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Short Story

JONQUIL EVANS TURNED off of the blacktop and drove toward the pines in the distance. Gravel sounded against her LeSabre. She drove gingerly, but on this afternoon in late November the makings of a holiday wreath meant more to her than her LeSabre’s fine finish.

Her husband the judge was good to her. Sometimes it almost embarrassed her, how giving he was. She didn’t need a new car every fall. She didn’t need a new fur every winter. After twenty-seven years of marriage, she had not been able to convince the judge that the finest chocolates were not necessary, that less expensive varieties would do nicely. Only that morning he had said why didn’t she talk to the florist and have a wreath made to order and save herself the hunt.

She had told him, in love, to mind his own business.

A hat-and-glove woman, Jonquil today sported trousers and an old long-sleeved shirt the judge had cast off. She wore a knockabout hat, for protection from brambles and also from the sun’s memory of summer. The lane ran narrow and Jonquil parked in tall weeds alongside. The pines were not as close as they had appeared. Indeed, the clump seemed to recede as she advanced, embracing her empty bushel basket. The terrain was such that she considered turning back, but she trekked on. When she finally reached the piney floor, the abundance of cones exhilarated her. She could make a dozen wreaths if she wanted. Because she only wanted one, she could afford to be choosy. She crawled around making unhurried choices. It occurred to her as she did so—it wasn’t the first time it had occurred to her—that striving toward art wasn’t so much about selection as about rejection. She crawled around until her knees began to chafe. By then, she had cones aplenty. Enough extra to mound a few in the Revere bowl that came out of the cabinet every November for a polish and a Thanksgiving presentation. She might paint the cones silver for a tone on tone effect, but then again she might leave them woody for dramatic contrast with the silver.

Not until she was on her feet did she see the boy standing there.

“And how are you today?” she said.

No answer.

In height he appeared to be seven or eight. His eyes struck her as windows into an old man.

“I am Mrs. Evans,” she said, brushing at the debris that clung to her trousers. “And what is your name?”

No answer.

No movement.

“Where do you live?” she said.

He turned. Jonquil thought he was leaving, but no, he motioned for her to follow. He stopped where the pines ended and the sky began. From that lifted place, he pointed, and Jonquil looked down on hills tumbling toward the lake that once had been a river. The scattered houses were unpainted shacks; they were not cottages; they were smaller than cottages. The boy’s forefinger indicated one in particular and Jonquil took it to be his home. Life was visible through the unscreened open door—a woman held a child on her hip—still it was hard to grasp that people lived there. Jonquil looked for poetry in all things because she believed that poetry was there if you looked for it. She studied the shack. Poetry was there and the poetry was dark.

In her stomach she knew that the love of Jesus had never entered that shack. The old desire to be a missionary came back and snatched at her.

“Do you attend Sunday school?” she asked, gently.

No answer.

“Do you go to church? Do you know what a church is?” The same gentleness.

“I have something for you in my car,” Jonquil said. “Will you come with me? You may carry my pinecones if you like.”

His silence held.

“Wait here,” she said, understanding.

When she returned with the Gospel in a Nutshell, the boy was gone.

Jonquil tried to keep five or six in the glove compartment of her LeSabre at all times, the real-looking imitation English walnuts that opened up, hinged as it were, to reveal four jellybeans, black, red, white, and blue. Today there was only one nutshell. She had hoped to find a whole pocketful. Never mind, she thought. It only takes one to tell the story.

From the lookout, she saw the woman she presumed to be the boy’s mother step aside to let him through the door. Jonquil was on the way lickety-split. She had to be cautious on the descent. Undergrowth obscured outcrops and dips in the terrain. She lost her footing once and the world went upside down in a dry gully. Gathering herself together, she hoped that her fall was her secret. She found, in the process of righting herself, that the Gospel in a Nutshell had escaped her shirt pocket.

It lay partially hidden by a tuft of grass. Like an Easter egg. Before leaning over to reclaim the object, Jonquil gave herself an instant to appreciate what might be a good omen.

Then she forged on.

It was good to have a sense of purpose. That was what she lived without in her day-to-day existence. She tried not to blame it all on the judge. Had she been able to have children, things would have been otherwise. She couldn’t complain. He saw to it that she didn’t want for anything. He wouldn’t hear of her not having help; he didn’t want his wife doing housework. They traveled to a different country every year. Had he interpreted her foreign mission yearnings as a simple desire to travel?

