But first her piece. She’d have said it pretty and smooth. She didn’t believe in shouting.
“Folks, today’s the day to share what I’ve known for many a year. Today’s the day a burden lifts from my heart.” She’d have stopped to favor her son with a pained expression.
“All of you remember Anjean Jenkins who married Ernest Lee and then left him.”
She could hear the murmurings and a “Good riddance to bad rubbish” from someone in the afternoon circle. Those women always sat together.
“Everybody figured it was her body found in the well at Fraizer’s Bottom, but that’s not so. That poor soul was falsely accused. Anjean Jenkins is alive and well and most likely living in Charleston.”
Then, the silence would’ve exploded into chatter. Pokes, vigorous nods, someone would have slapped a knee. Kaylene might have fainted. No shock reaction would have stopped her. She’d have plunged ahead, careful not to look at her son where he was propping Kaylene up from the floor.
“You see, fifteen years ago, I was sitting on my front porch behind the ivy. It was early, a sunless morning. I’d washed a mess of beans in the sink and taken them out on the porch to string when I saw a figure come off the clay road and onto the blacktop. Who could that be, I wondered, because exactly ten families lived out Nine Mile at that time and none of them walked. Everybody drove big trucks. But the figure was creeping down the side of the road in the shadows, and I couldn’t tell right off. Anyway, I wondered, who’s that?”
At this point, she’d have looked around to bask in their puzzlement. Not a one of them knew what she knew.
“Then the sun popped out and lit up a head of hair that flashed like lightening and I knew it was Anjean. Not another head of hair like hers in the county.” She’d have looked at Betty Frances for she was the very one who’d bleached it. And she called herself a beautician. Vernie had marched to her shop that same afternoon and asked her what in the blue blazes had she done to her daughter in law: Anjean had gone in looking normal and come out looking like a pin-up in a body shop; all she’d needed was a set of red lips. When Betty Frances’ eyes had flicked nervously to her cosmetic counter, Vernie had exploded. She thrown a box of end wraps that Betty used to prevent chemical damage and the papers had gone flying.
“She turned to the left and I called out, but she never answered, just waved over her head like she was swatting flies. She was carrying a suitcase in one hand and a bulging purse slung over her shoulder. I kept quiet until she got far enough ahead and then I followed. I knew where she was going before she got there. She was going where the bus and the Greyhound used to stop for rides. Remember the shed with the built- in seats, painted green? The Board voted to tear it down a few years back and now there’s nothing but a wide spot. Every time this county changes, it changes for the worst. Anyway, I hid out behind a clump of honeysuckle and watched her. She was smoking a cigarette. Pretty soon the bus came and she climbed on. The sign on the front said Charleston. I’m sorry to say she deserted her dear ones.”
Now she’d have stopped and allowed them time to talk and agree among themselves while a look of inestimable sadness played across her face. Anjean might have been plain white trash but she was saddened by the break -up of any home.
This would have been the longest pause by far. But that was okay for next came the hard part, the part where she needed the preacher. If they’d been intrigued by her story, they’d be scared off by her prophecy. Without him, she could do nothing.
In her mind she pictured Timms with a thick black glasses and protruding ears. She motioned him forward and he came to stand beside her.
“I know the way of the transgressor is hard so I waited to hear from her.”
She wouldn’t dwell on this part long because this was where she’d been the most wrong. Vernie had waited in good faith to hear something terrible about Anjean. Even when the phone had refused to ring, she’d still believed. When Anjean hadn’t called, crying and begging to come home, she’d prayed, knowing it would be a matter of time. When nothing happened, she began to fear the worst. Anjean had been murdered and no one had identified her body. She’d been sent the medical school in Morgantown; the Adult Service Worker having checked the box, “anatomical gift”. Still clinging to hope, Vernie had faithfully watched the news for a report of a platinum-headed woman murdered or uniquely molested, but all the victims had names and the murderers apprehended. One day it occurred to her that Anjean might be all right. The thought had been so unthinkable that she’d shoved it back. Life had consequences. Sin found you out. David lay with Bathsheba and the child died. Jonah got swallowed, and Jezebel was eaten by dogs. This last example always turned her back to her ex daughter in law.
Once she’d spotted a cloud as perfect and round as the half-wit’s head. She’d stood on the porch step and shouted, “What are you waiting for?” but the cloud continued to hang in the sky until the sun shot through, changing it into a cut-up pie.
Anjean must have written. Having thought that, she was surprised she hadn’t thought it before.
Fortunately, Delia Chapman down at the post office knew her well enough to let her have Ernest Lee’s mail. Kaylene thought it was real sweet of her to pick it up every day and save her a trip into town. Vernie had told her she didn’t mind, but after three years of sorting through utility bills and seed catalogs, she began to despise her son and his wife for the boring life they led.
to be continued. . . .