Duffie Taylor

Six Pieces 

LYDIA

He pushed the flow­ers into the folds of my apron. Keep walk­ing, he said. Keep walk­ing. So I walked. Then he said, You will lose all your ros­es walk­ing like that, dear girl.

PLAINS

Bull Wainwright owned a chain-gang. Tim Christie sold rum. Nell Andrews got around. Susan Anthony sewed cur­tains. Elijah Winters fucked a horse. Joseph Bedsole staged plays. The Virgin Mary, a.k.a. Marybeth Fieldstone. M.B. Waters, Narrator and Jesus. Ivan Bedsole blew off a bridge. Xavior Livingston died. Peter Castleworth seemed too smart for his own good. Gaylord Steinbeck called him­self a fire­brand. His son, Leroy, a hero. His daugh­ter, Addie, a drunk. Jake Billingsley got caught with a con­dom. Augusta Wells hid with her lover in a sand-dune. Missy Waters fell in love with a build­ing. Joseph Cornell, that man was so crazy. Because it was September, he insist­ed we enter his wig­wam for a feast of hon­or. We walked inside to find a pair of col­lapsed doll­hous­es and a pyra­mid of burn­ing bird cages. He asked six of us to form a for­eign rela­tions com­mit­tee, gave us a mar­ble cylin­der and told us to go out into the pas­ture and fill it with cow manure. When we returned, he prompt­ly accused us of luna­cy, then ordered we stand aside while he wrapped him­self in elec­tri­cal tape. At last some­one, whose name I for­get, had the nerve to ask what all this meant. Thimogona, he said. Nothing more.

WHITE SPRINGS

The sta­tis­tics are in. Doctors have con­clud­ed. People are talk­ing. The state vouch­es for the salu­bri­ous effects of our cli­mate, par­tic­u­lar­ly. While else­where you may be improved, here you are ful­ly restored. Rest assured, you will leave this 1.8 mile stretch of sun­shine, pop. 808, randy as the day you were born. Doctors are nowhere to be seen. CVS and Walgreens have fled in embar­rass­ment. Medical stu­dents walk around con­fused. Nurses have been fore­closed upon, our hos­pi­tals now their home­less shel­ters. All you see when you walk by are shut­tered win­dows, and the occa­sion­al shamed-face peep­ing out at us from the shad­ows. 99% of our unem­ployed are hope­less­ly edu­cat­ed. They harass you with their med­ical charts, shout­ing fan­cy Latin words. We laugh, laugh, laugh. If you’re inter­est­ed, the fol­low­ing mal­adies are cured with­in 5–7 days of res­i­den­cy: hay fever, gon­or­rhea, gout, lupus, rick­ets, gan­grene, asth­ma, tongue can­cer (stick it out), male pat­tern bald­ness, abnor­mal­ly large ovaries, abnor­mal­ly large breasts, homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, Type 2 dia­betes, cyclic vom­it­ing syn­drome, scurvy, insom­nia, melanoma (sur­pris­ing­ly), Cotard’s syn­drome, anorex­ia, opi­ate addic­tion, pedophil­ia, lung can­cer, rosacea, gum dis­ease, hal­i­to­sis, walk­ing sick­ness, amne­sia, bed­wet­ting. Others take up to two weeks or, if female, per­haps a mon­th: hand tremor, night ter­rors, Urinary Tract Infection, love of books, hyper­ten­sion, exces­sive sweat­ing, heart­burn, vir­gin­i­ty, acne, Mad Cow Disease, acid reflux, and, strange­ly enough, the Bubonic Plague. As to var­i­ous men­tal defi­cien­cies, I’m sor­ry, we can’t help you. I pur­pose­ful­ly did not men­tion arthri­tis, because there’s been a bit of debate about that. Arthritis Today still has a small clin­ic set up, despite a measly clien­tele. Most are naïve out-of-town­ers or defen­sive sub­scribers. I don’t wish to add fuel to the fire nec­es­sar­i­ly, but did I men­tion I’m 102, hap­pi­ly tak­ing danc­ing lessons?

