Viola was walking up to the mailbox. Their mailbox, her and her husband Tom’s, was right beside their landlord’s. That one had black-stenciled letters on the side reading C.R. Hoffman. Beside this box was the one used by whoever was living in the “old house.” Viola, or “Vi” as Tom called her, had been there for most of three years, and everything had gone along pretty well. Tom and C.R. Hoffman, or Russ, as he was known, got along okay. Tom was working in an upholstery shop in Dallas now, but he had some skill as a plumber; in fact, just last year he had done the plumbing for Russ’ bathroom he had put in on his back porch.
The back porch was a concrete slab and was sloped away from the house. Tom had suggested that they elevate the end of the tub at the back so it would be level, but somewhere in the project the suggestion was forgotten, so the drain end, which was at the low end, had about three inches more of water in it when it was full than the far end. It really did not hurt anything; it just looked funny.
Russ had paid Tom just fine for his work; Russ had a reputation for using local people and relatives for work he needed done; he figured it all worked out better that way. Viola had heard stories from some of the neighbors about how Russ had brought in kin and neighbors to work when he was building his new house over there across the road from the “old house” in what used to be a broom straw field.
One story she remembered in particular was that Sloan Cloninger, who was married to Russ’ niece, had dug the ditch for the water line to the new house; Russ was going to pump water from the well at the “old house” up to the new house, so a ditch had to be dug, and it had to go across the washboard red clay dirt road to get there.
Sloan had dug this by hand – pick and shovel – and in the hot summertime. Sarah, Russ’ wife, had told Viola ‘bout how hard Sloan worked, and how strong he was, the veins in his arms standing out like ropes.” Sloan had kept two 2×12 boards handy while he was digging, in case a car would come by; then he would stop the car and put down the boards so they could pass over. Sarah had carried the workers ice water that summer; she and her oldest son had taken care to keep the workers supplied with water so they didn’t get too awful hot. And of course, at dinnertime, around twelve o’clock, Sarah and Granny would have cooked up a big meal to feed all the workers.
Granny was Russ’ mother, who lived with them, and was truly a part of the family. Some days when Viola was going to check the mail Granny would be standing at the side porch, looking out the screened door, and Granny would invite her in for a dip of snuff. This was all very pleasant, for Viola liked both Granny and Sarah, and sometimes she would stay and pass the time of day with them for an hour or so.
As an added treat Granny dipped “Sweet Peach” snuff, Viola’s favorite. These pleasant interludes really helped break the day up; Viola had a lot of time on her hands, for she had not been able to land a job at any of the local cotton mills; there was a recession and times were hard. But at least Tom was working pretty regularly.
Viola thought again about her last thought; maybe she was sugarcoating Tom’s work record a bit. In fact, he would lay out at least once every two weeks; Mr. Huggins at the upholstery shop on Trade Street in Dallas would just overlook his absence; Tom was extremely good at his trade.
Typically the reason for Tom’s absence was tied to Joe Shuler. Joe was an entrepreneur and a bootlegger who lived up on the Hardin Road in a nice brick house. Once in a while if one of his people down at the Oodley Creek still laid out Joe would come looking for Tom Baxter. Viola got to where she hated to see that blue and white souped up ’56 Ford pull into the driveway, because she knew “Baxter,” as everybody called him, would be a no-show tomorrow.
What Joe Shuler would do was get Baxter to tend the still all night long, but instead of paying him much, he would let him drink all the shine he wanted, and there was plenty of “cured out” liquor around for him to sample. Viola did not blame Joe Shuler for this happening; she knew he was a businessman and that he would also slip Tom a few dollars. She just regretted that Baxter was so weak to go with Joe; she worried that it jeopardized his job, but apparently his skill trumped his absence.
It was about two o’clock in the afternoon and Viola had seen the mail run about eleven, so she walked up the hill and crossed the washboard red clay dirt road to the “old house” mailbox. She would always check to see if Russ and Sarah had gotten anything, just in case Sarah hadn’t looked yet.
