EMMA DIED THURSDAY MORNING. Buried Saturday morning. Sunday the children went back to busy lives far away. Ed was left at home. Sitting in his recliner. Surrounded by quiet. Alone.
Before leaving, the children begged him to stay with one of them maybe a week or a month. Each probably praying it would be the other. Suzie said he needed time to adjust; “It’s not healthy being in this empty old house alone.” He stomped his foot. Shook his head. Shooed her away. Said for the hundredth time no. “Somebody’s got to be here, your momma would want it that way.”
He knew this was the first time the children felt family obligation. Each was ungrateful, selfish, demanding in a way. Something he never understood, or spoke to Emma about, because God knows that’s not how they were raised. Guess they inherited that from Daddy. Can’t beat the breed out of bone. Inside he sort of enjoyed the children’s pleading, almost begging. First time any of them showed me honest attention, almost affection. Guess they think my time’s next. Grief and guilt do wonders together.
The boys weren’t satisfied working with their hands like him. They had to leave. Have important careers. Make lots of money. Have a title or initials before or after their names. The girls couldn’t be happy staying home like their momma raising children. They had to go out and be something. Kids, whatever they got ain’t enough. Always wanting more.
Every few hours, Ricky telephoned the hospital in Birmingham to check on a patient. Like he’s the only doctor that fourteen-story place has got. Will probably have to take out a load to pay this month’s telephone and electricity bills. Got to walk behind every last one of them and their kids turning out lights. Probably leave on the TV when no one’s watching. Turn on the hot water faucet to watch it run. The gas tank, filled in September to last all winter, will probably be empty in December. None of those kids ever did have a sense of money. Spend it like water! If didn’t know better would swear they weren’t mine. What did Luke need that fancy car for? Probably got to have a foreign name on his drawers!
Knew if stayed with one of the children for a week or a month, they might as well go ahead and dig his grave. What will I do? Sit in a chair and watch the clock tick? Wait under a tree to die? He would be an inconvenience like their children. Always going, never staying home. Passed back and forth like the fruitcake at Christmas nobody wants. Can’t wait for summer to ship them off to camp. Surprised they ain’t sent to school in another state.
Even when Emma was alive they wouldn’t stay at one of the children’s houses more than a few nights because of their petty selfishness. Just like Daddy. Ed could walk through one of their doors and the headache started. Hated seeing his grandchildren treated like trained dogs; told every little thing to do. “Now, Jessica, that’s not nice. Stop it. Young ladies don’t act that way.” Snorted inside. That’s how Joseph and Raymond started and see how they turned out? Thank God Emma won’t be around to see one of her grandkids behind bars.
Was also afraid of leaving because his house might match fire. Or a thief might break in and steal something. Daddy’s 1903 Springfield Armory rifle will be worth a fortune. Earl Teal up the road always checked in three times a day before when he and Emma were gone. “It’s not like in the old days when you could go off and leave the front door open,” he told the children a million times. “With all the meanness in the world today nobody’s safe walking outside.” Now there wasn’t any reason for him to leave his home. All the kids are married except Luke who probably won’t ever be and none of the grandbabies old enough. His home was as important as his breathing. More so because it would be standing long after he was dust. Smiled. Closed his eyes. Patted his stomach. Felt like being hugged. My home.
His home was the best built in Cedar Hollow, maybe Wilson County. Started the week after the Army let him go. Brick pilings under, pine heartwood throughout, a perfectly pitched roof above. He sawed every board. Hammered every nail. Measured every corner one, twice, over three times. Nothing ever squeaked, dripped, leaked, rusted. The white outside glowed. Under the full moon like a ghost. The yard was kept as perfect as any in a magazine. Just like my garden, never a weed.
Frowned. When I do go it’ll be feet first like Emma. Hopefully not for a long while. Next the kids will be trying to stick me into a goddamn nursing home.
