Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sun Jelly Pastures

Part I
     
      Enid's lazy eye wandered intently across the weathered formica tabletop, temporarily shifting her focus from the torrent of salt her husband, Maynard, was showering over his corned beef hash onto an old wicker Easter basket that, under normal circumstances, she'd use to gather vegetables or eggs or flowers. She sighed wearily, massaging the tight, shiny skin that now enveloped her cankles. Back in the day, she'd been what Maynard considered "a real looker": petite and short-waisted with long black hair and legs up to there, sporting a nice-sized pair of melons that efficiently diverted attention away from her rather unfortunate ophthalmologic* condition.

     "That eye of yers is gonna trouble certain folks, Enid," Mama'd warned on her first day of kindergarten. "They cain't tell if yer lookin' at 'em or not." She coaxed a renegade lock of Enid's hair into place with a dab of spit before guiding her through the classroom's door. "Don't pay people like that no nevermind, ya hear? Long as yer minding yer own business, praising Jesus, and tellin' the truth, it don't matter if yer lookin'em in their eyes, their ears, or their bee-hinds," she said, gesturing flamboyantly, pointing at her own head and rump. Mama's animated pep talk gave Enid the giggles. "Mama, don't you worry 'bout me," she countered reassuringly. "Like Daddy always said, I got me the skin of an armadiller."

     "We're gonna hafta do something about this," Enid complained, fixing her good eye firmly on Maynard, letting the afflicted one dance violently upon the tangle of bluish stained mushrooms spilling out over the basket's edges. "I seen them college kids ag'in yesterday, moseying around our south pasture. They was about to help themselves to these here good-for-nothin' mushrooms, but I done chased 'em off and picked ever' last one a these up offa them cow pies myself. And that hippie freak doctor from the cancer center turned up th'other day, nosing 'round the property like he's lost or somethin'. I surely do wish you'd salt the herd's sweet feed to get ridda these damn nuisances."

     Maynard seemed more disinterested than usual. Raising his eyes slowly from the plate of overly-salted, half-eaten hash sitting before him, morsels of it clinging for dear life to his unruly neck beard, he glanced first at the framed portrait of George W. Bush adorning the wall behind Enid, then stared at her hard. "What kinda nonsense you talkin' here, Momma E?" His tone was frustrated. "How many times do I hafta remind you that our business is down 'cause people ain't eatin' beef like they used to, and the only way we gonna turn that around is to go strickly grass-fed? That's as close to organic as Sun Jelly Pastures' gonna get without payin' for a certificate."

     Sun Jelly was the nickname they'd given their only son, Arliss. Born too late and taken by the Lord too early, Arliss's enormous head had gotten stuck in Enid's birth canal for so long that he was half-blind and retarded by the time he popped out. Bless his heart. Poor thing could barely lift his head, much less suckle her tit, but to his mama and daddy, he was a true miracle. From the moment that child was born, he was justa grinnin' from ear to ear. "Don't his smile remind you of sunshine?" Enid observed as Maynard cradled sweet baby Arliss in his arms for the first time. "It's like sun jelly spread all over a slice a Wonder bread."

     They both knew Sun Jelly wasn't long for this world. Enid would park him outside in his stroller while she worked in the garden, and in the afternoons, she'd take him down pasture to visit the cows. He'd get so tickled, cooing and babbling, trying to say "moo." He went home to Jesus on the night of his third birthday, and though Enid rejoiced in knowing he was one of God's angels, his passing left a hole in her heart that never quite mended. Maynard's, too. Not being one to talk about his feelings much in the first place, Maynard drew up into himself even further. They tried for another child, but Enid had one miscarriage after another. Finally, they just gave up.

     On many an afternoon, Enid would wander out to the wild muscadine grove bordering the south pasture where Sun Jelly was buried, wondering what he was doing up in heaven. To her, the pasture seemed heavenly, so green and blessed with God's beauty. She thought about her precious son, and how he'd come out smiling. Whether he was smiling at being alive or smiling because it was the only thing he knew how to do, she'd never really know. She decided to talk to Maynard about changing the farm's name. "Whistlin' Dixie Acres sounds kinda rednecky, don'tcha think? Whaddya say we change it to 'Sun Jelly Pastures'?" she'd asked, confident that he'd ridicule her suggestion. "Well, I'll be," Maynard said quietly, looking pensive, his eyes welling up with tears. "That's the best idea I think I've heard in years."

*ophthalmologic: the branch of medicine that specializes in disorders of the eye
Part II: Whether Help Come
Part III, Jesus-Hair Grass
Part IV: Happily May They All Return
Part V (Conclusion): The Most Terrible Sad Rainbows of Love Left Behind

24 comments:

  1. I LOVE the voice. A great beginning, I must say. Keep it coming!

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    1. Ha, you should've heard me reading it to my husband! I surprised myself at how country I can sound.

