Monday, April 15, 2013

Seasons change. We look outdoors for inspiration and then that bitter wind hits. What the hell...

We seek the warmth of indoors and look at the sundrenched, bitter wind blown outside and long for someplace else. Someplace warm. Someplace toasty.

Then we realize that involves travel, an excursion. For a while there, a daytrip seemed pleasant until the journey home. Then I discovered the $14 round trip bus ride. Which is probably double that now. I could take a bus to Boston, take a whale watch expedition which always went into international waters. Thus I could leave the country without needing to remember that damned passport. And where is it tucked nowadays. Besides, whales are a wondrous sight to behold.

The truth is, I am not a traveler. I never have been. I always thought there was a story in that. Create a character who looks through his neighborhood, let's say Jane Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, and he writes a travelogue. He submits it to an editor (actually many before it's accepted), and this editor and writer create a relationship that befuddles the both of them. The editor keeps trying to pick unsellable stories looking for that failure that will ease him along as he drinks his way to death but the always somehow he  succeeds. As these things happen in fiction. The writer is then obligated with his new found fortune to travel further abroad to write another book so he hires a surrogate to investigate for him so he doesn't have to leave his neighborhood. The surrogate, who has a delightful and adventurous time, telephones in his daily excursions and the writer writes them and sublits them to the editor who only wants to drink himself to death.

Try as I may, I cannot make that story work.

Everyone ends up sounding the same. Besides that means research and I would have to leave my neighborhood and who wants to do that?

Again, I am not a traveler.

It always amazes me when I tell someone I am not a traveler, that person invariable insists that I must try visiting such and such a place, the sights are wondrous, the experience divine. As if he never heard I don't like to travel. My major visits have been when I move somewhere and stay for a year or so. Then I discover my neighborhood, establish new routines, look at the sights.

Still, in my wanderings, I see extraordinary things, find unsettling beauty and unrestrained creativity.

And what's wrong with that?

