Old Men and Baby Ducks

Mute Monday is here

* *

Henry stood on the grass out front talkin' wif' Uncle.

I seen 'em from the front windows as I went to an' fro finishin' up chores in the house.

Each time I peeked out it seemed nuthin' had changed in Henry's posture, but Uncles' chest sunk lower an' lower. Henry had arrived on the lawn all stooped an' dejected. I could see that by the time he left, Uncle would match him.

When Uncle came in an' slumped in his chair he din't say nary a word.

Some days a woman knows when to keep her questions to herself.

I placed a glass of iced tea aside Uncle's chair. He din't notice, jes' kept starin' ahead at a spot on the wall.

I went to stirrin' up our supper an' after a bit I thought I heered Uncle a hummin' a tune.

We took our plates out to the back porch, it were such a delicious cool evenin'. The crickets provided music as the day gave herself up to the night.

It were companionable.

Uncle Aloysius ate little, an' hardly spoke until after he gulped down a half a cup o' cawfee.

Uncle cleared his throat, "Has ya' been to see Livvy this week, Belle?"

Darkness lay soft over us. The yellow splash from the kitchen window wuz too diffused fer me to see his expression.

"I ain't," I said. "I sent around a pair of lavender sachets fer 'em to slip in her pillows, but I ain't seen her this week."

His rocker creaked back an' forth fer a moment or two. After awhile I thought I heered Uncle hummin' some again, but it were faint.

"Aloysius," I started, " is somethin' on yore mind? About Livvy I mean?"

Mayhap the crickets were louder or that he was hummin' again.

"Not really," he said after a minute. "I reckon thar' ain't much to say about somethin' that sad."

I took him to mean he din't wish to go any further. The cool evenin' had a hold of us. We sat in the dark, unwordy, but present, in the way us ole folks can be....mayhap our thoughts were intertwined.

Olivia Collier was a lady like few thas' ever been in these parts. She growed up here an', like most others, she traipsed off fer college. But she was content to come home and marry up wif' her hometown beau.

All us other lassies knowed our own beaus might take us dancin', but thar' warn't a one of 'em who din't have secret dreams of Livvy Collier.

We loved her too.

An 'cause we all loved Livvy, we loved her Will Markham. The Beautiful Couple, folks said, wherever they went. Will held her so close it seemed they's one soul, an' folks laughed when he took to callin' Livvy his "Sweet Tomato."

Livvy gave Will his first son afore two Christmases had passed, an' another followed jes' a year later. Them boys was as gorgeous as they mama and sturdy as they daddy, Will. But it were Granddaddy Collier who seen to it that the boys, Clay an' Tag, growed up knowin' how to fish an' track an' put in a hard day's work at the ranch. Will might'a resented Granddaddy Collier, nobody knows fer shure.

Will hisself was out to islands wif' Henry, his brother, buildin' up a commercial fishin' fleet... an' some say throwin' in a line here and thar' where it din't belong.

Livvy was proud of her menfolk. The fleet prospered an' Will grew more dashing, silvering early at his temples. The boys at 11 and 12 could rope calves and gut a deer.

Strangers to town often mistook Livvy for the boys' older sister...and then, Baby Lily was born. Livvy gazed at Lily as she slept. An angel from heaven warn't never so lovely, to hear Will Markham tell of it. He was besotted wif' that wee baby chile'.

Still, Livvy seemed to lose some of her light. Within a few months the word flew round town how Livvy Collier wuz gone up to the University hospital --up to Gainesville. Womanly trouble, some thought.

A month later Will an' the boys brought Livvy home in a big floppy hat an' sportin' 1000 watt smile.

She took Baby Lily in her arms from Mama Collier and neighbors gave a welcome home BBQ.

In three months Livvy had yellow- gold fuzz all over her haid, an' Will went to callin' her his "Baby Duck" from a song he sang her that were her favorite.

By Summer she was her half of the Beautiful Couple once again. The Collier's took the kids, Henry took the fleet, then Livvy an' Will took a slow train across Canada.

In the years after, the children's crisis nursery, the rose arbor at the nursin' home an' the children's wing at the library wuz all on account of Livvy Markham.

Will did manage to make it home most weekends an' the boys had college football scouts fightin' for their attention. With Baby Lily, perched on Will's shoulders, he was the very image of a proud daddy at those high school games.

Most folks din't put no mind a'tall to the rumor that Sammie Newell, the cheerleadin' coach, had a thang fer Will Markham.

Sometimes Will would take Livvy fer a ride at sunup in the boys ole pick up truck. You'd see 'em bumpin' over the county roads, hollerin' like kids, singin' at the top of they lungs: "I love little baby ducks, old pick -up trucks...an' I love you too!"

