"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