Short Fiction

The Legend of Six-Toe Jones

You have undoubtedly never heard of Shadrach Duvalle Jones. His memory is long forgotten, or it would be if there were anyone who had been with him when he passed. For that matter, it is unknown exactly when he left this life. Shadrach Duvalle Jones became a vapor. He simply vanished.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that he departed from this world. He provided much evidence of his existence while alive. That evidence—rather the lack of it—testifies of his death.

Shadrach Duvalle Jones entered life on June 23, 1903. Sufficient documentation verifies this account.

He came to manhood during the Roaring Twenties, and he absorbed every ounce of pleasure from it. He also became quite wealthy, at least on paper. In the process, he became the antithesis of his favorite literary character from childhood, Robin Hood. Indeed, he had no scruples of ignoring or even dispossessing the poor, the down-on-his-luck man or woman. He looked down on them and showed no patience or extended no charity.

Shadrach Duvalle Jones was a self-made man, in his eyes only successful because of his own financial prowess, his own skills, his own mental acuity. To him, he was an example for all men for all time. “Anyone who can’t make money is unworthy of help,” he thought often. He had nothing but disdain for the poor. There was no greater sin in his eyes than poverty.

Two life-altering events changed his thinking and changed the direction of his life. The stock market crash of 1929 turned him overnight into a penniless soul. Initially, he assumed he would make it all back in a short time. That proved fruitless, of course. His fall back plan was to return to the family homestead in Oklahoma and temporarily return to farming, a vocation he loathed, yet found necessary.

The Dust Bowl sealed the fate of the family farm, so for the first time in his life, Shadrach Duvalle Jones found himself homeless, unemployed, destitute, and growing increasingly hopeless.

He took to the rail, living in Hooverville shacks, moving frequently in search of employment and a steady income. Over time, he began to understand the mindset of those like him. Introspection informed him he had been wrong in judging the poor. He felt ashamed for his own want, but more so for the cruel ways he had treated and thought about the poor. He vowed somehow to make amends.

Shadrach Duvalle Jones grew increasingly bitter. His despair grew along with compassion for others. He gradually learned to hate those with whom he had previously associated, especially those who retained their wealth after the Crash. They simply had been lucky. And they still, as far as he could discern, showed no compassion for the poor.

Shadrach put together a tentative plan to start to set things right. The wealthy would be his target. The downtrodden would be his beneficiaries.

He commenced b jumping on a train—as a non-paying passenger in a boxcar—to New York City. This provided him with a huge field to harvest. Two nights after he arrived, he broke into the opulent home of an investor with whom he had done business. His purpose was simply to burglarize the place. Something fractured in his psyche once inside the residence. The owner and his wife were present and asleep, and after bagging up the stolen booty, Shadrach stealthily crept into the master bedroom, pulled the covers from of the sleepers’ feet, and calmly cut of the man’s pinky toe with a bolt cutter he had brought. He fled without being recognized.

To demonstrate the condition of his tortured mind, Shadrach, upon returning to a shack where he had taken temporary residence, struck the detached toe on a chain he always wore around his neck. It had great sentimental value, having belonged to his mother’s mother.

He took the proceeds from the burglary and gave them to other homeless dwellers nearby. Having received an abundance of gratefulness from the recipients of his generosity, and also getting ample mental and emotional satisfaction from the execution of his crime, Shadrach embarked on an ambitious plan to produce greater results. He duplicated his first feat, and then he left another larger city, where he performed the same act. He never stayed in a location for more than one burglary, endeavoring to spread the bounty around as much as possible. Each time for the first six episodes, he extracted a toe from the victims and strung the toe around his neck on the chain.

Because of incessant moving about the country, authorities were never able to catch up with him or predict his next action. The poor always knew when he was in town, however. He never disappointed them, either. “Six Toe’s here,” was the whisper in the community of the lowest rank. He wore the chain always, but never visibly when not around his own kind.

Some in the poorest sectors say he died in Kansas City. Others tell it as New Orleans. In most large cities, the poorest believe he died there. No one knows for sure. The only certainty is that at some definite point, Six-Toe Jones quit contributing to their needs. Most people believe it was just after the end of World War II.

