Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

Clouds in My Heart

 

 

 

The Mosley family was of the sort peculiar to many rural communities: at the grocery or after church services, neighbor women wagged their heads and tongues at their manners, speech, and clothes; weather-beaten men in faded overalls cursed their idleness, pointed fingers when tools or livestock went missing; and in tight clusters, young boys belly-laughed at cruel jokes, but alone, scampered to the far side of the road while passing the Mosley’s tumble-down house, the hair rising off the napes of their necks. So it stood to reason Cora Wright was none too pleased when LaMar Mosley began courting her daughter Etta. His daddy Emmett, a big, draggy-talking fellow, sharecropped a fair piece of farmland, but most often preferred whiskey and hunting to working the soil. Folks used to see his woman out in sun-blasted fields plowing, dress rolled to her knees, keeping her young ones alive on little more than cornmeal and sorghum syrup. They said when the family had meat, Emmett ate his fill and the rest scuffled over the scraps. A quiet-lifed woman, LaMar’s mama never complained. She died of the dropsy around LaMar’s twelfth birthday, passing her last weeks in their porch rocker, feet and legs swollen up so big they shone.

If asked, Etta could name the day she fell in love with LaMar Mosely: April third, 1909—a spring morning long before her mama’s worries began. Although the Mosleys’ rough ways had frightened her as a child, curiosity about a newly mama-less boy her own age had distracted her mind for weeks on end,  her restlessness finally driving her to a thicket of gallberry and loblolly pines alongside the Mosleys’ acres. From her hiding place, she’d spied on this tall, thin boy who’d somehow bewitched her so. In threadbare overalls, LaMar had sat resting aside a freshly turned field, the air fizzing with insects and smelling of damp humus. A nearby mule twitched its ears and withers, a plow lay askew in the rows. As Etta studied him, a strangeness settled over the boy. He rocked himself for a time before stretching out in the weeds. His eyes, open but unseeing, blinked and then teared up. Sniffles came from his nose, soft murmurings from his lips. Etta leaned forward, but the breeze plucked away his faint offerings. Yet she sensed the voice running inside the boy’s head, could almost name his thoughts, understood how much he grieved over his mama. Overcome by his suffering, Etta yearned to reach out, enfold him in her arms.

But her mood shattered at the sight of Emmett Mosley stomping across the furrows in his greasy frock coat and toe-sprung boots, his hands balled into hard, black fists. Too frightened to call out, Etta dropped to her knees, hands drawn to her mouth.

“God-damned mama’s boy!” Emmett shouted, catching his son unawares. “I’ll teach you to be laying down.”

LaMar leapt to his feet.

Emmett yanked his leather belt from his trousers and staggered forward, lashing out at his son’s head and shoulders.

The youngster gave little ground. His arms crooked in front of his face, he took his whipping without a sound—enraging his drunken daddy even more.

The beating stopped only when a neighbor man, a white fellow called Batch, happened by and hollered out, “Emmett, I see that again, I’ll put the Sheriff on you. He’s your boy, but there laws against what you doing.”

Emmett humble-talked him—he was good for that—Batch nodded, kicked his horse, and rode on.

Etta never did figure how in that next moment she stood apart from her cover of evergreen and bramble, the sun warm against her skin.

LaMar, tracking his daddy’s gaze, wheeled round. At the sight of Etta, his flared nostrils and defiant sneer collapsed. He swallowed hard; his chin dipped and his glance fell away.

Etta smiled meekly, waiting… uncertain what for, maybe hoping for the boy to do the same.

Emmett snorted, took out his fixings and rolled a cigarette.

LaMar wiped his bloodied nose with the back of his hand and spat. He lifted his head; his expression fierce, he snapped “What you looking at?”

Etta stood stock still, her mind a dry well, lips trembling as she fingered the folds of her dress.

LaMar stumbled forward, snatched up a rock, and hurled it at her. “Git!” he screamed.

Etta whirled about, and like a startled hare, scampered across fields and creeks, roads and hillocks, all the while something pleasant yet unnamable, like lantern light, aglow inside her. She didn’t slow down until she reached the hardpan surrounding her family home, breathless—knowing her life had changed forever.

 

*     *     *

Years later, Etta and her mama sat on the porch of Miss Emery’s grocery. Etta sipped a Co-cola and her mama rolled her jaws over a fried bologna sandwich. Not yet ten in the morning, the heat was already a visible thing, like a giant hand scrunching down atop the air till it blurred. The road out front, hard-baked and treeless, wouldn’t collect enough air for a breeze till dusk. Etta’s mama fanned herself with a scrap of cardboard. “Can’t hardly stroll cross the road in the country and buy yourself a cool drink.”

