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Welcome To My Homepage What's New Blog First three chapters of WARD OF THE STATE

Chapter 1 The afternoon sun shown brightly as twelve year old Tom Packard descended the front steps of the public library in Roundup, Montana.

At that moment, a boy, taller and older than Tom, approached. “You Tom Packard?” he asked.

Tom turned cautiously to give the boy a three-quarter view of his body. “Yes, I am,” he said.

Noticing the one inch scar near Tom’s left eye and Tom’s posture and the wary look in Tom’s eyes, the boy held up his hands. “I’m not looking for trouble. I just want to apologize.”

Tom relaxed a bit. “Why? What’d you do?”

“I didn’t do nothing. It was my little cousin.”

Tom let out a sigh and nodding slowly said, “So that’s who he was. Well, you don’t owe me an apology; your cousin does.”

“Look, I’m just trying to smooth things over here. I mean . . . aw, he’ll grow out of it. I just want to tell you that I’m sorry that he bothered you.”

“He may not grow out of it,” Tom said. “My aunt says that little bullies grow up to be big bullies.”

“Well, he’s got problems you see. About six months ago his dad got killed by the japs and my aunt couldn’t make him behave anymore so she sent him to live with us, so you see, he’s got problems.”

An expression of empathy filled Tom’s face. “I can symphatize with that, but that doesn’t make what he did all right. My aunt says that what your little cousin did is called ‘assault and battery,’ and that’s a crime, and a guy should go to jail for it. So tell him that he should think twice before he starts pushing guys around.”

The boy nodded enthusiastically. “Well, I think you taught him a lesson already. You broke out his front tooth.”

Tom’s eyebrows rose quickly. “Yeah! Well, some guys never seem to get the message.”

Well, anyway I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry.”

“You tell your cousin to come and apologize for himself,” Tom said as he took his bicycle from the bicycle rack. “The next time he tries that crap, I may just break out his other tooth.”

Tom Packard arrived home and looked into the open door to his aunt’s room.

Elizabeth Robins was lying on her bed. Her eyes were closed, and, lying on her chest, was her opened photograph album.

Tom decided to let his aunt sleep, and, out of boredom, he decided to do his chores early.

He took out the garbage and burned some old newspapers in the trash burner out back near the back yard gate.

When Tom came into the house, he entered through the door to the kitchen.

He noticed the unwashed dishes in the sink and was curious about this because Aunt Elizabeth never allowed unwashed dishes to gather in the sink.

He washed the dishes and put a pot of water on for tea. He thought that she might like some tea when she awoke.

While he waited for the pot to boil, he went to his room and listened to the radio a while.

In the middle of ‘The Lone Ranger’ he heard the kettle whistle, and he went into the kitchen to turn off the stove.

When returning to his room he looked into his aunt’s room and saw that she was still sleeping, so he decided to let her sleep a while longer.

He listened to ‘Lum and Abner’ and ‘Jack Armstrong,’ and when it became very late and Aunt Elizabeth had not yet awakened, he decided to wake her.

He knocked on the open door and called to her. When she didn’t respond, he entered her room and approached her bed.

He tried to wake her and discovered that she was dead.

Tom sat, devastated, on a nearby chair, weeping softly for a long, long time.

Then he wiped his eyes on his sleeves and went to the telephone, and, not knowing whom to call, he called the sheriff’s office.While waiting for the sheriff,

Tom returned to his aunt’s bedroom and after studying her a moment, he noticed the tears that had wormed their way down her temples, and he assumed that just before her demise, she had been crying over some memory that had been evoked from the pages of her photograph album.

Tom carefully lifted the album from her chest and turned it over and saw an eight inch by ten inch photograph of a young naval officer standing by a biplane.

Tom recalled her remarks about the young man she had cared about who had met with an accident. Tom assumed that the flyer had crashed his airplane and died. This, then, was to be her legacy, he thought, some old photographs and some broken down memories.

He remembered the photograph of his parents and he searched the pages for the photograph. When he found it, he removed it from the page and placed it in his shirt pocket.

He rationalized that Aunt Elizabeth had no further need for it now.

As he turned the pages to close the album he saw a newspaper story about Dixie La Hood and a huge photograph of Dixie with his hair parted in the middle of his head, a dominant style of the 30s, and it sparked his memory of the weekend his aunt had showed him how to box to protect himself from a bully, and he wondered just how close his aunt had been with the boxer. Just some broken down memories, he thought again.

Then he closed the album and returned it to its box on the top shelf in the closet.

While he was standing on the stool, he noticed a smaller box. He brought it down from the shelf, placed it on the table and removed the lid.Inside the box he found a number of books.

He removed one, opened it, and glanced through the pages and discovered that they were journals. Aunt Elizabeth had been keeping journals over the years.

Tom thought he could learn something about his parents, if his aunt had mentioned them in her journals.He sat at the table and began to read Aunt Elizabeth’s first journal. He scanned the entries of her experiences and observations during her years in high school, the entries about her boxing experiences at the gymnasium in Butte, and the remarks she entered during her first year at the university, and of her relationship with her young naval flyer.The last entry in that journal read: February 3, 1927. Today is a bleak day. The temperature is below zero, there are gray ugly clouds in the sky, from my dormitory window, I can see that the snow is blowing and forming drifts against the sides of the buildings. Today is quite bleak and ugly, but what makes it even more bleak and ugly is the fact that my dear sweet Robert is gone, and I am in despair. All our hopes and dreams are never to be. Death ends everything. As Tom finished reading that passage, he heard a knock at the front door. He opened the front door and an excited deputy sheriff pushed his way past Tom into the front room.

“Where is she?”