She came to a path and followed it into the bottom where it forked at a spring. You couldn’t see the spring, surrounded as it was by rampant ferns, but you could hear it if you listened. Choosing the right direction was a matter of map-work in her head. She passed a shack that wasn’t the one. No humans about. Not to be seen, at any rate. A dog of unguessable heritage stood in the open door and watched her pass. The dog didn’t bark, and she was glad but she thought it eerie, the dog’s silence.

Farther on, she thought she heard a stalker. When she glanced behind her, here came the dog on the path. She turned and stood her ground and the dog sat. The canine eyes went cloudy on contact with hers. When she resumed her journey, the dog did too. Another face-off led to nothing, and Jonquil decided to pay the dog no mind.

The shack that she had seen from the distance came into view above. First the slant of the roof and then the slant of the tarpapered walls. Jonquil allowed herself the whimsy of imagining that the shack might have landed on a kite-flying day in some earlier century. The impressionist fancy lasted but a blink or two and then what was real kicked back in.

Partly embedded in front of the entrance lay a large stone which offered a step into the shack. Jonquil, not so presumptuous as to set foot on the stone, floated a yoo-hoo into the Indian summer air.

The woman appeared, the young’un still straddling her hip. Other children of varying ages swarmed about her. Lank of hair and bone, she looked like death standing up. Jonquil’s young “friend” looked the picture of health standing beside his mother.

“My name is Jonquil Evans. I trust I haven’t come at an awkward time. I have with me something very interesting. It’s called the Gospel in a Nutshell. May I show it to you? It won’t take long and it just might change your life forever.” Jonquil directed the words to the mother. The woman’s face was blank. Jonquil dropped to the earth and invited her class to surround her.

Not a budge.

Jonquil waited.

She took the fake walnut from her trouser pocket and held it up between her thumb and forefinger, to display the mystery. When the woman stepped out, her brood followed. She motioned for them to sit and they plopped down, but she remained upright and shifted her load and positioned herself where she could look over Jonquil’s shoulder.

A slight pressure opened the walnut and the teacher wasted no time getting to the lesson. The black jellybean was the sin in everybody’s heart. The red jellybean was the blood of Jesus that saves us. The white one was the spotless heart that Jesus gives us when we receive him as savior. The blue one made us think of heaven where Jesus will take his children when they die.

It came over Jonquil that she was thoughtless. She should have waited and come back with plenty to pass around. At the sight of the morsels of joy, eyes had bulged forward all around her. How was she to handle the situation fairly?

She sent up a prayer for Jesus to multiply these visual aids as he had multiplied the loaves and the fishes.

There was no miracle on this occasion.

Her quandary yielded to the bear that appeared in the door. The bear became a storm and the storm became a man, and dust flew before his feet touched the ground.

His arms might have been loose blades of a windmill gone mad. In the bluster, the nutshell offered up its contents. The children scrambled for jellybeans in the dust. The man gave the back of one hand to the mother and the back of the other to Jonquil, who was struggling to her feet when she received the blow. It knocked Jonquil down, all the way, and she played dead. She heard above the roar the cries of the children as they in turn fell victim. Now she felt a kick which bade fair to disengage her head from her body. Her shoulder suffered the same threat when the assailant, with a single handhold on her upper arm, jerked her to her feet. The hand didn’t let go immediately, but guided her roughly down the path by which she had come.

§

Dusk.

Judge Paul Evans steered into the driveway. Every window on the front of the house, upstairs and down, welcomed him with light, the blinds open, the draperies pulled back. The days were getting shorter, and Jonquil again saw to it that the house presented a bright mood every evening on her husband’s return. When the windows reached out to him, echoes of the divorce court subsided.

Betty, the cook, met Paul with the report that Miss Jonquil had a migraine and was not to be disturbed. A migraine meant that his wife was flat on her back in the attic, where the dormer was thickly shrouded against the chance of a glimmer. He remembered when the pain—the exquisite agony, she called it—would last for three days. The word “exquisite” was pure Jonquil. She hadn’t had a migraine in years, and she had made hopeful comments about the possibility of her finally growing out of it.

Now, this setback.

Betty wanted to know if he’d like his dinner in the study.

“Why don’t I join you in the kitchen?” Paul said. “We’ll call it supper.”

Jonquil was a dinner person. Paul and the servant, though they had grown up under circumstances entirely different from one another, were supper people. He had grown up in Dallas society and been raised, mainly, by a colored woman until he entered school. Many a night, when guests were entertained in the dining room, that woman fed him his supper at the kitchen table. They were the best of friends and his memory of her was warm.

