Spring 1987, Volume 4.1
Essay

JUNE H. HOFFMAN
After the Reapers

"Jenny? Jennalyn, where are you?"

The child, crouched under the hibiscus, gave the terrapin another poke with her stick and answered softly, "Under here, Mama."

Her mother didn't hear, as the child had intended that she should not.

"Jenny?"

"Here, Mama." Softly.

"Jenny!" Her mother reached under the bush and pulled her out by the arm. 'Why didn't you answer me?"

The girl scooted out on her knees. 'I did, Mama. Twice I did. You just didn't hear me."

"Next time try something louder than a whisper. Never mind about that now. Come in the house and wash your face. Your Uncle Roy just drove up in the front yard, and I don't want him finding you looking like you've been playing in the pig pen."

The child scurried into the house. Uncle Roy had a store and sometimes he brought candy. She scrubbed at her cheeks with a justdamp cloth and entered the living room in time to hear Uncle Roy refuse an invitation to supper.

"Naw, John, I can't stay. I just came by to see if y'all had seen Ruthie any time today."

Jenny sidled up to her father's chair, standing where Uncle Roy might see her. Ruthie never came over here, she thought. In her whole life, she'd seen Ruthie here one time, maybe. Ruthie, her: father's first cousin, was younger than Jenny's parents, and she never

came to play cards or eat dinner like the older cousins.

"Nope," her father was shaking his head, "she hasnt been up here. You tried down at Daddy's?"

Everybody goes down to Gramma's house, Jenny thought. Nobody ever stops here.

"Just come from down there," Uncle Roy said. "Henry and Bertie hadn't seen her neither."

Jenny shifted from one foot to the other. Uncle Roy wasn't paying any attention to her. She wondered what he was doing looking for Ruthie, anyway. Ruthie was big, for heaven's sake. She'd been married and had a baby and everything. Jenny didn't know folks looked for their kids when they were big. She sighed. Didn't mamas and daddies never leave their kids alone?

Uncle Roy stood up and ran a hand over his head. His hair was white and she could see his pink scalp through it. 'I don't know where she coulda got off to. We went to church this morning and she was home ironing. We had Teddy with us. Got home, dinner was half cooked, she wasn't there. Didn't say where she was going or nothing. We had the car. Hell, you'd think she'd say something if she was going somewhere."

"Aw, heck, Uncle Roy." Her father stood when the older man rose. "She probably just went off with Mary Helen and Margaret or somebody."

'Naw, we stopped by there. They hadn't seen her neither." He put on his hat and started out the front door. "She comes by here, y'all tell her to get herself on home, hear?"

"You bet. Come on back when you can stay awhile." Her father followed Uncle Roy out to his car, and Jenny went back into the kitchen where her mother was putting supper on the table. She traced one finger around the edge of the frosting on the chocolate cake, low, where her mother was less likely to notice.

Her mother glanced up. "Jenny, keep your fingers off that cake, you hear me? Did you wash your hands?" Jenny held them out for her to see. "Not so you'd notice, but they'll do, I guess. Go tell your daddy to wash up for supper."

At the table, her father said, I don't know what Uncle Roy fusses over Ruthie so much for, anyway. Pass the biscuits, Jenny."

Her mother shrugged. 'She's always been a handful. Running off to New York like that. Wanted to marry that-" she glanced at Jenny "-other one."

"Couldn't have been worse than marrying Wally Pemberton."

"She could've married anybody she wanted to besides Wally Pemberton."

,Not likely. Aunt Lucille had her head set on that. Probably wore pore old Ruthie down."

Jenny filled her second biscuit with butter and smeared blackberry jelly on it.

"Jenny," her mother said, "you eat something besides biscuits and jelly Anyway, Wally Pemberton was a good boy. He sure was good to his mother."

"Huh, I guess, good boy. Wally Pemberton'll be a good boy till he dies. Ruthie probably wanted to be married to a man."

"John." Her mother glanced at her father. He stuffed a biscuit into Ids mouth.

Jenny finished her drumstick and wiped her hands on a napkin. 'Can I be e~?"

... May I.' I guess so. Don't get dirty. We'll have dessert directly.

III call you." Her mother never served dessert until her father was ready to have his and that might be a little while.

