Authors: Richard Ford
He went with his father for a walk down to the ferryboat across to Algiers, and asked him why the women would do such a thing as that. And his father said that now and then things get away from you and you couldn't control events anymore, and that though the ladies had probably seemed like trash to him, they probably were not, or else they wouldn't have raised sons to the state legislature
He parked back in the willows, folded the pistol in his handkerchief, put it under the seat, and took the Traveler over to the camp and drove in to Goodenough's.
The two tow-headed farm boys were at the junction, resting in the shade of the Servel scathing the dirt with their heels. They gazed at him and didn't seem to remember. He caught the one boy in the corner of his eye as he turned in the store, the tall boy with rangy arms and narrow turquoise eyes. He stopped and tried to act like a man who'd forgotten something while he watched the boy scrape his heel across the dirt as though he were covering something up. He watched the boy's wide good-natured face move in the shade of the icebox, while his brother spoke something that made him laugh, and he wondered if they were some kin of Gaspareau's.
“Where you at?” Beuna said, as though she'd been out searching and given up in exasperation.
“At E-laine. I got to go back,” he said secretly.
“I got all swelled up,” she said. Her voice seemed to be coming out a long strip of narrow pipe. “I thought you'd come up here today.”
“I got to work!” he said. “If the old man caught me over here he'd bust a seam.”
The store was lighted by one sallow tube bracketed to the ceiling, and the light died before it could find the floor and left the store in long rectangular shadows. Mrs. Goodenough was sweeping out back, singing in a tiny high-pitched voice.
“You better not come in here tonight,” Beuna said threateningly.
“Why is that?”
here,” she said. “He works late and can't go out cattin like he likes to, so he thinks he's coming on in and cat with me. Cept I got news for him.”
He wondered if W. might not come home frisky, snatch her up behind, and look right at a whole Rand McNally of scratches and bites. The idea plunged him in a black mood.
“We going to Memphis, ain't we?”
“I guess,” he said, staring at the shelf of glazed doughnuts, trying to put W. out of everything.
“What do you mean, you guess?”
“I mean I guess we are going,” he said.
“You ain't got some whore with you, have you?”
“No,” he said, wishing it were over with.
“What's wrong with you, then?”
“Nothing's wrong with me that keeping him from seeing your ass won't help.”
“I got all the bruises to prove it, too.” She dropped the receiver and made the bell chime. “Look here,” she said, starting a long way off, then almost shouting at him. “Ain't no way he's waking up to nothin less I tell him to, and I ain't tellin him nothin cause I been waiting on this about as long as I can.”
“I want this to go right,” he said, “without nobody getting in dutch.”
“Like me,” he said.
There was silence and he could hear her drumming her finger on the mouthpiece. “Something ain't right, I can tell it,” she said.
“Isn't nothing the matter,” he said.
“Something don't smell right to you, does it?” He could hear the sneer in her voice. Somehow she was managing to drum her fingers on the phone and continue to talk.
“Look now,” he said. “The only thing that wouldn't be right is for him to find out. I don't want him plundering into nothing and screwing the works. He stays out, I'm happy as a bird.”
There was another silence, during which his ear started to hurt.
“You ain't ashamed of me, are you, cause you feel bad about making a fool out of W.?”
“I ain't made a fool out of W.,” he said. “A man makes a fool out of himself. It don't take nobody else.” He pushed the phone into the other ear until something clicked inside and made his ear feel like it was made of metal.
“When can I see you?” Her voice had become childish.
Mrs. Goodenough came in carrying a broom and gave a startled look at the corner where he was hunched up hiding the receiver. She masked one hand over her right ear and disappeared back into her quarters.
“Can't tomorrow,” she said. “We eat at his daddy's once a month, and Thursday's it. His daddy wouldn't look at me if I was a hand mirror.”
“Why?” he said, thinking that he already knew.
“He thinks I ruined W.'s playing baseball career, but W. gets more fun playing at Forrest City than he did in Tacoma, Washington. I told him so and he just looked at W. and left the table. W. keeps making me go over there, but none of them can't hardly chew and look at me.”
“Friday, then,” he said.
“He's going to Jonesboro, Saturday both. We can stay out all night and half the day doing it. Ain't that cute?”
“What time?” he said coldly.
“He's leaving at nine. Come get me at one minute after.”
“We got to get us a new place,” he said, thinking anybody that saw Beuna slipping off from in back of the post office at nine o'clock would get to the phone before they even got their mail.
“I'll tell you,” she said, whispering. “Drive up Main at ten o'clock and keep looking right. You'll see me.”
“You might just as well let me pick you up on first base in Jonesboro,” he said.
“No!” she said. “Pick me up. I like that. You ain't gonna meet nobody commoner than I am anyway. You might as well pretend you ain't never seen me before, and got a look at me standing there and decided to give me a poke.”
It didn't sound any smarter after she'd explained it, but he felt like now was the time to stay to the good, since it was two days before he'd be to get her, and it might be smart not to give her any reason to get herself used up, and just keep her mind on whatever she had mapped out about being picked up like somebody's whore.
“All right,” he said faintly. “Don't make no production number out of getting in the truck. Just when you see me, get your ass in.”
He glanced through the store to see if Mrs. Goodenough was anywhere in earshot. He could see her shadow moving back and forth around behind the green bead portiere and hear her singing in her little fine voice.
“We are going to Memphis, ain't we? You ain't just going to carry me to Clarksdale or some little nasty punk place, are you?”
“No, hon,” he said. “I said we were going.”
“Then I can't wait,” she said, getting giddy. “I can't wait to see the Peabody and them shower baths.”
“Just don't dawdle,” he said.
