Friday, December 27, 2013

They Might Be Monsters

By Bettyann Moore

The sun was barely up and Main Street still deserted when June Fisher plunked her ample bottom down on the white rocking chair outside Jordy’s Five & Dime. She huffed a sigh of satisfaction and settled in for a long siege; she hoped the others wouldn’t be late.

She pulled her knitting bag onto her lap to check her supplies. The three-color straw bag, emblazoned with JAMAICA on the side, had been her best purchase to date. June had never been to Jamaica, nor anywhere outside of Minnesota for that matter; she’d picked up the bag at the Goodwill on half-price day, a bargain at 50 cents. The other finds that she wore that day included a baby blue sweatshirt with Tampa stitched in yellow across the bosom and a black ball cap with NY on its peak. June was a walking travelogue.

June poked around in the bag. Needles and yarn, of course, plus the scarf she’d been knitting for three years, now a good six feet long; a bottle of water and another with orange juice spiked with vodka – it could be a very long day; a deck of cards and cribbage board – June was Norwood’s cribbage champion four years’ running; and one Depends buried beneath it all – sometimes when she got to laughing, well, it was just prudent. Why, just thinking about the looks on The Boys’ faces when they saw her and the rest of the Stitchin’ ‘n’ Bitchin’ Club today was enough to set her off.

“Ha! About time!” June said, looking up from her task. Cora Lee Johnson was mincing down the sidewalk in ridiculously high heels toward her, butt sashaying in tight capris. “Damn fool,” June muttered, looking down at her well-worn Keds. Cora was a Georgia transplant and still had to learn the ways of the Midwest.

“Yoo-hoo, June, here I am!” she called out, though she was within ten feet of June now.

“I can see that,” June said dryly as Cora Lee wobbled up and stood before her.

Cora Lee planted her hands on her hips and looked around. “Which one should I take?” she asked, nodding toward the other chairs.

June waved her hand in the air. “Any one that tickles your fancy,” she said. “The bouncy metal ones can be right comfy.” June couldn’t help it, whenever she was around Cora Lee she started talking like an extra in Gone with the Wind. Bless her heart, though, the woman never seemed to notice.

“Land!” Cora Lee cried, whipping out a handkerchief and wiping off the well-worn chair. “Ain’t this Doc Kirby’s seat?” She settled into it and rocked it tentatively.

June glared at her. “It ain’t Doc Kirby’s seat more than it is anyone else’s,” she said, wincing at the ‘ain’t’. “That’s why we’re here. Where’d those other two get to anyhow?” she added, looking around. “It’s nearly 7 o’clock. I told them ...” She was interrupted by squealing tires and the loud muffler-less gunning of an engine.

“My word!” Cora Lee said, fanning the exhaust away with her hand. “Will Fern never get that big ol’ beast serviced?” The two women watched as Fern, with Delia riding shotgun, maneuvered her 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood into a parking spot.

“Thank heaven she doesn’t have to parallel park that monstrosity,” June muttered. As it was, when Fern killed the engine and it was blessedly quiet again, the car was still a good two feet from the curb.

Delia Olson wrestled with the big door then heaved it open. She went around to the trunk and pulled an aluminum walker out of its cavernous depths. Once she had it opened, she pushed it around to the driver’s side where Fern and her oxygen tank waited. The two slowly made their way to the Five & Dime. The walker, complete with a bulb horn, streamers and a wicker basket, sported a sticker that declared: Wipe That Smile of Your Face! I’m OLD, not cute! Though it was months before football season, Fern Stapleford was decked out in purple and gold, the colors of her beloved Vikings.

June could never resist. “I hear the Vi-QUEEN’s quarterback has to wear training pads to practice,” she said, taking over for Delia and helping Fern into a chair.

“And you call yourself a liberal,” Fern shot back, “and a feminist at that.”

Fern always did have June’s number. Properly chastised, June dropped back into her chair. Fern beamed a fond smile in her direction. The two had been friends since childhood.

Delia fussed with the walker, making sure it was close at hand, then leaned over Fern to make sure there were no kinks in the NG tubes. Fern slapped at her hands.

“Quit twittering about, Delia,” she growled. “Give me some air!”

“But that’s what I was trying to … oh, ha ha, I get it,” Delia said, backing away. She gave Cora Lee a hug, then settled into the chair next to her. All present and accounted for, and not a minute too soon.

“Here they come,” June said, nodding down the street toward Dottie’s Diner.

“I don’t think they see us yet,” Cora Lee said, giggling.

“I’m so nervous!” Delia declared. Fern snorted, not an easy thing to do with tubes in one’s nose, but she had perfected it.

Four men had just left the diner and were deep in conversation as they headed toward the cluster of chairs as they had for the last 25 years, but only in good weather, of course. It was Minnesota, after all. In winter they held down a corner table at Dottie’s for the bulk of the day. Dottie grudgingly allowed it; Doc Kirby had saved her life once. But Dottie was gone now – even Doc Kirby couldn’t save her from old age – and a young couple up out of Chicago had taken over. “Sorry,” they had told ‘The Boys,’ as they were called, “we can’t afford to tie up a table for that long.” The Boys still sat as long as they could over oatmeal and coffee, but eventually they had to vacate their spots. In the winter, that was a problem. It wasn’t as much fun to sit in someone’s living room, without an audience, and solve the ills of the world. On fair days, though, there were “their” chairs in front of the Five & Dime. Until today.

June, Fern, Delia and Cora Lee saw the moment when one of the The Boys’ finally noticed that something was amiss. Mikey Poston was ahead of the others and in mid-stride came to an abrupt halt. The women had a hard time keeping straight faces when the other three men collided with Mikey’s backside. Doc’s cane had somehow gotten tangled in Jake Norquist’s legs and while he and Bob Markham worked to keeping everyone upright, Mikey stood there gawking.

June, with the best vision of the four, read Mikey’s lips. “Holy shit!” the former minister cried.

The other men peered over Mikey’s shoulders as the women, one by one, brought out their needlework.
As the others bent to their tasks, June kept one eye on the men and gave a running, whispered commentary.

“They’re just standing there ...

Now they’re huddled around Doc and his mouth’s going a mile a minute …

Mikey keeps looking our way and making gestures. Hard to tell if they’re obscene …

Looks like Jake wants to go back to the diner; he’s pulling on Doc’s arm, the coward …

Bob just spit on the sidewalk, yuck, but he’s always doing that …

Looks like a consensus has been reached. Bob and Jake are going back to the diner and Mikey and Doc are headed our way. Steady as she goes, ladies.”