They'd be in jeans, both of 'em wearin' one of Will's shirts, an' on their way to Polk County to fetch a new dawg, or blueberry bushes, or an ole' chifferobe his grandmama insisted Li'l Lily
oughta have.

The year Clay was a junior at UF, Lily drowned at summer camp.

It liked to have killed Livvy. Will withdrew to his study with Jack Daniels.

Henry minded the boats, Clay an' Tag took the rest of summer off. When the leaves began to go green to gold in North Carolina, Livvy went up fer a few weeks. She'd walk the mountain trails for hours at a time.

All next summer Will spent down in the islands. By Thanksgivin' nobody could pretend no more. Come Springtime, when the roses covered the fences, Livvy herself tole us neighbors that she an' Will done quietly divorced an' he was hitched up now to somebody new.

She smiled an said it was "nobody's fault".

Folks shook they haids, "Ain't it a shame," they said, "That Beautiful Couple is hardly over 40."

When he came to town for young Tag's, weddin', Will was trailin' wife number three.
Few folks could spare him more'n two words. Livvy looked elegant an' content as she watched Clay shepherd his brother through the ceremony.

That winter Mama Collier died, an' so Will came home, alone this time, for the funeral. He stayed out at the house wif' Livvy and Clay, but Old Mr. C would not suffer Will in the church.

At the house afterward, when folks wuz millin' arounf wif' funeral food, I myself heered Will call her "Sweet Tomato," in that slow drawl of his-- but Livvy din't even slow down. Will stayed one more night an' none of us knew what to make of it.

Livvy kept her own counsel, pruned the roses and trained volunteers for the museum. Sometimes Will's brother Henry, still a bachelor at 48, took her to a movie or dinner. Every middle aged fellow in this town tried to catch Livvy's eye, but none got so much as a nod. I ain't even shure that Uncle Aloysius hisself din't look at her a time or two.

Young Clay eloped--some say to avoid havin' his daddy come into town. He an' his wife had a son to balance Tad's two wee girls, an' life seemed to follow its own secret map.

Jim Kelly worked out to airport, paintin' names on planes. He used to get too many beers in his belly an' swear he'd seen Will Markham land a plane on the far side of the field, an' then be back, up, an' gone into the sky an hour later. There were other sightings. Cass, Uncle's cousin, promises us that she seen Will in the ole truck early one fall mornin' a few years back: "Couldn't say if he was alone or not."
But nobody much credits it.

We's had so many reports of the phantom Will. Of course, some folks' curiosity took 'em down to the islands to fish an come home wif' tall tales of Will Markham, not one story matched a thang the others said.

He did come in the flesh fer Mr. Collier's funeral two years ago. Stayed over to the fancy new hoochie goo hotel in downtown.

Me an Uncle was away, an' missed the funeral, but folks tell us Will was scarecrow thin, jes' a crumpled man in a Panama hat, all stooped forward unless somebody he knowed came into the lobby, then he'd straighten hisself up like a flagpole.

Livvy left directly after they put her Daddy in the ground--went up to the mountains with the boys an' their families. I ain't heered iffin' Livvy an' Will had much to say to each other after her Daddy's funeral or if Will jes' paid his respects an' departed.

This winter Livvy collapsed at a library board meetin'. She said it warn't nuthin'-- jes' fatigue. But a few weeks on, a neighbor seen Livvy sorta sink down in her rose garden. By the time it were all sorted out, after all the pokin' and proddin' by the doctors wuz done, it wuz jes' a matter of livin' as she could, until she couldn't.

Livvy seemed to laugh more and smile constantly. The boys pleaded, but she would not leave her house, so folks have been helpin' whar' they could. Last few weeks the doctors have begun to medicate her so she slips off to sleep fer much of the day.


The moon played hide 'n seek above the oak tree. The breath of night were sweet wif' jasmine.

"Whas' that you hummin' Aloysius?" I asked.

"Oh that ain't nuthin' but crickets." I heered him swallow the last of his cawfee. We sat a moment longer in the dark.

"Was that Henry in the yard earlier?" I ventured.


"He seemed extra sad," I said. When Uncle din't respond I said, "I guess it's Livvy?"

"No," he said. "It's Will."

Silence can stretch out long like a rubber band. Ya' jes' have to wait for the snap.

Finally, Uncle said, "Henry say he cain't bear it when Will goes to singin' like he do. So he left the house."

I exhaled, never realizin' I'd been holdin' in.

"Will?" I as't, "Will is singing? Here?"

A rush of air came from Uncle's direction, but the words never made it, jes' an odd little gurgle.

"Belle, Will Markham is sittin' over thar' tonight-- mebbe her last night. Henry say Will is a' strokin' Livvy's hair, an' singin' to her! My
Gawd! That poor wretch of a man! He has been through hell all these years."