The chain with the toes was never located. Neither was his grave if there was one. Some people have hypothesized that Six-Toe Jones, the legend, never existed, just a man named Shadrach Duvalle Jones, who disappeared after the start of the Great Depression.

  Safari – The Elusive Napkindebeest While visiting a state park recently, I deposited myself on a bench while my wife went inside a small “mercantile” to purchase some dish towels. After a short while, another man approached the bench, requested permission to sit on the other end, which I granted, and together we watched his wife join mine. Living in the Midwest, small talk comes easily, and in less than two minutes we had commenced on a conversation that encompassed the weather, our children, our grandchildren, the latest hot-button topic on the news, and of course, our wives. Towards the end of our discussions, a very upright, impeccably-dressed man walked past us. “See that man?” inquired my new friend. “Sure. What about him?” I asked. “I think he’s counting rocks on the sidewalk, or blades of grass. At any rate, he’s calculating something in his head. Know what I mean?” I chuckled. “Yep, I believe I do. Accountant?” “Darn right. No doubt. Reminds me of an accountant I had at work years ago. Anthony Backus was his name. We called him Abacus. Dry as the desert at noon. No personality whatsoever. Unable to cultivate relationships. And talk about strange.” He paused and I pondered. “Strange?” I finally asked. “How so?” “Well,” my new acquaintance resumed, “you know how most people have habits and routines they follow? At least many people do.” I shook my head in the affirmative. “Oh, you know what I mean,” he continued. “For instance, I have a routine I faithfully employ as soon as I walk in the door. First, I go directly to my office, where I get out my wallet, my keys, and my cell phone, and I put them in the exact same location on the corner of my desk. Then, I take off my shoes and put them in the same spot I always keep them. So on and so on. I’m not officially at home until I perform all my routines. I do that for a purpose, so I will never lose anything, like my keys or my wallet.” “Yeah, I do something like that,” I replied. “Pretty routine. And you know what drives me crazy sometimes? When somebody takes it upon themselves to clean up for me. Then, I can’t find what I’m looking for.” “That’s right,” he said. “Woe to those who mess with our stuff.” “There’s one thing that absolutely drives me crazy,” I resumed, “and that’s something that happens in our kitchen table.” He looked at me quizzically. “Napkins,” I replied. “Napkins?” “Yes. It seems like there’s a place for every little item on our table. The salt, pepper, seasoned salt, hot sauces, and everything like that is always in the exact same spot, no matter when I go in the kitchen. However, if I venture in there during an off time, when we’re not sitting down to eat, and I’m getting a snack, I always have to face the task of tracking down the mobile napkin basket. One time it’s right in the middle of the table, the next time it’s down at the far end where nobody sits. Still another time it may be simply sitting in a chair. Later the same day, it may not even be at the table, but on a counter or sitting on top of our ice maker. Sometimes I give up searching and just grab a paper towel – they’re always hanging in the same place underneath a cabinet. I tell you, there’s no rhyme or reason.” “I know what you mean,” he said. “I used to have t-shirts that grew legs. Sometimes I would wear them once, and then it’s like they entered the witness protection program. Never saw them or heard from them again.” “Underwear,” I said. “Same thing. Almost got to the point where I thought I was going to have to purchase new underwear weekly.” “Now that’s tough,” he replied. “Fortunately, I discovered the problem. My wife loves to hang things out on the clothesline. She likes the smell of clothes dried in the fresh air. That works until someone in the neighborhood decides to burn leaves or start a small bon fire. That’s not often, though. “When the children were young, my wife would frequently have them retrieve things from the line, a task which a couple of my children disapproved of. One day, I had to go on the roof to take care of some things – loose shingle and clean out the gutter. When I got up there, what do I find? You guessed it – underwear. Seems one child in particular so disliked bringing in the laundry that he would just toss items up on the roof, and he loved my underwear the best.” “I’m really curious about the napkins,” my friend said. “Have you ever had any resolution of this? Why did your wife move them around all the time?” I shook my head back and forth. “I’d like to say she was just in the habit of cleaning the table, and when she came to the basket of napkins, simply moved it to clean. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense, for why wouldn’t other things be mobile as well? But it’s just the napkins. Sadly, the only conclusion I come to is, she just does it to aggravate me. I haven’t said anything about it for a long time. It’s not worth the effort or potential argument. But I think she senses my frustration and just keeps on doing it. When I go into the kitchen to get a snack, sometimes I want to take a toy gun and pretend that I’m on an African safari in search of the elusive Napkindebeest. It does amuse me, though, because it appears as if they move not just every day, but multiple times per day.” “Maybe…” he began. “No, that’s too stupid.” “What?” I said. He laughed at himself. “I was thinking maybe they’re doing it on their own.” “I’ve had that thought,” I replied. “More than once.” At this moment, each of our wives came out the door, chatting. They commented on our being involved in a discussion as well. Each family was staying at the inn, and we made plans to enjoy dinner together that night. “Hopefully we won’t have to search for napkins,” I said so that he could hear, but my wife couldn’t. We both chuckled. “One more thing,” I said. “What about the accountant?” “Oh, yes,” he replied. “About the most obsessive-compulsive person I have ever encountered. He was not like you or me or any ordinary person. We deal with things. He couldn’t. Finally married, but it wasn’t a good match. She was rather messy, and he couldn’t take having many things being out of place. He eventually tried to poison her. Divorce wasn’t enough for him. He had to eliminate this gene pool pollutant – his wife—from all living creatures. He believed he was in the right and was doing a service to humanity. He’s been in prison for eight years.”   Jeff’s Leap from Cowardice to Bravery

