pissed

Fasttrack


There is a special place in every Southerner's heart for their automobile. Just as with California's Car Culture, the Deep South also embraces their beloved wheels.

 

When I was a tad, the hottest car in the whole world was a Chevy Camaro and its twin in spirit, the Trans-Am. These cars were guaranteed to help you score with the babe in the hot pants and tube top you invited to the movies "and stuff". If you were a girl, a Camaro was a guarantee to the fellows that you can look but Daddy's shotgun will not allow you to touch. And, she was likely to outrun you in the all-important Red Light-to-Red Light local, informal and illegal drag race on the edge of town.

Oddly enough, a Camaro is not considered the go-to Midlife Crisis car of choice. That title still belongs to the Ford Mustang, long recognized as the Fountain of Youth for thousands of Baby Boomers all over America. This made sense: if you were going through a midlife crisis, odds were you wanted to shake up your normal world, but not shatter it completely. A Mustang said you only wanted to recapture a time in your life when the future was open to you, or that you always wanted to own a cool car like that and you were now in a position to by golly get one. A Camaro was more likely to say "I am unhappy and want to get laid like I did back when I was scoring in high school." This might be one way to announce you intended to leave your home, although there were nicer ways of doing so. A Camaro just placed a big target on your butt from a vengeful soon-to-be ex-spouse. It will probably be no surprise to reveal that Mrs. Viola Hassendoodle owns a pearlized blue Camaro.

If you were single and chose one or if you never gave up your Camaro in the first place, things were not so cut-and-dried in presumption. Take the case of Miss Beth Ann Vollinger.

Miss Beth Ann Volliger is actually the Widow Vollinger, the surviving spouse of our local hero Officer Danny Vollinger. Danny was killed in a traffic accident on the job, and Beth Ann is probably one of the few people in all of Greater Metropolitan Roopville I admire without a trace of sarcasm. Beth Ann was only twenty-five years old when Danny died, and she has weathered the storms of sudden single parenthood admirably. She has a six-year-old and a three-year-old and works at the underwear plant. She's a Panel Seamstress. Now, you may think that ought to be all the history you need to know about Beth Ann, but it's not.

Danny and Beth Ann comprised that ubiquitous Southern couple, the High School Sweethearts. They married the summer after graduation and moved into a little doublewide trailer on his parents' property.  Eventually he got hired on at the police department and life was good until a high-speed chase and an oil slick on the roadway put an end to the dream.

Danny's cherry-red Camaro sat in the driveway in front of the house for months. A natural-born Roopvillain, Danny owned a pickup and Beth Ann drove an SUV, but he had not given up his Camaro. It would be a collector's item some day, he once told me.

Beth Ann considered her options and made practical choices. She sold his pickup and traded the SUV in on a nice mid-sized sedan that got good gas mileage. She continued to take her children to the First Baptist Church of Greater Metropolitan Roopville each and every Sunday. She even plowed up a part of the front yard and planted a vegetable garden to cut down on her grocery bill. She did not come to the Feed and Seed for all her gardening needs, but I suppose she figured going to Wally World was more economical since she and her kids were At The Age where Wally World was one-stop shopping for the family. I understood and certainly did not hold it against her. Wally World has been the nemesis of every small town shop and all we can do is hang on and wait for customers to return to us.

One day I looked up to see a cherry-red Camaro park in front of Fable Feed and Seed. Sure enough, there was Beth Ann Vollinger and her little kids getting out, and she herded them into the store. "I'm sorry," she apologized right off the bat, "I guess I should have come in here to get my seeds. Daddy said I'm a scandal to come here after shopping at Wally World."

"No; don't be silly. You have to do what you have to do, Miss Beth."

"Well, I need to get some tomato stakes. The ones I have are pretty flimsy."

I showed her my stock and she chose a nice sturdy type. "Are you looking to sell the Camaro?” I asked as I rang up her purchases.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "I wouldn't dream of it! Danny loved that thing, and I like to think I can kind of feel him still with me when I drive it. I usually drive the sedan but we just felt like driving the Cammy today."

I looked at the little girls, all dolled up in little matching outfits and big white sun hats. They were giggling at items in my display case. "You have toys," the older child said.

"They are my goat collection," I informed her. "People from all over send me toy goats to decorate the store. Do you like them?" They nodded. "Do you think I ought to tie ribbons around their necks, or just leave them like that?"

"Ribbons!" the older girl decided. The younger one just smiled and hopped up and down.

Beth Ann looked around at the store. "Danny always said you had more items than any other store in town. It's true. His dad came in here one day and was gone for five hours. I got worried but Mama Vollinger said 'oh, he's just at the feed store stringing some lines.' Just what does that mean?"

"Charlie Vollinger stringing lines? That means he was telling some tall tales with some of his pals over back there at the sharpening stand. He and Eldon tested out stories to see if they should enter the Liar's Contest."

"We almost had a couple of good entries," Eldon called from the sharpening stand, where he was putting a fine edge of a set of hedge shears for Miss Alma Duffer.

A teenage passerby stopped abruptly out on the sidewalk and poked his head in the doorway. "Is that Camaro out here for sale?" the hopeful young fellow asked.

"No, it isn't," Beth Ann told him. "I'm just driving it to keep the battery up, and just for fun."

"Girls shouldn't drive Camaros," he groused.

"Boys still wet behind the ears shouldn't try to decide who should drive what," Beth Ann replied promptly. Chastised, he slunk away.

"That's telling him! I wouldn't want to sell it either," I told her. "Of course, it probably doesn't haul goats around very well. It hauls a different set of kids, I see." The little girls giggled and continued to trot along a plank in the floor that was a lighter color than the others.

Beth Ann bought a couple of other items and left with a wave, and a promise to buy her seeds from me from then on. After work that afternoon, I stopped in at O'Paddy's to pick up a sandwich for dinner. I came across Miss Nancy Sweetanall, and sat down at her invitation to talk a bit.

"Was that Beth Ann Volliger I saw in town earlier? In that red Camaro of Danny's?"

"Yes it was."

"Oooh. Viola's going to have a conniption fit."

"Viola? Why? Because it's not for sale?"

"No! Viola doesn't give a snap about cars! It's Beth Ann that puts Viola off her feed."

"Why? Beth Ann is as sweet as they come."

Nancy shook her head at me slowly, as if I were an addled child with a foolish question. "Truman, you should know by now that Viola is suspicious about any woman that sweet. That's just how she is. She says she doesn't believe anyone could be so saintly at that age."

"But Beth Ann doesn't try to pass herself off as saintly, not to me anyway."

"You're a man," Nancy said as if that explained everything.

"Thank you for noticing, but so what? Why shouldn't I think well of her?"

Nancy stirred a straw through the ice and soda in her glass. "Well of course you should, Truman. I've known Beth Ann Vollinger ever since she was a girl and she's always been real sweet. It's just that Viola... well, she is not always charitable when it comes to potential rivals."

"Rivals? Oh please, Miss Nancy! Beth Ann is only twenty-five, and Mrs. Viola is - is - is of a more seasoned persuasion," I said carefully.

Nancy gave me a wry grin. "I wondered how you were going to cover your ass on that one."

"Danger lurks in every potential misstatement," I agreed. "I haven't lived twenty years in the South without having at least that little bit of information sinking in. So Viola sees Beth Ann as a rival. But suppose Beth Ann does not intend to issue any such social threats?"

"She's the pretty young widow of an admirable lawman killed in action; that alone wins her points. I'm not saying she's aiming for notice, Truman. It's just that she's the kind of girl a man wants, rather than the kind..."

"Careful now," I cautioned. "Make sure your words can cover your fine little ass."

She gave an amused snort. "All right. Viola is more seasoned as you say, but in some circles, that is not considered as appealing as a sweet young widow." She thought about her words. "You know, it takes as much concentration to be a gentleman as it does to be a lady who covers her ass."

"Well, if we don't concentrate we will be called hounds; that's why."

"And we are called the gender equivalent, and it's a much harsher term I'll have you know!"

"I cannot imagine any circumstance at which it would be turned on such a charming lady as you, Nancy Sweetanall."

"Oh no," she said, crossing one careful manicured index finger over the other one, and holding the result up to me as if to ward off evil. "Don't you start that sweet talk with me."

"What?"

"Never you mind! Just take care if you mention Beth Ann to Viola."

"Now why would I bother to mention anyone to Mrs. Viola? I fear for my well-being with her as it is. Duck and cover, that's my motto."

Nancy laughed and finished her drink. "Good; then you are on to her."

The waitress brought Nancy's check, and I plucked it off the table. "Let me get this, in lieu of taking a Lesson in Southern Survival," I suggested.

Nancy put her fists on her hips and studied me with frank suspicion. "I just cannot figure you out. You're not sweet like Beth Ann and you're not jaded like Viola. You're not distant like Judge Butler but you're not right in anyone's face like Mary Margaret McGuire. You're too nice to be mean but a little too smooth not to be suspicious as hell."

"It sounds like you have me figured out exactly."

"Hmmm, maybe. But I won't argue with someone who picks up my check without looking at it first."

"Oh my. Did you host a family reunion earlier?"

"No, just a sandwich and a Coke."

"Sounds like I can handle that; I came here for that myself." I placed my order as Nancy went on her way. On my way out with my sandwich order in a bag, I saw Mrs. Viola Hassendoodle on the other side of the square. I quickly turned and strode as fast as I could, taking the long way around to get back to my truck. Nancy's advice was more like a refresher course than it was a lesson, but knowledge is useless unless you use it. I almost made it to my car when Viola appeared at the driver's side, a bit winded but a look of determination in her eyes. "Well hello Mrs. Viola -"

"Don't start with me," she snapped. "I am very vulnerable right now." She looked as vulnerable as a snapping turtle but I did not say so. She fell silent and simply stood looking at me.

"May I help you, Mrs. Viola?"

