And That One Word is Love
"Do you really think that Robert would have liked it?" Martha Jenks asked me one day as we sat out on her porch drinking some late morning coffee. She always seasoned her coffee with some hazelnut and cinnamon, and I looked forward to drinking it.
"He would love it, Martha, especially the way that you got it all fixed up, and the way you put those trees and bushes in over there is beautiful," I answered truthfully, and she smiled. "Tell me something, why did you decide to bury Jenksie out here instead of back east where his kids are? I've been meaning to ask you."
"I just felt that if them kids of his woulda cared about their daddy, they would have come out and got him when he needed them. They didn't, so I didn't see much reason to bury him out there where no one would even tend to his grave."
"And that name Colonus?" I was referring to the big carved wooden sign that hung over the door? I was only half paying attention because I was fascinated in watching a big spider spinning a web in a a a large bush to the left of the red steps that led up to the porch. Directly behind where the spider was in the bush was a pretty ash tree where a Robin Redbreast was helping itself to some of the seed in the feeder while a small gray swallow patiently waited its turn.
Martha answered, "I don't rightly know why he chose that name to tell the truth. He insisted on it though. Had the sign made up special. He said it had something to do with his daughters and his boy. Do you know?"
I sat my coffee down and ruefully smiled, "I got some idea. I think it's got something to do with being disrespected by those who should love you most."
She acted like she understood what I was getting at, but I didn't really think she did. Then she asked me, "Did you ever meet his daughter Ruthena?"
"Can't rightly say I have."
"Robert told me that she cut him loose permanent like because of an argument they had over that Medusa lady who the Greeks said had all them snakes in her hair."
That caused me to blow some coffee out of my nose and to laugh. "Damn, that's Jenksie, getting all mad about how someone else saw mythology. He was like Thurman and them damn outlaws he liked to read about. Thurman would argue with you for days if you misquoted something Jesse James supposedly said. I bet you Mr. Jenks was the only one in this town who would argue about something in a damn myth."
"Well, he said she, Ruthina, was one who got mad over it. Said she left here in a huff and never talked to him again after that argument."
"There must have been something more to it, underneath the surface and stuff. Do you remember what that argument was about?" I was genuinely curious to know what would cause an intelligent man to lose contact with his daughter over something like that.
"Kind of, a lot of that stuff was way over my head though. Hell, I only went through the seventh grade in school. One night, Robert told me that this Sunday School teacher had tried to mess with his younger daughter Penelope on a church picnic."
"Let me guess. Her mama blamed her for the incident."
Martha's eyes grew wide with disbelief, "How the hell do you know that? He said him and his wife never told no one. Did he tell you the story?"
"Not in so many words. I just guessed. Go on with your story now."
My ability to piece that bit out caused her to look at me with just a little bit of suspicion, but she continued, " Yeah, he said that his wife blamed Penelope going off alone with the married teacher. He also said that she didn't want cause the church no problems and made Robert promise not to do anything that would break up that guy's marriage. Robert said that it was his daughter Ruthena who got real mad over it though. Said she started drawing a lot of pictures of that Medusa woman on everything she could lay her hands on; he called her out on it one night at the supper table."
"What did they argue about?" I had an idea but didn't want to interrupt the conversation any more than I had to.
"Something about how she blamed all men in general for the way her sister was being treated, and that she liked drawing that picture of that woman because she liked the idea that Medusa had the power to turn men into stone."
"Well, surely Robert could understand where that anger was coming from?'
"Hell, you know him. It had to be right or didn't matter no ways. He said that masks created to look like that Medusa's hideous looking face were used at a temple to scare off, I forgot word he used, but it meant the common folks who couldn't really understand what was being offered up inside of that temple. He said he also pointed out that it was another female that told that young guy how to kill that monster woman "
"Profane. I'm guessing the word was profane"
She looked at me weirdly, "Hell, if you know the damn story, why don't you tell it yourself."