She slammed the screen door behind her and wandered around to the side of the house, stopping where she could hear her mother's voice through the kitchen window.

'Well, I'll give Ruthie this much. I don't think I could have stood having Pansy Pemberton and Blanche Lawhon standing over me night and day, either. Mary Helen told me that Pansy came over every day that they were married and saw that Ruthie changed the sheets because Wally has to have clean sheets every day."'

'Not any worse than her own mother," her father said. "Lucille practically took over that baby. Every time you see them together, Lucille's got him. Won't hardly let Ruthie touch him. In fact, I heard...."

The voices faded. Jenny sighed. Ruthie was divorced. Ruthie was the only person she knew who was divorced. Her mother had said it wasn't any wonder because Pansy and Blanche wouldn't let her alone. Wally was Pansy's only child, and her sister, Blanche, wasn't married, so it was like Wally was her only child, too. Mama had said she felt sorry for whoever married Wally, and she wasn't too surprised Ruthie left him. Everybody else seemed to think it was awful, but Jenny couldn't understand why. People in the movies got divorced all the time. Movie stars did, too, for real. But everybody said what a shame, now poor little Teddy wouldn't have a daddy. Her father had said, hell, he wouldn't have had a daddy if Ruthie had stayed with Wally. He'd just have had about five mamas.

Jenny had seen Wally Pemberton only once that she could remember, and that was at Ruthie's weddingj about four years ago. She had heard Mama tell Gramma that Ruthie had wanted to have Jenny for her flower girl in the wedding, but her mama made her have Jenny's cousin Merlene, because Merlene was on Lucille's side of the family. Jenny didn't care. Merlene had to stand right by Wally, and Jenny thought Wally looked like a rabbit. He had kind of pinkish red hair and his eyebrows and eyelashes were the same color and his eyes were always pink like he'd been crying or something. Ruthie was pretty. She had long brown hair and blue eyes and she laughed a lot. Jenny thought she needed a betterlooking husband. Somebody like Robert Taylor, maybe. Robert Taylor was so handsome. He'd look fine for Ruthie, except he was married to Barbara Stanwyck. Too bad. But it wasn't a terrible problem. Hollywood people got divorced all the time. Robert Taylor might get divorced too, and he wouldnt care if Ruthie was.

But now Ruthie was going to many Bud Wilkins, Merlene said. Merlene said Bud was crazy about her, and he was going to adopt Teddy and everything. Merlene said that Aunt Lucille was really happy about it because Bud Wilkins was a lawyer and made a lot of money.

She crawled back under the hibiscus bush to look for the terrapin, but he'd gone. Terrapins never stuck their heads out when you watched them; they waited till you'd gone, then they crawled off and hid. No matter how long you sat over them, they wouldn't come out. She wondered how they knew.

A car roared off down the road toward her grandmother's house, raising a cloud of fine white dust that settled slowly back onto the locust trees. The sun was setting, and the rays filtered through the Mississippi twilight. Overhead there were clouds, and it looked like it might rain, but the sunset was bright. When she squinted, she could stand to look at the sun straight on. When she closed her eyes, she could still see the sun on the back of her eyelids.

She came out from under the bush and went back into the kitchen. Her mother was just starting to cut the cake, and she made Jenny wash her hands again before she could have a piece.

When the sun had gone down and it was starting to get dark outside, a car pulled into their driveway and her father went out to see who it was. He came back in a minute, and the car pulled out again.

'Who was that?" her mother asked.

"Floyd." Floyd was her father's brother, and he lived across the road from Uncle Roy. "He said Uncle Roy wants all of us to go over to his house to help him look for Ruthie."

"Look for-Oh, for heavens sake. If that don't beat all." Her mother threw her napkin on the floor and scraped her chair back. 'That girl is gone five minutes, and Roy and Lucille have got the Royal Canadian Mounties out looking for her."

'Well," her father said, cutting himself another piece of cake, "it's been a whole lot longer than five minutes, Sue Ann. They figure she's been gone since about ten this morning. That'd be nine, ten hours. And Uncle Roy's been all over the county to look for her and nobody has seen her. He even drove down to Lonnie Price's store to call Bud Wilkins, but he couldn't get him."

"Oh, heck, then. I bet they ran off and got married."

"Nope. Bud's mama said he had to drive down to Jackson yesterday, wouldn't be back till ten or so tonight."