Her lips pursed together and then twisted slightly to one side, the sure sight of a plotting mind. "Truman Fable..." she began in an uncharacteristically unfamiliar patient tone. Mrs. Viola is seldom patient with me; I have always been regarded as "that smartass Westerner from the wilds of the Plains states." It put me on my guard, and with good reason. "I hear you might be in the market for a Camaro."

"Er? No, I'm afraid a Camaro would not suit my needs."

"I should think a single man your age would welcome a first-rate MLC," she said.

"My, but butter wouldn't melt in your mouth, Mrs. Viola," I said dryly. "Thank you ever so much of reminding me of my rapidly approaching appointment with the Grim Reaper some day."

"Oh, you know what I mean! You're not so old. If you'd color that gray dusting in your hair and wear clothes from this millennium, you might do well to use my car to its natural advantage."

"Why would you think I need such a car?"

"Well, I understand you were looking at a red Camaro earlier today."

"No, no I wasn't. One was parked in front of the Feed and Seed but it wasn't for sale, and I wasn't inquiring."

"Well, I heard wrong then," she said, but she made no move.

"Mrs. Viola, I would admire to be able to get into The GoatHerd and go to the house."

She stepped aside and allowed me entrance to my own vehicle. After I closed the door, she rapped on the window. I rolled it down.

"Truman Fable, Some People are far too young for you," she said bluntly.

I gazed at her in wonder. Oh, surely she doesn't imagine that I'm interested in that sweet little Beth Ann! She's my niece's age, for crying out loud! Nancy Sweetanall was right. Some Southern belles just could not bear even an imagined adversary. I reached up and patted her cheek with my left hand. "Now, now," I cautioned, "don't assume you are so unattainable; it drives a man to despair."

I drove off, not realizing the disaster I had fashioned in my wake.

 

My pickup truck, known among friends as "The Goatherd", has kibble in its floorboard. It compliments the growing collection of empty cash envelopes I toss there every time I use the drive-through at the First United Bank of Greater Metropolitan Roopville. It's not much but it suits me just fine. I also have a fading paint job to compliment the amount of gray in my hair, and there are days when I don't fire on all pistons, so to speak. Anything I drive is going to be trampled by small wayward hooves all over the hood and roof, so what do I care what I drive?

I went to the Sunshine Cafe early one day to get a cathead biscuit and some eggs, unaware of the hornet's-nest buzzing inside. I looked neither to the right nor to the left, intent on simply sitting down and getting a bite to eat before opening the Feed and Seed. After the standard couple of minutes passed and no sign of a waitperson, I glanced up and felt the icy cold toes of Death's Little Brother dancing along my spine. Nancy Sweetanall peeked over the top edge of her menu, and all I could see of her was her merry blue eyes beneath heavy blond bangs. Dean McGuire was scribbling furiously in the little notebook he always carried in case a news story broke out. Judge Butler and Jim Dimity were seated in a booth nearby. The judge grinned wickedly at me as if in on the biggest joke in the world, but Jim bore an unusually distracted expression, as if he was torn between being saddened and pissed off royally.

"What's going on?" I asked Gary, the Sunshine Cafe's proprietor.

"That's what I'd like to know!" Gary exclaimed with enthusiasm as he sat a complimentary glass of water on the table. "I hear tell poor old Truman's in a world of hurt."

"Beg pardon?"

“Viola Hassendoodle’s been spreading it all over town that you have been seen in the company of someone young enough to be your daughter.”

“Viola Hassendoodle and I are roughly the same age,” I pointed out. “Ergo…”

“Are you saying Viola is over the hill?” Judge Butler teased.

“No, but I imagine she’s got a good view of the horizon,” I quipped. It was a classic case of bad timing, as Mrs. Viola Hassendoodle happened to emerge from the ladies’ room at that moment. She fixed a high-voltage glare on me but I was not about to back down. “Miss Viola; I understand you have been discussing me without benefit of my presence.”

“I might say the same of you,” she came back with a snap.

“Yes, but mine is verifiable.” I meant that I heard the gossip, but too late I remembered the other observation I had just made. Nancy Sweetanall sucked in her breath along with nearly everyone else in the diner except the judge and Jim. They looked at each other and yelped with delight. Viola shot them a withering look, but Judge Butler flashed his pearly white smile with a face that coaxed women to forgive him any discredit. Jim was able to avoid her wrath under the umbrella of the judge’s good looks. I was not so fortunate.

“You are a hound,” she said, and swept grandly from the establishment. Nancy swore under her breath, knowing she would have to pick up their check since Viola was not about to forfeit such a glorious departing exit for the sake of petty cash. Jim and the judge joined me for breakfast.

“You are fearless,” Judge Butler observed. “You know Mrs. Viola is not going to forget about this.”

“Well if he didn’t say something, he’d have to answer to Sally for it,” Jim said.

“Sally! Sally doesn’t care what I do,” I protested.

“Truman, you may think Sally doesn’t care, but trust me she does. It has little to do with what you think and everything to do with the fact that Sally is a Southern woman who and I shall capitalize it, Who Has Seen Him First. That is the first step toward getting her hooks into you and she won’t tolerate any usurpers.”

“No, he’s from the West,” the judge corrected. “They call it ‘rustling’ out there.”

East, West, North, or South, I’m dead meat any way you look at it.

pissed

Flowers in the South

Flowers in the South

Azaleas are a very big deal in the South. Don't ask me why; personally I don't care for them. Oh, they are gorgeous when they are all in bloom but when they are not in bloom they just look scraggledy. Compare a non-blooming azalea bush with a nice ordinary hedge, and it looks like a man who can't grow a decent beard standing next to an Amish community.

But you have to have azaleas if you live south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and it's a good bet there will be roses around somewhere too. Some people like to grow the stately long-stemmed roses that are coddled and coaxed into delivering a divine single rose per branch. Far too often I see rose bushes covered in cat's-butt roses. You know cat's-butt roses - they are roses left to grow at will on bushes and do not get trimmed back for long stems. Instead, all the buds crowd together and completely bloom out until they look the aft end of a forward-bound cat.
All along Greater Metropolitan Roopville's Rebel Street, azalea bushes line up along the sidewalks like tough little sentries, willing to endure the everyday onslaught of bored children and pissing dogs and visitors making shortcuts. In the springtime, their riotous offerings of red and white and pink burst forth upon the world. They make you forget all about how lousy they look the rest of the year, when their spindly branches and haphazard leaf coverage reminds me of a dog with the mange.

But that is just my take on the matter; it's no secret that I don't like azaleas. Maybe it's because I don't like the spindly branches or mangy leaves during the non-flowering seasons. Maybe it's because everybody and their cousin has azaleas in their yards and the South is just sick with them.

No. I must confess, it is for none of those reasons although they could stand up to scrutiny. It's because of Sally Dimity. It's all her fault I don't like azaleas.

When I first met Sally, she was hunkered down behind the row of blazing bright red flowering bushes along the sidewalk outside the Dimity home. I didn't notice her gardening there at first; my eyes were drawn to the flowers since that year they came in good and thick. Uncharacteristically for me I said, "Niiiice" out loud, whereby Sally lifted her head up sharply like a prairie dog watching for a coyote on the horizon. She looked like dewdrop on a leaf, so delicate and fragile at barely five feet four inches tall. She had high sharp cheekbones and big blue eyes and her blonde hair was styled in a short retro upturned flip. I looked forward to meeting this little pocket angel until she opened her mouth to speak.
"I'll thank you not to pass judgment on my butt," she told me sternly.

"I beg your pardon. I was passing judgment on your azaleas," I said with a slight polite bow.
"Well, of course you were. Everybody knows my mama has the best azaleas in town. And just who are you to judge azaleas?"

"It's my job down at the Feed and Seed," I said, and prepared to properly introduce myself.
"The Feed and Seed!" she interrupted in a voice just a shade under contemptuous. "The Mortons owned that place ever since I can remember, ever since my mama and daddy can remember, and then some damn Yankee or other just swoops in and buys them out! I'm not going to go down there and buy one seed more from them! I want the Mortons back."

"It is my understanding that Mr. and Mrs. Morton genuinely wanted to retire."

"Retire? Nobody believes that! You know what it was; it was that old Fable jerk who bought the place, that's what it was! He came in wavin' his Yankee dollars around and talked them out of something that's been a part of this community for the past - well, since the turn of the century."

"Have you ever met him? The Fable jerk?"

"No, and I hope I don't. I'm afraid of what I would say to him."

"Why, what would you say?"

"I'd tell him what swindler he is, and that he can take his fancy-assed out-of-towner ways and hit the road!" she fumed, stabbing at the dirt with her trowel. I was glad I was on the other side of the azalea bushes from her.

At that moment her brother Jim Dimity, whom I met at the Court Cafe earlier that week, waved at me from the front doorway. "Hey, Fable! Come on in, you're just in time!"

"I don't know that I should," I called back. "I might have my fancy-assed out-of-towner self run out of town."

"Huh?" He trotted down the brick path to where I stood.

Sally meanwhile had turned a sudden dusty red from the embarrassment of the moment. She did not let it curb her tongue, however. "You should have told me who you were instead of letting me hang myself."

"What? And be accused of being a pushy, overbearing stranger who didn't know his place as an outsider to the community?" I retorted. "Please; I lived in Cobb County for a year; I know how this southern shtick works. And for your information, M'am, I am not a true Yankee. I am a Westerner. There is a difference as big as the one that separates a sorority deb from stripper bait."

"Good Lord, Sally!" Jim snorted even as he reached to shake my hand, "When are you going to stop being such a hothead? Come on in, Truman. Don't pay Sally no mind. She likes to put men through their paces."

"I can only imagine the sort of trials and tribulations one must endure."

"No more than what women endure from men," Sally said, on my heels like a terrier ready to strike a mailman where it counts.

"You don't have anything to worry about from me," I told her. "I got your message loud and clear. You don't want anything to do with me."

"I never said that!"

"You most certainly did!" I countered, turning to face her so quickly that she plowed into me headfirst.

