Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
1956 words
SHJ Issue 5
Spring 2012


Leah Weiss

The air was tender in the hayloft when Electra Teel Divine laid back. She straightened her homemade dress and crossed her ankles. Her daddy would beat her if he knew she stole away. Lock her in the spring house damp as death. Shun her until she turned invisible. But this was a desperate time.

Jamie’s farewell party had been a mix of pride swimming with an undercurrent of misgivings. The older men looked up at the soldier they remembered yesterday as a farm boy, and when they passed by, thumped his straight back with calloused hands and knotty knuckles.

“Get ’em before they get you.”

“Show ’em what Carolina men are made of.”

Heads with sunburned necks nodded in unison.

Little flags left over from the Fourth of July lined the edges of his sheet cake. They hung limp over the words Our Hero spelled out in jerky letters. Before he cut the cake, while he held the knife poised above the swirls of red, white and blue icing Mama labored over last night, Jamie’s eyes moved across the people he loved. Took private snapshots and glued them to the back of his eyeballs to carry with him. His gaze lingered longest on Electra, and she blushed at the attention in front of his folks.

His daddy broke the tension. “Cut the darn cake, son, and give me a corner piece.” Laughter skittered among simple people who shied away from big feelings. Jamie’s mama flitted from preacher to aunt to uncle like a bumblebee in a black and yellow polka-dot dress, carrying a pitcher of sweet tea and topping off glasses. Her face was puffy from crying in her pillow in an empty piece of night while everyone slept. His little brother was quiet for a change, wondering what life would be like without his protector. The family struggled against a finicky riptide beneath today’s calm waters.

Jamie wasn’t the first to go to Vietnam from these parts. A few made it home whole. One missing an eye and another lost a leg. Two in boxes. But hell, maybe the war was petering out now. He had read letters from the trenches. Read the worry on faces. Read between the lines as best he could. War was a foreign language he hadn’t mastered yet. After one too many awkward pauses and clingy hugs, Jamie left the well-wishers to be alone with his girl.

Now his strong frame stretched out on a pile of hay scattered across wide warped boards in the loft, propped on an elbow. His posture underscored the muscles he earned at boot camp. Buzzed hair was growing out like a dark cap. His angular face hung over Electra’s soft one and eclipsed the sun. He raked blunt, strong fingers through her copper hair and followed the curve of her warm skull. Spread the silky strands out on the sweet hay. Bent, inhaling perfume, filling senses, coating vocal cords.

“I could drown in your hair and die a happy man.”

“What a terrible thought!” Electra’s shocked voice was thick like pudding caught in her throat. She pushed weakly at his chest, unnerved by the spasm in her belly. “If you die, what would become of me in this ordinary life?”

“Lecky, I didn’t mean it that way, honey,” rushed out of him. Only Jamie called her Lecky in private. “Cherry Point didn’t turn me into a Marine to go off and die in Vietnam. I’m coming back. I just got to do my duty first.”

He dropped to his back, shoved his hands behind his head and locked his jaw hard against frustration that had built these last days. Lying side by side, the narrow space between them cut like a blade, and the wounded souls looked up at rugged rafters spanning the cavernous barn. Searched for consolation in primal dust motes suspended in light sifting through cracks in the walls.

“See those beams up there, Lecky?” Jamie’s voice was empty of irritation. “How long you think they’ve been holding up this barn? Fifty years? A hundred? This barn’s stood up against floods and tornadoes and stayed strong through it all.” He reached for her hand without turning his head, and rubbed his thumb on her smooth palm. “When you start missing me, come here. Let this place remind you that our love is like this barn: strong and enduring against all trials. Forever and ever.”

Jamie got back up on his elbow and looked down on Electra Teel Divine who he loved with desperation. He traced honey colored freckles across her nose. Outlined bare lips. Saw them part like the edge of a love letter. His voice turned husky. “When I get back from ’Nam, I’m going to marry you and make you all mine. That’ll be the happiest day of my life. You’re going to wait for me, aren’t you? No matter what?”

Electra’s tight face broke into a smile. “You just try gettin’ away from me, Jamie Wayne Hart.”

There was sassiness in her voice only he coaxed out of hiding.

“You’ll be coming home before graduation anyway. And I’ll write every day. Even if I don’t know where you’ll be.”

The girl’s eyes filled at the truth of not knowing where he’d be. She turned in response to the sorrow of loss as old as Time, and Jamie took the gift of Electra onto and into him. Their legs and lips and hips bled into one another as they tried to console the inconsolable. Their thudding hearts could not be calmed and their young heat turned liquid.

When they thought of this moment, as they would ten thousand times, they knew they didn’t plan it. It just happened in the high emotion of desperation that took them past needy on a day more precious than others.

Jamie’s whisper pleaded, “Tell me you’re not sorry.”

“I’m not sorry.”

It was true. Electra had no doubt. She thought it strange that a lifetime of preaching against the temptations of the flesh could be rendered asunder without regret. She pulled back so Jamie could see only love in her emerald eyes. Jamie Hart was a happy man.

