Friday, May 6, 2011

Not A New Beginning

*This week's prompt for The Chrysalis Experiment was "I think you're my new favorite puzzle." Contains mild swearing. Can't decide on a proper title (which is usually a sign I've got a holey story, lol). But...

Without furthur ado:

Not A New Beginning

Iris knew as soon as she saw the Thursday paper chucked against the screen door that it was going to be another bad day. She stood there for a moment in the silence, door open, red-and-brown flannel nightgown flapping against her knees in the early dawn wind, and looked up and down the street. All the cars were in their garages, all the curtains closed,  even all the gardeners were asleep still, dreaming of digging beds under the sycamores to stash their rows of impatients. For a moment she considered hopping in the truck and driving all around town, plucking people’s papers right of their front porches, but there wasn’t no sense fighting something like this. So she went back inside, to her puzzle and her grapefruit and coffee — her “old geezer” breakfast that Annie teased her about so much.  Iris preferred to think of it as sensible. She locked the door behind her.
The paper’s headline — “Local hero discovers wife is mother” — made the acid of her coffee rumble in her stomach. She didn't read it; didn't need to. Instead, Iris found the puzzle piece she’d been looking for, and slipped it into the gap that showed the oak of the kitchen table. It was so quiet; almost the good kind of quiet rather than the bad. But that wouldn't last. Sooner or later Annie would show back up, dark hair frizzed with humidity, eyes wild, all sunburned and looking like a prophet or a bum, and then she’d start in on “what they was gonna do about it.” You could put money on it.
The sound of truck doors slamming in the drive, and whispers, arguing voices. Iris sighed. Right on cue.
“Iris, open up,” Shawn called through the door. So it was all three of them then, she saw as she came to the foyer, Shawn towering on one side of Annie, his fist wrapped around her arm all firm and white knuckled, Zack struggling on Annie's other arm.  As soon as they came in, Shawn done chucked Annie loose, almost knocking both her and Zack to the floor.  Annie flopped on the couch. The house filled with sounds.
“You see the paper?”

The question was a hiss. She looked like a crazy lady. Needed a bath and a good smack to calm her down, but Iris wasn’t big enough yet to do it, and Shawn and Zack, well, they had enough to settle between the two of them.
“Where’ve you been?” Iris asked, forcing her teeth open from the clench she got whenever Annie up and disappeared and reappeared like this. Always the one to cover for her. Always the one to make her excuses. And now, the one sitting alone in the silence, waiting.“Where is he?” No response. “Where’s Dad?”
Shawn and Zack, shadowed in the foyer and arguing something quietly, shut their mouths in a quick snap, then turned to their sisters.
“Dead,” Annie said, her voice one short clip like a Yankee . “Dead,” she repeated, drawing herself upright on the couch. “And we’re to go live with Uncle.”

