"Sersie Miller's dead! And it's my fault."
Thurman arrived home from his job as a mechanic for Wellbos Farms and blurted the words out as soon as he walked through the front door. His eyes were crazy looking and his hair was ever where as if he'd been pulling it out with his fingers.
He normally cleaned up good after work and usually came home looking kind of neat despite the hours of working up to his elbows in grease and oil. His blue work shirt was untucked and his sleeves were still rolled up. There was a grease mark still on his forehead, something that wouldn't a happened normally.
"What happened?" I asked him. I had just gotten home myself. I was working at Anderson's Grocery Store as a butcher. My Aunt Jean's cousin Joe was head butcher there and took me on as a trainee as a favor. I half expected Thurman to say that her ex-husband had killed her because of her dalliance with Thurman in Reno.
" A drunk ran a stop sign and hit the car she was in. Sersie and her Uncle Dave died just outside of Ft. Sumner, New Mexico."
"Well, I don't see how you fit in considering she was heading back to Oklahoma to get back with her husband."
He repeated, "She was killed just outside of Fort Sumner. I told her all about our trip to Fort Sumner to see where Billy the Kid was killed. She must have told her Uncle about it, and he must have decided he wanted to see it too."
" And you know this how? Hell, Thurman it could just have been some random event that put them there."
"Seems unlikely. I just saw her in Reno 'member. There was no other reason for her to be near Fort Sumner."
I had just opened a cold beer. To give myself time to think, I went and got Thurman one out of the icebox, opened it with the opener mounted on the side of the counter, and handed it to him. He looked a question at it then took it.
" Thurm there's a lot of shit that life throws out at a person in a normal lifetime. Wouldn't you agree?"
He drank a big gulp of beer, " What's that got to do with anything?"
"It just seems strange to me, that a person would go out of his way to lay claim to all the random shit that's doesn't even seem to be aimed in his direction."
"How else would you explain it?"
"I'd say they went to visit someone they knew and got in a wreck and died."
Why he was so disappointed in me, I didn't understand. He looked at me strangely, finished his beer and went a sat outside on the porch. He took the empty beer bottle and placed it down next to him.
"You don't understand squat about the way the world works, Junior."
"I know that if you took the credit for ever sumbitch that died after coming in contact with you, you'd have to be the Grim Reaper his on damn self."
"Still, if I hadn't said nothing, she might still be alive."
"Maybe so, but I do got a grip on the fact that you didn't have nothing to do with her getting in that car wreck. Now, if she had come with us and got into a wreck, then maybe your driving skills, or lack thereof, might have had something to do with it. . . .. She made her own decisions, Thurm. She always did."
That final statement seem to give him some peace; he calmed down some, but it wasn't complete. After a moment of thinking, he said, " What Daddy did to her that day in Church might have led to her being on that road."
I knowed he had a serious soft spot for Sersie, but this shit was getting out of hand and was starting to annoy me, "You mean the day Pa try to sacrifice you to Jesus? Damn, Thurm. Ever one in that church knew that girl was snaky wild; that's how she came to be naked in that barn with you that day. No one needed Pa pointing it out to them. Hell, did you forget the rumor that she had the Preacher stealing money out of the collection plates trying to get her to elope with him?"
After a while thinking about it, he muttered, "Maybe, it wuhna my fault after all."
I just nodded and answered, "Prolly not," and went and got him another beer.
We had gotten our own place. It was a small two bedroom house owned by Aunt Jean and Uncle Bill. It was something of a luxury because so many families coming west were doubling up in small shacks or even living in tents on the outskirts of town.
We got lucky with our jobs too. Aunt Jean and Uncle Bill had came out to California early and were pretty well established by the time we followed. They'd helped a lot of our family and friends relocate and knew a lot of people. It sure paid off for Thurman and me.
Thurman was a good mechanic, another skill he had picked up as a carnie. It just so happened that the man who had lived in Aunt Jean's rental house was the butcher that I replaced. His wife's father had passed away back in Arkansas and owned a small farm near Mountain View. They went back to take possession of it.
We had it pretty good all things considered. We both knew a lot of people who didn't. Working at the grocery I would see them come in and count their pennies in front of the meat counter trying to figure out how much bologna or ground beef they could buy. I'd see some of them in the early morning when I arrived to get things ready for the day.
Groups of men and women would cluster in the parking lot next door hoping to pick up rides to the fields, or wait to see if anyone would come by needing someone for a day's work or two. A lot of time, they would be standing there hours for nothing watching as truck after truck drove out of the lot and turned south on Dairy Avenue and headed south towards the farms that surrounded Corcoran. Mr. Anderson put fresh pots of coffee out for them ever morning. He didn't have to do that. Sometimes his wife would bake bread all night and put it out there too.
One day, I went outside to dump the trash cans and saw a guy we knew as Elbert Lawson slumped down against a telephone pole. People were so busy attending to their own business that they hadn't even noticed he had died.
Elbert was about six feet two and weighed near four hunnerd pounds. He'd be out there ever morning trying to hustle up a ride. A lot of people wouldn't take him because he was so big. A lot of us felt sorry him because he was a lot older and all alone. Mr. Anderson not only gave me time off to attend the funeral, he went with me. There were only four of us there. Mr. Anderson asked me if I knew a hymn that we could sing. The only one I could think of was "This World is Not My Home". He knew it too, so we sang it and a couple of the others joined in.
While I sang, I thought of Guinnie's hasty burial. I had sang the hymn then, or tried to, but Thurman didn't join in though. He was too impatient to get the hell out of Oklahoma. I felt real bad for Elbert. We couldn't notify anyone of his passing cos none of us knew anything about him except he hung round the store in the morning trying to hustle up a ride. Mrs. Jennings, his landlady, said there wasn't nothing in his room but some clothes, a hairbrush, and picture of him wearing prison clothes. She was a habitual liar though.
After eating dinner at Mrs. Jones's Cafe on main street, Thurman and I mosied next door to get a drink at Chickadee's Poker Emporium. We nodded to my Uncle Bill who was sitting at a table in the corner when we walked in.
We was three beers into the night when Thurman proposed a toast to Sersie Miller. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't expecting it. I fished in my pocket, drew out fifty cents and paid the barkeep for a couple of shots of Three Roses bourbon, you would never would mistake it for the shit they made in Kentucky, but it was what they had, so we did what our kinfolks had done for untold generations and made do.
Thurman hoisted his glass, muttered," The wildest, sexiest, craziest woman I ever knew," tossed it back, and placed his glass down gently on the bar.
I followed suit after saying, "May she find more peace in heaven then she ever found in this here world."
After a minute Thurman asked me, "You think that God would have mercy on someone like Sersie, Junior? I mean knowing ever thing she done and all."
I thought about it some before I answered, "You know, Thurm, I do. I really do. He'd know the root causes of why she acted the way she did. Sides, if he up and barred ever woman who tempted a preacher to short change a collection plate, the place'd be kinda boring."
That brought out a hint of a smile.
"Tell me. You honestly think she found her own way to that road outside of Fort Sumner?"
This time I didn't hesitate, "I do, Thurman. I do."