The two men made quite a pair. Doc, ivory-headed cane in hand, was dressed in a starched white shirt, creased grey pants and a matching vest from which a pocket watch dangled. Mikey wore his typical shiny black jogging suit with white racing stripes down the sides; it swished when he walked.

“Why Pastor Poston, Doc Kirby,” June said, pretending to be surprised when the swishing stopped and the two men stood within the circle of chairs. Mikey had the decency to blush. He hated to be reminded that he was once a preacher, defrocked years before for shenanigans with a married parishioner. Fern kept her head down, but June saw her smirk.

“Ladies,” Doc said, turning to each of them. He would have tipped his hat if he were wearing one. “It’s a beautiful day in Norwood,” he added, doing his best Garrison Keillor impression. Mikey shifted next to him. If it were anyone other than Doc, he would be elbowing him in the side.

“A tad on the chilly side for this southern girl,” Cora Lee said, batting her eyelashes and earning her a frown from June and Fern. Delia simply nodded and kept at her cross stitch.

“It’s perfect,” Fern declared, shutting down her oxygen tank and reaching into the basket of her walker to pull out a pack of Marlboros. “What?” she said, when Doc gave her a look. “They’re ultra-lights.”

“Stopping for a bit while out shopping?” Doc asked casually.

“Oh, hell no,” June said. “We’re here for the long haul. It’s the perfect place for our Stitchin’ and Bitchin’ group, right, ladies?”

The others murmured their assent; Fern took a defiant drag off her cigarette.

“But ...” Mikey began. Doc put a cautioning hand on his shoulder.

“Well,” Doc cut in, “enjoy your day, ladies. It’s an old doctor’s joke, but it works for your, uh, group as well: Keep them in stitches!” He laughed at his own joke while Mikey furrowed his brow and cocked his head. Doc took hold of the pastor’s elbow and steered him down the street toward the diner.

The group held its collective breath until the men were safely inside, then broke into loud cackles, even Delia.

“Oh my stars!” Cora Lee cried, trying to catch her breath. “Did you see the looks on their faces? And Doc Kirby! Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth!”
“Oh-oh-oh,” June gasped, clutching her gut. “I have a stitch in my side!”

Everyone went quiet, then burst into new laughter.

“Stitch! Oh my God, stitch!” Fern sputtered, then was wracked with a choking cough. Delia leapt to her feet, farting loudly, and sent the women into new fits. Fern had to turn up her oxygen intake.

By then the town was bustling and not a few heads turned their way. Shoppers going into Jordy’s gave the women wide berth, but smiled just the same. Jordy himself came out and gave them the eye, though he just shook his head and ducked back inside. The women finally went quiet when Sheriff Kleinschmitt’s black-and-white came cruising down Main Street.

June looked around at the women, her friends. Her family. Two divorcees, one widow and June herself, never married. She’d gotten over the anger at people who assumed she was “unmarriagable” or, the usual, a lesbian. Fact of the matter was, it simply never entered her mind to give up what she had already. Of course she’d had lovers, some for years and years, though few knew that.

Delia was the group’s most tender-hearted member of the little group. Horribly neglected as a child in a family of 13, she jumped right into a marriage with a dimwitted alcoholic that promised – and delivered – more neglect. June and Fern had spent hours on the phone and in person, telling her she was wonderful. It wasn’t until Delia had spent three days crawling around on her hands and knees because she’d broken her ankle and Dimwit was too drunk to take her to the doctor, that Delia finally woke up. Up until then, neglect, to her mind, didn’t equate to abuse.

Five days into kindergarten, June knew that Fern would be her friend. In a land of Norwegian blondes, Fern stood out with her coal-black hair. The other kids teased June because she could already read and preferred to curl up on the play corner rug with a book rather than taking a turn at the clay table. One of the boys – a particularly snotty-nosed bully – took exception to that and when the teacher’s back was turned, he ripped the book June was reading out of her hands and sat on it. Shy, easily intimidated June made no move to get the book back. She popped her thumb into her mouth and let silent tears fall – she’s since learned better than giving a bully such an easy target, thanks to Fern’s tutelage over the years. The young Fern marched right over to the bully and pushed him over, grabbed the book and returned it to June. Then she plunked herself down and asked June to teach her to read. They’ve been sharing books, and so much more, ever since.

June, Fern and Delia met Cora Lee while volunteering at the Sundown Rest Home where the oh-so-Southern woman was visiting her dying father. Newly divorced, she’d never been anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but as her daddy’s only living relative, she’d come to care for him when his dementia had gotten too severe for him to live alone. Why he’d retired in Snow Country, no one knew, but ever the good daughter, Cora Lee moved into his tiny apartment, cared for his cats, and trooped off to the Sundown every single day. Done volunteering for that day, the three women came across Cora Lee standing outside the rest home crying her eyes out. No, she wasn’t upset about her daddy, it was the sudden snow storm which had buried her car and ruined her sweet suede (open-toed!) shoes. Despite the frequency of such occurrences, and the fact that her father had died eight years ago, Cora Lee stayed on, still tending those cats and living in that tiny apartment.

June couldn’t imagine life without any of them. If she was feeling low, they could always make her laugh, they helped out even before she knew help was needed and they even took part in crazy schemes like taking over The Boys’ coveted Main Street position.

“That was just Round One, you know,” Fern reminded them, breaking into June’s reverie. “The Boys can’t stay in the diner all day; they’ll be out here sooner or later.”

As if they had been summoned up, the four men came out of the diner, Doc leading the pack, as usual. They strode toward the women.

“Bob Markham looks mad,” Delia remarked.

“He’s looked that way ever since they took Wayne Newton off the jukebox down at Bitsy’s Bar and Grill. In other words, for a long, long time,” Fern said, causing another round of laughter.

Delia bit her lip. “Just the same,” she said, “I wonder what they’re going to do?”

“Oh, for pity’s sake,” June said, “they’re a bunch of old guys and we’re a bunch of old women. They’re not going to do anything.”

“Guess we’re about to find out,” Cora Lee whispered as the men strolled up.

The townsfolk on the street knew it wasn’t going to be another shootout at the OK Corral, but most of them found reasons to linger nearby just the same.

“Ladies,” Doc said, then cleared his throat. “It appears that you’re having a bit of fun at our expense.”

“Oh, we’re having fun all right,” June replied, “but I don’t know as you and the rest of these gentlemen have anything to do with it.”

“Bull!” Bob Markam said over Doc’s shoulder. Doc shushed him then turned back to June, whose smile had gotten wider.

“Traditions play an important role in a small town such as Norwood,” he said. “Why, if it weren’t for tradition, mayhem would be the order of the day. Crime would run rampant!” He was warming to his subject and the women were having none of it.