Note: this story originates from a Creative Writing class I taught for middle school students. Its object was to identify conflicts. There are at least 4 conflicts able to be easily identified.

We told Jeff it was too far. There was no way he could make it. Jimmy Landers told him. Marc Coomer told him. I was at the point of tears, begging him not to try. Even Monte Sidebottom, the one boy who cared for no one, told him it was impossible. “Please, Richard,” the tears were streaming down my face. If you miss…you’ll…you’ll…” Jeff looked down at me from the tree limb at least 40 feet off the ground. He smiled slightly. “You think if I miss, I’ll die?” he said. “That’s what it looks like from here. I suppose you’re right. What’s life, though, without chances? The people who do the most are the chance takers.” There are certain moments that carve images and memories into our brains like a wood burning set. For the remainder of our lives, when we think of those moments, we replay the event. Whenever we go to the physical place where it happened, we replay the event. Smells, sights, sounds, the weather, and the various other parts of the moment make us replay the event. It is indelible. For Jimmy, Marc, Monte, and me, this event became the fulcrum of our lives. Everything from this point revolved around it. No matter how much we have tried to remove ourselves from it, we just went in a circle and ended up at the same place. Monte Sidebottom is more to blame than anyone else. His incessant taunting and teasing of Jeff over weeks or months drove Jeff to the top of that tree. When Monte had made fun of Jeff and told him he was nothing more than a momma’s boy earlier that day, and that he was even afraid of his own shadow and let his momma take care of everything for him, that’s what pushed Jeff to climb to the top. He wanted to prove he was not a coward, simply nothing else. True, Jeff came up with the idea himself, not Monte, but Monte drove him to it. At heart, Monte was a bully, and he enjoyed watching people suffer. There was a legend among the neighborhood boys that someone had climbed to the top of the same tree years previously and had leaped from one of the highest branches to the roof of what used to be Hodge’s Drugstore, but was now an “antiques” store filled with junk. None of the floors above the first floor were used anymore. The building was four stories high. Although none of us had ever contemplated such a foolhardy thing, Jeff suddenly announced this particular day, after goading by Monte, that he was going to prove his bravery in a way no other boy had done in years. He was a small, cute little boy, usually shy around strangers, and soft-spoken, even around us. A small birth mark on his neck stood out. When he explained that he was going to make the leap from the tree to the roof, everyone told him not to do it. It was no use. He began his ascent up the tree, slowly weaving his way through branches. Twice he looked down at us, and each time I believe he nearly talked himself out of continuing. Monte did not make fun of him now. I thought I saw traces of fear on Monte’s face. Certainly, he understood that if anything happened to Jeff, he would be the one people would blame. Near the top he came. All of us were yelling at him, begging him to stop. Jeff perched on a limb. He was calculating the distance and how much effort he would have to give. Now bawling, I frantically yelled one last time, something Jeff ignored, just as he had ignored all our pleas. I turned and ran. Not because I was fearful of watching, but because I wanted to get some adult help, someone to talk Jeff out of this leap to death. Monte called me. I did not hear all he said, but there was fear in his voice. I ran down the street and around the corner to Mr. Stevenson’s house, where I pounded on the door. Mr. Stevenson answered—he was always home during the day—looked quizzically at me, deduced the gravity of the situation after I spouted some incoherent words, and he said, “Take me to him.” When we got in view, Jimmy and Marc were standing next to the building, wailing great sobs. Monte was nowhere to be seen. As we got closer, we could also see Jeff’s broken body on the ground. Mr. Stevenson somehow summoned help. Police and an ambulance came, but it was no use. Jimmy, Marc, and I rarely see each other anymore. We never quit being friends after that day, but we also never spent time together like we had in the past. I do not know what became of Monte. His family must have moved out of town. I have not seen him in more than 30 years. Jeff had proven he was not a coward, but that act that provided the proof removed any reason for proving it. In finality, all it did was condemn Jimmy, Marc, and me—and I suppose Monte—to a lifetime of horror and regret. What a terrible thing for eleven-year-olds to have to witness.   