The Gift of Gab
fiction by Randall Ivey
Used to be you couldn’t go no place in Compton County without running into Miss Jenny DeGraffenreid.
I mean no place!
Flea market, grocery store, gas station, butcher’s market, jewelry store, beauty shop, and church, of course. The Methodist church.
For Miss Jenny, the Methodist faith was the only Christ-approved one in existence. (And here us Baptists thinking it was the closest thing to paganism this side of the Orient.)
Downtown too, naturally, where her and her old man run the pharmacy, Murray’s Drugs, which they bought from Mr. T.J. Murray way back in 1969.
DeGraffenreid ain’t a common name in Compton, then or now. That is because Miss Jenny’s husband, Dr. Phillip DeGraffenreid, come to South Carolina all the way from Gadsden, Alabama, went to pharmacy school in Charleston, and set up shop here in Compton in the South Carolina upcountry. We all traded at Murray’s Drugs because that’s all they was then, before your Revcos and your Walgreens and such. And even after them establishments made their way to Compton, we still traded with the DeGraffenreids because our mamas and our daddies had and we had been friends with Jenny and Phillip all them years and had never made the acquaintance of Mr. Revco or Mr. Walgreen. We got our prescriptions at Murray’s, naturally, but also our baseball cards, our smokes, our soda pops, our funny books and greeting cards, our rasslin tickets, and just about everything else. About the only things Murray’s didn’t sell were automobiles and beachfront property, and I’m sure if Miss Jenny could have arranged it, they would have carried them as well.
Nine years ago, Dr. Phillip passed from heart trouble, and heartbroke herself over it, Miss Jenny decided to shut down Murray’s (they kept the original owner’s name all them years out of respect to Mr. T.J. and it being a well-knowed brand in town since 1935). That was an event, truly. It made the radio and the newspaper, and the Chamber of Commerce throwed Miss Jenny a big party at the National Guard Armory to thank her and Dr. Phillip and to wish her well.
But Miss Jenny did not just fade away, as General McArthur said old soldiers do. If anything, she become more visible about town. Her and the doctor never had no children of their own, for what reason we never found out nor had the nerve to ask, it not being our business or nothing.
“I’d die if I stayed home and done nothing,” Miss Jenny declared once when asked how come she didn’t slow down and enjoy her retirement. “I’d just die!”
And slow down she did not. She was already a fixture in the Methodist church, where she volunteered for everything, but she joined the Lions Club, the Civitans, the Lady Elks, the Clemson Booster Club, the Gamecock Club (she had always pulled for both teams so as not to make nobody upset and lose customers), and any other group that would have her. And they all did, seeing how much money she had and was willing to donate. She was a millionaire several times over, thanks to her and Dr. Phillip’s hard work and prudent habits and, of course, they never had younguns to raise.
The only thing she did not give money to–was adamant about not giving to–was the public library. Wouldn’t do it, even though the folks there begged and pleaded and sent note after note asking for donations. She did not like books and never had. She took pride in the fact she had never read a book all the way through in her whole entire life, except for The Bible, and truth be told she only skimmed through that one, having the Methodist preacher do the rest of the work for her. Why read when they was so much else to do and see, so many new people to meet, so much talking to get done?
Now that was Miss Jenny’s real love and her favorite thing to do in all the world. She could talk the ears off a corncob if given the chance, and she would talk to anybody, since, as the saying (and must surely have been wrote expressly for Miss Jenny), she never met a stranger. Or if she did meet one, they wasn’t a stranger for long. She’d talk to a youngun, a man, a woman, a cat, a dog, a bush, a stop sign, a go sign, whatever might happen to be in front of her at the time. She’d talk to the Queen of England or the foreman at the junkyard. Talk now, not listen, for she did not do much of the latter. It was all The Jenny DeGraffenreid show once she got started. You get engaged talking to her, and you couldn’t hardly get away from her! “One more thing,” she’d say after talking to you for a half hour or more, but that minute found a way to stretch into forty minutes, and before you knew it, your whole night is shot. She could outtalk the preacher in the pulpit and the politician at the pork-pull.
“Miss Jenny,” someone asked her once, “I bet you talk in your sleep, don’t you?”
“Hon,” Miss Jenny replied, “if I could tell you that, I wouldn’t be sleeping, now would I?