“Are you actually saying,” Fern said, incredulous, “that if you and your gang didn’t sit here every day that crime … I’ll say it again … crime would run rampant through the streets of Norwood?” More than a few townspeople drew closer as her voice rose.

“Well, not precisely,” Doc sputtered. “It’s more like a metaphor for tradition and ...” he seemed at a loss for words.

“Why, I think I know what Dr. Kirby is alludin’ to,” Cora Lee said, sounding even more Southern than usual. “Why, without tradition we wouldn’ta had slavery and votes for white men only, Jim Crow, children workin’ in coal mines and sweat shops ...”

Delia chimed in. “Don’t forget good old-fashioned wife beating,” she said. “Spare the rod, spoil the child! Isn’t that how tradition had it?”

Doc Kirby shuffled his feet while the other three men clenched their fists as their sides.

“Hear, hear, now,” Jake Norquist said, taking a step toward the women, “you got no right to go calling us names!”

Cora Lee fluttered her hands prettily. “Why, we never! They’re just little ol’ metaphors,” she said. A few bystanders snickered, though some turned away.

Doc seemed increasingly uncomfortable with the way the discussion was heading.

“Ha!” he said, “looks like the joke’s on us. You won. Yessir, you’ve made your point. Lesson learned, right boys?” he said, turning to the others and hiding a wink.

“Uh … yeah, yep, lesson learned,” Mikey Poston said. Jake and Bob nodded, brows furrowed.

“So, your little group can run along home now, do your nails or something, have some nice, warm tea … getting rather brisk out here,” Doc went on, burying himself further.

“Oh, yeah, brrrrr,” Mikey said, hugging himself, “getting darn cold.”

The jaws on the four women hung open. They couldn’t quite believe their ears.

“Of all the patronizing ...”

“How dumb do you think we are?”

“What century is this again?”

June stood up, saw Bob eyeing her chair and sat back down again.

“I want to thank you, Doc,” she said, “for making this that much easier. I always thought your ‘little group’ had an over-inflated sense of entitlement, but I didn’t know you were out-and-out women-hating scurvy dogs.” June pulled out her spiked orange juice and knocked back a big slug while her friends and the onlookers held their collective breath. No one ever insulted Doc Kirby. Even the other three men moved, as a group, away from their leader.

“Stupid is as stupid does,” Fern said quietly.

Doc brought up the handle of his cane and tapped it thoughtfully against his chin for several long seconds. In the end, he spread his arms and nodded.
“Tomorrow,” he said with as much dignity as he could muster, “is another day.” The four men walked away, though they might have scurried had Doc not paced them accordingly.

There was a smattering of applause as the bystanders went on with their business.

“Why, Scarlett O’Hara is alive and well and livin’ in Norwood,” Cora Lee deadpanned.

June frowned. For all her bluster, she really didn’t like embarrassing anyone in public. She knew she’d made an enemy for life. Over some dumb chairs! She shook her head … no, it was bigger than that. It just felt small right then.

“I don’t know how they do it,” Cora Lee said, “all this sittin’ here, I mean. My derriere is already half asleep.”

“Nothing’s keeping you from getting up,” Fern reminded her.

“True,” Cora Lee said, standing and stretching. “We can go now, right?”

“Well … why? You got somewhere better to be?” June asked.

Cora Lee hedged. “Hmmm, yeah, I was gonna tell you earlier that I couldn’t stay all day.”

“What? Why?” June asked. She thought everyone had agreed that – even if it was just for one day – they’d let The Boys know that their “position” in town could disappear in a heartbeat.

Cora Lee bent down and adjusted the straps of her foot-mangling shoes. “It’s just that I’m going to Rochester.”

The women looked everywhere but at Cora Lee while she fidgeted and gathered her things together. The phrase “going to Rochester” sent chills down their spines. One didn’t just go to Rochester – certainly not to shop; that’s what the Cities were for. After living in Minnesota for almost ten years, surely Cora Lee knew by now what all Minnesotans knew: “Going to Rochester” was code for going to Mayo Clinic or to St. Mary’s Hospital, usually for tests or treatments, and sometimes, to die.

“Will you be there long?” Fern finally asked, watching Cora Lee’s face.

“Um, no, not too long … a couple of hours maybe?” She was smiling, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.

“I’ll drive you,” Fern said, standing and reaching for her walker. Delia beat her to it.

“I’ll go, too,” Delia said. “I haven’t been to Rochester in years.” Everyone remembered then the long weeks of Delia’s chemotherapy, the hair loss, the nausea. Fern, who had driven then, too, kept a plastic bucket in the Cadillac. It was still rattling around in the trunk.

Cora Lee started to protest as tears pooled in her heavily made-up eyes.

June heaved a huge sigh and stood up as well. “Cora Lee,” she said, “none of us ever goes to Rochester alone.”

“But … but The Boys ...” Cora Lee said, waving her hands at the empty chairs.

“Hell’s bells,” June said, “The Boys can bite my big ol’ behind. It was kind of like tilting at windmills anyway. They might be giants in their own minds, but we know better.”

Fern, getting the literary reference, gave her old friend a wink. Everyone gathered their things together and slowly made their way to Fern’s big, blue beast.

“What was all that about windmills tilting? Isn’t that dangerous?” Cora Lee asked as she pushed in next to June.

“Not as dangerous as real monsters, like the ones in Rochester” June said, hugging her friend. “We’ll deal with the other kind later if we have to.”

“Looks like things might sort themselves out anyway,” Delia said, looking back and nodding toward their abandoned chairs. Several people had taken their places. “Could be a trend,” she added. And, indeed, over the course of the warm weather months, the faces and backsides in those chairs would never be the same.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Let Your Hearts Be Gay at Christmas

by Colleen Sutherland

Dear BFF and you know you are! Couldn't text a story this long and talking on the phone won't work until after Christmas, so I'm putting it all in an e-mail to you. Maybe I'll run over in a couple of days.

Kate, you wouldn't believe it. It was epic! Ma's gone mental and Pa is laughing. He knew all along, he says.

I knew it was going to happen. I got to the mailbox before Ma a week ago and opened up Luke's Christmas card. He wrote the whole thing down in a letter. I removed it before I showed the card to Ma. It's OK for him, but I didn't need to hear days of ranting. Let it be a surprise, I figured. I just told her Luke was coming home for Christmas and was bringing a friend he met in Boulder.

