the worms she turned up in a can of dirt. She set out tomatoes and sowed limas and green beans.
Her garden was a masterpiece, cabbage plants waving in the breeze like little green flags, Saint Libertas keeping watch over the grave in the corner, Swayze and Marvine standing tall in the center.
She looked closely at the curtain ruffles on Marvine’s gauzy skirt. Butterflies! The design had been butterflies before the sun and rain. Caribbean blue, faded to Laurel Creek. The story of her life. All the “might have beens” faded.
She was starving. She’d worked so hard she’d forgotten to eat. She went into the kitchen and made a picnic supper, ham and biscuits. She found the thermos in the side room, scoured it, and filled it with coffee.
She took the gypsy skirt and butterfly lei off Marvine, and dressed her in the curtains. In memory of a little girl named Trella.
She went into the bedroom, put on her best shirt, a white embroidered one, put on Marvine’s skirt, and draped the butterfly lei about her neck. She looked at herself in the wavery mirror on the dresser. She looked wonderful.
She packed her supper, the cane pole, and the worms in the truck, and drove down to Laurel Creek. As she yanked the gears, she knew what she would do. She’d sell Oby’s old truck and buy a car, a blue Camry, blue as the Caribbean. And she’d break down and go see Dr. Torelli. Find out what was making her so dizzy, taking the joy out of her life. After all, she was only sixty-two, with years of peace stretching out in front of her.
She parked by the shed in Sparrow’s driveway. She saw the flame of his blowtorch, heard the annoying hiss. He was a strange man. Claimed he’d retired, but he worked harder than ever. No time for fishing or enjoying a cup of coffee. At the moment, he didn’t even know she was on the earth.
She made her way down the path and perched on a boulder. It was probably too late in the day for butterflies, but she’d enjoy the sunset.
She hadn’t known Cicatrix was anywhere about, but the cat slipped out of the weeds and joined her on the boulder. She began to groom herself, cleaning her face, the tan scar on her nose.
Goldie thought of Trella, a poor little waif in an awful family, outnumbered by boys and dogs, hiding in forsythia bushes when the drunken ogre screamed. She’d pray for her every night. That was all she could do.
She baited the hook and flung it out into the creek. She flared her skirt about her and smoothed her lei. As she ate supper and sipped coffee, she watched the sunset colors--orange, magenta, fuchsia—playing on the ripples.