Friday, April 12, 2013

          I watched for a chance on that ship. When no one was watching me. When everyone thought I was taking slop to them that was in the hold. Slaves shipped out of Norfolk to be sold in Georgia and Alabama. I made that trip many times, me being the slave to the master of that ship since I was sixteen. Cooking for them poor boys in the hold, only being able to give them one meal a day. Just haul down that weak soup and a few cut up potatoes.
          Old master, he sold off my sister when she was 22 to some poor white farmer. Never knew where she went to.
          I work that ship one night and a storm’s brewing. We could smell it, but old master set sail anyway. He gets an extra payment if he can get that load of boys to Savannah for some big slave auction. You could smell death coming. The crew’s wary and the old master’s drinking whiskey before we leave Norfolk.
          I know death is coming. I’ve been in storms before. Them boys in the hold, they’ll be digging at the planks trying to get out. Water will get in worse than ever and the salt will sting every whip mark and them boys will be wanting to run. Only the crew’s ready with pistols to shoot any that tries.
          It’s the most I can do to get the old master to his cabin. I know if I do, he’ll drink more. He always beats me when he’s drunk that bad and the crew don’t ask about me. Old master’s mate will see to the boys in the hold. Sometimes those boys get nothing between Norfolk and Savannah. So I pour out one whiskey after another. “‘Nother drink, old master?” I say, trying to be scared but thinking about the butcher knife I stole when I cut up potatoes. It’s wrapped in rags so as not to cut me and tied to a string under my dress. Don’t have no petticoat. Old master tore it up last time he had his way with me.
          I see he’s near ready to pass out.
          That old ship’s rocking and the wind’s howling. I know if I don’t get away that night I’ll be sold to some poor farmer for field work. Nothing worse in my mind than being a field hand on a poor man’s farm.
          Old master’s groping me, but he got no strength. That boat pitches and he falls out of his chair. I come up beside him and he’s pulling me on top of him. But I got my hand on the whiskey bottle. I can feel the knife against my leg.
          I need all my strength.
          I grab that bottle firm and beat old master till he stops punching at me. He’s swearing at me and I know anyone outside that door will think he’s beating me again. Besides, all of them are probably on deck working to keep the ship together in the storm. Wind’s howling fierce. And finally old master’s quiet.
          I get to the deck and work the knife free. Men’s fighting the sails and men’s pulling hard at ropes. Nobody pay attention to me. It’s dark as night and the water’s as think in the air as it is in the sea. I don’t wait. I cut a dinghy free and watch it fall into the water.
          I didn’t think to get in before I cut it. I’m too scared to think and I got to move fast. I jump into the water after it. I hit the water hard and go down deep. Never thought I’d get back up to breathe. Everytime  I come close, that old wave would swell and push me under a bit more, so I struggle till I’m near out of breath. But I make it to the surface and I breathe before I’m shoved under again. Next time I’m up, I see that little boat drifting away and I start to swim to it, pushing with all my might, getting to the surface, spotting the boat, then being shoved under again.
          Never saw a storm so mad before. Never saw it from the water. But I know, if they catch me, I’m a dead woman. I swim again touching the side of the boat when a wave pushes it backward. I grab the side and hang on till I can get enough strength to climb aboard.
          And I ride out the storm, splashing out water, trying to keep that little boat floating. I’m so tired by the time the storm decides to move on. I don’t know where I am or where I’m going. I see no ship on the horizon so they can’t see me. I just sit in that boat and pray. No food. I drink some of the water from the bottom of the boat but it’s salty. There’ll come a time when I can drink fresh water and I’ll wait till then. Be patient.
          So I sleep. Sea’s setting kind of lazy and I can do nothing ‘cept let the boat drift. All I do is be awake, then sleep a while. I’m awake mostly at night, pounding my flesh trying to keep warm. God alone knows where that storm blew me. I was thinking maybe it would be nice to go to Africa. My grandmammy was born there and she told me stories before I was sold away.
          Only nine first time I was sold.
          I drifted for a long time. I don’t know how long. After a while I just sleep. Air was cool all the time, even during the day when the sun was out. The wind never died down so I could feel warm. So I went to sleep figuring I would wake up in heaven. This be the end of  little Livvie Seales.
          When I wake up, I was in a bed better than I ever slept in my entire life. It had a mattress on a board raised up on a frame. And I had a window I could look out. I did feel hungry. My lips were cracked and my skin tender, but I had a sheet and a blanket over me and a sheet under me. Still wore my old torn dress. Not much left of it when I jumped that ship.
          A man came into the room carrying a tray. A woman was with him. He sat the tray on the edge of the bed and handed me a bowl. It was a soup with no vegetables in it. He called it broth. He told me to drink it.
          His name was John Fulton, he told me. He said not to be frightened. That was his word, frightened. So I drank the soup and he gave me tea with honey in it. The woman came forward.
          “What are you going to do with her, John?” she asked. She had bright red hair and a pretty dress.
          “Well,” Mister John F. Says, “she can help out round here.”
          “Never you mention I found her,”  The woman says.
          “Don’t worry Kate.”
          “Hiram’s cutting the boat into kindling now.” Hiram being the woman’s husband.. “We don’t want to be hiding a runaway slave.”
          “I’ll hide her,” Mister John F. Says.
          Then I lay back and sleep again. It didn’t matter to Mister John F. where I come from. He never asked. He gave me that space in the attic. Put up a wall for me so I have my own room and put in a heating stove. Told me to call myself Harriet now. It sounded  more  Northern  than Livvie. Started to teach me to talk like a Northern woman too.
          Mister John F., he was a gentle man. He wasn’t very big. He didn’t have much color to him. Whenever he was tending to his mama’s roses, he wore a hat and his sleeves were rolled down. He ran a boarding house. Mostly sailors come to stay and men who bought and sold stuff in the harbor. They came to make arrangements.
          Mister John F., he’s up in the widow’s walk everyday. Watching the sea. He tells me to take care of the sailors. They don’t want to spend every night on a ship and he’s got a reputation, he tells me. So I start to be the cook and help out. Sailors come and they laugh and they drink and sometimes they have to share a room cause they can’t afford one by themselves.