It must be said that while Miss Jenny did not discriminate against who it was she talked to, she did have a clear preference for men. Liked them a great deal and insisted they hug her before she talked to them and after, and if the man wasn’t careful, and perhaps even if he was, he might find Jenny’s hand sneaking down his back and below his belt and pinching a substantial portion of his rungunkus. The man would jump, and Jenny would laugh, just like a youngun that’s got away with something it ought not to have done in the first place.
But we loved the ole gal–love her still, oh yes. No need to put this in the past tense of things, although we don’t see her like we used to.
She was a gabber for sure but cute as a button in her own way, short and bowl-legged as a sailor and naïve as a little youngun. You could tell her almost anything, and she would almost always believe you. Tell the moon’s made of green cheese, and she’d wonder aloud what crackers went the best with it. Tell her they’s a ghost haunting the Compton courthouse, and she’d fret about how many meals a day it got. And such as that. We laughed at her, yes, but with her too, because she was good-natured and could take a joke at her own expense, and we loved her to death for how good-hearted she was and open with her pocketbook when it come to good causes around town. Nobody else even come close to Miss Jenny.
About five years ago, big news come to our little town–the opening of The Pancake Palace. Yes, in little old Compton, South Carolina! They had them everywhere else but here, so when they finally opened up here, it stayed filled up for nearly a month. You couldn’t get a table lessen you went some unearthly hour of the morning, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed. Well, Jenny DeGraffenreid got in, no trouble, because that is the sort of person she is—determined, head-strong, and refusing to take no for an answer. Some folks just got up and give her their seat after she had them froze good with all her talk. They wanted to get away from that as fast as they could, especially when she reminisced about Dr. Phillip and got all teared-up and sentimental. Lord, who could turn down an old woman when she gets to crying? Nobody–lessen they made completely of rock.
So she become as much a fixture at Pancake Palace as she was at the Methodist church and even more, since the church only met three or four times a week and Pancake Palace was opened twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, including Christmas and Thanksgiving. She didn’t always order something to eat. Sometimes she just got her a cup of coffee in her booth sipping it for hours, for what she wanted more than a pancake was another person to talk to–anybody would do, friend or stranger, young or old, black or yellow or green, Methodist or Baptist or atheist. It didn’t matter. She just did not want to go home to that lonely house of hers, the one her and Dr. Phillip built all them years ago and lived in till he passed. She’s a people person, Miss Jenny, not a reader of books or watcher of TV. And nine times out of ten she could find somebody at Pancake Palace to listen to her, even if it was just a waiter or a cook. She’d get there late too, sometimes after ten or eleven, and folks close to her worried about her being out after dark and so late. So much meanness goes on now, even in Compton, and it wouldn’t take nothing for somebody to come up and knock Miss Jenny on the head as she was leaving her car for the Palace or the Palace for her car. Knock her out and take her money. Or goodness knew what worse. But Jenny wouldn’t mind them and done what she wanted. She figured she was old and widowed and deserved some company. The staff at Pancake Palace done some looking after her, but they had their jobs to do, and sometimes they had to pry theirselves loose from her since she had so much to say about so many things. “Lord, here comes Miss Jenny,” they’d say when they seen her Cadillac pull up and slide into a parking place. “Better act like you busy or she’ll talk your ear off.” They liked Miss Jenny good enough for the most part. She give a generous tip and told a funny joke or story (sometimes more than once to the same person the same night), and hard as it may be to believe, sometimes things got slow and quiet even at The Pancake Palace, so the young folks welcomed the company even of a gabby old woman.
About a year ago, The Pancake Palace hired a new cook, a boy named Rocky Seward, a big old boy who had spent some time in prison, off and on, for this and that. Not a real bad boy necessarily, just one who tended to let other people do his thinking for him, and nine times out of ten, they made the wrong decision. He had a wife and couple of younguns and needed a job when he got out of the pokey. He had done some short order cooking all over Compton and elsewhere since he was a boy. He had been in the service too, and between that and prison had collected an impressive array of tattoos upon hisself, all the way from his stout ankles to his thick neck. He was a walking wall of graffiti, with all kinds of shapes drawed onto his body – skeleton keys, fierce-looking spiders, a palm tree, a lady’s face, and some things that was tough to make out or that was covered by his clothes. (It must be a rule of employment at The Pancake Palace that you have, one, done some time in a South Carolina penitentiary, two, you smoke cigarettes like they was going out of style, and three, you got a good portion of yourself brightened up by ink. Rocky met all three requirements. With his height and his muscles and his tats and his low-slung forehead and his short, jet-black hair, he looked like something Dr. Frankenstein might have put together one night with spare parts in the laboratory.)
