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Christian Fiction Inspirational

"The Other Five"

   In southern ladies math, if it is ninety-two degrees with a heat index of one hundred, and your oven is set at four hundred degrees for three hours with two top eyes on simmer, and you are going through "the change", then it is either "hotter than a roasting pig on the fourth of July", or it's "let me roll up my cardigan sleeves, it is a might warm".

    That day was a "pig on the spit" kind of day.

    In the deep South, there are ways to avoid heat stroke, but little chance of uttering the phrase 'lovely weather, feels great outside' between the first of June and end of August. Now, there are traditional survival techniques that we all swear by. A person can take a mason jar of sweet ice tea and set a spell under the old oak with near as many secrets as God. The family can make a day at the beach provided you have SPF fifty or higher. Or, if you are my age, you know the best kept secret cooling spot is the dairy section of the grocery store. You have to eat, right? 

   Well, unfortunately, my kitchen is located in a mid century bungalow surrounded by concrete sidewalks and black top roads...not in the grocery store. I was surviving. Just surviving.

     Feeling about as wilted as the mustard greens steaming in the pot, I wiped a cool,wet, rag across the nape of my neck and across my brows. If not for the fan stirring about the almost stagnant air and the incessant, promising hum of the window unit air conditioning, I am not sure I would have survived.

    I slid my Mama's iron skillet, filled with crackling cornbread batter, into the hot oven. With grim satisfaction, I surveyed my kitchen.

    A thin layer of flour coated just about every surface including my own body. In random places, the flour hung in the humidity forming what could only be described as a rue. I laughed, thinking if a rain storm swept through my kitchen in that heat, I would be drowning in saw mill gravy.

   I quickly hid the rolling pin in the flour bin, lest someone "accidentally" decides to wash it. Some folks just don't know any better. Bless their hearts.

   While the scrap raw pie she'll dough was wrapped in cling film and put away long before the pies we're done, the pies themselves we're doing their best to 'cool' off on the north facing window seal.  

   The delicious, saucy meatloaf was resting under tented foil on a back eye of the stove. Homemade cream potatoes folded with extra butter and a dollop of sour cream were kept company in the warmer drawer by roasted sweet corn, and glazed baby carrots.

   If there were any left overs, I would usually make shepherds pie the following day.

   Cooking for a crowd was as familiar to me as the sight of my palms to my own eyes.

   I washed up all the dishes by calloused hand, as usual and stacked them in the drying rack on the counter, leaving just enough time to set the table. I would sweep a third, and final, time and run a mop across the floor right before bed.

   I laid the table with our best china because, well, why have it and not use it.

    The tried and true aroma of baked cornbread permeated my nostrils, declaring, finally, dinner was done. I heaved the heavy skillet from the oven to set on the counter so it could cool and pull away from the sides. Every other dish was arranged carefully on the table along with the proper service utensils. I turned out and sliced the cornbread and placing it on the table I sat.

   As had been done every day for ten years, I waited until five thirty-five and then lowered my head and said grace.

   I then stood and divided every last morsel of food on to the plates, extra helpings on each. The plates were covered in foil and carefully arranged on the cart by the front door. The cooler with the sweet iced tea, and the caddy with linen napkins and eating utensils completed the cart.

   Trudging down the sidewalk pushing the now burdensome cart, I wondered aloud if I would ever learn to cook for one. Would my family ever be home for dinner? They would not be, of course. It was moot. They could come home for dinner. The Lord took them all home exactly ten years before.

    It was dinner time when I got the call. They were only five minutes late. I had made a meatloaf, cream potatoes, greens, corn, glazed carrots,corn bread, and apple pie. Enough for all five of us.

   As I rounded the last corner onto Beaumont Street, I spied the familiar faces. Three of the five turned their thin, pale, but smiling faces up at me. The other two wore no pretense of smiles as they wiped away tears with tattered sleeves.

   I sat on the bench and handed the children their plates and drinks. With usual trepidation, Mark and Tilly stepped forward and began to make their case of unworthiness.

  "Now, you listen here," I said. "You've got to eat and stay strong for those youngens."

   "But, Mrs. Walker. I can't...Tilly and I...we just can't. We shouldn't. Why are you so kind to us"?

   "My family is gone. They didn't suffer. Your family is right here, and I intend to see they don't suffer either."

  "Mrs....Mrs. Walker. I killed your family! Me! I should never got behind that wheel after drinking. I'd take it back if I could. I would. I cant, though. I don't know how. I'm so...so very sorry."

   "Hush, child, hush. You didn't know what to do when Tilly went into labor. It was a bad accident is all. You didn't kill my family. The Lord just wanted to take em home. Now, you and Tilly eat. I know it's hard finding work with a record showing the Manslaughter. You haven't drank since, and you are trying. That is good enough for me."

   With reluctant gratitude, Mark and Tilly took their plates and started to walk to the opposite bench when Mark paused.

    "Aren't you having any Mrs. Walker?"

    "No child. You know how I hate meatloaf dinners. Y'all go ahead and eat."

    He knew I hated those dinners. I had turned them down and declared as much the last seven years...ever since Mark finished serving his time.

   I turned to face the memorial, placed there at the scene of the accident to honor my family.  

    As I was reading the all too familiar inscription I had written all those years ago, I heard a tiny voice behind me.

   "Daddy. Is that woman a angel?"

   "Yes, son. She is. She truly is". 

June 26, 2021 20:47

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Bonnie Clarkson
21:26 Jul 05, 2021

I keep finding stories about loving your enemies and certainly this is one.

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Cass Marie
19:17 Jul 06, 2021

Ty Bonnie Clarkson. I had not set out in that direction. I was headed more toward forgiveness and it's value to squelch a continuation of familial bad habits. I believe I wound around to exactly what you've taken from "The Other Five". Thanks again. CassMarie

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