“Your daddy got the TB, huh?” Lori Lane said.
“Yep,” I replied.
Lori dragged the toe of her shoe across the dirt. “My daddy had it, but his doctor cleared it up in just two visits.”
I studied Lori’s eyes as she bragged her daddy had been cured. You see, I always knew that girl was a little generous with the truth, but most often it was about something she had that the rest of us didn’t. She was always going on about her new patent leather shoes or that white hat she and her momma went all the way to Memphis to buy at a millenary shop where, as Lori said, “All the social elite buy their finery.”
An only child is often the beneficiary of a parent’s overindulgence with clothes, toys, and expensive gifts. But, Lori was the fourth child in the Lane family and the three others were boys, so I didn’t buy her boasts. Also, there were but two families in all of Glendora Mississippi who could rightfully claim to be wealthy and the Lanes were not either of them.
“Your daddy had TB and now he’s cured?” I asked, barely able to conceal my skepticism.
“That’s what I said, didn’t I,” Lori replied dismissively.
“What’s this doctor’s name?” I asked, hoping he could help Papa.
“Oh, he’s very exclusive,” Lori deflected. “I don’t think your momma and daddy can afford him. Not that you’re poor, just that he’s very selective.” As usual, Lori’s reply was meant to make me feel inferior.
Refusing to be deterred by Lori’s calculated cruelty, I pressed on, “How did he cure your daddy?”
“Gave him special iron water treatments.”
Iron water? Only iron water I knew was that orange sludge coagulating in that old rusty bucket alongside our garage. That didn’t seem therapeutic at all. “Iron water?” I repeated.
“Iron water!” Lori barked. “Katie Ciboulette, you deaf or just slow today?”
I was neither, and some other day I might have let Lori know just how fast my hands could be. But, today I needed to know more about her daddy’s mysterious healer. “This doctor in Glendora?” I asked.
“No! Mound Bayou. But as I told you, he’s expensive, like all the other doctors my family goes to.”
“If we had the money, maybe he could help Papa,” I said.
“Don’t be such a fool, Katie. He doesn’t take just anyone. You gotta be recommended.”
“Come on, Lori,” I demanded. “At least tell me his name.”
I mentally filed away, ‘Doctor Burney of Mound Bayou.’
Our conversation turned to the newest family in town, those redheaded Crawford boys, all three of them, living in the old Dewhurst place across from the Methodist Church. Even their Pa had a shock of red hair that stood out like a tiger lily in a bean patch. Their momma had what Lori Lane called ‘dirty blonde’ hair.
Lori wasted no time informing me that the youngest of the new boys was tousling with his older brother about who was going to take her to the box social at the Grange Hall. As Lori rambled on about those brothers dueling over her affections, I recalled how it was she never showed up at such events. When asked, she always said something took her out of town or across the state line. I got to thinking her family must travel as much as a bible salesman in December.
Lori and I sat on the bench across from the library chatting about only those things she wanted to discuss. Whatever subject I brought up was somehow replaced by a topic she believed more important.
I was half listening to Lori when I saw the front end of Schuyler Colfax’s red Dodge truck edge up to the corner near Herzog’s Meat Market. That flat bed had served just about every practical purpose in Glendora. Twice, I knew of, it was used as an ambulance to bring injured folks up to the Charleston Infirmary.
One afternoon, it was draped in red, white, and blue bunting, hauling Mayor Wadlow and Congressman Moseley around town, waving at anybody who would look their way. They tossed paper fans with their names printed on them out to the ladies and children along the sidewalks. The men got pencils, which most tucked behind their ears. As Papa used to say, “A man can never have too many pencils.”
Another time, May 1945 to be exact, that truck carried Mrs. Riddley up the street. The war in Europe was over and most folks were happier than they had been in years. People were shaking hands and smiling and standing around talking excitedly. That particular day I was walking with Momma to the market when I saw that truck coming down South Main. Mrs. Riddley rode up in the cab looking straight ahead, not smiling; not turning her head one bit.
That seemed odd since Mrs. Riddley had twice been elected Social Director of the Congregational Church Ladies Group. She could whip together a charity picnic, including donated food in less than a week. I saw her do it when the Bellfontaine’s house caught fire two summers earlier. That family lost every last thing they owned, which wasn’t much, but Mrs. Riddley managed to raise close to one hundred dollars for them to start over. And that didn’t include some special donations from Herzog’s Market or Potts’ Hardware Store.
Mrs. Riddley always had a smile for everyone she met, even those unknown to her, which is why her detachment that day seemed so unusual. Turning to the flat bed, I saw a long dark box, draped in an American flag. The whole thing was strapped down with those wide green woven belts that often lashed the upright piano when it made its way from the Grange Hall back to the church.
Momma stopped, as did everyone else on South Main. Even a car approaching from the opposite direction coasted to a stop. Billy and Bo Starling skidded their bikes to a halt. Across the street, Floyd Potts stood immobile in his doorway, that ever-moving broom of his frozen in his hands. Glendora was a still life painting across which Schuyler Colfax’s truck rolled slowly, the hum of those big black tires the only sound. Like every other person that day, I watched that truck pass; turn the corner at Camp Street; and then, into the driveway of Marquand’s Mortuary where it disappeared behind that big white house.
It was all explained at the dinner table later that evening.
