Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was jerked up by my hair, (according to several preachers) in the spot where the Bluegrass kisses the Appalachian Mountains. I traveled the Hillbilly Highway North and sojourned in Ohio for thirty five years and for thirty five years I tried to teach them Ohioans that sugar goes in tea, not cornbread. I was an utter failure, so I returned to my beautiful mountains, where people know what a wasrsh rag is. Now I sit on my hillside and raise goats, write stories and use sugar properly.
It was hot, June and I was playing behind the plywood construction that served as a bar in The Joint. I lined up empty beer bottles like soldiers, while Daddy sold cold, full bottles to the thirsty men who come in. When he moved close to me I could smell the Old Spice he splashed on every day after shaving. He had took to doing that after Mama left, shaving every day. Sometimes if nobody was looking he’d stop and bend down and rub my head. Me hiding under the bar was our secret.
Daddy touched my knee with his toe. “Here,” he said as he bent down and handed me a pickled egg. I bit into the sweety-sour egg. I liked the way it felt, tough and chewy on the outside and the soft yellow insides. Some nights, if The Joint was busy, pickled eggs were my dinner. I didn’t mind. I liked pickled eggs.
On the other side of the bar, feet scuffled, people fed nickels into the old jukebox, while some played cards or danced. Sometimes I closed my eyes and imagined what they looked like with just the sounds and smells to go on. I’d pretend the empty bottles were the people and I was Daddy.
I heard Rose Martin and her husband, Bill sit down on the other side of the bar. I knew their voices because they lived down the road from Grandpap. Bill delivered our mail. They were laughing as their knees bumped the wood.
Daddy served them two beers from the chest. “Looks like y’all started early tonight,” he said.
“Yeah, we might a had a nip or two,” Bill said.
I stuck my hand in the bucket and pulled out a handful of lids. I was sticking them back on the bottles like hats when I heard a man holler, all mad like, “Rose, I can’t live like this anymore. I come here to tell Bill all about us and give him leave to walk away or to try and kill me. Don’t make no difference, I aim to leave here with you tonight.”
The Joint got real quiet. The jukebox went dead. Daddy grabbed Thumper, his baseball bat from under the bar. “Now Sam, don’t be bringing trouble up in here,” he said.
I scooted down to the crack where two pieces of plywood didn’t fit exact. I could see the man Sam standing in the door, his face all hot red and his legs splayed apart as he rocked back and forth.
“Harold keep out a my business,” Sam said.
“Is this the truth?” Bill asked Rose.
I heard Rose crying, “Bill, Bill, let me explain to you.”
“I take it that it’s the truth,” Bill said.
“Hell yeah it’s the truth,” Sam yelled as he moved closer to the bar.
“Bill it didn’t mean nothing,” Rose begged. Then to Sam she yelled, “Get on out of here. I don’t want you.”
“That weren’t what you said yesterday morning,” Sam’s voice was hard and mean. “Matter a fact you was beggin for it.”
Daddy brought Thumper down hard on the bar, trying to get everybody’s attention. But it didn’t work.
Bill pulled Rose away from the bar. I could see them from my hiding place now. He held hard to her hair. Tears wet her face and turned her bright colored makeup to mud. She pushed at his chest with her little hands and begged, “Please Bill don’t. You’re hurting me.”
Bill roughly jerked her head around so her face was inches from his, “You lyin, cheatin whore,” he spit in her face.
“Let her go. Turn her loose,” Daddy yelled.
“If you want to fight, fight me like a man,” Sam was feet away from them now.
Bill reached in his pocket and pulled something out. I couldn’t tell what it was until he sliced Rose’s throat with the switchblade knife. She looked surprised as the gape in her neck filled with blood and it poured onto her yellow dress. Bill turned her hair loose and pushed Sam aside as he ran out the door. Without Bill holding her up, Rose folded up to the floor. For a minute nobody moved and I could see Rose’s eyes. They watched the river of blood as it flowed from her neck.
Then the quiet ended. A woman screamed. Chairs turned over. Daddy dropped Thumper to the floor, as Sam and him ran to Rose and tried to help her. There weren’t no helping her. It was too late. The hole in her neck was too big and she run out of blood.
I might’ve only been eight years old, but that was the night I swore off men. That was the night, after the undertaker took Rose away and the law left, Daddy handed me a Barlow pocketknife. He said, “Keep a good edge on it and always get the first cut.”
And I have.