He was friendly enough, though not a master of the English language, not much of a talker in general. He nodded and spoke when you come in and left and sometimes attempted a joke that at least made him laugh. Otherwise, the most you might get out of him if you asked him how he was would be a “Ah ‘ight.” But Miss Jenny seemed to bring out something in him nobody else could, as him and her become especially buddy-like. If she called for him because of a problem with her order–her pancakes was burnt, her coffee was cold–he’d leave the grill and come see about her, and they’d get into a chitchat that moved far beyond the menu items at The Pancake Palace. She’d tell her story of woe, of missing Dr. Phillip and living alone in a lonely old house with no younguns of her own to comfort her, and he’d tell his, and his was worse, filled as it was with time in jail and folks that had used him and lied to him and such, and now he was just scraping by trying to make a living for hisself and a wife and two younguns on a Pancake Palace paycheck. Jenny’d listen to all this with tears in her eyes. She is a tender-hearted sort, always looking out for the other fellow, always worried somebody’s doing without a meal or a warm place to lay down or a good set of teeth. She give and give and give, and all she wanted back was somebody to listen to her talk. And Rocky Seward done that when he could, so she made sure to slip him a five or ten spot when the manager wasn’t looking.
Almost forgot. They’s another requirement you must have should you ever go wanting to work at The Pancake Palace. You cannot own your own automobile. You may or may not have a driver’s license (and lots of ‘em don’t on account of all their DUIs), but you will more than likely not have a car to drive and therefore must depend on somebody else to get you to back and forth to work, your mama or daddy, your boyfriend or girlfriend, even your teenage youngun. And if none of them is available to help you out, you just walk to and fro, sometimes miles, sometimes in the pitch dark or night or early morning, sometimes in the gushing rain or floating snow.
Such was the case with Rocky Seward. Him and his wife didn’t have a car because they could not afford the payments or the insurance. Seems like most of the money they made went to hiding their skin with tattoos. Therefore, they had to hitch to wherever they went. (Rocky’s wife cleaned houses in town.) Rocky was stout enough to do the walking if he had to, but he lived in the Beaslap community, some fifteen, twenty miles from The Pancake Palace, so it was not practical or safe to walk. He got rides where he could, sometimes from the store’s general manager, Miss Rita Spence, most time from the other help.
One night, though, there come a dilemma. Miss Spence was sick in bed with the flu and Rocky’s regular ride had not called in and could not be found by telephone, so Rocky was stuck as far as finding a ride home that night. None of the other staff on duty that night had cars, so that was out, and there was no dependable taxi service in Compton. He was stuck. That is till Miss Jenny DeGraffenreid showed in her big ole Cadillac and come in with her big ole pocketbook (the size of a suitcase really) and settled into a booth. It was near the end of Rocky’s shift. He seen Miss Jenny arrive and grinned.
“You having your usual, Miss Jenny? Raisin toast and your bacon light and crispy?”
Miss Jenny giggled like a girl and said, “You know me too good, Rocky Top.” That was her nickname for him.
Rocky went about preparing Miss Jenny’s meal very carefully, making sure there were no lumps in her grits nor shells in her scrambled eggs. He took the plate to her hisself and stood watching to make sure she was satisfied.
“Good?” he asked at some point, anxious for her to be happy.
“Real good, Rocky Top” she told him. “Thank you, sir!”
He seen his chance then.
“Miss Jenny, I was wondering…. I hate to be a bother and all…but…I ain’t got no way home this evening, and I was wondering kindly like…if…. Well, I wouldn’t bother you for nothing in the world, but you always so good-hearted and giving and such to folks, and….”
Miss Jenny sat listening, a piece of buttered toast in one hand, a mug of coffee in the others. She decided to help him out right then, put him out of his misery of trying to put words together in a meaningful way, for Rocky Seward was no master-tongue with the English language, nor no other kind of language for that matter.
“You need me to give you a ride home, Rocky Top?”
“Yessum. That’s what I was coming to eventually.”
“Uh huh. And where is it you live?”
“Oh that’s right. You done told me that before.”
“Beaslap’s a right far piece out, ain’t it?”
“Yes ma’am. I’d be happy to give you gas money, Miss Jenny.”
Jenny sat and thought then said, “You don’t have to do that. I’ll take you home. But can I finish my coffee first? It’s good to the last drop, and I don’t want to miss none of it.” She made herself laugh, quoting that old coffee commercial, and Rocky, not exactly sure what was funny, laughed too, happy as he was to know he now had a ride home.
