“You missed supper,” Marietta told her with a smirk that conveyed little, if any, sympathy.
“I grabbed an apple and some yogurt at school.” Cordele set a mountain of textbooks on the table. “That’s enough . . . for me.”
Since she was easily twenty pounds lighter than any of her sisters in the kitchen, the dig couldn’t even be considered “thinly veiled.”
Cordele didn’t bother with such subtleties as tact. She was, very simply, a superior human being—at least in her own opinion—so what was the point in trying to hide the fact?
When she saw Savannah standing at the sink, her eyes lit up momentarily with recognition and affection. But as she hurried over to embrace her older sister, her eyes flicked lightly over Savannah’s ample figure, and a slightly sad expression replaced her smile.
“Savannah,” she said, putting her arms around her waist and giving her a limp hug, “Gran said you’d probably be here when I got home. You look good. You know . . .” Another quick glance up and down Savannah’s full figure. “. . . Considering . . .”
“Yeah, right. Considering,” Savannah replied, giving her a hearty embrace, slapping her on the back, and not bothering to dry her wet, sudsy hands first. “I’d say a lot’s happened since you left for school . . . when was it, this morning?”
“Eight o’clock. It isn’t easy, you know, having to drive all the way to Macon to attend classes, getting your degree, especially in a science field like psychology.”
“Eh, big deal,” Vidalia said with a snort. “Psychology’s just a bunch of stupid stuff about wanting to have sex with your parents, dreaming about trains and tunnels, looking at nasty pictures called inkblots, and other dirty crap like that.”
Cordele’s chin lifted a couple of notches. “Oh, please, Vi. Just because you have inferiority issues about not even getting your high school diploma, you don’t need to insult the noble art of psychology.”
“Why don’t you sit down,” Alma said, shoving a glass into Cordele’s hand, “and have some tea?”
“No, I have to hit the books and—”
“Take the tea, Cordele,” Savannah said giving her a gentle shove toward an empty chair. “And park yourself right there. We gotta fill you in on the latest family news, and you’re gonna want to be sitting down when you hear this.”
Fifteen minutes later, when Savannah left the kitchen, Alma was comforting an almost hysterical Cordele, while Vidalia and Marietta laughed at her.
As Savannah walked into the living room, Gran set her Bible and her glasses on the end table and rubbed her eyes wearily. “That Cordele bawling in there?”
Savannah sank onto the sofa next to Gran’s chair. “Yeah, I don’t think she gives a hoot about Macon, but she’s convinced we’ll all be ostracized by McGill high society over this.”
“No more tea and crumpets with the mayor’s wife?” Gran sighed and smiled. “No more thousand-dollar-a-plate fund-raisers for the chamber orchestra? Whatever will I do with all my spare time?”
“Sit in that chair with your toes pointed toward the ceiling. That’s what you should be doing a whole lot more of. Let this lazy bunch do for themselves, Gran. You’ve spoiled them all rotten.”
“Ah, old habits are hard to change, Savannah. You know that. I noticed that, even though you’re officially the guest tonight, you were the one in there doing dishes. You and Alma always were my hard workers, Lord bless you. And Waycross, too. He mows the front yard for me and weeds the garden without me even asking him to.”
“And how about Macon? Does he help out?”
Gran glanced away quickly and cleared her throat. “He does in his own way. Once in a while.”
“When’s the last time he offered to do something around here?”
Tears filled the old woman’s eyes, and she reached for a half-embroidered pillowcase from the basket on the floor beside her chair. “Just last week,” she said. “He, well, he brought me a pretty chandelier thing to hang over the kitchen table. It had crystal things hangin’ down and all. I told him it was a little outta place in a country kitchen, but thanks anyway.”
Savannah was silent for a moment, reading between the lines. Her grandmother would never turn down a gift from a loved one if it was offered in good faith. For years, she had wallpapered the kitchen with their drawings, 100% correct spelling tests, and any school paper that was a “C” or above. Whether the offering was a macaroni-encrusted picture frame sprayed with gold paint, or a piece of clay with a small handprint and an “I Love You, Happy Mother’s Day” scrawled in it, any gift was precious.