He tiptoed up the attic stairs and stopped before he reached the step that squeaked. “I’m home. May I bring you something?”

“My thoughtful husband,” Jonquil said. “Thank you, but no.”

He went to their bedroom, changed into his corduroys and pullover, went through the mail on the hall table, transferred some of the envelopes to his desk and others to the trash. He poured his usual two fingers of bourbon, took a sip on his way to the bathroom, set the glass on the toilet tank and washed his hands. Then, at the table, he did something he had never done before. He offered to pour Betty a snort.

“Judge, you oughtn’t to do that.”

Paul insisted, but he took her counsel under consideration and poured a lesser amount than he might have.

Betty touched the bourbon to her lips. “Thank you, sir.”

She could not be persuaded to sit down with him. He sat at the table and she stood by the counter, holding her plate in her hand. Boundaries were boundaries, and it seemed that Betty was more comfortable with them than without them.

Supper consisted of salmon croquettes, black-eyed peas, and slaw. Paul, deciding that Betty had the right idea, picked up his second croquette and ate it by hand. He liked the earthy cornmeal in which the croquette had been rolled. He watched Betty lick her fingers. Although the pink underside of her hands had always intrigued him, he’d never been so drawn to the mysterious frontier between the pink and the sepia.

Nearing sixty, Paul liked to think of himself as beyond the temptations of the flesh. He had navigated safely through the dangerous straits of his forties and fifties. The majority of shipwrecks that reached his courtroom could be traced to middle-aged husbands and wives sampling around for something different. He and Jonquil had a good marriage. They had a good marriage because they worked at it. He felt responsible before God for stealing Jonquil from her sensed vocation. Not a strong believer, he was believer enough that he couldn’t say ho-hum to the thought of a jealous God. He wanted to measure up as a good husband in the eyes of a higher judge.

A scream came down the back stairs, with Jonquil not far behind it. Paul was there to catch her in the last of her tumble. “What is it?” he pleaded, holding her as they sank to the bottom step.

Betty hovered nearby.

Jonquil couldn’t seem to out with it.

Finally, “A rat.”

“Bit you?”

“I don’t think so, but it was so close I could smell its breath.”

Betty shook all over. She went to the kitchen and could be heard finishing the duties there. Her exit from the house was so quiet that Paul didn’t know she had left until her old Ford didn’t want to crank.

He maneuvered his wife to their bedroom, insisted that she drink at least a tablespoonful of whisky, promised her he would call the exterminator in the morning. He inspected her scrapes and bruises and wondered at them. The scrapes were not fresh, the bruises were darkly more than a few minutes old. He hesitated to question her, fearing she would go to pieces. He did inquire about her migraine.

“It seems to be gone,” she said, and crawled into bed.

“That’s good,” he said.

“Yes.” The one syllable came out of her, but barely.

He placed his hand on hers.

She began to whimper and pulled her pillow over her face.

“I didn’t want you to see me,” she said. Muffled.

“Jonquil,” Paul said, “what are you not telling me?”

He waited.

She removed the pillow and looked at him. “You may be a judge, but you’re not the judge. Remember that.”

“I’ll try to.”

“I didn’t want you to see me, because I knew you’d be upset.”

“I’m not upset,” he said. “I’m at a loss.”

From there, Jonquil proceeded to pour it all out, what had happened that afternoon.

§

The next day was Saturday.

The judge’s bladder served him faithfully. He needed no alarm clock to wake him. His routine was under way as soon as he thrust himself out of bed. He stepped into the shower every morning after his first leak. Even on Saturdays.

But not on this Saturday. The shower was dispensed with.

The variance caused Jonquil to lift her head from the pillow. She pulled herself out of bed, sore all over. She ran a comb through her hair. Struggling, she got her arms into the sleeves of the housecoat. The judge was already downstairs.

Instead of lightly trailing the banister, her hand this morning used it to steady her descent. She saw her husband come out of the offset nook, gun in hand. It was that time of year. She didn’t like having the gun cabinet so close to the dining room, but the judge was proud of his collection and liked to lead guests to the cabinet and display the firearms individually if the guests appeared interested. Some of the guns were antiques and quite expensive. Personally, she didn’t know one gun from another and didn’t care to, although she did like the smell of the stuff he oiled his guns with.

“I forgot it was hunting season,” she said. “Who all’s going?”

“I need time alone.”

“Shall I make a thermos of coffee?”