 –

ELBERTON

This town was in the mid­st of an iden­ti­ty cri­sis. We believed T.D. Jakes was real­ly T.D. Jakes. We believed T.D. Jakes was not real­ly T.D. Jakes. He was T.D. Jakes, he wasn’t T.D. Jakes. This is what hap­pens when young men leave their moth­ers and go as far south­west as New Orleans. We hear noth­ing for years from the scoundrel, then, one day, a let­ter from jail, stained in plum juice, penned in atro­cious scrawl. We hand­ed it to Loretta, who took one look at the post­mark and tossed it into the wood-stove. “My son would be here tend­ing pigs,” she said, mat­ter-of-fact­ly. That’s the last of T.D. Jakes, we thought, or so we thought, but then frog-lov­ing weath­er comes, and the grass­es grow high­er than a hound’s tooth, and in saun­ters a man with rolled up trousers and grass between his teeth, shak­ing hands at the gen­er­al store, ask­ing for mama. Well, we sent lit­tle Albi for Lorretta but, from the wash­board, she wasn’t to be moved. “My son would be here tend­ing pigs,” she said, slam­ming the door, send­ing Albi a-trot­ting. Well, that left us in one hell of a pick­le. With no firm direc­tion from kind or kin, we were on the verge of fist­fights and hair-pulling, when Watkins sug­gest­ed it might be time to break in our court­room. We asked Sheriff to tie up the imposter til we got hold of Judge, whom, we right­ly guessed, was off drink­ing some­where. Promptly a posse’s ordered, but in the mean­time, word spread through the coun­ty like syphilis, so that by the time we fetched Judge from a cypress pond, the courtroom’s packed tighter than a hog pen, with folks lin­ing the road 100 miles east all the way to the cour­t­house steps. The only per­son not around was Loretta. First thing Judge did, after guz­zling a tall glass of water, was demand she be sum­moned, so we send lit­tle Albi back again, but she doesn’t get past the door this time, though we know she’d been there alright when we saw the black eye and crum­pled lit­tle note. The judge told her to read ‘fore the court, but lit­tle Albi’s so shak­en up, Judge had to do it him­self. The note’s, if any­thing, mat­ter-of-fact. “Only time I’ll be see­ing any man by the name of Jakes again will be with the good Lord him­self or at the wrong end of a rifle.” Signed, Loretta D. Jakes. Well, Judge says, wip­ing his eyes on a hand­ker­chief, I guess that leaves Willie. Willie, who knew Jakes well-nigh well and still had some scores to set­tle, sprung from the back pew quick­er than a water moc­cas­in, plow­ing right over Ms. Haversham, and halfway to the dock­et before both­er­ing to but­ton his waist­coat. Once inside, Willie took a good long alli­ga­tor look at the man and said, “Oh yes sir, I’ll tes­ti­fy, that’s him alright.” Seeing as no soul in the his­to­ry of Elbert County had ever crossed Willie P. Peterson, we all assumed the case open-and-shut, until, that is, Sue Bell Jones stood up, and in a fit of div­ina­tion or insan­i­ty, offered her sweet won­ders to the pros­e­cu­tion. What hap­pened next is hard­er to describe, but peo­ple were switch­ing sides faster than jackrab­bits, and we’d like to swore we’d nev­er make up our minds until, at last, in the fifth and final hour, Judge ordered the exile unshod, stripped, and shorn, and sure as the ladies swoon, sud­den­ly, we all knew.

MOBILE

It began with the prob­lem of fog. The dri­ver couldn’t see. The boat was head­ing toward the mouth of the water­way, and the dri­ver couldn’t see. The water­way was closed to boats, and the boat head­ed toward the mouth. One of the barges broke. One of the barges broke loose. The boat was push­ing barges, and one of the barges broke loose. It hit the bridge. The water­way was closed, and it hit the bridge. The dri­ver couldn’t see. He didn’t know it hit the bridge. The bridge was a rail­road bridge. The barge hit the bridge. The bridge was a swivel bridge. The barge hit pre­cise­ly at the swivel point. The swivel was weld­ed shut. The barge bent the weld, mov­ing the bridge, mov­ing the rails. The weld bent, instead of break­ing. Instead of break­ing, the weld bent, and the sig­nal did not change. The rails moved, but the sig­nal did not change, because the weld bent, and did not break. The dri­ver couldn’t see. The dri­ver of the train couldn’t see the bend in the bridge, because there was no sig­nal, the sig­nal didn’t drop red. The train drove over the bend, because the train was late. The train would have missed the bend in the bridge that sep­a­rat­ed the rails, but the train was late. The air-con­di­tion­er broke on the train, delay­ing the train, and the barge hit. The barge hit, because the air had bro­ken, because the train was delayed. The barge hit the bridge and bent the weld twen­ty min­utes late. Because of the fog. Because the dri­ver couldn’t see. Or if. If either could see. If the sig­nal had dropped red. If the weld didn’t bend. If the air didn’t break.

 

JACKSONVILLE

After the burn, we had won­der­ful ener­gy. Lines for buck­et brigades were out the door. People were seen slid­ing on ice! Yellow fever raged, as if with an urge to com­pete. Old lady Dell caught it read­ing a let­ter with a baby on her lap. An ordi­nance was passed, out­law­ing let­ters. Our two iron hand press­es were utter­ly wrecked. Maybe that was from the burn. We turned over all the planks with blood on them, try­ing to for­get it. We hid the pieces of shell in the dirt. Paul Jones steamed up from Savannah, intent on deliv­er­ing the mail. He was so intent. It was clear we couldn’t just sit around slid­ing on ice any­more. A half-starved cur roamed between fences. A horse woke up, feel­ing cold. People, not par­tic­u­lar­ly brave, wheeled out an old, con­demned can­non and set it at the foot of Catherine Street. I’m sor­ry Paul Jones. You should nev­er believe a sto­ry told by its own heroes. Moss had caught fire, the oak drip­ping flame.

~

Duffie Taylor recent­ly grad­u­at­ed from the MFA pro­gram at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Her work has appeared in both lit­er­ary jour­nals and the antholo­gies, Best New Poets 2007 and Thirty, the cel­e­bra­to­ry col­lec­tion of work from the first three decades of the Mississippi Review. She lives and works in Mobile, Alabama.