Ten Pin Smithers I stopped in a small town near Akron, Ohio, to chance a lunch in a small diner along the main street. The diner was situated next to a bowling alley, and outside of it, right along the street, was a statue. Having to walk past the statue, I became interested in it, for it was a man, down on his knees, his hands over his eyes, and in front of him was a lone bowling pin. I read the plaque at the base of the statue. It read, “Dedicated to Ten Pin Smithers and His Almost Perfect Game. January 9, 1974.” I chuckled, shortly after which I heard a voice. I turned and saw an older man with short hair and glasses sitting on a bench just a few feet from the statue. “Bet you never heard of Tin Pin Smithers before, did you?” he asked. “No, can’t say I ever have,” I replied. “This statue seems a little odd, though.” “Ten Pin Smithers,” the man said. “If you’ve got a couple of minutes, I’ll tell you his story. It’s rather sad.” A story. Just what I wanted, and right in my line of work, which is reporting human interest stories for the newspaper and a local online magazine site back home. This was the reason of my trip. I was looking for something interesting. “OK,” I said, “Mind if I sit down beside you?” He jumped right in as I was finding a seat. “Back in ’74, as the plaque says, a company was staging a bowling tournament right here,” He pointed over his shoulder to the bowling alley. “A hundred dollars to the winner, but there was a huge bonus if anyone bowled a perfect game. You know what a perfect game is, don’t you? Twelve strikes in a row for the game and a perfect 300 score. Worth a million dollars. A million dollars. “Ten Pin Smithers had been home from Vietnam for about a year, and he had found getting back into society challenging. He had some emotional issues from Vietnam, plus he couldn’t find a job. However, he loved to bowl, and he was pretty good at it. So, he entered the tournament. All he really hoped for was winning the hundred dollars. At worst, second place, which was fifty dollars. “Well, he made it all the way to the championship match. The place was packed, and the entire thing was being recorded so it could be shown on TV. His opponent was some out-of-town guy named Larkin, or Larabee, or something like that. Guy had a real unusual delivery when he bowled, and every time he released the ball he yelled out, ‘Come home to Papa!’ He wasn’t much of a bowler, though somehow he managed to make it to the championship. “The final match was over pretty quickly. Larkin or Larabee was awful, while Ten Pin rolled strike after strike. The excitement grew, the tension grew, the crowd got real excited, but that didn’t seem to bother Ten Pin. When it was his turn to bowl, he calmly took his bowling ball, lined it up, and rolled it down the alley. Like I said, strike after strike. “In fact, his first eleven rolls were strikes. He had just one roll left in the game, and if he got a strike there, he would win the million dollars. Everybody was cheering for him. Still, he did not appear nervous. The last roll, he did the same as all the others, calmly lining up his shot, and then he rolled it down the alley. It appeared to be a perfect hit, right in the pocket. Wouldn’t you know it, though? The six pin, which is supposed to knock down the ten pin, went around the ten pin and left it standing, the only pin left. “That statue you see there? That’s the exact representation of Ten Pin Smithers when he lost that million dollars. Just dropped down on his knees, put his hands over his face, and finally ended up staring at that lone pin still standing. “People always wondered how that affected his life. How would his life have been different? He remained here, but has been obscure ever since. Seldom talks to people about it. Seems to have no regrets. Says it’s the best memory of his life. For once, he was in the spotlight, everybody was cheering him on, and he ended up with a hundred dollars.” The man stopped speaking. I got up, thanked him, and told him I was going to use that story—whether it was true or not—in the next column I wrote. He said that was fine with him. He didn’t think anyone would object. I asked him if Tin Pin Smithers was still around. “Yeah, he’s around somewhere,” he said. “You might be able to find him if you ask around. That was 45, 46 years ago. He’d be in his upper sixties by now. Doesn’t look anything like the statue anymore.” He wished me a good day, rose from the bench, and started walking towards the bowling alley door. When he was about 20 feet from the door, a man came out and yelled to him, “Hey, Ten Pin, lane number 7 has a problem. Could you go back and fix it?”