“I won't do no dawdling,” she said, letting her voice fall. “Though I might do some diddling.” And she hung up.
He stepped down the aisle, his ear aching so that he couldn't touch it, hoping all the time he could get out without seeing Mrs. Goodenough. But she appeared the moment he hung up, wiping her hands on her apron and smelling like cucumbers.
“Phone's done got mean to your ear just lately,” she said sympathetically, as though she were embarrassed it had acted that way.
“It'll quit,” he said, touching the doorknob.
“Do you want to buy you a postcard?” she said, smiling and making a fragile show of salesmanship.
He took a look outside and gave the knob a useless turn.
“I guess,” he said, looking out the glass.
Mrs. Goodenough skittered behind the metal cage and forced up the metal window.
“We're in the post office here,” she said, and produced a Roi Tan box from under the counter and set it between them. She flipped the lid and tendered the box, poking a few near cards with her finger.
The cards smelled as if she had been keeping them in a well. Mrs. Goodenough frowned and the stale aroma passed off into the room.
“I can fix the wrote ones with epoxy,” she said, sorting through her end of the box, removing an occasional card and admiring it.
He flipped through, passing over a picture of President Truman and one of President Hoover, digging until his finger scratched bottom, wishing he could leave. He took a large stack and sorted through them quickly.
“There's lot of presidents,” Mrs. Goodenough remarked, watching cards flipping by, her chin balanced on the heels of both hands. A portrait of Franklin Roosevelt seated before a fireplace holding a dog went past. Mrs. Goodenough looked perplexed. “There's people say it wasn't the States' War ruined the country, it was the cripple man.”
“I don't know what done it,” he said.
“One man never is to blame for anything,” she said committedly.
“Yes, ma'am,” he said.
A photograph passed his eye, a tired man standing in the middle of a dirt field holding a hoe and a straw sodbuster. The man was wearing muddy overalls and caked brogans. His hair was slicked and he wore a big smile on his mouth. The photograph had been tinted to look old, and along the border at the bottom were printed the words “Outstanding in His Field.” He stared at the card a long time, and took it out of the box and set it on top of a picture of the Liberty Bell.
“That'un,” he said.
Mrs. Goodenough tried to peer over the top of the card, holding her stack of favorites between her fingers.
He flashed the card. “This here,” he said.
Her smile dwindled and she offered the stack in her hand. “Those
funny ones,” she agreed, trying to retrieve the fugitives, “You might like these.”
He inspected the back of the card for the space for writing. “I like this one,” he said. “Looks like he had him a day.”
it,” Mrs. Goodenough said stiffly. She patted her own choices affectionately. “I call them
” she said.
novel,” he said, and turned the card and looked at the man again, a cheerful face. The smile and the weariness were both put-ons, he figured, and the second the picture got snapped, the fellow threw down his hoe, got inside some car, and drove off with whoever owned the camera and got drunk in some bar, laughing about selling cards, once they doctored it to look genuine, like a man who knew something about what the pose was trying to put on.
“How much?” he said, fingering change in his palm.
“Fifteen for the card,” Mrs. Goodenough said glumly, gloomy about his decision. “Six if you want a stamp.”
He put a quarter on top of the box.
“Would you like a commemorative?” she said, forgetting she was disappointed and fumbling into another concealed box. “I've got an A & P Anniversary and a Financial Patriots.”
“Anything,” he said.
He took the A & P Anniversary she gave him and stuck it on
the blank side and put the card in his shirt pocket.
“Ain't you going to write it?” she said, returning four cents and looking disappointed again.
“I'll write it tomorrow,” he said.
She put her hands on the smooth counter and smiled and said nothing, as if something had just ended.
He went out just as the bus with Memphis marquee went past. The driver honked, and through the windowpane he could see Mrs. Goodenough lift her hand off the counter and wave, still smiling thinly in the gloom, as the bus passed into the field.
The boys gave him a fishy look when he drove back up the road toward the camp, as if they had finally recognized who he was out of the haze of their past, and weren't amused to see him still around.
The sky had resolved into a flat panel of grayish blue disappearing into Mississippi. Up behind him, heavy white clouds were sagging around the sun as if they were falling with it toward the horizon. He figured for no rain now and that maybe the weather would snap and the fields would leach dry in time to plow.
When he drove past Gaspareau's, the old man stumped out the busted screen door in his wide-brim hat with the green visor and stood looking at him while he backed up beside Mr. Lamb's Lincoln, got down in the boat, and started noisily back across the lake. The air on the lake was cooler than the air in the camp, and the wind came from out of the west, riffling the water in little wavelets that urged the boat more quickly in the direction he was taking it. Half across, he looked back, but Gaspareau was gone from the stoop of the house and the camp had begun to drop in the trees.
He beached the boat, set it on its top, and chain-looped it to the stump Mr. Lamb had painted red for that purpose. The old
man refused to keep anything under lock, so he could motor all around in his jeep and have access to everything without having to carry a wad of keys.
He crawled up the bank to where the willows had turned the light down the path jade. At the jeep he saw Newel's head leaned against one of the tires, his shoes kicked off. A flicker dropped out of the willows and dipped down the clearing path fifty yards, and struck the woods.
“Old man passed by,” Newel said. “I told him you'd gone on your coffee break. He said he was happy for you to knock off whenever you felt like it since you worked your fingers to the bone anyway.”
He scraped his instep across the sill of the jeep. “That's good,” he said. He lifted the mud off the sill with his finger, and sat and looked into the willows, back of which hung the lake, still lightly perturbed by the breeze.
“You run anybody off yet?” Newel looked in the same direction, as if they'd both seen something in the water.