          I learn to talk Northern as best I can and I call myself Harriet. Livvie is left in the South. Mister John F. takes me to market with him, down there by the docks, so we can get fresh fish and sometimes farmers bring in vegetables. I get to talking with another colored girl name of Suki. She brags about being a runaway slave. Got clear through to Massachusetts. That’s where I am now. She feels real safe but I’m cautious.
          Mister John F., he tells me to stay away from her. She talks too much. Someone will snatch her away and she won’t be safe anymore. She’d be lucky to get back South alive.
          So I help Mister John F. tend to them sailors and I study talking Northern. Mister John F., he goes to the widow’s walk everyday, even  when there’s a storm brewing. I see snow that stays all winter long and I try to be this Harriet  Mister John F.  wants me to be.
          Mister tells me one day, he’s waiting for his Captain. His mama waited for her Captain all her life and he came back now and then, but he was always off again. This Captain is Mister John F.’s papa and I think he’s waiting for his papa to come home. His mama died young and Mister John F., he ain’t fifty yet. I can tell.
          Suki disappears one day. She just ain’t to be seen. Old Widow Thomkins said she saw two men riding out with a black girl. Widow Thomkins said she thought the girl’s hands were tied to the saddle. She held on mighty peculiarlike. I study speaking  Northern  more and more. My name’s Harriet now. Livvie can never be remembered.
          The sailors come and go. Mister keeps going up to the widow’s walk, watching. I think it don’t do him any good, watching like that. But I don’t say nothing. I’m living here because Mister John F. is a kind man.
          Funny but people in town are never really friendly to him. He says, if you’re a little different, make sure you always buy from people in town. He could easy go to Boston, but he has a man here in town fetch things for him, then he buys it from that man. He always pays extra. He says townspeople leave him alone because of his mama’s money and he ain’t interested in any of  the villagers. I don’t quite figure out what he’s talking about.
          One day, he’s in the widow’s walk and he lets out a whoop so as to raise his mama  from her grave. “Captain’s in the harbor,” he tells me. “No sailors tonight, Harriet. Tell them somebody died. Tell them anything. Captain’s in the harbor!”
          I don’t know what to say to the sailors when they come. Two this night. They always come in pairs, I says to myself that night. Renting a room for two instead of staying on the ship for free. There’s many a sailor sleeps it off in the street or finds a girl to spend the night with.
          I let these two sailors come in. Where else will they go? I understand  Mister John F.  Now. I can’t send these sailors away.
          Mister Porter comes up the road. He stays with us whenever he’s in port. He travels Gloucester, Portsmouth, Boston checking on his warehouses. He says a sailor named Tom will be along shortly. Mister Porter wants to take a bath and clean up before dinner. “Is there ham tonight?” he says, “or maybe a stuffed chicken? You are the best cook in New England, Harriet. Don’t you ever leave Mister Fulton now.”
          Mister John F., he waits for his Captain. He helps me make the sailors comfortable and totes water for Mister Porter’s bath. Then we sit together on the porch and wait. I figure since he’s the Captain, he’s got lots to look after. I will wait with Mister John F. He did fine for me.
          When I tried to go to church, he used to go with me so I wouldn’t have to sit by myself in the last pew. They respect Mister John F. well enough, but I think this might be too much. When I said I wanted to see to my church going, I thought Mister John F. Might tell me about some colored folk church in Boston. I could take a train early Sunday morning. Come back late. Ain’t never been to Boston. When I thought about it. I knew slave hunters would get me for sure. I gave up church going. I waited with Mister John F.
          I watched the people on the street. Our neighbors ain’t  too close. Just close enough, Mister John F. says. Widow Thomkins lives at the bottom of the hill. The Brewers own a dairy down a ways and Mister Tibbets,  the schoolteacher, has a cottage beyond  us. But I see a stout man coming up the road and he’s toting a canvas bag. Look like he enjoys the sea. There’s them that don’t. I can tell them. They’re the lonely ones that come here a lot.
          The stout man comes up to the porch and grins at Mister John F.
          “How’re y’doin’ John.”
          “Just fine Tobias. Coming in?”
          “Where else would I go?”
          Mister had me fix a huge supper for all the gentlemen. Chicken stuffed with cornbread,  vegetables, don’t remember  which.  I must’ve made a pie or a cake or something sweet. Mister and his Captain went to his room. He had a bedroom and a sitting room that looked out to the sea.. The sailors went upstairs and Mister Porter waited for the sailor that never came. He smelled so sweet and drank so much whiskey. I felt so awful low for him.
          We sat on the porch and I told him some of my grandmammy’s stories about Africa.
          Mister John F.’s Captain finally came.
          He stayed two days and three nights. A few years later,  September 7, 1863, Mister John F. got a letter saying Captain lay dying from a bad bullet wound. Something to do with the war. I always prayed it was getting slaves to freedom, but Mister John F. never told me. I never asked.  I go out to the cemetery every September 7 to put flowers on Mister John F.’s grave. He as good as died that day. He never went to the widow’s walk after that letter.
          “Captain died with his wife beside him,” Mister John F. Says. There were kids too. Took nearly twenty years before Mister John F. died himself. He left me this house and all his mama’s money.
          I sleep in his old room. Folks round here, they leave this old black woman alone. She pays extra to be left alone. There ain’t many sailors these days. I get boys coming up from Harvard.  Didn’t see many boys during that war in Europe.   I don’t understand these wars. They say there’s another one brewing carrying the hatred of all others wrapped up into one.
          But I’m just a lucky Negro woman. I’ve been in Mister John F.’s house since I was twenty-three. I need help going up and down the stairs now. Got a man bout thirty helping me now. He understands my stories about Mister John F. And his Captain.
          I go up to the widow’s walk when I can. I know Old Mister John F.’s saying to me, “I’m saving you a place in heaven, Harriet.  Don’t you hurry getting here. You got lots of time.”
          I sure hope he’s got his Captain up there with him. I can see Mister Porter and Widow Thomkins. Maybe I’ll even find my sister. She won’t know me as Harriet Fulton, but I remember Livvie still.