“No, but I could use a mug before I leave.”

Betty, coming in the back door, heard him.

She said, “I’ll make it.”

“Betty, you’re a dear.” Jonquil’s words were automatic, but she meant them.

Her direct concern was with her husband’s safety. She didn’t like for him to hunt alone. She thought of the danger of crossing fences, gun in tow, or something happening and there being nobody to send for help. But—when hunting with a fellow sportsman, there was always the chance of friend killing friend.

Paul wasn’t himself this morning. He left without the usual kiss. One reason the kiss meant so much to Jonquil was that it seemed every bit as necessary to him. It wasn’t a mere peck on the cheek. After all these years, it was still a sweetheart’s kiss. And more than that, she thought it fortified them for the day.

Today was garden club. Her house. She would have to call them and tell them it was off. She had never canceled before, but there was a first for everything. She couldn’t face questions about her appearance. She wasn’t up to it. Because it was late in the season, a smaller group would be planning to attend; still, she should call the whole list. She decided she wasn’t up to that either. She would ask Suzette Moore to pass the word around. Jonquil Evans was under the weather.

The judge returned. Jonquil wanted to believe that her husband had come back for the kiss. However, he went straight past her. He had bathroom business to take care of. He did deliver the kiss on his way back to the door. From the door, his hand on the knob, he turned and asked for a description of the man who mauled her.

“Like a bear,” she said. “Why?”

“I’m going to kill the son of a bitch if I can find him.”

“No!” Jonquil cried.

“No, Judge,” Betty said, incredulous.

“He will pay,” the judge said.

“But I have forgiven him.” Jonquil didn’t fall to her knees, but that was the attitude expressed in her voice. “Before God, I have forgiven him. I had to forgive him because that’s who I am—do you understand?”

“No, I don’t understand.”

“If you kill that man, you’ll be putting yourself to death.”

“That’s true, Judge,” Betty said, “and you’ll be putting Miss Jonquil to death. You don’t want to do that.”

§

Paul headed for the highway, the old two-lane blacktop. The miles blurred until he crossed the shoals bridge. About a mile farther on, he recognized where to turn off. He was surprised to find how little had changed since that day forty-odd years ago. The road was still gravel, narrow, motley weeds on either side. The first shack in the distance advised him that he had come far enough. He had proved his fury; now it was time to turn around, go home and let his blood settle.

His Lincoln—his battleship, he called it—required a fair space to turn around in. He didn’t exactly decide to drive all the way down to the fish camp; he simply kept on. Shacks here and there introduced themselves to his periphery. Cresting the last hill, he saw whitecaps on the river. The body of water, a lake between two dams, was still a river to Paul. And apparently to the old-timers who continued to speak of those existing on its banks as river rats. Whoever heard of lake rats?

The view was lost behind trees as the road swooped deeply. He came to the lake, and the water was choppy right up to the water’s edge. There was plenty of gravel. He executed a U-turn, then stopped and turned off the motor. It was uncanny. It might have been yesterday that he was here. Two one-story diner-shaped board-and-batten buildings huddled together under a corrugated tin roof. Rows of tables for cleaning spoonbills extended almost to the water.

Sonny Flanagan was the brains behind the excursion. Sonny Flanagan, whose brains were in his britches. It was the week before high-school graduation and there were four of them and Sonny was the ringleader. It was through Sonny’s father, who managed the only cafeteria in town, that Sonny knew of the fish camp. Through his own research, Sonny had learned there was a girl there who “put out” for only five dollars and would do anything for seven dollars.

Paul was a virgin and he suspected that the others might be virgins too, even Sonny, who claimed to be a stud. Paul had masturbation down to a fine art and he’d convinced himself that it was time to move on to the next chapter. His eagerness for girl flesh waned along the route. By the time they arrived at this spot, he wasn’t sure he was interested.

It was like today, turning off the highway with murder in his blood, and then, without any sense of changing his mind, realizing that murder wasn’t in him anymore. Killing and fucking. Male preoccupations in the extreme. Did his reticence mean that Paul Evans wasn’t fully masculine?

The man—was he the father?—had come out to transact business before taking them to the girl. Paul paid the seven dollars for the works, as did the others. When he saw the girl—the female—the woman—he knew without question that he wasn’t interested. She was thirty if a day. Her breasts hung thinly and limp, and were so long she could have flapped them over her shoulders. Paul took off his shirt, that was all, and backed up against a wall and observed the activity. The other boys were game and thoroughly fit as the whore took them through their paces. Paul tried to look away but he didn’t try hard enough, and so for these many years he had lived with the activity flickering in the attic of his mind. More than once in a while the images would come downstairs, uninvited, distracting him from the here and now. The rudest intrusions were those into the bedroom, defiling the territory of the sacred.

