I rolled over to see Jessie’s empty crib. Startled, I jumped up and looked down to find that I was dressed in the same clothes as yesterday except for no shoes.
Mark growled quietly from the hallway. “Cal, your mouth is getting ahead of your brain again. You want to watch that, it could prove dangerous.”
Calvin laughed a distinctly male laugh. “Yeah, right. You just wanted to get in your time before others took a shot at her. You saw as well as I did all the men eyeing her. Seems there aren’t too many young, single females out and about right now that are very useful and Del’s skills make her a hot commodity. Bonus points if you realize she cleans up pretty good and she was smokin’ yesterday in that black dress. You better move quick because if I get a chance to get up in her space she’ll forget all about you.”
That … was … it. I came out of the room disheveled and with some bad bed head. I must have looked like a Harpy on steroids. Mark had Calvin by the throat but there was no way that I was going to let Mark fight this battle for me. Both men turned and I could see Mark’s eyes bug out and his mouth go “Uh oh” but I wasn’t in the mood for any comic relief. “Dippy Del” was back in town and she was By God in the mood for a fight.
I looked at the little cockroach and snarled, “You even think about getting up in my space and I’ll turn you from a rooster to a hen so fast it’ll make your head spin and then I’ll keep cutting. You got thatboy?! The only reason … and I mean the ONLY reason I don’t drop you right here and right now is because I happen to like your parents and your sister but I can gauran – dang – tee you that if you come anywhere near me … I’ll ….” I’d backed both men into the kitchen and then my hand brushed my cast iron griddle.
Mark hustled a rather white and shaken Calvin towards the door, “Out. Now. Don’t come back. Not for a long, long time … next winter might just give her time to cool off but I wouldn’t count on it.”
I looked at Mark and he at me. He’d taken away the target for my anger and I was debating whether he deserved any of it because I was ready to flame something or someone. Then I heard what sounded like a couple of braying mule out on the front porch. I thought Calvin was back and I wrenched it open ready to swing only to find Rudy, Sam, and Micah in tears practically rolling off the porch they were laughing so hard.
“Dellie girl … you don’t know … you just don’t know … how much … much I needed that. Oh … my … Lord. Hy is probably placing bets with the archangels to see how long Calvin has to live. Wait ‘til I tell John … he will bust a gut. That son of his has been begging for a good ol’ fashion backin’ up for way too long …” Hee haw, hee haw.
I slammed the door in their faces and marched back inside into my room … my proper room … and then slammed that door. Men. Every stinking one of them was poison to me at that moment. Tears started streaming down my face again and when Mark pecked at the door wanting to come in I warned against it by throwing a book at it hard enough to rattle the whole door frame.
I could hear Micah moving around in the house, frankly could hear lots of noises though they tried to be quiet, I just was sunk in a black tearful mood as I lay curled up in my dark bedroom. When lunch time came Micah, Mark, and even Rudy tried to get me to eat but I told them in loud and colorful terms exactly what I thought of that idea, them, and any idea they might have as to my well-being and then warned them to leave me alone or suffer the consequences. They were smart enough to leave me alone after that.
I was angry at every Chauvinist male pig on the planet; Calvin in particular and Mark by association. I felt betrayed by my own brother and Sam and Rudy just because they had been helping him along. I wouldn’t have spit on a man at that point had he been the last one on earth and on fire. … And my father … I was angry at my father too which even in my condition I knew was illogical which only made me feel meaner and more angry … for leaving me with this mess to deal with … for just leaving me period right when I could have used his guidance and encouragement … and his protection … his experience … his knowledge. I railed against how unfair it all was and then would kick myself for feeling so cruel … and then go right back to being angry all over again.
Eventually I fell asleep to get away from my anger and misery. I don’t know how long I’d been asleep but I swear I was so discombobulated that I somehow imagined that it was Momma trying to get me to wake up and eat. But then I heard the undulcet tones of Aunt Esther. “Girl, you either wake up or you aren’t going to like the consequences.” Apparently she’d been trying to get my attention for some time.
“Aunt Esther?” I mumbled.
“And who else would it be? You’ve got everyone else too cowed and intimidated. Not that I don’t admire your ability to do so.”
I looked at my aunt like she had something hanging loose upstairs and she surprised me by laughing. Then she sighed, “My word I miss your mother. She was so sweet it always made me want to go to the dentist but she always seemed to know what to say at times like this … I still miss her. You look so much like her.” She brushed a ratty lock of hair off my face and it took everything I had not to flinch in surprise. Then another smile that just about turned into a laugh. “But if you aren’t a duplicate of Hy I don’t know what would be. Now, get up and get dressed. You look like you’ve been sleeping with the dogs.”
Try as I might I could not hold back a growl. “Aunt Esther …”
“Use that tone with me again girl and you might just find out that just because I’m an old dog it doesn’t mean that I forgot my dentures. Now you listen to me and I want you to hear me good. You are indeed just like your father … and shame on all of us for letting him wallow in his grief after your mother passed away. I was too wrapped up in proving I hadn’t been hurt, your Granddaddy was looking for someone to blame, and Clement was just plain useless. Well … not this time. You’re not dead and I’m not letting you crawl off into your misery like your daddy did. Now, I want you up right now or I’ll have Mark come in here and help me.”
