Mady Lou

A Bao A Qu (1973)

Carol Stager

You wouldn't believe how garlic stayed with him. Come the fifth day, you could still catch a whiff. Different people's systems work different that way. Course, the same holds with honeysuckle. Or take that night I wore the good perfume. He brought it from Wheeling. I swear to God you could smell it a whole week. Even his work clothes had a faintness. But then, that's neither here nor there.

Like Mama said at the wedding. Him and me had danced till I near dropped, then if he didn't turn around and spin every woman in that hall. Women was always something special to him, something for courting with sweet talk and it didn't never matter how young nor old they was. Mama's legs was bothering bad and I was sitting with her and Frank David, my little brother, when she turns and says, "Ella Ruth, you're going to need some hustle, keeping even with Pike Turner."

Like I didn't know. Even the first night I seen him. Best I remember, one of the kids, Robert or Silvy, had the fever and I came near not going at all. Mama was always encouraging about socials. Hadn't been for her fussing, I probably would have not gone. Just goes to show. I wore the pink dress, the one low of the neck. Back then I was shy as could be about them things. Wasn't nothing different than any lodge dance, till in he walks with Mary Kay Smothers. She's from Centerville, and being the prettiest girl in Dreggs County, besides real fiery, you know how people spread tales. As they was dancing, I was staring. His was the blackest hair and eyes you'd ever hope to see and there was something about the way he carried himself, real easy. That's how he moved, real easy and sure. Midway through the raffle, I'm standing with Jessie Graffers and up comes Mary Kay and says, "If he asks, you go with him, hear?" I just looked her right in the face. I mean, we had never spoke words before and I didn't off hand know what she meant. Then she grabs my arm and says, "Hear? Go with him." Next I know, he's asking me for the reel. Rest of the night was like in a dream. The juke music swelled twice that room and me and him, with them strong arms, laughing and looking like real dancers.

Mary Kay didn't have nothing to do about me going with him, because I couldn't of helped myself even if she'd said not to go, which probably seems the likely thing she would of done. But then, you didn't know Pike Turner. Was a long time before I could say no to that man, and by that point, between you and me, I didn't care to.

He stayed around Luckton, working for different people. There wasn't nothing he couldn't do and being so likable and all, was busy about as much as he pleased, which is saying something around here. Mama waited table at Jake's, out on Route 20. With me being obliged to care for the kids, Pike took to coming over nights. Days I was helping out Emma Shuster and he'd wash and play with Frank David and Silvy and Robert, giving me time to breathe some and catch up with the house. There wasn't no chore that man couldn't find pleasant. He'd think up games that'd make a tiresome task downright enjoyable. Sounds peculiar, but you can ask the kids. Not today though.

There is things a woman can't tell, but so's you get an idea of him, I'll remember what I don't think he'd care about you hearing. Like sometimes, when he was coming down that road, just strutting and whistling, I'd go out on the porch, my heart pumping away, real dainty. He always did like women being soft and he'd stop right where he was when I waved and holler, "Ella Ruth, you sure do have a pretty fanny." Imagine, yelling that from a quarter mile. Pike liked pretty things, especially pretty women. That's how it was.

The night he asked me to marry we was coming home from fellowship. He'd meet me there. Never was for church. Wouldn't even be married in one, felt real strong against it. We kissed and he says, "Marry me," and I says, "You don't need doing that," and he says, "Folks is talking," and I says, "Let them," and he says, "I want to marry you, Ella Ruth." Then he laughed like he was embarrassed at coming out with it and says, "Cause you have such pretty legs." I don't really. Like Mama, I got the starting of varicose veins and even not counting them, my legs ain't nothing special. But there you are.

Guess we had a shivaree like Luckton never seen. The whole town showed up at our place, and such singing. Like to woke up all West Virginia. You never seen Pike so happy, all them people and presents and women. I don't believe no one ever paid him such attention. Nothing would do but we take the kids Silvy and Frank David to live with us, and course Robert, him being mine to start with. Just when the party broke, Robert got awake with a bad ear and we took turns rocking him, half into the night. Pike nearly talked a leg off, all about places he'd seen and when he was young, things he never said before nor after that night. Us three lay on the bed, first Pike hugging me and then Robert. He went on and on about how we was going to fix up the house. One thing I recall, he says, "Ella Ruth, I know I never said I love you, like that. You understand? People that make promises about till rivers run dry, ain't never seen a river wet." He talked real nice that night. Sometimes, even now, I can remember how it felt, us being so close. But that kind of thinking don't do no good.

