Richard Horton: Suppose (Fiction)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and grew up in Rural Texarkana, TX. There were cows, pigs, hound dogs, an old swimmin’ hole and a little church in the wildwoods. There was a shabby “mansion” in town; at least it seemed like one to us. Aunts gossiped and told family stories on the front porch. We moved to Dallas where I spent a suburban adolescence in the time of Kennedy. After the Navy I went to UT Austin, and married a South Texas girl and lived in a trailer park, then got a job in MA and moved where I now live. Most of my flash fiction stories in my first chapbook, Sticks & Bones, are set in Texarkana and Dallas.

Suppose

July, 1956
1. Mary Craddock: “When We Got To The Big House”
“Your granddaddy is a fussy, snooty man.  He didn’t want your mama marrying your daddy back in nineteen hundred forty three.  They all lived in a big mansion in Texarkana and we were trash to them.”
“The Big House?”
“Yealt!  I had come up with your mama from San Antone where your daddy had met her at the Air Force commissary.  Your granddaddy didn’t even want to let us in the door.  Your mama was 17 and had already been married and divorced once.  They were Catholic so to them that meant she was ruined.  We had walked from the bus station downtown and we were tired.  The old man stuck his head out the door and said every blamed room in the house was taken by your aunts and uncles who were still teenagers  back then, living at home.  While he was holding the screen door open, talking, I grabbed my taped up suitcase and turned around and started walking past the bird bath in the front yard toward the curb, and that made him shout, ‘Here, now!  Here, now!  You just come on back hyah!  We’ll put you up somehow!  Where did you think you were going?’
“So there he was yelling at us.  And all the Hunts, you know, have persimmon mouths, pressed together and turned down.  Even when they smile, it looks bitter.  Well, we moved into the house, but they didn’t like it.  When we took a bath later that first night, Mammaw told us not to run more than an inch of water in the tub, and both of us try to clean up in that.  All the kids bathed that way, to keep the water bill down.
“Your daddy wasn’t due home on leave for another week and all during that time the Hunts tried to convert your mama so the Church would let her marry a Catholic, but she wouldn’t convert.  We cleaned house for the Hunts, and the old man found fault with everything I did.  I cleaned house for rich bastards all through the nineteen thirties when your mama had to live in an orphanage because as hard as I worked, I couldn’t feed my kids.  His criticisms were just crazy.
“One day your daddy walked up to the front door in his uniform, carrying a duffel bag.  The next day at the church the priest refused to do the marriage.  Immediately the Hunts jumped on us and yelled, ‘No!  No!  No!  Don’t get a civil marriage without God!  But the courthouse is exactly where your mama took your daddy.  They had to walk there because the old man wouldn’t let them use the car.  They came home married and the Hunts gave them goggly frog eyes and made persimmon mouths.  At the end of the week your daddy had to report back for duty, and your mama and I were forced to stay with the Hunts for the rest of the war.  I wish we could have gone overseas and got shot instead.
“Now just suppose…
“That a forty-one year old woman whose blond hair had turned brown, on its way to turning gray, should decide one day to go sit on a park bench with a good view of the street, and should wait there till she saw an expensive but very old car come poking along ten miles under the speed limit because the prissy 45 year old man driving it didn’t want to waste gas.  Suppose that when she saw this car, the woman opened her purse and took out a pistol, then waited till the car slowly turned the corner, then pointed the gun at the back window, and shot a hole in it, then watched as the car pulled carefully over to the curb and parked, observing all the parking regulations.
“Wouldn’t that be a fine way for a forty one year old working woman to spend her lunch break?”
2. Ralph Hunt Sr.: “The Year Four”
“My mother and I came over in four.  She was the best cook I ever knew.  These buscuits are poorly made compared to hers.  Now eat the fat on that pork chop, boy!  If we had had pork chops like that during the Depression we would have cleaned them and polished the bone like a mirror.”
“What do you mean by four, granddaddy?”
“The year oh four, the year we left Scotland on the Ranger and sailed to Carey, North Carolina.  Do you see this teaspoon?”  He held up the ornate corroded silver spoon he had stirred his coffee with.  “It came down to my mother from her mother on the occasion of her marriage to my father, Brutus Augustus Hunt in the city of Glasgow.  The rest of the pieces in the set are over across the room in the silver drawer.”
“Granddaddy, it’s almost black.”
“Yes.  I’ve asked the girls to go easy on the silver polish so they won’t scrub the silver down to the base metal.  Is something wrong with those string beans on your plate?  There’s a bowl of bananas on the sideboard and I would give you one if you would finish those beans.  And that chop: what a shame to merely pick at it!  Take it in your hands, boy, and pull it apart with your fingers till you’ve found all the meat.  Waste should be a cardinal sin.”
Mammaw came into the kitchen after I’d finished and smiled at me through her thick glasses.  “Now there’s a boy who did a good job on his plate!”  I heard the rattle of celophane, and smiled.  Her hand was in her pocket.  She brought out a handful of candy.  Granddaddy smiled his bitter Hunt smile to see me happy, and said, “Mother, would you mind pouring me another coffee?”
3. Bob Lee Hunt: “The Dream Of The Green Door”
The song “Green Door” plays very quietly on the radio in the dining room of the Big House, with its long table, the dark brown varnish soft from the heat coming into the bright July window.  Cicadas shish outside, far up in the trees.  The house is shadowed as it always is on summer days when Granddaddy won’t allow any lamps to burn during the day.  Though I’m asleep already, I yearn for a nap within a nap, but the dreams of day naps are treacherous.
I walk lazily from the table over past the stove to the dark walnut sideboard, and there is the bowl of bananas, gold but spotted.  The spots say they’re drunkenly sweet.  To my right is the doorway into the hall.  I step through it and glance toward the light coming from the screened back porch, then turn the other way, facing down the hall.  The quietness sings.  After only two steps I’m even with the door of the locked bedroom on my right.  The radio back in the kitchen says
“Midnight, one more night without sleeping
Watching, ‘til the morning comes creeping
Green door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?”*
All the children of the nineteen forties are gone, with their broken old dolls, dusty guitars that hung on the wall so long, model airplanes with balsa wood frames and paper skin doped with green or gray paint.
What’s in this room that graddaddy won’t unlock?  Does he unlock it at night, to go in and bring food and water to a memory?  Has the mind of the memory become so morbid and clogged with loneliness that the opening of the door causes it to throw open its jaws and shriek as Granddaddy tries to shush it, until his efforts to quiet it are even louder than the jubilation of the prisoner?  Memories can do a lot of damage when they get past the door.  The prisoner comes out, goes running down the hall to the front of the house, bursts through the door, out into the night beneath the thick heavy trees, the sigh of traffic across town.  Like a child deprived of approval, he runs back into the house and hunts his father who stumbles in the dark and cannot see the thing he’s released.
*“The Green Door” by Jim Lowe, 1956.  Lyrics by Bob Davie and Marvin Moore.