Etta tipped back her head, drained the bottle of its brown liquid, set her empty on the window sill. “That baloney good as it looks?”

For weeks they’d swapped reasons why town life trumped country living. “Not so lonesome.” “Pump water, not well.” “Not so many chores.” Both women would fall silent, in their hearts wishing to be back outside Greenville working their acres and living close to the land.

“Yeah,” Cora said, and shook her head in remembering, “It just don’t do.”

Not a month before, LaMar had burst in the front door after several-day’s absence and announced, “We’s moving. Start packing up. Now.” He claimed he’d have better job prospects in town and that the children could get some schooling. So far, Etta alone had work, and irregular at that. But expectant women still sought out Cora’s mid-wifing skills, so they got by. LaMar, it seemed, was merely nearer now to his enjoyments. He ate at home more often, but Etta noted little other change. A few nights back, she’d mentioned putting the children in school, and he’d narrowed his dark eyes. “Nigger get too much schooling, then he’s wanting things he can’t have.”

Before stopping that morning at Miss Emery’s, Etta and her mama had marched Sam, Ben, and Jewell down to the colored school and enrolled them.

Etta picked up her tote sack, the weight of the tinned goods and flour a comfort—a few pieces of penny-candy thrown in for the children. She rubbed the back of her neck, unsure if LaMar’s added presence at home was a blessing or a curse. Early in their marriage, LaMar had proven himself a different sort from his daddy: not only polite and affable, he’d also gained a reputation as a man willing to take on the most backbreaking of tasks.

But then the Great War had come. Many blacks reckoned that the way they’d been wronged, their government had no right asking them to sign up. LaMar sided with those that calculated joining up would earn better treatment.

He figured wrong.

Nothing raised the hackles on a cracker quicker than the sight of a black man in uniform. It rubbed up against the order of things. LaMar survived the Kaiser’s Army, but when he stepped down from a troop train in Memphis in early 1920, shoulders thrown back beneath brown khaki, buttons shining, ribbons on his chest, it didn’t take but a minute before some redneck boys spat on him, called him “nigger” and worse. And right away, folks noticed he’d come back different, that something gnawed away inside him. He refused to speak of the war, but Etta  let on to others that he experienced terrible nightmares, waking in a sweat, oft times shouting out the name “Hamp!”

 

All he’d tell Etta was that Hamp had come from Macon and died in the fighting.  Soon thereafter, LaMar got to sleeping late and doing less and less field work. Not long after, he took to whiskey and dice playing. And when talk spread of LaMar and other women, Etta didn’t shy her mouth. “You running with them tramps down by the river.” It wasn’t a question. LaMar, silent, studied on his shoes, sighed, and then backhanded her. “Mind your mouth.” He’d never before put an angry hand to her.

 

Etta wasn’t one of those women that used to brag on her man not beating her, but nonetheless took satisfaction in it. The couple’s next years were troubled ones, LaMar even taking to spending a good part of his days drinking with his daddy. They said it pleased the old man to hell. Folks found it hard to fathom how a whipped dog could drag its sorry rear end back to its master, but that was pretty much the size of it. And so, over the years, an unease had crept into Etta, a heaviness settling inside her chest, sometimes creeping downward, making her nauseous. She knew it wasn’t a sickness or anything that needed doctoring, but more akin to what she’d once felt as a little girl lost in the woods. She’d understood the way home yet couldn’t find it, the familiar markings mixed up, not where they had to be.

*     *     *

LaMar came home that evening for supper. At the cook stove, Etta prepared hot biscuits and gravy, delighting in the childrens’ recounting of their first day at school. But a tension always stole in alongside LaMar, and even when a big grin broke across his face, the children knew to hush. It was a quiet house, but not a peaceful one. LaMar strolled over and kissed Etta on the cheek, nuzzled her ear and neck. Tingles shot up and down her body, her knees weakened. LaMar stepped back. “Where’s the old girl at?”

Her hands covered in flour, Etta pushed her hair back with her wrist. “Mama’s out on a call.”