Now what happened between the time Miss Jenny got Rocky Seward to Beaslap and made it back to Compton has been the subject of much speculation. Many mouths have contributed to its telling.
Miss Jenny took her time with her coffee, indeed enjoying it down to the dregs. Then, when she’d paid her bill, the two of them were off, and what a sight they must have made on the way out of The Pancake Palace. Her short and stubby and, on account of her bowled legs, rocking back and forth like a youngun’s play-purty, him tall and stiff and straight like the insides of his clothes was weighed down with atomic bombs and he had to be real careful walking anywheres for fear he’d set hisself off.
Now what happened between the time Miss Jenny got Rocky Seward to Beaslap and made it back to Compton has been the subject of much speculation. Many mouths have contributed to its telling. First off, if any of Miss Jenny’s good friends had knowed what she had agreed to do, they would have skint her alive–her a rich old widow lady traipsing around in the dark of night and giving a stranger a ride all the way to Beaslap!
“They could knock you on your head, Jenny, and take every dime you got,” they would have said to her.
“They could kill you! Just like that! And not think a thing about it. You know what meanness goes on today!”
And in being confronted so, Jenny would have said, “But that Rocky’s a nice boy! He’s always good to me. Always gets my eggs and bacon just right.” (Which would have made her friends roll their eyes and rubbed their noggins.)
Beaslap, South Carolina, is no place for anybody to be out and about at night, young or old, rich lady or poor boy from The Pancake Palace. It was wild the day the Good Lord made it, and it has stayed wild to this day. It has a cursed feeling to it. People have died in its woods–hunters looking for deer and young girls looking for deer hunters. People have seen coyotes there claim haints wander the woods hunting for ingredients to make their devilish stews. People do live there, black folks and white, good people, but spread out from each other, a smattering of houses here, another smattering there. Rocky Seward and his wife lived in a double-wide trailer off to theirselves far up an old gravel road that was almost covered over by fir trees and spruces. They was cut off from the world in a way.
Jenny found that out during the twenty-minute drive south into all that darkness. Nothing stirred out yonder. And they only had the moon and Miss Jenny’s headlights to guide them along. The deeper they got into Beaslap, the more Miss Jenny’s stomach turned and twisted. Rocky didn’t turn out to be much company. He sat quiet beside her and only spoke to give Jenny directions. The road seemed to go on forever.
“You sure you don’t live in North Carolina, Rocky?” Miss Jenny asked him. “This sure is a good piece out.”
That made Rocky laugh, but he didn’t say nothing else ‘til they got to a point in the long road when his arm flew up and he pointed.
“Right yonder, Miss Jenny!” he said. “You turn here.” And Jenny let out a long breath of relief, not caring if Rocky heard her or not. She turned and began the long climb up the Sewards’ driveway, all closed over with spruces and pines like most of Beaslap, her Caddy rocking and knocking over gravel till she had to slow down the rest of the way, arriving at last at the double-wide, whose front windows was lit up orange with lamp light.
It concerned Jenny that Rocky Seward and his missus lived so far back from the main road. It got her to wondering what he done with his time when he wasn’t raising pancakes off the griddle at The Palace. The first thing that come to mind was drugs. What if Rocky was a drug dealer who had led her all the way down yonder for The Lord knew what? The warning words of her friends come back loud and clear to her in the dark with her motor running and big ole Rocky Seward lunging a bit towards her. Her mouth turned dry, and she felt sweat begin to run under her arms and the back of her neck.
“Miss Jenny, I sure do thank ye!” Rocky told her, his face close enough to hers that he could have kissed her if he wanted to.”
“You welcome, Rocky,” Miss Jenny said.
“I’d be happy to pay ye.”
“No, no, Rocky! That’s fine. I’m happy to have done it. Now – “
Rocky cut her off, something not many done to Jenny DeGraffenreid when she was talking. Fact of business, it’s nothing nobody has ever done. “Why don’t you come on in the house and say hey to my wife? She’s heard all about you. Dying to meet you.”
“Oh no, hon. Thank you, but no. I reckon I best be getting back to Compton and all. It’s getting right late.”
But Rocky had got into his head the idea that Jenny was going to walk into that double-wide and meet Johnna, his wife, and like a lot of simple-minded folks do, he wasn’t going to give up till he got what his way. He insisted and insisted, like a youngun begging for something for Christmas, and Jenny’s nerves go so tore up listening to him insist, she figured the only way to stop him was to give in. So she give in, knowing she shouldn’t, and it just tickled Rocky to death, so much so that he led Jenny by the arm into his very humble abode.