“In her bedroom,” Tom said, pointing to the open door of his aunt’s bedroom.The medical examiner entered the house and the deputy and the medical examiner went into the bedroom and closed the door, and Tom removed the second of Aunt Elizabeth’s journals. He scanned the pages quickly for entries about his mother.One entry read: October 1, 1928- Martha is attending the university now, and I am in my second year. We haven’t had much contact since she matriculated in September, because I have a very busy schedule, but from what I can understand, I don’t think that Martha is going to do too well in college. She seems to have the same problem she had when she was in high school.In high school Martha remained basically uneducated for the duration because of her poor study habits and her obsession with the boys. And her personality also gets in her way. She tries to control everything and everyone around her, a very annoying personality trait, really. She is my sister and I do love her, but I don’t really like her very much.In high school I associated with a group of people who had lively and enjoyable debates about a variety of issues, but when Martha entered our group, the members of the group would quickly disperse, because Martha didn’t know the rules.I tried to educate her about the rules of discussing things to no avail. I tried to drum into her head that when people have a disagreement or are about to tell some one something that may cause them distress one should always be polite and preface their remarks with the phrase, ‘With all due respect,’ yet Martha doesn’t seem to understand. She thinks her opinions are the only opinions anyone has a right to have, and she will not accept disagreement. If someone disagrees with her, she interrupts without giving the person a chance to finish the reasons for disagreeing, and then she repeats what she said, a little louder and a little slower, and she enunciates each word as though she were speaking to a person who was deaf or could not understand the language with which they are trying to communicate.Sometimes, if someone continues to disagree with her, she will pound on a table as she repeats her opinions. It is frustrating and embarrassing to watch her. I thought that she would eventually understand what I was trying so desperately to explain to her and that she would change when she came to college, but she hasn’t changed, and I understand that her grades, except for Psychology 101, are low. Another entry read: February 2, 1928- Tonight I visited Florence in her room down the hall and she and some of her friends were discussing the economic situation and the upcoming election with a number of old friends when in walked Martha.Apparently Martha knew Florence’s roommate and simply decided to drop in.At that time, Florence was pointing out to the others how ridiculous it was that France, who owed the United States billions of dollars for war loans during the World War, was getting the money, to pay the United States, from Germany who owed France war reparations, while Germany was borrowing the money to pay France from the United States. A silly circular little merry-go-round game with money.We all found it very amusing, except Martha, of course, who was bored and didn’t bother to try to fathom what the discussion was all about.Martha, of course, butted in with the remark, ‘Why doesn’t anyone talk about what I want to talk about?’ and Florence looked at Martha and said, ‘Yes, why don’t we talk about how pretty you are and which gentleman is paying you court this term?’Martha looked as though she had been struck on the head with a hammer. She left in a huff leaving me highly embarrassed. Another entry read: June 1, 1928- Florence and I have made a pact with our new landlady. We met a student who is graduating this term and is leaving Missoula. We reasoned that it is more expensive to live in the dorms than to live in an apartment downtown, so we met with his landlady and guaranteed her that we would stay in the apartment until we graduated. Actually Florence plans to take graduate studies so she will remain long after I have gone. In any event the landlady reduced the rent for us because she was grateful that she will not have to face the problem of finding new renters at the end of each year or each term.Both Florence and I have found full time employment, the working hours of which can be scheduled around our class schedules when the fall term begins in September.I tried to persuade Martha to move in with us and find employment but she declined partly because she doesn’t like Florence and partly because she is going to manipulate Father into buying her a new automobile. She says that the economy is good and Father can afford it, so she went home for summer vacation.Florence has studied the depressions of the late 1800s and she is skeptical about the economy. She has a premonition that a severe economic disaster is about to occur. Another entry read: June 25, 1928- Received a letter from Father. He bought Martha a used automobile.Martha convinced Father that she would settle down and do better next year. College courses are more difficult than the courses one studies at the high school level, and I guess she barely squeeked by this year. She took Remedial English twice and she received a D in her biology class, but she received a B in Psychology 101 and Cs in the remainder of her classes which brought her overall grade point average to C.Father doesn’t like the fact that I am friends with Florence. I imagine Martha gave Father an ear full.The remainder of his letter dwells on my investing my savings, but I am hesitant. Another entry read: July 3, 1928- Florence told me that she thinks she saw Martha driving down Higgins Avenue. A male passenger was in the automobile with her. Florence couldn’t recognize the passenger.I wonder why Martha didn’t bother to visit us while she was here. Perhaps Florence was mistaken or perhaps it is because Martha doesn’t like Florence. I know Florence would bombard Martha with her concerns about the economy and her views on the upcoming election between Hoover and Smith.Florence thinks Smith would make a good president, but she feels that the country won’t want a Catholic president at this time, and I am certain that Martha would find it a very boring subject. The deputy came out of Aunt Elizabeth’s room and sat down across the table from Tom. He removed a small notebook from his pocket and began to write in it.

“Name: Thomas Packard,” he muttered as he wrote. “That’s your name isn’t it? Not Robins?”

Tom nodded. “That’s right.”“Date: June twenty-nine, 1943.” The deputy looked up at Tom. “Where was you all day?”Tom closed the journal. “At the library.”“Did anyone see you there?”“Sure. Myrtle, the librarian, was there. And when I came out there was a guy outside waiting for me. Why?”All the time the deputy kept writing in his small notebook. “A guy?”“A guy about my age.”“Who was he? What’s his name?”Tom shrugged. “I don’t know. Just some guy.”“What time did you leave? The library, I mean.”“I guess about four . . . four thirty.”“Which was it? Four or four thirty?”“I can’t be sure,” Tom said. “Why all the questions?”“I’ll ask the questions here,” the deputy said angrily, looking up at Tom with narrowed eyelids. “When did you get home?”“About fifteen minutes later, but I don’t know the exact time.”“What did you do then?”“You mean, when I got home?”“Yes! Yes! What did you do?”“I did my chores.” The deputy became impatient. “Look . . . son . . . you did something to your aunt didn’t you?”“What do you mean? Did what?”“Well . . . you know . . . maybe she had some life insurance . . . and . . . your aunt . . . well . . . or maybe you were mad at your aunt, and . . .”“What are you talking about?” Tom interrupted.“Well, when I see discrepancies, a red flag pops up. . .”“What red flag? What discrepancies?”“Well . . . you know . . . when a young healthy woman dies suddenly, I get suspicious. Look . . . son . . . you can trust me. I’m your friend. You can tell me all about it. You can tell me what you done.”“What are you talking about?”Just then the medical examiner came out of Elizabeth Robins’ bedroom. “Where’s your bathroom?”Tom pointed at an open door. “In there.”The medical examiner went into the bathroom, turned on the light and began rummaging through the medicine cabinet.The deputy turned to Tom again. “Look, son, you gotta get this thing off your chest. It’ll make you feel much, much better.”Tom shrugged and was about to speak when the medical examiner returned, holding some vials of medical prescriptions. “Do you take any medication?”“No,” Tom said shaking his head. “That stuff’s Aunt Elizabeth’s stuff. She also took some iodine in a glass of water.”“Iodine!” the deputy blurted out. “How do you know that?”“I saw her,” Tom said. “When I saw the skull and cross bones on the bottle, I became worried, and I asked her about it, and she told me that the doctor told her to do it and that it was all right. I was still worried about it, though.”“Why would anyone do a stupid thing like that?” the deputy said. “Iodine is poisonous.”“For her thyroid,” the medical examiner said with annoyance. “I guess I misspoke about my suspicions. I can see now that her heart must have just simply stopped . . . perhaps in her sleep. She was taking a nap?” the doctor asked Tom.“She looked like she was sleeping when I came home.”The medical examiner looked at the writing on the medicine vials. “I guess she was one very sick lady after all. I won’t really know until I check with her doctor, so I guess that answers all my questions for now.” He looked at the deputy sheriff. “How about you?”The deputy stood up. He appeared to be embarrassed. “Well . . . I gotta know who and where her relatives are.” He looked down at Tom.“My grandfather lives in Butte,” Tom said. “His name’s Orville Robins.”The deputy started writing in his note book again. “Telephone number? Address? Any other relatives?”“I don’t know his address or telephone number, and I’m his only living relative.”The deputy wrote that information into his notebook and looked at the medical examiner. “I got no more questions. I guess we should get her to a mortuary as soon as we can, but I have to make some phone calls first. And then tomorrow someone from the court will have to come here to look through her effects and inventory them and see if she left a will or anything like that.”The deputy began telephoning while the medical examiner went out to his vehicle to get a gurney.The medical examiner returned with the gurney, as the deputy completed his telephone calls.

Then the deputy and the medical examiner returned to Aunt Elizabeth’s bedroom and closed the door.

Tom continued to read the journals. The entries changed subject matter then, so Tom quickly scanned the pages to find additional entries about his mother.The next entry that he found read: September 30, 1929- This was to be Martha’s second year, but she has surprised everyone and married a university professor. Then she stopped attending school.Her withdrawal from school upset Arthur very much— Tom recalled his aunt’s remarks about his father working on the railroad, and realized that his mother had been married once before she met and married his father. As his mind absorbed this, he heard a knock on the door.Tom opened the door and saw a tall woman wearing a long overcoat, the front being open, exposing a bright print dress. Her face was long with pronounced cheekbones and sunken cheeks. Her nose was long with a knobby tip and to emphasize her unattractiveness, her eyebrows were bushy and unkempt. She had covered her hair with a scarf, but Tom could see that she had brown hair and he noticed that she had a strange scent about her that he could not recognize. In her right hand, she carried a brief case. “Thomas Packard?” she asked.Tom nodded. “Yes.”“I’m Miss Maryanne Whittaker,” she said. “The deputy phoned me about your situation. I’m from the Department of Social Services and I have been sent to fetch you. You’ll have to come with me.”Tom nodded. He realized that, with the death of his aunt, life, as he had known it, had come to an abrupt end. His support system was gone, and he was now at the mercy of Miss Whittaker and the social service bureaucracy.The deputy and the medical examiner came out of the bedroom. They had concluded their investigation. Aunt Elizabeth’s body was strapped to the gurney.