Sarah stayed pretty busy, having six kids and cooking and cleaning for all of them. Of course, the two oldest girls were out of the house, but she had the rest, and Granny, and her daddy, Big Ed Mauney, when he came around about once every six months. Sarah was a very busy critter.
Viola checked her box, which was empty, then looked in Sarah’s. She had a Progressive Farmer and what looked like a lay-away notice from Raylass Department store in Gastonia. The stores would send you a reminder when it was time to pick up and pay for things you had “laid away,” locking in the price and giving you some time to come up with the money. The notice was distinctive because it came in a bright yellow envelope, and it was a good deal, because no interest was charged.
Viola turned away from the mailboxes and started walking briskly toward the Hoffman white frame house. Viola had a habit of walking fast, and she would swing her arms rather vigorously as she walked. Sarah’s youngest child, Richie, would imitate Viola’s walking style, even in front of Viola – she didn’t care, knowing it was all in good fun. Richie was six years old, and being the baby of six, he was a little petted. But Viola liked the little stinker and he liked her.
Almost every day Richie would beg his momma to let him go across the road to the “old house” to see Viola. Sarah would let him, for she trusted Vi, and Richie would cross the washboard red dirt road and make his way past the wild cherry tree and down the hill to the worn little path that went by the old Chinaberry tree and ended at Viola’s kitchen door. Invariably he received a cookie and some milk for his trouble.
As Vi got close to the side porch, where everybody entered, she saw Granny standing behind the screened door, grinning her toothless grin, holding a twig from a red oak tree in her right hand. “Why hello Viola,” Granny said, opening the screened door. “Hello to you, Mrs. Hoffman,” said Viola, smiling widely. Vi had big, strong looking teeth, but several on the top right side were missing, exposing an open spot in her smile. “Hey Sarah, brought your mail,” she said, looking at the short red-haired woman who was ironing clothes in her bra there in the living room.
The Hoffmans called this room the “living room.” There were four openings leading out of this room; one, a cased opening, went into the kitchen, then there was a door into Russ and Sarah’s bedroom, and another door into what was referred to as Granny’s bedroom. From Granny’s bedroom a door led into another bedroom which was on the front left corner looking from inside the house. This room faced east and it was the quarters for little Richie and his big brother, Clyde, who was a senior in high school. They slept in a bed that had a red cedar headboard; Ray had made it in shop class at Dallas High School, along with a couple of cedar chests and a wardrobe.
Richie really liked the room because the sun would stream in in the morning; in the summertime he loved getting up early so he could see the pink hibiscus that grew outside the twin windows. You had to get up pretty early, for the blossoms would close up about 9:30.
In Granny’s room there was her bed and a twin bed where Clyde’s younger sisters, Gail and Rose, slept. Like all of the bedrooms there was no wall switch for the overhead light, a string running from the headboard of the bed to the light serving the purpose. When Russ and Sarah built the house they economized where they could, so no bedroom switches.
Granny kept a lidded chamber pot under her old iron bed, not caring so much for the distance to the new bathroom on the back porch; additionally, there was a step down from the kitchen that she would rather not negotiate, especially at night.
The remaining door going out of the “living room” led to what was called the “front room.” This room was essentially a parlor, and was used only on special occasions, like holidays or when the older girls had dates over. The “front room” had a shellacked oak floor compared to the bare pine tongue and groove floors in the rest of the house. The front room was where the Christmas tree was placed.
“Hey Viola,” called out Sarah, setting her steam iron down. “We were just about to watch ‘The Edge of Night.’ Come sit with us.”
“That’s right,” said Granny, “don’t you want some Sweet Peach?”
“Sure,” said Viola, reaching out for the proffered round tin container. It had a green label and an orange peach emblazoned on the front along with the words ‘Sweet Peach.’
