“Hey, you…”

His first words.  His first words to her—Bethany—as she came around back Sissy Walker’s house, to the garden there.  She was looking for Sissy and found her there, holding her bible.  That’s when she saw his smile for the first time, and saw the money in his hand.  And Denny wasn’t just buying a few joints hidden in the stash inside Sissy Walker’s bible.  He had bigger ambitions.  Expanding on what grew there in Sissy’s garden in back of her house.  William Bloodwood, his first customer, sharing its whereabouts.  And that’s what Bethany happened to intrude on—a business transaction.  Denny new in town, a visitor to Sabine County, crossing the river from Louisiana—where he came from, but not where he was from.  His first appearance witnessed by the men resting on the front porch of the general store in Hemphill, his suitcase in hand, asking about work in the area.  But work wasn’t what he was really looking for.  It was customers for what he had in his suitcase—a mix of pills and tinctures of laudanum, and of course—marijuana.

“What’s goin’ on, Sissy?”

“Well, this boy here’s tryin’ to buy what I grow in this garden—think I should let’m?”

“Depends on if he’s trustworthy or not…”

“That’s hard to tell…  He’s got a nice smile though—don’t he?”

And this is what he looked like.  A cigarette dangling from his smile.  His hat tipped back.  A suit a bit tight around the shoulders.  His red silk tie knotted loosely at the collar of a white shirt, the top button undone.  Shiny shoes—pointed.  He was leaning against the front bumper of his car, his plus fours trousers pulled up revealing argyle socks—an old Ford with running boards, mud on the tires from pulling up to the back of Sissy’s house, the dirt road leading to it wet from a recent rain.  The first impression Bethany had of him an out of work baseball player from the Negro league.  He just looked it to her, not a golfer, for some reason his voice reminding her of hearing Satchel Paige on her father’s radio.

“Who’s the pretty girl?” he asks, striking a match to light the cigarette dangling from his smile.

“Oh… she’s a friend a mine.  Been a friend since she was a little girl.  She visits me from time to time.  To listen to that music you’re hearing from my kitchen window, listen to the birds a singin’…  and she knows what you’re comin’ for too I imagine—he, he!”

Bethany looks down from his eyes trying not to blush.  She looks down at her dress, her bare feet, wishing she wore something else, something that better revealed her figure.  And she’s trying to look for words, words to say to him defiant of his direct gaze.

 

But I was at a loss.  I was caught in surprise.  Not expecting him there—his smile—the direct look in his eyes that made me go searching in the past.  Not to the immediate past, not to yesterday or the day before that, but years ago.  I felt thirteen again.  I felt myself going back to that summer when I first started visiting Sissy, first started listening to her music, and was introduced to what was in her bible…  It all happened so suddenly, but my mind stretched back—to a bad memory.  And it was like the music triggered it—the blues music coming from Sissy’s kitchen window, and I was caught in its haunting turnarounds.  I was caught in how a bad memory from yesterday makes you go further back, further back in years to other bad memories.  Memories that made me feel naked and ashamed, faltering…  And it’s strange how I felt myself doing it—knowing.  How my mind in some sort of bold defense went back to other bad memories, further back from this hesitance I felt to his direct gaze and smile, making me think of other eyes, other smiles, like my mind was trying to understand one bad memory by going before it to understand what led to now—to find some sort of continuity that explained it.  Unhealed wounds…  And maybe that’s why, why I knew and then this confirmed in my periphery—I saw him there and knew, knew he’d been following me like he’d done so many times before, but never like those walks again from that summer when I was thirteen, those walks in a cornfield and the dry creek bed on my way back to my father’s mailbox.  I saw him—Jeremy Bloodwood—peeking from around the corner of Sissy’s house.  He had followed me here, and suddenly I remembered his eyes, his hesitant smile when I first revealed my breasts to him.  This five years ago now, from that end his mother put to us.  We’d never walked together since, but he was there now—in the here and now, witnessing my faltering to this new man’s direct gaze, his smile.  And only after, after this moment that made me remember him, after his confrontration and ridiculous fight with Denny, was I to find out what brought him here again—following me.  And it was William, my uncle, his cousin—Jeremy too learning of the new man in town after finding out William was a customer of his, selling him things from out his suitcase…

 

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