Authors: Anne C. George
Alice Anne Carroll, my grandmother
Emily Carroll Bell, my mother
Alice Carroll George Davidson, my daughter
Emily Anne Davidson, my granddaughter
How impossible to contend
Where I stop and you begin.
Banana Republic Shirts
A Groom's Cake with Green Grapes
Artie on Her Fifteenth Birthday
Our Glorious Dead
A Circle Humming
A White Dinner Jacket
Naomi Cates and the Space-Time Continuum
Sarah Sullivan Explains to the Devil, 1940
Thomas and Sarah Sullivan, August 5, 1946
One Life to Live
Hektor and the Devil
What Naomi Cates Will Never Tell Dolly
A Letter to Dolly, Never Mailed
A Fine Rosary
Something in Particular
A Cut-Glass Pickle Dish
Artie on Her Thirty-second Birthday
The Devil's Grave
Waiting for Artie
Dance in the sunlight,
dance in the moonlight,
dance on through this do-si-do,
this one and magic life
THE BAY. IT DRAWS HER THESE LAST FEW NIGHTS OF HER DYING
. She rises from her bed that has been placed downstairs, and, careful not to wake Mrs. Randolph, opens the front door and steps onto the porch.
She is weak, but the pain is distant, like a thunderstorm held at the horizon. She crosses the yard slowly and rests at the top of the steps that lead to the beach. The air is warm, moist, and still. She feels it settling around her. Then slowly she begins her descent. Sea oats brush against her hands as she clasps the railing.
She pulls off her nightgown, folds it on the last step, and crosses the narrow beach to the water. The sand is cool to her bare feet, but the water is warm and quiet as bathwater. She walks into it and sits down, then lies back, one arm beneath her head.
The moon is a cup spilling out stars. Was it Papa who had said that once? Or had she read it? It doesn't matter. She sees that it is true. Stars drop from the sky, burning, into the bay.
She could sleep here like a baby in its sea of amni
otic fluid. Sometimes she thinks she remembers what that was like, floating with Donnie in Sarah's belly.
Artie closes her eyes and sees them all: Donnie, her other half, Carl, her husband, Bo, her love, Dolly, child of her heart, Hektor, Zeke Pardue, Papa, Mama.
Warp and woof of her life. But, on these last few nights of her dying, it is Sarah, her mother, that Artie longs for.
When she sits up, water pools in the bony conclaves of her body. She holds her palms together, fills them with water, and, bending, pours the water slowly over her head.
ALL DAY THERE IS A SLIGHT BREEZE FROM THE EAST. FLAGS ON
the Harlow community pier stir, even ripple at times; washing dries on clotheslines strung between pecans and live oaks. Soon towels and sheets, stiff, smelling of soap, Mobile Bay, and August will be folded and put into linen closets. Out on the bay, brown pelicans skim the water.
And all day the people who live around the bay watch the water. They walk to the edge and dip their hands into the small warm waves that wash against the beach. They cup their hands around their eyes and look across the gray-green surface. Nothing. “But it's a full moon tonight,” they agree. And they get their baskets and seines ready.
In Harlow, after dark, they put a watchman on the pier, but he is not needed. Even before his first shout of “Jubilee!” people are running to watch the fish slice the water's skin with their serrated, glistening fins, running to see the water whorl as the fish glide past each other, circling into the shallows toward the beach.
“Here they come!”
“Would you look at that!”
“Jubilee! Jubilee!” sing the fishermen to the millions of moons in the bay.
“Jubilee! Jubilee!” Artie Sullivan hears. Then she clutches her sheet and dies.
Mrs. Randolph, the sitter, rushes to get buckets and a flashlight from the back porch so she can join the other Harlow residents who are already gathering fish, crabs, and shrimp that are silvering the beach like a wave. “Jubilee! Jubilee!” echoes across the bay.
“I knew it,” Mrs. Randolph calls to the next-door neighbor who is running across the lawn carrying a net. “You could just tell the wind was right.”
“Gumbo tomorrow!” the woman answers. “Come help me hold the net.”
“Gumbo for everybody!” Mrs. Randolph hurries down the steep narrow path to the beach.
“Jubilee! Jubilee!” everyone sings before excited laughter becomes the silence of concentration, of choosing the choicest bounty. And even as they fill their buckets, more fish and crabs rise to the beach. Nets and buckets grow heavy.