The children finally left him alone. Told each other, “You know how stubborn Daddy is.” Arranged for a black woman to check in on him every day. I ain’t stubborn. Stubborn was my Daddy’s first, last, and middle name. And I don’t need a babysitter. A waste of money I ain’t going to pay! I’m old enough to remember to turn off the goddamn stove. Once the kids forget about me again, I’ll fire her ass.
Smiled. As always his plans were perfect. Tomorrow I’ll finish Myrtle Gardner’s curio cabinet. Six foot. Maple. Glass sides and shelves.
Supper was over. Cold fried chicken. A breast and a leg. Cornbread. Sweet milk. Potato salad. The last of Alice Conner’s double fudge cake. The dirty dishes stacked up in the sink for Miriam to wash tomorrow morning. There were also some dirty clothes in the bathroom. She’ll damn sure earn her money. I’ve worked hard all my life for what I got. I ain’t the Government giving away handouts.
Ed always ate his big meal at noon, today with his old maid sisters, Alice and Helen Ann. They always had roast beef every Sunday. Either burnt or raw. Some things never change. True until the end like me. Folks seeing me once and know how I look everyday. Gray hair stubbles, the center ones gone. Heavy boots with thick white socks, sometimes worn to bed. One-piece underwear, long in winter and short in summer. Tan Dickies shirt and pants. Fifteen and a half collar, thirty-four sleeve. Thirty waist. Thirty-two leg. Tortoiseshell frames glasses. A cap. Full racks at the front and back doors. Every color possible, usually advertising something, but the ones liked best are blank. I ain’t no goddamn billboard!
Waiting for the clock to bong nine to go to bed. Full. Relaxed. Slanted in his overstuffed recliner, feet up and crossed. Boots always left at the back door coming in. Glancing through the weekend edition of The Wilson County Times, which came in yesterday’s mail. Grunted. Wednesday’s edition ain’t any better, just more to burn.
A comfortable, satisfying rut he and Emma slipped into after the children were gone. Him reading or napping. Her sewing or knitting. Sometimes watching T.V. Nothing except the news or a game show was worth seeing, the first depressing, the other silly. No telling how many times he’d hollered, “Why in the hell is she buying a vowel?” Chuckled inside. Glanced over to tell Emma who always laughed at his jokes.
Her spot on the sofa, the closest arm under a matching lamp, empty.
Held the newspaper up. Poked his head between the pages. Hid from the sofa. Embarrassed like stumbling-burping-farting before strangers. But the words, like marks to somebody who couldn’t read, crumbled into his lap.
The room felt colder. Quieter. Stiller.
Quivered inside. Imagined Emma underground. Started gasping, wheezing, strangling. Palms sweaty. Fingers shaky. Heart thumping, racing away. Right hand clenched across his chest, fingers digging, left fist pressing down the newspaper. Knew he was having a heart attack. Life was almost over. Please, God, don’t let me die! Not now!
Closed his eyes waiting.
A moment passed. And then another followed by more. But his soul didn’t drop through a hole or shoot up into the sky. Believed life ended with an inside explosion louder than a bomb, bigger than a blast, but nothing happened. I’m still alive!
Took a deep breath. Opened one eye and then the other. He wiped spit from the corner of his mouth with his underwear collar. Seems like you’re always drooling when you’re old. Pours like a faucet out of one end and barely dribbles out of the other. Okay. Slow down. Relax. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, natural after all of these years. I’ll catch myself plenty of times before it’s all over.
Moments passed and more. Chewed his inside cheek and tongue. What if the kids are right? Maybe I ought not to be alone? I could go stay with one of them awhile. Say a week, a month, just not forever.
Closed his eyes. Grunted. Sighed. Time had a way of passing without knowing. No, I’m okay here alone. Just need awhile. Stared back at the sofa.
I’m all right.