Vi reached with her left thumb and forefinger and pulled out her bottom lip, then tipped up the ‘Sweet Peach’ can and filled up, letting her bottom lip rest back against the wad of snuff. Vi was sort of dark complected, and the extended lip made her look a little like a boot lip, the ones that had that extreme under bite resembling the front of a boot.
Granny put the end of the twig that had been pulverized in her mouth One of Richie’s tasks was to keep Granny supplied with “toothbrushes.” There was a big red oak tree behind the woodshed; that was where the boy was sent to collect several small branches of the tree. Then he would cut them into lengths of about five inches; they needed to be just the right size also – about a quarter inch across. After that he took the twigs, soon to be toothbrushes, out to one of the solid concrete blocks his sisters had in their playhouse, and laying the twigs on the block would smash one end with a hammer until about three quarters of an inch in length was soft. Richie would then give them to his granny, and she would hobble into her bedroom, go into her wardrobe, and bring him back a piece of hard candy.
Granny had put the end of the “toothbrush” into her mouth to moisten it. She sucked on it for a while and got it really wet, then put it into the Sweet Peach can and swirled it around until she pulled it out with a sizeable glob of snuff on it. This she popped into her mouth, the “toothbrush,” or snuff purveyor, hanging out of the side of her lips. Then occasionally she would need to spit, at which time she would reach down and pick up the Red Luzianne coffee can lined with toilet paper and let a copious stream of brown liquid flow into the tissue.
The three of them sat and watched the soap opera; Sarah called them her “stories,” like a lot of housewives did, and rarely missed a day watching “Search for Tomorrow,” “The Guiding Light,” “The Edge of Night,” and the big blockbuster, “As the World Turns.” The little boy, Richie, would watch them also; it seemed to him that they sure had a lot of troubles.
As the three women watched the program he watched them and their changing facial expressions, going from joy to sorrow. One time he thought he saw Viola shed a tear when one of the characters found out that she had leukemia.
Once in a while Viola would get up and go over and spit into Granny’s spit can; the Hoffmans did not provide spit cans for guests, letting them use Granny’s. This did not bother Granny, for she was an agreeable sort. As long as there was no trouble in the family and she could get the kids to carry chicken manure to her multiple flowerbeds she was a happy critter. But there was a little trouble in the family, and once the show went off she brought it up.
“Viola, you know my oldest child, Walter, is not doin’ too well,” she said looking over at Vi through her thick glasses. Granny had undergone cataract surgery years ago; it was required that she essentially lie flat on her back for two weeks following the operation.
”Well, Mrs. Hoffman, I am sorry. I did not know that. What is wrong?” asked Viola.
“He got to where he would get short of breath pretty often, even when he wasn’t workin’ real hard. He don’t do too awful much real hard physical labor anyway; he mostly manages his swimming lake over there below his house. It is called “Shady Rest,” and it is a purty nice swimmin’ place; the kids love to go over there in the summertime. You know, if you are sittin’ out on the front porch a lot of times you can hear the piccolo playing. Guess the sound kind of travels up the branch. But like I said, he started getting’ short of breath, so he went to see Dr. Will in Dallas and the doctor told him he had a weak heart and poor circulation. Then it all kind of made sense. He had swelling in the legs for years, didn’t he Sarah?”
“That’s right Granny,” agreed Sarah, as she slipped a white blouse on over her bra. She was finished ironing. “I remember many times on Sunday mornings when he would come visit, and sit over there smoking a cigarette, with his legs crossed. His pants leg would ride up on his calf and you could see how puffy his leg was. You know it didn’t look right; I remember that Russ had said something to Walt about it but he didn’t pay any attention. In fact, Russ reminded Walt that their daddy, John Richard, had the same situation. His legs would swell like that; he could push his finger against his leg and it would leave a depression there for several minutes,” said Sarah.
