Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Preacher Donavan's Nephew

Jo Ann Scott


Emma Jean Morgan lived alone, with the exception of Milton. Milton, her Calico cat, often sat on the front steps, amid the climbing roses that pushed against the backdrop of lattice fencing, and licked himself free of the morning dew he had collected upon his ginger and chocolate fur while roaming for mice and crickets during the early hour hunt.

Emma was a tidy woman, her house spotless, her many crafts did not litter her front parlor like most women her age, and she kept those neatly stored in the fabric-covered ottoman that was trimmed in the lace petticoat she had worn many years before.

Emma Jean was above all else, a lady. She had kept her figure all these years but would not succumb to wearing the filth that society labeled as "fashionable" just to be with the in crowd.

She donned overalls in the garden, and during the day she wore regular, plain pencil or swing dresses, some with Peter Pan collars, often emulating Donna Reed from the olden times. Lately she noticed her flower beds were being trampled. No matter what kind of fence she put up it was knocked down and her tulips broken. She bought so many tulips lately that she was sure the old man at the greenhouse thought she was calling on him. He offered her a discount just a few days ago, if she was in need of more flowers. She decided the prickly talons of roses suited her more than those of the dainty tulips.

"Emmie Jean!" It was her neighbor Louise. They lived just a hop, skip, and jump apart and often hollered out the windows to one another when Louise was down with her sickness. Emma Jean never quite knew what that sickness was, but figured it was something quite awful to keep someone away from her gardening and social scenes.

"Louise!"

"Emmie Jean, I need you over here. Something bad is happenin' and I need you to hep me."

Poor Louise, she always needed help from something every other day or so. Louise was a frail, feeble woman who looked like the strongest wind might blow her clean to the other side of town. Not only that, it was like the woman was starved for attention and the only one closest to her was Emma Jean.

"I'm kinda busy, Louise. Is it an emergency?"

"I'm dyin' Emmie. Hep me!"

Louise had said the magic words. She could need a hair plucked or towels folded and still think it was a dire emergency.

"I'll be right over, don't you fret, honey!"

Emma Jean, still barefoot and sporting her overalls and straw hat, put on her flip flops and walked over to Louise's front door. She did not bother ringing the bell. Louise knew she was coming over.

Soon as the door was open she saw the house was a mess. There were dirty footprints all over the floor, mud tracked in from the morning dew and the dirt path outside.

"I'm dyin'," she said again from front parlor. "They done took my house over."

"Oh, Louise. I'm here, it's just fine. You just sit there and rest."

Emma got the bucket from the hall closet and a mop. The floor needed a good once over and then she could go back to gardening.

"I've been sittin' at this winder for hours Emmie, where you been keeping yerself?"

"Just gardening. Who tracked mud on your floor?"

Louise shook her head. "Why, my crazy son and his kids. They come in like a band of wild horses and dirtied my floor, ate my food, and left me with a mess."

"You need to get onto 'em. Tell 'em you ain't puttin' up with it anymore."

"I've done did it." Louise made a sour face. "Ain't no one respects their elders no more. Ya think they'll be nicer when you near to dyin' and they walk all over you for a few slices of cone bread and some beans. I ain't gonna invite 'em in no more."

"Louise, you say that all the time. They'll be over next week and you'll be huggin' those babies and fixin' cornbread and taters like always."

"You aught be one to talk, here I thought you done married that man of yers." Louise said.

"Man? Louise, I ain't got no man. I wouldn't have another unless he was rich and made of gold." Emma had lost her first husband during the Korean War. He contracted a nasty flu bug in the harsh winter there and never fully recovered. She would rather be alone than be with some man who could not understand her loss.

"Oh, Emmie Jean. You needn't talk like that. I seen how that preacher Donavan's nephew looks at you. He got his eye on you."

Emma shook her head no.

"Leo? He ain't lookin' at an old woman like me; he'll be lookin' at them younger girls. Girls who can give him a family and babies, that's who he'll be lookin' for. He ain't got no kind of life with a run down ole woman like me."

"Don't you be sayin' it, Emmie. You know yer still lookin' good as when we were girls in our courting days. Sparking these days ain't changed that much. And he was lookin', shore as I sit here today, he was lookin'. I caught him last Sunday eyeing you. He tried to laugh and say he ain't doin' it, but he was. He watched you and then I seen him outside yer house after Sunday services. Why, I thought he came callin' on you."

