The ties that bind



Branchwater – Part 3

LuAnne Cooper always did have an ear for gossip and a nose for secrets. She wouldn’t say that she was interested in other people’s shame, but it was there. Something inherently interesting in other people’s secrets.

Her own secrets were something else. The mask she wore was more settled on her face, and she practiced it every minute of the day, except when she was passed-out drunk.

She took to drinking bourbon and branch water after Jack passed. It was his drink. He was a quiet man who liked to sip his drink on the porch. He was a practicing poet, and practicing was the right word. He could never get it right. Comparing the shape of clouds to the slope of a woman’s bosoms wasn’t poetry, never would be. He liked the young ladies and hid it as well as a skunk hides its smell. She missed him, but he could be an ass, a judgmental ass. His passing was a kind of blessing; everyone saw LuAnne as a heroic, grieving widow. And now she could do as she pleased.

She parked in the back of the grocery parking lot. There was already a car there, and it irritated her that her spot was already taken. She knew the car. It belong to that young Emily Lee, that woman who had a child out of wedlock. Might as well just sew on a scarlet ‘A’ on all her clothes, not that everyone didn’t already know what kind of girl she was. LuAnne knew she was trouble, and the man she was living with was even worse. A mean drunk, and probably a coward. A man like that wouldn’t commit himself to poetry; no, he’d be spending his time chasing skirts and bragging about it to anyone who asked. They deserved each other, was LuAnne’s thinking. But it was a shame they had a boy would would live his life as a bastard. Other kids could be cruel about such things. And he looked to be a frail boy, no giddy-up in his character, so life was going to be especially mean-hearted.

She pretended to search through her purse. LuAnne was a great pretender. It was a gift to be doing one thing and watching and listening to an entirely different thing. It took practice and she knew she was very well suited for it. “Now where did I put that shopping list?” she muttered in case anyone might accidentally notice her sitting for such a length of time. She fumbled through the purse like she was sifting through diamonds.

She didn’t see anyone in the car. The front windows were rolled down a little to let in fresh air. It was going to be another hot one, and tramps like Emily Lee wouldn’t have anything valuable in her car, so it wouldn’t be locked. It was practically an invitation for some hoodlums to steal it. So LuAnne would be a Good Samaritan and stay parked until Emily came back, just to make sure no joy-riding teenagers didn’t get the wrong idea.

Her eyes scanned the parking lot, the sidewalk in front of the grocery, and the other cars that were parked closer to the store. She didn’t see anything, so she dipped one more time into her purse and pulled out her silver flask. A little good-morning pick-me-up never hurt a soul.

She thought she saw movement in the backseat of Emily’s car, but it could have been a flouncing shadow from the pecan trees that bordered the lot. A breeze blew through them, and it was a dry breeze. LuAnne took a very quick sip, eyes observing every shadow, every moment, and then slipped the flask to the bottom of her purse.

Then she saw young Emily Lee exiting the grocery. She was carrying a single shopping bag and seemed so distracted. She may have even been talking to herself, she looked so harried. But never mind. LuAnne saw her, but that didn’t mean she herself had to be seen. LuAnne put her Oldsmobile in reverse and drove around front to another parking spot. She doubted the girl had even noticed, she was so distracted and distant.

“Poetry, Jack,” she said to herself. “Why did you ever think you knew anything about poetry?”

Branchwater – continued

She parked far in the back of the lot, as far from the street as she could. People gossiped and they pointed, nothing polite about it, but even in their kindness, no matter how deliberate, you could never escape their looks, or their pity. She rolled down the windows some. There wasn’t much shade, not yet, but it was early and it wasn’t as hot as it was going to get. She looked around to the back and saw that Sammy was still awake. He was so quiet. Not even a hum or a sing-along with the radio.

“You be all right, Sam? Mommy’s just going to go inside the grocery and get some hamburger for tonight. Since you’ve been such a special little boy, I’ll get you a box of Cracker Jacks. Okay?”

Sammy nodded, but she still wasn’t sure if he was answering her with that nod, or if his head just weighed too heavy. His eyes were puffy from being up all night with the pain in his wrist, but he never cried out once. It was spooky.

“Okay, honey, I’ll be right back. Don’t open the door for anyone.” She hesitated for a moment. Should she take him inside the grocery? But she dismissed the idea. That was silly. People talked and people pointed, and that would upset Sammy. And her. She was just going to be gone for a couple of minutes, and she was going to keep her mouth shut. No one had to know how scared she was that things were going to hell again between her and Henry.

If she said anything, it was going to stay inside her head. No one needed to know any of her thoughts.