"Well, if I'd known you were a friend of Jim's, I'd have at least been a little nicer."

"Even though I was evil enough to buy the Morton's store?"

"Well... did they really want to retire?" The way she twisted back and forth from front to back was appealing in concert with the way she turned those eyes on me.

I held up my right hand. "If I'm lyin', I'm dyin'," I assured her.

“Well, that remains to be seen.” A sly playful smile came to her face at last, and I felt a little more comfortable about my visit. Perhaps I would leave the dying part out of future conversations. Southern women have a way of making you keep your word.
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IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?

    Few things in nature can assault the body so brutally without laying a glove on it, as the common cold. Someday there may be a cure for cancer and they might be able to replace every organ in the body with a mechanical substitute, but colds will always be with us. The raw wintry winds carry that mysterious ailment from sickly to healthy and little can really be done about it. You can wash your hands and use anti-bacterial everything all you want; all it takes is one little germ and your only consolation for having a fever is that it keeps you warm on a freezing January night. Nothing is as miserable as the stuffy ten-pounds-of-flour-in-a-five-pound-sack feeling your head gets, or the painfully raw sensitivity of an over-blown nose.

       Unless, of course, it’s a summer cold. While the rest of the world is playing all day outside, skipping off to the creek for a quick swim or playing mumbled-peg in the cool shade under the elm trees, you’re stuck in bed with a raging fever and sneezes. You don’t even have the strength to properly resent it either, you just lay there and honk into a useless soggy tissue and whimper over your painful nasal openings.

       Mama Fable didn’t have time to worry over sickness. She most assuredly gave us the love and attention and care that any good mother would. She brought us chicken noodle soup and glasses of water and tucked our covers around us, and she sponged our hot brows and cheeks with a cool wet washcloth. She just happened to also bring a ten-gauge shotgun to a knife fight where colds and flus were concerned.

       Winter or summer, it didn’t matter: all colds got the same salvos fired into the heart of their invasion. She stuck the thermometer bulb under our tongues and went off to do housework while the temperature percolated inside us. I concentrated on not becoming cross-eyed as I tried to read it without taking the slender glass tube from my mouth. After what seemed an eon, she returned and clucked at the numbers on the gauge. I had a hard time reading a mercury thermometer, but all I had to do was be conscious to know how sick I was.

       She pulled down the covers to expose my upper torso and unbuttoned my pajama shirt. Having dined on the finest chicken noodle Campbell put into a soup, I was unable to prevent what I knew was coming: the mighty power of the contents of a Vick’s Vap-O-Rub jar.

       Back in my childhood, there was no other conceivable fix for a cold than the eucalyptus-infused petroleum jelly found in a jar of Vap-O-Rub. Oh, there were pretenders but the only sure-fire way to fight a cold was the squatty dark-blue bottle with the turquoise and white wrapper. She slathered a generous portion all over my puny chest with what seemed like a trowel, and then she quickly re-buttoned the shirt and covered me back up with the bedding. Immediately my chest caught fire, to my way of thinking, and the sharp pungency of the Vap-O-Rub marched up my chest and the outside of my throat until I could smell it even with a stuffy nose. It was a pleasantly reassuring scent that hinted of miracle cures from the plants of faraway Australia, a mysterious land where strange animals lived and everyone looked like cowboys.

       But Mama Fable wasn’t through with me yet. I saw through heavy-lidded eyes of the very feverish, as her forefinger plunged into the jelly of the Vap-O-Rub jar, and I knew what was coming. I braced for it but I learned as a very small child that resistance was futile. “It’s good for you,” she assured me, and poked a healthy wad of Vap-O-Rub jelly up each nostril. For good measure she placed a coat of the stuff on my upper lip, as if a snout full could tell the difference. “Now keep those covers on, don’t kick them off,” Mama instructed at precisely the same time of the proceedings that she did every other time I was sick. She gave me another drink of water and said the next line of her Mother’s Opera: “The Vicks will make you sweat out the cold. Let’s see if we can’t break that fever.”

       I was a child whose one expertise was that I could break just about anything I got my hands on. It frustrated me to no end that I could not get my hands on a fever in order to make quick work of it. Instead, I had to depend on a thick viscous substance heavily inundated with eucalyptus oil, and its bracingly sweet smell was the only weapon to wield in the battle for Sinus Liberation.

       Nowadays public health dictates that parents should not put things like Vap-O-Rub inside the nostrils, and should only place it on the chest and upper lip until the heady aroma invites itself into the nose. I’m sure that Mama Fable would have kept putting it up the nose anyway, because she lived by the dictum “if a little will help, then a lot will hold.” Like any well-brought-up Westerner, she would have smiled benignly at the instructions and purred acquiescence, and then wait until the lector’s back was turned before she went right back to doing it her own damn way as she always had before. Mama Fable raised six children to healthy adulthood, and couldn’t anyone tell her how to deal with colds or what to do with a jar of Vick’s Vap-O-Rub. Mamas just know these things. I don’t know why, they just do.

       I no longer enjoy her expertise on the art of homegrown healing and have had to stumble through taking care of sick children on my own. I did not use a lot of Vap-O-Rub on my kids because I had other options, like doctors and health clinics. The one time I did use it, the kids stared at me as if I grew another head on my shoulders. “But that stuff smells,” they objected. Or rather, “Bud dat tuff thmedth.”

       I liked the smell of Vap-O-Rub as long as it wasn’t packed up the nostrils, so I didn’t understand their objection. Still, I just kept a light sheen on their chests and a smear across the upper lip. Unwittingly I did as Modern Science dictated and Mama Fable would have abhorred, so maybe kids know what is really best after all. Just don’t tell Mama.

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Tea Time

My friend Marcella Lively recommended I take a specific sort of tea to help me with a peculiar digestive problem I have. Think of it in the "not a cure but it can't hurt" category of recommendations.  In her infinite sweetness she sent me a bag of it, as it is a Chinese tea not likely to be found here in the States. Well, not without it being dicked up with all sorts of "New and Improved!" stickers all over the slickly wrapped, geared for conspicuous consumption crowd that dots the American landscape like so much kudzu. No, I got the Real Thing straight from the Mysterious East.

Now Marcella has recommended things and given me advice before and I must say, she is a remarkably astute individual. Black olives, for instance, are high on her Good Recommendations list for helping with aches and pains from RA, and it works I tells ya. The trouble is, black olives taste grim but that's not their fault. Everything she suggests is natural, and there are some things she recommends against (vitamin pills do not earn her favor as a general rule.)

So here comes this package of tea from the Mysterious East, including a note that said the taste is very strong and I might not like it. I might want to add something to improve the flavor. I ran some water through the drip coffee maker in the office and heated it further in the microwave. I put the correct amount of loose leaves in a tea ball and steeped it in the hot water for the prescribed two to three minutes. Let me inject this before I move on: when I say "loose leaves" I don't really mean "leaves" in this case. It's more like wizened little sticks all shrunk up and crumbled and put in a bag with Chinese characters from the Mysterious East on it. See, that's what you get when you deal with natural ingredients from the Mysterious East. You get desiccated bits of brittle twigs that practically scream "This is the real deal!" That's why the Mysterious East is so, you know, mysterious.

After the prescribed two to three minutes, I took a tentative sniff of the tea. Oh. My. Ever. Loving. GOD, it smelled NASTY. I don't just mean like Green Tea Bitter, I mean this stuff smelled like GOAT POO. GOAT POO TEA. My friend warned me it was strong but YIKES, it was just like in The Bucket List when Morgan Freeman described how that fancy coffee Jack Nicholson's character liked that was made with the help of civit cats, and when Nicholson said "you're shittin' me" Freeman replied "The cats beat me to it!"

Of course the tea was not processed through the intestinal tract of goats (hey, I love goats but I won't go that far) but the aroma is so reminiscent of my favorite Goat Farm, I was homesick for my caprine friends for a few minutes there. Fortunately I had the foresight or let's be honest, the dumb blind luck to bring along some honey. I added a couple of teaspoons to the Goat Poo Tea and after a while I was able to choke it down. In fact, the longer the honey mixed with the tea, the more the flavor mellowed until by the last few swallows it was rather pleasant. That or my taste buds surrendered, packed up and went home.

Now if this stuff does what it's supposed to do, I shall be healthier and happier. That's good! That's real good! Like any good old fashioned medicine, Goat Poo Tea sort of HAS to taste bad, right? All that stuff we took as kids tasted awful but it did the trick, didn't it, and we all survived our childhoods.

All I know for sure is, if you measure an ingredient's medicinal values by the taste, then Goat Poo Tea is a cure for any damn thing that ails you.

pissed

Should have kept quiet in The First Place

 

Just down the road from Boulevard Buick is the little garage called The First Place, as in "You shoulda come here in." It's a small business that has weathered good times and bad. I say "weathered good times" because the owner, Vance Chesterfield, had the good sense not to get all full of himself and expand the shop beyond its means.

 

 

This cannot be said of other businesses, which is why they suffer economic breakdowns and places like Vance's shop, do not. The most Vance has done to his shop is to enlarge and fence in the car lot in the back of the shop and spread some gravel around out there. Otherwise, the three-bay garage is pretty much as it was in the old days when it was a gas station.

 

 

It so happened that Jim Diminy took his ratty old Dodge there to have his brakes replaced on the day that Mary Frances Margaret McGuire brought her late model Explorer in to check out her tick-ticks. That's the sort of symptoms Vance gets to base his diagnoses on. "I got me a funny little tick-tick sound and it's wartin' me to pieces," Mary Frances Margaret said as she swept into the customer service area. "I need to go to Birmingham later today and I need you to see to it right now." I don't know how many descriptions like this that Vance gets on the average. Every car has its own "tick-tick" or "funny sound" or "little knock" or "crinkly whirr of doom" - my personal favorite, courtesy of Sally Diminy.

 

 

"It might take a minute, Mary Frances," Vance said. "All my boys are workin' on orders already, and Jim's next in line."