Closed his eyes. Again chewed his inside cheek and tongue. Maybe I should call? Suzie will be home. Mobile’s just over an hour’s drive. She wanted to stay longer, but he made her go. You need to get ready for tomorrow. Life goes on. You have your own family to think about. Knew all of the children’s telephone numbers without looking. Could easily reach the telephone from his recliner. Don’t even have to put a one in front. Just three, four, four… Stopped. Shook his head back and forth. No! My bill is high enough. Word will get around I’m crazy and they’ll stick me into a goddamned nursing home.
Opened both eyes, weak but not feeble. Pulled up straight in his recliner. Rubbed his chest until his heart again beat steady. Could feel his blood slowing to before. Maybe I should take another pill to get it lower? No better not, expensive enough taking one every day. Maybe I’ll cut back?
Another deep breath, heavy sigh. Spread the newspaper back before him. Shrugged at an editorial. Who gives a goddamn what my congressman says? Those bastards only want a pay raise. Crooks every damn last one. Turned the page. Saw under the funeral notices his wife’s name.
“Elizabeth Marie Miller Weaver,” he muttered slowly. The newspaper crumbled into his lap. Didn’t need to read the rest to know. The only feeling was numb.
It happened Thursday morning, a little after five. “A massive coronary thrombosis,” declared Phillip Ramsey, who took over his daddy’s practice after Wayne got too old. “Dead before hitting the floor.”
Ed was in the bathroom shaving. Emma was in the kitchen fixing breakfast. Grits, sausage, biscuits, eggs sunny-side up. She never served just cold cereal. Always said, “A body needs substance to get going.”
He was staring into the medicine cabinet mirror. Image pale and puffy. Humming something. Slide the straight razor in his right hand down his left cheek, which was poked out by his tongue like a wad of tobacco was underneath. Left fingers tugged the skin. Sounded like scraping sandpaper clean.
CLANG-THUMP-DING. The skillet hit the floor.
Of course he didn’t know what the noise was then. Thought maybe a gas explosion. The children kept saying switch to electricity. But that cost too much, wasn’t as efficient. Ricky said he couldn’t sleep at night with that stuff in his house.
Stopped. Set the razor down without cleaning or snapping shut. Mumbled, “Damn that woman!” Expected her to hear him from anywhere in or out the house.
Mumbled another, “Damn that woman!” Left without washing his face or switching off the overhead light. Was always cutting off lights and shutting drawers somebody else left on or open. No wonder the electric bill is sky-high!
Hobbled down the hall. Weight on one foot, then the other. Right then left kneecap almost buckling. Wonderful results of old age. Went through the living and dining rooms. Glanced at the heaters, which were okay. Wouldn’t own something if it wasn’t safe. Flung back the swinging door.
Emma spread facedown on the kitchen floor, left hand open like a kid’s letting a balloon go. Inside the skillet the two eggs were busted, their yolks a yellow river together.
His legs gave. Nearly hit the floor. Not sure what was said.
Knelt down. Not sure whether to touch, afraid like a kid left alone. Finally gently turned her forward. Pulled her close, her weight nothing. Stroked her forehead. Kept repeating, “It’s okay, Honey.” It was the first time I’ve called her anything besides “Emma” since… I can’t remember when.
Her hair, thin and streaked with gray, brushing her shoulders. Always twisted behind her head after breakfast. Deep cracks like wood grain around the mouth, down the cheeks, above the eyes. Skin loose around the neck. Freckles now age spots grown together. Stared without blinking at something faraway, her eyes large behind the gold wire rims.
Then things happened too fast, too scrambled together, that he couldn’t remember. Maybe later, he kept thinking, when I’m alone. When I can think.
The house filled up with people. Food and flowers were everywhere. Emma was a grown-up doll in a coffin before the picture window. Carried to the church in a hearse. The organ played. Ed sat on the front pew like for the children’s weddings.
The Reverend Thompson said Emma lived a good life, “One of God’s glorious angels whose work on earth is done.” They prayed. He bowed his head. James, Earl, Tom, Herb, Floyd, Wayne put Emma’s coffin into the hearse, which drove to the cemetery with the mourners walking behind. Patted a handkerchief, which Emma had pressed Wednesday morning, under the fold of each eye.