Fishermen in their puttering low-powered outboards hauled in the morning catch. Spent from fighting the trotlines, the massive spoonbills hardly protested as they met death in its finality. Their long paddle-noses accumulated in piles to the side while on the tables, the flesh of prehistory became flesh for the market, boneless “tenderloin of trout” for cafeterias around the South.

Paul sat behind the wheel and studied the fishermen. He told himself he wasn’t looking for a bear among them. And yet he was.

One of the men came to the car and said, “What’re you looking at?”

“Just observing,” Paul said. “I live in town. Haven’t been out this way in a long time.”

“Observing what?”

“How much everything’s the same.” Paul guessed that poontang was still available if bargained for. He didn’t inquire about poontang. He did bring up the subject of alcohol, suddenly desiring to drown the guilt of his morning’s intention. “Do you know where a fellow can buy a bottle around here?”

The stuff was harsh. It hit you between the eyes, but it was kind in the long run.

Moonshine, white lightning, rotgut—call it by one offensive term or another, it dulled the conscience quite well.

He sat behind the wheel, the bottle upright between his thighs. Into the fish camp, undulant now, came a truck smoking with hot ice. Into the truck went the cleaned flesh of the spoonbills. Time drifted from that bottle to another. Deep in a stupor, Paul didn’t realize that he really was wet down there. Not at first. When the situation got through to him, that the bottle had tipped over and soaked his crotch with alcohol, he crawled out of the car, shucked his trousers, pitched them into the back, reclaimed the driver’s seat and sat there in his drawers. It was beyond the middle of the afternoon. He closed the window against the oncoming November chill.

The next thing he knew, a fisherman tapped on the window and told him to get the hell away from there.

“And if I don’t?” the male in Paul wanted to toss back.

He commanded the ignition and threw the vehicle into gear.

Pulling up the steep hill, he came close to making a turn that wasn’t there. He steered ahead with the carefulness he would have exerted if trying to walk a straight line under the circumstances. Was he drunk? Of course he wasn’t.

I the judge?

The man stepped from the gray of the afternoon into Paul’s vision, took possession of the road and became a bear. The beast dared Paul to hit him. Slow motion intervened and there was an instant outside of time when Paul and the bear faced each other and Paul struggled with whether to jam the brake pedal or stomp the accelerator.

By the time his foot found the brake, a thump jolted him to what was happening.

To what had happened.

He rested his head on the steering wheel. Nothing went away. He was still who he was; he couldn’t change that. He was still on this fish camp road. He retrieved his trousers and had trouble putting them on. With one leg in and one leg out, half kneeling, he called under the car: “Are you all right?”

No answer.

Jonquil’s LeSabre approached from the direction of the highway, headlights glaring in the near dark. He gave himself over to death, but death belonged to the body under the car, not to him. He gave himself over to the drama in which he was trapped. After zipping up, he lifted his hands in surrender and walked toward the headlights.

§

Frank Junior Bohannon, the judge’s longtime friend, recently retired from the force, helped with the body. He had followed Jonquil and Betty on their search, at Jonquil’s request. Once the massive body was in the trunk and the lid down secure, Frank Junior Bohannon looked at the judge and said, “Where do we bury him?”

The cry inside Jonquil came out as a trill.

Paul Evans said to his friend, “You said it. I didn’t.”

They drove up and down the country roads looking for a hidden spot. Frank Junior Bohannon led the procession. Paul, with the body in his trunk and Jonquil at his side, followed. Betty, driving Jonquil’s LeSabre, kept close in the rear. They made a series of stops and walked around, the party of them. When they found the woods the leader thought would do, he and Paul had the body out of the trunk before they faced their dilemma. They had no spade, no shovel. The abundance of fallen leaves tempted them to cover him thickly with autumn color and be on their way. They agreed that autumn color could not be trusted. They would have to drive back to town.

Along the way, Jonquil kept a question in the air.

“How could this have happened? How could this have happened?” Again and again.

“Are you talking to me or to God?” Paul said.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But how could this have happened?”

The trail ended in Bohannon’s back yard. His wife had left him years ago and he resided there alone. His son lived in Florida, his daughter in California. Having taken up gardening in his retirement, he maintained an expansive mulch bed. He entered the garage and came forth brandishing a shovel.