 

Mary Frances Margaret fixed a hard look on Jim, and she pointed an imperial finger at him. "You go to Our Lady of Perpetual Motion Church," she said, as if to accuse him of something untoward. That is just Mary Frances Margaret's way. She is known as The Enforcer among the ladies of the Altar Society.

 

"I do," Jim agreed amiably.

 

 

"I need to go to Birmingham, so I need you to do the right thing and let me go ahead of you."

 

 

"Well, somebody's got a hell of a gall," Vance muttered.

 

 

"What was that?" she asked sharply.

 

 

"I said, I'll get as soon as can to y'all."

 

 

"That's not what you said!"

 

 

"Lady," he said lightly, "It's close enough." He retreated to the shop where the mechanics worked wonders with iron behemoths that people like me pay them to fix. And presumably, where he didn't have to listen to whiny people demand better service than the next guy.

 

 

"Well, of all the nerve." Mary Frances Margaret recognized a soul more stubborn than she, and she sat down to wait.

 

For a little bitty ratty looking shop, The First Place is very busy. The phone constantly rang and the appointment book's edges were marred black from hard-working hands doing double-duty from the shop floor to the desktop. Every now and then a mechanic emerged from the shop, pale and blinking like a denizen of the night astonished at the morning sun. Vance returned to grab the phone.

 

An elderly lady came in the shop with a bag of donuts from the motel down the street. She left the bag on the countertop and left without saying a word. Jim wondered about it.

 

 

"Who was that?" he asked Vance. "The lady with the donuts?"

 

 

"She's Billy's mama; says we don't eat right. She thinks she needs to feed us." He patted his stomach. "She's very persistent."

 

 

Billy came in from the shop and headed straight for the bag. "I hope she got some sprinkles." He fished around until he found a nice fat donut with the required sprinkles. He waved it at Jim. "Your brakes was fit for burial, Jim. We'll need to replace them all the way around. I'll show you if you want, but that's what the deal is."

 

 

"I believe you," Jim said. "Go ahead and do what you have to."

 

 

'How soon before you can get to me?" Mary Frances Margaret asked.

 

 

Billy gave her a sly grin. "Depends on when your husband gets home, I reckon." He sauntered back out to the shop, licking his fingers after inhaling his sprinkled donut.

 

"Ohh you trash!" Mary Frances Margaret squealed indignantly. They could hear Billy chuckle

            "Billy," Vance said in a thunderous warning, and followed him out.

 

"He was just teasing you," Jim tried to console her.

 

 

"Why, you sound as if I'm unattractiveor something !" Mary Frances Margaret huffed.

 

 

Jim hastily dug out his cellphone and called me. "Tru?" His voice sounded strained.

              "Yes, Jim?"

 

"Listen, I wonder if you -"

 

 

"WELL?" I could hear Mary Frances Margaret even over the noise in the feed store.

 

"What in the world are you doing within hearing of the Mouth of the South, Jim?" I asked.

 

"We're both waiting on our cars here at The First Place," Jim said to me. To Mary Frances Margaret he said, "No, of course you are attractive; I only meant that he likely didn't mean it."

 

 

"And why wouldn't he mean it!"

 

 

"Huh?"

 

 

"Don't argue with her!" I ordered. "Do. Not. Argue. Just smile and nod and play the amiable pinhead. Why do you think Wade McGuire never says anything when they're together?"

 

 

"Uh...I don't know. Why?"

 

 

"He doesn't get a chance!" Oh, it was all very funny to me, but then I was not sitting in the white-hot glare of a furious Southern woman who feels her allure is being impugned or worse, being ignored. "She'd pick a fight with the Pope, Jim."

 

 

"Tru, can you come get me? It's going to be a while before my car -"

 

 

"Is that Truman Fable?" I heard her demand. "I should have known it, you two are thicker than thieves! Well you can just tell Mr. Goathead that I said he's the rudest man of the whole lot of you!"

 

 

"Give her the phone a minute, Jim."

 

 

"What?!"

 

"Give her the phone," I said in a calm, reasonable voice.

 

After a brief clatter, I heard her growl. "What can you possibly have to say to me, you...you hound!"

 

 

"Hello, Mary Frances Margaret," I said cheerfully. "How is your lovely self today?"

 

 

"Don't you try to sweet-talk me, Truman Fable. I know your game."

 

 

"Why, Mary Frances Margaret, you're going to break my heart - just like you did last Sunday, when you wore that pretty little sweater to Mass! I was going to tell you how nice you looked in it but no, you had to go rush off with Wade. Heartbreaker. That's what you are."

 

"I - what pretty little sweater?" she asked suspiciously.

 

"That little thing you had draped around your shoulders. You know the one."

 

 

"Oh. Well... that is my favorite color, you know."

 

 

"I know; it looks good on you. Some women couldn't pull off that color but that's because they're all so washed out. Not you, though. You looked downright vibrant."

 

 

Now part of the charm of living in a small Southern town is that you get to know your neighbors. It wasn't that I notice what Mary Frances Margaret wears - hell, I don't even think I even made it to Mass last Sunday - but I do know that she always wears a little sweater around her shoulders. Father Paul cranks up the air conditioning this time of year to the point where you could get frostbite if you sit near an air vent. Mary Frances Margaret always wears a front-button cardigan no matter what the weather, no matter what the rest of the outfit "just in case", so I knew I could mention it. What color? I don't know; she's got a half-dozen of the little beggars and it's anyone's guess which one was the designated shoulder-warmer.

 

"Truman Fable, you will say anything to get on a woman's good side," she said, still combative but warming to a compliment.

 

"That's not so! I am honest to a fault; bluntly honest, in fact. That's the problem, I tend to say what I think and it doesn't always sit well with folks. But you know every word out of my mouth is the truth."

 

"Every word out of your mouth is the biggest lie since the devil learned to talk," she scolded mildly. I heard the smile in her voice, but it was still not time yet to return to the matter at hand. It is not enough to merely encase the live wire in tape; one should insulate it as well.

"But I try, darlin'; I try."

 

 

"Oh...! You big flirt. What do you want?"

 

 

"I want you to ignore those big ol' ignorant boys out there at The First Place; honey, you know none of them has a lick of sense!"

 

 

"They're making me wait and I have to get to Birmingham today!"

 

 

"What's Birmingham got, that I don't?" I asked in my most saucy manner.

 

 

"It's got my grandmother, for starters," she returned in like kind.

 

 

"Oh, well! - you know I can't match your grandmother! You're just shooting me down at every turn, Mary Frances Margaret! You're a heartbreaker, that's what. I'm gonna have to call Wade Francis out and have fisticuffs with him over you."

 

 

"Wade Frances would beat the living air out of you, you little noodle," she laughed.

 

 

"Abase me, you wicked temptress! Beat me, whip me; make me write bad checks! Go on then, go back to your husband and your vibrant sweaters and your heartbreaking ways!"

 

 

"You scoundrel - here, I'm going to give you back to Jim Diminy. He deserves a round of silliness from the likes of you!" I heard her giggle.

 

 

"Now you treat her right, Jim," I said loudly for her benefit as well as his. "She's a pistol."

 

 

"Uh, yeah. Here comes Vance, I gotta go."

 


 

Later that afternoon, Jim came into the feed store. His original intent to call me was to come get him and save him from Mary Frances Margaret, but Vance was able to get it done after all. Jim eyed me suspiciously. "Just how do you manage to tame wildcats?" he asked. "She was ready to chew nails and spit out staples."

 

 

"How was she after that?"

 

 

"Vance came in and said they could squeeze in her car, and they had to run over to the parts store and get something for mine. She was happy as a clam and I suppose she's already in Birmingham by now."

 

"It's all in the way you talk to a woman. A little flirtation goes a long way to soothe a hot-tempered lady."

 

He thought for a moment and then let out a laugh. "And just how do you handle a man? Especially once she gets around to telling Wade Frances you said she vibrated."

 

 

"That I said WHAT?"

 

 

"Yep. She smiled at me all smug and sassy, you know how women are when they're confident? She said you told her that her sweater was so pretty it made her vibrate."

 

 

"Vibrant, vibrant, not vibrate."

 

 

I heard the doorbell chime its cheerful jingle.

 

"Truman Fable!" Wade Francis Aloysius McGuire roared. "What the hell have you been saying to my wife!"


This one was not going to be so easy to talk down.

pissed

Wrong Turn

I walked down the hallway of the Greater Metropolitan Roopville Star Center, which houses an auditorium and an arts gallery and several classrooms for revolving functions. I wanted to find a specific class to join but could not find it for love nor money. Instead, I walked into a hornet's nest known as a Public Spat during an emergency meeting of the Ladies Who Wear Funny Hats Club.

Trust me when I say, no man should ever walk into such a scene. The very sight of narrowed eyes and tightly pursed lips on otherwise sweet-natured Southern women gave me a shiver down my spine. From the way some of them clenched their fists with their long sharp manicured thumbnails exposed, I hoped desperately that I was not the subject of their ire.

 

All heads turned at my unexpected appearance in the doorway, and Miss Irene Hassendoodle was the first to bellow out to me. "What do you want!" she roared, and I blanched. She immediately morphed into her standard Cool Collected Southern Lady mode and followed up in honeyed tones. "That is, why hello Mr. Fable; what can we do for you?"

 

I made a quick assessment of the situation. There were ten women on one side of the room including two Finch wives, a couple of Vollingers and my friend Sally Dimity's mother Betty Dimity. On the other side of the centrally placed clutch of tables stood an equal number of women with Miss Irene including two other Hassendoodles, the mayor's wife Iris Talley and a collection of McGuires. Well, technically nearly everyone was a McGuire; I don't know of many families that do not contain a McGuire on some branch of their family tree.

 

However, as a Fable I am not related to nor technically obligated to any family in the Greater Metropolitan Roopville area. This placed me in the uncomfortable position of being a Fence Sitter and therefore, the ideal go-to guy in whatever kind of squabble that currently plagued the Ladies Who Wear Funny Hats Club.