Mr. Cartwright and the Cat

mountain lion Three houses down from us lived an old, ornery man that none of the neighborhood boys would talk to or even approach. The rumor was that he kept a loaded shotgun standing in a corner of the porch, and that he had promised he would shoot any child who stepped a foot on his property. There was a lot of wooded area behind his land, and we liked to play there when possible. A crumbling fireplace chimney adorned one end of the ramshackle place. Every boy in town at one time or another had attempted to throw large stones into the leaning brick struck. My brother and I walked to his place, intending to do what everyone else had failed at miserably over the years. This day when we arrived, however, we heard the sound of a ringing phone emanating from inside the house. The ringing was nonstop, and we did not see our nemesis, Mr. Cartwright. After throwing a few rocks, we heard a faint cry coming from the porch, and then what sounded like a growl. “Sounds like he’s hurt,” I said. My brother agreed. “We can’t go up there,” I continued. “He’s threatened to shoot any child, remember?” Again, my brother agreed. The phone continued to ring. Again we heard a faint cry. “Sounds like something crying for help,” I said. “Can you understand it?” My brother could not. “I’m going up there,” I announced. “He may be hurt.” “Don’t,” replied my brother, a look of fear in his face. But I started into the yard. My brother did not move. The phone continued to ring. Next came a sharp growl. Then came another cry, and this time I could discern a little. “Help,” a weak voice called. “Help…me…please.” I moved closer. Before I saw Mr. Cartwright, I saw the cat. I believe it was a bobcat. It was huge, too big for a regular cat. It also had a giant mark on its head—maybe a scar, maybe a fresh wound, I could not tell. I also saw Mr. Cartwright, lying on the porch floor. The cat was sitting there beside him. It had obviously attacked Mr. Cartwright, who had blood running from his head and what parts of his body I could see. I stopped dead in my tracks. Then I turned and ran back to my brother. “Give me as many rocks as you can,” I said. “And then go back and get some help. Get some rags as well. Mr. Cartwright is hurt.” My brother stood motionless, fear festering in his eyes. “Now!” I yelled. “Rocks! Refrigerator!” I put as many rocks in my pockets as I could carry, and then I slowly approached. The phone still rang. The cat was still there. Mr. Cartwright still cried out feebly for help every once in a while. I pulled the biggest rock from my pocket that I could, took aim at the cat, and I hurled as hard as I could. It went wide to the left, but it startled the cat momentarily. It looked at me menacingly. I threw three more, and I was finding the range. A glancing blow to the side made the cat take off, but he was not happy about it. He growled numerous times. I made it to Mr. Cartwright. He did not seem to be much aware of who I was or of anything else going on. However, he asked me to answer the phone. He said it was bothering him immensely. I went inside. I expected some creepy old place, but it was a normal house. It was a house a man lived in alone. There were not many decorations in it, kind of plain. I answered the phone, and the voice at the other end said, “Where’s my dad? Is he okay? I’ve been trying to call him for over an hour, and he hasn’t answered.” I explained as best as I could what I believed had happened. The voice at the other end—it was a woman’s voice—said she would be there quickly. My parents arrived shortly thereafter, and we took care of Mr. Cartwright. His daughter also arrived in about half an hour. Mr. Cartwright recovered, and fortunately for him, the big cat was also caught and killed and tested for rabies, which it did not have. His daughter told me that she was told I had probably saved his life, and that the cat had the intention of killing her father. She thanked me profusely. None of the neighborhood boys was ever allowed on Mr. Cartwright’s property even after that. None, that is, except for me. He did not know how to act around kids, though. He was really not very nice even to me. When I got into my teenage years, I seldom went to his property; likewise, he never sought me out. When he died, I attended his funeral. I did not cry. We were never close. However, he left me twenty-five dollars and a shotgun in his will. I made up my mind before I became an adult that I did not want to be like Mr. Cartwright. I figured it would be a really hard life not to like anyone and not to be friendly towards people. I guess that is really the life lesson I learned from associating with him. I am grateful for that. Still, I felt sorry for him, once I realized what a lonely person he had to have been. And for whatever reason, how he was bitter about something, something he never shared with me. I think back about his life. I am glad I saved it because it was the right thing to do. But I have wondered often since that time whether it was worth saving. It does not seem like it did him much good.    