“I never have understood why they do it,” Mrs. Randolph says, picking crabs carefully from the net.
“Why they come to the beach? Something to do with the oxygen in the water.” Both women suddenly remember how the beach will smell in a couple of days, how they will have to rake the fish carcasses into piles and pay the garbage men extra to carry the mess away. And the flies! Mrs. Randolph is thinking how impossible it is to get all the shells out of crabmeat. Even in the best restaurants you get shells. At a dear price, too.
By the time Mrs. Randolph returns to the house, slightly out of breath and with her neck aching, Artie is definitely dead.
For a moment, Mrs. Randolph is startled. But only for a moment. Then she straightens Artie's head on the pillow, goes to call Donnie and Father Carroll and find the crab boil.
DONNIE SULLIVAN IS HAVING AN ANXIETY DREAM WHEN MRS
. Randolph calls. Ten strangers sit around a conference table looking at him expectantly. It's a board meeting, he realizes, and he has no idea what the meeting is about; his heart pounds. Still caught in his dream, he hears Mariel say hello from the other side of the bed.
“Yes,” he hears her say. “Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Randolph.” Mariel hangs up the phone, turns on the lamp, and sits up.
Donnie knows. “She's gone?”
Mariel nods. For a few minutes, neither moves. The air conditioner clicks on and the curtains stir.
“I'll make some coffee.” Mariel pushes Meow off her chenille robe. The old cat yawns and stretches across Donnie's feet.
“Should we call Dolly now?”
“Let's let her sleep.” Mariel starts out the door and then looks back. Donnie has turned on his side, his back toward her. She walks to the bed and touches his shoulder. “You okay? You want a Valium or something?”
“I'm fine. I think I'll call Hektor.”
Mariel hesitates a moment and then leaves the room. Donnie reaches for the phone, but halfway through dialing Hektor's number in New Orleans, he forgets what the next digit is. He hangs up and tries again. “Hektor?” he says when he hears his brother's sleepy voice. “Artie's gone.”
“What?” There is a long moment of silence. Donnie knows Hektor is pushing himself up, rubbing his eyes. “You said Sunday she was doing better, Donnie.”
“She was, Hektor. I was out there last night.”
“Well, damn Donnie. Artie died just like that?” Another long pause. “We should have been there with her.”
Donnie rubs his own eyes. “I know.”
“I'll be there as soon as I can.”
Something else needs to be said. Donnie asks, “Hektor, do you remember getting bitten by a snake when you were real little?”
“I just wondered. Come as soon as you can, little brother.” Donnie hangs up the phone and closes his eyes. Last night Artie had asked him if he remembered Hektor and the snake, and of course he had. He could still see the snake, brown with lighter rings of tan, could still hear Hektor crying. But he and Artie were crying louder because they didn't want to tell Mama they had been playing at the forbidden creek.
“Let's wait and see what happens,” Artie had said finally. “If he gets sick, we'll tell Mama.”
“Over fifty years ago,” he had told Artie last night. “How old were we? Six?”
“Something like that. Old enough to know better.”
And they had smiled at each other. Just last night.
Meow begins to knead the cotton blanket over Donnie's feet. “Stop that,” he says, pushing the cat gently to the floor and getting up. The air seems heavy, as if he has to push against it. He walks to the window and lets up the shade. The moon is waning. The hour of the wolf, the time most people are born and die. And now Artie has died, his twin.
Across the bay, hundreds of small lights move in random patterns. For a minute, Donnie is puzzled. Then, “By damn, it's a jubilee,” he says and leans his forehead against the cool glass.
Dolly Sullivan is awake when her parents decide not to call her. She is sitting at her kitchen table in her Atlanta apartment sampling a recipe she plans to call “Dolly's Chicken” for want of another name and trying to decide whether the curry powder and chutney are too exotic for what is basically a South Alabama recipe. Walt liked it, but what does he know? She takes another bite and holds it on her tongue. Definitely too exotic. Well, she won't include it in her low-fat cookbook. As for Walt, what on God's earth had made her think he would be interesting? His name? She's been a sucker for the name “Walt” since the eleventh grade when a hippie substitute stood on Mrs. Burris's desk and read Walt Whitman's “Song of Myself” to the startled students. He was there only one day, but he had made an impression. Well, tonight's Walt was neither Whitman nor interesting hippie. And she, Dolly, was twenty-seven years old and couldn't say “Go home” to a man who talked financial planning all night, brought a bottle of Gallo Rhine, and ate two huge breasts of Dolly's Chicken with chopped chutney. Then he wanted to spend the night. Ha! So much for venturing into the dating pool again. He was lucky to get coffee.
