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By: Robert Walker
As they pulled into the unkempt gravel Sharon knew she had a lot of work ahead of her. Mark would be at work for much of the light hours, and he could only do so much on the house during the weekends. Honestly, she didn’t think the pictures online reflected the neighborhood very well. Theirs was the only house that seemed to have been constructed this century. Every other house on this street seemed to resemble antebellum slave quarters. Her assumptions were fitting given the setting of Evergreene Alabama.
Mark slowed the car to a squealing stop after it crackled over the gravel drive. They opened the car doors, each taking in their new home. Mark knew it needed work, but he was always a handy sort of guy, and besides what he couldn’t fix he would be able to hire a handyman to finish. It was the South and he did have a great job, one of the very few in this town.
Sharon had all day, every day, to work on the house. Something she’d waited patiently for. She’d stayed by Mark’s side as he did double shifts at the helpdesk in Ohio. Sure, she was a little… crazy, but what the hell would you do if you saw your Dad blow his head off with a shotgun?
The heat wasn’t quite a full blown Alabama summer yet, but it was enough to feel the heat from the rusted tin roof. As they approached the front walk Mark took note of the ever growing list of things to be done. Trim the bushes, cut the grass, the columns on the front porch wasn’t as bad as he’d thought, though the boards on the front porch needed attention sooner than later. The whitewash wasn’t enough to keep the elements out of the wood of the exterior, and so would need a new coat of paint. They eased onto the porch and entered their new home.
It was an antebellum ranch style home with elevated ceilings, before they were the trend. The stench of old wood, not yet rotten, permeated their nostrils. It was Sharon’s turn to make mental notes of upcoming duties. Clean this, scrub that… OH MY GOD look at how disgusting that is. Husband and wife’s eyes travelled to every nook and cranny of this old home taking stock in their own way. The flooring throughout was good enough to not mess with for a few years. Overall they were satisfied with the structural integrity of the home, and settled into their new home for a much deserved night of sleep.
Sharon was a list writer. The second day, while Mark had gone to work to square away his office, she was doing the same with the house. She began with two sheets of loose leaf paper impeccably straight and matching on the brown clipboard, a spare pen in the clip itself. She walked the house like a drill instructor, eying everything, taking notes into the correct categories.
“Baseboards, WINDOWS, cobwebs…” among others in the “CLEAN IT!” category.
“Outer alcove *mirror*, above mantelpiece *small heirlooms*…”
She went through, room by room, noting the needs of cleanliness, small repairs needed such as plastering, and the spaces where she could nail, bolt, or paste the items that would transform this foreign place to their home. Sharon’s work ethic was not quite as great as her husband’s and when she’d finished on task, such as list making, she felt she deserved a break. In her mind it wasn’t going to be a break as there were outdoors lists to make as well. So, she felt, she could kill two birds with one stone. Taking a break by roaming the outside, AND starting the list for her husband.
It was warmer than their arrival day, but still not quite the furnace on Earth that a windless South Central Alabama can be.
“Trim bushes, cut grass, fix columns, porch boards…”
She meandered around the house noting this crack here, that would be a great place for one of those gazing balls, perhaps a pool here, or something…
She rounded the front of the house, and still not wanting to go back in and commence with her days’ work, walked to the corner of her porch, and leaned up against the rotting column. Directly diagonal from their house was an old weather beaten shack.
“Shack is being too nice.. that thing is a menace!” She thought as she looked with disdain. The tin roof there was what theirs would be in fifty years with no upkeep to it. The wooden walls sat on breaking and broken bricks, no doubt salvaged from the chimney of the old place out behind this smaller more fronted home. Then she saw her. She wore a faded pink housedress, her snow white hair was as much a contrast as her demeanor was, given the ramshackle condition of the home in front of which she lazily rocked. Sharon waved over to her. A courteous way of saying “Hello” without having to actually do it. Without missing a beat of the rocking the old black lady raised her hand with a backward rock, and it fell forward as the chair rocked to the fore.
“I wonder where her family is?” Sharon thought. “Surely her kids would get her out of that dump if they only saw it!” She’d immediately grown a distaste for this old woman’s kids. “They probably left and never looked back.” Sharon began to envision how difficult this woman’s life must’ve been. “Her husband probably worked his fingers to the bone just like her, but he liked to drink almost as much as he liked gambling…” On and on she went in her own mind, not realizing she’d been staring at this woman rocking lazily in her chair on the weather beaten front porch. Her voice snapped Sharon out of her empathetic dream-state. Too late to actually hear exactly what the woman had said to her. She snapped out of her fog, and perked up to ask,
“Excuse me Ma’am? Did you say something?”
