Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

A Good Woman Knows

Dixon Hearne


“Ain’t that lazy heifer outa’ bed yet?” Sootie slaps her purse onto the table, pinch-lipped and fumin’ mad. “I know she was out honky-tonkin’ all night. That big mouth Crystal down at the Pak-a-Sak is tellin’ ever’ last soul that walks through that door that Carla Sue was three sheets to the wind and shakin’ her fat fanny to the whole congregation. And here I am up for church president! Flirtin’ and philanderin’ – things a good woman wouldn’t ever think of doin’. I tell you, if I see one word of this in the paper I’m gonna kill her.”

Now, Sootie’s a good Christian woman when it comes to helpin’ other people see their faults – ever since she got the spirit at that “Praise and Glory” revival show that blew through town last summer. Got down on the ground and rolled around with the rest of them fools – right there in front of everybody! And now spends half her time tryin’ to save souls. Of course, first she has to find out what they’ve done – and this she does very well. “Now, I ain’t one to talk about people,” she always starts her sentences, “but I heard such and such.” Nearly broke her spirit, though, when her own preacher man was caught with that sister-deacon over in Bossier last fall – talk about layin’ on hands. Lordie! Nonetheless, she’s hell bent and determined to pray the old soul to redemption, along with the rest of us. Uncle Lee keeps sayin’, “She’s wastin” her damn talents runnin’ that front desk down at the laundry when they could use her nose over at the FBI.” Everybody knows she ain’t gonna be fit to live with till she’s church president and head of the sister deacons down there.

Pretty soon, we hear Carla Sue come tumblin’ outa’ bed and down the hallway. But quick as she hears Sootie’s shrill voice she makes a sharp turn into the bathroom and bolts the door. It ain’t no use, though. Sootie jerks herself up and trots over to the door demandin’ her daughter, “Come outa’ there this very minute!” Nothin’ but stone cold silence follows. “I’ll take this damn door off the hinges, Missy – you got one minute!”

Lordie, what follows is just too ugly and loud to capture in words, but I don’t mind sayin’ the neighbors start callin’ to see if there’s been a killin’. Of course, I learned long ago to just let the two of ‘em have it out. The one time I tried to butt in, I got snatched nearly bald headed. But this time’s different. Carla Sue’s just about to lose that position her mama got her down at the courthouse – the first and only person in the Ransom family to land a government job – and now her on the verge of losin’ it.

Pretty soon, the fight moves out into the livin’ room, where the two of ‘em square off in an all-out yellin’ match – which, of course, sets the phone off again. And then – just like that – Carla stops dead in mid sentence and goes flyin’ off to the back of the house again. Next thing we know, the front door flies open and in charges that low-life Trot Akers with his fists clenched and smellin’ like he crawled out of a whiskey bottle where he spent the night.

“Where the hell are you!” he starts yellin’. “You wrecked my damn pickup, and you’re gonna’ pay to have it fixed!” The screamin’ grows louder and louder as he tears through the house, room to room – not even takin’ notice of Sootie and me. It ain’t long, though, before he has Carla Sue cornered, and the two of ‘em hang up like a couple of alley cats, cussin’ and kickin’ and slappin’. They bounce this way and that way down the hall, finally landin’ up on the floor right in front of us – the both of ‘em scratched and bleedin’. Poor Sootie sits there plumb bug-eyed, dumbstruck for the very first time in her life. And then the phone starts up again. But before either one of us snaps to and gets up to answer it, Trot and Carla are back on their feet again – then BAM!, the two of ‘em go sailin’ right through the screen door and out onto the front porch, and I say to myself there ain’t no need answerin’ that phone now – the whole neighborhood can see for theirselves.

At this point, Trot’s pickup door springs open and out pops this painted up straw-haired woman, lookin’ like just another alley cat, and before long, the three of ‘em are all screamin’ and threatenin’ to kill one another. Old lady Mercy across the street had done called the police, and we can hear the siren in the distance.

“I ain’t payin’ a damn dime on that piece of crap!” Carla keeps yellin’, over and over again, right in front of the neighbors. “And here you are layin’ out all night with this…this trampy HO!”

Well, the last remark stops every last soul within earshot. Neighbors flinch and grimace and shoo their kids back indoors. And as if this ain’t bad enough, guess who should come glidin’ up the sidewalk out for his mornin’ stroll but Miss Sootie’s preacher man – Reverend Barritt. Poor old Sootie goes scramblin’ back through the doorway before he can see. But it’s too late. When he hears all the commotion, the Reverend comes boundin’ onto the scene, pleadin’ with the three of ‘em to put an end to the fuss, and all the poor old fool gets for his efforts is a black eye. The straw-haired hussy is more than a trifle uncoordinated, and the metal corner of her purse misses its mark and catches the Reverend right in his one good eye.