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  2. Wonderful! Perfect southern drawl! Enid....my heart just goes out to her. I was surprised at the end of the post when Maynard welcomed her suggestion. I could almost feel his shell crack. Loved it!

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    1. I'm thinking that deep down, beneath the gruffness and that neck beard, Maynard might actually have a heart of gold...

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  3. Lovely Kris.
    A beautiful sense of melancholy. Love the `Sun Jelly.'
    For what it's worth, had to look up `ophthalmologic'

    Cheers, ic

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    1. Thanks, Ian...your comment about ophthalmologic is noted as well...I'll put a definition at the bottom. I had a damndest time coming up with a name for the farm; came up with utter nonsense and developed a story around it. That's what I love about writing fictional stories...it's like flying by the seat of your pants with absolute freedom to drift whichever way the wind blows.

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  4. I can hear the thick accent coming through strongly in this "they cain't tell if yer lookin' at 'em or not" - it's brilliant Helena. I shall be practicing this of course :)

    I always enjoy how you're able to set a scene in such a way, that I feel as if I'm there in the background watching what's going on. Great post Helena.

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    1. I'd love to hear you practicing, RPD; I've tried to imagine what kind of British accent you have. Our Southern and Appalachian accents are supposedly more closely related to British than anything else, but they still get a bad rap from the rest of the country. Hell, there are country people all over America, not just down south! I love the lilting nature and colorful expressions of Georgia's regional "dialects." Your comment about feeling as if you're observing what's going on in the story means a lot; that's exactly the kind of experience I try to create when I'm writing.

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  5. Helena, thanks for putting this hole in my heart! Are you going to spring a casual vacancy on us?

    It is a beautiful, gripping and harrowing beginning. I will be haunting the front row as the show moves ahead.

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    1. I'll keep an eye out for you, Uma. Things're about to get weird! :-P

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  6. Kris, Henry James once said a novelist is someone who can look through an open door at two strangers eating dinner and write the story of their lives. It's that kind of sympathetic magic that makes a writer. You've certainly displayed that here. It will be fascinating to see through what hoops of joy and sadness you take Enid and Maynard in future installments.

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    1. Marty, your comment just made my day; it actually gave me goosebumps! "Sympathetic magic"...that's just the quality I've tried to convey in writing this story.

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  7. Your story is fantastic. If I were to close my eyes I could swear I was hearing a story about family. You bring it home when you get all Southern about it in your writing. I cannot wait until the next installment.

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    1. I knew you'd enjoy the Southern-fried flavor of this story, Steven. I'm brainstorming on Part II.

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  8. Kris, what a fascinating story and so well written! I could see and hear Enid and Maynard so clearly. I liked them right away! They reminded me of a childless couple my husband and I met in Arkansas a few years ago (wonderful folks who were caretakers of his aunt’s property outside of Little Rock). From what I recall, their Southern drawl was very much like that. (Of course, you already know the Southern accents but I imagine writing an accent, even when you know it, is not always easy to do. Well done!) I really felt the hole in their hearts when little Arliss died, and love that they renamed their farm, “Sun Jelly Pastures.” (Love that name too!) Anxiously looking forward to part 2!

    (btw, some thoughts came to mind about Arliss’ birth, Enid’s miscarriages, and the land. I am already thinking about how you might be writing the next part lol!)

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Madilyn. You should have heard me reading it to my son, Nick, and my husband. I surprised myself at how Southern I sounded. Writing an accent requires talking out loud to get it right; thank goodness I was alone when I wrote it...LOL. I think you're going to enjoy the twist that's about to come in the next segments.

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  9. Fascinating sculpture. What a job though! Nice peace of art. Glad your dad made a bronze of it.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, it was so thoughtful of Dad to do that.

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  10. This here Yankee is loving the folks at Sun Jelly Pastures! Your writing makes me feel like I pulled up a chair right next to them to sit for a spell. And you cast such a wonderful spell.
    I am rooting for them (and their angel) for whatever this country road leads next.

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  11. Enjoying it so far. As soon as "Mushrooms" got mentioned I was expecting the story to go one way but then you steered it off into something else entirely.
    Looking forward to part 2

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    1. Well, I don't want to give it away, Big D, but your fungus-related suspicions are on the right track :-D

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  12. You've hooked me; can't wait to see where this is going. Thanks for writing again.

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    1. Mike, so good to hear from you. I'm glad you're enjoying the story so far. Brainstorming on part II...

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