Being led around with a hook in the mouth

hook_in_mouth As is my wont, I took an extended drive through the nearby rural areas of my state recently. Having a need to answer the call of nature and fill up the tank with gasoline, I stopped at an ancient store and gas station on the return trip. Upon exiting the establishment, and attempting to dust myself off and hopefully to remove the smell of the brine from the pickle barrel, I encountered three idlers on a bench just to the right of the door. Apparently, I had ignored their presence on the way inside (the call of nature being extremely loud and clear when I stopped and rushed into the store), one of them verbally accosted me. “Must be a city slicker,” said the man on the right end. “Too good ter even say hello to three gents. How’s it going, sonny?” he demanded. “Sonny?” I returned. “I bet I’m older than you. You in your fifties?” “Younger than that,” he replied. “Won’t be fifty for two more years.” The man beside him said, “Don’t be payin’ no attention to Turk. He can’t see much, deaf as a door hinge, and he’s overdue to eatin’. He can’t see you’re older’n him. Now Emerson here,” he pointed to the man on his other side, “he’s as contrary as they come, but he likes it that way.” I smiled. “Pardon me for being rude. It was unintentional. You see—” “Yeah, I seed it,” the man in the middle continued. “When it’s time to go, especially at your and my age, there’s not always a lot of time for palaverin’. Where you from?” I introduced myself, gave him a brief background, and shook his hand. “What’s up with Emerson?” I inquired. “He’s just that way,” said the same man. “Wasn’t like that all his life. In fact, when he was younger, he was nearly completely the oppsite. Had a bad experience. Ruined him for conversation and such.” “Don’t go telling my life his’try,” bellowed Emerson. “Anybody’s gonna tell my story, it’s gonna be me. I doubt if you’re in’trested, are you?” the inquiry was directed at me. Always looking for new fodder, I pretended to mull it over for a few seconds, then told him I would be happy to hear his story. “All right, but don’t be int’rupptin’ me, you hear? I’ll tell it my way. If Charlie tries to c’rrect me, don’t be payin’ him no mind.” Charlie was obviously the man in the middle, and apparently the most talkative of the bunch. After I agreed to Emerson’s terms, he remained silent for at least 5 minutes before commencing. “Well, Charlie ‘uz right,” he finally cranked it up. “I’m an ornery cuss nowadays, but up ’til my mid-twenties, I ‘uz the quietest, meekest person ’round here. Helped ever’body I could, never telled no one no when they asked. Ever’body liked me.” “That’s right,” said Charlie. “Nobody ever said a bad word ’bout Emerson. Never!” “Shut up!” Emerson snapped. “This here’s my story. Let me tell it ‘thout any intaference from you.” Suddenly, Turk shouted, “A woman done ‘im in, that’s all! Heartless woman. Never loved ‘im!” “That’s ‘nough,” Emerson turned to Turk. “Don’t ya be talkin’ ’bout the love a my life!” Turk drooped his head and shook a little bit. I believe the shaking was a permanent fixture, for I had noticed it previously. Emerson continued after a pause of another 2 minutes, “I ‘uz 20 years old when I met Doris Anne. She ‘uz the most prettiest girl ev’r born ’round here. A livin’ doll, she ‘uz. Wasn’t she beautiful, Charlie?” Charlie nodded agreement. “And wouldn’t ya know it, I fell in love ‘ith her the first time I ev’r talked to her. We were the same age, in the same class in school, but we nev’r talked then. I ‘uz a little shy, and she had her pick a boys. Don’t know why she decided ta like me. Wasn’t til a couple a years after school ‘fore she noticed me.” “I know why!” yelled Turk. “She wanted yer money!” “Well, that may be,” Emerson nodded agreement, “but she loved