It was getting late. “Lecky, we gotta go. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

“Just a few minutes more,” she begged, but he stood, took her hands, pulled her to her feet, wound her arms about his neck and waltzed across the rough floor humming in her ear. At the ladder he turned her around to check for guilty signs then planted his palms on her narrow shoulders. He knew when they descended from the loft she’d be untouchable again. That thought was suddenly more frightening than spilling blood on strange soil.

Now the sun crouched low, screaming through the open barn door. They climbed down into its heat, left the barn and stole through the summer corn, planting footprints in her daddy’s earth. When they broke through to the road, Electra stepped away from Jamie’s side fearing her daddy was watching.

Sure enough, Billy Divine came out on the porch, knocked his pipe against the rail and packed fresh tobacco while he watched his baby girl with that boy. By the time the couple reached his porch, Electra’s softness had hardened at the edges. Even her copper hair dimmed in her daddy’s presence.

Jamie wished he was man enough to stand up to Billy Divine, but the man’s faith and confidence made him invincible. Like he wrote the book on right and wrong. Jamie had never heard of the man losing an argument to one of his children. He taught them well who was Boss; Billy may have called him God Almighty and Redeemer of the World, his children called him Daddy.

“Evenin’, Mr. Divine. I was just seeing Electra home after my going away party.” Jamie’s voice stumbled over the partial lie.

“Hmm-huh.” The man puffed his pipe, making sucking noises, pulling heat into his lungs. “Go on in, girl, and help your mama with supper.”

“But Daddy…”

“Git,” he said, never taking his eyes off Jamie. “I’m walking the boy back to the road.”

Electra did half what her daddy ordered. She stood inside the screen door and watched. Pipe smoke swirled above the men’s heads like a gathering storm cloud. Her mama came up behind her wiping her hands on a dishrag. “So Jamie’s leaving tomorrow.” It wasn’t a question. “Going to war. May the Lord keep him safe.” She walked back to the kitchen while Electra stayed at the door with her feet itching to run to Jamie’s side. She was dutiful and hated herself for it. She saw her daddy touch the bill of his faded John Deere hat and wait until the young man left his property. When he turned toward the house, Electra stepped back from the door and moved to the kitchen, looking for busy work.

Her mama handed the knife to Electra to peel potatoes. The girl’s hands shook such that she cut herself. When a drop of red fell on potato flesh, her mama stepped in, rinsed the offended potato, and said, “Stir the beans on the stove.”

Her daddy walked in bringing disapproval with him, and Electra’s back stood in pitiful defense. She stirred the beans more than need be while he stood there. Mama said, “Be twenty minutes. I’ll call you when it’s ready.” Still he waited, didn’t move, deliberated. Finally, when he thought his point was made, he walked to the front porch, picked up the thin paper on the glider and turned to the farm section. The volume in the house was low and the only sounds were the shuffling of dishes, the bubbling of beans and the thud of Electra’s heavy heart. Seemed like she’d dried up everywhere except between her legs where it was sticky and swollen.

“Excuse me, Mama,” she whispered then went to the bathroom and closed the door. Female unmentionables hung on a makeshift clothesline over the bathtub, out of sight, never on the yard line. The girl pressed the doorknob hard into the small of her back and closed her eyes. In this private place where a closed door was respected, she relived Jamie’s slow hand moving up her leg, passing the hem of her dress. His eyes asking and hers answering.

She reached under her dress and pulled down her panties. There was a patch of blood on the cotton, dark against the white. She walked to the sink, turned on the tap, picked up the bar of soap and scrubbed. Watched the water turn red and run down the drain. She was scared to raise her eyes and look in the mirror. Who would she see looking back? A sinner going to hell? A girl in love with a soldier?

She splashed water on her face and wiped it on a thin towel. She slipped on dry panties she pulled from the clothesline, and hung the washed ones out of sight.

“Girl!” Electra jumped when her daddy’s voice shot through the slit in the door. “What’s keeping you?” His words stung her skin.

“Coming, Daddy,” came her little-girl response. She opened the door, walked to the kitchen, slid into her chair and folded her hands. He prayed, “Lord, we are unworthy sinners,” and Electra stopped listening.

Bowls passed from hand to hand and forks scraped across plates. Electra forced food between her dry lips and swallowed. She felt her daddy’s eyes try to crawl inside her. She thought she heard water dripping from her wet panties. When she raised her eyes and looked out the window, she saw the empty barn in the gray dusk.


End Bug Issue 5

Leah Weiss

Photo of Leah Weiss

Began her writing career as a contributing writer for a local magazine. She writes short stories and memoirs, and has completed a novel whose opening chapter won first prize in a national contest.

Her work has been published in Deep South Magazine, Blue Lake Review, and Every Day Fiction, and is forthcoming in The Simple Life magazine. She won the December 2011 Writers Journal “Write to Win” contest.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury