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