Olivia Seales/ Harriet Fulton (1833- 1939)


Thursday, April 11, 2013

And it begins...
                        that crisp warm day when the daffodils are bursting with yellows, when the clouds threaten rain but the light is a warm orange tinged with pink, when the cold grey of winter has been driven away.

The blues are sharp as architecture lines. The mind unfettered by cold.

The long winter hibernation ends. The morning walk takes three hours. The sights are clean and crisp. The headless lawn jockey on Northampton Street has survived the snow of winter, although he now has an overly cute frog fountain near him.

The mind feels the crisp breaking of ice. That long winter's hibernation has indeed ended.

And our old routines begin to creep back into the daily, the rhythmic.

So there you are. A visual wonderland, a schuffing off of the cold, a return to that warm light that radiates even when it rains. O blessed Spring.

Shameless plug: Look for my collection of stories Picket Wire at, barnes & noble, and other ebook sources.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Church of Ethel

          Now let me tell you, the day Ethel Fromme done got herself arrested, why, that talk lasted and lasted. That old harpy had all her church ladies cowed but nobody else puts up with her. Well, most people run away when they see her coming, so there’s that.
          Old Sadie Louise don't let Ethel Fromme past her door. She screams for Gloria Luther to come help her. Now Sally Luther what runs the ice cream parlor in the Heights is a tiny woman with a cheerful look on life. Her little leaguers win enough games and even though Junior Debs don't go to the ice cream shop no more, enough people go to keep her in business for a lot of years.
          Now Gloria Luther ain't such a happy soul. She married that cracker JoJo Voltaire what drove the Greyhound and got caught having his way with a woman what booked the Greyhound to get her to Buffalo to see her daughter. Not only did JoJo get himself fired, even though he did finish that run and bring them people in Buffalo back to Pittsburgh before he come home to Gloria to tell her he got fired.
          Now he laid it on thick, let me tell you. Old Sadie Louise told me and we all know, Old Sadie Louise gets her facts straight. JoJo said he was temporary let go and might go back in the fall. He thought he was off free and could get another job and say he liked the new job better and not go back.  He went over to Archie Burgess to see if he could take on a bread truck but Archie called the Greyhound and found out the real story.
          Gloria got a phone call from Mrs. Archie Burgess who was his secretary too. Old Archie is a cheap bastard and would never hire somebody what with his wife, Ella Marie, having gone to the same business school Old Bertie Helper went to. Well, Gloria Luther ain’t no dumb cluck.
          So there's JoJo Voltaire what ain't got no job and ain't got no wife and ain't got no place to live. So he decides to go to San Francisco and risk going through a dumb cluck earthquake without having to live with Gloria no more.
          Gloria goes back to being Gloria Luther.
          Next she hitches herself to Marlon Mockbridge. Him being on the thick, dense and too dumb sides to be fooling 'round with some dumb cluck bus passenger on the same damn bus he’s driving.  So Gloria thinks. Only Gloria notices Old Marlon ain't too good in bed and she begins to wonder why, but he's right in there giving it his best shot and she's wondering where the hell he's been. He's over thirty and this dumb about how to make a woman happy.
          So there's Old Gloria wondering why she ain't satisfied and one day she follows Old Marlon to Pittsburgh where he takes a bus to do work for his uncle. Seems he ain't so dumb. Only odd. Gloria never does find out what kind of work, Marlon Mockbridge does for his uncle but she does see him down there with Ethel Fromme's dexter son.
          What is that kid's name. You know, him what wears a dress and ain't quite right.
          Then Old Gloria sees Marlon making out with some guy at a bus stop down there in Pittsburgh. She drove her car and followed that bus then followed Old Marlon once he got off and got out her car when she sees things is to her advantage. She tackled that poor bastard. Not Marlon, the other guy. The one Old Marlon was spooning with. Punched, kicked and scream til the cops come and broke it off. Then she punches on Old Marlon calling him a fairy and a pansy boy and a queer and a bastard and a communist and a socialist and a hippie.
          Gloria gets dragged off to the side and them cops gets her all talked down so's they can put her back in her car and send her home. Soon after, Gloria ain't Mrs. Mockbridge no more and she's back to being just plain old Gloria Luther.
          She ain't marrying no more. Can't understand how she picks so bad but she ain't trying to be a wife no more. Then she starts to hire herself out to stay with old people when they's getting near to death. And that's how she come to be with Sadie Louise.
