Here we are at Day 2, almost midstream in 6.66 days of thrilling fiction. This is a more real-world story, perhaps with a touch of magic to it, with what I hope is an unusual set of protagonists. The dialect is a bit tricky; I hope it sounds authentic. I’ve worked on this story for years, and it’s better than it used to be. And yet . . . likely miles to go before I can happily lay my writerly head down to rest. Anyway, you be the judge. Simple revenge/comeuppance story or no? My apologies to Flannery O’Connor for borrowing her terrific title for today’s chilling tale.
Unbeknownst to Pearlie Wisdom, the young man who’d just stomped over to her was fuming. Long hair sprouted from the sides of his cardboard cap.
“My eyes is diabetic. I pay with cash.” As she spoke, Pearlie shifted from side to side in her hard plastic chair. She did not rise.
“That’s down at the mall!” He gestured something with his arms that she couldn’t quite make out.
Young-ins today don’t know when they smack-dab aginst they betters, Pearlie thought.
After a time of just sitting there—ruminatin’ yesterday’s sermon, where Jesus is in dis day’n’age—her purse and rolled-up newspaper patient atop long-skirted lap, another man at the sandwich shop approached Pearlie.
“Hey, um, you seem to need to get somewhere else . . . I, uh, could give you a ride somewhere close if ya wanta.”
His tone of voice, that of a young man with wavering pitch, seemed to smile as he spoke, and this made her relax a little.
“Well, I ’spec I done missed my ’pointment. I need da bus stop on State Street,” Pearlie had twisted in her seat to grasp the cane propped at an angle to her chair. It looked like a dejected question mark.
She knew that, at her age, she could wait with the best of all people, but she also didn’t want to miss the last bus shift of the day.
“Okay, but Ise bein’ waited for.” This time, she lied without compunction. “My girl Jezza gonter be waitin’ at home fo me.”
Once outside, she didn’t see the young man begin to drum fingers at his side as he strode ahead, then stopped and waited. Strode ahead, then stopped.
“You comin’ . . . ma’am?” It impressed her that a white boy had deigned to call her ma’am. She knew the old times were leaving themselves behind for better things, and she was glad it was that way.
The young man’s knuckles were whitening as they gripped the neck of the steering wheel, but Pearlie couldn’t see that.
Her gut, however, sensed what eyes couldn’t. “You is drivin’ too fas,” Pearlie half-pleaded, turning to meet his profile. But his view was forced ahead. He didn’t answer.
Pearlie didn’t know how many minutes had gone by when the primer-grey Mustang errrked to a halt. She had thought of jumping out but figured she had a better chance biding time perched on her leather seat.
“Here’s where you get out,” he said, reaching across her lap to fling open the passenger door.
She complied, though the air didn’t smell right. It had a touch of water to it. Maybe it’s gonter rain, tho my bones doan feels it yet.
Right away, the gravel under her scuffed tennis-shoe-shod feet felt wrong. She clutched at her glasses, time-polished silver and horn-rimmed, and tried to press them into her face as if it were dough and they were serrated biscuit cutters.
About four or five feet ahead, as best as she could make it, was a drop-off.
Thas Old Man River down dere. She could hear gulls screaming. Pulling the sack and cane closer to her chest, she turned back to the young man who was now standing in front of the still-running car.
He hesitated before he spoke. She heard it with her own still-sharp ears.
Then he spat it out like a cud. “You’re goin’ for a swim, bitch.” Pearlie registered him lowering his left shoulder quickly and charging like a bull with an arrow bursting from his pelt.
Pearlie was quicker with her cane than she looked. It had been nothing for her to buttress it between her arm and flank—as she’d done with Henry-Lee’s ill-tempered Rottweiler next door—and take aim.
Whirling, she caught the loping figure deep in the chest, skittering it across the gravel and into a sprawl a few feet away. Pearlie’s balance had not diminished with age, so she folded to absorb the force like a dragon origami shimmering in on its scales and then unfurling to full size.
She heard the young man making deep hunh-huuuunnhhh sounds. He was down, that much was certain. For the first time, she noticed something else. His lower-left leg gleamed with the argent shine of a brace. It shimmered as he struggled upright again.
“I sed I want go whey bus stop is, not whey you ass deserves to be”—she spat, summoning 74½ years of sharecropper, single-momma-going-it-alone, grandmomma-holding-everybody-together rage and channeling it into kick culminating in steel-toed shoes picked up at the Salvation Army shop.
Unabashed, she moved toward the undulating shape now trying to slink away on its belly. She thought she heard a “pleazz, no” leak out of it.
She kicked again, downward into its slim neck wobbling with a headful of dusty hair.
After a low jab from the worn cane bearing nails at the broad bottom, just before its disemboweled tennis ball foot gave it a grip, the creature that had been meekly whimpering stopped moving altogether.
Soon her mind began to reach out. She’d always heard that the good Lord helped those who took care of themselves. But would He help her find a car wash? And, more importantly, would she ever be forgiven of her mortal sins?