Came back to his recliner again. Lifted his head. Put his feet on the floor straddling the footrest. Grunted. Folded the newspaper, not neat like always, and pushed it over the padded arm. Imagined the plop on the rug like a rock thrown into a pond from far away. His hearing was going like everything else. It’s a shame what you lose when getting old. The children wanted to buy him a hearing aid but he said no. Wouldn’t wear one. What happens does. Still missed the quiet sounds like rain falling and wind blowing. Sometimes sat out on the front porch at dusk waiting for the crickets, frogs, and whippoorwills, but always, even with his hands behind his ears, heard nothing.
Pulled off his glasses by the leg with his left hand. Rubbed the corners closest to his nose with his right forefinger and thumb. Eyes stung like after reading too long. Now even a page was too much. Everything looked cloudy, out of focus. Like seeing the world reflected in rushing water.
Sighed, long and loud. Stared at the ceiling, the Sheetrock like blank stars. His heart thumped like tin in a hailstorm. Felt weaker, more fragile, than sixty-five years old. So this is how it ends? With less than fifty words in a newspaper. Now everybody will know. Even strangers will glance at Emma’s name before turning the page. Shook his head back and forth like over something pathetic, a deformed child maybe. Slid the glasses back on. A finger between the lenses pushing up the hump of the nose brought the half circle bifocals closer.
Again the room, his home, was still and clear and cold.
Pulled up out of his chair. Every day was more of a struggle. At his age the easy part was plopping in. Staggered on one leg then the other with a foot sometimes dragging to the picture window by the front door. Emma always put the Christmas tree here for passersby to see. I always reminded her that our house couldn’t be seen from the road, but she said that didn’t matter. That woman sure had some peculiar notions. If one of the kids turned the tree over, the only thing that mattered was they weren’t hurt. Ricky did six times and Margaret twice learning to walk.
Soon it would be time to put up another tree. Shook his head back and forth. Frowned. Grunted. Naw, too much trouble. Silly tradition. Won’t be pretty anyway. All I know how to do is make furniture.
The Christmas trees were always cedars cut from the woods. Sweet, almost touching the ceiling, four arms’ lengths around. Now the kids put skinny aluminum fakes with color wheels under them in their living rooms, which they bragged didn’t drop needles or need water. Shook his head back and forth. Frowned. Grunted. If God wanted trees silver He would grow them that way.
Every year, he chopped down the tree Emma wanted. She always picked it out beforehand because he hated waiting and she would spend hours, sometimes days, and once months choosing. Didn’t want any of the boys swinging the axe even after they got to be teenagers because their grip could slip and cut a leg. Snapped his right thumb and middle finger together while staring at his left hand. Quicker than that. Once when Ricky was about twelve, Ed came home and found his son chopping in the woodpile. Wore his butt out. Had to sit on a pillow that night at the supper table. Hated whipped any of them, but they had to learn. Emma wouldn’t even switch their legs. Gave me that look when I tried to discipline.
A trunk of homemade and store-bought decorations stood in the corner of the attic. Everything from a fancy angel Emma bought the first year they married to stuff made by the kids in school out of straws, clothespins, and jar lids. Stored alongside strings of twinkling, bubbling, and solid lights, the older bulbs huge and the newer one tiny. There were probably ten dozen glass balls, stored in egg cartons, large and small, round and tear dropped, solid and striped, blank and with holiday sayings, which flaked off paint every year, but hanging from the tree looked new. Also crocheted snowflakes, wooden cutouts, the six Santa Clauses bought in Arkansas. Damn, I hadn’t thought about that trip in years.
Emma spent hours arranging the decorations, which he said shamed rabbits multiplying. If one of the kids got married, a baby was born, or something special happen, she bought a trinket, usually brass, marked with the date. Women are suckers for that sort of things.