"Like I said, I'm just guessing from what he told Thurman and me about the story of Medusa He was talking and going on about it while frying bacon one day, damned that man like to fry shit. I remember what he said because he was baking biscuits at the same time and burned his hand on the oven handle while he was talking. I'll bet you, I can tell you though what he told her next."
"I ain't got nothing to bet, but I promise you I'll reach across and slap you upside your head with this fly swatter if you don't finish telling. I'm listening."
"He told her that the ugly face of Medusa was used to protect the secret of the great mysteries from the being handled by the profane, and something like that there wasn't anything more common, or profane on this earth than the anger."
The words froze her into a long silence before she finally spoke, "I remember what he said about it because he burned his goddamn hand lighting the stove when he told me. Billy, he always did say that you and your brother were two of the smartest people he ever knew. Said it was a shame that you boys never made it to college."
"Well, I don't know about that, but I do know that he was good, wise man, and I wish I coulda met him a lot earlier. His daughters left him alone out here and never spoke to him? I thought he was saving up to go live with one of them."
"Ruthina was the one who never spoke to him. Penelope was the one who he was going to live with, but she didn't really want him around anyways because of the way he talked and stuff. Which was kind of funny when you think on it because he told me that he learned all that stuff so that he could offer them kids something else besides their mama's version of religion. Said by the time he learned anything worth passing on, it was too late to tell them cause they weren't listening to him any longer."
That last statement saddened me a great deal. I knew that it must have hurt him badly too. That day that he had went on and on in that rant about the dangers of verbs had come out of his frustration. He piled up all these things to tell them, and it drove him a little crazy just sitting on top of it and keeping quiet. I told Martha, "That reminds me of what he once told me about truth seeking."
"Boy, don't you even tell me he burned his damn hand when he said it," she said with a grin.
"Naw. Not this time. It was the simple truth of the statement that made me remember it. He told me that truth never comes out of arguments with with your enemies but only comes out of the arguments you have with the ones you love the most."
When I finished telling it, Martha quickly jumped and said she had to go get more coffee to warm up that which was still in our cups, but I think that she didn't want me to see her cry.
The robin had quit feeding and leapt off of the branch with a grateful trill. The spider must have heard it as it scampered away into the darkness thinking there was some form of danger in the air.
I myself had begun to notice a lot more about small, little details like that since Mr. Jenks had died. There was no real threat involved; so the spider had ran away and hid over nothing.
While Martha was gone, my thoughts turned to Thurman and what he had told me about what had happened the night he went in search of Colton and the Bush Brothers. He had found them holed up at some cheap motel on the side of a river about a thirty minute drive east of Bel Vista.
He said that he had gotten out of his car and walked right up to the cabin door and knocked on it. Colton answered with the pistol he had stolen from Thurman's drawer in his left hand and motioned for Thurman to enter. Oogie and his brother were sitting at a small kitchen table when Thurman came into the room. They were real angry that he had showed up. He said that Colton, on the other hand, seemed to be more curious than anything else.
"What the fuck you think you doing showing up here this late at night." Colton sneered at him
Thurman said, "I come to get shit settled, Someone hit my brother on his head with a club tonight and knocked him out. I want to make sure that this doesn't happen anymore."
Oogie grinned a deadly smile and laughed, "What a stupid fuck you are Thurman. You damn Wilson's think you so damn smart. Well, boy, you walked into the lion's den now. Shoot his ass, Colton!"
Colton didn't say nothing for a long time but just kept staring at Thurman with nervous eyes and anxiously waving the gun from side to side."
Thurman spoke, "I have to tell you some shit about your mama that you probably don't know. I think it might help explain things."
And with that Thurman said that he told Colton about the truth of his ancestry. Thurman thought that he was going to get away with not telling me about this truth, but I pestered him on it till he broke down and told me what he had told Colton. First, he had taken Colton into the back bedroom of the cabin out of the hearing of the Bushes.