 

"Truman, dear," Miss Irene began, but Betty Dimity took my other arm.

 

"Truman, perhaps you could suggest a resolution to a...a concern of ours."

Oh dear. A Concern was a bigger deal than a mere Situation or a Fix. In Southern parlance the order of escalation was a Thing, a Deal, a Problem, a Situation, a Fix, a Concern, a Conflict, and a Regrettable Occasion, topped only by an Unpleasantness. A Situation could cover a plethora of ills such as a public fistfight between your brother and the preacher. A Concern is for bigger stakes, say a stretch in jail or Impuning the Family Honor. The Civil War is considered the ultimate Recent Unpleasantness. (In the South, the Civil War is recent and don't think for a minute that it is not.)

 

Still, it would do me no good to walk away from resolving a Concern between ladies so I might as well hunker down and deal with it. "Well, I will certainly give it a try," I replied with all the gallantry my sinking courage could muster.

 

"We of the Ladies Who Wear Funny Hats Club must agree upon a theme for our fundraiser this year, and there is not a clear-cut resolution so far," Iris Talley said. As the wife of the mayor she was used to careful wording in a delicate situation.

 

"What are the ideas?"

 

"Well now, Mrs. Hassendoodle feels that Hearth and Home would be appropriate, while Mrs. Vollinger has suggested Vegas Fever."

"Vegas Fever has been done," Irene Hassendoodle huffed with a roll of her eyes.

 

"Yes, and it was very successful," Mrs. Vollinger countered.

 

"And it is time to move on; we've done it for three years. Much more of this and we will look like a gambling club, not a ladies' society."

"Only if Viola decides to serve drinks again," Mrs. Vollinger replied with a particularly biting tone of voice.

 

"Only you would bring up that particularly noxious incident," Miss Irene fumed.

 

"Only you would ignore it."

 

"Um, ladies? Please?" I interrupted before I could stop myself. I knew better than that; a fellow does not willingly step between two hissing cats without risking his skin getting raked by their claws. Still, I had things to do and places to go, and listening to them fuss over The Time Miss Viola Hassendoodle Was Too Generous With The Liquor For Her Gentleman Friends was wasting my time. "Just what is the fund-raising for, what cause are you supporting?"

 

"Our club," Marybeth McGuire said. "That is, we do numerous charitable works, scholarships and sponsoring lectures and such," she hastily corrected when she realized how the bald truth sounded. "We've just run low on ideas."

 

"Do you have to have a theme? Can't you just say it's a fundraiser for charity?" I asked.

 

Betty Dimity giggled first, then a Vollinger tittered and the next thing I knew, the entire roomful of women were laughing at my suggestion. "Truman dearest," Betty explained with a sympathetic pat on the shoulder at my ignorance, "The Ladies Who Wear Funny Hats Club cannot simply say 'we need money'; it simply isn't done."

 

"Why not?"

 

"We must have an entertaining theme so as not to present the gauche tableau of simply begging for a handout. It would sound as if we ourselves were the charity."

 

"But that...that..." I was stymied. It was perfectly acceptable for the Ladies Who Wear Funny Hats Club to allow different causes to come to them hat in hand to ask for a scholarship or a fee or a similarly gauche tableau for themselves. These women were ready to tear into each other because no one wanted to be honest. They preferred to fight over which veneer to present to the world, as if the causes they supported were not noble enough to justify a request for funding without the fuss. "This is a zoo," I decided, and it came over my teeth, past my lips and out of my mouth before I could stop it.

 

"A zoo. Yes, a zoo!" Mrs. Irene Hassendoodle exclaimed. "We can decorate with animal cutouts and use animal print patterns, you know zebra and leopard and tiger skins -"

 

"And footprints; and serve animal-themed refreshments," a Finch added. Everyone had an idea, and their club secretary scrambled to write down twenty excited voice's input.

 

Betty Dimity gave my arm a squeeze. "You're not half bad," she told me. "I should tell Sally to quit piddling around and let you call on her again."

"You laughed at me," I said, indignant.

"Well honestly, Truman; there are certain protocols a lady must follow. This isn't the wild West, you know," she said, knowing full well that I was a Transplant to the Deep South and not a native of the land.

 

Before I could say something I realize now I would likely regret, Mrs. Irene Hassendoodle flitted over to me and patted my cheek. "Oh, aren't you just the little idea devil himself! Goodness, that was an inspired idea! ...do you know my daughter Viola, by any chance?"

 

Betty's eyes narrowed. "He also knows my Sally," she said in a light but dangerous tone.

 

"Yes m'am, we've met. They are both charming women. I'd better be on my way, I'm late for a meeting," I babbled before Mrs. Irene had the chance to pair me up with Miss Viola in front of Sally Dimity's mother, thus setting the stage for a terrible conflagration known as Southern Mothers' Defense of Potential Daughter's Beau, which could escalate into a Fix. This would mean entirely leapfrogging over a Thing, a Deal, and a Situation and given the tension of the day, plow right through a Problem and straight into the heart of a Concern. It is not that I am such a desirable catch; it is purely a matter of proprietorship. On the other hand I would prefer not to think of myself as a last resort.

I hurried down the hallway until I finally found the room by a paper taped to the door with the hastily scrawled legend, "Stress Management."

pissed

Vixen, Part Three

The hospital is a noisy place. People come and go at all hours, bringing their hospitalized kinsman all manner of amusements and smuggling in take-out meals when the hospital food is just too bland or revolting to stomach. I want to go home.

 

I was minding my own business - literally - at the Feed and Seed one Saturday when in through the door walks Viola Hassendoodle. "Why haven't you called me?" she demanded.

 

"Miss Viola, you have the propensity to take a man's breath away," I replied, willing myself not to give up so much as an inch of ground and therefore avoid backing up into the mole thumpers again.

 

"I'm not buying that," she said evenly. "I've never known you to fail at words."

 

"Okay, then I will be totally honest with you," I said, and proceeded to tell her most of the truth. "I did go to your brother and ask after you, but it was not for my sake. It was just because I saw you and you looked kind of sad and I got to worrying. But, knowing how we don't get along and have never really gotten along, I didn't think I should just march up and ask you what was wrong because - well, a gentleman just doesn't tell a woman she looks anything but lovely. Sad is not a term one might throw around to someone one hardly addresses, you see."

 

"Uh huh." She still looked doubtful but at least her arms were crossed over her chest, and not bearing claws aimed at my eyes.

 

"So I asked your brother about Jesse because I knew y'all were seeing each other a while back, and he told me that you weren't. Well, I felt pretty foolish sticking my nose in where I had no business and since my hunch was wrong, I just left rather than tell Ray Bob I'm nosy. Then when you came in here - well, you are a force to be reckoned with, Miss Viola, and I was not prepared to reckon with you." Not without adequate weaponry, I thought.

 

"Oh. So you're not interested in me?"

 

"You are always interesting, Miss Viola, but no, not that way. You would probably only break my heart and I've had enough of that for one lifetime, thank you."

 

"Then what's this about Daphne Butterswing and you?" she demanded, albeit with less force than before.

 

"I'm just helping Junior put some snap back into things," I explained, and then wished I had not. It might put the whole thing back to square one for Junior, but I was by God tired of being Good Ol' Truman, the Stand-Up Guy. "She knows it's just words from me, but it's from his heart. Me, I'll probably never marry again, but I'd like to think that I helped out a perfectly good marriage a little."

 

"Never is a long time, Fable."

 

"Yes, and Forever was supposed to be impervious."

 

"I don't know what that means," she finally admitted, "but it's probably something romantic."

 

"More like sardonic."

 

She stamped her foot on the floorboards. "See? That's why we'd never work out. You use ten dollar words when all I need is a quarter!"

 

"But you'd get change then," I pointed out. She smiled then and I must say, when Miss Viola wants to, she can look like a million bucks.

 

"You're a smartass, Truman Fable," she told me. "Maybe we'd at least get along." She turned on her heel and left the store.

 

Daphne Butterswing came in to get a couple of flats of posies just before noon. She smiled at me from across the room but made no move to come closer. Junior followed her in to carry out a flat, and he did approach. "I sure appreciate what you've done, Truman. She's a lot easier to get along with now that all the pressure is off me and - well, onto you now."

 

"Miss Viola was just in here, and we agreed we would remain friendly adversaries," I told him. "Hopefully, she won't bother you again, at least not for a while. Maybe by then your situation will be strong enough to handle it."

 

"I imagine so." He gave me a playful punch on the arm, and left with Miss Daphne and two flats of flowers.

 

Then at one o'clock in the afternoon, as I stood with my back to the door in front of the counter chatting with Eldon and Jim Dimity, we heard the door chime jingle its merry announcement. Eldon's eyes grew wide and Jim looked puzzled and then panicked. I turned around and caught a brief glance of Ray Bob Hassendoodle a split second before he punched me in the face.

 

 

I look like a raccoon. I'm told that Viola came in on his heels, swearing up a storm and wailing at him to stop, that everything was just fine and he should leave it be. I'm also told that Jim Diminy jumped on top of him and tried to hold his arms down but was shaken off like a rag doll. Eldon finally pulled out the shotgun from under the counter - not loaded, we only have to pump it to get folks' attention - and put a halt to the beating I apparently received.

 

I am due in court Monday to file a complaint against Ray Bob, but I am ambivalent about it. I would probably do the same thing for my sister's honor, but then my sisters have honor worth defending. In the end I will probably just ask him to pay my hospital bill, which I'm sure he will because Viola was mortified that he made such a scene, and pleased that there was a fight over her.