The medical examiner removed Aunt Elizabeth’s body to his van, while the deputy remained behind.

“You need any help?” the deputy asked Miss Whittaker.“We’ll be fine,” she said.“Miss Robins’ father lives in Butte,” the deputy said. “The sheriff’ll get in touch with him tonight to tell him the sad news. I’ll get in touch with you sometime after that. I have to leave right now so you can give me the keys to the house later.”

The deputy shook Miss Whittaker’s hand and departed.

Miss Whittaker turned to Tom. “I need you to go and pack your things. We haven’t the luxury of space, so we can only take our toiletry items and a couple of changes of clothing.”“Could I take these journals with me?” Tom asked. “I would like to finish reading them.Miss Whittaker picked up the journal that Tom had been reading, opened it, and scanned the pages.

“These journals are the property of your aunt’s estate,” she said. “It would be wrong for me to allow you to take something from your aunt’s estate.”

“Estate?”“Yes. Now that your aunt has passed on, everything in this house belongs to your aunt’s estate.”“But some of these things . . . bicycle . . . baseball mitt . . . roller skates . . . some of these things are mine. I bought them with money I earned myself. And some of them were my Christmas and birthday presents.”“I’m sorry, but legally all the things in this house will have to be sorted out by the executor . . . that is . . . the administrator of your aunt’s estate. Whoever that will be will determine who the things in her estate belong to.”

 Miss Whittaker put the journal into the box and put the lid on the box.

“What happens now? You gonna find my dad now?”“My primary concern is to locate you in a safe place,” Miss Whittaker said, holding out her hand, palm up. “Do you have keys to the house and garage?”“Why?”“I need them to secure the house,” she said, still extending her arm.Tom searched his pockets, found the key to the house and put the key in the palm of Miss Whittaker’s hand. “I don’t have a key to the garage.”Miss Whittaker nodded. “You go pack your clothing and . . . not everything . . . just a couple of pairs of trousers, shirts, underwear, socks, toiletry articles. I’ll see to it that all the doors and windows are closed and locked.”“How about my dad . . .”“He probably was killed in the war.”“I don’t believe that and neither did my aunt,” Tom blurted out.“Sit down,” Miss Whittaker said as she sat down at the table.

Tom sat down and looked across the table at her.

“The sheriff told me about your aunt coming to visit him requesting advice about locating your father. I understand that she visited him many times. He finally managed to convince her that his jurisdiction was only within the county and that the whereabouts of your father was simply beyond his jurisdiction. After that your aunt went to the police department and the police explained to her that the jurisdiction of the police department was only to the city limits—even smaller than that of the sheriff’s department. I can imagine her disappointment.”“She never told me about this,” Tom said.“Perhaps she didn’t want you to know what a difficult task locating your father was going to be.”“Perhaps,” Tom said, the corners of his mouth turning down.“Now I suppose we should go.”“Miss Whittaker, can YOU find my dad?”“No,” she said. “As I said before, my primary duty is to see that you are located in a safe place, so please go and pack.”Miss Whittaker rose from her chair and turned to enter the kitchen. Tom quickly lifted the lid of the box that held the journals. He left the journals he had previously read and removed the journals he had not yet read, and when he saw a packet of letters, tied with a ribbon, he removed them also. Then he replaced the lid of the box and went to his room where he found a large cardboard box.He put the box on his bed and put the journals and the letters and his dress shoes on the bottom.

On top of that he put two pairs of trousers, then on top of that, four pairs of shorts and T-shirts. On top of that he put two of his best-liked shirts. Then on top of that he put a lot of pairs of rolled up socks, and on the very top he placed his toothbrush in its container, toothpaste, his comb and brush set, and his two harmonicas.

He was searching the closet for a rope with which to secure the box when Miss Whittaker entered the room.Miss Whittaker went to the windows and inspected them. Then she pushed down on the lower jams to ensure they were closed tightly as she twisted the latch at the top, locking each window. Then she turned to face Tom.By this time Tom had bound the box and was holding it in his arms.“You don’t have a suitcase?” Miss Whittaker asked.“We never went anywhere, so I never needed one.”“Really?”“Really.”Miss Whittaker paused a moment to let her mind absorb this fact. Then she nodded as she said, “Well . . . whatever. I guess we should go.”“How about my grandfather in Butte?”“What about him?”“If you won’t find my dad maybe I could go to live with my grandfather in Butte?”By this time they were at the front door. Miss Whittaker opened the door and motioned for Tom to exit.“We’ll see,” she said. She turned, looked around the room, turned off the light, and walked onto the porch. Then she closed and locked the front door.  Chapter 2 Miss Maryanne Whittaker stopped her automobile at the curb in front of a large, one story, white house, that stood about twenty feet from the street.

It was late in the afternoon, and the lawn, which was overgrown with grass, was in the shade.

“This will be your new home until we can find better facilities,” Miss Whittaker said. “I’m sorry we can’t take you to your aunt’s funeral. It’ll be in Butte and . . . well . . . you know . . . it’s just too expensive.”“What did my grandfather say about me coming to live with him?”Miss Whittaker shrugged. “Just that he couldn’t accommodate you.”“Didn’t he even want to see me?”“I don’t think he had time,” Miss Whittaker said as she got out of the automobile.

She opened the back door and withdrew the box that contained Tom’s belongings.

“You’ll find Mr. and Mrs. Edmonds very nice people,” she continued, as she shut the door, and walked around the automobile to meet Tom.

Miss Whittaker handed Tom his box, and they walked together up the sidewalk and onto the porch. She pressed the doorbell button, and when the doorbell did not ring, she knocked on the door.Moments later a short fat woman with jet-black hair opened the door.

She hid her obesity in a plain print housedress. The fat hung from her arms and from her face so that she had no chin, and Tom noticed a slight mustache on her upper lip.

“Yes. What is it?” the lady said. Then her face showed signs of recognition. “Oh! It’s you. Come in won’t you.”“Sorry for the inconvenience,” Miss Whittaker said.

She stepped inside and Tom followed.

“Yeah? Well . . .” the lady’s voice trailed off as she closed the door.“Mrs. Clara Edmonds. This is Tom Packard, the boy I told you about on the phone.”“You wet the bed?” Clara asked Tom.“What!” Tom exclaimed, startled by the question. Then, recovering, he said, “No. I don’t.”“That’s a relief,” she said, turning to Miss Whittaker. “That other kid you brought . . . Bobby . . . or Robby . . . or Robert . . . whatever he wants to be called; he wets the bed every night. I tell you, it puts a lot of stress on me’n Ed.”“I’m awfully sorry about that, but he’s an ‘only child,’ and children like that have all kinds of special needs.”“Yeah? Well . . .” Clara said, her voice trailing off.“How is Mary doing?”“She’s okay,” Clara said, brightening to the question. “She doesn’t wet the bed, thank God, and she keeps her mouth shut, and she plays with her doll all the time, so she’s no problem. She’s okay. The kids are out back playing now.”“That’s . . .”“You’d think it’d be the other way around,” Clara interrupted. “Him being eight and her being only five.”“You mean: the bed-wetting?”Clara nodded.“It’s like I said, he’s an ‘only child,’ and he has psychological problems, but I am glad to hear that Mary’s getting along well.”Clara looked at Tom. “Come on. I’ll show you where you sleep.” She turned and waddled down the hallway followed by Miss Whittaker and Tom. Clara stopped and opened a door to her right and motioned for Tom to follow.When Tom entered the room he noticed the faint odor of urine.