Finally each branch was coated in long glittering strips of foil. Laid not throw. Mirrored the lights. Flickered and ripped when somebody passed too close. The kids never put this on their aluminum trees. Always strings of gold tinsel because of the mess. But Emma never complained when a few icicles fell or were scattered throughout the house and later the yard. But he sure as hell did. Chuckled. She said, “A bit of Christmas needs to stick to everything.” Didn’t even fuss about that damn Easter grass Suzie and the others took out of their kids’ baskets. Said they weren’t spending all year picking it out of the carpet.
Emma believed the tree should be up a week before Christmas and down before the first to bring the house good luck. It always was, even that year she had pneumonia after Margaret was born. Could still see her in her blue housecoat supervising Suzie, sneezing and coughing, wrapping each ball carefully in tissue paper for next year. Emma was a God-fearing woman who also believed in four leaf clovers, rabbit’s feet, knocking on wood, and upturned horseshoes over the door. Frowned. Shook his head back and forth. Closed his eyes. Grunted. Nothin’ worked this time. Nothin’ brought good luck.
Pulled back one side of the curtain, the other hand a salute. Squinted out into the dark. The moon, almost full, had cleared the pines.
The L-shaped porch was eight posts across and four down. Each twelve-foot square, three feet apart. The wire stretched over, the world millions of squares from either side, shined like a spider web weaved into cloth. Damn, forget how many rolls it took. Not telling how many millions of feet of screen I’ve tacked up during my life. The shaggy shadow of an evergreen bush touched the handrail, its twin on the opposite side out of sight. Both trimmed waist high each summer. Cupped a hand behind his ear and closed his eyes. Imagined frogs croaking, crickets answering and calling.
The pecan close-by was a twisted monster with huge outstretched arms and millions of crooked fingers. Each leaf in a camellia or azalea stuck out like a tongue. Shapes are different in dark and light.
Stared down the brick walk, from spring on edged with flowers. Emma planted some seeds last week. Forgot what kind. Guess I’ll have to wait and see. Out beyond the picket gate. The hinges need oiling after last night’s rain. Down the lane, trees tunneled over and gravel under.
There were no headlights shining forward.
Sighed. Nobody was coming without a sound. Butch and the others began barking the moment a vehicle started down. Emma said the dogs gave her enough warning to step into the bathroom and check her hair. No barking this time. No time to get ready.
Let go of the curtain. The material felt like silk between his rough fingers. Both hands fell limp against his legs. The house had never been so empty, so still before.
Suzie found a box of poems tied with a blue ribbon in the bottom of the dresser drawer while going through Emma’s things to divide up. “I’ve always wanted Momma’s jewelry box Daddy made and Margaret can have her silver since I’ve got my own.” The kids passed them around. Read a few out loud. Said they didn’t know their momma wrote. They asked if he wanted to see them, but he said no. Just leave them alone. I’ll tend to them later. Read them when after the children left. Carried one into his shirt pocket. How did she know?
Ordinary turned unreal. Irritations erupted. Energy drained. Like while dressing for the funeral yesterday morning. Movement became slow motion. Cut his chin shaving. Nothing fitted right. Suit pants baggy. Shirtsleeves short. Collar tight. His good shoes, after he finally found them (one under the bed, the other under a chair) needed shining. Got black polish on his hands.
After scrubbing that off, searched through the closet. Clothes and hangers fell. What am I going to do with her dresses? I don’t want to see anybody wearing her things.
Found the tie. Held it between his hands staring. Limp like a dead snake. The material shiny and bumpy, the front dark red, the sides and back checkered, three circles like petals on the front. Once it was the ugliest tie made. Swore after Homecoming never to wear it again. Threatened to wrap it around a tomato plant, but didn’t want the bush to die. But Emma liked the tie. Spent hours picking it out. Smiled. Looped the tie over his neck. Wrapped the long end around. From now on it would be his only tie. That woman. How am I going to live without her?
