Sadie walked down the town’s dusty main street wiping sweat from her forehead. It was hot. Hotter than the hinges of hell, Johnny Jacobs used to say before he got religion and didn’t swear anymore. Not even her light cotton sundress hanging loosely on her spare frame gave relief from the heat.
She passed the old clapboard church; now more gray than white. The organ was wailing away and the high-pitched off-key singing signaled that Mrs. Whittaker was at her post practicing for her usual Sunday assault on the good people of Morgansville just as she had done every Sunday for the past 40 years.
Two little girls were swinging on a tire swing in old Mr. Phillips yard next door. Sadie guessed maybe they were his granddaughters. They were both beyond dirty in their coveralls and bare feet. Sadie smiled at them.
She continued walking toward the old general store and wondering why on earth she had come back here even though she knew. Her hand, deep within her pocket, held the reason. She fingered the smooth-worn wooden handle as she walked, careful to keep the blade inside it.
What would Raymond say when she took it from her pocket and handed it to him? She remembered how she had coveted the thing because it had belonged to Raymond. And she remembered how she got it.
She had been watching the action one afternoon when Raymond and Johnny Jacobs and two or three other town boys were behind the feed store playing mumbletypeg and betting on the outcome – a serious sin in Morgansville. Raymond had proceeded to bankrupt each one in turn and had just wiped Johnny out of his entire fortune of three dollars and thirty-two cents when Preacher turned the corner and saw them.
Boys scattered in every direction imaginable. Johnny disappeared inside the feed store where his daddy worked and Raymond, without so much as a howdy-do, walked over to Sadie, put his arm around her waist, handed her the knife and told her to keep it for him as he ferried her – and himself – confidently away from the scene and out of Preacher's reach.
Sadie was smitten.
Then life happened. And now she was back, the knife in her hand and her hand deep in her pocket, walking determinedly toward the general store that had become Raymond’s after his aunt Nilla died.
She stopped at the screen door. My god. The place hadn’t changed a bit. She put her hand to her forehead and peered in. A couple of flies buzzed on the inside of the screen and made their escape as she opened the door and stepped in. A ceiling fan whirred and clicked overhead as though making a fuss would convince of its value in alleviating the heat.
“May I help you?” A woman of about thirty had come from the back room to assist her customer.
“I – I used to live here. I was a friend of Raymond’s.” Sadie clutched the knife nervously. “Does he still own the store? I mean…Is he here?”
The woman quietly returned to the back room for a moment and Sadie could hear her speaking to someone. “A friend of yours,” Sadie heard her say.
The woman emerged again, gently pushing a wheelchair in which sat Raymond; Sadie’s wonderful Raymond who could run faster than anyone in the county and who could melt your heart with his smile.
Only this Raymond didn’t smile. He just stared at nothing. Nothing at all.
Sadie was frozen in place. She wanted to run, but could not. She wanted to stay but should not. Would not. Oh, why had she come? Life happens! You can’t go home again. Ever.
She knelt in front of the wheelchair and took Raymond’s hand. “Ray? It’s Sadie.” She looked him in the eyes. He looked past her to somewhere only he knew. She opened his hand and laid the knife on his palm and then closed his fingers around it.
“I brought you something. Remember this?” She looked from the motionless Raymond to the woman who only shook her head.
Sadie stood and then walked to the door. She turned one last time and for just one split second she was sure she had seen Ray look back at her. She would believe he looked at her. She would believe he smiled.
(This is my first humble offering for the Magpie Tales. Go see others. You'll be glad you did.)