"She could've met him."

'Didn't have a car."

Her mother sighed. It was Sunday night, and her mama would be mad about having to miss Jack Benny. Jack Benny was her mother's favorite radio show. That and "Amos'n Andy."

'Well, I'll go, but I'm going to do these dishes first. I hate having to come home to a dirty kitchen."

It was full dark and sprinkling rain before they got to Uncle Roy's. Jenny could see her cousin Merlene and Ruthie's little brother, Todd, standing on the front porch. Merlene's Shirley Temple curls were bouncing up and down in the light of the yellow bulb over the front door. Jenny took her clear plastic raincoat and put it over her head and ran up on the porch. There were lots of cars parked in the driveway and on the road, and people were going in and out.

"Aunt Lucille says Ruthie's probably kidnapped and my daddy's gone up to get it put on the radio," Merlene said.

"Aw, Merlene, you don't know nothing." Todd looked disgusted. Merlene and Jenny were ten, a year older than Todd, but tonight he was more important. It was his sister who was missing. "Mama just said Ruthie coulda been kidnapped. She didn't say she was. And Uncle Boyce just went to ask the radio to have somebody call if they seen her."

"Who they gonna call?" Jenny asked. "Y'all don't have no telephone."

"The radio station. Then Uncle Boyce'll come tell us."

They went into the house through the living room where Aunt Lucille was walking up and down, bouncing Teddy. 'Now, Lucille," Jenny's grandmother was saying, "worrying yourself sick is not going to do a bit of good. You just sit down here and get comfortable. The men'll find her soon enough." She looked at the children standing in the doorway and frowned. "You young'uns get on out of here. Go out in the back bedroom and play."

They made their way out to the back bedroom. It wasn't really a bedroom anymore. There was a daybed on one side, but no one slept there. It was just a place where the family sat around and listened to the radio. Todd flopped down on the daybed and Jenny curled up in the bay window. Merlene took Aunt Lucille's rocking chair and began to rock back and forth, hard.

'Mama said she bet Ruthie and Bud ran off and got married."

"Naw, they didn't Merlene answered. "Bud's in Jackson. Gaylon went to tell his mama to tell him to get on over here as soon as he got back." Gaylon was Merlene's big brother.

'Well," said Jenny, wadding up her raincoat and stuffing it in a corner, "maybe she ran off to New York again."

"Hunh-unh," Todd said. "She didn't pack nothing. When she ran off to New York, she took all her clothes and everything. Mama said there aint nothing gone."

"Boy," Merlene said, "I bet your Mama would have a hissy fit if she did that again. My mama said that Yankee she wanted to marry was a Jew. She said your mama said shed strangle Ruthie herself before she'd let her marry him:'

Jenny didn't know whether it was worse to be a Yankee or a Jew. She had no first-hand acquaintance with either

Todd pulled out the Monopoly game and they played for a while, but he got mad because he lost most of his money, and he scattered the money and the cards and the hotels and the houses all over the floor and ruined the game. So Jenny and Merlene started playing Chinese Checkers, and when Jenny was about to win, Todd came over and kicked the game and the marbles flew all over. Jenny, hurled the checkerboard at him and stormed out of the room. Her grandfather and some other man that Jenny didn't know were standing in the door of the kitchen, their backs to her. Jenny stomped past them on her way to finding her mother to ask when they could go home.

... and if you ask me;' her grandfather was saying, "they're not gonna find her, either. If I'uz Roy, I'd get some seines and start dragging that pond down there."

Jenny was into the dining room when she heard the last words. Dragging the pond? What for? She knew the pond her grandfather meant. Uncle Roy had a big new pond, a lake almost, dug out in his pasture the previous spring. It was still raw looking, the bank bare, a sure sign of its newness. He'd stocked it with fish and she'd gone fishing over there with her daddy a few times. Why would he talk about dragging that pond?

Her mother was deep in conversation with Mary Helen, another of the younger cousins, when she approached, but they both stopped talking when she got dose enough to hear.

'What is it, Jenny?"' her mother asked, turning to her, but she wasn't interested. Jenny could tell. She just wanted Jenny to hurry up so she could get back to talking with Mazy Helen.

"Mama, were trying to play Chinese Checkers, and Todd kicked the board over."