“That’s exactly right Sarah, ‘cause I got him to go to Dr. Fesperman up in Lincolnton, and he told him he had ‘heart dropsy,’” said Granny. Then Granny got quiet for a bit. “Yes, he’s been gone, thirty-five years this past spring. I sure hope Walt will start taking care of himself. Dr. Will told him he ought to cut back on them Lucky Strikes,” she added, “but ya know J.R. never smoked a day in his life and it didn’t save him.”
Granny paused and sighed. “I’ll never forget the day they came to tell me he was dead,” she said. “It was a Saturday in July, and he had taken the mule and the wagon to go to Dallas for some things. I was out in the garden picking butter beans when John Lester Cloninger and two of his brothers came and gave me the sorrowful news. I knew something was bad wrong when I saw ‘em coming, ‘cause one of the Cloningers were driving J.D.’s wagon, following along behind John Lester in his old car. They had found J.D. slumped over on the wagon seat near Bert Cloninger’s. You know, he had that big ol’ knot on his wrist where he would hook the reins. He was laying there, dead, with the reins still hooked on his wrist.”
Granny stopped for a minute and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.
“Granny, you know J.R. was a fine man, loved and respected by all who knew him. We have all of those memories of him to cherish. And remember, we got lil’ Richie here, who we named after him,” Sarah said.
At the mention of his name Richie’s ears perked up and he grinned at his momma. “Richie, go over there and give your granny a hug, she’s feelin’ a little poorly,” Sarah said.
The chubby little redhead did as he was told, smelling a mixture of snuff and camphor as he hugged his granny. Granny smiled broadly and rubbed Richie’s bristly little G.I. haircut.
“Wait a minute, son,” she said, and walked in her labored fashion back into her bedroom. She returned a few moments later and gave the boy two pieces of hard candy, a red one and a green one.
Viola rose from her chair. “Mrs. Hoffman, I had better be getting’ on; it’ll be time to start supper pretty soon, and you know that Tom don’t like to be kept waitin,’” she said.
“Bye Sarah, bye little Richie,” Vi said, waving to Sarah and rubbing the little boy’s head. Viola went out the door and headed toward the old house. Richie watched her as she started into her familiar gait; it was almost like a march, arms by the side swinging to and fro almost up to parallel with the ground on the front swing, then the same on the back. And Vi did not waste any time; hers was the cadence of someone who had something to do. Right now it was to go home and cook Tom’s supper.
As Viola disappeared down the hill past the wild cherry tree Richie started marching around the living room quickly, swinging his arms like Viola’s. “You ‘bout got that down, son,” chuckled Sarah. Granny smiled and watched the little fat boy parade around. She knew he was a showoff.
“Right full of himself,” she thought, then let a thick stream of juice go into the spit can. Richie tired of his cavorting after a bit and tried to figure out what he wanted to do next. Then he remembered one of his favorite little trips.
“Momma, can I go down and see Mrs. Baxter for a little while; I promise I’ll be careful crossing the road and I won’t stay long,” he begged.
“Now son, you just heard her say she was goin’ to start dinner; you’ll be in the way,” chided Sarah.
The boy looked downcast, then gave it another shot. “Momma, lots of times she lets me help her do things; please, please, can I go,” he begged.
“Oh okay,” she relented, “but don’t you stay over thirty minutes, and be careful.” Richie tore out the side door, letting the screened door slam behind him, but slowed down at the road and listened and looked both ways before crossing.
He looked at the wild cherry tree that he and his sisters climbed; as usual, this time of year, it was full of bagworms. Sarah said that for some unknown reason bagworms preferred the wild cherry. She thought maybe the caterpillars that grew in the gauzy bags were partial to those leaves, but she was not sure.
Richie, of course, had asked her if she were sure; Richie asked a lot of questions, an awful lot of questions.
The little boy walked down the right side of the house to where the L-shaped porch was on the right rear of the old house. There was an old millstone that served as a step which led onto the porch near where the kitchen was. The screened door was open and Viola saw Richie as he came up on the porch.