"Ain't nobody been to my house after Sunday services, Louise. You shore you takin' your pills right?"

Louise was well known in the neighborhood for skipping her pills and walking in her slip to the local library for afternoon tea with the ladies of the historical society.

"I ain't missed my pills. He's been outside yer house every night since Sunday service, he plumb near stomped out your tulips last few nights. Weirdest thing I ever did see, he just stares at you through yer winder and then goes home."

Emma looked at her and shuddered at the thought. She believed it was Danny Nelson's old German Shepherd running amuck in the nighttime attacking her flowers.

"Why law, Louise, I never knew he took a fancy to me. He shore ain't got no business staring at me outside my winder."

"He ain't got no kind of business staring at anybody around here. Mighty creepy actin' boy if you ask me. You'd think his momma would teach him better than that. Ain't got the manners God gave a mule. You do know he comes by every night, dontcha?"

"Louise, I'm gonna get to the bottom of this, shore as the sun is yeller."

"Whatcha gonna do?"

Emma thought for a moment. She pondered over the question of just what could a woman her age do to a peeping tom. Then it hit her.

"I'm gonna come over tonight to yer place, set up and watch fer him. When he comes by, I'm gonna run out there and spray him down with my garden hose. Ain't no dirty man gonna be watching me at night, he can jest forget it."

Louise grinned, her loose dentures shifted and popped back onto her gums. "You tell 'im girl."

Around eight-thirty that night, when it was just becoming dark and gloomy, Emma Jean scampered from her back porch and across the lawn to Louise's back door. She rapped on the hollow door and waited. Louise had bad arthritis and needed a few minutes to get up from her easy chair and hobble into the kitchen to the back door.

"Who's it?" Louise hollered from behind the door.

"It's me, Emma Jean." She did not look so glamorous at night, her hair in big pink foam curlers, her face blotched with Noxzema, and her fuzzy housecoat that looked more like a beat up old towel than a robe.

"Oh, Emmie." She unlatched the door and it creaked open. "Hurry up, I got my shotgun awaiting. I ain't bout to let no good fer nothings in my home this time of night. I'd blow them off the back porch I catch'em lookin' in here at me."

"Oh, Louise. Lord! Put that gun away! We ain't got no need for a gun tonight. He'll be too scared when we sneak up on 'im with the hose. Why if you shot someone, how would we face the congregation in the morning at Sunday services."

"I ain't bout to sneak up on any feller hidin' in the bushes. I'll pull out my shotgun and blow him out first."

"Louise, please. He ain't done nothing but peepin' round the neighborhood. He only does it cause he ain't got caught."

Louise shrugged and sat down slow and easy in her chair. She often popped and cracked when she bent her knees the least bit.

"Lordy, these ole bones of mine are dry and brittle as a dead twig. I look to fall apart any day now."

Emma Jean sat back on the couch; she kept a close eye out for the man they wanted to catch.

"I don't know about this, Louise. I think the gun's a bit too much."

"You don't want to end up like them fellers on the news, do you? Those old ladies up yonder in Harlan. They nearly got themselves killed for a pack of cigarettes."

"In Harlan? Now Louise, you got that all wrong. It was in Harlem. And that wasn't two old ladies, it was two druggies buyin' themselves some of those mary-wanna cigarettes. You shore you takin' your pills? You want me to check the box, see if you took the right pills today?"

"Oh, hesh up, now. It's one thing to go correctin' my stories, but another to go countin' my pills." Louise sat back in her old rocker and kicked madly to build up her rocking speed. For an old woman who needed help mopping, she sure could kick up a mean rocking chair.

"You check that winder yet, Emmie? Cause if I ain't mistaken, I see him out there."

"I see 'im!" Emma Jean said. "He's out there, jest like you said. Look at 'im. That dirty thing is out in my yard and alookin' in my winder like it was he who owned the place."

The two elderly women watched as the man stumbled across Emma Jean's flowers, knocking down tulips and other spring plants, and peeked into her lit up home. She left the light on in the living room and a TV going for cover.