 

I have a beautiful flower arrangement from the Butterswings with a card that simply reads, Words Cannot Express. I like that. I like that a lot.

pissed

Vixen, Part Two

 

In the effort to free Junior Butterswing (of THE Butterswings of Wett Lake Drive) from the designs of Miss Viola Hassendoodle, I went to the Day and Nite Laundrymat on North Street. The name is false; the Day and Nite Laundrymat is only open from eight a.m. to ten p.m., but that is what you have to expect from Ray Bob Hassendoodle. Personally, I would not trust Ray Bob Hassendoodle to hand me a yardstick and expect it to be straight: it is simply not in the boy to be totally up front about anything and he is prone to jumping to conclusions. But if there is one thing he truly admires, it is his big sister Viola.

 

 


Ever since they were babies, Viola and Ray Bob looked after each other. Viola vehemently defended Ray Bob when others said he was an idiot, despite proof staring her in the face. In turn, Ray Bob beat the living snot out of fellows who told unflattering stories about her behind her back, or the ugly truth to her face. Ray Bob turned out to be a canny businessman with a knack for wringing blood from a turnip and dollars from a board. The Day and Nite Laundrymat made money hand over fist for Ray Bob, who in turn spent it like a sailor on shore leave. It has the distinction of being the cleanest laundrymat in the Southeast, not an easy achievement if you have ever had to use a laundrymat.

 

I strolled in and said hey. In the South, "Hey" is a greeting, an objection, a declaration of triumph and a carefree dismissal, depending entirely upon the circumstances in which it is presented. In this case it was a greeting. Ray Bob looked up from folding shirts and said "Well, hey yourself, Truman! Be right with you." He rattled off something in Spanish to an employee, and she finished folding the shirts. He came over to me, and indicated the woman with a jerk of his thumb. "They're pretty handy for folks who don't know how to talk right. But hell, they're cheap labor! Well, I ain't seen you in a while! What's goin' on?"


 

I decided to make the visit as short as possible. I had forgotten that another trait of Ray Bob Hassendoodle was his penchant for feeling superior to people of whom he had no business to compare himself favorably against. "I wonder if I could talk to you about your sister Miss Viola."

 

 

Immediately his interest was piqued. "What do you want to know about Viola?"

 

 

"I was wondering...well, I know she's been seeing Jesse Featherham -"

 

 

"No, no she's not! Jesse went up to Talladega to the races and left her home, and she was so mad that she stomped on her cell phone so he couldn't call her any more."

 


"Er...well that is pretty extreme. How is she going to replace all the numbers she had stored?"

 

 

"Oh, that was just one of her phones. She's got others."

 
I was not surprised. "She is a very sociable lady," I replied amiably.

 


"So you uh, you are taking an interest in Viola, Truman?" he asked.

 

 


"No, not like that, I mean I don't even think she particularly likes me," I said quickly. "But I'm wondering if maybe you could tell me if she's likely to get back together with Jesse." If I could work on Jesse, maybe he could distract her enough for her to leave Junior alone.

 

 


 

"Oh, I doubt it. She's had it with him. Said he's an inconsiderate bastard of the first order."

 


 

"Oh. Well, okay then. I'll - I'll see you," I said as I backed out. Damn it! I would have to think of another angle. Maybe if I spoke to Nancy Sweetanal. Nancy has been fond of me ever since she discovered goat milk was good for lactose intolerant people to drink, as it is not as harsh as cow milk. I explained all that one day at the Cup and Saucer as we waited for our separate parties to be seated, and she was very appreciative. I hoped it was enough to enlist her aid. Nancy is not the type of woman who would actively encourage her best friend to bust up a marriage, not even that of a Butterswing, so perhaps she would see my endeavor as a worthy cause.

 


 

I got a call when I returned to the store. "Look, Wordy," Junior Butterswing said without preamble, "I thought I'd bring Daphne some flowers, but I need something on the card and I can't come up with stuff the way you can. What can I put on it? Got any ideas?"

 


 

I thought for a moment. "Tell her... tell her, 'I would like to court you all over again, Miss Bailey." Bailey was her maiden name.

 

 

"Why would I want to court my own wife again? She'd wonder what was up."

 


 

"Let her read it and then tell her you got to thinking about how beautiful she was and how lucky you were to marry her, and that you thought she might like a little playful romance to spice things up again."

  


He was silent for a moment, and then: "Okay. Okay, I'll give it a try."


 

Late that afternoon, a dark silhouette appeared in the doorway of the Feed and Seed. "Truman Fable!" Miss Viola's imperial voice rang out. "Where in the hell are you!"

 


 

"Why, hello Miss Viola," I greeted, wondering what was going on. Miss Viola never liked to come into the Feed and Seed; hay made her sneeze and she disliked the smell of sweet feed.

 


 

She approached me with all the caution of wary steer near an electric fence for the second time. "Ray Bob said you were asking about me earlier today. Why?"

 


 

Oh dear lord. It had not occurred to me that Ray Bob would pass on such information. Most brothers I know do not relate every little thing that goes on in their day to day life. "I was, uh, just being sociable."

 


 

"No," she said, her eyes narrowing down to suspicious slits. "He said you said I was sociable. He said you were asking about Jesse and me."


 

Damn! Who knew the Hassendoodles had such playback abilities? No wonder the whole family was a nest of gossips. "Well, yes, but you sounded so unhappy when you were talking to Nancy in O'Paddy's not long ago," I said, unconsciously backing up into the mole thumper display. Mole thumpers are little pinwheel-type devices of different designs, attached to the end of a long pole. One drives the pole into the ground, lets the wind blow the pinwheel around, and the resulting vibration is supposed to drive the moles out of a yard. Theoretically, of course; to me they were merely whimsical yard ornaments. I wondered if there was a Hassendoodle thumper on the market that I could drive into the middle of the floor of the Feed and Seed.

 

 

"What do you care?" she asked, and then gasped. "Oh my! Truman Fable, are you sweet on me?"

 


For a moment all I could do was stare at her. When she was all turned out nicely and her makeup was freshly applied and the lights were soft in the late afternoon sun, Miss Viola Hassendoodle was an arresting-looking woman. That is to say, a man should be arrested for the sort of thoughts that might come to mind. However, I have also seen Miss Viola without her makeup and without proper rest and well into a bottle at various clubs and bars in the area. I knew how much of a crime against my humanity it would be to be saddled with such a creature. "Well, Miss Viola," I stammered, fervently searching my mind for an appropriate response, "I imagine most of the town thinks fondly of you."


 

"You, of all people!" Viola snorted in disbelief. "You always tease me with that high-falutin' attitude and those twenty-dollar words that make me feel like a cracker and a queen at the same time! When we have never seen eye-to-eye about anything that matters to either of us! Are you kidding me?"

  


"I know; isn't it silly?" I said with a nervous laugh. Oh dear lord, do not let her extend her claws and sink them into my flesh. Do not let her feast on my vulnerable state in my own feed store where The Customer Is Generally Right and Truman Must Be The Soul of Consideration At All Times. Do not let her hurt me. Protect Rod and The Twins from her unexpected knee to my groin.


 

Viola Hassendoodle tilted her pointed chin up slightly, and her lips curled into an unholy smile of triumph. "I knew I'd get to you one day, you troublesome rascal," she stated, and then turned and walked out. Walked? No, she swayed, she slinked; she undulated her way out of the Feed and Seed, convinced that she was the undisputed Queen of All Shoe Leather That Ever Hit the Floor.


 

I hated that she was so very mistaken, for my part in it all.

 
 

"Truman," my assistant Eldon said gently, "You can climb down off the display now. She's gone." I looked down and was dismayed to find that I had backed all the way up onto the mole thumper stand and had pinned myself between a fox with flailing legs and a daisy with petals that stuck into my side.

 
 

"She's a scary, scary woman." I was shaken. "I cannot believe she can make such a mountain out of an erroneously constructed molehill."


 

"If you don't call on her, Ray Bob will be over here ready to pound you for leading his precious sister on."

 

 

"What - but - I'm not interested in her at all! I was trying to help out a friend, that's all!"

 


"Your nose isn't long enough to be Cyrano De Berserk, or whoever it was," Eldon said, and returned to the tack supply area.

 

 

Sally Diminty called me that night to needle me. "I heard over dinner at The Second Coming that you are all moon-eyed over Viola Hassendoodle. I guess that puts me out in the cold?"

 

 

"No, it does not! I just asked Ray Bob if she was still seeing Jesse Featherham, and he assumed I was interested. Then she assumed even further. But it's not true. I had my reasons for asking and it's nothing like they believe."

 


"Well, I hope you can talk your way out of this one," Sally said with something like malicious glee, "because Ray Bob Hassendoodle's fists comprise the right and left lobes of his brain."


 

I had to go to the bank the next morning on business. As I waited in line, Junior Butterswing entered on an errand of his own. He saw me and burst into a smile. He came over, shook my hand, and continued to smile warmly. "My, it's true! You will do anything for a friend! You're a stand-up guy, Truman. A stand-up guy."


"Uh..."

 


"Oh, and that other thing? You know, with the flowers? She loved it, I mean she just loved it! Do you have anything else I might say? Whoops, I've got to run. I'll call you later - pal." He slapped me on the shoulder like a blood brother and went on his way. True to his word, he called me at home that night and for the next two nights, to get some winning phrases with which to woo his wife.


 

Judge Butler met me for lunch at O'Paddy's later that week since the Court Cafe was too crowded. We got a booth where we could talk. "Word has it that you and Viola Hassendoodle are an item."


 

I explained the whole thing to him in a whisper so no one else could hear. I did not want Viola to find out that Junior had anything to do with it lest she come back after him stronger than ever before, nor did I want anyone to carry the news to Ray Bob that I still thought his sister was a flashy, oversexed morals charge just waiting to be filed, and that I was not interested in her in the least.

 

 

Judge Butler nodded his chiseled jaw and smiled his perfect white-toothed smile. "I thought as much. Jim Dimity called me last night to inquire if I could have you declared insane."


 

"Yes: for getting mixed up in all this mess, yes! Declare me incompetent and put me away."

