Randall Ivey: Mae Ola: A Remonstrance (fiction)


As for a Southern legitimacy statement, I sometimes have to stop myself from referring to Virginians as Yankees.

Mae Ola: A Remonstrance

You just love to worry, don’t you?

Wallow in worrying, I say.

I never seen nobody study worrying the way you do.  Looking for every opportunity they are to have your nerves tore up.

How come?

You say you didn’t start till Daddy died, that it was his passing what set you off, but I know that ain’t true.  It begun way before then.

Every noise – every bad piece of news – every forecast of rain and thunder – sets you to shuddering like a chihuhua dog that’s been yelled at.

And I’m talking about bad stuff you see on the TV, not what’s happening in your own back yard.  Bad stuff that goes on someplace else – Gaffney, Spartanburg, here, there – and not where we live.  They predict a tornado in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and you go running to the bathroom to lock yourself in it, like they’s a honest chance that bad wind is going spin itself all the way over to South Carolina.  A crazy man breaks out of jail in Greenville, and you lock all the doors and windows, like he’s headed straight for 101 Charlestown Court and no place else.

Your health is good.  You strong as an ox.  Smart as a whip.  Ain’t got the sugar or the Oldtimey’s, and here you are – what? – eighty-three years old.

What is it makes some women go on like that?

Is it the curse of Eve?

But that was the curse of blood we all have.

The shame of nakedness.

You tried to explain once:  how you growed up in the country and that give you a fear of what the Lord made – the wind, the lightning, the driving rain, the beast in the woods, the very ugly heart of mankind.  Some such as that.  And you said it was the right and proper thing to be – afraid in the Lord.  But it ain’t fear of the Lord.  It’s the plain fear of living.

The Lord put us here to live.  Why else?

For a long time, it got to where you wouldn’t even leave the house.  Become a shut-in.  Got Daddy to worrying about you as much as you worried about yourself.  (Oh I ain’t going to say his worrying killed him.  Won’t put that burden on you.  But it played a part, I’m willing to bet.)

He done everything he knowed to do:

Had the women from your Sunday school class come to see you, talk to you, pray for you, invite you back to church, to the circle meetings.  But you told them no.  Even said to their faces how you wasn’t sure the Lord meant you to be happy, that maybe some folks He has circled out just to be miserable.  And they never come again, and who’d blame them?  A waste of time getting you to see the light.

Had the doctor write you a prescription for depression pills.  You took them once, twice then stopped.  Didn’t give them time to work.  Said they made you feel bloated and itchy, that you just itched yourself red and raw in one place.

Then he planted the flower garden for you.  Planted it in spring and by summer had the front yard ablaze with zinnia and ‘zaleas, nasturtiums and calla lilies and goodness knows what else.  There was so much color in that front yard it was like he had set a bonfire to the grass.  When he had it good and going he turned to you and said it was yours to take care of now, that it was good for the body and the mind to work the ground, to be among so much color and so much natural life.  You went out to it twice, stood out in it for only a few minutes then turned and come back in and never paid it no more mind.

Then Daddy died.  A heart attack.  He was out in the yard, near the flower garden he’d made just for you, when he dropped just like that.  Dead by the time he hit the ground.

Oh I ain’t blaming you for him dying.  No ma’am.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t say he died from a broken heart rather than a busted one.  It was like you rejected Daddy when you rejected the garden he had built up for you.  Like you turned away a child that come from his flesh, his loins, one he wanted to join to your flesh, but you wouldn’t have it.  He offered it, and you done what?  Come back into this house, to this chair, to wait and worry away what’s left of your life.

Him dying give you the excuse you was looking for, hoping for all these long years.

The only thing that would make it better would be for me to fall down in the pit with you and wallow just as hard.

But I won’t.  Never have.  Never will.  You wonder why I don’t come here to see you much no more.  Why I don’t bring the grand-younguns round no more.  Look in the mirror, honey.  Ought to be clear as day to you by now.  They’s more fun to be had in the cemetery than in coming here.  In fact that is where we go – where I go – to see Daddy, planted in the earth like the force of life he put in the ground right outside your front door, which you then proceeded to let die after Daddy died.  I talk to him now and shake my head and tell him I know he wants me to look after you and I try, but there ain’t no way to live for nobody else.  It’s a sure way to hurry up your own death.

And then I come here and see you there all drawed up like you got the weight of the world on you, when of course you don’t, and I want to lift up both of my hands together in one big old fist and hit you and hit you and hit you like I’m striking a dying heart to get it beating again and full of blood and hope that will bring some spirit back to you, return to you whatever life you might have had a long time ago.  But I don’t hit you, of course.  And I won’t.  Never.  Because I’ll be durned if I give up my own life trying to get your life back to you.