Uncle Cletus was a hard man, though in general good and well-known one. He lived at the edge of town, where the pavement met gravel and then gravel met dirt and dirt met the red clay dust of the hills. At the end of his driveway sat an old Buick, a pile of rust that with a crumpled fender that looked like a sneer as they got out the truck door behind it. No way to leave, it seemed to say. Iris and Annie’s arrival there, dusty suitcases in hand, was as the sounds of dirt clods flung on their caskets. It was in no way a new beginning, as everyone in town had said it would be; Iris knew this because she prized being sensible. No; it was not a new beginning. It was the end.
For years Uncle Cletus had served as sheriff, and now he practiced law, or so the stories went, and lived alone with his son Hendrick after Aunt Eugenia done runned off with a travelling salesman from up north.  Hendrick was alright as far as Iris could see, but had a little too much brawn and not enough brains. Though Annie looked like she felt the opposite; of course she did. From the moment they moved in, Hendrick and Annie were thick as thieves, leaving Iris to spend her afternoons roaming the snake-filled hills rolling back from Uncle Cletus’s property; she saw no puzzles at Uncle’s house. It was an afternoon just like this when all Hell up and broke loose.
“He ain’t goin' be buried on the family plot, I tell you.”
Uncle Cletus’s feet were planted firmly on the front porch as Iris came around the corner of the house. The double barrel stood propped against the door frame, as if in warning to keep things civil. Hendrick and Annie stood facing him from the middle of the crab grass yard, both with their feet planted too, knees locked.  Annie’s arms were locked too and her hands clenched at her sides, hair jerking out from her head in the humid breeze, frizzed with anger.
“Like Hell he ain't,” she hissed.
Hendrick stepped closer to her, pressed his hand to the small of Annie’s back just ever so slightly. In the sudden sun dappling through the trees as he moved, Iris saw the glint of the ring on his finger. So. Two weeks here and they was already engaged. Because what this family needed more than anything else was more marrying-in. Iris held her tongue though, and waited for the argument to explain itself.
“I told you once, and I told you twice and I’m a' telling you now; it’s the end of the matter! I’ve seen to it. Shawn’ll rot there in the sun on the road outside of town, outside the church, outside the family and outside of God where he belongs. And you can just be thankful that’s all I’ve seen to. Now get out of here; get out of my sight,” and Uncle turned, stomped to the screen door, yanked it open and disappeared inside.
“Like Hell he ain’t,” Annie whispered again. Now that Iris had drawn closer, she could see her sister's face clearly, gone all splotchy from the crying and raging Iris had evidently just missed.
“What’s goin on?” Iris looked to Hendrick, since Annie was too busy muttering curses. Annie looked at Iris for a moment, her face a mess of emotions, and then turned and walked to the driveway, flexing and clenching her hands straight out from her arms as she walked. Hendrick watched her for a time, and then said quietly, face still turned to his fiance, “We done got word today … Your brothers … they got into an argument. 'Bout the will.” His drawl was slow, stupid even.
“They’s dead,” he said heavily. “Shot. Dad said it was being taking care of down at the station.” And then he sighed. “Here we was thinking they might settle down, what with something happy to finally think about.” He lifted his left hand to Iris so she could take in the wedding band, his eyes still on Annie, now leaning face-forward over the old dead Buick parked in the back of the driveway. “Didn’t get the chance to tell neither one of them.”
Annie shoved off the car, then came running back to them.
“I’ve got it,” she said grimly, stopping so short in front of Hendrick and Iris that the dirt between the patched of crab grass puffed up from the toes of her shoes. “Here’s what we’re gonna do about it. We’ll just get the body and bury him ourselves, next to Zack and Dad where he oughta be.”
‘Ain’t no good going to come of this,” Iris began wearily. “Let go and let God.”
“Shut your mouth!” Annie bellowed, and her stick-straight armwhipped across her body, backhanding Iris across the face. It was the hand with the new ring on it. “You’ll help bury your dead brother, so help me God!”
“Like Hell I will,” Iris replied, flexing her jaw as she stared at her sister. That damned smack had made the whole side of her face throb. “I’ve had about enough of the goings-on in this family. I’m letting it be. I’ll have nothing to do with it.”
“Well then,” Annie said, her voice a rumbling growl, as Hendrick slowly slipped his bulky arms around Annie's, surprisingly surreptitiously, Iris noticed, “I’ll have nothing to do with you. We’re done. I wash my hands of you. You ain’t no family of mine no more.”
“Fine.” Annie jerked at Hendrick’s arms until she was loose nenough to turn, and the two of them walked away from Iris.

Iris’s life had become even more quiet. It was neither a good nor a bad thing. The stillness seeped through Uncle Cletus’s dusty window sills along with the heat and humidity, wrapping around her sweaty head as she sat at the coffee table in his front room. Uncle was at work; had won the mayoral election after finagling the town lines being redrawn so he could run. All kinds of goings-on, but none here. For once. But it wouldn't last. It never did.

At least she had a new puzzle, one that didn’t involve piecing her family back together.  Fresh from town, it stretched before Iris on the coffee table in her uncle’s front room.  It was going to be a picture of a beautiful home, with bright warm lights glowing inside frosted window panes. It was going to be perfect.  It was her new favorite. It was about the only thing she had.
The screen door swung open. Iris didn’t look up.
“You’d better go see to your sister,” he said. “Deputy Hayes caught her ought there trying to sneak his body into the cemetery.”
Iris remained silent. Looked for the next piece. It was a year for the cicada broods, and the white noise of them was the only thing sounding in the room.
“Maybe you ain’t hearing me right, girl. She’s a dead bird now. You go see her, and have a talk with her, ‘cause I’m done putting up with her. Told Hendrick this morning.”
“Dead bird?” Iris had to look up at this.
“Yes.” Uncle Cletus clomped further into the room. “You tell her she’s got one day--one day, you hear me?--and then I’ll have done with her out back in the caves of the hills. That’s all I’ll give her. G'won.” He motioned toward the door, still standing. “Getup! Go.” He kicked at the leg of the table.
The puzzle fell to the floor.  


  1. This is hectic stuff !! But I think you've captured the essence of the skeletons-in-the-closet-family scenario ...
    I just managed to get my story done & posted as well ...

  2. I did have all the original names, but I couldn't get over the idea that hillfolk just wouldn't be named "Polyneices" and "Euridice" and whatnot, so I changed everybody, and now I think it's kinda hard to sort what's going on. I suppose I could change them all back...Oh good, I'll head that way in a second.

  3. *applauds*. It's been a while since I read the original; this was an awesome adaptation! You should do Hamlet next. "Bein' or ain't bein'; that's the question right there." :P

  4. Thanks Michael!--Yeah, it'd been a long time since I'd read it too...looong time, lol, which I fear may show. I dunno about Hamlet...Shakespeare still intimidates the heck out of me! In a good way, of course.