 

 

"No, no. You're trying to help Junior and lord knows he needs help now and then. It's all for a good cause, Tru. If I know Viola, she will preen for a while and all you have to do is stay your usual caustic out-of-towner self, and she will eventually drop you like a hot potato. Or better yet, mention that you aren't related to anyone else in the county. That will burn the relationship bridge faster than anything. The Hassendoodles are nothing if not genealogy enthusiasts."

 

 

"Yeah, and in the meantime I will be Viola's Latest." I shuddered. "Good Lord, the very thought makes me ill with myself."

 


"Oh, Viola's not so daunting. Just pretend it was an idle amusement."

 

 

 

"How is it you were never caught up in any of Viola's drama?"

 
 

Judge Butler stretched his long legs out at an angle until his feet were almost out of the booth and into the aisle. "Oh, she sidled up to me the minute we hit town, but then I greeted my wife in our usual way and I never heard from her again. Until she came into my courtroom, of course, and that pretty much sealed the deal."

 


 

 

I knew about the way Judge Butler and his breathtaking wife usually greeted each other: they pretty much melt against each other and lock themselves into such a heated, passionate kiss that it makes everyone around them tug at their collars and groan in envy. Judge Butler always walks the two blocks home to his house from court for lunch every day, and one memorable day the UPS man rang the doorbell at noon. Judge Butler casually met him at the door wearing nothing but a towel and a very, very satisfied smile. No, Miss Viola Hassendoodle is not even in the same league as Mrs. Shana Butler, and even Viola knows it.

 

 

As we left, we walked past a table where Mrs. Daphne Butterswing was dining with two of her dearest friends, their chunky but tasteful jewelry gleaming against their tailored suits and complimenting the elegance of their coiffures. One of them studied a card with great interest, and as we passed she spoke without lifting her eyesight from the card. "I don't know, Daphne. The only man I know who talks like this is that Fable guy at the Feed and Seed."

 


 

"And you know he's suddenly got a thing for that Viola Hassendoodle," the other friend said.

 


 

At that moment, Daphne Butterswing's eyes met mine. Hers said, Tell me the truth. I hope mine said, I want to die right here and now, and let the buzzards strip away everything but my deck shoes and my Goat Breeders of America pin. Anything but be reminded of Viola Hassendoodle.


"Mr. Fable," she purred.


"Mrs. Butterswing," I returned, and continued on my way.


"I shall never buy another movie ticket as long as you live in this town," Judge Butler told me after we stepped outside. "This has far more potential for scandal and/or violence."

 
 

"Oh shut the hell up," I grumbled, and he laughed.

 

 


That evening I called Junior, and it was Daphne who answered the phone. "Hello, Miss Daphne. Is Junior handy?"


"Not at the moment. He had a racquetball match with Peter Eslick."

 

 

"Oh. Well, would you tell him I called?"

 

 

"Of course I will. Mr. Fable?"

 


 

"Yes m'am?"

 

 

"You aren't really interested in Viola Hassendoodle, are you? You seem like a more...mmm, refined man than that."

 


"No m'am, I can assure you with all the certainty of the archangels that I would only be interested in Viola Hassendoodle for the amount of time she might need Feed and Seed supplies, and I believe that makes the point moot."

 

 

"You have an interesting way of speaking."

 


 

"That is very kind of you to put it that way. Most people just tell me to shut up."

 


 

She laughed. "I wouldn't dream of it. I will tell Junior you called." We hung up. I never talked to her before then, and I still did not have a very accurate picture of Daphne Butterswing. I knew she could be down-to-earth when she wanted to be, but I could not shake the feeling that she could just as easily look at me as if I brought in something on the bottom of my shoe, if she had a mind to do so. She had a nice voice, just the same.

 

 

"Well God DAMN," Sally Diminty howled into the phone and subsequently my ear, late that night. "Just how many hearts are you gunning for, Fable?"

 
 

"What? I don't follow you."

 

 

"Oh sure! Not only are you tabbing Viola Hassendoodle, now you're speckin' into Daphne Butterswing!"

 


"WHAT?!" I roared. "Where the hell did you get that fat lie?"

 

 

"Oh come on," Sally said hotly. "Junior Butterswing couldn't write his way out of a paper bag; he was so bad in Composition class in high school, he had to buy compositions from the Geek Patrol just to pass! He'd never have come up with any of those letters Daphne's been getting ...but you can."


 

"How do you know? A man can develop his skills later, after high school."

 

 

"She told me so, not more than ten minutes ago. And just why do people call me about you? It's not like we do anythi - it's not as if - oh you are a fucktard, Fable!"


 

The sound of a cellphone clicking off does not have the same amount of seething hot anger that a phone receiver bashed into its cradle had in bygone days, and certainly not the force of a slamming door in days before that. But I knew the translated equivalent.

 

 

I went to Junior's office the first thing the next morning and caught him just as he emerged from his Prius. "I want out of this right now," I said in near panic. "Viola Hassendoodle and her ham-fisted, low-brow, volatile brother think I'm interested in her, and now there's suspicion that I am sending your wife flowers with Fablesque cards attached to them. This is 'way, 'way more than I bargained for, Junior."

 


"But she likes them! She says they are very romantic! Everything you put on those cards is the kind of thing I would like to say and have inside me, but I just can't think of them and you can! She knows I can't write like that but she says it's the thought that counts! Things couldn't be better for us - Truman, you can't abandon me now!"

 

Oh, I am doomed.

pissed

Vixen, Part One

 Few conversations with Junior Butterswing ever come to a satisfying conclusion for me. On his own, Junior is a congenial enough fellow, fairly oozing with genteel manners and its companion accomplishment, idle patter. When he is in the company of his formidable wife Daphne he fades into the woodwork and does as she directs. When he is with his overbearing father, Junior becomes a fumble-fingered, nervous tic-bearing, stammering yes-man by familial alignment. That's a shame, too. I recently learned a lot about Junior Butterswing.



He came to the feedstore with only a light sheen of perspiration shimmering across his high brow. After casting furtive glances at the unfamiliar wares and curiously poking at a few decorative mole-thumpers, he approached me in Aisle Three.



"Fable," he said with a nod, the standard greeting I get from unfamiliar women, and perspiring men with something troubling on their minds. However, I do not ordinarily get such greetings from one of THE Butterswings of Wett Lake Drive within the confines of Fable Feed & Seed.



"Hello there, Junior! Can I interest you in a mole-thumper?"



"A... er, no, I don't think so. Have you got a few minutes to spare?"


 I glanced around. There were no customers there at the time, and even if someone showed up, there were a couple of employees available to them. "Sure. Why don't we head over to O'Paddy's?"


 

"No!" His objection sounded almost strangled. "Someplace off the square."


 

"Well then, let's go to the Sunshine Cafe," I suggested. "It's not far from here, and you look like you could use a good bowl of grits and a cathead biscuit."



Junior nodded. I briefed the cashier on duty of my plans, and Junior and I went to the cafe.



The Sunshine Cafe is a modest little place in tucked away in a strip mall off the square. Renovated to the eyeteeth and harboring brisk businesses, the strip mall is an unlikely success considering its former reputation as "the place where All Right Foods went to die." The grocery store area is still under renovation, and I did not know what it would be upon completion. This annoyed me because I like to find out things. I'm not nosy, just extraordinarily curious.



The cafe is a study in clever lighting and small tables. There is a hint of intimacy, but it is not romantic intimacy that ordinarily transpires at the Sunshine Cafe. Instead, it is the physical closeness of people dining on comfort food and having a good cup of coffee which makes the Sunshine so special. It is a place where friends and family meet for a precious time to chow down on cathead biscuits as large as your fist. It serves breakfast from the minute it opens until mid-afternoon when it closes. That's part of the appeal, in a way: the limited hours creates a demand.



Junior and I sat in a booth, where we were waited on by a garrulous college age cutie. Junior waited until after she took our order and served our coffee before he recited his litany of woe. "Look, Truman. I know we aren't bosum buddies or anything, but I have to ask you for a favor. A mild favor," he said in a voice that suggested I should treat it like a state secret.



"Well, I'll do whatever I can. What's the problem?" I asked.



 "It's about Viola Hassendoodle. Now before you go jumping to conclusions let me just tell you right off the bat that I have nothing to do with her personally," he said hastily, mopping his brow with a tissue.



I indicated with a brief lift of my hands, palms facing him, that it was the last thing on my mind even though it was the first thing that popped into my head. Everybody and their dog knows that Viola Hassendoodle has been setting her cap for a Butterswing since she was in junior high, and her eyes held a particular interest in Junior.



"It's just awful. Every time I turn around that woman is looking me over like a prime chunk of beef, and she cozies up to me and makes such a to-do, and it just makes me nervous as a cat. I'm married, Truman! I have never cheated on Daphne not one time, but you just listen to all the stories going around and you'd think I was some sort of Casanova!" As he spoke, his voice dropped lower and lower, and he put his fists on the edge of the table. He leaned forward to speak to me until he was curled over the table like a shrimp. He realized his position at the same time I did, and quickly straightened.



Over at the table next to us, I could tell that whole family's ears were tuned to our conversation because they no longer carried on their "tell what happened when we went to visit Aunt Idy and she had that 'friend' of hers over there, the one we don't like" conversation. There were bigger fish to fry at our booth.



"I can't wait to get hold of one of those biscuits," I said. "I suppose I'll have to toss a quarter to decide whether to get grape jelly or apple jelly on mine."



"Grape jelly or apple jelly!" Junior bellowed in outrage. "You haven't listened to a word I -"



"Yes of course I have, Junior," I said calmly, and turned to the now quiet, intensely curious family to my right. "Excuse me. Can I do something for you?" I asked.



"Why no, we were uh, we were just leaving," one of the ladies said, and she urged her reluctant extended family to gather their things and go. A couple of them protested, but she hushed them with a quickly whispered, "We'll find out later." Too late I realized they were kin to the McGuires, which according to various family trees, meant they were kin to damn near everyone in town.



