Genevieve

DELTA SHORTS

 

Genevieve

By WILLIAM PRENTISS

WARNING: This story, though ultimately shrouded in redemption, does portray some characters in their basest state, including coarse language, non-gratuitous graphic sexuality, and internal dialogue and behaviors, which include obvious incidents of racism, sexism, and behaviors unbecoming those seen in a moral and polite society.

Please read no malicious intent into the author’s purpose for developing these flawed characters other than to present to the reader believable Delta characters–always fodder for a tale told by an idiot, signifying very little, other than just a Delta tale worth telling.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to people or places, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Photo by The Delta Bohemian

William Prentiss, with the assistance of his able and noble bride of mythical proportions, a fine meta-muse named Madge Marley Howell, has begun thinking about the “Great Southern Novel.” He will be describing characters rooted deeply in the Delta psyche.

He knows no more about them than does the reader. They reveal themselves line-by-line and serif-by-serif. William is likely more expectant than the reader to find out how his developing characters will behave.

At what point will plot be made manifest? It depends. In describing the characters and an incident or two from their past and present, Mr. Prentiss believes the story line will become clearer as the morning sun burns away the dross like dew on Saint Augustine.

All characters are fictional, but how could a Delta writer not use real-life folks and genuine incidents as the skeletons awaiting the meat and sinew of prose and verse? For a better understanding of this character, read Carlene, Father Percy and Milky Steve, Grinnel and Eddie.

Genevieve

The short, pugnacious postmistress of Sun Lake, recently, ten years ago, relocated from New England to the horseshoe-shaped lake in the north end of the Mississippi Delta. Genevieve, Gene for short, thought she had seen it all since washing up a decade ago on the shore of Sun Lake, but she would be damned if she had ever seen anything like all this commotion.

Roy, that boy who can’t, well he’s dead now, couldn’t do much more than sit around and chat up the customers at Jenkins Bait, short for Jenkins Bait Shop and General Store. What a pity; he was a sweet kid, though Gene thought the Jenkins family could have done more with him.

She hated how locals referred to anybody who rode a Special Education bus as being a “short-bus rider.” Gene had grown to appreciate and value the warmth that most Delta folks–black and white, male and female–had toward each other, but she could not understand why they would laugh and patronize some of God’s sweetest creatures. But then again, she knew she hadn’t reached out to Roy either. He was a little funny after all. Now she really felt guilty.

She heard the repetitive “pops” from a firearm. Knowing it was not firecrackers, she hit the floor like she was making change at a crack house. The Mississippi Delta was not her first rodeo; she was born in the city. Boston was not all Brahmins, Beacon Hill, baseball, basketball, beans, and revolutionary history. Boston was rough, and she was a “Southie.”

The youngest of six children, her father a cop, her mother a teacher’s aide, Gene had fought her whole life, and often won, no small feat in a working-class Irish neighborhood. But it was men of interests who had over the years broken much of her fighting spirit.

Gene could distinguish between the sounds a shotgun and hunting rifle made and the ones heard from a pistol fired in a location it isn’t supposed to be discharged in. That staccato burst she heard down the street at Jenkins Bait fell into the last category; it didn’t belong, even in a town populated with around 300 residents who were not shy about ammunition. She didn’t even lock the post office door as she picked herself up, looked out the window, and followed Miss Mosley to her car.

She still remembered how she wound up on Sun Lake; it had something to do with a man and his blues. She loved the sound of her ruminating line, “…something to do with a man and his blues.” Her ex-husband, a cop, just like her old man, had smacked her around for a few years, and being Catholic, she knew divorce wasn’t an option. So she waited; waited until he died. Then she left, for good.

Gene had gone to hear George Thorogood and his band, The Destroyers, in a South Boston neighborhood bar about a year before the cop keeled over from whiskey, prostitutes, and unfiltered cigarettes. Thorogood excited her, and she longed to be with a man who was “bad to the bone,” but who also didn’t smack his woman around. Fucking Irish, she thought. Maybe that desire for some bad-to-the-bone loving was what kept her intellect in check from her emotions, not a good thing in her case.

