Velma had to pace herself; she was not accustomed to digging with a mattock and she was sixty nine years old. She decided that if she could get two pretty good sized holes about three feet deep done in one day and if she replicated that for two more days she would have enough to take care of it.
Velma dug for about fifteen or twenty minutes and then rested about the same time. “I ain’t done no work like this in twenty years,” she said out loud. The digging was not too awful bad, because she did have the good sense to situate the holes in her old garden spot; she had stopped having a garden two years in the past when she concluded that to raise all that food and wind up giving most of it away was just plain silly. Velma liked her neighbors, but not that much. She lived alone ever since her parents had died just six months apart; that had been twenty five years ago, and she had stayed in the little clapboard house with the peeling German siding ever since. She was an only child so she inherited the little place with the sixty three acres of land that came along with it. The better part of the land had been forested with oak and maple, nice mature trees, so she had worked with a tree broker and had got the best bid and had made quite a tidy sum. That money and what she got from selling the clear cut land had set her up pretty good, good enough so that she had been able to quit her job at the Harden Manufacturing Co., the local cotton mill. That was where her momma and daddy had retired from and that was where she had worked since she dropped out of high school when she was sixteen. She was very, very shy growing up and very hard favored. Velma remembered the first time she had heard that term; she had been riding the school bus home one fall day and as usual she was sitting by herself near the rear of the bus. She kept to herself, had no close friends and had never had a date in her sixteen years; in fact, not surprisingly she had never been asked for one. Velma was short and stout with a bad complexion, traits that did not exactly drive the boys crazy. That particular day Yates Clemmer was sitting a few seats away from her; he lived down the road and was the next to last student to get off the bus. Yates had never paid one lick of attention to Velma but for some reason that day he decided to be different. He had come back to where she was and sat down directly in front of her. Then he had said “Whatcha doin’ hot stuff”. Velma had not known how to respond to this; she was not even sure what “hot stuff” meant so she had just looked at him and said nothing. Yates was not a bad looking boy; he had his hair greased up and combed into a duck tail like most boys did in the early fifties.
“Why don’t ya get off at my house and come in for a while; my parents ain’t there and we can have a good time. I got me some Oodly Creek moonshine left over from the weekend and I’ll let you share it,” Yates had said, leering at Velma and reaching out and putting his hand on one of her breasts. Velma remembered how she had been so petrified that she did nothing; no boy had ever touched her before and especially not there. Since Velma showed no reaction Yates became emboldened and thrust his hand up her skirt. Velma had broken her silence at that point and had screamed and broken into tears, moving quickly to the seat across the aisle.
“Stay away from me”, she had shrieked as tears ran down her chubby cheeks. Yates had jumped up and glared at her.
“What the hell is wrong with you, you fat pig. Why anybody as hard favored as you are ought to be thrilled to death that a guy like me would pay any attention to you,” he had shouted at her. As the bus pulled in front of his house he grabbed his books and ran off the bus. The bus driver was one of Yates’ friends so he didn’t even ask what was going on, not even looking at her as she exited the bus when it came to her house. Velma had asked her momma what “hard favored” meant and had been told that it was not a nice term but that it meant that someone was not at all good looking. Then her momma had asked why she wanted to know and Velma had told her that a boy had called one of the girls at school that name. Velma prided herself on never lying to her momma and when she thought about what she said she figured that her record was intact, since she, herself, indeed was one of the girls at school.
Velma worked all afternoon on her digging, going over to the spigot on the side of the house to get water when she needed it. There was no glass there so she would just turn it on and fill up her hand and drink. It was almost dark when she finished the second hole; she had decided that three feet deep was a little overly ambitious and that if she went down just two feet that would be okay. “I’ll just put some rocks on top to keep anything from getting’ at it and I’ll keep a real good eye on it,” she thought to herself. She went in the back door of her house and washed her hands and dried them on a dish towel, then went to the refrigerator to see what she could find to eat. She usually cooked herself a pretty good supper each evening but under the circumstances and with all that digging she had done she decided she would get by with leftovers. After she had eaten she went outside and walked around to the back of the little house and almost went into the root cellar, but stopped at the door.