“Saw Mae Riddley earlier today,” Momma said with a sadness that dampened the room like a summer rain.
“I heard,” Papa replied. “Real shame, especially with the Nazis already surrendered and us chasing the Japanese across the Pacific. Good kid too.”
“Losing her husband just last winter,” Momma sighed, “now her only boy by some military accident in France. Poor woman sure has been handed a heavy burden.”
Looking up from his plate and towards the back door, Papa said, “Don’t seem fair how some folks get hit by every bolt of lightening and others walk through the raindrops without getting wet one bit.”
After our meal, we sat in the parlor and took turns reading chapter and verse. Momma started with the twentieth psalm. Papa then read Luke 7:14, about the Lord’s compassion for a widow and her dead son. “And he came and touched the bier; and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.”
“Katie Ciboulette! You daydreaming again?” Lori said while shaking my arm.
“Huh?” I snapped awake from my melancholy recollection of that sad day in 1945. Lori was still rambling about some such thing or another as I watched that red Dodge trundle past Potts’ Hardware. Schuyler nodded ever so slightly without looking away from the road ahead. I saw no reply from Mr. Potts, but sure there was one.
Lori said, “I’m going home if all you’re going to do is sit here and stare out into space like some moon-eyed cat.”
I offered to walk Lori home, but she said it wasn’t necessary, especially since it was in the complete opposite direction of my house. I had a feeling she was less concerned about my walking an extra mile, than she was about hiding something. We parted ways; me heading west; and, Lori going east.
The screen door hadn’t even closed behind me before my words burst out, “Momma? Where are you?”
“In here, child,” floated back from the spot one was most likely to find her, the kitchen.
”Momma,” my words cascaded uncontrollably, tripping one over the other. “Lori’s Pa…TB…cured quick by a doctor…Mound Bayou.”
“Hold on now. Hold on,” Momma eased. “What are you trying to say?”
It was hard for her to understand me properly because my words jumbled with my breathing, still rapid from running the last hundred yards down Longacre Road. “Lori Lane’s Pa had TB…and this Doctor Burney…gave him some iron water treatments…that cleared up the TB in weeks.”
“Delmer Lane from the other end of town?” Momma asked.
“Yes, ma’am. That’s what Lori says,” I reiterated.
“I don’t recall Mr. Lane being sick. You sure you heard right?” Momma wondered.
What little air remained in my lungs vanished, leaving me only the ability to grunt my reply. ”Um-hum.”
Still stirring that sweet smelling vegetable stew, Momma said. “Guess I’ll give Doc Crayton a call. See what he knows about this water treatment.”
“Iron water,” I forced out. “Momma, iron water.”
“Iron water,” she repeated as though trying to memorize it.
If we could get Papa from the state hospital outside of Jackson to Mound Bayou, he might have a chance. With the very real possibility of Papa being cured in but a few weeks, it was difficult for me to fall asleep. Lying in bed, I stared out the window, watching blue white stars gradually slide towards the sill.
Once, when I was seven and was sitting on the banks of the Arkansas River under the widest, star-speckled canopy, my Aunt Eunice told me that each star was the soul of one of God’s children who had gone home. She said the reflections on the river belonged to folks waiting to fly up to him. We gazed out on that quiet river as it slowly meandered its way to the Mississippi.
“No matter where you are, Katie,” Aunt Eunice whispered with her arm around my shoulder. “The souls of God’s children will always ease your troubles. All you got to do is look for them.”
This night, I wondered if Papa saw those very same stars from whatever window he was staring out at the state hospital. I hoped he could, for it would be another way of us being close without him actually being here. Not sure how long I laid there, but when my eyes finally closed those far away suns still flickered.
The next week at school, Lori kept her distance and avoided me for the entire week. Good thing too, because Momma did check with Doc Crayton. From what she told me, that so-called Doctor Burney was nothing but a shady veterinarian who had run afoul of the law for practicing medicine on poor folks seeking cures for what real doctors said was incurable. Seems he was caught giving animal medications to people.
When I finally confronted little Miss Lori Lane with that new information, her arms started flailing like a windmill, all the while saying I clearly had misunderstood her. “I said his name was…uh…Doctor Barneigh, of Mound City, Tennessee, not Burney of Mound Bayou!”
It wasn’t the first time Lori Lane tried to erase one of her lies, but for me, it was the last. Though I remained Christian to her, we no longer associated. If we were walking down the same block at the same time, I would cross the street.
By the end of senior year in Lee High, Lori didn’t have a single good friend left. At graduation she boasted about going off to some fancy big university in Texas. Truth be told, I never confirmed if she did. But, a few years later, Momma mentioned she spotted Lori waitressing at a shabby little diner out on Highway 8 in Ruleville.
Wouldn’t be surprised if she’s still there spinning yarns about magical doctors; her fanciful travels in high society circles; and of course, that endless line of gentleman callers awaiting her gracious acceptance of their invitation to marry.
Michael Anthony is a writer and artist living in New Jersey. He has published fiction, poetry and illustrations in multiple literary journals and commercial magazines. Most recently these include Ink In Thirds, Twisted Sister LitMag, The Corner Bar Magazine, the L’Éphémère Review, Second Hand Stories Podcast, Route 7 Review, and The Write Place At The Write Time. The American Labor Museum exhibited Michael’s photojournalism essay on the waning of Paterson New Jersey’s textile industry.