Buttoned Down Life
The summer Emily Stewart finally lost her reputation as a shy, spinster, red Georgia clay coated anything that stood still for more than a minute; dust particles rode the blazing rays of sun, clinging to clean, white bed sheets, flapping in the stifling wind. Housewives took to hanging their laundry inside while husbands complained as they fought for order in the tangle of clothes strung throughout the upper floors of their houses in Cove. But, Emily didn't worry. After all, she was alone, and at fifty-five, her wash was easy enough; her few articles took up space in one of the many empty bedrooms of her old two-story house. The loneliness, on the other hand, for the first time in her life, took on new dimensions, a well-defined face, and grew like a healthy fat baby, working the air like the dust, which the town blamed for any mishap as if it were a living being and the drought was a secondary condition. Emily's beloved books refused to hold her attention; instead, she found interest in the dryness of her hands and the wrinkles on her forehead. Normally not a woman of fashion, she became unsettled with her once white collar, now copper-tinged, on her choir robe. If not for her obsession to obtain a fresh robe, she would have missed a conversation between Pastor Morgan and Bea Weehunt; a conversation that drove her to accept Pastor Morgan's invitation to dine at his home the following Saturday.
Emily rummaged through the choir storage room with hopes of
"She'll only die of shyness." Bea, in all her prissiness,
Pastor Morgan cleared his throat. "She is one of the best Sunday
"She'll never come. And, I'm glad someone has the time to read
"Oh really, it's good to know with Scott's passing and your
Bea's voice took on that pitiful sound; the one she used thirty
"One can never learn too much."
Emily took the streetcar, crowded, bodies pressed against each
The hat fit snug on her head with a perfect cuff around the edge
"You must try on the whole suit, Madam."
Madam? Never had she been call Madam. The dress fit to her
"But, you look so elegant." The young sales girl smiled from
"I'll take it all!" Was she completely mad? Blood rushed through
Mr. Barker stood and extended his hand. "You must be the fabulous Mrs. Stewart. But, I must say, you're nothing like described. I hear you are an avid reader. What books do you suggest?"
She took his hand in hers; the body heat radiated through her glove. "Miss Stewart, Mr. Barker. I'm sure you were told I'm the town spinster. And, I love all books of the serious nature. I just finished 'Tender is the Night'."
"If you're the town spinster, I must see the town's beauty. And, I love Fitzgerald."
"You're too kind." She stared him in the eyes.
"We all urged Emily to find a husband when she was young and give up those books, but she just plain out refused, poor little thing. She's just so shy; she'd rather read than talk."
Mr. Barker laughed, releasing Emily's hand. "There is much to be said for the quiet type. Independent women choose their own life style. We could all learn from some of their choices. I, unlike some of the boors of today, see women as a real asset to the growth of this country, not merely flowers for decorative purposes." He motioned her to sit. She took the seat next to her former schoolmate and noticed Bea still had the same mole on her chin; the mole two innocent schoolgirls imagined made her a silent film star, elegant; with a closer look, a hair grew from its middle.
"Emily, here, is just so precious to our little church, what with her teaching Sunday school and all. I imagine this helps since she has no children of her own." Lines formed around Bea's eyes as she smiled.
Mr. Barker chuckled. "I have no children. This may be shocking, but I never wanted any, can't tolerate the curtain climbers for long." Everyone in the room took a breath at what seemed like the same time.
"But, Mr. Barker, don't you want to leave your name, some part of you, behind?" Bea placed her hand to her chest.
"I have my books for that. Besides, my brother has four boys that should take care of the name surviving."
She smiled. "I, like you, Mr. Barker, leave the raising of children to the more experienced."
"You must call me Markus, Miss Stewart."
"And, you must call me, Emily."
"Emily is such a beautiful name." And, so went the dinner in honor of Markus Barker.
Bea stood in her housedress. "I wanted to talk to you."
Emily glanced up the staircase. "I guess for a few minutes." She opened the door, stepping back into the foyer. "It is my bedtime."
Bea stepped inside, closing the door behind her. "I just wanted to tell you, well." She pushed at the carpet's edge with a worn down house slipper. "I've missed you all these years. I mean, I never meant no harm when I married Scott. I know you loved him, but he asked me. Believe me you didn't miss a whole lot. Tonight, I saw what a beautiful woman you've become. That Mr. Barker sure had the eye for you. But, watch that one; something is wrong with a man who doesn't like children."
Emily pulled the frumpy robe around her tighter, glancing around. "Thanks for the advice, dear Bea. No hard feelings. Scott was years ago. I was but a child. I never would have been content with him; my mind moves too fast. You were the one meant to marry Scott. Events happen for a reason."
Relief washed Bea's face. "Good. Good. I want you to come to dinner with me. We're both single now. I eat alone most nights."
Emily gently turned Bea around to face the door, talking the whole time as if she spoke to one of her Sunday school students. "I would love to have dinner with you. You'll find being a woman on your own isn't so bad."
Bea stopped, turned her head, and looked Emily in the eye. "That's only because you have never known a man. It's awfully lonely."
"You would know better than me, dear Bea." Emily opened the door. "Come for a nice talk anytime." The wind swirled the dust from the porch rails and floor while thunder sounded in the distance like a far-off train moving into a station.
"You're a good soul, Emily." She took a couple of steps and paused. "I wouldn't wear that suit again. People might think you're uppity."
"Thanks Bea. I'll give your advice some sound thought." The
sky lit up with the flashing force of electricity. "You have a good
night." She pushed the door closed and locked it for the first time
in her life.
With a tray of warm milk, she climbed the stairs to her bedroom. Poor
Bea with all her silly rules lost track of the young girl, who dreamed
of stardom, missing the most important part of life, the part that
"What are you laughing at, my dear?" Markus Barker, bare-chested, sat propped against several pillows.
"Oh, old times." Her cheeks heated with the sight of him.
"Did I hear voices?"
"Yes, Bea stopped by with some sound advice."
Markus's eyebrow shot up. "Oh really, and what was that?"
"To stay away from you." She sat the tray with two glasses and a pitcher of warm milk on the bedside table.
He pulled at her wrist, taking her into his arms. "And, I hope you told her how insane she was?"
Emily laughed as rain pelted the windows and the lights flickered. "That horrid dust will be gone, and life will go back to normal."
"Life has a way of doing just that." Markus laughed as thunder shook the room and the lights went out.