“Well, you be sure to tell her that her son-in-law contributing round here.” LaMar took a roll of money from his pocket—lighting up the children’s eyes. With a flourish he peeled off one five-dollar bill after another, placing each onto Etta’s whitened palm. “That’s forty dollars, woman,” he announced with a wolfish grin. “You buy yourself something nice.” LaMar stashed the still considerable roll back inside a pocket, and from another drew out a small sack. He tossed it to Sam. “That’s for the two of you.” He turned to his daughter. “Jewell, come here to Daddy.”

 

Jewell rose from her chair, expectant yet wary. LaMar bent over and kissed the crown of her head, and at the same moment produced a doll. Not a straw and sackcloth thing, but a store-bought doll.

“Her name’s Belindy. Look after her.”

Jewell hugged Belindy with one arm, her daddy’s waist with the other.

LaMar swaggered over to the kitchen area, closed in on Etta, who carried a tray of steaming biscuits in her towel-draped hands. He grabbed her from behind, reached around and kneaded her breasts, grinding his hips into her backside with a groan.

A little yelp of pleasure escaped from Etta; the tray tottered but didn’t fall.

The children giggled.

LaMar wheeled around. “You boys take them marbles outside, set up a game. I’ll be out soon to lick the both of you. And, Jewell.” LaMar winked at his daughter. “You and Belindy go with ’em, make sure they stay clear of trouble.”

That night the family ate their supper reheated. LaMar slipped out the back door around ten o’clock.

*     *     *

Etta awoke with a start, sat bolt upright, gasping as if she’d surfaced from fifty feet of black water.

Pounding rattled the front door again.

“Etta, you awake?” a man’s voice called from the street. “You best get out here.”

The riffle of voices and the footfalls of cooks, maids, and chauffeurs tramping to the white side of town told Etta it was six o’clock. She yanked back the sheet, threw a shawl across her shoulders, and navigated the faint light to the front door.

Etta undid the door latch and peered out. Before her stood Lester Simons, a neighbor. He nodded, removed his hat and held it against a leg; Etta tracked his nervous eyes as the door yawned open wider.

LaMar lay propped against the front wall of the house, his bare feet dangling over the edge of the porch. Head slumped onto his chest, his ragged snores spluttered against the morning calm. His shoes and jacket gone, trouser pockets turned out, Etta gasped, her right hand fluttering up to cover her mouth: LaMar’s face was bloody and swollen, his right arm oddly angled across his lap, surely broken.

“Seen him here on my way to work.”

“Thank you, Lester,” Cora called from behind her daughter. Etta held onto the doorframe, squeezed her eyes shut, something inside her losing purchase, tumbling. Cora shouldered past, muttering, “Let’s get him inside.”

*     *     *

By noon the following day Etta had answers. She burst through the front door of their home, the room smelling of bacon fat and soured milk. She glared at LaMar lounged across the daybed like a sultan. “A chair!” she shouted, a hysteria in her voice she didn’t recognize. “You fought over a damned chair?”

LaMar swung his feet onto the floor, winced in pain; one arm in a sling, he rubbed the hollow of his cheeks with his good hand and muttered, “Man disrespected me.” He jutted his chin forward. “Wasn’t no fair fight, neither. Bartender done this to me with a club,” he said, raising his broken arm like a hinge.

“After you pulled a straight razor.”

LaMar chuckled, ever finding humor where others found despair. “Fool tried to steal my chair. Simple as that, woman. Bartender got no business getting involved.”

“Why, LaMar?”

LaMar held up a staying hand.

Etta hesitated out of habitual caution, and then plunged ahead. “LaMar, tell me. I need to know what happened… what the war did to you.”

LaMar’s shoulders went taut; he turned aside.

Etta expected hammers, but LaMar’s voice came out a hoarse whisper. “I don’tknow, baby.” He opened his mouth and closed it, shook his head. “It’s, sometimes… I just get this need to mess somebody up. Put a hurt to them.”

Something quivered inside Etta—leaving her breathless—a feeling of intense nostalgia for what they’d once had. The two of them regarded each other in silence till LaMar’s gaze slid off hers.

“Tell me about Hamp.”

LaMar stood, shuffled to the kitchen sink. His left hand fumbled with the pump handle; he dampened a bandana, dabbed the back of his neck with the balled-up cloth. He turned, his jaw muscles working. “No, woman, you do not wanna know about Hamp.”

“LaMar, I do. Please.”

Milky-eyed, his face lumpy and scabbed from the beating, LaMar bowed his head, looking vulnerable in a way that even the heavy freight of his daddy or the war had never revealed. He dug the heel of his good hand into an eye, shrugged, murmured, “What’d you wanna know?”