          Old Ethel Fromme shows up from time to time to convert Old Sadie Louise. Sadie Louise is an old woman, Ethel Fromme tells her. She's got to be prepared to meet her maker. Ethel Fromme says she can help, but Sadie Louise just hollers for Old Gloria who comes running. Ain't nothing she likes better'n manhandling Old Ethel Fromme and making her all upset and worried she's going to get beat up. Got's to hand it to her. Ethel Fromme does come 'round to see Sadie Louise from time to time.
          Every three months, Sadie Louise tells me. Like a train running on time. Sadie Louise ain't never getting rid of Old Gloria. And when Old Sadie Louise gets to where she can't climb the stairs and can't walk too far, Old Gloria is right gentle with her. Making up a bedroom in the dining room and driving Old Sadie Louise into town to see all the people she wants to see and never telling her to hurry up or get along with it.
          Sometimes Gloria Luther even brings Sadie Louise to the Third Quarter when Arden McArden is playing fiddle and Little Miss Olga is singing. Old Sadie Louise loves her day trips, let me tell you. She likes her gin too and that don't make Gloria upset. Old Gloria likes gin now just like Sadie Louise where she used to drink beer and whiskey.
          But I was telling you 'bout Old Ethel Fromme getting arrested. Big talk 'round here. People still talk. Mean Old Ethel Fromme ain't dead yet and she still throws hate across her backyard fence to Ethel Berrylred and Old Ethel Berrylred throws hate right back. When one of them dames does shut up and drops dead, there will be a quiet in this town what ain't been heard in fifty years.
          Now Emil Mauchbauch is a sidewalk preacher. He lives in that apartment over his sister's garage, her being Ilka Elkabetz. She married Werner Elkebetz what came over here from Germany to be an exchange student at the high school and he done fell in love with Ilka. Werner done got himself a job over at Steven Munnday's accountant office, there by the Schiffenhope Funeral Home.
          Now everybody know Old Emil ain't right in the head. At first he started screaming his message 'bout Jesus right there in from of the Anderson Furniture Store. Old Ernie Anderson was fit to be tied. He don't care if you believe in Jesus, or sacred cows, or the devil himself. Just buy his furniture. It's all guaranteed and there's an easy payment plan and free delivery within twenty-five miles. We all hear the radio ads.
          Old Ernie's dead now and his boys Arlen and Frank is nearing retirement themselves what with their boys ready to take over. Seems them Andersons is like them Walkers. All they has is boys. Only Old Ernie just had two not mountains of 'em like Old Erazmus Walker done had.
          So Old Ernie gets the sheriff, that be Dion Grieg just then to move Old Emil along. But there's Emil Mauchbauch back the next day in front of the Anderson Furniture screaming his message when Sheriff  Dion gets called again. Ernie Anderson's out front of the Anderson Furniture screaming and ranting 'bout how this is ruining business and it just can't go on when Tookie Snow comes walking along.
          Now Old Tookie was not the Sheriff's deputy just then. That happened when Sheriff Jack come along. He was working over at the Woolworth. He must've been walking over to the Roadside Diner for lunch.
          "Emil," he says, "Let's go get lunch."
          Now Tookie Snow lived over there on Bully Hill what is where all the families and cats live. He got a little place what used to be his mother's but she's in a home just then going out of her mind. Thinks Tookie's daddy Stritch Snow is still alive and is just being mean to her, putting her in there and, when her rant gets going strong, Old Mabel Snow don't do nothing but swear. Heard  her once, "Little slime bastard peepot swilling goddam redneck ass benders wanting to kiss some little piss mongers wart plague mouth. I know them bastards. Little peepot pissant hags." And such as that there. They's used to her at the home. Still ain’t nothing like a Bertha Powder swear rant, if you ask me.
          Anyway, Tookie gets Old Emil to the Third Ward side of the Thirteenth Street Bridge and tells him this is the better spot for him to get his message across. There beside Blossom Creek with a big old oak tree to give him shade. Then Old Tookie took Emil to lunch at the Roadside Diner and walked him back to that old oak tree where Emil set up his preacher business.
          So there's Emil Mauchbauch screaming at the top of his lungs while his lungs hold out, "Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch!" That's his entire scripture. Simple and, if you think about it, true.
          “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
          Most people is fine with Emil Mauchbauch shouting his scripture there under that old oak. Vinnie Sue over at the Roadside Diner starts to bring him over a lemonade when she gets a free minute in the morning, the Roadside Diner being just around the corner from Old Emil’s oak tree. And Tookie Snow always makes sure Old Emil gets a lunch so he’s got the strength to carry out his mission. Even Old Ernie Anderson don’t care since he’s now over in the Third Ward and everybody knows there ain’t many people in the Third Ward what’s right in the head anyways.