She went all sunshine and moonbeams. You know how she is. Her pet was coming home. She went straight to his room and cleaned it again, dusting all the furniture, and taping all the half naked Brad Pitt posters down where they were coming off the wall. The next day we had to announce the great news at the True Christian Community Church and they all rejoiced with lots of loud Hallelujahs and songs. It was so embarrassing. With my family, I'm surprised you hang with me at all.

Luke should graduate in June. Ma thinks that next he will go on to a seminary. All her life she thought he should become a preacher. She prays on it all the time. Maybe one of those big mega churches for him, she thought. He could even be a television preacher on the Trinity Network. “He is so handsome so presentable.” She thinks he would be so popular if he did that. Could happen, I suppose. Some of them are less than what they appear to be.

Ma did everything to give him a good start. We were home schooled, you know that. She kept anything educational out of our education. I knew the Bible back and forth before Pa finally told her to let me go to high school to meet some boys. He said I would never go to college like Luke, they couldn't afford that, so I might as well start meeting young men. Ma thought I would meet enough at the True Christian Community Church but the congregation is mainly silly old people and guys like Luke.

First day of the freshman year I met you and that made all the difference. You taught me how to dress. Of course, the clothes we got are all at your house so I can change on my way to school. Ma would be horrified if she saw them. Even more if she saw the tattoos, but as long as I wear good Christian clothes at home, she'll never see them. You also saved me from making a fool out of myself in science classes. It was the first time I even heard of evolution. And boy, have I evolved, thanks to you, BF.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pick Your Poison

Image by Clara via Wikimedia Commons
Jodi straightened her shoulders and steeled herself before ringing the doorbell. A pear-shaped woman answered. The first thing Jodi noticed was her red sweater featuring a reindeer drinking from a martini glass. The woman stared at her with a bland smile on her face.

“Hello, I’m Jodi. I work with Reg down at the Y.”

“Of course you do,” said the woman. “I sent Reginald down to the market for more Tom and Jerry mix. But do come in.”

The woman took her coat and tossed it in a dark bedroom. She introduced the room to Jodi as ‘TobyMikeSarahEuniceJohnJohnPeggyPenelopeRupert and Ed.’ Then waved at a dining room table overflowing with candy, dessert bars, beer nuts, cheeses, sausages, cakes, dips, and a supermarket’s worth of crackers.

“Help yourself,” the woman said.

Jodi hesitated, looking over the treats sitting on their paper plates, Tupperware containers, plastic wrap, and supermarket deli containers. Reg hadn’t told her to bring anything to the party and she realized now she should have. The woman snapped her fingers and waved a red-and-green fingernailed hand.

“That’s just the snack table. Come on into the kitchen.”

Jodi’s let out a breath and followed the hostess into a kitchen large enough to cater a barn raising. Jodi gasped. The smell of vanilla, butter, cinnamon, and toast hit her. Her mouth stung as it let loose a tsunami of saliva.

“Oh my,” she said.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Queen of Acapulco - Part II

Read Part I here.

By Bettyann Moore

Resigned, peaceful even, Rhonda got ready to take in that fateful last breath. Something, though, was fighting against the powerful tow at her feet; her head hurt almost as much as her lungs did.

The next thing she was aware of were brown, concerned faces staring down at her. Her scalp hurt, but she couldn’t think why. Babbling voices assailed her. In the periphery of her vision a large, blond woman swathed in purple came clear.

“Oh my God,” she was saying, “he saved you! I never saw such … oh my God, thank God you had long hair! A second more … ”

The story came out as Rhonda lay there literally catching her breath. One of the skinny young men closest to her had seen her go under, but didn’t see her come back up. He reached for her outstretched arm, but battered by the ever-larger waves, he missed, once, twice, three times. Finally, he saw the bright red hair receding beneath him and snatched at it, grabbing enough to pull against the strong undertow. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Queen of Acapulco - Part I

By Bettyann Moore

Anywhere, Rhonda thought, I want to be anywhere, but here.

She had just left her mother-in-law’s house. No, ex-mother-in-law’s house. No, that wasn’t it. Former? Still? What did one call one’s mother-in-law once the tie that bound them is dead?

Rhonda’s head swam. She preferred the numbness of the last week. She aimed her car toward town, trying not to think. To feel.

She saw a sign, yanked the steering wheel, the cars behind her squealing their brakes as she crossed two lanes of traffic. An empty spot in front of the building, her first break in eons.

Fantasy Destinations the sign declared. Rhonda only saw the words “destinations” and “open.” She needed a destination. Now.

She swept into the tiny office, startling the young man whose eyes had been glued to his monitor. He barely had time to minimize the porn site before the wild-eyed redhead was upon him.

“M … may I help you?” he stammered. He couldn’t stand to greet her, not at that point.

Rhonda ignored him as her eyes scanned the walls behind him. Cool, blue-green water beckoned. Palm trees swayed. She could almost smell the ocean.

Never taking her eyes off one of the posters, she demanded, “Where can I go right now?”

“The Cayman’s are hot right now,” the young man said, spiel at the ready.

“But can I go there now?” Rhonda insisted.

Friday, November 22, 2013


by Colleen Sutherland

You ask, how did I wind up here? Well sir, it all began with a turkey.

A year ago I announced to my seven children that I wanted to go to a restaurant to avoid the annual Thanksgiving dinner “At my age, I shouldn't have to put up with this.” I meant it. After 59 years of drunkenness, abuse and infidelity, my husband was finally gone. I wanted quiet and time for myself in my remaining years.

Then in mid-November, I got the call from the local television station to congratulate me. I had won a 25 pound turkey.

“I didn't enter any contest,” I told Ruth, my eldest.

“Oh we all entered your name for you,” she explained. “We figured this year you wouldn't have to pay for it and we could have Thanksgiving at your house after all.”

“It didn't have anything to do with the cost! I didn't want to do Thanksgiving ever again!”

“Too late. All the travel plans have been made. Lois and her family are flying in from Idaho. Paul is driving overnight from Minneapolis. We'll be there as usual. But don't worry about it, you make the turkey and we'll bring the rest.”

And so there I was at 5:00 on Thanksgiving morning, a seventy nine year old woman preparing a 25 pound bird. I waited for one of the children or grandchildren to come to help, but they never did. I wound up cramming it into the oven on my own. I felt my muscles tear. I would have to schedule a trip to the chiropractor.

They began to arrive at 11:30. The first was Ruth who came in with a pumpkin pie. She was followed by Mary-Margaret with another pumpkin pie.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Balanced Approach

Photo by Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons

Author's Note: This story features a paranormal lawman, a talking knife, and is rated M for "Mature." For other stories featuring these characters, check out Carne Fresco right here on the blog.