Etta let out a shuddered breath. “Everything.”

LaMar let go a burst of mirthless laughter. “All of it?” He crossed his good arm over his bad and leaned against the sink. Etta watched a strange conversation running through her husband’s head, as if he were sizing up the cost of something before deciding on its purchase. He tipped his chin a notch off level, cleared his throat. “Me and Hamp met in basic… Camp Logan. We got into it that first week, fighting like a couple hellcats.” LaMar shook his head in the remembering. “After that, we were tighter than brothers.”

Etta strained to hear his soft-spoken words.

LaMar paused, took a deep breath. “Money, cards, whiskey, women. Hamp knew it all. In France, spite the mud, blood, the dying… like magic, that boy conjured up bottles of wine and bars of chocolate.” LaMar smiled bitterly, stood silent for a time—his mind more there than here, thought Etta.

“Was our last days,” he continued, his voice gone brittle. “Ankle deep in them filthy trenches. Night guard duty. Me and Hamp making plans for the future.” LeMar swallowed hard. “Sharing a smoke… against orders.” His gaze locked on Etta’s for an instant before stealing away. “We was just horsing around, that’s all. Hamp snatched the cigarette from me and drew on the last bit, laughing and grinning.”

LaMar’s eyes went skittish, his face tightened and turned away, not before showing something unseen by Etta since that whipping years ago: shame.

“Can’t loosen it from my mind,” he continued, “Hamp’s last look, his last laugh.” LaMar pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes rimmed with tears. “He wasn’t but nineteen years old. Sniper zeroed in on that cigarette in the dark, and Hamp’s head exploded like a rotted melon against a fence post. Blood, hair, bone… all over me.” LaMar let go a sigh. “My onliest thought was to run, get away… glad it wasn’t me.” LaMar shut down, turned his back, and gripped the rim of the sink.

*     *     *

LaMar never spoke of Hamp again; Etta didn’t ask. Over the next three months, she tended to him, her forty dollars and more spent on doctoring and dentistry bills. It was an uneasy, often unhappy household, LaMar at times like a coiled viper. Unable to do the simplest of tasks, his frustration boiled over into sudden blows against doors, table tops, walls.

Only Sam fell in good with his daddy. And as LaMar mended, he took the boy with him on walks along the waterfront and downtown, schooling him on life. LaMar soon had Sam delivering messages, picking up packages. And before long, he and the boy were dropping in on old Emmett.

“Etta, that boy changing right before your eyes,” Cora warned.

Etta let go a long breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding, repeated the excuse she told herself over and over. “LaMar’s his daddy.”

Cora raised her brow. “You need to tell him plain and simple you don’t like the manner he influencing your son. If not,” she added, shaking her head, “that Mosley blood gonna win out.”

Etta closed her eyes. Right now her life frightened her. With LaMar’s steady presence at home she had won something, but at the same time she had lost something else, perhaps much more important. She wiped her eyes with her apron, nodded at her mama.

“I’ll take the childrens to see your Uncle Earle this afternoon. Leave you to talk with LaMar.”

*     *     *

“Where the youngins at?” LaMar called through the screen door.

“Come set with me, LaMar. Out front.”

The wire mesh door swung open. “I got something for ’em.”

Etta dropped her knitting onto her lap, one hand resting on a needle. She squared her shoulders. “LaMar, I gonna get right to it. You need to let Sam be. He’s just a boy.”

LaMar snorted, narrowed his eyes. “Your mama put you to this?”

“Don’t need my mama to—”

“Sam gonna be having man thoughts soon. Man feelings. Best you women keep out of what you don’t know.”

“LaMar, the boy’s but ten years old!”

LaMar jerked his head around. “Where’s the old witch at anyhow?”

Etta cast her glance downward, muttered, “LaMar, don’t try and be something you ain’t never been.”

LaMar cocked his head off center. “What are you saying?”

“I think you know.”

Hands jammed inside his coat pockets, LaMar gazed out on the neighborhood before stepping in front of Etta. “No. Tell me.”

Etta looked up, her eyes gleaming, but as hard as nuggets. “Don’t try being the father you never was before.”

LaMar’s chest heaved; his expression wavered between pain and hatred. He turned away, kicked a ladder-back chair off the porch, struck the two-by-four railing with his open hand, and wheeled back round on Etta. “You saying I ain’t no good for my boy? I can’t learn him nothing? I ain’t a man?”

Etta drew a deep breath. “I’m saying, LaMar, that the boy don’t need growing up so hurried.”