“Well, my goodness,” she exclaimed, smiling that big smile with the hole in the top right. “So I get to see my little buddy twice today,” she said, watching as he came in the door and stood there, grinning shyly. She looked at his belly hanging over his cutoff jeans, and though she knew he certainly did not “need it,” and that he certainly “could not be hungry,” she went ahead and said, “Richie, I bet you could eat a Fig Newton, couldn’t you?”
Chubby grinned even wider so Viola went to her breadbox and brought not one, but two Fig Newtons and gave them to Richie. He gave her an inquiring look as if to ask “really?” So Viola said, “You go on ahead honey, but tell your momma that I only gave you one.” Richie nodded in agreement and gulped the Newtons down quickly. “I guess you might need a drink of milk to wash that down, right?” she asked. Richie nodded so she poured him a half glass of milk.
It was milk from the Hoffman cow, the Guernsey, Beulah. Twice a week Viola would milk the cow in the evenings and Sarah would let her have a half-gallon each time. It gave the Baxters a little milk and also gave Sarah a break, because she usually would do the evening milking, Russ doing it in the morning before he went to work. It was whole, unadulterated milk, just strained through a piece of white cloth.
Viola sighed as she watched him down the milk; she liked the little boy a lot, but sometimes watching him made her sad. She and Tom had tried for years to have a child, and finally she had become pregnant. Everything had gone along fine until the delivery; they were living over in Iron Station at the time, which was near Lincolnton, so old Dr. Fesperman came to their little rental house when the time had come. It was a breach birth, and when the doctor finally got the baby turned around and out, he saw that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. The baby’s face was blue; there was nothing to do. It was a boy.
That’s why sometimes she would turn sad when she watched the little boy. She had told Sarah the baby story; Viola figured that’s why she would let Richie visit like she did.
One day in a setting very similar to the Fig Newton treat that was happening now, Vi had been having those thoughts. She had glanced at the boy and he had such a curious look on his face that she asked him if something were wrong. Viola was taken aback, because like most people she did not realize what kind of expression she was showing.
“You just looked so sad,” he said, walking over and touching her hand.
That day she had burst into tears and walked back into the little sitting room with the fireplace right off the kitchen in order to compose herself. When she returned, the little boy looked so worried that she gave him another Fig Newton, and then told him not to tell his momma about her crying.
“Mrs. Baxter, I gotta go ‘cause I promised my momma I would only be gone for thirty minutes, and I am sure it is gettin’ close. Thanks for the Newtons and milk,” said Richie, moving toward the screened door.
Viola grinned her big one and said, “Now Richie, you know you can come back here anytime you please, as long as it is okay with your momma.”
“Yes ma’am,” little Chubby said, and went out the door and headed home.
Viola rinsed out the pot of pinto beans she had been soaking and put in some fresh water, a little lard, and a ham hock Sarah Hoffman had given her. She put this pot on the wood stove and got a head of cabbage out of the Leonard refrigerator and made half a head of slaw. Lots of mayonnaise, mustard and pickles – that was the way Tom liked it. Then she got out the corn meal and stirred up the fixins’ for cornbread, putting in milk, two eggs, and some finely chopped hot peppers she had grown.
She got all this ready and set it aside in a cast iron frying pan. She would not put the cornbread on until about a half hour before Tom Baxter got home; cornbread was always best hot out of the oven, with plenty of butter. Then she finely minced half of an onion.
So, the meal was set; they would have pinto beans, slaw, and cornbread and milk. Of course the dressing for the cornbread and milk was the onions; additionally, she had a jar of chow -chow to spice things up. Viola was careful about the way she cooked for Tom Baxter, for he had not one tooth in his punkin’ head. So the fare had to be pretty soft, and pinto beans and corn bread fit the bill. Stuff that did not work was country ham, steak, and pork chops. Boiled turnips and squash were also staples, and in the wintertime lots and lots of beans.