If you go to a certain parking garage and enter the elevator, you will find yourself selecting between four buttons set into a sheet of scratched stainless steel. The panel is crooked, letting the lights behind the buttons seep out and destroy the illusion that technology is somehow elegant and flawless. You notice the magical light behind the panel is just a cheap light bulb with dusty wires looped around a plastic clip. You wonder if it’s even a good idea to be in an elevator to begin with, to trust your life to something so simple and easily broken. Shouldn’t it have computer chips or something? How old is it? Maybe you should leave it alone and use the stairs instead. That’s the safe choice, the one most people choose.

The idiots seem to believe that something as old as this elevator must be good for one more trip, and punch their floor. Death spares them once more, and the elevator delivers them without incident. They alight, mentally congratulating themselves for being so brave. At least that’s what I think goes on in their heads. Either way, all that matters is that no one lingers in this elevator for long.

When the doors close, I insert a key in the fireman’s slot, and punch out a pattern on the buttons. The elevator goes down four floors farther than it should. When the doors open, I’m greeted by three hundred and seventy pounds of muscle, fur, and teeth dressed in jeans and a Black Sabbath concert shirt.

“ ‘Lo, Angus,” says Tusk, putting down a book, “What the hell happened to your face?” 

Friday, November 8, 2013


By Bettyann Moore

I think I’m brain-dead,” Porpoise McAllister muttered.

On the picnic table before him, 150 Ways to Play Solitaire lay open to Osmosis, the 29th game Porpoise was trying to learn that morning. He wasn’t having much luck. It had been his mother’s idea to come here; he would have much preferred the cool dankness of his basement retreat to the noise and sunshine of the town’s only park. He would have even preferred working on the farm, but he was supposed to be studying for his SATs and his father had declared the month of July “farm-free,” at least for Porpoise.

Just look at yourself, Leslie!” his mother had cried. “You’re as white as a ghost!”

She had surprised him, sneaking down the basement steps with that look of disgust on her face that said “I should have turned this space into a rumpus room.” He was just thankful that he had finally gotten around to filing away his collection of magazines – alphabetized under various fantasies – and that he hadn’t been in the throes of passionate reading when she had descended upon him.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Christmas Spirit

“Bill! Get those pumpkins off the porch and take down the orange lights.” It was November First and Beatrice was ready.

Bill had promised to love Beatrice until death did them part but he thought he should have inserted an exclusionary clause exempting him from Christmas and the months preceding. But there was nothing he could do about it after forty years. He had his marching orders.

He packed the plastic pumpkins and orange lights into boxes and drove his pickup over to their double storage unit to pick up Christmas. The boxes and bins he loaded up were marked numbers from 1 to 40. Nos. 1 through 25 had to be delivered to the spare bedroom for Beatrice to sort through. For the two months, forget about the calendar. It was Christmas.

His next assignment was to open the first box which held the big inflatable turkey beside the house. It was a mere sop, a side show to the spectacle that was about to follow. Beatrice had given up on Thanksgiving which is more about food than decor. That last Thursday in November, they always took their sons out to the Country Buffet until they married. Her daughters- in-law rebelled and took over the feast in their own homes. None of them felt there was any point in going to Bill and Beatrice's house at all until until Christmas. That was fine with Bernice. Her eyes were set on bigger things.

By the second day in November, Bill was on a ladder putting up the exterior lights. There were the icicle lights that dropped from the eaves. There were the strands of big bulbs that had to be wound around the nine spruces. Each year the trees got taller. In another year he would have hire a cherry picker to wind them to the top where the golden stars waited. As long as he was up there he hung the giant ball ornaments Beatrice collected each year at the citywide rummage sales. As it grew darker, Bill set up the dozen small pre-lit trees that lined the driveway. It was only day two and he was exhausted and wishing he only had twelve days of Christmas to contend with.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dinner and a Photo

Photo by Paparazzimalaya 
Morgan didn't really believe in karma, but taking an Eastern interpretation of Pascal's wager, he decided it couldn't hurt to act as if there was a grand accounting at the end of life. He also believed the little things added up more so than grand gestures. When the opportunity arose, he held doors open for others, pushed all the loose shopping carts together in parking lot corrals, and slowed down for yellow lights. It was when he volunteered for Meals on Wheels that his flirting with karmic justice turned serious. He must have made a bad impression during the interview, because they assigned him to Roger.

Morgan shifted the insulated bag to one arm and knocked on Roger's door. The old man took his sweet time answering and even longer unlatching the door. Though Roger always seemed appreciative, his eyes bored through Morgan the entire visit. Morgan imagined Roger's mahogany face on the shoulders of whatever creature was to judge him in the afterlife, the same eyes seeing straight through a cynical attempt to lead a virtuous life.

Roger's apartment was filled with pictures of women. Women of all ages, races, and situations. A black woman, eyes closed, smelling a bouquet of daisies. A white woman in torn jeans and football jersey holding a fishing pole. A woman in a red headscarf flashing a peace sign in front of a polar bear exhibit. Some wrinkled, some smooth skinned, happy women, sad women, women in motion, women taking their ease, pictures scattered across all the flat surfaces of his apartment, dotting the walls in an eclectic collection of frames. Pick any picture, and Roger would tell you the woman's name.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hear! Hear!

By Bettyann Moore

“Mom, you really should do something about your hearing.”

Rita Repnick peered up at her daughter over her reading glasses. She thought Marsha had said “Reaganomics is somewhere steering,” but she was pretty sure that couldn’t be it. For one thing, though it made sense in a strange way, Marsha wasn’t given to talking politics with her mother. And, for another, to say such a thing out of the blue like that …

“What was that, dear?” she resorted to one of her stand-bys.

“I said,” Marsha yelled across the kitchen where she was banging pots onto the stove, “Your hearing … you really should so something about it!”

When Marsha spoke up, Rita had no problem at all hearing her. Why couldn’t she do that all the time instead of mumbling so?

“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing, dear,” Rita said for the millionth time, “people just need to speak up!” Agitated, Rita buried her nose in her book while her daughter clattered around in the kitchen. She was pretty sure Marsha was mumbling something else, but Rita pretended to be absorbed in the text. In truth, she keep reading the same paragraph over and over again.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lifeguards - Conclusion

by Colleen Sutherland

The women's shower room was in a fog of steam from the water still pouring down from the shower column. Brittany and Savannah peered at the massive bulk that was Gladys, then looked at each other. Their brains synchronized.


Troy was still watching a mother and two children in the small pool. It wasn't his job to go tearing into the women's locker room.