“I know it’s plenty cool in there so there ain’t no need in me goin’ in there until I need to,” she thought to herself and then went on back in the house. She got her crocheting basket out of the closet and turned on the lamp on the stand beside her chair in the living room and started working on her latest doily. Velma had them all over the place, on the back of every chair in the living room, on the pillows in the two bedrooms and had even fastened them to the backs of the chairs in her little kitchen. Her table was a mingled yellow formica with chrome around the edge and chrome legs, the two legs at each corner coming down and forming a single one at the bottom. The chairs were the same chrome with yellow plastic on the backs and seats. She thought about all those years ago when she had purchased the dining room set; it was one of the few luxuries she had allowed herself after her parents had died. The only other major thing she had done at that time was hire an electrician to put in wall switches in the bedrooms; when her parents had built the house in the forties they had employed several cost cutting measures along the way, one of which was tying a string to the chain at the light bulb in the bedrooms. Then they tied the string to the bedpost, a functional but not overly attractive approach. They had splurged on wall switches in the living room, kitchen, and parlor. The parlor was the only room in the house with hardwood floors. She thought about how that was where she, her parents, and her grandmother had spent every Christmas. The Christmas tree was there and they would have a little fire in the coal grate that was installed in the fireplace; the damper had fallen out soon after the house had been built and her daddy had stuck a gunny sack up in the flue to keep warm air from going up the chimney, removing it only at Christmas when they would have the fire. Actually they never did burn any wood in the grate, using it to burn up the wrapping paper and boxes from the presents. As she was sitting there crocheting she remembered how one Christmas her daddy had embarrassed her so; they had been in the parlor, or front room as they called it, and they were opening presents. Her daddy was in a very happy mood, fueled by some Oodly Creek moonshine he had been nipping on down in the root cellar.
“Ya know, Velma, guess one of these days you will have you a feller in here, and you’ll be shuttin’ the door and doin’ whatever it is you teenagers do,” he had said, grinning at her. All of them, her daddy, mother, and grandmother had giggled and looked at her. The comment had caught her totally off guard and she “didn’t know how to act”. She had managed a smile and then excused herself and gone into the bathroom on the back porch and cried for five minutes. She was sixteen when that had happened, had never been out with a boy, and had been resigned to the notion that she would never, ever go on dates like other girls. When she had come back to the front room they had all looked at her funny and her daddy had mumbled “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it” and they had opened their presents and had their little fire. Her idea of never dating had come to pass and even after she had quit school and started working in the mill she never went out with a man, managing to thwart any and all men who showed any interest at all, not that there were that many. The ones that did make an effort were invariably pimply faced young boys or snuff dipping old married men. The old men were the worst; they were always trying to buy her something when the “dope wagon” came around at work. After she didn’t pay any attention to their offers and vulgarities her mother finally put a stop to the situation. She had seen who the guys were that were bothering her daughter and she had taken each one aside and told them that her daughter was just “quare” and that they needed to “leave her be”. Velma had never known that her mother had done this service but she was very grateful when the men stopped bothering her.
Velma grew weary after a couple hours of her work and put it away. She walked over to the parlor door and opened it. She had pushed the sofa and the two upholstered chairs back against the wall when she had cleaned up the room; it had taken a good while, what with scrubbing the pretty oak flooring with detergent and Clorox. She had worked on it for a good two hours and had taken the soiled rags to the fifty five gallon metal drum down next to the old wash pot at the edge of the woods and burned them. As she was thinking about this she recalled how they would use the old washpot for canning in the summer time. They called it the washpot because her granny had used to boil clothes in it, and then sometimes make lye soap.