Sarah had given her some pickled beets just the other week; Vi would save these for a later time. Today’s supper was being given a lot of attention by Viola, for it was Friday, which meant payday, which meant Tom Baxter would come home as drunk as a ten-eyed man of color.
It was a long-standing tradition: work at the upholstery shop in Dallas knocked off at five o’clock, so about six-thirty one of Tom’s co-workers would let him out at the road, and he would begin his journey to the house. Viola stopped herself from thinking about the oft-repeated scenario; she knew how things went on Fridays, and figured about the best she could do was have one of his favorite meals ready when he got there. It was about all she could do, short of shooting him.
Viola fussed around the kitchen, putting the skillet inside the oven part of the wood stove so that it would be ready about six-thirty. Then she went out on the front porch and waited, waited to see the rooster tail of red dirt that Baxter’s buddy would stir up as he came roaring down the road; Johnny Ledbetter, who worked with Tom and carried him back and forth to work, also shared Baxter’s love of Oodley Creek moonshine.
The second place they would hit on Fridays, the first being the bank, was Joe Shuler’s to get each of them a quart of shine for five dollars apiece. Once they got that they would ride around and shoot the shit and cuss their boss and lie about how much they were getting on the side. Now these were truly gigantic lies, for if the truth were known, nobody was getting any at home. This was undoubtedly true at the Baxter home; Viola had told Tom years ago that she would cook, clean, and do all wifely duties except that. She had told him that losing the baby had killed any desire for anything like that.
Vi sat on the porch and started thinking about how things were maybe not so wonderful, but that they probably could be worse. She could have a husband like Bill Friday, the man who lived in the old house before she and Tom had come along. She had heard the stories from Sarah and Granny about how disturbed and weird he was; even little Richie had told her his rendition of the scenario. It was interesting how the little boy’s story differed considerably from the consistent tale she heard from Granny and Sarah. Viola really liked Richie, but sometimes she wondered if maybe he made up stuff, maybe to get attention.
But there was one story that Richie had told her that she knew was true because she had witnessed it from the kitchen. So when, a week later, the little boy had told her while eating a Fig Newton and drinking milk what had happened she knew it to be true.
It had been in the late afternoon about a month ago, and Russ had come down to get the rent, and of course little Richie had tagged along; that was when Baxter had done his eye smoking trick. Viola had seen him do it before, but not in a long time. As she stood in the kitchen she heard Tom Baxter setting it up, and she knew where it was going, but somehow she couldn’t move to stop it. Afterwards she wondered about this at length.
Russ and Tom were sitting on the low porch there outside the kitchen, just chatting. Tom had already given Russ the rent money and it looked like Russ was about to leave. Richie was playing around at the base of the big ol’ chinaberry tree when Tom Baxter called him over.
“Come ‘ere,” called Tom. The little boy walked over and Tom said, “Did you know that I can blow smoke out of my eyes?”
Richie looked at him and said, “No, I don’t believe it.”
Baxter was smoking a Pall Mall, so as he was getting ready to take a big drag off it he said, “look at my eyes, come close and look at my eyes so you can see the smoke when it starts.”
Richie came close and stared at Tom Baxter’s eyes. He did not see Baxter’s hand with the Pall Mall come around, but he sure felt it when Tom touched the lit end to the boy’s bare leg. Richie hollered, and Russ grabbed Baxter’s arm and had a few choice words for him before Richie and his daddy went back across the road to the new house.
Viola had just stood there in the kitchen and listened to her husband chuckling out on the porch. Then she had shook her head sadly and walked into the little sitting room off the kitchen and sat down in the dark beside the fireplace.
