Nearly ten months had passed since the birth of her child. Genevieve sat in her rocking chair, holding her little red headed baby to her breast, one foot touching the floor from time to time to keep the momentum of the chair going. Over in the window seat the young artist’s model lounged, unconcerned of the poor fit of his white robe. Genevieve, stroking the back of the baby’s head, directed an occasional glance at her unfinished canvas, across the relaxing model, and then out the window toward her husband, who was swinging on the porch swing, reading a scholarly journal. Unconsciously Genevieve was synchronizing her rocking with the squeaking of the porch swing.
Kelly, keeping his eyes trained on the journal page, was aware of his wife, watching him from the other side of the screen. He was amusing himself by changing the pattern of his swinging and noting how long it took his wife’s rocking to unconsciously catch up with the pattern. He looked up as a distant movement on the main road caught his attention. Squinting through the simmering heat on that unseasonably hot day in May, some of his good humor faded from his face as he recognized Brother Milstead’s two-year-old Cadillac Eldorado, raising a cloud of dust as it sped along the farm road toward the Archies’ driveway. “Here he comes again, I wonder what he wants this time,” Kelly thought as he lay his magazine down on the table, making sure the title of the article, Parallels Between Primitive Mysticism and the Modern Christian Church, was prominently displayed for the Baptist minister’s enjoyment.
The glossy black car, glittering with chrome, glided to a crunching stop on the gravel driveway. A lithe young man hopped out of the driver’s side and rushed around the car to open the back door. As the driver held the door open, Brother Milstead hauled his massive girth out of the back seat, and gaining his balance, firmly set his homburg over his lank, unnaturally black, hair. Adjusting his suit, and digging his cane firmly into the ground, he began to make his way up to the veranda, while his driver lounged elegantly against the rear fender of the car.
“Oh, Kelly My Boy, I am so glad to find you home!” Brother Milstead boomed, as if he were proclaiming from the pulpit. Shading his beady black eyes with one chubby white hand, as he peered up at Kelly, standing on the veranda. Milstead thought, “How does that boy stay looking cool and crisp in this weather?”
“Come up and take a load off, Uncle Darrell,” Kelly said, hoping that Genevieve, the nursing baby, and the semi-clad model, took flight to a more private area of the house. “Come get some cold lemonade to drink. The weather is really too warm today to be driving about in a black car, Uncle Darrell.”
As Brother Milstead labored up the steep graveled pathway, Kelly ran his eyes over the sleek black car, from its heavily chromed grill that reminded Kelly of Salvador Dali’s mustaches, past the aggressive bars of chrome sweeping back to the front wheel-wells, past the gray roof and chrome under panels to the sharply upturned fins, one of which supported the languid young man. The expense of the car and the pretension of having a uniformed driver disturbed Kelly almost as much as the questionable relationship between his uncle and the driver.
“Please have a seat Uncle Darrell,” Kelly said, pouring two glasses of lemonade from the frosty pitcher that the housekeeper, Eileen, recently brought out to her employer. “Eileen is such a gem,” Kelly thought, “we are so lucky that she needs a little extra money each week, and that we have a little extra money to pay her.”
When Kelly and Genevieve first settled into the little gabled house on the hill, he soon gave up on Genevieve’s housekeeping skills, or rather her lack of skills. He turned a blind eye to the condition of the house, most of the time. When his wife’s inattention to housekeeping got to be too much for him, he would occasionally threaten to get a wheelbarrow and a flat-nosed shovel to clean out the house. Genevieve would laugh at his witticism and return to her painting without any real concern for the state of the house. That was until three visiting garden club ladies were afraid to sit on the dusty sofa in the sitting room. Not long after the awkward visit, Eileen showed up on the doorstep looking for wash to take in. Kelly always suspected that one of the three gardening ladies, tipped her off, to a house in dire need of her services.
What started as weekly washing, turned into making the beds, sweeping, and some light dusting, and eventually became two daily visits. Each day but Sunday, Eileen would see her men off to the fields and hop on her bike for the short trip to the old Post farm. After feeding the little family their breakfast and putting something aside for their lunch she was back to her farm to take care of her men’s lunch. After Eileen saw her men back to the fields, having fed them a hardy lunch, she would return to bring the Kelly house under control again. From time to time she would stay late and cook a proper dinner before returning home, but often she would just set up for the dinner before leaving early. Heading home she knew that Genevieve would wreak havoc around the house, before the next day, assuring Eileen of a constant income. To Kelly it seemed like a rough work schedule, but Eileen seemed to like it quite well.
“Well, Uncle Darrell, are you here collecting for the earthquake survivors again?” Kelly asked, handing the minister a tall glass wrapped in a napkin to prevent condensation from splashing the minister’s shiny suit.
“No, Kelly my boy, I am here to ask you to sign a petition. You have a radio? Yes, well no doubt you have heard they are talking about suspending Saturday mail service, again, because of a lack of funds? The members of the Men’s Action Committee have put together a petition to the US congress, to find the funds, to keep Saturday mail deliveries going. I volunteered to go around to the citizens of Misty and collect signatures. Would you support us on this endeavor?” Brother Milstead asked, taking a sheath of folded papers out of his suit-coat pocket.
Kelly, happy that the minister’s hand was not reaching toward Kelly’s own pocket again, signed the petition and handed it back. Both men settled back, Kelly in the swing and the minister wedged into a sturdy bent willow chair, which barely accommodated his ample rump, and launched into a discussion of the political unrest in Cuba. Kelly was conflicted in his opinions. Though he for many years a quiet supporter of the people’s right to choose Communism, Mao’s actions against intellectuals in Mainland China, had a chilling effect on his intellectual heart. The men, having exhausted the subject, and the lemonade, made their goodbyes, and Brother Milstead, made his way back to his waiting car and driver.