It was about one-thirty by then and most of the customers were at least a table away from us. If we spoke quietly, we could keep it private. In as low a voice as I possessed, I spoke to Junior. "What are you saying; do you mean that Viola has been spreading rumors about the two of you?"



"No, I don't think she's that clever," he replied in like manner.



"Then where are these stories coming from? You're not going to let a few rumors get the better of you, are you?"



 "No, but it's not something I can control," he explained as he twisted the paper napkin that had been wound around his silverware and was now being shredded by his nervous fingers. "See, it's not my doing. You might say it... it's my dad."



O, I silently mouthed. He nodded. "So you're saying, those rumors are true."



"Yes, I'm afraid so. Daddy has a particular eye for the flashy types," Junior said unhappily. We were served our bacon and eggs and grits and cathead biscuits and refills of coffee, so we fell to eating. "Where do you suppose cathead biscuits got their names?" Junior asked idly. "I've seen bigger cat's heads than this."



"It's probably regarding the average cat head," I replied.



"We had one of them New England Yankee type people visiting us here, and the fool honestly though we made our biscuits out of cat's heads," Junior snorted with contempt.



"...when everyone knows, we make them out of whole chipmunks," I said casually. After an initial startled glance, he flashed me a sly grin.



"I like a little less gristle in mine," he countered.



"Yeah, you Butterswings go for the refined ingredients, I reckon."



"Word."



Since our dining now appeared to be the key topic in our conversation to the rest of the Sunshine customers, I returned to the original subject. I kept the same tone of voice as I had with the cathead biscuit subject, so it would blend with the sound of other murmured conversations. "So how do I figure into all this? What would you want me to do?" Titus Butterswing was not one of my favorite people; he could be a pompous ass if his sphincter ever loosened that much from its normal tightass position - can you tell I've had run-ins with him before? Daphne was not the easiest lady to get to know either, but she has thankfully never aimed her wrath my way so all I have to go on is part-time observation. MacComber Butterswing and I got along well. He has the same degree of open bald-faced commentary that I possess. And up until we went to the Sunshine Cafe, I was pretty much on the fence about Junior.



Junior dabbed at the corners of his mouth with the mangled remains of his napkin. "I know it's a lot to ask of you, just up out of the blue like this. But I know that Viola is not opposed to you - her friend Nancy speaks well of you and all - and you are single. Is that right?"



"Yes, but -"



"If you could just distract her, or toss your name alongside hers somehow, or, or... bail her out of jail on a slow news night, or something," he stammered.



"Viola Hassendoodle has little regard for me, no matter what Nancy Sweetanal may or may not say. Nancy could swear on a stack of Bibles that I'm built like Daniel Craig and dripping with the manliest pheromones in the history of Ever, but that won't sway Viola."



"But why not?"



"Junior, Viola Hassendoodle has gone through five husbands and all of them had money or a buff body, and none of them ran a feed store. I'm nothing to Viola except a target." I felt sorry for his downcast face. "But you can counteract all her doings. You can spend a lot of time in public with your wife, for instance."



"What for?"



"For... for appearances."



"I do that already," he sighed, which sounded more like resignation than revelation. "Don't think for a minute that Daphne is anything other than what she is. At least Miss Hassendoodle is up front about wanting to land a wealthy man." He glanced at me warily. "I did not just say that."



"Say what, I didn't hear a thing," I replied, and tackled the last of my cathead biscuit. "What about your daddy? Won't he be a bit... perturbed at my running interference?"



"Maybe, but Mama sure won't mind. She liked to have died over that VFW scandal not long ago, and knowing Daddy was in the big middle of it and loving every minute of it."



Ah yes. The VFW scandal in which Viola got drunk, voluntarily undressed down to her Spanx and commenced to shake what didn't break, on the tabletops of the VFW Hall. As I recalled, it was a Butterswing that went her bail.



As if he read my mind, Junior said quietly, "We took up a collection, and Daddy had me go in and handle the transaction." He made a sour face, as if the mere recall left a bad taste in his mouth.



I wanted to do something for him; it could not have been easy always being the fall guy for your father's transgressions. "I'll tell you what: I'll talk to Ray Bob Hassendoodle and see if I can get any leverage. A little brother will surely be able to have some kind of persuasive recollection I can use to coax Miss Viola into reason."



Junior nodded, relief on his genial countenance. "I figured that somehow, all your wordiness will be able to lull her into a hypnotic state if nothing else."



"More like, bore her into submission, but yes. It's my stock in trade."

pissed

What's in a name?

There is a special place in my heart for Miss Maybelline Nabors, and always will be. Miss Maybelline and I have been friends ever since she walked into the Feed and Seed twelve years ago and asked the price of goat fencing. Anyone who looks out for goats wins me over, but Miss Maybelline's warm laugh and easygoing shrug is especially appealing. We share other interests including but not limited to an affection for the Motown Sound, collecting campaign buttons, avidly following Mary Worth in the comics section and making fun of Mary Worth in the comics section.

 

Miss Maybelline is a single mother who works as a night nurse at the Greater Metropolitan Roopville Hospital, the very same hospital where she gave birth to her daughter Sapphira and her son Loquatious. Loquatious seldom lives up to his name, opting for the use of very few words to convey his opinions. I once asked Maybelline why she named her son Loquatious, and she said "well you know how it is, Truman. The people in my family take a liking to a word and when it comes time to name a child, sometimes that word just jumps out at us."

 

"Does it have some sort of symbolism attached?" I asked, knowing Miss Maybelline had traced her roots back to the mid-1800's when an African ancestor first came to America.

 

"It means I picked a hell of an ironic name for a child who doesn't say much," she told me.

 

Loquatious plays for the Central County Jaguars, formerly the Thunder Lizards. I once asked him what position he played. Halfback? Fullback? Lineback?

 

"Fallback," he said after some thought. "The coach sticks me in wherever I'm needed."

 

Sapphira is another matter. She used to trot into the Feed and Seed to say hello to me and buy a new ribbon to decorate a goat for the Hometown Day Parade when she was a little girl. Sometimes she would come in with her mama and get a piece of candy at the counter. Sometimes she just came in to say hi and then skip out the door again. As she grew older the visits grew less frequent and the attitude a little more... attitudinal. Her grades slipped badly and she wore her clothing tighter and more revealing. She spoke loudly in a voice that seemed to shout everything for the attention factor it provided. She never came in to a tacky old Feed and Seed with her too-cool friends, but every now and then she would come in alone mainly to get in out of the weather. If she was in the mood, we would chat about this and that and time passed pleasantly. If she was not in the mood, she would simply cross her arms and stare sullenly out the window and not say a word until the weather improved a little, or a car with a particular boy drove up. That was when she would suddenly flash a big smile at me and with a quick "'Bye, Mr. Fable" she was into the car, and off.

 

I noticed the emerging bulge around the middle of her slender frame as winter progressed. I knew that the boy - I didn't know his name because we'd never been properly introduced - did not drive her around any more, which only increased the sullen staring and lack of chitchat.

 

"I just don't know what I'm going to do with her," Maybelline lamented. "She's so stubborn; she gets it from her father."

 

"Where is he now?"

 

"He's up in New York or Buffalo or wherever, acting a damn fool. I don't know, I haven't seen him since the earth was young and dirt was new."

 

I did not see them again for a while. Then one night at home, I got a breathless call on the phone. "Truman, you have got to come up here to the hospital and talk some sense into this girl; she won't listen to me," Maybelline begged.

 

"What's happened?"

 

"Just get up here and I'll explain everything."

 

I hurried to the hospital, trying not to imagine what might have befallen little Sapphira. Did she bring harm to herself? To the baby? What could have happened? When I arrived, I discovered she was in the OB/GYN unit, the mother of a little girl. Mother and child were doing fine.

 

I sought out Maybelline, who looked absolutely miserable. When she saw me, however, she brightened. "Sapphira's always thought highly of you, True, and there's not many men she'll listen to these days but she'll listen to you. Please try to talk some sense into her."

 

"Why, what is going on?"

 

She led me into Sapphira's room, where the new mother was holding the baby in her arms. She was a sweet little baby, tiny and wrapped in pink and sleeping contentedly. Loquatious was in a chair in the corner, drowsily channel surfing on the TV in the room.

 

"Look at the name she wants to give the baby," Maybelline said, handing me the form.

 

"Oh Mama," Sapphira groaned with a roll of her eyes.

 

There on the form printed in Sapphira's firm handwriting was V-A-G-I-N-A. "Isn't there a law or something that keeps you from naming a child something awful?" Miss Maybelline demanded.

 

"What's so awful about it, it's pretty. Vagina," Sapphira said, dreamily drawing out the word.

 

"Sapphy," I said slowly, "It may sound nice to you, but think of what your baby is going to go through in school, named after private parts like this. The kids will be merciless."

 

"I've thought of that," Sapphira said confidently now, using her brash loud voice again. "We can use a nickname."

 

"What is that?" Loquatious asked sarcastically. "Va Jay Jay?"

 

"So?" Sapphira shot back.

 

"Sapphira, I'm afraid I'm going to side with your mother," I told her. "Now I know I'm just some old goat farmer of Caucasian persuasion and prone to old worn-out notions, but to name your baby after genitalia is downright ludicrous."

 

Sapphira stared at me for a moment, and then looked down at her baby. She said nothing, but sat in deep thought.

 

"Well, um... she's sure a pretty little thing," I finally managed, and let myself out.

 

The next morning Miss Maybelline and Loquatious showed up at the Feed and Seed. "Well the good news is, she listened to you and did not name the baby Vagina," Miss Maybelline said. "The bad news is, she listened to you and named her something else."

 

"Truman?" I asked hopefully. "Or Fable?"

 

Loquatious grinned widely. "No, but she said we can call the baby Ludy G for short."

 

"Oh. My. God."

 

Maybelline wearily slumped down in a nearby chair. "Yes, Lord help us. Ludicrous Genitalia Nabors. Lord, where did I go wrong."

 

"When you asked for my help, I'm afraid."

 

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