The old woman, not missing a beat of the rocking motion, nodded her head and lifted it to say louder, “I did honey. I said you ain’t that far off!”
Sharon was taken aback, but years of living with her father had taught her not to show your emotions, especially when you’re a girl who was supposed to be a boy. She did what one was supposed to do in the South when confronted with something uncomfortable, she smiled. As she did, she could hear the old woman softly laughing to herself. Then she waved for Sharon to come on over in a slow Southern style. Intrigued, and still not wanting to go back to work, Sharon slowly walked down her gravel path to the road, and made her way across the street to the old woman’s house. She continued to stare at this old woman slowly rocking the minutes of her life as she got closer. The old woman was humming some nondescript spiritual softly. She noticed the old woman didn’t look at her, just blankly stared straight ahead, as if in deep thought. Sharon took mental notes of the old woman’s house, as she had on her own. “Broken window, porch in desperate need of repair…”
“Awww hawny it ain’t that bay-id!”The old woman exclaimed in soft protest. Sharon noticed how deep her twang was much more now than when she’d hollered across the way.
“Sharon McCall Ma’am..” She said, holding out her hand.
“Mah naym iz Mizz Magnowl-yeah, n’ ah ben heah for round a good’n amounna tah-m.” Miss Magnolia was a little more difficult to understand than most Southerners Sharon had heard speak, but if she listened she understood… mostly. She also ignored Sharon’s outstretched hand. Taking it in stride Sharon told her they’d moved into the house across the way, and that her husband worked at the new computer place in town.
Miss Magnolia’s jaw formed a confirmation of the new knowledge, and the sweat that was as much a part of her as her skin highlighted the creases in her face, making her look older than she probably was.
“Mhmmmmm. Ah hoid day-is such a place in town. Mhmmmm. Show de-id.”
After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, Sharon cleared her throat and it seemed to wake Miss Magnolia out of her waking dream.
“Y’all got any chillums Mayum? I show love ‘em. Evry one of ‘ems mah baybies, ‘n don’tchew know Jesus dun told us to looove ‘em awl like deys ah own!” As she spoke Miss Magnolia never missed a beat of the rocking chair, and never looked at Sharon.
“No, as a matter of fact Ma’am, we don’t have any children, but I hope we do someday soon.”
The subject of children being a somewhat sore one for Sharon to discuss, but she had to be courteous… when in Rome. She abruptly changed the subject to small talk about the house, how she wanted to fix it up. Where the nearest store was that offered the best deals. The answer to the latter was “Myrick’s butchers down on Drew Street.” Or so she assumed that’s what Miss Magnolia had said. After a short visit, Sharon excused herself to get back to her work at the house.
“awwlraht hawny you make sho you come ‘n see meh now heah soon!”
“yes Ma’am I will” She replied as she waved behind her shoulder to her new found friend.
SMALL TOWN STRANGE
Mark closed the refrigerator in disgust, “nothing but healthy shit here…” he thought. He suddenly got the need to eat Ho-Ho’s.
“Sharon!” He yelled up to the ceiling.
“yeah!” She yelled back, almost done organizing the upstairs office papers.
“We need food! I’m going to the store!” Mark started to slap his pockets, “spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch.” He forgot where he’d heard that phrase but it worked, whenever he was leaving the house, to remind him to take all the things he’d need for the ride. Sharon came thundering, quick step, down the stairs.
“I’m coming with.”
“Well I know a good store that has great prices and we can barbecue!”
“Shay I don’t want squirrel burgers or nothin’”
“Nooo silly. Miss Magnolia across the street told me there’s a butcher on Drew Street.” If there was one thing Mark hated was how uniform everything nowdays was. Literally everything was exactly like the next. It really pissed him off when it came to the meat section of grocery stores. No cut of ground beef was EVER on the pound. It was always over a little bit, as though to squeeze that extra few pennies out of the customer!
“Who’s Miss Magnolia?” He asked as he opened the front door.
“Our neighbor.” She replied. As they approached the car Sharon pointed to the ramshackle house across the way. “She lives right there.”
Mark glanced, and judged it a dump immediately. “How do people live like that?”
“Aw it ain’t so bay-d” Sharon replied, mimicking Miss Magnolia’s deep Southern accent.
They drove to Drew Street and couldn’t find Myrick’s Butcher shop. In fact, all they found on Drew Street were abandoned houses. They eventually decided Sharon’s new friend was either misinformed or crazy, and headed to the Piggly Wiggly over on Oak St.