The first year passed like lightning. We was working hard and real tickled about the baby. Pike took work at the mill. I knew it wasn't good, but didn't never question his choices. Seems like he was all the time singing and I'd hear him reciting pieces for the kids. He didn't never say none to me. When he'd need staying out, I'd make like I was sleeping, but that wasn't often. As often as you might think.

Our baby died the same night it was born. He helped Mama deliver. It was a girl. Silvy took it hard so Pike spent time with her, getting her asleep. Knowing how he felt about crying, I sure tried my best. I had got pretty good at pretending. But when he came in that room, he jumps high and hits the ceiling with his hand and says, "Ella Ruth, you sure do have a pretty belly," and I just couldn't help myself, being weary and all. He got down on his knees and started kissing my tears, even the ones that dropped on the pillow.

Come morning, there he was, if you can imagine, the same place and his eyes with that look. Being so dark, they never changed to speak of. I mean, they seemed like pieces of coal that you couldn't see around nor through. But sometimes, when we was making love, they got all watery and warm and there didn't seem to be no color to them. It's the same look I seen that last night. But all this was a good two months before what happened with Mady Lou.

Pike worked two jobs after the baby died. He said how he was going to move us to Parkersburg where there was hospitals. Real cheery, he was, but needing to be alone even more than before. One thing about that man, he never was no good at pretending. Some people are and some ain't.

You couldn't never say he was harsh, but once he looks at me and says, "Fregada." Colonel Briggs, at the post office, he says that means dishrag or something you wipe up with. In Spanish. I've a mind Pike thought I should be quarreled about him being gone so much. But that wouldn't of done neither of us no good. We talked a lot about another baby.

Then two weeks yesterday, it happened. Mady Lou was Silvy's age, eight. Her and her brother was playing by the woods and Ralph, the boy, comes back saying she got lost. They went out looking; the men hunted all day. Everyone was frantic by supper. Pike went at noon, when he heard. By dusk most of the men give up for the day, but he wasn't back, so me and the kids went ahead eating, when I hear footsteps at our porch. I run out and there's Pike holding this poor little thing, all bloody and her head holding on by a string. An animal had got her and you couldn't hardly make out a body shape. He just stood there white and stiff, with that look. Slowly, so gentle he lay Mady Lou down. Then up he straightens, turns and goes running down the road. Running as fast as he could, not looking down seeing where he was stepping. Just running like he was crazy.

The wake commenced that night with a service at the church. Come the second verse of Abide With Me, you hear this loud voice singing, "Roll her over in the clover, roll her over, lay her down . . ." Well, you know the song. Sarah Blatts played louder and the voice got bigger. It went on like that through another hymn and a prayer, the same words, over and over. I slipped outside to find the Miller boys and a couple other men looking up at this tree. Behind the graveyard. There he was, hanging on one-handed, at the very top, swaying and singing, drunk, with them eyes. He seen me and he shouts, "Ella Ruth, you sure do have a pretty butt." Between the singing, he keeps saying, "Go home, go on home." Clint Bodkins tried making sense, but he wasn't about to come down for no one. When the gagging started, the men and me moved away. I went home. There wasn't nothing else to do.

Like I said, that was two weeks yesterday. Today the kids and me is moving back with Mama. She got herself some of them support stockings and you'd be surprised how much they help bad veins. They're costly though. $4.98 plus tax is a lot for one pair, but they sure do a fine job of keeping down pain, being elastic and all. Then too, I can help with money.

Funny how a person's thoughts go. When I come in the house and found all that money? First I says to myself, "Pike must of won at poker." They I says, "They paid dearly at the mill," and all the time knowing what it meant.

Sometimes I almost hate people like him. I really do. Sometimes I hardly have a day's use for a person that can't let their poison leak out a little at a time. They just cause this world so much of its trouble.

I guess folks don't hurt on purpose, but they're talking like I could of done better at keeping him in Luckton. When the end don't turn out like they hope, people go around making the middle ugly. Some says they seen him in Centerville with Mary Kay Smothers, but that's none of my concern now.

Would you believe? I ain't cried yet. Knowing his sentiment I just figure it's no sense making things harder on him. Emma Shuster needs me back there, so life's going to be fine from this point.

But the kids, the kids took it so bad. So bad they're still mooning, mind you, after two weeks and a day. Silvy and Frank David is old enough to remember real well, but you wonder about Robert, him being only four. I mean, just knowing one Pike Turner, even for only eighteen months and four days, can make a whole world a difference in a child.


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