“Where do you figure Macon got an expensive chandelier like that?” Savannah asked.
“Well, he didn’t earn it stocking groceries at Gillespie’s grocery store. I reckon he might o’ got it at the same place he got that bright-red carpet that he put down in his room out there in the shed.”
“He hauled everything outta the toolshed last summer—rigged up a lean-to to store the mower and stuff—and turned the shed into a sort of an apartment for himself. He comes in here to use the rest room and shower and the like, but he sleeps out there.”
Savannah didn’t want to ask, but she had to. “Did anybody around here . . . ah . . . mention that anything was missing from their house about that time?”
“Two weeks before, a new house that was being built up on the hill outside o’ town got busted into.”
“Were they missing a chandelier and some red carpet?”
“I didn’t hear the particulars.”
Gran sniffed and pulled a lace-trimmed handkerchief from the pocket of her housedress. “I guess I shoulda asked for the particulars, huh? If I’d done the right thing and made him tell me the truth . . . if I’d called the law on him . . . maybe he wouldn’t be in the trouble he’s in now.”
Savannah moved onto the ottoman in front of her grandmother’s chair and took her hands in hers. “I understand, Gran. It would’ve been the right thing, to make him ’fess up and all that, but it’s not like the time you sent him back to Gillespie’s with stolen candy and made him apologize.”
“I know.” She dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief. “He’s been in trouble before, you know, with him getting caught stealing the hubcaps off Judge Patterson’s Cadillac last winter and—”
“He what? Oh, Lord, I didn’t know about that.”
“Yes, and you heard about the moonshine in the bathtub.”
“Yeah, that was bad enough, but Judge Patter—”
“I know, I know. That’s why I didn’t say nothing. And now I wish I had of. If he’d paid for what he done then, maybe it would’ve stopped him in this career of crime.”
Savannah had to stifle a smile: Gran had a flair for the dramatic, even under normal circumstances. And having a family member incarcerated for homicide was hardly ordinary.
“Don’t beat up on yourself, Gran. There’s no way to know what would have happened, one way or the other. You’ve taught that boy—you’ve taught
all of us
—right from wrong. If he wants to be a donkey’s rear end and do what’s wrong, he’s a grown man and that’s on his head, not yours.”
Gran blew her nose and nodded. Her tears ceased . . . at least for the moment. “I’m glad you’re here, Savannah. I don’t know what I’d do without you right now.”
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to do without me. I’m right here, and I’ll stay till this thing is settled.”
Gran’s fingers tightened around hers, and for the first time in her life, Savannah felt that she was the stronger of the two women. The sudden reversal of roles startled her. “Are you going to be all right, Gran?”
“Sure I am. I got the good Lord in heaven and my family here on earth. What more do I need . . . except maybe to find out that my grandson didn’t do anything worse than steal some carpet and a light fixture.”
“If you’re all right, I’m going to go poke around his ‘apartment’ out there in the shed, see what I can find that might help.”
Gran nodded. “That’s a good idea. I figure the sheriff will be along any time now with a search warrant, wantin’ to do the same.”
“That’s just what I was thinking. And I’d like to have a look-see first.”
Savannah stood and headed for the door leading through the back of the house, then decided to go out the front and avoid her sisters.
“By the way,” Gran said, as she reached for the screen-door handle. “I forgot to tell you, your friend, Tammy called earlier, before dinner. She was just wanting to know that you got here safe and sound.”
“Oh, that’s right. I promised to give her a call, and I forgot all about it.”
“I explained everything to her . . . well, at least some of it . . . and she said if you need her help with anything, you just give her a call, you hear?”
“I’m sure she meant it, too. She’s family . . . know what I mean?”
Gran smiled. “I sure do. Some family you’re born with, and some you choose to adopt along the way. But they’re all family, just the same.”
Savannah looked into those blue eyes, so like her own. They were faded, perhaps, but still alight with love and wisdom. Savannah thought,
Who would imagine that eighty-plus years could be so beautiful?