“I can’t deal with this,” Jonquil said. She asked Betty to drive her home.

Not a word was spoken en route.

Not a word was spoken later when the judge crawled into bed with Jonquil. The silence between husband and wife thickened until he pulled himself out of bed and into the next room. The unspoken events of that night reigned in the house from day to day. Paul went to the courthouse and judged cases. Jonquil kept up with her club meetings and church circles and managed to comport herself as if she were the Jonquil she had been before. Betty, thoroughly acquainted with her duties, came and went on schedule and performed with hardly a peep.

Christmas was celebrated perfunctorily. Jonquil did make the wreath for the front door. She held some of the pine cones aside and sprayed them silver before mounding them in the Revere bowl.

Nothing had changed and everything had changed.

The paradox included Frank Junior Bohannon. He didn’t get in touch with the judge and the judge returned the compliment. Had Paul his druthers, he would never run into Frank Junior Bohannon on the street. It felt, though, as if the town were shrinking and the blocks tightening. Paul Evans knew it was all in his head but that didn’t lessen the effect. As time went on, he found it difficult to look at a person directly in the eyes. Even in court. Especially in court.

The November event caught up with him in June, one morning before dawn. He answered the doorbell. He recognized the two men. “What’s going on?” he said.

The answer was so polite he didn’t get the drift of it. He didn’t need to get the drift of it. He knew why the men were there. Why, he wondered, could they not have given him time to finish his sleep? What was one more hour?

A lifetime, that was what.

When he headed upstairs to dress, the men followed. Jonquil, who had hovered at the banister above, flew to the room they had shared before the silence divided them. He reached the room. Entering, he turned to the men.

“Please,” he said quietly, but with the air of a man used to giving orders.

“Yes, of course.”

“We understand.”

The men backed up.

Paul and Jonquil clung to each other behind the closed door. The clearest thought in Paul’s mind at that moment was a question. Why had he and his wife not made love during these seven months? From the way she now gave herself against his body, he perceived that Jonquil wondered the same thing.

§

Because the charge was held to manslaughter, and because of his position in the community, Paul Evans received a minimal seven years. Frank Junior Bohannon got twenty, and Paul’s true punishment was knowing that he was the cause of his friend’s involvement.

The seven years, for Jonquil, turned out to be a time of letting go and going free. Although she dropped her social doings, even her beauty parlor day, she kept busy becoming the woman she was. She began to spend time in the hills above the fish camp. Jesus came back and became the light on the highway to and from. Her LeSabre knew the way and that left part of her mind free to commune with his spirit. Of all the food that she carted out to the shack, her macaroni and cheese won the heartiest response. She taught the woman to knit and the girls to play jacks. The boys wanted to play jacks, but true to the way things are, the boys couldn’t seem to get the hang of it.

She took the children and their mother on forays into town. She took them to the house and they had a ball inside and out. Invitations to sleep over were accepted with glee. Before long, they were living there. The migration was not a planned project; Jonquil simply responded to the wind that blew. She herded the tribe to church once and she was broken by the astonished sidelong glances they drew from the grown-ups, and the out-and-out disdain of the other children. The new population camped throughout the Evans residence. Life throbbed with peanut butter and jelly. And finger paints. Mother and children took to finger painting with verve. Jonquil bought map tacks and pinned the artwork to the walls.

When Betty let it be known that she was quitting her job, Jonquil understood. She let things slide and devoted herself to preparing the youngsters—she thought of them as her wards—for some kind of proper education. The mother also, but the mother caught on to very little. Television did everything it could to thwart Jonquil’s purposes. She tried to use it as a teaching tool, but things got out of hand when she so much as went to the toilet. She would return to find the channel changed from the program she had approved and her wards scuffling over the controls. The day came when she called Betty and begged her to come back. All Betty would have to do was the shopping. There would be no cooking. They would get by on brought-in burgers and fries and such. There would be no housekeeping; the house was beyond that.

Betty reconsidered and showed up the next day.

Good.

In Jonquil’s communications with Paul, she broke the news of home little by little. A scrap this time, a scrap next time. One of these days he’d be coming home. She didn’t want him to receive the blow all at once. She figured that most of the gang would be gone by then. She couldn’t count on it, though. She suffered occasional midnights wondering if she had done them a disfavor introducing them to television and French fries and what all.

She looked forward to her husband’s return as she looked forward to the bodily return of Jesus.


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