Her mother looked annoyed, 'Todd's worried about Ruthie, Jen. Don't pay any attention to him."

'No, he's not. He's being a turd."

"Jennalyn!" her mother glared at her, and Mary Helen covered her mouth to stifle her laughter. "You watch your language, young lady, or you'll get your mouth washed out, you hear me?"

She dropped her head. "Yes'm."

'Now you get back in there, and don't you be ugly. I don't want to hear about you fighting with Todd." When Jenny and Todd had been small children, Jenny, at the instigation of her father's younger brothers, had happily and fiercely bitten the younger Todd. Her mother had never recovered from the embarrassment, she still warned Jenny off Todd when the two were together Back in the room, she found Todd and Merlene fighting over the radio.

I don't want to listen to the stupid news," Merlene was saying. I want to listen to the show. Red Skelton's on. How come we can't listen to him?"

"So I can hear if they got the thing about Ruthie on it. I wanta hear." Todd had two radios at his house. One was in the living room where his mother and the other women were. The other was back here. Aunt Lucille said it was so she could listen to something besides those internal Brooklyn Dodgers all summer long.

"Jenny, you don't wanta listen to the news, huh?" Merlene tried to enlist Jenny's support. "You druther listen to Red Skelton, huh?"

"Yeah, I hate the news."

'Well, it's my house," Todd said, planting himself in front of the set, "and I get to say what we listen to." His round fat face was shaking with anger, his eyes squinted in his determination to have his way.

'Well, we're company," Merlene said, her face close to his, her fists curled. "You're s'posed to let company have first choice."

"Yeah, Toad," Jenny said. "You ain't got no manners."

"Don't you call me that!" he shrieked and threw himself at her, knocking her down and punching ineffectually at her.

Jenny wasn't hurt, but she screamed loudly anyway, knowing that if she made a fuss, Merlene, at this moment, would take her side, and Todd would get into trouble.

Unfortunately, it was not Todd's mother who rushed into the room, but her own, who scooped her off the floor and administered a swat to her rear before asking any questions.

"Jennalyn Partlow, you stop that fighting right now, you hear me? What did I tell you?"

"But, Mama!" Jenny was almost in tears at the unfair punishment and the embarrassment of being spanked in front of others. "Todd hit me first! I didn't do nothing!"

"He did, Aunt Sue Ann. He hit her first," Merlene chimed in, casting a "so there" look at Todd.

'She started it, Aunt Sue Ann. She called me Toad."

The "aunt" was an honorary title. Actually, they were all cousins, but as it was considered impolite to calla grownup by a first name, all adult relatives became "aunt" or "uncle."

Her mother looked briefly uncertain, then she gathered herself up, hands on hips, and glared down at them. "Now listen to me, you three. Todd, your mama is about to go crazy worrying about Ruthie, and she doesnt need to have to worry about you, too. Merlene, your mama said to tell you to get ready to go. She's got to get home to your grandmama, and she'll be in here pretty quick to get you. And Jenny, unless you want your daddy in here, you behave yourself. Y'all hear me?"

"Yes'm."

"Yes'm."

"Yes'm."

'Now I don't want to hear any more noise out of-Jenny."

She looked past the children to the window seat where Jenny's raincoat lay crumpled, a crushed plastic mass in the comer 'of the window seat. 'My stars, you'd think you could take  better care of your things." She picked up the coat and shook it out as well as she could, smoothing it against her with one hand. "I'll spread this out in Ruthie's room." now She started out the door, and Jenny called after her, 'Mania, are they really gonna drag the pond?"

The other two children looked at Jenny, and her mother stopped, stared at her for a second, then grabbed her arm and pulled her from the room "Where did you hear that, young lady?" she whispered. "Have you been sneaking out listening to the grownups talk?"

No'm." Jenny shook her head, bewildered. "I just heard Grandaddy say they needed to drag the pond, and I wondered how come they did."

"You just never mind." Sue Ann straightened up and tugged her skirt into place. "And don't you let me hear you say that in front of Todd, you hear? That's just one of your grandaddy's wild ideas, that's all. Now you go on back in there and play nice."

Merlene's mama came in and got her in about half an hour. 'We have to get on home," she said. "I can't leave your grandmama alone too long."

