Tuesday, August 06, 2019
Poplar Mountain Part 19 by Dellani Oakes
Lucius and Dollie chat with Patty. She tells them that Earl was afraid that Dollie would take Lucius away from home, which was why he wasn't ever nice to Dollie.
"Will and I talked about it one time. He's had a lot of insight on his father's behavior. Earl felt betrayed when Will moved out. His son and heir left him and the land he held so dear."
Dollie calmed down. She knew Patty was right. It wasn't her Earl Henry had hated, but the idea that she'd take Lucius away.
"I wouldn't, you know."
"Wouldn't what?" Patty mumbled, already falling asleep.
"Take him from his land. That farm's a part of Lucius just like I am."
"Um hm," Patty said as she drifted to sleep.
As she lay in bed, courting sleep, Dollie said a prayer for Earl Henry. He might not have liked her, but he was Lucius' father. She owed him that. Her last thought before sleep captured her was, "I love you, Lucius."
Lucius lay in bed trying hard to find peace. He and his mother had to tell his siblings about their father's death. Much would be expected of him in the days to come, but he didn't know what. He hoped his mother or someone else would tell him so he wouldn't make a mess of it. He tossed and turned, churning the bedding with his long legs. Sleep refused to come. Instead of waking his brothers, he got up and went outside. Taking his Zippo to a home grown cigarette, he inhaled deeply, feeling the smoke roil around in his lungs.
The full moon cast an eerie silver sheen across the fields. A line of fog crept up the mountainside from the creek, making him shiver. His imagination played tricks on him, creating his father's imposing form among the mist.
"I promise, I won't fail you, Daddy," he said in a clear voice. "I told you the night Will left that I'd hold this land—and I mean to honor that. Ma and the young'uns kin stay on here. Figger I'll build us a place 'tween here and Will's. We'll all be nearby, sharing the place. Maybe once he's living here, Will can find his heart again."
Lucius ground out the stub of the cigarette under his boot heel and went inside. Disquietude followed him. He couldn't shake the feeling that his father's ghost accompanied him.
"I'll find out who kilt ya, Daddy," he promised aloud. "He'll pay. But don't you haint us or you'll scare the young'uns."
With a shiver of doubt, he shed his clothing, taking to his bed once more. His mother's movements in the kitchen woke him from a troubled slumber, early the next morning. His brothers continued to sleep soundly.
"Mornin'," he mumbled when he walked into the front room.
Rachel gasped, dropping the tin mug she held. "You gave me such a turn! For a moment you sounded so much like him." She collapsed on a chair, weeping. "What am I gonna do, Lucius? I never been without your daddy! Even during the war, he was in my heart. Now there's nothing!"
Lucius went to her, holding her close as she wept. He'd never known how deep his mother's love was for his father. To him, Earl was a mean old drunkard who took his anger out on his two eldest sons. Only when their mother intervened, would be back off. Earl Henry was a hard drinking, bad tempered man of whom Lucius had very few happy memories.
"I know he hurt you, Luke, but he was still your daddy. No matter what."
"Mama, I have so few memories of my father that don't end in a whoopin'. He showed me the back of his hand until I was big enough to fight back. I spent my childhood enduring beatings I didn't deserve and my adulthood protecting those young'uns from what I got. So you can love him and miss him all you want. Don't expect me to mourn with you."
His mother remained in stunned silence, her mouth agape. Lucius' nerves jangled unpleasantly as shivers ran up his spine. He felt like his father's ghost walked between them.
Neither of them heard the bedroom doors open, but moments later they were surrounded by his brothers and sisters. Rubbing their eyes and yawning, they stood in a semi-circle behind their older brother.
"What's wrong, Mama?" Samuel asked.
"You young'uns go get dressed an' come on back," Lucius said gruffly.
The children didn't hesitate. The command in his voice moved them to action. The only other time they hopped up that quick was when their father was in a foul mood.
Lucius felt bad for a moment, worried he would turn out like Big Earl. What kind of father would he be to his and Dollie's children? Would he be a wild drunk like Earl? Shoving his hands in his pockets, he waited for the others.
This wasn't going to be easy and it was on him to do it. With Will gone, he was head of the family now. His mother sniffled quietly, dabbing her eyes. She was in no fit state to give the news. The children sat around the kitchen table, staring at Lucius. He helped his mother sit in her seat, then took his father's place at the the table. Folding his hands before him, he began.
"There was a commotion down at the school late last night," he said quietly. "Miss Dollie and me went down to the dining hall to find out what was the matter. Sheriff Squires was there and he brung me to the creek. They'd found a man, kilt dead, face down in the water. They asked me to identify him."
© 2019 Dellani Oakes
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