It ain’t till the two officers finally arrive that the squabble is brought under temporary control. But Carla and Straw-Hair both take exception to the one officer grabbin’ their arms, and he draws back a hand with a plug bit out of it. Next thing we know, the whole bunch of ‘em – officers and all – are throwin’ punches and yellin’. Even the preacher man!

What happens next is a total blur. Here comes Sootie bustin’ through the front door again – right through the screen – with her pistol raised and screamin’ bloody murder. At the sight of the gun, the nosey neighbors begin to scatter. Old Mrs. Bunn drops her grocery bags right out in the middle of the street, settin’ off horns and sendin’ cars zig-zaggin’ through the crowd. And by now, yet another police car arrives and pulls right up into the front yard. Out jumps two more officers threatenin’ to shoot Sootie if she don’t put her pistol down. The pitiful thing stands there like a common felon, and a good long minute passes before she can react. Then, lowerin’ the gun real, real slowly, she takes in a long, deep breath and lets out a gusher of profanity that shocks the whole mob into momentary truce. Once purged, she drops the gun and falls back into a porch rocker and clasps her hands. The nosiest neighbors draw in closer again for another look. And then – just like a bell went off – a rush comes over the crowd and they all set sail. The four cops try to get witnesses for their report, but the mob scatters in every direction. The preacher man goes staggerin’ off down the sidewalk, with what sight he has left in his good eye. Trot and Straw-Hair pile into his pickup and light out down the road. In all the commotion, it’s just too hard to tell the spectators from the participants. And, by the time one of the officers finally decides to blow his whistle, the only ones left are Sootie and me. So Miss Sootie proceeds to tell ‘em she don’t know who the hell any of ‘em are – she just wants ‘em out of her flowerbeds and off her property. Totally discombobulated, the officers just stand there scratchin’ their heads and shruggin’ at one another for a bit, until the matter is quickly cut short.

With the racket now silenced, we can hear a patrol car radio blarin’: Car 23-12. 23-12. Proceed to …domestic violence…possible hostage situation… In a flash, the four of ‘em pile into their squad cars and fly off in opposite directions, leavin’ the three of us right back where we started – Carla locked in the bathroom and Sootie threatenin’ to take the door off the hinges.

Not twenty minutes later, here comes Mr. Trot again, beggin’ and pleadin’ with Carla Sue to take him back. She says, HELL NO! And Sootie threatens to shoot ‘em both for all the shame and embarrassment. “You hold it right there, little lady!” she says. “We’re goin’ down to the church-house tonight and get you saved. A good woman knows better than to act any such way. That sorry soul,” she says – pointin’ right at Trot – “he don’t give a damn about you! Just look what he’s done with that tramp he left here with. Where is she now? You’re gonna’ get the spirit, little lady, if I have drag you kickin’ and screamin’ to the pulpit! Hell, I’ll be lucky if reverend lets me in the church house to pray, let alone be church president.”

It was no use though. Sootie’s words were completely wasted. Without so much as good-bye, kiss my foot, or I’m gone – Carla Sue piles in the pickup with Mr. Trot, and the two of them speed off in a cloud of dust. It seems Straw-Hair had been dumped out at the Playtime Club downtown, the pitiful thing. I keep wonderin’ out loud how she would manage – just bein’ put out like that – till Sootie snaps back at me, “That sorry heifer’s got ways and means you just couldn’t understand.”

With this remark, she snatches up her satchel purse – and what’s left of her dignity – and marches off down the street toward Bethel Baptist, where she says she plans to spend the entire afternoon, “prayin’ for the whole damn bunch of us!” I don’t mind sayin’ it’s good to have every last one of ‘em all off my property. Sister dear had lied to them cops, tellin’ ‘em this was her house. But one thing’s for sure, Carla Sue will find her bags packed and settin’ on the front porch when she comes back – even if she is my own kin. I’m through with ‘em all. Except for Sootie, maybe. A little extra prayer never hurts. But she ain’t got enough time left on her clock to pray them other fools outa’ Hell. She’ll be lucky if the preacher lets her hand out hymnbooks. As for me, I say let ‘em fry – the humiliatin’ lot of ‘em’! Ain’t a licka’ sense in the whole damn bunch. And how did I get myself into this mess anyway? Takin’ in cheap relations, that’s how! Maybe Sootie’s right – any good woman would know better.

***

A Louisiana native, Dixon Hearne now lives in southern California, where he teaches English and writes. His work includes stories in recent issues of Cream City Review, Oxford Magazine, and Conco River Review. He recently won an Editors Choice Award for one of his stories.

© Dixon Hearne

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012