Dolly pushes her chair back and stretches. Her father laughed when she said she was writing a cookbook.
“Look at you,” he said. “Think you could sell any cookbooks? You look like you never had a square meal in your life.”
And her Aunt Artie had laughed at him saying, “With a body like hers, she'll sell a mint of them, Donnie.” God. Artie.
Artemis and Adonis in Harlow, Alabama, with all the Shirleys and Joes. Their father's idea. But their mother could have put her foot down. Should have. Instead, she let him name the next one Hektor. Dolly isn't even sure who Hektor is in mythology, but she often wishes that she had known the couple who had the nerve to give their children such names.
She reaches into the cabinet for some aluminum foil, wraps the single remaining piece of chicken, and puts it into the almost empty refrigerator. She'll take it for lunch tomorrow. That Walt. What a waste.
She should have called Harlow tonight. Since Artie's been sick with lymphoma, she's called several times a week.
“I'm fine,” Artie always says. “How's your work?”
“Fine,” Dolly says. Both of them are lying and both of them know it. Dolly's dream of becoming a choreographer has dead-ended at the Atlanta Children's Theater, and Artie is dying. Each time Dolly has seen Artie this year, she has been smaller and more beautiful, almost silver.
If I turn out the light, she will shine in the dark
, Dolly thought the last time she was with Artie. And she had held Artie's hand lightly and dreamed of a dance so wild with leaps and whirls that only anger could sustain it. She would call it, she thought, “Capturing the Light.”
She finishes clearing the table and goes into the bedroom. It's a small room almost filled by a king-sized brass bed that she and Bobby had splurged on when they first moved in together. Maybe it was the sight of this bed that had made Walt feel he might be welcome to stay the night.
Dolly walks across the bed. She's learned to do this; for a long time she walked around it. Drawing the draperies, she thinks how even the city has special predawn sounds. Or silences.
Hektor Sullivan, president of Sullivan-Threadaway Imports, one of the largest importers of fruit from Central America, hangs up the phone after talking to his brother and stares at the ceiling. A presidential advisor on Latin America and sometime dabbler in politics where even he knows he has no business, Hektor is surprised at the overwhelming sadness that fills him. He has known since Easter that Artie's lymphoma was no longer in remission. Yet, somehow, he had not expected her to die. The whole thing isâhe searches for the wordâcapricious. That's it. Capricious of her.
There is a strange sound in the room. Like small waves slapping the beach at Harlow. For a moment, Hektor is alarmed, and then he realizes it's his breathing, that with each outward breath there is a catch, a tiny groan. And when he wills the groans to stop, they don't but instead crawl through the air conditioner to ten-year-old May who runs to see if he is all right and who sees her father for the first time as a separate person. He is sitting on the edge of the bed; tears splash down his blue pajamas.
“It's your Aunt Artie,” he says. May, sitting by him, holding his hand, already knows. “We have to go to
Mobile this morning. Can you help me get everything ready here?”
“Sure. I'm sorry, Papa.”
She looks more Mayan every day, Hektor thinks, rubbing his freckled hand against her tanned arm. That black hair. Those eyes.
“Her Maya,” the old woman had said. “Belong you and Ana. Ana dead.”
And he had held out his arms and taken the baby and knew she was his, though he could not remember an Ana. And he had carried the baby to the bed and instinctively undressed her and counted her fingers and toes and admired the tiny whorls of her ears and sex. And when he took a washcloth and bathed her, she had opened her eyes and looked at him. It was an astounding experience.
“Bonding,” his sister Artie had said when he tried to put it into words.
Whatever. Hektor only knew that if he couldn't have pulled strings to get May out of Honduras, he would have stayed there the rest of his life.
“She makes everything real,” he confessed to Artie. And Artie hugged him and said, “I'm glad you didn't die, Hektor.” Which seemed to him a strange thing to say.
“I'll make you some coffee.” May stands by the bed, tall in her pink nightgown. Oh, god. Growing up.
“Fine,” Hektor says. He opens the blinds; the sky is lightening. Outside Ruggy and Doc begin to bark loudly.