“That woman done poisoned your mind against me.”

“This got nothing to do with Mama.”

LaMar stared out onto the street, at the unpainted homes, tarpaper roofs, shirtless boys playing with sticks and rags. A skeletal dog limped past, sniffing for scraps. A woman’s stark voice called her children home. Finally, LaMar spoke, his tone even, as if commenting on the weather. “Either she go or I do.”

The words lay tangled between them like barbwire. With all her heart, Etta wanted LaMar to stay. Needed the man he was before, the daddy he could be. He was a part of her, allowing him to walk away would be like losing a limb. Bile edged up her throat; she understood the pain of loss already. Etta shook her head, muttered, “Mama ain’t going nowhere.”

LaMar turned and marched into the house. A minute later he was outside, the screen door slapping shut behind him, his grip bag in hand. Etta’s regard followed LaMar’s rapid tracks down the dirt road, and when he was no longer in sight, she leaned over her knitting and wept.

*     *     *

Through the fall Etta picked cotton from can’t see in the morning till can’t see at night, making little more than a dollar a day. The work was hard but steady. She kept the children in school, not allowing them to help in the fields as most families did at harvest time. Cora continued her mid-wifing, and they held together. Folks said LaMar was living with his daddy, drinking too much, gambling, and getting into scrapes. Under merciless blue skies, Etta plucked cotton from bolls and filled her sack, brooding over LaMar, her wrists scratched and torn from the dried pods. Nights, as the weather cooled, she missed his warmth in the bed beside her. Late that fall, rains fell that even those born in slavery times couldn’t recall the equal of. With little work available and time on her hands, Etta set about recasting LaMar in her mind, reinterpreting his faults, resurrecting his virtues. At Christmas, she hoped to hear from him, but he never did call in on them. The rains stayed. And by mid-January, ignoring an inner voice of warning, she decided she wanted LaMar back in her life, even if it meant sending her mama away.

*     *     *

Etta tramped across Greenville and into the woods where old Emmett Mosley had found himself an abandoned cabin. Too lazy for work so he might rent something, he was like those crabs that use another’s cast off shell to live in. Slouched astride a cut of wood on the broken down porch, old Emmett poked his head up from his shoulders, puzzling over the woman drawing nearer—busting a face-splitting grin when he recognized Etta. One jaw fat with tobacco, a roughish glint in his eye, he spat over the rail and laughed. “Always told folks my boy married the prettiest gal in Greenville.” He ran his gaze up and down his daughter-in-law.

Thin as a hoe handle, white-whiskered, fingernails cracked and yellow, he wore suspenders over a filthy undershirt. Etta shuddered. Aside from the obvious filth, there was something about the man no amount of lye soap could wash away. At the same time she recalled him easy to underestimate. His country manner and laziness concealed both shrewdness and malice.

A bluetick hound roused itself from beneath the porch. Rack-sided and mangy, it worried something between its jaws, gave a hoarse, explosive cough, and trotted off. LaMar stepped into the doorway, leaned against the frame without even a nod, and commenced to paring his nails with a penknife.

Etta cleared her throat, unsure she could trust her voice not to break. “LaMar, I’m here to ask you back home.”

This tickled old Emmett so that he cackled like a brood hen. His body quivering with laughter, he reached down and palmed a canning jar filled with clear liquid.

Etta cut her eyes to the old man and back at LaMar. “The children miss you, LaMar. And Mama’s willing to go.”

Old Emmett drew the jar from his lips, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and loosened a snort of laughter. “Don’t mean get in the middle of you lovebirds, but Etta, I don’t hear nothing about you wanting my boy back.”

Etta breathed in the musk of her own sweat, imagined the marriage counsel the old man had passed on to his son.

LaMar folded the knife and slipped it into his pocket. He slunk forward to the edge of the porch, sunlight slicing across his torso. “Daddy’s right,” he said, his voice scratchy and raw. “Didn’t say nothing about your feelings.”

Etta looked down, a spark of rage rising inside her. Didn’t the fool see she was offering him another chance, not the other way around? She stayed her anger, chose her words with care. “LaMar, I missed you, too. Wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t true. Let’s see if we can be family again.”

Slope-shouldered, hands jammed inside his trouser pockets, LaMar studied on something at his feet. “Your mama gonna be gone?” He glanced up.

Etta gave the barest of nods.

Old Emmett gave off a raw laugh from the back of his throat, spat. “Your mama and me go way back. That old gal crazier than a shit-house rat.”