That got me moving. “Aunt Esther, I don’t know what Calvin said …”
“That Calvin thinks with what’s in his jeans more than what the Good Lord gave him upstairs.”
“Don’t Aunt Esther me girl. I may be adding years to my age on a daily basis but I am not senile. Calvin is the last kind of boy you’d have anything to do with and I know good and well you’d probably rock Mark so hard he’d be a long time getting up for trying anything either. From what Rudy said they both barely escaped with their lives … especially that Calvin. In my opinion you may have been too kind to him. Boy has no more commonsense than a drunken June bug.
Well needless to say sometimes it is the surprises in life that move you along faster than the kindnesses. I got up with a sigh and looked around for my brushes and clothes then remembered with a grimace I would have to go to Daddy’s room to get them.
“Everything is there in that box,” she said pointing to a crate on the end of my bed. “You’ve got five minutes to make yourself presentable and then I want you to come out to the kitchen and have a bite to eat. We’ll talk more then.
I watched her go and was tempted to crawl back in my bed and pull the covers over my head. Problem was that I knew my aunt. Problem was, I secretly admitted to myself, it looked like I had a streak of Porter in me after all; it just wasn’t Momma’s flavor, it was Aunt Esther’s.
It took a minute longer than the five she’d given me to get my hair in order. Several times I considered chopping it all off but vanity saved the strands despite my lack of patience with them. I stumbled into the kitchen to find it empty of everyone but Aunt Esther.
“I was about to come get you.”
“My hair,” was my reply and apparently explanation enough.
“Let’s sit down and have some of this soup Aunt Lilah fixed. The cornbread has gone stale but the soup will fix that.”
I ate just to avoid a fight. I didn’t really taste anything but at least the warmth seemed to loosen my joints up a bit.
“Good, you’re getting some color back at least. Del, I’m going to tell you something and I don’t want you to bite my head off for it. Hy did a wonderful job of raising you and Micah in most things but there are a few that could have been approved upon and one of those things is how you cope with loss.”
I reared up ready for a fight.
Forestalling a major explosion Aunt Esther held up her hand to stop me. “Listen to me Del, I’m not saying anything against Hy but you need to acknowledge that he didn’t handle your mother’s loss well and he allowed it to leave such a hole in his life that a big part of him might as well have crawled in the grave with her. The only thing that kept him from following her as quick as he could was you two kids. We wondered for a time if even that would keep him earth bound.”
I sighed, “What’s your point Aunt Esther because I really … I don’t know if I’m up for dredging up the past right now.”
“We aren’t dredging up the past girl, we are trying to ensure that you have a future you’d be pleased enough to live.”
I was still trying to figure that one out when she kept going. “What good did Hy do your momma by wallowing in his grief and locking up his heart the way he did?”
“Excuse me! Daddy loved Micah and I a lot and told us all the time.”
“Sure he did, but you two are the only two people that got any of the love he was capable of. Now I’m not one to talk, felt like curling up and dying after your grandmother and your uncle died, and in the beginning it was only my responsibilities that kept me on my feet and moving … but after a while I learned to live without them, to do what had to be done without their help. I still miss them, but I’m not so ready to crawl under my own headstone as I once felt like I was. And, I did learn to … well, give more than I had before then. And I’m still learning girl so you can get that surprised look off your face. I never said I was perfect, but for my own troubles I hope I’ve learned enough to steer you clear of your own.”
I sighed. “Aunt Esther I appreciate what you are trying to do.”
“I hope so because I didn’t climb that hill to make a fool of myself.”
I snorted. “No ma’am. But we just buried Daddy yesterday. I don’t know if I can do what everyone wants me to do yet.”
“Child there is no time limitation on grief. Part of you will grieve for Hy for as long as you draw breath. Even Aunt Lilah grieves in a sense for her father even though he was a mean old @#$%@#$.”
“Don’t look so shocked Del, it isn’t attractive on you at all. We can love people in spite of their failings as well as we can because of them. And while we are on the subject of Aunt Lilah, unless you plan on being a martyr like the Aunts were I would suggest you pick another path to trod. We’ve got plenty of examples in this family that should warn you off wallowing in your emotions too much. Your father, my father, my mother, Aunt Sheba … we can add to the list ten times over. Love ‘em, learn from ‘em, but don’t make the same mistakes they did … that I have myself.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing much less who I was hearing it from.
“Del, Lord willing, you have a long life ahead of you. You certainly have the skills to make it through the coming days. And you’ve potentially got a helpmeet to see you through them as well. Mark is not the reckless young boy he was, the one that got into so much trouble all the time and didn’t have the sense not to poke at bears whether they were caged or not. That recklessness always did set my teeth on edge. But you will lose him if you do not pull yourself together; you’ll freeze him out. He doesn’t strike me as the kind that can withstand that for long. He’s proven himself strong, but he has that boy of his to think about and he’s looking for a future which is what he should be doing. And what you should be doing too. The past is what you learn from and occasionally lean on … not what you live in.”