Tate's Hell Continued (Part 3)
(This is a fictional account of a folk story from my native Florida and (c) 2009 to me.)
Aunt Maggie had gotten very upset by this time. Coughing and sputtering and she had to take a rest. I knew how the story ended, but I hadn't been ready for how it began. My insides felt a little sick thinking about how only Providence kept Aunt Magdalen and my Pa from sharing Jeremiah's fate. Losing parents too soon can turn anyone wrong. Baby James, my two year old brother was taken by the very same sickness that came here to Liberty one summer when it was too hot and too wet. The fever came up that morning and he was gone by nighttime.
I closed the door quietly on Aunt Magdalen as she settled into snoring and wheezing. Cousin Euphemia glared at me. I'd never been close with Aunt Maggie and Euphemia couldn't figure out why I should be the one to receive the death bed confession. I had no idea myself. Aunt Magdalen was always yelling at me as a child. I wasn't to share candy with that lowlife's son Joe. I wasn't to bother with that sparrow that had fallen out of the tree. No sense in getting in God's way since he was taking the bird up to heaven anyway. My braid was always too ragged and my apron never white enough.
"What are you doing gawking around," Euphemia growled as she stitched some lace on Aunt Magdalen's burial dress. "Here," she said as she thrust some red and blue linen scraps in my hands. "Make some flowers for the bouquet." I set to work with scissors and thread, showing Euphemia every once in a while what I was doing so she could either nod at me or tell me what I did was all wrong. She didn't look much like her mother. Aunt Magdalen had fine bones and must have been beautiful when she was my age. Euphemia had never had any suitors, but she had plenty of character and backbone to make up for what she lacked in a high forehead and button nose. Back when Uncle Tom was alive, he had tried to send Euphemia off with a logger who was a bit long in the tooth, but a very kind man who liked the fact that Euphemia never smiled at him or gave him a kind word.
I was visiting when he called and gave her some rock candy one Sunday afternoon around Easter. He stroked his beard smiling and said it was "as sweet as I know your kisses will be if I'm a lucky man." Euphemia looked at the candy like it was water and she'd been wandering in the desert. She surely did like rock candy, I'd seen her buy some slyly when Aunt Magdalen wasn't looking or around. She'd always threatened to whoop me if I ever said a word. Aunt Magdalen used to yell at Euphemia for eating too much candy and told her she'd break her stays if she wasn't careful.
A few hours later, as Euphemia and I ate biscuits and chicken for dinner, Aunt Magdalen started calling for me. Euphemia pretended not to hear my name and went bursting into Aunt Magdalen's room like a runaway bull.
"I said I wanted Clara, not you!" Aunt Magdalen's gaze was blazing fire and brimstone now.
"But Mama, she ain't your daughter. I'm supposed to care for you as you die, not some half relative who can't even sew in a straight line. You never even liked her when she was young! You used to say she was "half ruined before she was even born!"Now you can't stop talking to her and I'm you're flesh and blood!" Euphemia whined, dropping herself into the chair next to the bed. It strained and creaked under her weight.
"What I have to say to Clara doesn't concern you and if you have a Christian bone in your body you'll let me finish my purpose and then you can tend to me all you want," Aunt Magdalen leaned back onto her pillow and looked weary from the effort.
"I don't understand why this story about Cebe Tate and Jeremiah Nabors is so important anyway," Euphemia muttered and she picked at a loose thread in Aunt Magdalen's yellow quilt, pulling up bit by bit from a an embroidered rose.
"And that's exactly why I'm tellin' Clara and not you. Now go make me some coffee with a little bit of sugar in it. And you mind how much sugar you put in." Euphemia grudgingly rose up and walked out of the room, leaving the door open. Aunt Magdalen asked me to close it and we began again.
"That girl will be an even sooner death of me. Now. I told you how Jeremiah's parent's all died from a fever and he was left alone and ungrateful for any help...."
To be continued