Tom surveyed the room and saw two twin beds separated by a two-foot space.

Between the two beds stood a small nightstand on top of which, stood a small lamp. A narrow, folding cot was in the corner, and against the far wall, below the window, stood a bureau.“This one’s yours,” Clara said, patting the bed closest to the door.Tom put his box on the bed.“This is pretty small for three,” Miss Whittaker said.“Well, we only got two bedrooms, so after you called, Ed’n me moved this bed in here,” Clara said. “Anyway it’s only temporary like you said, right?”“Still it’s awfully close,” Miss Whittaker said.“Yeah? Well . . . where’d he sleep last night?”“We had to keep him in the jail,” Miss Whittaker said. “We had no choice.”“Well then,” Clara said, “seems to me that this is better’n jail.”Miss Whittaker did not reply.“Anyway, he’ll be gone in a couple of days, right?” Clara continued.“Yes, and you’ll be paid extra for your trouble.”“Oh . . . me’n Ed trusts you on that.”That evening, the makeshift family sat at the kitchen table. Edward Edmonds, a balding man with a large stomach, sat at one end of the table and Clara sat at the other end.

Tom sat on one side of the table and the two small children sat across from him.

“Ed, Mary, Bobby,” Clara began to say.“Robby,” the small boy interrupted.“Whatever,” Clara said. “Anyway I want you to meet Tom. He’ll be staying with us for a few days.”Edward Edmonds grunted something unintelligible.Clara glared at Ed. “Mary will be starting school this fall and Robby’s . . .”“Bobby,” Robert snapped at her.“In the third grade,” Clara continued.The little girl smiled at Tom. “I used to sit on that side of the table.”Tom smiled back at her. “You did, huh,” he said, then looking at the small boy he said, “Hi Bobby.”“Robert,” the little boy snapped back at Tom. 

"What you smiling at her for?” Edward asked Tom.

“Just being friendly,” Tom said.“Don’t want no preverts in my house,” Edward said.“Leave him alone,” Clara said angrily.“How old’re you?” Edward asked Tom.“Twelve. I’ll be thirteen in October.”“What grade you in?”“I just finished the seventh grade.”“How come you ain’t visiting relatives or somethin’?”“Tom’s got no relatives,” Clara said. “Now leave him alone.”“Just trying to get to know the kid,” Edward said. “Nothin’ wrong with that. Most kids around here go away for the summer to live with their relatives.”“Well, he’s got no relatives,” Clara said.“Out’a school. Too young to work. What do you do all day?” Edward asked.“I go to the library and read,” Tom said.“All day!” Edward said.Tom shrugged.

“Most of the day.”

“I can read already,” Mary said.“Readin’s for when you go to school,” Edward said. “You have to read when you’re in school. Why would anyone read when he didn’t have to?”“Well . . . during school I read a book called, Penrod, and it was so interesting that I checked it out of the library and read it two more times. And I thought that I’d like to be able to write a book like that someday.”“You want to be a writer, then,” Clara said.“Yes,” Tom said, “and, when I told my aunt, she made a list of books that she thought I should read. She said that if I’m going to write, I should get to know my competition. You know . . . to get some knowledge of what some of the good writers wrote.”“Don’t make no sense to me at all,” Edward said. “When . . .”“I read a book once,” Mary said.Tom smiled across the table at her.“You hush up,” Edward said to Mary, “and eat your supper.”“You hush up yourself,” Clara said to Edward. “And quit picking on the kids.”“Well . . .” Edward said, his voice trailing off.“So he likes to read,” Clara said. “I like to read too. Is that so bad?”“So you want to be a writer, huh?” Edward asked Tom.Tom nodded. “I’d like to try.”Edward nodded enthusiastically. “I could’ve been a writer,” he said. “I got plenty of stories I could tell. What kind of books are on this list?”Tom removed the list from his pocket and handed it to Edward.Edward unfolded the list, looked at it, and his eyes became large round openings below his forehead. “Tom Sawyer!” he exclaimed. “That’s a dirty book. You reading dirty books?”“I didn’t read it,” Tom said quickly. “It isn’t in the library.”“Then how come it’s on the list?”“Because my aunt put it on the list.”“I oughta tell your aunt a thing or two,” Edward said.“Tom’s aunt’s dead, you goof,” Clara said. “That’s why Tom’s here. So leave him alone.”“Well . . . I don’t want no dirty books read in my house,” Edward said.“I read Tom Sawyer, and I didn’t think it was so dirty,” Clara said. “They even made a movie about it.”“When did you read it?”“Years ago,” Clara said. “Before you‘n me met. Did you ever read it?”“Well . . . no . . . but . . .”“Then how jew know it’s dirty?”“I was told it was dirty.”“You believe everything you’re told?”“Well . . . no, but . . .”“Would you jump in front of a speeding car if some one told you to?”“That’s different,” Edward said.

“Just leave Tom alone,” Clara said. “He’s got plenty of problems without having to add you to the list.”