Savannah came to door. “Troy, it's Gladys. She's on the floor passed out. What do we do now?”

“Call 911.” It was the first thing lifeguards learned in the CPR classes. Savannah should have known that.

“Okay. I can do that.” Savannah sped off before he could give her more instructions.

Brittany was at the door next. “What should we do?”

“Did you start CPR?”

“Well … no. “

“Well start now!”

“I took that over a year ago and I didn't pay much attention then. Plus, I don't want to.You're the one with EMT training. You do it.”

Troy sighed. They were right, he was the logical choice. He began to bark out instructions. “You take over here. These people will have to leave. Tell Savannah to put a sign up at the door that the pool is closed for an emergency. Then she should lock up. When you do that, come and help me. Bring towels.”

Troy went to the locker room door, took a breath and went in. He had never been in the women's locker room before, even for a cleaning.To add to that, he had never really that much experience with girls. He was going to get some lessons on female anatomy today but he would have preferred it to be on a date.

The shower was still running. The girls hadn't even thought to do that much. Troy turned the knob. It was so hot he thought he might have a minor burn. The fan was running but it would take a while for the steam to dissipate.

Gladys was where the girls had left her. Troy didn't recoil. He reminded himself he was going to be a doctor. He would see plenty of obese women by the time he was an intern.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lifeguards – Part One

by Colleen Sutherland

The old woman toddled out of the woman's locker room to stand beside the arthritis pool waiting for a lifeguard to come and watch over her. She couldn't go in until somebody was there to watch. That was one of the posted rules.

In the pool office, Troy, Savannah and Brittany knew that one of them had to go out do their lifeguard duty. It was their job.

“I had her yesterday.”

“Yeah, but I had to guard the old hag three times this week.”

“You know she'll hang around for an hour so we'll all have to listen to her. What difference does it make?”

“So you go.”

“Wait a minute, if she stays over an hour, the first to go would get her twice.”

In the end, they rock, paper, scissored and Savannah had to go.

The Glen Valley Fitness and Aquatic Center was open seven days a week. When the city fathers wrote the federal grant to build it, they said it would encourage people to move to Glen Valley, bring in new business and help the citizens with health issues. In fact it was seldom used except for occasional students who came over from the high school and the toddler swimming lessons held in the evenings. After five years, the center was still new and shiny, white tiles shining from the sun that shone down from the overhead windows. To keep costs down, the lifeguards served as janitors to keep the floors spotless.

There was an eight lane Olympic pool that sometimes was used by the swim teams from other towns. The small shallow pool for arthritis patients heated to 90 degrees. That was where Gladys waited.

Gladys used the pool every day not only for her arthritis, but also because she was trying to lose weight. It wasn't working.She waddled into the building every day in sweat suits that strained to keep up with the folds of fat that encased her tall skeleton. At the front desk, she signed in, never bothering to show her pool card. She had bought a life time pass when the pool opened which had seemed silly to some, but five years later, it had proved a wise investment. She came to use the pool five or six times a week. The guards never even knew she had arrived until she showed up at the arthritis pool draped in a suit Savannah claimed a tent company had manufactured for her.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Cloud Dancer

Pippa's easels were held together more with tape and hope than solid welds or professional care. The yellow warning light on number two disappointed, but didn't surprise her. The directional fans stuck. The 250-liter water tank had a bright orange rust stain from a slow leak. One docking cradle was missing its sculpting drone. This, even after she had drained her account for the parts to get both units flying again. At least they had passed the safety inspection, she thought as she called up number two's control display on her tablet.

The port fan's heating circuit said the air temperature was seventeen degrees Centigrade below zero, when it should have read about ten above. Pippa frowned, and smacked her hand against the housing. The temperature didn't change. She keyed the controls on her tablet and pulsed the heater. The feedback tracked up with the pulse, so maybe it was only out of calibration. She'd have to check into it later, there wasn't enough time to fix it here. When she won today, she promised herself, she would pay someone to fix it for her. If not, well, she'd think of something.

“Problems, Senhora?” a voice said. Pippa turned and saw Carlos Maya, looking over her shoulder at the tablet.

“Flaky heater circuit in one of my easels.”

“Bad luck for you, Senhora. You pulling out?”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Just Another Obsession - Part III

By Bettyann Moore
Long before the sun came up on the morning after Porpoise had his talk with his uncle, he looked groggily up from his pillow to find his father staring down at him.

“Get up!” he commanded the boy.

“Wha ..., what?”

“Out of bed, now. Meet me in the barn in five minutes!” Brian turned on his heel and marched out of the room, switching on the overhead light as he left.

Porpoise scrambled from his tangled sheets and rooted through the pile of clothes on the floor. He yanked on a t-shirt and overalls, grabbed a pair of socks, gave them a sniff and scurried barefoot down the stairs. He pulled on his boots, then realized he’d forgotten to put on his socks, so he stuffed them into his pockets and ran out to the barn where Brian waited.

Fully expecting to have some emergency task to see to, Porpoise was surprised to see his dad standing stock-still in the center of the barn. Porpoise approached him slowly.

“Dad?” he said.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Just Another Obsession - Part II

By Bettyann Moore

The basement never really existed for Porpoise. When he was little, his parents told him, he took a scary tumble down the rickety stairs and ever since, the door had been locked. When he got older and perfectly capable of navigating any kind of surface, they told him that it was his dad’s “special place,” the only area in the house that he could truly call his own, and therefore off limits for everyone, including Thea.

So, when mother and son were enjoying a rare moment alone at the breakfast table and Thea dangled a well-worn key in front of his eyes, Porpoise had no idea what he was looking at. He knew it wasn’t a car key, though having a car and getting away from his obsessive father was foremost on his mind lately.

“What’s that?” he asked his mother.

“A key, silly.”

“Mom ...”

“Okay, okay, Mr. Grouchy Pants,” Thea said, placing the key in his hand. “It’s your ticket to sanity.”

“Meaning …?”

Thea sat in the chair opposite her son and closed the boy’s fingers over the key. “Meaning,” she said, “that I – we, your dad and I – know things have been rough for you lately. This is the key to the basement.”

Porpoise was even more confused.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Just Another Obsession - Part I

By Bettyann Moore

When Porpoise saw the white, half-moon on his dad’s upper lip that morning, he knew it would be a long day. Brian McAllister was chugging antacid again. He’d put his family through holy hell the last time, during the weeks leading up to April 15. Tax time was long past, but Porpoise knew he needed to lay low until this new crisis – whatever it was – passed.