Walked over to the fireplace. Steps once straight ahead now side-to-side. Rocks dug from the river, hundred-year-old live oak mantel with finger-jointed pine crown molding. Stooped over just bending his knees. Turned the gas logs up all the way. Straightened slowly. Move too fast and the back will catch. Spend enough time as it is stove-up.
Wrung hands. Stretched out fingers before the flames. These days all of his body was stiff and sore. Full size with big fingers, wide palms, thick broken nails. A workingman’s. Fuzzy hair, long turned white, grew below the knuckles, down from the arms. The skin creased like dried wood scarred. Age spots met across the fronts. The tip of his left hand index finger was gone. Smiled. Wrapped his arms around his chest. Hugged tight. Emma used to rub lotion into them at night.
His arthritis was acting up. Always did in chilly, damp weather. January two years ago got so bad had trouble getting out of bed. Once even rolled off. That was when the children bought the gas logs, said there wasn’t any sense in him making himself sick keeping warm. Argued that the logs would always be using money and the Good Lord provided wood free, but the children said He wasn’t coming down doing the chopping. Kids, you can’t tell them anything. No matter how old they are.
Besides they all have good paying jobs. Excuse me, careers. Make plenty of money. Ricky and Beverly went to Europe last summer. All the grandkids attend private schools. Still, he didn’t burn the logs longer than necessary. Emma never complained about the house being cold, just put on a sweater. Stared into the flames. Once saw shapes in them, also in clouds, but now there was nothing.
Maybe the kids are ashamed of me? Maybe being a carpenter ain’t good enough? Maybe this house ain’t? Shook his head back and forth fast. Grunted. No, I always gave them the best. Even went without myself. This house will stand up to any anywhere. Sighed. Shrugged. Twisted his hands before the same-sized flames.
Missed the smells and sounds of a good wood fire. Even if the flames were real it wouldn’t matter. Old noses can’t sniff out and old ears can’t hear hissing and crackling. Still not hauling logs in and taking ashes out makes life simpler at my age. Probably toted a whole forest in and out during my life. Again stared into the flames. Eyes stretched wide, hands touching together like in prayer. That’s all the kids want, to take care of me now. I should let them. Grunted. Shook his head. Waved his hands back and forth. No, somebody’s got to stay here and take care of our house.
Photographs lined the mantel. Tall and short. Wooden and metal edged. Single or two and three together. Clock with white candles on each side in the middle. Mirror, almost as large as the opening under, above. The clock, which bonged on the hour, was from Emma’s family. The candlesticks were a wedding present from—he didn’t know. Ran his fingers along the board’s edge where the children, then grandchildren, hung Christmas stockings. Glanced at the pictures. Saw them separate and together. Emma could talk your ear off about each one.
Ricky, Suzie, Luke, David, and Margaret as babies. As teenagers in cap and gown. Ricky with Beverly and Suzie and Martin on their wedding days. Ben, Ricky and Beverly’s son. Janice, Suzie and Martin’s daughter. Papa and Momma Miller with her sister Evelyn and her husband Shorty. Margaret in pigtails holding a cat. Momma as a kid sitting in a chair. Emma’s sisters Mattie and Leatha. Charles, Luke, and me holding up fish. Suzie with that Perkins girl standing on a cliff. Daddy in uniform. George and Janice Kaye. Ricky the day he became a doctor. David holding a clown birthday cake. Charles behind the counter of his restaurant. Me in uniform. Alice and Helen Ann on one of their garden club trips. All the kids and grandkids here lined up on the porch for Emma’s fiftieth birthday party. Grandma Millie. Luke holding up his deer drawing. Ben after losing his first tooth. Momma and Daddy on their sixtieth anniversary. Stopped. Picked up a gold frame.
The picture, gray and white, showed him eighteen and Emma seventeen on the church steps side-by-side after saying “I do.” The too-skinny boy with the uneven haircut, his momma did put a bowl over his head the night before, looked life-and-death serious. Emma was smiling, pretty like always. He smiled. Closed his eyes. Held the picture to his heart.