She got down on her knees and looked at the joints of the red oak flooring; they were real tight and with the varnish that was on it had made a pretty much impenetrable surface. She walked over and picked up the fire poker that she had cleaned up so meticulously; it kind of looked like a small golf club, the handle being made of coiled springs that stood away from the rod so as to dissipate heat.
“Them coils wuz sure hard to clean”, she said out loud, giving the room one last look before deciding that it passed muster. Then she went into her bedroom and slept the sleep of the ditchdigger.
Velma was up at six and after coffee, bacon and eggs she was back at her work. She worked on ‘til almost eleven, stopping only to get a drink from the outside spigot once in a while. By that time she had two more holes a little larger than the two she had dug the day before. As she stood there looking at the four holes she altered her digging plan once again.
“I believe that if I make these two a little bigger I won’t have to dig them other two”, she thought to herself. Since she was so close to the end she went ahead and lit back into the digging, finally giving it a rest about one o’clock. When she stopped she realized how tired she was and how hungry she was so she went into the kitchen and made herself a tomato sandwich and supplemented it with some leftover fried okra and a big glass of buttermilk. The buttermilk was a treat for her, that and an occasional half gallon of ice milk from Bill’s Food Center just down the road. The buttermilk she got from the old Conklin Dairy, where the three silos were. The old man sold milk and made butter, thereby having plenty of the effluent buttermilk. Bert Conklin was eighty years old but still worked like a horse. He lived in the pretty columned house across from the silos, the one that had the very attractive stonework. She remembered what her daddy had said about ol’ Bert, and the whole Conklin family in general.
“Them Conklins are hard workin’ people; ya gotta hand them that, but so much of the hard work they do is unnecessary,” he would say, and give several examples where it appeared the Conklins just chose the hard way of doing things instead of the smarter, easier way. Velma had not paid a lot of attention to this talk, taking into account how her daddy tended to be a little critical of people. She suspected that he might be a little jealous of the Conklins and their prosperity. Velma finished the glass of buttermilk and put her dish and glass in the old porcelain sink. By that time it was close to two o’clock; she went into the living room and sat down in the recliner to think a little.
“Reckon I ought to get that reciprocating saw out and see what kind of shape it’s in”, she said out loud as she rose from her chair and went into the back yard and to the little tool shed her daddy had built a long time ago. Her daddy had accumulated a few power tools over his lifetime but Velma always remembered what he would say about which tool was the most efficient.
“Them circular saws are okay for some things, but if I had to rely on only one power tool I would take my Sawzall over anything else,” he would say. “Yessir, you put one of them long blades on it and that thing will cut through ‘bout anything.” And Velma had witnessed the old man’s prowess with the reciprocating saw. She remembered how one time he had got kind of miffed with her when she had pointed out that the proper term for the power tool was a “reciprocating saw” and that Sawzall was just a brand name, just like the proper name was circular saw, not skilsaw as he said, that just being another brand name.
“Well you know what I mean; ya don’t have to be such a smartass,” he had snorted at her, so she had shut up and left him alone. She had known how to handle him; he would flare up and talk mean to her, but an hour later he would be teasing and joking with her. She had secured the key to the tool shed from the sixteen penny nail it hung on there on the screened in back porch. She unlocked the heavy Master lock and flipped on the light switch. The bare 100 watt bulb exposed the assorted hand tools and shovels; there was a rusty old crosscut saw hanging on one wall, one that she had seen her daddy and her uncle use to cut down a big oak tree that had been struck by lightning. Back then the crosscut was shiny and was kept well oiled and sharpened; she recalled being a little girl and watching the men work on the tree. It had been a hot summer day and the sweat had rolled off them; her momma had called her into the kitchen from where she had been watching the work on the back porch and sent her out to them with a half-gallon jug of ice water. She had carried the water to them and watched as they drank from the jug; she asked shyly if she could stay outside and watch them and her daddy had said “If you go on over there next to that big pine tree where your momma has got them petunias and don’t come any closer that will be alright.” She had done just like he had said and quietly watched the work. The tree had been a tremendous one, nearly three feet across and at least fifty feet tall. Velma had watched her daddy and her uncle Tom a couple of days before, the day after the lightning strike. They had been standing out in the yard looking up at the tree, observing the big limb that the lightning had knocked off and the black streak going down the side of the mammoth oak.
