Thursday, August 08, 2019
Poplar Mountain Part 20 by Dellani Oakes
Luke breaks the news to his siblings, telling them their father is dead.
"Why you, Luke?" Samuel asked.
Lucius' eyes riveted his brother's. "I 'spect you know the answer, Sam. But for the sake of the least 'uns—it was Daddy."
The children gasped, slow to realize the importance of what he said. The older ones, Samuel, Jane and Betsy, caught on quicker than Jacob and Sally. Jane and Betsy burst into tears. Sam sat there with wide eyes, saying nothing. He'd caught a few of their father's beatings when Lucius wasn't around to stop it.
"Where's Daddy?" Sally asked. "When's he comin' home?"
"He ain't, sugar," Samuel explained. "Daddy's gone to Jesus."
"But I want him back!" she wailed. "You holler at him to come back!"
"He can't come back, Sally," Lucius explained. "He's dead, sweet pea. No comin' back from that."
"I want my daddy!"
"Sarah Elizabeth," their mother spoke sharply. "You stop that right now. All the caterwauling in the world won't raise the dead. Now you young'uns go do your chores. Breakfast'll be ready soon. Sally, Mama needs eggs, fetch 'em. Jacob, take the pail and milk Blind Sue. Girls, help me with the biscuits. Samuel, Lucius—you boys know what to do."
Lucius set off to do his father's work and Sam followed behind to do his and help with his brother's. They worked nearly an hour before their mother called to them to come in. Washing at the sink, they sat down at the table.
Lucius went to his regular seat at the long, narrow table, but his mother shook her head. She indicated that he should sit in his father's spot. He declined. Instead, he helped her sit and stood by his place at the table, hands folded.
"Lord, we thank you for the food on this table. We thank you for the bounty you provide. We also ask you to pave Daddy's way to your door. May he find rest and peace in your arms. Amen."
They intoned with a tearful amen.
The meal was a silent one, punctuated only once in awhile if someone needed the butter or the milk passed. When it was over, the children helped clear the food and dirty dishes. They gathered their things and Jacob saw them down the mountain to the school. They could have stayed home, but Lucius knew their mother didn't need the added aggravation of children under foot. It was better they be at school where their minds could be on something else for a little while. Sally stood on the porch, watching them go. When they were out of sight, she went to her room and closed the door. Lucius wanted to follow, but he was late to work.
I'll manage," his mother said. "You go on now."
Lucius kissed her cheek. "I'll come up at noon to see to things," he said quietly.
"Don't you worry 'bout us. 'Spect we'll have company here soon as word spreads."
Lucius drove down to the school in Will's truck. He'd have to return that somehow. He'd anticipated taking it back last night. He showed up to work like usual, surprising the other men.
"Thought you'd stay home today," Patrick Kennedy said. He was Lucius' immediate boss.
"Couldn't sit home doin' nothin'. 'Spect I'll have to take a few days for the funeral and such."
"You take all the time you need. Lost my daddy at Christmas. Damn near tore me apart."
"I imagine you were closer to yours than I was to mine," Lucius said stiffly.
Patrick nodded and walked off with the others. Albert Travis, who was Will's age, put his hand on Lucius' shoulder.
"Me and my Daddy got along 'bout as well as you and yours. I know how you're feeling. You hate what it's done to your ma, but you're proud as all hell that old bastard is out of your life."
Lucius pressed his lips together, fighting his emotions. He nodded sharply.
"My suggestion," Albert said quietly. "You go find yourself some place to yell and cry, you'll feel better. Take that pretty Miss Dollie out and have some fun." He winked, nudging Lucius.
Lucius chuckled, shaking his head. "Ain't got that far, Albert. Wishin' don't make it so. 'Spect I'll be a married man 'fore it gets to that point."
"Yep," Albert drawled. "Well, if you need to get anything off your chest, I'm a man knows what you're going through. Been little over three years since my daddy crashed hisself into that tree. You need a chance to rant, look me up."
"Will do. Thanks, Albert."
Albert smiled, punching his shoulder. Lucius tipped his hat back, blue eyes wandering around the campus. He wasn't sure what he was looking for until he spotted Dollie. She was coming down the hill from the chapel. She saw him moments later. Waving and smiling, she adjusted her trajectory. Lucius struck out to meet her. A few feet away from him, she stumbled on a stone and literally fell into his arms. Laughing, he picked her up and swung her around. Dollie smiled down at him, giggling and blushing. Lucius lowered her slowly and, oblivious to everyone else, kissed her.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes
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