By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, the only folks who didn’t know there was a stranger in town were those individuals buried six feet under in our local cemetery, the Garden of Gethsemane. As for me, I’d joined ranks with the other living residents of Endurance and was doing a fair amount of speculating as to who this woman was and just what the devil had brought her to our community. Having seen her in the flesh on Monday, I was just certain I had a leg up on everyone else in solving this mystery but so far, that advantage hadn’t paid off and my attempts to recreate the experience on the following two days had been in vain. There’s a slight possibility I saw a curtain move on Tuesday but I have to admit that it’s just as likely I observed an illusion conjured up by a shaft of sunlight and the bare branch of a Chinese elm tree. In short, I’d gotten nowhere.
However, on Thanksgiving morning I came up with a plan–in fact, I came up with two of them. The first one involved getting my sister Clarry to talk, so it was a long shot. Clarry was a telephone operator and knew all sorts of things no one else knew. Normally, Hitler and the entire German army wouldn’t be able to get her to spill the beans about anything but considering it was Thanksgiving, maybe the thought of cornbread dressing and apple pie would have her in such a good mood she’d be a little more forthcoming than usual. It was worth a try, at least.
While Mama was in the kitchen boiling potatoes and tending to the turkey, Clarry and I were working like hired hands in the dining room, making sure everything was up to snuff for dinner. My dad’s sister, Aunt Beulah, was coming over and Mama wanted to make sure “that old biddy” didn’t find one thing to criticize. Uncle Ernest was coming over too but no one ever gave Uncle Ernest much thought since he hardly ever got the chance to open his mouth. Anyway, while Clarry was ironing the good tablecloth and napkins and I was polishing Mama’s wedding silver, I put my first plan into action.
“Did the Broomes have a telephone over at their place?” I asked casually, or at least I hoped I was being casual.
“Of course they did.” Although Clarry was still ironing, she was now looking at me sideways with one eyebrow cocked. “Eustace Broome couldn’t very well have done his job without a telephone, now could he?”
“I figured as much,” I said. Eustace Broome had been both coroner and undertaker in these parts for as long as anyone could remember. He’d also been just about the most unpleasant man I’d ever encountered. It always struck me as odd that he was a long-standing deacon at the Baptist church because I couldn’t imagine the Lord wanting to show up anywhere that mean old buzzard was. “What about after he died?”
“What about it?” she asked, stopping what she was doing and staring me squarely in the eye. Clearly, my sister was growing suspicious of this line of questioning.
“The telephone,” I said, trying not to sound put out. “Did Mrs. Broome keep the phone when he died?”
“Yes. Mrs. Broome kept the telephone,” she said, shooing me away from the table so she could put the cloth on it.
“What about after she died? Did the telephone stay in the house?” Again, I was doing my best to sound only vaguely interested in the subject at hand.
“That’s enough,” Clarry said as she checked each corner of the table, making sure the cloth hung evenly. “I’m not about to tell you if any calls have been placed from that telephone recently, if that’s what you’re after.”
“But nothing, Grady Gibson. There are some things that aren’t any of your business–or the business of anyone else in this town, for that matter–and this is one of them.” With that pronouncement, she turned and walked into the kitchen, leaving me with no answers and a mess of silver that still needed polishing.
Mama outdid herself with Thanksgiving dinner and the meal almost passed without incident until Aunt Beulah asked for a peppermint because the gravy–which in her opinion contained too much black pepper–had given her indigestion. Mama took the criticism in stride, however, and once Aunt Beulah’s peppermint was secured, the adults moved into the living room to listen to the radio. I held back and once I saw that everyone was settled, I snuck into the kitchen, took one of Mama’s old cup towels from the drawer, and filled it full of turkey and dressing, as well as two pieces of pie. I wish I could have used a plate but I knew even one of the old tin ones would have been missed, sooner or later.
I listened at the kitchen door and as soon as I was satisfied everyone was focused on what Mr. Murrow was saying on the radio about the bombing of Berlin and not paying attention to my actions, I left out the back, careful to keep the screen door from slamming. As I made my way to the Broome place, I told myself that even if my second plan didn’t further along my investigation, at least I was doing a good deed. After all, everyone deserved a Thanksgiving dinner that consisted of more that grape jam and coffee.
My first thought was to leave the cup towel and its contents on the house’s back steps but somehow it didn’t seem right to get that close without being invited. I settled for placing the bundle in the crook of the Chinese elm, figuring if I could reach that high, so could she. Once the package was secured, I looked toward the house but there was no indication that anyone was watching or, in fact, that anyone lived there at all. I suspected I’d return tomorrow and find the food in the exact same spot I’d left it.
Before going home I stopped at Bob’s shed and visited Sadie and her new family. Although the pups still had their eyes closed, they were getting bigger and more active every day. I examined each one individually, making sure the whole litter looked healthy. Once I was satisfied with their condition, I took a few minutes to give Sadie some attention. While I was scratching behind her ears, I realized it was now darker inside the shed. I told Sadie I’d better be getting home before it got much later and I had to explain where I’d been. When I got up off my knees and turned to leave, she was standing in the doorway, blocking the light.
“I’ll never be able to eat all that pie by myself,” she said matter-of-factly. “Would you like to come over and have a piece with me?”
I was so shocked that all I could do was nod my head.
(to be continued)
Categories: Story in Progress