“Yep, we gonna need to take that thing down,” her Uncle Tom had said. “I’ve seen trees struck by lightning before, and they ain’t no savin’ ‘em,” he had told her daddy. Velma’s daddy had looked up at the tree and nodded his head.
“You are most surely right, Tom; why you can already see how them leaves are shriveling up,” he had said and the plan was sealed. Velma pulled the reciprocating saw down from the shelf and dusted it off with a rag that was lying on the counter. After she dusted it off she found a little can of three in one oil nearby and squirted it on the arm that went back and forth. She looked at the blade; it was rusty and slightly bent. Remembering that her daddy always kept spare blades around she rummaged in one of the drawers under the counter and found an Ace Hardware pack of three new blades. She looked at them, choosing the multi-purpose blade over the fine toothed one. “The multi-purpose blade is guaranteed to cut through almost anything, including light metals,” the words on the side of the package proclaimed. Velma took the little hexagonal tool her daddy had always secured to the cord of the saw and loosened the two screws that held the blade in place. Then she pulled out the old blade and inserted the new one, tightening up the screws with the hex tool. She plugged the Sawzall into the lone outlet above the counter and held it away from her body and squeezed the trigger. The saw roared to life and Velma quickly let off on the trigger. She figured she maybe should do a dry run since she had never actually used the thing herself, only having watched her daddy, so she rummaged around and found a two-foot-long piece of two by four. Velma’s daddy had a vice mounted to the counter down at the end so she grabbed the handle of the vice and loosened it up enough so that the wood would fit in the inch and a half way. Then she tightened the handle, leaving the two by horizontal with the ground. She carefully picked up the recip and placed the saw blade on the side of the wood and pressed gently on the button; she had remembered that the saw was variable speed and she deduced that she should start out slow. The blade went back and forth, and as it did she became braver and in a few seconds she was full bore on the trigger and the two by four was in two pieces.
Velma smiled, feeling a sense of accomplishment; she felt very good about her progress, and knew that when the rest of the job was done the next day she would feel even better. It was getting toward supper time so Velma closed up the little shop and brought the reciprocating saw into the house with her. She laid it on the kitchen table and fixed breakfast for supper, something she did when she was real hungry, and all the digging had indeed worked up her appetite. After eating and cleaning up the dishes she sat down in her favorite chair and in a few minutes had dozed off. It was nine o’clock when she woke up; “better get on to bed,” she thought to herself. “Gonna need this sleep tomorrow; gonna be a busy day.”
It was pain like she had never before experienced in her life; it wasn’t constant, but came and went, each time returning with a vengeance. The spasms were getting closer together and the intensity was increasing. There were two women in white scrubs and a man in blue scrubs standing around her; the smell of ether was in the air and she felt mildly nauseous. She had to look away from the huge light that was suspended over her in order to focus her eyes. That was when she realized that she was in Garrison General Hospital, the hospital where she had been born. She could tell it was Garrison because of the portrait of FDR that was on the far wall; her mother had told her about passing out when Velma was born and waking up and seeing the portrait of the president. Velma braced herself as another wave of pain rolled through her; she sensed that it was about over because the two women seemed to be pretty excited and were huddled down at the end of the table on each side of the man. With one last volley the pain subsided and she felt something come out of her body and with that evacuation the pain was almost gone.
The next thing she saw was one of the women dressed in white scrubs standing over her holding something in a blanket. The woman was smiling broadly and offered the bundle to Velma saying “it’s a little boy”. Velma took the bundle and rested it on the upper part of her stomach. The blanket fell away from the child and Velma screamed. She was holding a tiny black creature; it was wearing a green outfit and had some numbers stenciled above one of the shirt pockets. As she looked at the creature in horror it smiled at her and lunged toward one of her breasts with big white teeth bared.