It wasn’t easy. Father and son worked side-by-side on the family’s crop farm. Porpoise’s only reprieve came during school hours and the long bus ride to school and back through flat Wisconsin farm land. Today, though, today was Sunday and spring to boot; it would take an act of God to keep Brian out of the fields today.

Go change your clothes,” Brian said, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

But ...” Porpoise looked down at what he was wearing. Coveralls, check. Stained, but clean t-shirt, check. Seed cap, check. Barn boots by the door, check.

No ‘buts’, we’re going to church.”

It was then Porpoise noticed that his dad was wearing a crisply-ironed white shirt and black creased trousers. You could cut yourself on that crease. His mother, cooking something at the stove, was wearing her good blue dress and – holy mother of God – high heels. She turned then and he saw that she was wearing one of his dad’s barbequing aprons. “COME AND GET IT!” was emblazoned across the chest. Porpoise winced. She gave him one of her looks.

It either said: “Humor your dad, this, too, shall pass”, or “These high heels are a bitch!”

Friday, August 23, 2013

Thunder and Barbeque - Part 2

Fortunately, the hospital wasn't far from the park. Valerie drove Corncob to the ER and somehow talked the nurse into letting them see Michael once the doctors were through with him.  Michael lay in bed with the sheets pulled all the way up to his chin. A clear plastic tube ran under his nose, and he stared at the ceiling.

"You okay, Michael?" Corncob said.

"No, Cornelius," Michael said, "I am definitely not okay. If I were okay, I would not be in the hospital with heat stroke now would I?"

"I guess not."

Valerie clucked her tongue. "You look better now than when they put you in the ambulance, if you ask me." Corncob winced as he saw Michael gather a breath for a scathing retort, but Valerie cut him off. "Corncob here is just concerned for you, that's all.

"He's fine," Corncob said. "If he were in trouble, he wouldn't be this ornery."

Michael clenched his jaw and stared back up at the ceiling. "I'm so overjoyed by you both coming in here to offer your well-wishes. I can feel my strength returning, buoyed on by your outpouring of sympathy and understanding."

"Don't mention it," Corncob said.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thunder and Barbeque -- Part 1

Image by M.Minderhoud via Wikimedia commons
If there was one thing Corncob enjoyed, it was pumping gas. The way the gasoline kept the spigot's handle cool in the summer heat, the reassuring throbbing of fuel surging into the tank, and the heady vapors that reminded him of cut grass and, for some reason, licorice. Corncob glanced around the pump to make sure Michael was still inside the store and eased the spigot's latch back a notch. He closed his eyes and leaned against the car. He could fall asleep like this, he thought.
The pump shuddered and came to a stop with an unpleasant jolt.  Corncob sighed as he opened his eyes and put the spigot back in its cradle. He got back behind the wheel and hung onto the last moments of peace until the his partner slid into the passenger seat with his third extra-large coffee of the morning, slamming the door behind him
"What the hell is it with Oklahoma ?" Michael said.
"The heat? The oil wells? I'm sure I have no idea."
"It's the cowboys."
Corncob paused, thinking.
"They play in Texas, not Oklahoma, Michael."
"Not the Cowboys, the cowboys, Corncob. You know, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, High Plains Drifter –"
"Oh, like Lonesome Dove."
"No," Michael said as he slammed his coffee into the cupholder, "Ow!" He sucked some coffee from his thumb. "Not that sentimental claptrap. I mean real manly-man cowboys."
"Brokeback Mountain?' Corncob pretended to check his blindspot so Michael couldn't see his smile.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Almost Eustace

Another story in the Johnny Potter series.

By Bettyann Moore

Let me tell you how I come just a whisker short of bein’ christened Eustace Pitts. Now, can you imagine what goin’ through this life bein’ called Eustace Pitts coulda done to a body? Ever’ time I think on it, the hairs in my ears stand straight out.

Now, I knows that these parts is known for what I heard called “colorful” names. An’ when you knows what folks was up to when they give their children them names, it kinda makes sense in a way. Some cotton to the notion that if you calls a body somethin’ pretty they’s gonna be pretty. And it ain’t too hard to figger out what one preacher had in mind when he called his kids DoGood, Sabbath and Salvation. And it ain’t real hard to figger out what that same preacher’s wife were up to when they done had their fourth young’un and named him Judas. But I done heard of growed folks walkin’ round with names like Fanny Teat (folks just calls her Mama Teat), Crawdad Fisher and Lazy Crisp. And to a person, they were an ornery lot. I woulda gone through this life as Eustace Pitts if Ma Ma had gone and married Grady Pitts like her pa wanted her to.

I be borned in nineteen-aught-four, but back in nineteen-aught-two my Ma Ma, Rebecca Jean Simpson, were gettin’ courted right hard by the onliest smithy in this neck o’ the woods, Grady Pitts. Grady’s biggest dream was to sire a son to carry on his trade, a son he’d name Eustace Pitts, after his grandaddy.

My grandpa, Grover Simpson, were right pleased ‘bout these goin’s on. Besides bein’ the only smithy, Grady were a dang good one, too, and Grandpa were all the time needin’ yokes and wagons and shoes for his mules and horses. He figgered to save a heap o’ cash with a smithy as kin.

Ma Ma used to tell me how when Grady come a-callin’, her pa would set out somethin’ to be mended. If Grady took it and had it back good as new when he come callin’ again, Grandpa’d let Ma and Grady set out on the porch all alone. The bigger the job, the longer the spoonin’. Ma Ma said the night Grady come to find Grandpa’s whole team of mules and a plow horse to be shoed, she feared for her virtue. When she seen the gleam in Grady’s eyes, she were right thankful it’d take a heap of time to finish the job – the shoein’ I mean.

Poor Grady must have been chompin’ at the bit ‘cause he done what he swore he’d never do – take on a ‘prentice to see to the other jobs that needed doin’ while Grady put his whole soul into gettin’ them animals shoed for my grandaddy. Now, the reason why Grady were so good were ‘cause he done everything his ownself – from ridin’ into Hendersonville for the iron he’d be needin’, right down to makin’ his own shoe nails. Givin’ a job to Grady meant you’d be gettin’ mighty fine work, but it meant you’d have to wait for it. Grady were makin’ dang sure this’d be the best he ever done. He didn’t want no mess-ups.

His first mistake were takin’ on a ‘prentice. His second were takin’ on Cotton Cooper’s ol’ man, Stu Cooper, to be that ‘prentice. Stu were just a young’un then, maybe 15 or thereabouts, but he were already stuck fast to the jug. His ma used to say he went right from the teat to the bottle and never let up. Oh, there were some skill hidin’ behind them bloodshot eyes and shaky hands. On a sober day – and they was few – ol’ Stu could swing a sledge with the best of ‘em. Grady were pretty hard up, though, and took who he could get and set Stu into makin’ wagon wheels for a farmer outta Caldoon County whilst he worked on gettin’ into Ma Ma’s petticoats.