I stood up, walked four feet across the dark to Uncle's chair, an' patted his shoulder. Thar' warn't nuthin' to say. The sun doan never see the other side of the moon. I let him be. Left him sittin' on the porch in night air.

After settin' the kitchen to order an' climbin' the stairs to bed, I heard a faint hum through the bedroom window open to the porch below. The tune was familiar even if I could only make out a few of the words:

"I love little baby ducks, ole pick-up trucks, slow-moving trains... and rain.

And I love you too...
I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass.... and I love you too.

"I love kisses from a child, tomatoes on the vine .... music when its good, and life.

And I love you too."


R.Powers said...

Damn Aunty.
I loved every moment of that.
You're good.
Very, very good.
Thank you.

NYD said...

I don't always "unnnerstan" every word you put down on these pages, but I never miss a moment of feeling what you want to talk about.

Jenny said...
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Jenny said...

"mayhap our thoughts were intertwined"

I love that. You weave a lovely story and I have to agree with NYD; I may not always git what youse sayin'.... but I completely understand the feeling.


Aunty Belle said...

Thanky FC! I 'preciate yore compliment, you bein' a teacher an' all. Thanky.

NYD and Boxer Babe--uh-oh!

Ya ' doan know what I'se sayin'? Does ya mean the cracker-speak or the story? Y'all I is so sorry!! Aw, dern it.

darkfoam said...

no worries, belle ..
i unnerstan cracker speak .. :)
this is just a very lovely story ..
why i think i just might read it again.

R.Powers said...

Came back to ask how much fiction -how much history in this excellent post.
There's some powerful Florida names tucked in their and events that match up.

Aunty Belle said...


aw, ...sigh...thanky. Ain't like quirky, bittersweet, but still glorious.

heh...oh, I see. No sir, names were here changed for this---I didn't think of that famous family when I'se re-namin' these folks. Iffin' that other family has a story similar, reckon we ain't surprised. (Ya shure knows a heap of stuff fer a man what lives far from city lights...heh)

NYD said...

This time the words and meaning were crystal cler, Aunty.

As clear as a moonshiner's product!

sparringK9 said...

"life seems to follow its own secret map" yes aunty. poor livvy - but even poorer will. the dumb ass woke up too late! he missed it all and then shriveled up all broke down.

i loved:

Darkness was soft over us, the yellow splash from the kitchen window too diffused fer me to see his expression.


Thar' warn't nuthin' to say. The sun doan see the other side of the moon. I let him be.

i was on the poarch with ya'll like a cricket hiding in the corner.

enjoyed yore story dear aunty.

Anonymous said...

I liked:

We sat in the dark, unwordy, but present


Silence can stretch out long like a rubber band. Ya' jes' have to wait for the snap.

h said...

"an' some say throwin' in a line here and thar' where it din't belong."

Lots of clever lines like that but too girly and gatsby for my taste. Nothing exploded, for example.

Aunty Belle said...
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Anonymous said...

Auntie, Troll goes for the Beatrix Kiddo types.

Susan Humeston said...

Now THAT was some writing - and a GREAT story. Awesome.

Aunty Belle said...

K9 Pup, heh. Why did I know that you'd pick out the kernel of it all? Love to have ya be a cricket on the porch any time!


thanky....ya gotta be of a certain age to be unwordy but "there".

sorry it's too dull fer ya. I'll take exploding thangs under advisement.

who's Beatrix that Troll loves her?
or, wait--Troll is you anon? Is ya givin' us'uns a hint about yore preferred girl type?

Suze--hey hey!

Welcome to the porch! Please come again--so pleased ya enjoyed the story.

SophieMae said...

Dawgawn, Aint B, you sure can weave a purty tapestry. Only a true Belle could pull all those tiny word-threads together in perfect idyllic symmetry. Good on ya, sweet thang!

And thank ya kin'ly fer appreciatin' my Flarda fact-sharin'. 8-]

fishy said...

Ahhh Belle,
looks like your goin to be gettin out the go-to-funerals dress for yore friend Livvy. Sorry for yer loss.

This here story speaks so clearly to a life "map" that soon will be a memory framed up on a wall, never to exist again.

Nice of you to share this soulfull story wif us bloggers.

Bout those Trollish comments .... he needs to be a reading this post agin ... Will did a fine job of blowing up his family. Ane...er.... I'd read this again long afore I'd read Gatsby again.

moi said...

My life is populated by more than my fair share of Southerners so fortunately, I could understand every gorgeously written word. I disagree with Troll. This whole story could fill a novel.

Bird said...

a lovely tale, rendered with a lovely tone. something so sweet & sad about this, AB.

while will sat keeping vigil, watching livvy give herself up like the "day to the nighttime" - i wonder what she thought?

i suppose we will never know.

Anonymous said...
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