“Well . . . like I said. I don’t want no dirty books read in my house, and I don’t want no preverts in my house neither,” Edward said as he put the list in his shirt pocket.“Give Tom back his list,” Clara said.“It’s okay,” Tom said. “I’ve memorized the list.”Realizing he had lost control of the situation, Edward scowled and returned the list to Tom, and the group ate the remainder of the dinner in silence.Later in the evening, after Tom had brushed his teeth, he went along the hallway towards the front room where Clara and Edward sat listening to the radio.As Tom approached the room he heard them talking, over the sounds of the radio.“That stupid Whittaker woman sure can come out with a load of crap,” Clara was saying. “She don’t know her ass from a hole in the ground about kids. She told me the reason that kid, Robert, wets the bed is: he’s an ‘only child.’ She wouldn’t know an ‘only child’ if one come up to her and knocked her on her keester. Hell! Mary and this new kid, Tom, are both ‘only children,’ too, and they don’t wet the bed. I wonder if she knows that she contradicts herself like that.”Edward grunted.“Anyway I want you to behave yourself,” Clara continued. “I want to keep this foster parent thing goin’. I’ve always wanted kids but couldn’t have any of my own, and this foster parent thing is the next best thing, and we get paid for having kids. It’s the only source of income we have now since you got fired. You just shoot off your big fat mouth too damn much, and you get yourself fired. So I want you to promise me that you’ll behave yourself from now on.”Edward scowled at Clara. “If I could just find another job we wouldn’t have to put up with all this.”“We? What jew mean, we? You got a turd in your pocket or something? I’m the one who’s putting up with all this. Anyway you had plenty of chances to get jobs. They wanted you to go to work in the Bull Mountain mines . . .”“Mining is dangerous, Clara. You want me to get killed? I’m a good gas station attendant.”“But everybody in this town including the owners of the other gas stations know you shot off your big fat mouth and got yourself fired. What about your drinking buddy, Roy? Wasn’t he suppose to help you get a job in the oil field? He said he’d train you. What happened to those plans?”“That blowhard couldn’t train a bird to fly. Anyway those oil workers climb on those high derricks and I’m afraid of heights.”“Well, then, I guess you’re just gonna have to behave yourself and put up with this foster care job.” Her voice softened a bit. “Besides these kids ain’t causing us no trouble, and we need the money, and this new kid, Tom, seems real nice. Tom won’t be too much trouble, and I’m gonna ask Miss Whittaker if we could keep him permanent like. It would mean more money, and he could help me around the place . . . God knows.” Her voice became harsh again. “You never help me none. I’ve asked you many times to fix that damn door bell and . . .”“I don’t know anything about electricity . . .”Clara waved his remark away with her hand. “And you won’t even mow the lawn.” Then her voice became enthusiastic. “Tom could baby sit with the kids and do some work around here like wash clothes and the dishes . . . like he did tonight. Can you imagine that? He done the dishes without even being asked to.” Then her voice took on a pleading tone. “So promise me you won’t foul this up.”Clara’s remarks enlivened Tom. Perhaps he could become a permanent resident of the Edmonds household. At least he would know what his future was to be. Putting up with Edward and Robert would be no problem and he liked Clara—she was fiesty and he liked that in a woman. And Mary was so sweet.“Okay,” Edward said with an annoyed tone of voice. “I think I’ll go down town for awhile.”“You come home early. We got to go to your mom’s funeral tomorrow, you know.”“I’ll come home when I’m ready,” Edward said.Just as Edward stood up, Tom entered the room. Clara and Edward looked up in surprise.“Oh! Excuse me,” Tom said. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”“See, Ed?” Clara said. “Tom’s a real gentleman. Polite and all. These kids ain’t no trouble at all.”Edward said nothing. He put on his coat and left.“What do you need, Tom?”“Just wondering if you had anything to read.”Clara pointed to a magazine rack by her chair. “Just some magazines there. We don’t have any books.”Tom searched through the magazines, withdrew a Saturday Evening Post, and, saying goodnight to Clara, he returned to his assigned room.When Tom entered the room he saw Robert sitting on the bed adjacent to his own. Robert had his back turned toward Tom, and Mary was sitting on her foldaway bed, in her pajamas, arranging and rearranging the clothing on her doll.Mary looked up at Tom. “Hi.”“Hi,” Tom said. He looked at Robert’s back. “Hi, Robert.”Robert did not respond.“He doesn’t like anybody,” Mary said. “Because he’s an ‘only child.’ That’s what Miss Whittaker said, and his mommy and daddy died in an accident.”“That’s too bad,” Tom said. He propped the pillow up against the headboard of his bed and sat down on the bed with his back resting against the headboard. He swung his legs up onto the bed.“They don’t allow shoes on the bed,” Mary said.“Sorry,” Tom said. He kicked off his shoes, leaned back against the pillow, and started to leaf through the pages of the magazine.“Is your mommy and daddy dead, too?” Mary said.“My mom is, but my dad is still alive . . .”“Did your mommy die in an accident, too?”Tom did not want to upset Mary so he said, “I think she simply went to sleep and didn’t wake up.”“Where’s your daddy?”“I don’t know. They tell me he died in the war, but I believe he’s alive . . . out there somewhere . . . I think.”“Why doesn’t he come and get you?”“I don’t know,” Tom said, shaking his head.“Want to know my dolly’s name?”Tom put down his magazine. “Sure.”“Mrs. Belfrey.”“Mrs. Belfrey?” Tom said with a smile.“Yes. My daddy said, ‘I’ve brought you a new dolly and her name’s Mrs. Batsin Belfrey.’ I always call her Mrs. Belfrey.”Tom smiled at her again. “You said you can read. What kind of things do you read?”“I try to read the newspaper, but mostly I read the comics. My daddy always use to read me the comics.”Mary became silent then and lay down on the cot. She pulled her legs up to her chest, put her thumb in her mouth, and began to weep.Tom got off the bed and knelt down by Mary’s bed. “What’s the matter, Mary? Did I say something wrong?”“I miss my mommy and daddy so much,” she said, continuing to weep. “I’m so lonely without them.”Tom instinctively touched her arm, and Mary reached out and put her arms around his neck while she continued to cry.

“You don’t have to be lonely anymore, Mary,” Tom said, as he continued to hold her tightly. “You got me for company, and you got Robert . . .”