Round about this time, a young fella named Seth Potter come back home to the mountain. He been livin’ with some old aunties in Tennessee since he were eight or so and come back to live on his daddy’s farm after the old man passed on. Alvin Potter didn’t like young’uns too much and when his wife Lizzie died of the influenza, he sent Seth off to live with his wife’s sisters. Alvin weren’t a bad sort; he done left the farm to Seth and Seth come back a big, strappin’ man of 19 to work that land and cut hisself a notch on this earth.

‘Fore he could do his own work, though, Seth needed some money, or at least some credit to pay for a team and some seed. He set off walkin’ down the road and stopped at the first place he come to, my Ma Ma’s daddy’s house.

Grandaddy liked the looks of Seth standin’ there in the yard. He looked ever’ bit strong as a horse – and as you may recollect, his own horses was off bein’ shoed.

Ma Ma were a shy sort and hid behind her daddy’s back and peeked out at Seth and couldn’t take her eyes off his hands – they was so big and powerful. Grandaddy put Seth to work right off, pullin’ his plow. Seth were right happy for the work. He seen Ma Ma peekin’ out behind her daddy and gettin’ to see her durin’ the day made the work all the sweeter.

Lordy, how that man musta worked! He done had three acres plowed by sundown. Ever so often Ma Ma brung him some sweetwater from the well and Seth always liked sayin’ he wasn’t sure what kept him goin’ – that cool water, or them cool, soft hands carryin’ that water out to him.

Whilst Seth and Rebecca were workin’ on fallin’ for each other, Grady were workin’ like a mad man on them shoes. Stu Cooper stayed pretty much sober while workin on them wheels ‘cept at the very start – it were his birthday and he celebrated for three days. So, when he’s chiseling the mortises for the hub of them wheels, he done forgot to slant ‘em. By the time he sobered up and seen what he done, he didn’t dare tell Grady and he stuck them spokes in anyhow, hopin’ no one’d get wise to it.

Grady’s third mistake were trustin’ Stu to do the job right.

By and by them horses and mules was shod and the wagon wheels done – in their fashion. Grady were so all-fired anxious ‘bout gettin’ them critters to Grandaddy Grover, he didn’t see no problem with them wheels. Him bein’ a fussy type, that’s right surprisin’, but dang lucky for me.

By the time Grady come to see Ma Ma to get his due, she had done forgot ‘bout him, she were so smitten with Seth Potter. Grandaddy seen it comin’, but didn’t do nothin’ to stop it. He liked Seth an’ didn’t see no harm in havin’ two suitors for his Rebecca – ‘long as he got the best farmhand on the mountain and his critters shod to boot.

‘Course I weren’t there, but I reckon when ol’ Grady showed up with them animals and finds some stranger courtin’ his gal on the porch swing, there musta been some sparks a-flyin’. Grandaddy Grover feared both fellas would walk off and leave Rebecca and him high and dry. He figgered the onliest way to work things out was to have some sorta contest ‘twixt the two – a wagon race, he decides – from his place to Hendersonville, the hilliest, rockiest patch of country you ever run across.

“Full wagons,” he says, ‘cause it just so happens he’s got to get a load of hay and corn likker to Hendersonville, “and the first one that gets their wagon over the town line gets the right to ask for my Rebecca’s hand in marriage.”

Ma Ma told me that if it were up to her, she knowed who she’d run off with right then and there. Seth were a righteous man, though, and figgered to have her hand fair and square. Grady didn’t care how he done it, he were feelin’ mighty deflated after shoeing all them critters and comin’ out empty-handed – he didn’t care how he won.

Poor Seth didn’t have no team to pull no wagon and no wagon neither, so Grandaddy Grover loaned him the lot. Everbody thought it right white of Grady to take a look at the team’s shoes aforehand “to make sure they’s up to snuff,” he said.

The race were set for the next day at sun up. Grady had a fine team of horses, of course, but he were hard-pressed to come up with a good wagon. He did have some good wheels, he thought – the very wheels Stu Cooper made – so he worked through the night fixin’ them to an old hay wagon.

That was his fourth mistake.

Grandaddy Grover called the mark and Seth and Grady were off. When they’s finally out of sight, Ma Ma says she were cryin’ buckets ‘cause Grady were out in front.

It were hard goin’. There be only a handful of spots where it were wide enough for one wagon to pass the other. Steep mountain passes made the wagons tilt so far to one side or t’other, they be apt to tip over. Granddaddy Grover had nestled his ‘shine down into the hay to save breakin’, but by the time they was through, there’d be more’n one cow drunk on likkered up hay.

They was runnin’ pretty much neck and tail when they come to the top of the last hill, with Hendersonville spread out below. It’s then that Seth’s horses start to buckin’ and neighin’ like they’s in powerful pain. Seth pulls off and checks their shoes and, sure enough, they ain’t but one nail holdin’ them on – and some come off altogether. Grady done checked them all right.

That devil snickered and slapped his knees as he drove past poor Seth, leavin’ him chokin’ in his dust.

Well, now, this here part be a might hard for a body to swallow, but I tells it like I heard it and my Ma Ma ain’t never lied.

Seth were so crazy with love, he done strapped hisself to that wagon and set off down that hill, fixin’ to win hisself a bride. Grady looked back and cackled mightily to see such a sight and whipped his horses all the more. He weren’t laughin’ for long.

See, if the mortises of a wheel ain’t slanted, the wheels ain’t dished. And if the wheels ain’t dished and the load shifts to the downhill side of the wagon, it are certain them wheels are gonna bow out and split apart – it just be a matter of time. And about a hunnert yards out of Hendersonville, Grady Pitts’ time were up. Them ol’ wheels started to bowing and Grady hears a sickenin’ crack and there she goes, in a dozen pieces.

While Grady’s scratchin’ his head at the side of the road, here come Seth round the corner, sweatin’ and puffin’, and passes him, crossin’ that town line first. He were right grateful Grandaddy Grover never said nothin’ ‘bout gettin’ them horses there, too.

Grady didn’t have no cause to raise a fuss, given what he done to them horses. Seth sure coulda raised a stink, but he were just happy to have his Rebecca.

Truth be told, Ma Ma woulda never married ol’ Grady anyhow. She said she woulda talked Seth into runnin’ off sooner or later. She said she couldn’t wrap her head around the notion of one day havin’ a son named Eustace Pitts.