          Now Ethel Fromme drives that big old Cadillac what her husband Baxter done bought years and years ago. Old Ethel Fromme just toots ‘round town doing her churchlady business and sometimes she has to go by Emil Mauchbauch when he’s preaching his scripture. Baxter’s been dead all these years, you know.
          “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch!” 
          Vinnie Sue was taking Old Emil his lemonade one morning when Old Ethel Fromme was driving her old Hollywood prune self across the bridge and she stopped in front of Emil.
          “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.” He says very politelike to Old Ethel Fromme. Her with her too bright red hair and she has to be near fifty-five or so. And that lipstick what Tiny taught her to use that is way too pink for a churchlady and them earrings what look like flying saucers landing in a red ocean. Just ain’t seemly for a religious woman. But them religious dames she hangs with is mostly Third Ward gals going to the Mt. Carmel Church what is Baptist and they like to have their religion loud and noisy with too much on the singing and interpreting and not so much on the listening and helping.
          Who is the pastor over there. Can’t quite recall his name. Them churchladies of his walk all over him. Chester? Lester? Can’t remember.
          Anyway Ethel hurls back to Emil Mauchbauch,  it being a warm spring day and her windows is open, “Jesus is my guidance. He does not swear.”
          “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
          “Stupid man,” Ethel Fromme says but then she sees Vinnie Sue waiting for Emil to finish his lemonade so’s she can take the glass back to the Roadside Diner. She’s smoking a cigarette.
          “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
          Old Ethel Fromme snorts and pulls away. She ain’t a good driver in that monster Cadillac of hers and she moves real slowlike. Pisses off people ‘round here when they end up behind Ethel Fromme. Old Sheriff  Dion stops her plenty of times to tell her she’s gots to go a little faster.
          Old Ethel Fromme just snorts at him and says, “I know your mother.”
          It’s sad for Sheriff  Dion but his mamma is one of her churchladies. And he knows if he ever gives Ethel Fromme a ticket for going too slow on a public street, his mamma will drag him through hell for years to come. Why he was still paying for that badly decided marriage of his, what with him marrying Euphronia West and her being pregnant with Roy Walker’s baby and not telling him. He heard ‘bout that til that old harpy of his mamma died. And let me tell you, she lived a long time.
          Sheriff  Dion never divorced Euphronia and had another two kids and raised that Walker bastard like he was his own, but his mamma harping on his misfortune made him take a job in Oregon. Clean across the country and he never did visit that old hag again. Her and Old Ethel Fromme condemned their sons to hell on a daily basis.
          Well, Old Ethel did get herself arrested.
          Jack Broomfield come up from Pittsburgh ‘bout this time, what with him newly married and just graduated from that school what breeds cops down there in the city. He was young and full of himself and ready for the Mafia or something when he got here. Sheriff Dion had to sit on him and calm him down a lot. At first.
          But Deputy Jack soon to be Sheriff Jack figured out things in this town and heard Old Emil’s scripture, and learned who to bother and who to leave alone. Old Emil is preaching his gospel and most everybody don’t worry ‘bout him. His sister Ilka Elkabetz picks him up everyday after she’s done teaching the fifth grade. And Zeelin Walker leaves a chair what Old Emil can sit on and tuck behind that old oak tree when he’s done for the day.
          Ethel Fromme, why she drives past him and slows down even more every time she comes near him. She yells at him, “I am praying for your soul.”
          “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
          The Church of Ethel just can’t let Old Emil alone. She just has to drive by him. She has to guide him away from the Church of Emil and convert him to the Church of Ethel. She stops long enough to tell him,  “God wants you to repent your ways.”
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
Or  “You cannot blaspheme like that.”
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
“I am trying to save you, Emil Mauchbauch. I know your sister. I know her husband. Do I have to talk to them?”
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
This goes on until the end of school and Ilka Elkabetz drives Emil to his post each morning, Saturdays and Sundays he seems to take off. Guess he’s only a little bit out of his nut since he knows what a weekend is all about. If Ilka ain’t feeling well, Old Werner does the job. Got to hand it to Old Werner, he stuck by through all Old Emil’s trauma. Never made no noise ‘bout having him committed somewhere. Let him live over the garage.
Now when Ilka and Werner Elkabetz had themselves a little girl they named Lissa, then a little boy they named Gerrard, why Old Emil worried them. But he was gentle with them kids and loved them to pieces and changed their diapers and walked them in their stroller and took them by the hand when they could walk. Them little kids occupied Old Emil but nothing interrupted his scripture til they come along.
