Mamie Pound: Man in Blue, a short story
Southern Legitimacy Statement: Mamie Pound lives in Columbus, Georgia.
Man in Blue
She was in the garden, a hoe in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, a wool sweater over her nightgown.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said, from a battered Ford truck, right at the end of her driveway. She wrapped her sweater a little tighter. The dog ran toward the truck, barking and snapping its teeth.
“Hush, Dusty,” she warned. It took three times telling him to “hush” before he quieted.
The man shut off the engine, crawled out and lifted his hat as he approached her.
His chin was cleft, with a day’s growth. His accent was plainly Montgomery.
“My uncle had a place around here,” he said.
The dog growled.
“Oh, yeah?” She smiled. Something about him was familiar, but she couldn’t say where she’d met him.
“I’m sorry, I just left the house, to get a look at the garden, while the sun’s still on it,” her feet were bare. “I wasn’t expecting company.”
“I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have stopped,” he smiled and turned to go.
“That’s okay,” she said.
A breeze stirred the sickly-sweet Paper White perfume into the air.
“What was their name?” she asked.
“Harrelson,” he said.The dog growled again.
“Oh, Harrelson? There are a ton of Harrelson’s in Colquit County. One lived right up the road.”
“My Uncle Thomas.”
“He was the nicest man. A good friend of my father’s.”
“I’m really sorry about your uncle,” she said.
“I haven’t seen them in years. I’d planned to visit soon, but, well, you know how things go,…”
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” she asked.
“I hate to impose,” he said.
“Not at all,”
“Be right back,” she said.
He moved the truck from the road to the yard, on the other side of the Tea Olive hedge.
“Were you at his funeral?”
“Just missed it,” he said, looking over her shoulder, to the open kitchen door.
“Oh, don’t look in there, it’s a mess.”
“It reminds me of my aunt and uncle’s place,” he said.
“It was a nice service.”
“I’m on my way to my parent’s home, near Mobile, and I had hoped to find an odd job or something, just to get gas money.”
For the first time, she noticed his hands were dirt-stained and scratched.
She brought the cup to her lips.
“I always carry cash. But when I filled up in Birmingham, somebody stole my wallet.” He shook his head.
“Did you report it?”
“Won’t do any good. And the only picture I had of my mama,…”
His eyes met hers and he withdrew them just as quickly.
A beat or two passed, her rocking, him drinking the last of his coffee.
“I know,” she said,”There’s a man who accepts help everyday with his landscape service. You should try there.”
“You don’t have work around here? I could shape up your Tea Olives and the Camellias.”
“Oh, I never cut those. I love their freeform look. Plus, they’re about to bloom.”
“You probably let your husband do all that anyway,” he said.
“I do most of the gardening,” she said.
“I knew a girl like you once, she reminded me of a sparrow, one of those tiny, little, brown birds,…”
“Well, I really ought to go.” She forced a smile. “My husband, a State Trooper, he’ll be home for lunch.”
He stood and tipped his hat.
“Thanks for the coffee,” he said and stepped toward her to give it back. He smelled like cigarette smoke and sweat. There were scratches on his chest. She averted her eyes to his face.
His eyes were so blue. Mesmerizing, even. But there was something else in them. She shivered.
“Thanks again,” she said, and walked toward the kitchen. When she looked back, he was still standing there, unmoved, just staring.
Like a hawk, eyes fixed on its prey.
“Thanks again,” he said and spread a big, perfect smile across his face.
He walked to the truck without looking back, only waving a cordial goodbye as he turned onto the road.
She went inside, filled the sink with water and washed her face and her hands, let the water drip down into her nightgown.
Almost immediately, there was a bang at the door. No car in the driveway. She felt for her gun in her dresser drawer, hid it in the pocket of her sweater.
Through the porch window, she recognized the profile of Sheriff West.
“Della,” he said, though the screened door. “Did I wake you?”
His eyes ran up and down her.
“No, I was, just,…”
“Listen, Sugar, there’s a man loose.” He opened the screen door. “He’s dangerous.”
She remembered now, the eyes, were the same ones she’d seen on a poster at the post office.
“There was a robbery up in Pine Mountain, a deputy shot, and I just wanted to make sure you are okay,” he said, touching her arm.
“I’m fine,” she said.
“Don’t open this door for anybody.”
“I will come by and give you the all-clear when it’s over. Okay?”
“Thanks, Roger,” She dead bolted both doors, watched as he sped away in a cloud of red dirt.
Not 30 minutes later, she was in the tub, the pistol at her side. There was another banging on the door.
Wrapped in her robe, she peeked through the front window and saw the sheriff’s hat, his car out front.
She undid the deadbolt and opened it again.
Standing before her, in Sheriff West’s uniform, was the blue-eyed man.
The dog chased the Sheriff’s car a quarter mile before turning back.
The kitchen door stood wide open.
You could just barely hear the radio.
Bees buzzed around the Forsythia blooms overhanging the rotting garden gate.
The Willow Tree branches were so heavy, they barely moved with the wind.