It turns out that Colton was not my Uncle Billy's son after all. Turns out his Mama had been raped by her own uncle. Uncle Billy knew this but married her anyway; he loved her that much. He had taken on the raising of Colton as his own to spare her the grief that she would have suffered if others had found out about it.
Thurman said that Colton was silent at first and then asked, "Did your Aunt Lou know?" Thurman nodded then Colton mumbled, "Why? Why would she pretend knowing all the stuff I put them through?"
Thurman answered, "Because she loved your dumb ass in spite of it all. She knew that she couldn't have kids of her own, and she knew that you needed love. She needed love too. I can't tell you the times I heard her cry over something bad that you done. Uncle Billy too. He didn't know how to tell you something so bad. He wanted to protect you from knowing the story afraid that it would hurt you even more than you were hurting already."
"But they told you?"
"They didn't. My Mama did before she died. She was afraid that something would happen and the truth would be the only thing that unraveled it all. She was afraid that the truth would be lost and the whole thing become too tangled to solve."
The two of them sat in the darkness of the room with the only light coming from the moonlight on the dingy window shade for a long while with neither one of them talking and Colton staring deeply into the ghostly past of his own memories. Occasionally, he would ask something like,"Which Uncle?"
And Thurman would answer, "The one who always made the fuss over your Mama's money."
After about an hour, Colton finally motioned with gun for Thurman to leave. He also told Thurman where he could find the stuff that him and Bushes had stolen. Thurman got up and walked out of the room only to find Oogie and his brother waiting in the hallway.
Oogie looked crazier than usual, Thurman said him and his brother looked much crazier than usual which I could only imagine.
"Just here the hell do you think you're going, Meat?" Oogie spat.
"I'm leaving. I'm tired and I need to go home. Your sister is at your daddy's house waiting for me to call."
"That's where you got it wrong. You ain't going nowhere!" Abel grabbed Thurman's arms and pinned them. Oogie produced a knife from out of his back pocket and raised it over his head in a stabbing gesture."
Thurman told me that it was the first time in long time that he'd been really scared. He told me, "Normally, I get real calm when I should be the most afraid. This time, when he raised that knife up, and I couldn't move my arms, I almost pissed my drawers."
"Well, you're sitting here talking me, so I know you made it out alive. What happened?"
His eyes went dead and he whispered, "Colton shot him. His brother let me go then, and Colton motioned for me to leave. I got the hell out of there. As I was running to the car, I heard another three shots but didn't stick around to find out who or what. I just took off."
According to what Colton said later, Abel had a gun of his own, and he pulled it out and got off a shot that hit Colton in his left shoulder knocking him down. He missed Colton with a second shot and Colton fired back hit hitting him in the arm and causing Abel to drop the gun.
Then the police showed up and arrested them all. Oogie lived and him and Colton and Abel went to jail to stand trial for the burglary and the shootings. Thurman testified to the fact that Colton had saved his life and no one had pressed charges on the burglaries, so the police ended up letting Colton go. They held Oogie and Abel though because they had stolen some money and the other gun from their daddy, and he wasn't as forgiving as the rest of us.
Colton left the area right after that. He had a long talk with Uncle Billy and Aunt Lou before he left and promised he'd come back some day to see them. He also talked to Thurman and mentioned that he was going back east to pick up some pieces and work things out. He actually shook Thurman's hand when Thurman offered in thanks for Colton saving his life.
When Martha came back out of the house, she apologized for having taken so long in the kitchen, "I had to make a new pot. The other 'un was cold."
"No worry," I told her, "I've been sitting out here watching that damn spider over there stop what it was doing because it heard a Robin Redbreast telling you thanks for that bird feed you put in the tree over there."
She poured the coffee into my cup and laughed, "That's the way this crazy world is, I guess. Some folks are always grateful and others are always scared."
I took a drink of my coffee and smiled back at her, "Ain't that the damn truth."