Once school was out, guess Old Ethel Fromme thought he would disappear until the new school year and she could direct her hateful self to other targets. But she took to driving over the Thirteenth Street Bridge and complaining to Sheriff  Dion ‘bout that Emil Mauchbauch what is swearing on the Thirteenth Street Bridge.
Old Sheriff  Dion just tells her, it’s Old Emil. He ain’t no harm. Why even the mammas in town with kids what shouldn’t be hearing “Jesus won’t call you a son-of-a-bitch.” do their grocery shopping at the Kroger over in Bully Hill or they drive with their windows rolled up while they get over the Thirteenth Street Bridge. Beside, you ever been on a playground at the elementary school.
Why ‘bout this time, my sister moved in with me when her husband took the house and threw her out and I had to sleep on the couch while her and her daughter Effie Sue slept in the bedroom. Why sometimes I walk over to get little Effie Sue at the Elm Street Elementary School  and what you hear on that playground. Boys swearing like they was sailors and the teachers can only catch the ones near to them. I was with Effie Sue by this little cabin they gots and I heard some little girl voice say, “I know the difference between boys and girls. Want to see?”
And some little boy said, “Shit, yeah.”
I hightailed Effie Sue out of there right quick, let me tell you. Told her never go in that cabin. Told her not to play with boys. And she just looks at me and rolls her eyes. She must’ve been seven and already rolling eyes. Them two lives with me for three years and I seen them eyes roll ‘most every day. In years to come Effie Sue what is really named Effenasia Susan comes to call herself Susan and gets herself through college and teaches at some school called Georgia Tech. Little Effie Sue done us proud.
Anyway, there’s Old Emil Mauchbauch with his preaching business under that big old oak tree by Blossom Creek and Old Ethel Fromme driving that big old Cadillac of hers across the Thriteenth Street Bridge just so’s she can shout the words of God at Emil who just shouts back, “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch!”
This goes on for a while and all them bodies in town is getting ready for the July 4th celebrations, what with the big barbecue down there off’n Otter Street by the river and fireworks to be set off on the other side of the river. It’s all people ‘round here think ‘bout and everybody pitches in. Even Ethel Fromme and her churchladies bake cakes and cookies what they can bring.
So Old Emil is screaming “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch” by his oak tree and it’s hot on July 3rd. He’s sitting in that chair drinking from a big glass of lemonade what Vinnie Sue brought over from the Roadside Diner. It ain’t lunchtime yet and Tookie ain’t brought him his lunch. Looks like life goes on like usual. There’s Old Ethel Fromme revving herself across the Thirteenth Street Bridge going into the Third Ward. Must’ve been going a whopping five miles an hour in that heavy old Cadillac when Emil Mauchbauch lets out with, “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
Now I was walking over the Thirteenth Street Bridge with Bertie Helper. We was meeting his wife Miss Glenda at the Roadside Diner and then we was taking the afternoon off to go help Miss Glenda clean up her mamma’s grave and plant some fresh flowers or some such thing. Me and Old Bertie would bring a bottle of tequila and do whatever Miss Glenda wanted. Then we go back to her kitchen and my sister and little Effie Sue and us would work on making supper and deciding what to bring to the July 4th picnic. Looked to be a nice afternoon.
So there’s me and Old Bertie crossing the bridge just when Old Ethel Fromme drives across and hears Old Emil shouts, “Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
Why, Old Ethel Fromme makes them brakes squeal even if she ain’t got no speed up and she’s out that damned Cadillac racing towards Emil Mauchbauch screaming, “Jesus is my God! What the hell you keep saying this nastiness in Jesus’s name. You blasphemer. You crude crude man.”
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
“Dammit, Emil Mauchbauch. I will go see your sister. I’ll make her keep your home. I’ll make her get you locked away where you belong. Don’t you be making mock of the gospels.”
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
And with that Old Ethel Fromme hauls back and punches Emil Mauchbauch.
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
Old Ethel Fromme is fit to be tied. She ain’t but shoulder high to Old Emil and she’s slugging away at him screaming for him to stop, for him to be respectful. Emil Mauchbauch, for his part, just takes the blows. This is Ethel Fromme. She ain’t Tiny what can pack a wallop when she’s fighting. She ain’t Mae-Venice Squillacate what can grind one of her high heels into you’re most private parts. This is Ethel Fromme. She don’t make no impact on nobody but them churchladies of hers.
She’s on a rant now, swinging at Old Emil, “You’re going to Hell, Emil Muachbauch. You are doomed to everlasting Hell and Damnation and ain’t nobody to save you.”
