Mary Frances was told what Danny Flowers did by his sister. Enid tentatively
approached the back porch where she sat, slowly chewing soda crackers in the shade while listening to Eddie Cantor’s scratchy tenor through the open kitchen window. A bottle of Coca-Cola sweated on a small wooden table between a pair of rocking chairs. Mary Frances looked at the bottle as if it betrayed her, which in a sense, it had. For the last few weeks, the sight of her favorite drink sent waves of nausea splashing through her belly. Just one more thing she hadn’t expected.
Mary Frances nodded at the empty rocker and Enid unfurled the pleats of her skirt before sitting down in an attempt to avoid creating unsightly creases. She leaned toward Mary Frances and hissed Danny didn’t regret a thing.
Mary Frances coughed on a dry cracker. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Enid.”
“You weren’t in school today. That have anythin’ to do with Paul?”
“Why would…? No. I just didn’t feel like going, is all.”
Enid’s eyes widened. “Ain’t nobody told you nothin’?”
Mary Frances shook her head.
“Danny shot Paul Atkins early this mornin’. It happened out at The Dew Drop Inn up on I-40. Paul’s dead. I’m real sorry, Mary Frances. Somebody should’a told you.”
Another wave of nausea surged through Mary Frances’ tightened belly. “You’d better start from the beginning.”
Enid shimmied her delicate backside into the wooden rocker and, eyeing the unopened Coca-Cola, asked, “D’ya mind?” Mary Frances shook her head as Enid popped off the bottle cap.
“Well.” Enid paused. “Last night was the first time me and Danny was shootin’ pool at The Dew Drop. That Danny sure can run the table! And most people don’t think nothin’ of it, ‘cuz he’s got those big old puppy dog eyes and the face of an angel. They was bettin’ against him left and right. We made a nice chunk of change before ever-thin’ went sideways.
“Long about midnight, Paul come into The Dew Drop with some stuff he was wantin’ to fence. You know, there’s that little room in the back where Mr. Richards meets with his people.”
Mary Frances nodded, her nausea worsening.
“Grandaddy Flowers was sittin’ at the bar nursin’ a beer.” Enid’s leg jiggled fitfully. “He might have said somethin’ to Paul. ‘Bout your condition.”
Mary Frances held Enid’s gaze. “Oh, come on, Mary Frances. It ain’t no secret. You don’t have no waist no more. You lost your cheekbones. And your hair is limp, no matter how much you curl it. Ever-body knows how that happens.”
A wave of nausea rose into the back of her throat as Mary Frances studied the dirt below the wooden planks of the porch floor. “I hoped nobody noticed.”
“Yeah. Well. It’s Paul’s, huh?”
“I’m no tramp, Enid.”
“Yeah. No. I know. It’s just that Paul said it weren’t his. And he weren’t gonna do nothin’ for it. That you’d made your bed… It weren’t nice what he said, Mary Frances. Paul took out that huntin’ knife of his. He got up in Grandaddy’s face and told him he’d do best to keep his mouth shut.
“Danny went runnin’ over from the pool table on the other side of the room, hollerin’ that Paul needed to back the hell offa Grandaddy. And besides, ever-body in The Dew Drop knows you ain’t no slut. Sorry. That’s the word Paul used. If you’re in the family way, Danny said, Paul needs to man up. Do the right thing by you.”
Enid’s leg shimmied. “Paul whipped around and pressed the tip of his knife against Danny’s chest, right where his heart is. He said he weren’t gonna be told how to be a man by some scrawny little half breed and if Danny wanted to talk about bein’ a man, they could take it outside where Paul would show him what bein’ a man was all about.
“It got real quiet in The Dew Drop. Paul was workin’ up a head of steam and there were more than a few fellas in that joint who’d been on the receivin’ end of the flinty look Paul got when his temper was ‘bout ready to blow. It weren’t gonna be pretty.”
Mary Frances remembered the foggy gauze of shock that enveloped her brain as she gently pressed her fingertips to her swollen cheek the first time Paul left his handprint. She caught her father’s reflection in the bathroom mirror and told him that clumsy Enid Flowers had elbowed her during basketball practice. But there was no need to talk to Enid’s daddy, she quickly added. It had been an accident and, really, the bruise looked much worse than it felt. Her father studied her quietly, struggling with the evidence before him and his disbelief that his only child might lie to him, before replying, “You be careful, girl. You just be careful.”
Mary Frances nibbled the edge of a soda cracker. “Did Danny go outside with Paul?”
Enid nodded. “I was surprised how fast the coppers showed up.”
Mary Frances’ eyebrow arched.
“We’s all waitin’ inside. We heard somethin’. A loud crack. But that was it. Ain’t nobody movin’. Nobody talkin’. After a few minutes, Danny come on back inside. He was pantin’ hard and I’ve never known him to look so scared. He asked Mr. Richards to place a call to the sheriff.
“A couple, three cars come quick as lightnin’. The sheriff asked us what we seen and then he took Danny out to the parkin’ lot by his self. Danny said the sheriff told him since he was the only person in the place with a pistol…”
“What in the world was Danny doing with a gun?” Mary Frances interrupted.
“He’s hustlin’. Like I said. Some people don’t take too kindly to losin’ their money. So, Danny carries a little derringer. Just in case. He ain’t never had to use it before.”
“Since Danny was the only person packin’ heat at The Dew Drop and Paul had got shot, the sheriff said he just wanted to know, did Danny bump off Paul Atkins? He said, ‘Yes, sir. It were me.’ The sheriff said, ‘Thank you for telling me the truth, son.’ Then he told him to go on home.
“Don’t that beat all! The sheriff told Danny the county was now rid of a menace to society. There ain’t gonna be no charges.”
Enid appraised Mary Frances from the corner of her eye as she took a deep swig of Coca-Cola. “I don’t know how you feel about that. Maybe you and your daddy will want to talk to the sheriff about puttin’ Danny in prison.” She chewed her lower lip.
Mary Frances brushed cracker crumbs from her skirt and felt her stomach relax for the first time in weeks. “You tell your brother I am just fine, Enid. With everything. You tell Danny I said thank you.”
After stints as an out of work librarian and unemployed actor in NYC, Cerys Harrison returned to her hometown, libraries, writing and an occasional turn on the stage.