As he was about to duck into the car, Brother Milstead called up to Kelly, “Oh, Kelly, I can rely on you to donate at the next Lions Club meeting, for the relief fund for those families in Huntsville that lost their homes in last Sunday’s tornadoes? It was such a blessing that they were at church when the storm came.” Not waiting for a reply, Brother Milstead dropped into the back seat with a groan. The driver closed the door and sprinted around the car. Going too fast for the narrow drive the car skidded to a stop at the farm road, before turning left, away from town, apparently in search of more signers for the petition, and donors for the relief.
Waving at the retreating car, Kelly turned and opened the screen door of the house. The breeze was fluttering the gauzy curtains of the sparsely furnished room, making it seem even cooler that it actually was. The room was mainly given over to Genevieve’s studio area. Guests were normally received in the small stuffy parlor, or as the local ladies called it The Sitting Room, which was filled with a mix of Genevieve’s thrift store finds and things left behind by the Titus kids as having no value. The parlor had the benefit of a door leading out onto the veranda, which could be used to access the room from the front porch without passing through the larger living area. The door between the parlor and the rest of the house was normally kept latched to provide a barrier between the Archies’ private and public lives.
He walked into the dining room to the bottom of the strangely located staircase, wondering as he always did, why the staircase was located in the dinning room when the second story of the house was built. Stopping at the bottom step, Kelly called out, “The coast is clear.” Shortly his wife, and Bennie, the young model, came clamoring down the stairs.
“I just changed Alexis. I was going to put her down for her nap, but you see …” his wife said, laughing as she bounced her little girl in the crook of her arm. “Why is it every time that man comes, little Alexis gives us such a full diaper?”
“I guess she is giving her opinion the only way she can … quietly that is,” Kelly responded, referring to the child’s habitual quiet demeanor, and taking the little girl from her mother’s arms.
“What did your uncle want money for this time?” Genevieve asked, as Bennie went off to the kitchen to see what Eileen was making for lunch.
“Tornado survivors, I swear, if my Mama, wouldn’t get all over me about respecting her brother, I would give Darrell a piece of my mind,” he said, dropping down in the easy chair, where he liked to sit sometimes and watch his wife work, and stood Alexis up in his lap. Kelly smiled at her, and she smiled back so big that her eyes disappeared into tiny folds between her brows and her plump cheeks.
“Well, Kelly, he knows that since your father died in that tornado, you are always going to be a soft touch when it comes to tornado relief,” she observed. Checking her hands to make sure she hadn’t missed any paint when she washed them, she slipped in behind her husband and began to massage the tension out of his neck and shoulders.
“I have never understood, why when the church building collapsed, my uncle climbed out and not my Da. Da had his faults, but he was basically a good man, and a loss to the whole town. I guess that was the day I stopped believing in god,” he said, sadly reaching up to stroke the back of his wife’s hand with his fingertips. “I wish you could have known him.”
“It saddens me that I never got the chance, though you realize that if your father had not died, you wouldn’t have found me that night at the Abrahams’ Place. It is a good thing that Alexis’ birth made you believe in God again,” his wife said, leaning over to peek at his face, smiling. Feeling his neck and shoulders relaxing, she offered her finger to Alexis, holding it out parallel to the floor, as one would offer a perch to a bird. Alexis stopped smiling and eyed the finger suspiciously before reaching out with a chubby hand, grabbing it, and putting the finger into her mouth.
Laughing at his daughter, Kelly reached out to touch his wife’s golden blonde hair as it tumbled down over his shoulder saying, “I will be glad when Alexis’ hair turns color and becomes as lovely as yours,” he took a golden strand and lay it over the top of Alexis’ redhead.
“Well, my dear if she follows me her hair will turn white in a month or two, and take years to become this color of blonde,” she said, laughing, “If she takes after you, it will all fall out! Anyway, what brought that up again?”
“The same old thing, my good hearing and the loud voices of the old men sitting on the benches outside the courthouse. It seems that one of them found an old book review where a smitten lady reviewer waxed poetical about my curly blonde hair. It reminded them that I was a blonde when I left this town. They were speculating that I shave my head to cover up the fact that my remaining hair is not red!”
“My dear, you grew up here, you know what a small town is like. We have lost the anonymity of New York,” she said. Alexis dropped her mother’s finger and twisted around to start trying to stick her finger into her father’s ear. Slipping her arms around his shoulders, Genevieve continued. “You know when Alexis’ hair turns, they are just going to say we went after her with the peroxide. We are lucky that Eileen isn’t a gossip, or they would have caught onto the fact I paint things that wouldn’t quite be appreciated by the ladies in the sewing circle, and that Bennie doesn’t look like either one of us and isn’t our relative.”
“You should give me and Eileen raises for our zipped lips, auntie dearest,” Bennie said, as he pushed open the louvered kitchen door with his elbow, as he was gingerly nibbling on a still hot chicken leg, crusted with Eileen’s secret spiced breading.
“My love,” Genevieve said, straightening up and turning to eye her model, “When this series of canvases are shown in New York, you are going to be the toast of the town. All those producers and directors, who passed you up, will be calling on you, begging you to star in their latest productions. I will sell all the canvases and will be able to pay you and Eileen more, but you won’t have the time to hang around a small Texas town posing. I will have to find a new Muse.”
“You will never have a muse like me again,” Bennie said, walking back into the studio area, his slim body causing the robe to curve interestingly. He wiped his fingers on the previously clean, white, robe and dropped it to the floor, before sprawling out on the model stand, striking the pose seen in the unfinished painting. Casting an impish grin at Genevieve, proud that his voracious appetite never seemed to affect his striking physique, which belied his youth, he said, “Ready, boss!”