LaMar remained silent, his quietude more painful to Etta than any words the old man had to say. She ignored his daddy, fixed her gaze on LaMar.

“I got one more condition,” LaMar said. He drew a hand from his pocket and jerked his thumb towards old Emmett. “Daddy getting on in years. He can move in to your mama’s room. The children been running wild with no man around. Daddy can help.”

A gust of sour air blew across Etta’s face. She felt light-headed, something like madness stealing over her. What was he saying? The man who’d beaten on LaMar till he couldn’t cry no more, under the same roof as their children? She wanted to shake LaMar by the neck, suddenly bearing him nothing but contempt. “LaMar,” she said, snarling through bared teeth, “I hope you smarter when you playing dice or cards.” She heard tears in her voice, but her eyes were dry. “Cause you just made one bad bet.”  She spun around and marched away.

“Woman, you get back here.”

“She be coming, son. I know womens.”

*     *     *

Etta didn’t go back. And some weeks later on a rainy Sunday night, LaMar appeared at the door, grip bag in hand.

He made no conditions, Etta about to cede him none.

LaMar stayed, even found part-time work. He and Cora spoke little, but moved about the small house without getting much into one another’s way. LaMar took the boys fishing, played checkers and marbles, but, for the most part, let them be. Jewell he treated with small gifts of licorice and hard candies. Yet, despite LaMar’s trying, it all seemed affected, self-conscious—even their love-making. But Etta was patient.

On a cold and wet evening in late winter Cora took to her bed early, claiming tiredness and loss of appetite. The following morning Etta found her mama curled up on her shuck mattress, her features slack, her body cold.

The lone mirror in the house turned to the wall, neighbor women washed and laid Cora out on the cooling board for viewing, nickels weighing down her eyelids. She was popular for herself and her mid-wifing. The house overflowed with mourners.

The morning after the funeral, Etta awoke early, LaMar’s side of the bed empty. Grateful to be alone after her previous day’s duties, she lay in darkness thinking of her mama, of their last days together. Never had Etta supposed her house could hold so much emptiness, so much grief. She wiped away a tear with a knuckle. Life would go on despite the void at its center. And that hole, she knew with certainty, would diminish with time, her children—and maybe LaMar—helping to pull the edges back together.

A thump jarred Etta from her sleepy reverie; the sound, whether inside or outside the house, she couldn’t tell. She dragged back the covers and tip-toed through blackness into the front room, the floorboards cold to her bare feet. Startled by dim light behind her mama’s door, Etta shivered. Not a believer in haints or spirits, nonetheless, she knew the stories. How the departed wandered for days after burial, visiting beloved places and family members, haunting those in disfavor. Etta smiled, guessing that LaMar had heard noises and fled the house. The fire in the cook stove burned-down, the room was cold. She clutched her nightgown at the throat and padded across the floor. Greeted by the acrid smell of burning lamp oil, Etta leaned around the narrow gap between her mama’s door and frame, peeked inside. Bent over her mama’s bed, LaMar had the top off the rosewood box in which Cora had kept her few valuables. His quick hands pawed through the contents, casting items aside, fitting others into his pockets.

“You planning on saying one of the mourners stole them things.”

LaMar flinched, straightened, but did not turn around. Cora’s single piece of jewelry, a silver chain, dropped from his fingertips onto the bed. Soft light fluttered from the burning wick, LaMar’s shadow jumpy across the bedroom wall. His shoulders rose and fell, and he turned, a big smile cutting across his face. “You caught me, baby,” he said, palms up in a gesture of surrender. “I was gonna trade some of these old things for cash. You know, surprise you and the children. Buy some presents. Make ya’ll feel better.”

A knot of grief tightened in Etta’s stomach as she regarded LaMar, his pockets filled with her mama’s belongings. And in the dim light and shadow Etta saw her husband’s face twenty, thirty years ahead. It was old Emmett’s. The flaming wick flickered smaller; its yellow glow shuddered and burned out, leaving Etta and LaMar alone in darkness.

 

 

 

 

Born in Oakland, California, E. K. Allaire has lived in Mexico, New Zealand, & Ireland, working along the way as a laborer, fruit-picker, handyman, teacher, & translator. He now lives outside Barcelona with his wife and two sons. His short stories have been published in Passages North, The MacGuffin, Big Muddy, as well as selected as a finalist in the Third Coast Fiction Contest. He enjoys reading & family, blues & Giants baseball.