It was as cramped a place as Jenny had ever seen, whose walls she swore moved inward as she stood and looked at them. She could have sworn the place was shrinking right in front of her eyes. Two lamps burned on low tables across the floor from each other, giving off enough light so that Jenny could see a floor that hadn’t been picked up in weeks. They was newspapers and magazines throwed about, dirty dishes and glasses laying up under them, and a funny smell hung over it all. Well, more than one smell. A mix of smells all got up together to make one ugly cloud. If she stood there long enough, Jenny could piece them out individually–cigarette smoke first and foremost, and she was sure there was alcohol and…well, she didn’t want to think about the rest of what made up that smell. And just like somebody was reading her mind then, she heard squeals from across the floor and seen a playpen there with two younguns in it, both naked except for plastic diapers. It was dark in the trailer, but that didn’t keep her from seeing that both the babies had dirty faces. They seen Jenny and grinned and reached out for her. Everything in the house was dirty, it looked like, and she made sure to be careful not to touch nothing and hoped she would not be offered nowhere to sit down. She decided she wouldn’t touch nothing there, with her hand or her rear end, for all the gold in Fort Knox. They was no telling what was on it. She turned from the babies and seen Johnna, Mrs. Rocky, on the couch, the biggest piece of furniture in the room, watching a TV that stretched almost the whole of one wall. The program blared. They was gunshots and hollering. Johnna’s face lit up as soon as her and Jenny made eye contact. She was a big gal, every bit Rocky’s match, not so much fat as big-boned. She had black hair and not many teeth, and one cuff of her blue jeans was rolled up far enough on her stout leg to show a tattoo there, although Jenny didn’t have enough light at the moment to make out the design. She had them on her arms too, both of them, bright snakes of ink that run up into her shirt sleeves and disappeared.
“Hey!” the girl hollered and come up off the couch lickety-split. She stomped right over to Jenny, paying Rocky no mind, and took her in a bear hug, like Jenny was her long-lost grandma.
“You must be Miss Jenny!” she said after the fact, and all Jenny could do was nod her little white head against the big gal’s bosom, hoping the message got through. It must have, for Johnna went on: “Heard so much about ye! And ever bit of it good!” She released Jenny from her grip and smacked her three times in a row with three big ole sloppy kisses then turned loose.
“You a sweetheart!” she hollered in Jenny’s face, the smell of liquor and cigarettes and cough medicine all mixed together in her breath and singeing Jenny’s eyebrows. “Bringing my Rocky back on home to me.”
Jenny laughed. “Yes. Pleased to do it. I call him ‘Rocky Top,’ by the way.”
Johnna laughed like a horse, just neighed, and grabbed Jenny again and said, “That’s just perfect! That’s what I’m going to call him from now on. Rocky Top!” Then she begun to sing the famous song of the same name. Or done her best to.
Normally Jenny would have loved meeting somebody new, would have talked this girl’s ear off for an hour or two, if not longer. Would have asked her about anything and everything – about who her kin was and where she growed up, where she went to church, and all such as that. But not that night. That night she wanted to say hey and get gone, get in her car and get back to Compton, promising the Lord all the way back that she wouldn’t never give another stranger a ride home lessen He ordered her to Hisself in a voice she could not mistake as no other’s but His. Her hosts, such as they was, however, was thinking otherwise. They wanted Jenny to stay so they could entertain her in some way. They offered her a glass of tea, a slice of pie, a bottle of beer (when they should have knowed better in the first place but reckoning that the Methodists was a bit looser in their habits.) And their younguns just squealed and hollered at the bars of the playpen, putting their hands through like they meant to fetch Jenny into the pen with them and get her as dirty as they was, pressing their nasty faces into the bars too, showing off their toothless mouths. At each offer, Jenny shook her head. She shook her head so much she got right swimmy-headed and had to stop. She thanked them for their hospitality. She wished them a good night. And she edged her little self out the door, but not before Johnna could grab her one more time and crush her to her person and holler out, “You my heart, Miss Jenny DeGravelreid! Yes you are!”
In her car, Jenny hoped and prayed she could find her way back to Compton, not having Rocky’s directions no more to help her.