At last Viola heard a car coming from the direction of Bert Cloninger’s dairy, and saw the red dirt cloud boiling up in its wake. It was Johnny Ledbetter’s car all right, and it stopped up at the top of the hill near the Wild Cherry tree with the bagworms. She watched as the passenger door on the front opened and her groom lurched out of the car, hollering drunken goodbyes to his sotty brethren. “See you guys,” he called as they pulled away. Then he began his journey down the hill toward the old house, and like usual made it about halfway down the hill before his bad leg gave out and he tumbled head over heels, landing in a mud puddle at the edge of the driveway. Then it started: “Vi, Vi, Vi,” Baxter hollered – no, screamed. “You would think he was dying,” thought Viola as she pulled herself up and headed out to collect her man.
When she got to him he looked up at her and started crying. “Vi, I’m drunk,” he wept to her.
“Einstein,” she thought, as she helped the besotted critter down to the house; he only fell twice, once pulling Viola down with him. He kept up the crying until she got him into the kitchen and sat him down in front of the food. He lit in on the beans and corn bread and milk like he hadn’t eaten in a week. He did not utter a word until he had finished, then he belched loudly and staggered up to the cupboard over the refrigerator where he kept a quart jar of Joe Shuler’s Oodley Creek moonshine.
There was about a pint left in it, his extra pay for staying up all night drinking the elixir and tending the still. Of course, he missed work the next day where he could have made enough money to buy a gallon of shine, but Baxter did not consider such high mathematical issues. He just did what he wanted, and what he wanted to do right now was keep drinking.
He lurched back to his chair and poured it into the glass he had just eaten the corn bread and milk out of. Viola just sat there and looked at him, hoping that the total disgust she felt for him was not showing on her face. No such luck.
“What the hell are you lookin’ at, bitch,” he shouted at her, glaring across the table with his bulging rheumy bloodshot eyes. Viola said nothing; she had learned that not responding to his abuse was the best action, or inaction; he would eventually pass out and she would have some peace. ”Are you deaf, you barren, frigid slut; dontcha hear me?” he screamed. She still sat mute, but was becoming a bit anxious; his antics tonight were even nuttier than usual.
“Killed my son, my baby boy, the only one I could ever have. Little Tom Jr., that’s what I was gonna name him, and you and your sorry ass breach birth, and stupid friggin’ umbilical cord you choked him with. You stupid, crazy bitch.” And with that he swiftly reached across the table and knocked Viola off her chair with an open-handed slap.
Viola picked herself up off the kitchen floor and quietly slunk off into their bedroom, where she lay and cried for nearly an hour. Then she quietly went over to the dresser and opened the bottom drawer, her underwear drawer, a place Tom Baxter would never think of looking. Under her bras and panties she found the cardboard box and placed it on the bed. She opened it to reveal a shiny 38-caliber pistol; it had belonged to her daddy and had never been fired. She had received it upon his death two years ago; Tom knew nothing of it.
She picked up the gun and made sure it was loaded; she had shot pistols when she was younger so she was not unfamiliar with how to use one. Then she quietly left the bedroom, walking through the little sitting room where the fireplace was, until she stood just shy of the kitchen.
Here she stopped and stood in the shadows; it had become dark, but there was a small wattage bulb burning in the kitchen. Tom Baxter was passed out at the table, his head lying on the plate where he had eaten the pinto beans with chow-chow. He was snoring thunderously, the empty jar of what had been Oodley Creek moonshine near his right hand.
She walked in quietly, stopping at the table on the side she had been sitting on when he had hit her. She had looked in the mirror in the bedroom and had seen his handprint on the side of her cheek. That imprint was gone now, but the right side of her mouth was still oozing blood.
Then she slowly raised the pistol with both hands, placing the barrel about six inches from the top of the drunken Tom Baxter’s head. She was about to cock the gun when she heard someone clear his throat outside in the yard just off the shallow porch.
Viola looked out and could see the broad shoulders of a man, and then as her eyes adjusted to the dim light coming from the kitchen she saw it was Russ Hoffman.
He just stood there, not saying a word; then he slowly shook his head from side to side. Viola Baxter lowered the gun to her side, and Russ grinned at her and walked back across the road.