Gene had been told by her mother that the name Genevieve came from the French language. She suspected her mom daydreamed often of one day being swept off to Europe by a handsome marquis from a province with a name like Burgundy or Anjou, but knowing that her daydreams were just a drug, temporarily numbing the pain.

Thorogood talked between sets about a place in the Deep South, where the taproot of music never became thirsty. His music moved her; his talking sold her. She headed toward Greendale on a dead run. After kissing her family goodbye and settling her affairs in Bean Town, she packed her 1976 Buick Riviera, once blue, and headed for her own Crossroads.

She figured men were men everywhere, but she had a better chance of finding a man with some manners down there than she did in the old neighborhood. If not, she could hear some good music and be left the hell alone.

After ten years and a few dates with several potential wife-beaters, she had given up hope of finding a man who was even “okay,” and settled for a big-ass dog that thought she hung the moon.

There are worse things than being loved by somebody or something who is pledged to protect you, who doesn’t try to get in your pants every night of the week, and who never would dream of judging you unless you forgot to feed him or did not remember let him go outside to use the bathroom or to sniff a little canine strange. Al Bundy was as randy as any two-legged dog she had met in Boston or around Sun Lake, and he had the package to back it up.

Shortly after relocating to Sun Lake, Gene applied for and got the newly opened position of postmistress for the tiny fishing and recreation hamlet. How Sun Lake kept a post office she didn’t know, but she loved her job. There was not much that happened within a 20-mile radius that she did not know all about or know something about.

Being a cop’s daughter and a cop’s ex-wife, she had good instincts and was able to read quickly any situation, often without the prerequisite information most folks would need to make the same judgment. However, like many discerning women, her past had seen her latching on to an endless stream of sorry men. Men who wanted what they wanted: sex, food, and then to be left the-hell-alone with a bottle and the television, while she paid the lion’s share of the bills, including copious quantities of beer.

Gene knew she could do without them, but she sure loved the way they smelled after a bath and how they made her laugh when they had not yet been satiated with loving and liquor. Al Bundy didn’t drink either, but he did lick often his impressive set of balls. When strangers, locals already knew the answer, asked her why Big Al licked his balls, she would always respond with what her Pops taught her years ago, “Because he can!”

Big Al was a bullmastiff, 120 pounds, brindle-colored, and protective as hell. Gene won him in a poker game two years ago from that Neanderthal, Grinnell. Pissed she was, when finding out that was all Grinnell had left to call her three aces. He had already put into the pot a Sun Lake I.O.U for an ounce of good weed not yet harvested, and the only thing he had left was this big-ass dog.

The dog looked like that Yankees’ Son of a Bitch, Steinbrenner. Her beloved Red Sox had been robbed in ’78. Did she want an I-can’t-imagine-how-the-hell-I-can-afford-to-feed-his-big-ass pet that reminded her of the Red Sox’s Yankee nemesis, the boss of the same team that asshole Bucky Dent and his three-run homer played for? Jeez, caring about animals came at a high cost.  But, she thought that no son of Adam would be slapping Miss Gene around anymore with that big-headed son of a bitch around!

Gene called Grinnell’s hand. She won, she thought, until that arrogant piece-of-shit, smiling like a Cheshire cat, handed her the leash and said he likes to be called Brutus. She had been had, but she had what she had, so Gene scratched the subtle tiger coat short hairs behind Brutus’s darker ears, looked him right in his mug, and renamed him Al Bundy. Maybe not love at first site, but she would be damned if they didn’t get each other from the get-go.

Al and Gene, sounds like a comedy duo or a couple trying to get approval for a same-sex marriage, spent almost 24 hours a day together. Her Supervisor got approval for her to keep the dog in the small standalone building that served as a post office.