The Good Lord was with her. She made it home without an incident and went straight to her bed, still in her clothes, and laid down shaking, like somebody who has come this close to a terrible, terrible accident. She couldn’t sleep. All she could do was think about what a mess Rocky Seward’s house was. She brought her fist up to her mouth and bit lightly into it. She began crying, worried about them nasty younguns in that nasty house and amazed that in a rich country like the United States of America, people still had to live like that. She swore to herself that she would not talk about what all she had seen down yonder in Beaslap, that it was Rocky Seward’s business and not hers nor nobody else’s.
But Compton, South Carolina, is a little place, and people saw things that night and heard things later on and eventually made things up. Most folks wrote it all off as Miss Jenny just being Miss Jenny, doing for others like she always had. But they’s folks had it out for Jenny DeGraffenreid, and for different reasons. Some was just jealous of her money, plain and simple. They didn’t have nothing theirself and resented them what did. The shiftless types that would druther tear down the other fellow than spend that time and that energy to build their own self up. Others had plenty of their own, but not as much as Jenny and held it against her. They was some that thought it not a bit fair Jenny and Dr. Phillip had come to Compton from someplace so far off as Alabama and done so good. They thought she throwed her money around just for show and in their heart of hearts hoped she would fail at something–have the Stock Market crash around her or have her broker run out of town with everything or something else just as terrible.
So it was no surprise when the story of the night Miss Jenny drove Rocky Seward to Beaslap got changed and twisted up and told the wrong way by folks that wasn’t there and only wanted to say something bad about somebody good. In the most common version that went around, Miss Jenny not only went into Rocky Seward’s trailer to say hey, she stayed there the whole night! She accepted their offer of alcohol and threw back several shot glasses of Jim Beam, chased down with Pabst Blue Ribbon and jiggers of tequila. Pretty soon she was as high as a kite. Her and Mr. and Mrs. Seward, both of them just as snockered as she was, took off most of their clothes and danced in circles around the trailer like a trio of wild youngsters, and all in front of their baby boys!
They was variations to this account, but that is the story that got around most widely. Who started it? Nobody knows. Perhaps somebody at The Pancake Palace who never got to wait on Miss Jenny and therefore never got one of her good tips. Perhaps Rocky Seward hisself, for whatever reason. The fact is, it got around, and some folks believed it and told others and so on. They believed it because they wanted to believe it, because it’s good to feel like you’re better than somebody else who’s got more than you do, who’s done more than you, even if the feeling lasts only a little bit.
Miss Jenny was the last to hear all this talk, of course. A friend who caught wind of it went especially to Jenny’s house, set her down in a comfortable chair, and told her everything, all the talk that was going around Compton that had Miss Jenny acting like a drunk beasts in the wilds of Beaslap. This friend said after hearing it, Jenny’s mouth fell open. The blood drained out of her face. Her hands shook. Then she busted out good in tears and fell against the back of the chair. She cried harder than she had since Dr. Phillip passed, maybe harder, since now it was her hard-earned reputation getting killed in the mouths of enemies and strangers. It never occurred to her anybody could talk about her that way or think those kinds of things. She was right child-like that way. And after all she done! She believed everybody had good intentions and that anytime she done a good deed with her money or said a kind word to a stranger or give a poor working boy a ride home, it was marked up not only in the accounts of Heaven but in the hearts of her neighbors. Now the truth was out. In the eyes of Compton she was nothing more than a silly old rich lady that it was okay to make fun of and lie about. It didn’t matter how much money she had give to this or to that or that she had a perfect attendance at the Methodist church. In fact, all that made it worse. Jenny’s friend, the bearer of the bad news, said it was like Jenny just shrunk into that lounge chair, just shrunk into it and was no more.
And fact of business, that’s when we all lost Jenny DeGraffenreid. Not literally. She didn’t pass or nothing. She just…withdrawed from everything. Give up all she loved–the clubs and the auctions and the meetings and the events downtown and The Pancake Palace, of course–everything but the Methodist Church, which she still attends faithfully on Sundays and Wednesdays but without lingering afterwards or doing anything extry. Once the service is done, she’s gone back to her house, not to come out again, lessen it’s to keep a doctor’s appointment. Otherwise, she’s a hermit, determined not ever again to expose herself to hateful talk and gossip. Her friends go to see her, which is her sole comfort now, that and her love of the Lord, and to one of them friends she once remarked, bitter as coffee grounds, “It just don’t pay to be good to nobody.”
Randall Ivey is a lifelong South Carolinian whose work has appeared in a number of venues in the U.S. and abroad, including Appalachian Review and The South Carolina Review. He is author of five books, including three story collections, a novel, and a book for children.