He moved closer, closer to her window, the light illuminating his cap and jacket. Sure enough it was Preacher Donavan's nephew like Louise had said before. He always wore that same cap with a plaid jacket.

"That's him, same coat! That dirty rascal, let's go git 'im now, Louise."

They snuck from the back door and porch and as Louise clutched her shotgun, Emma Jean crept closer to the peeping tom in slippers.

Louise switched on the hose and felt the stream of water rushing forward, the hose jumped slightly and then moved freely as Emma Jean pulled it behind her.

Suddenly she jumped from behind him, held the hose out, and sprayed him. The cold water hit him in the back, then chest, then knocked him down into the tulips, and he fell over one of her many garden stones and gnomes she had collected over the years.

"I GOT YA! Ya dirty scum bag, git off of my lawn. Git your sorry, no good, peepin' tom tail off of my property. Go on, git!" Emma yelled.

"Git 'im! Git 'im!" Louise screamed in her hoarse little voice. She jumped up and down in the wet grass.

Suddenly, Louise slipped backward and cracked her elbow on the brick wall, and the shotgun exploded in the air. The mighty boom echoed through the neighborhood, lights on every porch switched on, and dogs bellowed throughout the night. Emma jumped, her hands going over her ears, and dropped the hose. Louise threw her gun down and ran, and both stumbled into the kitchen and looked outside the large picture window.

The man tripped, then fell into the roses. He limped his way from her lawn, the water having soaked him head to toe.

"We shore did git him good, Emmie," Louise said as she flipped the stove on for some late night tea.

"Shore did. He'll be limpin' for a week over that. I bet those roses cut him up good."

The Sunday morning services were at 10:00. Louise and Emma got there early and waited outside the church for Leo. He ran up to them and smiled. He was wearing a blue polyester suit.

"Hello, ladies. Beautiful morning, ain't it?" He bounced through the crowd and shook hands with the men.

"Louise. He ain't limpin'."

"Well, he ain't foolin' nobody. He just thinks we're too old to recognize him."

They went inside to take a seat. On their usual front row pew, Louise pulled out her old paper fan with the Good Shepherd painting printed along the creased paper and the Donald's Drug Store phone number and logo running down the huge tongue dispenser-like handle. Louise was just about to throw it down when she noticed there was no preacher.

"Emmie, where you think that Preacher's gone off to? He didn't even show to welcome us this morning to service."

"I don't have the slightest notion, dear. He probably has important church work to do and lost track of the time."

Just then the preacher's nephew, Leo, walked briskly to the pulpit. His cap now off and his hair all combed slick with gel, he looked around nervously and raised a hand to quiet the congregation.

"Folks, folks, can I have your attention, please. My uncle called me early this morning and he can't come in for this mornin's service. He's ill."

"Oh my goodness," Louise said as she and Emma Jean both shook their heads. "Praise God and bless that poor man."

"Praise God," Emma Jean replied. "We should pray for a speedy return and recovery. What is he ill from, honey?" Emma Jean often forgot and called everyone honey. She hoped no one thought of this as flirting. It was only her southern charm shining through.

"My dear sisters, you are just so caring," Leo said. He gave them a complimentary smile and understanding gaze. "He's got himself a cold."

"We should bring him over some homemade chicken soup," Louise replied. "I have a great recipe from my grandmother, use fresh cooked chicken. We'll have him back in no time."

"Good idea sister," Emma Jean said.

"Yes, that would be so thoughtful ladies," Leo said. "Oh, and he has a sprained ankle, too. He must have twisted it when he fell down into the roses outside his house yesterday afternoon, but we should pray he has a speedy recovery from that, too."

Emma Jean and Louise looked over at one another in astonishment. Emma's eyes were now big as saucers and Louise could not see to close her mouth.

"Oh, my God!" Louise said.

"My Lord!" Emma replied.

"Emmie, you thinking what I'm a' thinkin?" Louise whispered.

"I shore am."

They shook their heads and bowed them to pray. Preacher Donavan did not receive chicken soup from the ladies, not that day or any other to follow. Emma Jean was never bothered by the pesky peeping tom after Saturday night on Morgan Avenue.

***

Jo Ann Scott lives in the mountains of Southwest Virginia and has been published in the local literary magazine General's Dreams.

 

© Jo Ann Scott

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