Gene loves to tell folks that the dog is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Their blank stares and quizzical behind-the-ear scratches prove her point: there is truly little behavioral difference between men and beasts, except beasts are more faithful.

She remembered a proverb an old missionary lady told her several years ago while still in Boston. With a twinkle in her eyes, the old lady said, in what began in Swahili, before she gave the translation, “Beware the man who belches after a fine meal and says, ‘I am full: I have no need for a woman.’” Hmmm, maybe she had more in common with the gender she found so frustrating. She thought, “I have a dog: I have no need for a man.”

Gene found out quickly how fresh is the memory of the shellacking the South took during the War of Northern Aggression, Southerners had their own name for the Civil War. Because she could out drink, out cuss, and even out pray most of the white folks on the lake, Gene was quickly accepted by the good folks of Sun Lake, even if she was a Yankee.

Though accepted quickly as a “laker” worth knowing, she became a real treasure when she started a Snow’s-In-July barroom chant tradition. Snow’s-In-July was the name of the newest juke joint in this end of the county, owned by Otha Jones, but known to all as Snow. Snow was busted for possession of less than a gram of cocaine on the fourth of July back in the late 70’s! Black folks didn’t do powder like white folks, but Snow did, until he got caught.

Snow’s a preacher now; that’s why he closes his doors by 11:30 p.m. on his busiest night of the week, Saturday night. That way he can avoid having the dual-purpose building serve as both a church and a club on the Lord’s Day, though Snow figured the Lord wasn’t as uptight about it as was His children. The same set of emotions were displayed on Sunday morning and Saturday night, but he figured the focus was a little different.

Soon after moving to Sun Lake, Gene found out she had been wrong about her assumptions regarding the relationships between southern blacks and whites. She had bought into the same kinds of stereotypes about Southerners that they believed to be true about Northerners.

On Sun Lake, black, white, rich and poor, all gathered at the same watering hole. They might not break bread together in the biblical sense, and they rarely dated each other around here, but they sure as hell would drink together and listen to music together, since there was only one club on the lake. Necessity and a good bar manager made for strange bedfellows in these parts, but the blues was largely responsible for the beginnings of racial reconciliation being seen in the Delta.

Blues might be cool in Europe, Asia, Australia, Chicago, and now Portland, but it was given birth in a cotton field, right damn near here, she thought. And these folks all get the blues, meaning they somehow understand why the repetition of often-dissonant sounds coupled with lyrics reflecting often-uncomfortable truths matter in a rip-off world employed in creating art and music without evidence of originality.

Gene had been in town no more than a month when she decided to jokingly ingratiate herself into the alluvial community. Marching right into Snow’s place at 5:15, it had been a slow postal day; she ordered a light beer and a dozen tamales. Beer in hand, she yelled, “Go to hell Yankees.”

The response: two seconds of stunned silence, followed by pockets of droning mumbling, quickly overshadowed by a cacophony of “Go to hell Yankees,” followed by “Hell yeah’s,” and the occasional “FREEBIRD!” She had them eating out of the palm of her mail-sorting hands.

It tickled them no end to know she was telling her self to go to hell, and the white folks loved listening to black folks holler the rock anthem mantra by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the black folks loved to hear the white folks sing Willie Dixon’s Wang Dang Doodle, when they didn’t know a damn thing about wangs, dangs, or doodles.

Harmony was as close to being broached on Sun Lake as you could find anywhere in the Deep South, and through a growing mutual understanding of each other’s often similar cultures and exercising the ability to laugh at each other’s idiosyncrasies, a strange co-habiting peace was made. Hell, there was more redneck-on-redneck and black-on-black crime than any obvious race against race.

She is not even sure after ten years of chanting “Go to hell Yankees” that most of them even make the connection between the chant and the Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees rivalry. It was enough to be accepted and she didn’t believe they really hated Yankees; it was just an unrecognized excuse for solidarity, because everybody just wants to be loved, even Yankees.

