Osgood Feeney was a miserable cuss. Everybody who had ever had any contact with him agreed with that conclusion. He was cruel in his speech, slovenly in his dress, dishonest in his business dealings, and was generally avoided by all the residents of my hometown. He was also an inveterate funeral goer, carrying a little black book in his pocket that listed everyone he hated or was feuding with. He would approach the casket, look at the face of the deceased, and then take out his black book, flip through the pages, and with a deliberately antagonizing gesture, ceremoniously strike the dead person’s name off the list. Satisfied, he would turn to face the grieving family and grin the most malicious grin imaginable. Several men threatened to shoot him for this habit, but as Pinder Powell pointed out, “he ain’t worth the cost of the bullets.”
Osgood narrowly escaped death several times. Once was at the hands of Coot Harrell, a hot-tempered farmer who worked hard, bothered no one, and was highly regarded in the small community. Coot was known for his forbearance of idiots and braggards, soft spoken but possessing a strong sense of what was right and wrong. One day, he and Osgood happened to be standing on the same street corner when Mable Greeley came walking past. Mable was a pitiable creature; her face scarred by attacks from a brutal husband who had run off with a waitress at the truck stop; her shoulders stooped by the long hours put in at the local packing house where she worked as many hours as she could to get the money to support her six children; her body clothed in cast-offs she found in the local thrift shop. Despite her outward appearance, Mable still retained a good heart and freely shared her family’s meager resources with anyone in need. Coot had grown up with Mable, and, back in their youths, had carried a torch for her, a torch that was extinguished when she married Henry Greeley. He still had a soft spot for Mable and admired her for being the person she was.
Osgood, however, had no feelings at all for anyone. What Coot saw and admired in Mable, Osgood saw as a sign of weakness and worthlessness. In his eyes, she was the perfect victim for his brand of cruelty, and he lashed out.
“Whore,” he said loudly as she passed the two men. “Ugly, worthless whore.” He laughed loudly and reached out to push her into the streets. He never touched her because a strong hand gripped his arm and a cold and hard something pushed into his temple. It was Coot’s pistol that he always carried.
“You worthless piece of shit. I’m going to kill you,” Coot said quietly, his hand shaking in rage.
For Osgood Feeney, he was as close to death as he had ever come before. He tried to look into Coot’s face, but the barrel pressed against his head prevented that.
“Please, Coot,” he begged. “Don’t do it!”
After several seconds had passed, Coot withdrew his pistol. Several people who had witnessed the scene groaned in disappointment as Osgood, taking advantage of Coot’s momentary lapse, scurried away.
The two men took away radically different feelings from the short episode—Coot, embarrassed and humiliated by his loss of temper, declared to himself that he would never again lose control; Osgood, thankful to be alive and determined to never meet Coot Harrell again face to face, was unchanged in his disregard for social niceties!
The story quickly spread throughout our small community, and people who had missed the confrontation between the two men nevertheless swore they had seen it all. Several added fresh nuances to the story which, although fabricated entirely out of whole cloth, became part of the accepted truth. For several months after, Osgood Feeney suffered the kind of humiliation he was used to giving out instead of receiving. Wherever he went, people would whisper to each other, point at him, and laugh uproariously. Even this kind of treatment had little lasting impact on Osgood as the community, satisfied for once, moved on with other business.
Osgood showed up everywhere there was a crowd. Despite his weekly attendance at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, none of the calls for piety or charity or love of humanity seemed to register with Osgood. It was as if he was testing the limits of his abilities to resist the appeals for kindness and goodness. He would sit on the front pew, listen to the sermon, and make notations in his ever-present black book. When the end of service offering plate came around, he would consult his black book, tote up the remarks he had written, and then reluctantly put a nickel, dime, or quarter in the plate—never more than a quarter! The amount was based solely on the score he had given to the preacher’s words.
Once when he was asked to contribute to the Lottie Moon Christmas Fund, Osgood erupted into a tirade. “You Baptists are perpetrating a fraud,” he railed. “The woman died in 1912. What use does a dead woman have for money?” When Claude Eustis tried to explain that the use of the funds collected would subsidize missionary work, Osgood sputtered obscenities and stalked out, never to return.
Although several people tried their best to find some redeeming trait that would allow him to join the general society of our small town, they all gave up after their first efforts were rebuffed. Nothing could break through that armor of hate and vitriol that Osgood wore so proudly. And so it went for years. Osgood Feeney was the man who needed nothing nor nobody! He was a walking, talking, living, breathing example of a misanthrope, which, according to the dictionary, is someone who has a “general hatred, dislike, distrust or contempt of the human species, human behavior or human nature.”
Osgood died the other day. Shortly before he shuffled off this mortal coil, he apparently had misgivings about his life. At least, I think he did. He took out an advertisement in our local newspaper offering $1,000 to anyone who attended his funeral. According to Lizzie May Hatchett, the lone reporter who covered this newsworthy event, there were no takers. Zip! Nada! None! Not one!
I am sure Osgood took his black book, his check book, and his attitude with him when he went to stand before the Great Judge in the sky. I’d like to think that Lottie Moon was standing behind the Creator when the final judgement was made, and, after consulting her own little black book, flipped him a nickel and walked away!
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This was a fantastic, quick read. Your character names and descriptions are so characteristic of a small town full of misfits. Somehow, your writing, perhaps the characters names (?) made the story sound a little fantastical. It reminded me of "Big Fish" in these small town, over the top characters. Very fun read!!