me. And I loved her. I did anythin’ for Doris Anne. Anythin! She wanted ta go ta a movie, I took her. She wanted ta get some new clothes, I took her. Anythin’ she wanted, I ‘uz more’n happy to get for her. “I tell ya, she ‘uz the sweetest thing ’round. Bes’ dancer, bes’ kisser, bes’ ever’thin’. I ‘uz in love for the only time in my life. Only time! But nev’r more! Nev’r more agin’ as long as I live. Ain’t no woman nor no man ev’r gonna tell me how ta live or talk or do anythin’ ev’r agin.” Emerson paused here. After a couple of minutes, I decided he had stalled his engine and I was about ready to leave, but he turned over his motor and cut right in again. “Ev’rbody ’round here said she led me ’round like I had a hook in my mouth, and she had a string and pulled me ev’rwhere she wanted to go. Mind you, it was true, it was. But I din’t care. I thought I knew what wuz happ’nin’, and I liked it. “Bein’ led by a hook in the mouth! Ev’rbody said it. Charlie said it, Turk said it, Jim Cooper said it, Harley Porter said it. Ev’rbody said it! And they ‘uz makin’ fun a me. “Two whole years Doris Anne and me ‘uz a couple. We ‘uz plannin’ on gettin’ married. Big plans! Church wedding with all our friens invited. Punch and cake and dancin’ after’ards. Big plans!” Here Emerson paused again. I opened my mouth to ask him a question, but he prevented me. “I said no in’truppin’ me, din’t it?” I meekly nodded and smiled a little. Four days b’fore the weddin’, Doris Anne decided she wanted to go fishin’. She loved to fish. That ‘uz one of the things I ‘dmired ’bout her. A country woman. “Well, we took off walkin’ down the streets to go the fishin’ hole. Of course, ev’rbody ‘uz yellin’, ‘Bein’ led by a hook in the mouth!’ at me. Din’t make me mad, though. Doris Anne din’t care, either. “We got ta the fishin’ hole and set ta fishin’. I’d caught some blue gills and a sunfish, but Doris Anne hadn’ caught nothin’. I could tell she ‘uz getting’ frustrated. She yanked in her line, checked it, and then whisked it ’round her head a couple a times, and then cast it out…or so she thought. “I turned ’round while she ‘uz whirlin’ the pole, and when she cast out, the hook went d’rectly inta my mouth and came out my cheek, where it got stuck. “Nat’rally, I reacted, got up and I hit her in the jaw with my fist. Knocked her out cold.” Here Emerson paused again, but I was not about to attempt to jump start the story again. The interval seemed like an eternity. I know it was over 5 minutes. “And that’s what happ’ned ta me, and the love a my life,” said Emerson. “Questions?” I jumped in, “So she left you when you hit her?” “No, no, no. That’s not it a’tall,” replied Emerson. “She din’t leave me. No, no! When she came to, she said she ‘uz sorry, but I told her I’d had ‘nough. “I told her I now un’rstood what the town mean by me bein’ led by a hook in the mouth, and if that’s what our life tagether ‘uz goin’ to be, with her draggin’ me ’round with a hook through my jaw, and her yankin’ the line ev’rytime she wanted me ta do somethin’, then I ‘uz callin’ off the wedding, and I did. Shore glad I figgered it out b’fore the wedding, and not later. “I made up my mind no one ‘uz going to do anythin’ like that ta me ever agin. Imagine! She led me out ta the fishin’ hole just b’fore our wedding just ta get that hook in my mouth so she could a ruled ov’r me all our lives. “I ain’t never let anyone ever tell me what to do since then. I’m my own man, I am. I still can’t b’lieve how ignorant I ‘uz ’bout what ev’rbody meant, but I ‘uz too stupid to understan’.” I decided I had heard enough, and after thanking Emerson for his history, resumed my journey home. On the way, I recalled some of the students I have taught who, upon engaging with their first love, temporarily walked through life with hooks in their mouths.