Gene figured there wasn’t much difference between what she was finding out about Southerners and the tough micks from Southie in Boston. In the Delta, white folks go by nicknames like, Bubba, Big John, Little Mike; black folks go by nicknames like Lil Johnny, Pookie, and Red, and in Boston, no Southie can tell a tale without mentioning his buddies, Joey, Johnny V., Paulie, and Colin.

Roy was gone, dead, and Grinnell’s crazy ass was running down Sun Lake Road back toward his store, Lewis’s Bait. Gene figured, “What the hell.” Upon command, Al Bundy’s 120 pounds of twisted steel, shot down the road like a daredevil out of a cannon, catching Grinnell just as his hands grabbed the tarnished brass handle on the screen door. Gene didn’t know how Big Al knew who to attack, but he obviously knew that bony looking, too-often-grinning, Count No ‘Count was the one who had offended Momma. Big Al doesn’t like it when Momma’s feelings are hurt, and Big Al never liked that man who smelled and looked like fish anyway.

By the time Gene called off her dog, Grinnel’s right arm, the one he thrusted into Big Al’s mouth, was almost severed at the elbow. Sun Lake downtown–three or four businesses in a half-mile stretch–now had one dead man, one almost dead man, and a dog that was still seriously pissed off.

Gene stood in amazement, straining to hear sirens not yet sounded. She had heard the expression about feeling a goose walk over one’s grave, but had given it little thought, until now. Beginning at the base of her spine, she felt a beginning tingle, quickly proceeding to an ice bath running uphill and out through her shoulder blades. Even her toes froze up and began to hurt.

Turning slowly, already acutely aware of something familiar, she felt her center freeze, her breath stood still. Her eyelids were as hot as her body was cold. She sensed more than saw the shadowy figure she knew only from her dreams.

She felt more than recognized the nighttime man, the one she met in her dreams on her first night on Sun Lake, even before she heard about him through local lore. She blinked, and he was gone. Now, she was left with a burning sensation and the sound of sirens in the distance.

What lay ahead? Why had the Greasy Man come back? And, who would be spared and who else would be taken? Only a fortnight would tell, and Gene knew she would play a part in whatever reckoning was coming. The sky darkened as the shadow disappeared like a black fishing lure into a murky sarcophagus.

 

WE HIGHLY ENCOURAGE COMMENTS!!

 


Friends of the Delta Bohemian®

  • Quapaw Canoe Company - Schedule your adventure on the Mississippi River with the Mighty Quapaws in Clarksdale or Helena
  • Advertise Here

Comments

  1. OK. It would appear we now have a combination of Tennessee Williams and the X-files. I liked what you wrote about Genevieve and her dog, and I really enjoyed how you tied it to last week’s installment. It’s almost like you are putting together a quilt. Throwing Greasy Man in there at the end made me a little confused about the direction you were going with the story. Of course, my confusion could have been caused by my lunch at the Ranchero today. The gravy there just does something to me I can’t explain.

  2. Ha! Lazarus, as always, your comments are much appreciated and insightful! Do I know who Lazarus is? Sadly, Poor William never knows where the story is going until the next sentence. I am a poor novelist; I have no plan, no outline, nor do I use any standard novel-writing techniques, as I am ignorant of them, so what comes out and is printed prior to the whole being seen by a real editor other than myself is hyper-improv and spontaneous and will likely most likely bite me in my fat arse someday, but it is surely more fun for me to write than for others to read, I am sure!

    The Greasy man also threw my wife for a loop as it did me. He just unwittingly inserted his shadowy-ass as I was trying to close that vignette, so he may or may not play a part in this evolving characterization of a fictional place rife with hopefully believable Delta characters that may or may not develop into a novel!

    The insertion of supernatural-light might add an element of the unseen that often mirrors the seen in the struggle of good versus evil! Lazarus, I have a fan-club of three, which includes my wife and two childhood friends, so the fact you would read my stories and comment means the world to me and The Delta Bohemian! Gracias and vaya con Dios mi hermano!

Speak Your Mind

*