“Bobby!” Robert snapped.“And you got Clara and Ed. Clara’s a nice lady. She cares about you. She really does. And when you start school this fall you’ll make a lot of new friends.”“But Bobby’s in the third grade . . .”“Robby!” Robert snapped at her.“And he doesn’t have any friends,” Mary continued.“But he doesn’t want any friends, remember?”Mary continued to cry until she was asleep. Tom eased her down onto the bed, pulled the covers up around her and returned to his own bed.Eventually Robert undressed and crawled into his bed and went to sleep.Tom turned on the small lamp on the nightstand and turned off the overhead light. Then he rummaged through his box and brought out Aunt Elizabeth’s journal, located the place where he had discontinued reading, and began reading again. September 30, 1929- This was to be Martha’s second year, but she has surprised everyone and married a university professor. Then she stopped attending school.Her withdrawal from school upset Arthur very much because Arthur thought that once they were married, Martha would continue with her studies.Arthur, of course, wants, and certainly needs, a wife who is able to fit in with his lifestyle and his peers.Arthur’s peers hold doctorates. They are all highly educated and Arthur realizes that Martha will clearly embarrass him if she does not continue with her education. I am sad to have to agree to that, because she is as ignorant as a post. She can’t discuss anything, because she doesn’t know anything. Arthur tried in vain to convince Martha to continue with her education, but she told Arthur that when women are married they don’t need an education; that when women get married they should stay at home and raise a family. This coming from a woman who thinks pregnant women are ugly and has no intention of getting pregnant.How foolish people are. No matter what her marital situation is, she clearly needs an education, and she is resisting. What is to become of her? Tom scanned ahead quickly for more entries about his mother. October 1, 1929- Today is a very distressing day. After many arguments, Arthur and Martha have separated. Poor Arthur wept like a baby, and Martha has disappeared I so hoped that Martha and Arthur could settle their differences and that Martha would try to understand Arthur’s difficulties, but she is gone, and I hear from some of her friends that she has already found another suitor. I am very sad and perplexed for Martha and Arthur this day.In addition to all of this, father is urging me to invest my savings in stocks and bonds. What do I know about stocks, hog bellies, commodities, and futures? Tom again scanned the pages for more entries: November 15, 1929- Father wrote with bad news. His stocks are worthless.Martha finally has surfaced and is married to a man who works for the railroad.Father has disowned her, and he wrote some very ugly things about her.Father also told me that I will have to leave school, because he will no longer be able to help me with tuition, but I am employed and have saved enough money to tide me over until I graduate.In any event, father will survive. He is mean enough to survive. Although he lost most of his funds on the stock market, his business is still intact. He always has over reacted during tense times. Tom scanned ahead to another entry that read: April 20, 1931- Received a letter from Martha today. Martha is pregnant and is expecting sometime in October. She’s hoping for a girl, and I guess Frank doesn’t care what gender the child will be as long as it is healthy.This is the first letter she has ever written me. I don’t know how she got my address, but I appreciate her resourcefulness.But her English is abominable. I’ve told her many times that when you use the word ‘hisself,’ you expose your illiteracy, but her letter was a welcome item in this lonely world in which I am living.I am teaching in a one-room school near Billings, and it gets so lonely that anyone will do for companionship. Most of the farmers and ranchers around here need cooks and someone to wash their clothes, and the local schoolteacher is fair game. They don’t seem to care what kind of a person you are or what you think—only that you are alive and female, and marrying someone is cheaper than paying someone to keep house. That way they can get free labor and also satisfy their sexual needs.In June I will be returning to the university. Florence has invited me to stay with her.The way the curriculum is set up, I may be able to acquire enough credits during the summer quarter to fulfill the requirements for my secondary teaching credential. Perhaps, then, I may be able to teach at a high school somewhere in a larger populated area where it isn’t so lonely. Tom put the journal down and rummaged through his box and brought out the packet of letters. He found the letter from his mother, written in April of 1931. He removed the letter from the envelope, unfolded it, and began to read silently. Dear Liz, I am writing you because I got to write someone or Ill go nuts. I wasnt careful so now I am pregnant and the kid will be born in October and I had another fight with Frank last night. He thinks Im silly because Im hoping for a girl because boys are so difficult to control, and his friend Charlie who is really stupid and didnt graduate from high school is always churning up the embers with his stupid questions and remarks. Frank would know what Im talking about if he went to college. Hes so stupid. Frank is critical of psychology and I resent his remarks. There is a lot to this psychology ‘crap’ as he calls it. I studied it and it makes sense. If he went to college hed know more than to put things down that he dont know anything about. He told me that I should quit thinking about Arthur and what I learned at college, and I told him that if hed make something of hisself like a doctor or lawyer or somebody important maybe I wouldnt be thinking about the past so much of the time. So this stupid Charlie tells me that Frank is somebody hes a brakeman. Thats so laughable. Frank could be something better than a brakeman. Hes talented. Ive seen it. Hes smart. Hes got a good personality too and Ive been encouraging him to become some one more important than a brakeman. You know what I mean. Get an important job where he could use his brains and his personality and his talent. Become a lawyer or dentist or medical doctor or college teacher some kind of professional like that and Charlie puts his two cents worth in by asking me do I know how long it takes to become a doctor and of course I dont know. How would I know that? And then he asks me do I know how much money we would need and of course I dont know that either. When Tom’s mother launched into a description of her shopping episodes, he stopped reading, folded the letter, put it into the envelope. He put the envelope in the box and picked up the journal again.The next entry relating to Tom’s mother read: May 11, 1931- I wrote Martha and told her that I agreed with her friend Charlie.Frank is a brakeman. What is wrong with being a brakeman? At least he has a job during these perilous times. I told her that perhaps Frank likes the railroad and may be thinking of moving up in the system. He may want to become a stationmaster for all she knows.Apparently she doesn’t talk to Frank about his job.I don’t think that this Charlie is as stupid as she thinks. And I told her that a person has to plan for things like college. My experience will verify that. You have to save money and you have to determine what you want to be before you quit your job and run off to college- doctor, lawyer, whatever. I told her that she and Frank should have a plan for something like college.I told her that when the economy gets better, there should be plenty of opportunities for Frank. I also told her that, if she is so determined to see Frank in college, she might think about getting a job to help Frank get through college. Lot’s of people do that.I wrote her that: she was married to someone who was ‘someone’ as she put it, so if she wanted someone who is someone she should have stayed with Arthur and worked to make him proud of her.Poor Martha. She doesn’t seem to know what she wants.However her marriage to Frank has lasted longer than I had anticipated, being that she knew Frank only a few weeks before the wedding. The entries began to dwell on Aunt Elizabeth’s teaching aspirations so Tom scanned ahead.The next entry he found read: June 20, 1931- Received another letter from Martha today. It appears that Martha is going to be unhappy in love again. I wrote her that a person can’t get medical degrees or law degrees at that small college in Havre and that they should be planning if they are to reach goals such as those.Although Martha is having a bad time, I had a pleasant surprise. I received a letter from a principle at a high school in Roundup and was offered a teaching position starting in the fall. The offer is conditional i.e., that I get my secondary teaching credential this summer.This summer term I enrolled in two very difficult courses which are required for my secondary teaching credential. It will be a grueling journey, but it will help me in my teaching career. Tom put down the journal again and found the letter his mother had written to Aunt Elizabeth in June of 1931. The letter read: Dear Liz, All I know is that Im unhappy and when Im unhappy everyone else is going to be pretty unhappy too until something happens to make me feel better. I forgot to tell you that Charlie also suggested that I go back to work too when Frank goes to college and I told him and Ill tell you to. Fat chance about that. Once the kids born, Im staying home and keep care of the kid. Tom folded the letter, put it in its envelope, and picked up the journal again. July 10, 1931, Received another letter from Martha.She and Frank keep arguing about this college business.She is still using ‘irregardless.’ I have told her many times that it is not a real word—it’s actually a double-double negative. Arthur often tried to correct her grammar, too, but to no avail. Usually most of us think on four different planes simultaneously i.e., deductively, inductively, intuitively, and just plain rubbish. Martha usually operates on the later most of the time.I feel ashamed writing that about her, but Martha was not very good with English grammar or mathematics for that matter. Arthur was always embarrassed about that. I have yet to meet Frank, so I don’t know if he has an opinion about it. Tom found and withdrew the letter written by his mother in July of 1931. The letter read: Dear Liz, If Frank had gone to college and studied psychology like I did he would know about the bell shaped curve and he would understand that girls mature earlier than boys and he would know why girls are easier to control. Thats the reason me and Frank cant talk about things. Frank hasnt got an education like I have and Frank tries to hurt me by saying Whatre you talking about you only went to college one year and then you quit. Some education you got. So I says, At least I went. Thats more than he can say. I keep telling him that if hes talented he owes it to hisself to improve hisself and you owe it to your family to make your life better. He tries to hurt me by saying but you still quit. He just wont let it go Liz. You know why I quit Liz. I quit because I got married. When women get married they should stay to home and raise a family. They dont need an education. But I got a chance to prove it when Charlie asked me about the bell shaped curve. I told him that the psychologists do studies on people and put the information on this bell shaped curve and they can tell certain things about people. Thats how they know that girls are easier to control. Thats how they discovered that girls mature earlier than boys. Thats why I can see that Frank should improve hisself. Im older than Frank so Im wiser than him and I know better. The bell shaped curve proves that girls and boys the same physical age mature at different times and the girls are always three years more mature. So being Im two years older than Frank makes me six years more intelligent and wiser than Frank. All I can say is Franks got a good mind, and I think he should go to college irregardless— Tom stopped reading. His disappointment was growing with each letter. He folded the letter and put it in its envelope and began scanning the journal again. The next entry read: July 15, 1931- Received another letter from Martha.It is very painful to experience what kind of a person my sister is. It is like being constantly hit on the head with a hammer. It’s like some kind of Chinese torture technique.I told her that one course in psychology doesn’t qualify her to determine the psychological make up of another person, and that the bell shaped curve is just another way of showing inequality.And apparently this Charlie comes to see Martha when Frank is away at work. Not very appropriate in my estimation.And she gets so upset about such small things. Some times I would like to punch her in the face.Writing all this makes me feel ashamed of myself. Perhaps I should stop complaining about her and just accept Martha as she is. Tom withdrew a fourth letter and unfolded it. The letter read: Dear Liz, Charlie came over again the other night and I cried when Charlie and I were talking about Frank. Charlie calls Frank, Frankie and Frank calls Charlie, Charlie, and Charlie calls me Marty, which I really like, but Frank never calls me Marty. You would think it would kill him to call me Marty just once. Tom stopped reading. It was becoming increasingly painful to read his mother’s letters. He picked up the journal once again and began scanning the entries. The next entry read: July 10, 1937- I received a letter from father. He told me that Frank left Martha and their young son, Thomas.Martha stopped writing years ago so now I have some news about her.Thomas must be at home on vacation from school at this time, and I imagine it is very difficult for Martha being on her own with no one to help her with the boy.Martha wrote to father to see if she could return home, but Father told me that he told her that he is done with her.I wrote to Martha several times over the last years, but she never responded. Frank may have left because of Charlie. I suspect that Martha and Charlie may have developed more than a platonic relationship. Again Tom scanned the entries quickly. November 5, 1940- This is a sad time. Martha is dead; murdered by one of her many suitors; strangled with one of her stockings in her own home. That’s ironic. One simply cannot toy with the affections and emotions of others.Father and I had a terrible argument when he denied Martha’s son his birthright, I told Father that Thomas was family and should be with family, and I applied to the court and I was granted guardianship of Thomas.Now Thomas, who is nine years old, has come to live with me, and at last I have some thing to live for. Some one really needs me.I enrolled Thomas in the public elementary school, and I have started a savings account to save for his future college expenses.I am alive again. Tom stopped reading then and returned the journals and letters to his box. He undressed, got into bed, pulled the covers up around him, turned off the light, lay back on the pillow and closed his eyes.