Her own shrill scream woke her up; it was one of those dreams where it takes you a while to determine where you are. First of all Velma looked around the room to see where the two women and the man in blue scrubs went; after her eyes adjusted to the faint night light by her bed she could see no one and try as she might she could not make out the FDR portrait that had been on the wall. She then realized that she was at home and it had just been a dream, although a very unusual one. As always when she had a strange dream she immediately began analyzing it; it was a habit she had, and she could never rest until she had figured out why she had dreamed it. She pondered as she lay in bed; it did not take long until she had come up with a plausible explanation and once she had that in her head she was able to drift off to sleep.
Velma was up at seven the next morning, finding herself exceptionally cheerful, to the point that she had to study on that while she was eating breakfast. It was actually the best she had felt in days and she attributed it to having figured out her dream and also that today was the day when she put everything to rest. After washing the dishes she grabbed the reciprocating saw and headed out the door and around back to the root cellar. Once inside she pulled the chain on the bare 100 watt bulb.
“You don’t look so awful bad now, do you?” she said out loud, looking down at the ground. She plugged the recip. cord into the socket that the bulb was screwed into, the type that allows you to plug in an appliance when there are no outlets. He was cool to the touch just like she thought he would be. Where his head had been bashed in with the fire poker there was heavily caked blood. Velma remembered how she had heard the bulletin on the radio about the escaped convict, and how she had made sure all of her doors were locked. Of course the exterior door out of the front room had glass panes in it, something she did not consider until she heard the glass break and the shards hit the hard wood floor. She had rushed into the room just in time to see a skinny black arm reach through where the glass had been and turn the key that was in the lock. He was not big, maybe one hundred twenty pounds, but he was mighty strong, strong enough to hit her up side the head and knock her to the floor. Then he had hit her again and again and then pulled her dress up over her head. “Guess he was surely right pent up, being in prison and all,” she thought to herself as she pulled his prison issue shoes off. It had not lasted long and it had not hurt so awful bad, him being pretty small and all, but there had still been blood. “Looks like I done got me a virgin, and an old one at that,” he had sneered at her when he had gotten up and pulled his pants up. He was buckling his belt when she spied the fire poker; she had reached over and put it in the corner out of sight. Then she had pulled her dress from over her head and gotten up from the floor. The convict was looking around the room to see if there was anything worth taking when she grabbed the poker from the corner and quickly raised it over her head and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his skull. The blow had stunned him but had not knocked him out, but the second and third hits had sent him to the floor. Then she had bludgeoned him repeatedly until she was sure that he was dead. That was when she had the idea of putting him in the root cellar for safe keeping until she got together a plan. She decided that getting in touch with the authorities was not advisable; she was way too ashamed for anybody to know what had happened. That was when she had come up with the disposal idea; it made a lot of sense when you considered the alternative. Spending the rest of her life having people whisper about what happened to her behind her back was just not acceptable. After one attempt at cutting just below the knee Velma had to stop. The saw did not do well on the prison issue pants so she took all of his clothes off. That proved to make things go along much more efficiently and in an hour’s time she had carved him up into pieces no longer than 18”. Velma figured she could carry the pieces out in a five-gallon bucket; it would take several trips but she had all the time in the world. As far as the torso went that was another matter, but after she pondered a while on it she realized the old meat hook in the shed would work just fine. She went ahead and methodically carried bucket after bucket out to the holes and dumped them in. Then she came back into the root cellar and smiled, looking down at the remains. It was not a terribly big chunk of meat but she needed to do one more thing before she put it in its final resting place. Velma grabbed his flaccid member and using the butcher knife she had brought from the kitchen sliced it off. As she went to the shed to get the meat hook she carried the little piece of meat with her and gave it a sling into the pasture, resting assured that some wild critter would make a nice little meal of it.