Then Old Emil says, “And the tutu dancers dance away.”
Ain’t nobody ‘round here knows what that means. But it sends Old Ethel Fromme over the edge.
Now me and Bertie, we had ringside seats. And the Roadside Diner lunch crowd has found their way over and Miss Glenda is standing with us watching the noise. People is stopped on the Thirteenth Street Bridge and everybody is out of their car watching Old Ethel Fromme make no dent in hurting Old Emil Mauchbauch.
“Blasphemer! Devil. You are a Devil!” Old Ethel is screaming.
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
The Old Ethel Fromme just screams real high and has lung power like we always knew she had. She hits.
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
          She screams.
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
She pommels and rants and throws a tirade what scares most people but the show is good and Old Emil ain’t hit her back once. And there’s Sheriff Dion making his way through the crowd and Deputy Jack soon to be Sheriff Jack is with him telling people to move along. Get back in your cars. Nothing to see.
But we can all see. There’s Old Ethel Fromme with more energy’n we ever thought she could drum up, and she’s still beating on Emil who ain’t hitting back
“Jesus will not call you a son-of-a-bitch.”
And there’s Ilka Elkabetz coming for her brother and Werner Elkabetz is with her. Sheriff Dion is getting himself between Old Ethel Fromme who done had her hair dyed too many times by Tiny what told her about ways to win a fight even if you are outmatched. I’m sure.
Then Sheriff Dion does what everybody done turned out to see. He grabs Ethel Fromme and tells her to quiet down, but she’s still lashing out and she’s trying to hit anybody she can. I guess when you think you’re the big cheese of the religious dames, you think you can get away with anything. But Sheriff Dion brings out them handcuffs and locks one on Old Ethel who just goes apeshit and is screaming and ranting and cursing like we never thought we’d hear from Old Ethel Fromme. She is now madder’n Hell and it’s all Emil Mauchbauch’s fault. She wants her rights. She demands he be locked up. And Sheriff Dion fights to get the other half of the handcuffs on her swinging wrist and finally  drags her away through the crowd to the police cruiser what’s on the Third Ward  side the Thirteenth Street Bridge. He locks Old Ethel in the back seat leaving the windows open so she can breathe and not get too hot, then he starts to get people moving along. The police station being on the other side of the bridge, Old Ethel Fromme sits in that cruiser screaming and ranting as the crowd goes back to its business.
Better’n the July 4th fireworks is you ask me.
Well, Old Ethel Fromme gets shut in the slammer and has to wait for her one phone call. She is now tired and don’t make much noise. Old Becca Berster is matron of the ladies jail and she said Old Ethel Fromme just laid down on that hard cot and fell asleep. Done wore herself out, she did.
Now Sheriff Dion, being like everybody else in town ‘cepting her churchladies, thinks Old Ethel Fromme’s got it coming. He don’t give her a chance to make her one phone call to get one of her churchladies to come bail her out. He gets out the Pittsburgh phone book and finds that dexter son of her and calls him to come post bail.
Well, if we knew what was coming, that police station would’ve been filled with us wanting to see the end of the Emil Mauchbauch and Ethel Fromme story.
Lemmie MacClester was there to get a picture of Ethel Fromme being released from jail since everybody knows Emil Mauchbauch ain’t never going to press charges. Hell, when Sheriff Dion asked Werner if he wanted to press charges against Old Ethel Fromme, he just said, “That old bat? Why bother.” And Ilka Elkabetz just wanted Ethel Fromme away from her brother who never caused nobody no harm.
So there’s Lemmie at the police station when up pulls a big pink Cadillac with proud tailfins and a convertible top. Inside is three dames all done up in pink suits like what Jackie Kennedy wore the day John F. got shot. They gets out and they’s got them little hats on their heads and Lemmie sees that they’s men dressed as women. Oh, he starts to taking pictures and these three go into the police station.
It takes a while but eventually out comes the three men dressed like Jackie Kennedy with Old Ethel Fromme.
And what’d’you know, one of them three give Old Ethel Fromme a big kiss and a hug for Lemmie to take pictures and he cries, “Oh, Mamma, what were you thinking. My Mamma a hardened criminal. Oh Mamma what have you done!” And stuff like that there.
Yep, Sheriff  Dion got that dexter boy of hers to come get her out of jail. Waited all afternoon so’s the boy could get here. That boy and his two friends gave an interview telling how demanding being a good son is but they were glad to do their duty. And one of them boys is Marlon Mockbridge all done up like his friends.
Yessir, there it all was. Right of the front page of the Derrick, that being our local paper here ‘bouts. And with pictures too!

This is one of the ten stories from my e-book Picket Wire. The collection is available at amazon, barnes & noble, iTunes, and other e-book venues.