The Whisky Blot
Journal of Literature, Poetry, and Haiku
Lil’s like a daughter to me. Hate to see her grieving Cam’s passing so hard. All of us are grieving Cam. He was good man.
When he decided to settle in Harlan and hang his shingle after law school, he could have had any girl in this town – every single girl at Powers and Hortons, for one. He’d come in whistling, say howdy to Polly at the register and she’d blush blood like a redhead will, and then all us salesladies would hush to hear his conversation over in the men’s section. We loved him in a Schlesinger’s worsted wool, that one with the blue pin stripe comes to mind.
My heart breaks for Lil, all alone. In Bible study we kept her and Cam on the prayer chain for a child, but God must have other plans.
Well, she’s not exactly alone, as we all saw at the viewing tonight. Those Eastmans are a sight! Lil’s oldest sister was standing in front of Delong’s Funeral Home smoking, wearing a cheap skirt five inches above her knees. Her runny nosed brood leaning on the back of that rusted truck, parked on the sidewalk by the way, making all of us tramp through the Cotton’s front yard to get into the parlor to pay our respects.
What’s bred in the bone at Harlan Gas. Cam plucked Lil up out of there, gave her a better life.
Must’ve been 18 years ago Cam posted the bans at church about his intent to marry Lil Eastman. First off, it was shocking he’d finally chosen someone, since he was already in his thirties. And then an Eastman girl! Barely twenty, working at the drugstore counter. (At least Lil’s daddy was the only one in Big Jim’s brood who didn’t spend time in the courthouse basement.)
When Lil walked down the church aisle on her wedding day (her daddy wheezing because of the Black Lung) I pitied her. She’d worn her mother’s dress, long sleeved, and it was June, so the flush she had on her cheeks made us all hot. We grabbed for those pew fans and beat them something furious at the sight. I thought I saw a big yellow stain on her hem, but it could have been a reflection of the gold velvet pew cushions behind her. (Thinking back on it, she should have worn a slip underneath. White satin is a tricky material.) Lil picked cornflowers from her Daddy’s house as a bouquet, and they looked as sad as they do along the side of the road. Not a lick of makeup, her long auburn hair in a thick braid down her back. She wore black patent leather shoes. With a wedding dress!
The rest of her clan looked like a pile of dirty laundry in the front pew. The young’uns were wailing. When Dr. McDowell started a prayer, all of them would raise their hands, saying amen out loud. (It’s just not the way of us Presbyterians. There’s no dunking, no hollering in our church.)
At the end of the ceremony, Cam said, “I’m not leaving here without kissing my bride, Pastor,” even though that certainly isn’t something we do in the sanctuary, no sir. And then he placed both of his hands on Lil’s fine-boned jaw and brought her face to his like he was drinking the cup of salvation. It was too long a kiss for anybody’s liking. No need to parade around like that. I told him that after the ceremony. And Cam smiled real big and said, Haddie, no one will put me asunder from my Lil.
Well, death will.
When Lil moved to Central Street, I knew the most neighborly thing I could do was to help her wring that Eastman out of her. I taught her how to be a lady, just like I taught my Bonnie Reigh. First things first, I got Cam to set up an account for her at Powers and Hortons. That Regina dress she wore tonight? I ordered that special for her, for the fall. Dark blue, two-ply poly so it holds a shape, those gold buttons up and down the bodice with gold trim, like a uniform. Had Polly shorten the sleeves since it’s so hot this summer. I’m bringing over the raw silk sheath for the funeral tomorrow. It’s plain, so I’ll tell her to wear that strand of pearls and brooch Cam gave her for their anniversary, a sensible heel that won’t sink in the ground when she’s walking to the grave, it’s been so rainy.
I went over to their house with a casserole the moment I heard about Cam. Dodo was already there, tending to everything for Lil, as a neighbor should. She said Lil was resting. I told Dodo, God placed something on my heart during my morning prayer, asked her to take me to Lil. Lil was a just a puddle in the den. I took a seat on the couch next to her, hugged her close, wiped her tears, held her sweet little hand. And I said, The Lord will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in, from this time forth and forever. Psalm 121, thanks be.
I reached for her tiny chin, raised it, asked her to recite the Lord’s Prayer with me. Lil looked me dead in the eye like she was searching for something, started wailing like she was a lost child.
Dodo gathered Lil up, took her to the bedroom. She was so long in there with her, I had to let myself out. I didn’t get a taste of Cora’s apple stack cake, or a bite of Mabel’s fudge. And if that Eastman clan has the nerve to show up at Cam’s house after the funeral tomorrow, it’ll be like the plague of locusts. Nothing will be left except the taste of our tears.
Bio: Meg Artley will have her first piece of fiction published in October 2023 by Flash Fiction Magazine. After taking full advantage of the excellent craft classes at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, she was invited to study with Johannes Lichtman in the Jenny McKean Moore workshop at George Washington University in the fall of 2022. "Haddie Saves an Eastman" is part of a collection of short stories she is writing about Harlan, KY in the 1970s.
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