Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Cropper

Roy Jeffords


“You’ve had her nigh on four days now, Lord. I guess you seen us putting her body in the ground yesterday afternoon. I appreciate that nice weather you give us. You know it rained so much in the morning, and I surely didn’t want to send her off in the bad weather, so that sunshine was real fine. And them flowers was almost as pretty as she was.

“Thank you for a night like this, too, it being so warm out and stars shining. It makes it right nice to set out here and talk with you and rock this baby. I didn’t build this chair for me to rock in though. The whole time I was making it all I could see was my Nancy rocking our baby to sleep in it. We was out here rocking and talking about the baby last week, in fact. The night before this little one came and my Nancy passed on.

“I just don’t see how you’re going to fix this one, Lord. I ain’t doubting you, you understand, but I surely don’t see how I can take care of this baby all by myself. She’s real quiet now while she’s asleep, but I don’t know what to do with her when she wakes up.

“Her being born was supposed to be a happy thing. Couldn’t neither one of us wait for her to get here. Nancy wanted to see this little one so bad. Are you letting her look down, Lord? Can she see this little girl she birthed? Can she see me setting here holding our young’un?

“Preacher Black’s wife said that a woman would be crazy not to want a family like ours – me and the baby, you know – but I don’t reckon I want nobody else. That woman was my whole life. You tell us in the Good Book that everything is yours, and I understand you wanting to take her up to be with you and all. But couldn’t you have give us just a little while longer? We didn’t even get two years. Not married, anyway, and that’s what counts.

“You got your hands full, I’ll tell you. I bet she’s done got them pearly gates shining like they never shined before, and she’s probably swept every one of them streets of gold so many times they’re all smooth and shiny, too. I’m telling you, Lord, Saint Peter better watch hisself! Yeah, she’s got fire in her belly, all right. I guess you know that, seeing as how you made her, but I figure I’d better warn you anyhow. She’s surely a tough woman.

“I hope this little girl’s going to be that way. She’ll have to be if I’m supposed to raise her, cause I ain’t no momma. I ain’t doubting you, Lord; that ain’t my way. But I surely don’t know how I’m going to do this.

“What if she finds out what I was like before I met my Nancy? I mean, I know you done forgive me for all my sinning and evil ways, and Nancy did, too. But what if this young’un of ours finds out? She won’t never respect me if she knows how bad her daddy was. I’d never of done all them things if I could’ve seen myself setting here now, holding this baby on my shoulder and rocking her like I’m somebody.
“I’m sorry for crying in front of you, Lord. Please don’t let this little one wake up on account of it. Let her sleep good. She’s so pretty.

“Anyhow, I wouldn’t of been so bad if I’d known Nancy would have anything to do with the likes of me. All the drinking and fighting and staying out all night, I stopped it all when I met her. You know that. Then she told me all about you, and I knew you was more than just Preacher Black and them ladies in the church choir, and I knew how come I had to be good. “Now, I ain’t knocking on Preacher Black or them choir ladies. Nancy loved that choir, and them ladies loved her. They been real good to me and the little one, with all the food and babysetting and all. Specially since they know how I was. But I quit all that bad stuff, and I told you I was sorry. I still understand if you had to take her off to a better place, though.

“What I don’t understand is how come you left this baby with me. She don’t have a choice. I mean, at least Nancy decided to be here. This one can’t; she’s just stuck.

“Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself, cause you must think a lot more of me than I do if you’re trusting me with this little girl. I don’t see how I can give her any more than I give her momma, though, and that wasn’t never very much.

“I tried, Lord. You know how hard I work, and I appreciate all you do to help me. All the good weather and the good man I crop for. He’s been a real help these last few days. But there ain’t never nothing left over. Nancy always says nothing’s got to be left over when there’s enough, and I reckon she’s right. I just wish I could of done better by her, you know.

“The Good Book says that you won’t never give us more than we can handle, so I guess you’ll take care of things like you always do. Like how you used Nancy to give all these young’uns on the farm something extra. Bunch of them won’t amount to nothing, Lord, and me and you both know that. But Nancy, she didn’t care. No, sir. She doctored them and she taught them just like they was all hers. And some of them got a chance at life now because of her. Some of them children can read! Ain’t that something else? I sure hope you can send somebody like my Nancy to teach this little one to read. I can’t even read Bible stories to her like her momma would of done. But she’ll learn. She’s going to be smart like her momma was.

“Please, Lord, help me be a good daddy for this little girl. I don’t know how you’ll do it, but you tell us that whatever we ask with the faith you’ll do. I’m asking you, Lord; make me a good daddy. I don’t know nothing about it, but you show me how, and I’ll do all the work. I know we can raise her right, me and you.

“I guess I’d best be getting this baby inside now. I thank you for listening, and I thank you for caring. I ain’t mad at you no more; Nancy’s in a better place than I could give her. I’ll sure miss her, though.
“Would you do one more thing for me, Lord? Tell Nancy how much I love her, and tell her how much I miss her. And, tell her how pretty our baby is.

“Thank you, Lord. I reckon we’ll be talking again real soon. Bye, now.”

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Roy Jeffords grew up in South Carolina and earned a degree in English from The Citadel.  One of his short stories is currently a nominee for both the 2011 Pushcart Prize and Best of American Short Stories. He has spent the last three years in the Dallas, Texas, area, but is looking forward to returning to the Carolina coastal area.

© Roy Jeffords

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