“If you hadn’t been born into my family, Savannah,” Gran said, “I would’ve snapped you up, adoption-style, in a heartbeat and considered myself lucky.”
“Same here, Gran. Same here.”
The toolshed near the back edge of the property that Macon had turned into his private apartment was little more than a shack, ten feet square. As she walked the foot-worn path through the garden to the shed, Savannah saw the heavy cord he had strung from the house, along the fence, to the peach tree and then to the roof of the tiny structure, to provide electricity.
Macon had always been handy . . . when he chose to be. Though, unlike the hardworking Waycross, he seldom elected to make his talents useful to others.
Beauregard trotted along at her heels, ears flapping, content to have company for the moment. But as they neared the shed, he stopped in the middle of the path, sat back on his haunches, and howled.
Savannah reached down to pat his head. “You know Macon’s gone, don’t you. We miss him, too.”
The dog whimpered once and rolled his eyes. Then he looked back at the shed and growled.
“You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to,” she told him. “Run along back to the house. There’s supper scraps in your dish, you know.”
As though relieved to be dismissed, he took off, heading back to the porch and his dinner bowl.
She laughed and continued on down the path toward the shed.
Nearby, in the poultry pen, she could hear the chickens clucking contentedly, settling into the henhouse for the night. She smelled the cozy, dusty scent of their feathers and recalled the pleasant task of collecting the eggs. Stealing an egg from under a warm, setting chicken beat the heck out of taking a Styrofoam container from the cold refrigerator in a grocery store.
But the shed itself provoked less comforting memories. Miscellaneous greasy car parts littered the ground around the door, and Savannah recalled half a dozen “redneck” and “trailer park trash” jokes about automobile engines dangling from tree limbs in the yard. Twenty—even ten—years ago, Gran wouldn’t have allowed such a thing on her property. But with age, her standards and her control on her grandchildren had slipped a bit.
Savannah vowed that if she could get Macon out of that jail and the trouble he was in, she would tell him to get this mess cleaned up, pronto.
She intended to tell him to clean up a lot of things. And if threats of bloodshed were required to light a fire under his rear end, that was fine, too.
When she opened the door, it stuck, swollen from the humidity, tight in its frame. The smell of stale food and dirty laundry greeted her as she stepped into the gloomy interior . . . and another odor that was unmistakable and all too familiar to her as a former law enforcement officer.
“Pot,” she said to herself. “Yeah, you little turkey-butt, Macon W. Reid. We’re going to have a
to talk about one of these days soon.”
At least, I
we have the opportunity to talk about such things,
she thought. Last week, she would have been worried to hear that her brother was smoking dope. Now, it seemed the least of his many problems . . . and hers.
After a few moments of feeling around in the semidarkness, she found the extension cord and a plug, tacked side-by-side on the wall. When she shoved the plug into the socket, the room was instantly bathed in light . . . glimmering, glittering light.
Gran wasn’t kidding about the chandelier that Macon had brought home. Savannah knew quality Irish crystal when she saw it, and she also knew this fixture cost more than Macon could have made in six months at the grocery store.
The brilliant red carpet on the floor felt at least two inches thick beneath her feet, and that depth of color could only be produced with the highest quality wool.
But the luxury ended there.
A twin bed with some threadbare blankets and dingy sheets was shoved into one corner. The room’s only other furnishings consisted of a plastic crate that functioned as a table. Upon the crate sat a boombox, assorted CDs, fast-food remnants, and empty soda bottles.
Dirty laundry lay in piles on the carpet, and the smell of stale sweat wafted from a pair of battered sneakers that were sticking out from under the bed.
Savannah didn’t take long to examine the room. There wasn’t much to see. Not much to define a young man’s life. The only signs of productivity a couple of expensive items stolen from some innocent person’s home.
Savannah felt sick at heart, a combination of sad, ashamed, and angry. What did her brother think he was on this planet for . . . to take up space and breathe free air?
He was smart, healthy, and he had been raised to know the value of hard work, the virtue of self-sacrifice, and the difference between right and wrong.