Ed Lowery’s Dog

mixeddog I went into the local restaurant for breakfast recently, and over in the Liar’s Corner sat a parliament of the local gentry, discussing the next thought that ran through someone’s mind. I arrived at the establishment just after opening, around 6:00 a.m., and the men in the corner consisted of grizzled, retired, ancient men, a couple of farmers, and some construction workers. Also, the president of the town council dropped in and took his place with them shortly after I placed my order. I got my food and took a small table within earshot of them. I hoped to pick up some wisdom. “Ain’t heard nothing from you all morning, Ed,” said one of the men. “No,” returned Ed, who then stretched and yawned for a good 20 seconds or more. “Just nothing to say.” “Something bothering you?” “No. Only that I ain’t said hardly a dozen words in the past few weeks at home. You see, Mary left about 6 weeks ago.” “Zat so? Sorry to hear that. Why didn’t you say something to us ‘bout it?” Ed scratched his head, took a long draw on his coffee mug, and then he finally raised his eyes at his friends. The entire group was listening by this time. “You all may think I’m upset, but I ain’t. I ain’t talked at home only because I’ve no one to talk to. Gets a might lonesome in the evenings.” “Where’d she go? Do you know?” inquired the council president. “Nah. No idea. But I ain’t concerned. Mary’ll be back sometime.” “What do you mean, she’ll be back?” asked the first man. “You don’t know where she is, she’s been gone 6 weeks, you haven’t heard from her, but you think she’s coming back? Ed Lowery, that don’t make no sense. No sense at all.” The rest agreed. “I knowed a man whose wife ran off,” said one of the farmers. “She never came back. Moved to Arizona, married another man, even though she never divorced her husband, and he never heard from her again. Hope something like that don’t happen to you, Ed.” Ed Lowery smiled meekly and shook his head. “Only thing I know is she’ll be back, once she’s got out of her whatever she needs to get out of her. She’ll come back, and we’ll be just as happy as we’ve always been. Maybe happier.” The men mumbled things, mostly in disagreement with Ed, and they shook their heads at each other. “What makes you so sure she’ll be back?” asked the man who had started the conversation. “And what makes you think you’ll want her back?” Ed smiled meekly. “Well, I got a philosophy about such things,” he began. “A philosophy that’s worked for me all my life. Something happened to me when I was 8 years ago, and it’s kind of guided me since then. “When I was 8, a dog wandered up onto our property. Fine dog. Mixed, but as friendly as could be. You know Harold Benson’s dog he had a few years ago? Kinda looked like that, except this one was missing part of his left ear, and he had a long scar on his left hind leg. “He didn’t have no tags or nothing, so I decided to feed him. You know how dogs stay around where there’s food? “Well, naturally, he stayed. Stayed for, I don’t know, maybe 9 months. Never left the property. Slept in my room, playful and happy as can be. We were inseparable companions, that’s what we were. Inseparable companions. “Well, we got up one day as usual. We both went outside. It was summer, you know, so we spent most of our time outdoors. I went into the house to get a drink of water or something, and when I came back out, the dog—his name was Fella—he was gone. Don’t know what happened to him or where he went. “Of course, just being 8 years old, it upset me. I cried and cried for a day or so. Then I accepted the fact that he was gone. “Six years later, when I was 14 years old, Fella wandered up my driveway, let me know he was home, and stayed there until he died 9 years later.” Ed paused. I suppose he thought everyone would get his point, but they didn’t. Neither did I. “Okay,” said another construction worker. “What are you trying to say? I don’t understand.” Ed held out his hands, apparently not believing the question. “Fella came back. I didn’t ask him no questions, like ‘Where ya been?’ or ‘Who ya been with?’ Didn’t think it was any of my business. Only thing I cared about was that he had returned. Didn’t need no explanation. “Gonna be the same way with Mary,” he continued. “She’ll be back some day. I don’t know when. Ain’t gonna ask her no questions, either. If’n she wants to tell me anything, I’ll listen. Regardless, I’ll be happy when she returns. In the meantime, I’ll just bide my time.” I had not taken a single bite of my breakfast, but it was time for me to leave. I quietly left my table and dumped my breakfast in the trash can. Some day in the next 6 years I think I will return for another breakfast and get an update on Ed Lowery and his wife.