At last Tom knew about his mother, and he tried to understand why Aunt Elizabeth had lied to him about the way his mother had died. Most likely she lied to protect him, but to protect him from what. Then he envisioned his mother, lying on the kitchen floor, struggling against her assailant, ‘one of her many suitors,’ as Aunt Elizabeth had put it, who was choking the life out of her. ‘Strangled with her own stockings,’ as Aunt Elizabeth had written, and although his aunt Elizabeth could see the irony in that, Tom could not.

Just before Tom went to sleep, he thought that his aunt Elizabeth would be very disappointed if she knew that he would not be going to college as she had planned.  Chapter 3 In the morning after breakfast Clara asked Tom if he had any dress clothes.Tom did not want to take the extra time to change into other clothing. “Not anything better than this,” he said, indicating the clothes he wore. “Why?”Clara shrugged. “If that’s all you got to wear, I guess there’s nothing we can do about it.”“Why? What’s going on?”“Well, we got to go to Ed’s mom’s funeral,” Clara said. “We need you to come with.”“I don’t want to go to a funeral, Clara. I didn’t know Ed’s mom and besides my aunt just died and it’s a real sad situation.”“Well, we can’t leave you kids here alone.”“I could baby sit with Mary and Robert.”“No, you can’t do that,” Clara said quickly. “You’re not permanent here, and if Miss Whittaker found out or if something happened . . . like an accident . . . or something like that . . . when we’re gone, we’d get in trouble. Ed’n’me could even go to jail. So you got to come with.”Tom shrugged. “Okay.”“Thanks for being such a good kid about it. And do me a favor. Tell Mary and Robert to get a move on. We’re late.”When they arrived at the church, Clara said, “See, Ed? I told you we’d be late. Everybody else is here already. We should have been the first to arrive. And you already got a load on. I wish you’d lay off the bottle.”“I got to be drunk to stand these people,” Edward said.“You’re gonna foul up the whole deal.”“I’m not gonna foul up anything.”They got out of the car and went into the church and, because the rows of benches at the front of the church were occupied, they sat in the very last row.The body of the matriarch, Roberta Edmonds was lying in a green coffin that rested upon two carpenter’s sawhorses that were partly covered with purple drapery.

The church pews were filled with people, and the organist was playing some unidentifiable church-like music.

The minister came in from some inner room and walked up the few steps onto the platform and stood behind the podium. He looked down over the congregation noticing Earl Edmonds and his wife Serena and their three sons Anthony, Arthur, and Allen sitting in the front row. Sitting beside them was Sarah, Roberta Edmonds youngest.The minister searched the faces of the congregation and finally located Edward Edmonds. He cringed at the thought of Edward Edmonds sitting in his congregation and he hoped that Edward Edmonds would behave himself so that everything would go along without incident.The minister cleared his throat and the congregation became quiet and the organist stopped playing. “I want to thank you all,” he began, “for taking time from your busy schedules to come to day to say your farewells to the dearly departed Roberta Edmonds, who died in her sleep at the age of 92. And I am sure that her family is grateful for your support also. Let us pray.”The minister looked up at the ceiling and held out his arms so that his body formed a human cross. “Dearly Beloved,” he began. “We are gathered here in your divine love and eternal presence, to witness our love and devotion for the dearly departed, Roberta Edmonds. Let us pray. Our Father which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”In unison, the members of the congregation muttered, “Amen.”The minister paused to wipe his mouth with his handkerchief. “Now I’d like to give some time to any members of the congregation who wish to say any words about the dearly departed.”The minister left his position at the podium and walked to the side of the platform.Earl Edmonds rose from his place in the front row and walked up the steps onto the platform and stood behind the podium. “I’m Earl Edmonds and I’m the oldest son,” he said, clearing his throat. “I’d like to thank you all for coming, and I want to tell you what a great woman my mom was. Mom never said a cross word or a bad word to anybody or about anybody, and she was very talented. She painted pictures. She was a good singer and dancer, and she was good to us kids. She encouraged us when it appeared that we might fail, and she had a good sense of humor, too.“After dad died mom lived alone for years, but after awhile we were afraid to have her live alone because of her age, so we convinced her to come and live with us. She lived with us for the last ten years of her life because, like I said, we were so afraid that she would fall if she was left alone, and no one would be around to help her get up.”“Yeah, right,” Edward said with a tone of disgust in his voice.“Shhhhhhsh!” someone said.“Shhhhhhsh, yourself, lady,” Edward said.“Stop it,” Clara whispered.Earl Edmonds left the platform, and one unidentified member of the congregation stood and told what a good person Roberta Edmonds was and that Roberta always had something good to say about everyone and that Roberta would be terribly missed.Serena, Earl’s wife, got up and stepped up onto the platform and stood behind the podium.“I’m Serena, Earl’s wife,” she said. “And Regina was my mom-in-law. What Earl said is true, and what that lady said about her being missed is true. She was a great person. She was living with us at the time of her death. She was always happy with us and if you needed a baby sitter she was always ready to help, and what a talent she had. She painted quite a lot before she came to live with us, but after she came she couldn’t find the time to do her painting for a couple of years because she was so busy with other things. I’m gonna miss her. I think that we all will miss her like the lady said.”Edward snorted. “What a load of crap.”Clara struck Edward on the arm. “Shut up.”Serena sat down and Sarah Proctor, twice married, twice divorced youngest daughter of Roberta Edmonds stood up and stepped up onto the platform and stood behind the podium.“I’m Sarah, and I’m . . . and I’m the youngest of the family. I don’t want to repeat what Earl and Serena has said . . . and the other lady . . . because you heard it all before, but momma did have a good sense of humor like Earl said. For instance, momma was always saying ‘my parents ruined the first part of my life and my children ruined the last part of my life.’” Sarah stopped talking, expecting laughter. No one laughed. “Well . . . it sounded pretty funny at the time,” she concluded and left the podium and took her seat.Edward rose from where he sat and Clara whispered, “Ed, you come back here.”Edward kept walking, every once in a while staggering to the left or to the right.The minister saw him coming and rushed behind the podium and said, “Thank you for your kind words, and now we’ll pray for . . .”“Wait a minute, you little twirp,” Edward said very loudly. “I got somethin’ to say.”“But we don’t have time,” the minister said.“My ass,” Edward said. “Get away from there.”

Edward was climbing up onto the raised stage to approach the podium. “I said I got somethin’ to say, and I’m gonna say it.”