May 17, 1941, a Saturday. Looked it up in the Bible last night. Kept forgetting the date when Emma was alive, but she never complained. The church packed with family and friends. Flowers everywhere. Wore Daddy’s too-short wool suit. Sweated like a plow horse in August. Held Emma’s hand tight enough during the ceremony to cut off circulation to keep from scratching everywhere. Don’t remember what the preacher said. Emma wore blue to match her eyes. That was her favorite color. She wore it the night of the box supper, to church almost every Sunday. That was the color she… Stopped like slapped by a cold wave. Legs nearly crumbled. Grabbed the mantel with one hand to keep up, the other pressing the frame to his chest. Was buried in.
Again his throat closed. Brain thumped. Heart nearly pounded out of his chest. Stared into the mirror. Face thinner. Older. Paler. Okay. Take a deep breath. Relax. The boy in the picture was a stranger like somebody read about. That’s silly. Grunted. Shook his head back and forth, ashamed like glancing at the empty sofa. Quickly put the photograph back, not looking at the others. Wiped his hands on his shirt. Walked away. After a good night’s sleep everything will be okay.
Yesterday around dusk, after the mourners left and Miriam was cleaning up, he and the children went back to the cemetery to see Emma’s grave. Going to the deceased person’s home after the funeral is a stupid tradition. The family should be left alone. It becomes nothing but a party. Ricky drove his station wagon. Luke in the front passenger’s seat with Margaret in the middle; David, Suzie, him in the back. Haven’t had the car over a year and already over sixty thousand miles! Tear one up that way.
A mound of red-orange clay filled an empty hole in the southeast corner. The tent and folding chairs were gone. Florist flowers, pots and sprays, decorated the dirt. Already wilting. Leaves drooping. Fall along the Gulf Coast was actually Indian summer and soon, three days tops after a rain, the ribbons would be faded, and the only green would be the Styrofoam under. Shook his head. Smacked his lips. Grunted. A big silly waste. Throwing away money. Emma would think so too. She loved her garden. Grew everything possible. Always kept fresh flowers in the house. Knew the stories behind the names. He closed his eyes. Saw her in the backyard under a floppy straw hat. An apron over her dress. Chopping weeds with a hole. She never wore gloves. Said dirt between her fingers felt better than gold.
The girls rearranged the flowers. Said they were thrown together; “You would think after awhile Buzz Pruitt would know how to fix a decent grave.” Thought they looked all right. Fidgeted. Waited for something to happen. Didn’t know Old Lady Miller was the next over after Emma’s folks. Wonder why that pine grew humped like that?
Finally Emma’s survivors got back into the station wagon. Light was nearly gone. Almost waved, but grabbed his hand. The kids are probably looking for a chance to put the old man away. Probably start collecting brochures for goddamn nursing homes now.
The children discussed a marker. Ricky said he knew a man in Birmingham who would make them a deal. David, always the lawyer, argued that they would come out better buying local. Suzie suggested a double headstone. “I’m not being morbid, but we all have to go and Linda Perkins’s folks have a lovely joining heart one.”
Sighed. Grunted. Saw his name and birthday chiseled in granite waiting for the moment to finish the line. Next they’ll have me test sleeping in coffins!
Bounced back to now. On the adjoining wall, between a window and a corner, were Emma’s souvenir plates. Can’t buy tongue-and-grove beaded paneling like that anymore. Got it wholesale from a place in Mobile. Nine smooth rings surrounded a circular saw shaped one. Smaller than a saucer but larger than the hole the cup sat in. Edged in gold with a hand painted scene from a different state on front and a ‘Made in Japan’ sticker on back.
Smiled. Lightly touched the middle plate to keep it from rocking. The glass felt slick and cold. ‘Lookout Mountain, Tennessee’ was printed across the sky and ‘Lover’s Leap’ under the bottom of the cliff. Emma’s first plate. Bought on our honeymoon over forty-seven years ago. First time either or us saw mountains.
from ED WEAVER