Thursday, July 25, 2019

Poplar Mountain by Dellani Oakes Part 16


Big Earl Henry's been found—dead in the creek. Lucius was asked to identify his body. He and Dollie go up to his house to tell his mother.

Lucius was numb. He had no idea what he was going to say to his mother. Then too, the awesome responsibility of running his father's farm had suddenly landed in his lap. How could he now plan to marry Dollie with this in front of him? His life had been so perfect ten minutes ago. Suddenly, the enormity of it hit him. Gasping, he stumbled. Dollie caught him, leading him back to the girls' dorm where Patty and the truck waited. Dollie put Lucius in the passenger seat and went in to talk to Patty. Keeping it short she told her the situation.
"I don't know when I'll be back. I expect the men will tell Will. I have to get Luke home so we can break the news to Rachel. Don't wait up." The sisters hugged.
Dollie adjusted the seat so she could sit closer to the wheel. Lucius was nearly a foot taller than she. The seat didn't go up quite far enough, so she sat on the edge as she put the truck into gear. Lucius didn't say a word when she nervously shifted, grinding the gears a little. Normally, he'd have teased her. It told her how completely self-absorbed he was at the moment—and had every right to be. She drove slowly up the mountain to his family's front door, stopping the truck. Lucius didn't move.
Dollie put her hand on his, making him meet her gaze. "You told me, a little while ago, that you love me. I didn't get a chance to respond."
Lucius shook his head, waving it away as unimportant.
"No," she said, command in her voice. "I've got the right to speak my mind. Lucius, you're the finest man I know and I've come to realize that I love you too. And one day, I'd be the happiest, proudest woman on earth, if you made me your wife. Now," she said crisply. "We're gonna go tell your mama what's happened. And we'll get through this together, side by side."
"Oh, Dollie!" He clung to her, sobbing. "How am I gonna tell Mama?"
"Don't you worry about it. Come on." She opened the door on his side and they slid out.
Rachel Henry greeted them at the door. She was in her nightdress, a robe clutched around her. When she saw their faces, she didn't have to ask. She knew what the problem was. A tiny part of her hoped to be wrong.
"I heard the commotion. What's the matter?"
"Rachel, let's have a seat," Dollie said, leading the older woman to the couch.
Lucius sat on the chair closest to the door. He couldn't walk another step. Trembling, Rachel sat.
"They found Earl," Dollie said. "There's been an accident."
"Is he gonna be all right? Is he at the hospital?"
"No, ma'am. He's not gonna be all right, Rachel. I'm sorry to have to tell you.... Earl's dead. They found him in the creek."
"In the creek? Oh, my dear lord! What happened?"
"We don't know. I expect the sheriff will be up later with details."
"I think it's pretty clear," Lucius said angrily. "He got blind ass drunk and fell in. That's obvious."
"Lucius, don't," Dollie cautioned.
"Don't what? Don't tell the truth? Don't tell Mama, she might not know her husband was a useless drunk, who fobbed off his work onto children? That we only ever had one real parent. He might only now be dead, but my pa died to me a long time ago."
"Your pa wasn't an easy man to love," Rachel said, chin coming up defiantly. "He was a hard man, cold-like. It weren't his fault. The war changed him. What it didn't do, Life did. He was a kind man, tender hearted, gentle. I loved him the second we met. We married when I was fifteen. I had our first baby when I was sixteen...."
"Wait a second," Lucius said, holding up his hand. "Will's only twenty-three."
His mother nodded, tears in her eyes. "We had another child, your brother, who died when he was two. Earl, he joined up to be a soldier when the baby was a year or so old."
"We weren't in the war yet," Dollie protested.
"The Prime Minister of England, he asked all able bodied men join up to help out. He declared as the war was gonna get worse 'fore it got better. So Earl, he did what he thought was his duty and joined up with the British army."
Lucius was surprised. He'd always assumed his father had been drafted. "I never knew that," he whispered.
"All this time, you thought your pa was a no-count," Rachel snipped. "You never saw the man I knew. He was strong and proud and he loved his young'uns.... It about kilt him when little Earl died."
"Little Earl? My brother?"
"You never did wonder why your daddy was Big Earl?"
"I thought cause—well, he's big," Lucius replied awkwardly.
His mother laughed a little. "Well, that too. Earl got hurt bad in the war. When he come home, the nightmares started. Doctors called it shell shock. It broke his mind and his spirit. He heard things—voices like. Only the liquor drowned 'em out. Your pa was a good man and I loved him. And I want justice, Lucius. Someone stole your daddy from me." She broke down, weeping uncontrollably.
Dollie held her while she cried. Lucius carried her to bed. Eventually, she fell asleep. They tucked her in and closed the door to the bedroom.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes

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