Edward brushed the minister aside and turned to face the congregation. He stood weaving for a few moments, and then he looked down at his brother, Earl.“She was a good woman all right, Earl, and she would’ve lived probably ten years longer if you and your bunch of morons hadn’t treated her so lousy. And Serena, Sooroona, or Sarongwrap, or what’s your name, her name’s Roberta not Regina. When will you ever get that through your moronic head? And, yes, she was talented but couldn’t paint because she was always babysitting and wipin’ your kids’ asses and feeding them so they could shit some more so she could wipe their asses some more. And the littlest kid slept in the same room with mom, and that room was filled with the stench of urine because the kid was always pissing the bed, and she paid rent on that lousy room and bought the groceries and would’ve lived much longer.” Edward stopped and looked out across a sea of startled faces. “Hear that people? She would’ve lived much longer if she didn’t have to take care of my brother’s jackin’ off kids.”“How long do you want her to live?” Earl Edmonds said. “She was ninety two for Christ’s sake.”“She could’ve lived longer you son-of-a-bitch.”“I must ask you not to use offensive language in my church amongst my flock,” the minister said.“So it’s your church and it’s your flock is it?” Edward said looking menacingly at the minister. “Like these people are your slaves? They belong to you? You gonna let your people go one of these days?”“You know I didn’t mean it that way,” the minister said.“Oh you meant it that way all right,” Edward said. “You bible thumping phony.” Then he turned and looked at Earl and Serena again. “And you say that mom couldn’t paint because she was so busy. That’s no lie, Serena, mom couldn’t do her painting because your jackin’ off kids were always getting into her paints and painting over her paintings. Your moronic jackin’ off kids got no sense.”“That’s not true,” Serena said. “And stop saying that word.”“That’s not true at all,” Earl said.“She told me,” Edward said. “What do you think we talked about when we were cooped up in that urine stenched room? What in hell do you think we talked about when I came to visit all those times?”“She was half out of her mind,” Earl said. “She didn’t know what she was talking about half the time.”“Oh she knew what she was talking about all right,” Edward said. “And, Sarah, you think it was so funny when she said all that about her parents and her children ruining her life and all that? Well she was speaking the truth. Grandpa and grandma did ruin the first part of her life with their pissing and moaning and manipulating her into marrying dad, who turned out to be a real loser and who drank hisself to death. And us kids? We ruined her life by pissing and moaning and manipulating her, too. She didn’t have to live with you and she didn’t want to. She could’ve lived alone like she wanted to, with her two cats and her dog. And she could’ve done all the painting she wanted to do, but no, you had to have a babysitter and you needed extra money, so you connived and conspired and tricked her into coming to live with you so she could pay you rent for that stinking little room where your jackin’ off kid also slept.”“Stop saying that word!” Serena screamed.“She could have gone to live with you!” Earl shouted.“She could’ve,” Edward said, “and I wouldn’t’ve charged her no six hundred dollars for rent neither.”“It was only four hundred,” Serena said.The room filled with whispers.“She told me it was six hundred,” Edward said.More whispers went through the congregation.“I told you she was out of her mind,” Earl shouted.More whispers occurred in the congregation.“But she wanted to live alone,” Edward said. “Earl, you ignorant knucklehead. You knew she wanted to live alone, but you just had to be your moronic, greedy, knuckle-headed, self.”“We didn’t want her to be alone,” Serena said.“Yeah. I know,” Edward said. “You were so afraid she would fall and not be able to get up. But she was alone at your home anyway because you went off and left her with your jackin’ off . . .”“Stop saying that word!” Serena screamed.“Jackin’ off, Jackin’ off, Jackin’ off,” Edward taunted. “The reason you wanted her to live with you was to baby sit your jackin’ off kids. Christ! You left her alone for weeks at a time with your jackin’ off kids so’s you could go gallivanting off . . . to Albaturkey, New Mexico . . . to Florida . . . to . . . all over the place.”

With the last phrase, Edward made a sweeping movement with his right arm, accidentally brushing the bible from the podium onto the floor.

The minister quickly rushed around the podium to retrieve the bible. He picked it up and clutched it tenderly to his breast.“So . . . you see? You people did ruin the last half of her life,” Edward said. “And then you went to Florida and left her all alone, which was the reason you wanted her to live with you, to not be alone, and when you came back from Florida you found her laying on the floor, dead. She probably had fallen and laid there for days before she died. And now at the time of her death you can’t even give her a good funeral.”Earl stood up and clenched his hands into white knuckled fists. “Just what the hell’s wrong with this funeral?”“Gentlemen! Please!” the minister pleaded.“Just look around you, Earl,” Edward said. “You got this ugly green coffin for her. You got these gladiolas. You got her dressed in her nightgown, which she sewed for herself about twenty years ago. And, Earl, she ain’t smilin’. For God’s sake, Earl, she ain’t smilin’.”“I don’t see what’s so wrong,” Earl said.“You don’t get it, Earl? What’s so wrong? She hated the color green, for God’s sake; and she hated gladiolas. And the undertakers have ways of makin’ ‘em smile. And the dress? For Christ’s sake! The dress! Couldn’t you tight assed morons jar loose with a couple of bucks for a new dress? That’s what’s wrong.”Earl turned towards Serena and Sarah. He opened his arms and rolled his eyes with a gesture of hopelessness.“I must ask you to leave now,” the minister said.“I got more to say,” Edward said. “Haven’t you people no sensitivity at all? Mom use to listen to that song . . . how’s it go . . . ‘my long tailed coat that I loved so well gonna wear it on the chariot in the mornin’.’ Mom use to tell me that she would like to go out in style. Wearing a nice dress and a smile . . . so no one would think she regretted anything while she was here on earth. And you morons screwed it up!” Edward’s last phrase was a shout.“I must insist that you leave,” the minister said.Edward made a threatening gesture towards the minister. “Listen, you little weasel,” he said. “I whipped your ass in grade school, and I whipped your ass in high school, and I sure’s hell can whip your ass here today, so shut up and sit down.”“You son-of-a-bitch!” the minister shouted. “I’ll throw your ass out of my church.”The minister put down his bible and approached the podium.“By golly, I’ll help you,” Earl said as he rushed forward.As the minister reached for Edward with both arms, Edward poked him in the nose with a sturdy left jab and then, without hesitation, hit Earl on the jaw with a right cross and Earl stumbled from the stage, and the minister staggered backwards from the blow.The minister, whose nose was gushing blood, backed into the coffin and the weight of his body moved the coffin and tipped it off its support.

The coffin went crashing to the floor on its side and the body of Roberta Edmonds rolled out of the coffin and came to rest on its back.

“Momma!” Edward cried out. He came from behind the podium, left the stage and pushed Earl aside, and rushed around the coffin and knelt down by the body of Roberta Edmonds and began to sob. “Momma! Why did you have to leave me?”Serena stood up and kicked Edward in the side and raised her foot to stab him with her high-heeled right foot.Clara, who had left her seat and had rushed down the aisle, saw Serena’s actions and swung her purse at Serena’s head, and something heavy in Clara’s purse knocked Serena to the floor unconscious. Then Sarah stood up suddenly as though she was going to retaliate, and Clara hit Sarah with a left hook. Sarah staggered back-wards against the pew and toppled over onto the people sitting in the next row.

“Come on, Ed,” Clara said, taking Edward by his arm.

Edward continued to sob.“Come on,” Clara said again, pulling steadily on Edward’s arm.Edward looked up at Clara with the tears working their way down his cheeks.Clara pulled steadily on Edward’s arm. “Come on, Ed,” she said softly.Edward stood up very slowly and followed Clara up the aisle as Clara pulled steadily on his arm. When she and Edward passed the last row of pews, Clara looked over at Tom, Mary, and Robert. “Come on, kids. Let’s go.”Tom, Mary, and Robert stood up, filed out, and followed Clara and Edward to the automobile. Clara got Edward into the passenger side of the front seat, and Mary, Robert, and Tom got into the back seat of the automobile.Clara got into the front seat behind the steering wheel and started the motor. “You really fouled it up this time, Ed,” she said, shaking her head as she released the brake and drove the automobile into the street.Monday, Miss Whittaker came and took Tom, Mary, and Robert from the home of Edward and Clara Edmonds.