With Merlene gone and Todd not speaking to her, Jenny was bored and restless. There wasn't much fun in getting to stay up late if there wasn't anything to do or anybody to do it with. She sat on the floor and gathered up the scattered Chinese Checker marbles and lined them up in the star points on the board. The she made patterns with them. Finally, tired, she put them away. Todd lay on his stomach on the daybed and took out his Bible. She saw him writing something in it, and she wandered over close enough to glance over his shoulder and see that he had printed "I LOVE JESUS TODD PARTLOW JUNE 21, 1949" in block letters across the title page. She was stung a bit with equal parts of guilt and envy. She'd never thought of writing any such thing in her Bible; had never, in fact, thought much of Jesus outside of Sunday School once a week, and she skipped that when she got a chance. She should have written window seat. 'My stars, you'd think you could take better care of your things." She picked up the coat and shook it out as well as she could, smoothing it against her with one hand. "I'll spread this out in Ruthie's room."

She started out the door, and Jenny called after her, "Mama, are they really gonna drag the pond?"

The other two children looked at Jenny, and her mother stopped, stared at her for a second, then grabbed her arm and pulled her from the room.

"Where did you hear that, young lady?" she whispered. "Have you been sneaking out listening to the grownups talk?"

No'm." Jenny shook her head, bewildered. "I just heard Grandaddy say they needed to drag the pond, and I wondered how come they did."

"You just never mind." Sue Ann straightened up and tugged her skirt into place. "And don't you let me hear you say that in front of Todd, you hear? That's just one of your grandaddy's wild ideas, that's all. Now you go on back in there and play nice."

Merlene's mania came in and got her in about half an hour. 'We have to get on home," she said. "I can't leave your grandmama alone too long."

With Merlene gone and Todd not speaking to her, Jenny was bored and restless. There wasn't much fun in getting to stay up late if there wasn't anything to do or anybody to do it with. She sat on the floor and gathered up the scattered Chinese Checker marbles and lined them up in the star points on the board. The she made patterns with them. Finally, tired, she put them away. Todd lay on his stomach on the daybed and took out his Bible. She saw him writing something in it, and she wandered over close enough to glance over his shoulder and see that he had printed "I LOVE JESUS TODD PARTLOW JUNE 21, 1949" in block letters across the title page. She was stung a bit with equal parts of guilt and envy. She'd never thought of writing any such thing in her Bible; had never, in fact, thought much of Jesus outside of Sunday School once a week, and she skipped that when she got a chance. She should have written something like that in her Bible. She was older. She should be the one to think of things like that.

Aunt Lucille came in, the baby Teddy over her shoulder.

"Y'all want something to eat?" she asked.

jenny nodded quickly, and Todd said, "Yeah," and got up from the daybed. Jenny was hungry. Supper had been hours ago.

Aunt Lucille led the way to the kitchen, handed the baby to Jenny's mother, and poured the children glasses of milk. Jenny's grandmother was making a pot of coffee for the grownups. Aunt Lucille spread peanut butter and yellow plum jelly on bread for Todd and Jenny and banded them the sandwiches.

"I swear," she was saying to the women lounging in the door and sitting around the table, "I swear that Ruthie has given me more trouble than any one of my children. Always up to something. Roy said look in her closet, see if anything is missing, and I said, how should I know? Nothing I can see, but lord knows, some of the outlandish outfits she wears, who could tell if some of them getups are missing or not. She coulda took half her clothes, I'd never think to notice."

"Oh, Lucille," Jenny's grandmother said, "Ruthie always looks real nice. She wears the most stylish clothes."

'Well, I guess, if you like that kind of stuff. She sure caret wear clothes like Sally can, though." Sally was Aunt Lucille's oldest daughter. She'd married some man from Birmingham and moved away. "I always told Ruthie it was a lucky thing she was pretty, and she better make the most of it lord knows. She sure couldn't get by on brains. Not like Todd there." She nodded toward her youngest who was busy inhaling his sandwich. "She didn't know the first thing about babies. If I didn't take care of Teddy, lord knows what shed do with him." Jenny glanced up at Teddy, a scrawny version of his father. She thought he was a particularly ugly baby, but Aunt Lucille seemed to think her grandson was the most remarkable child ever born.

"Lucille's gonna turn him into another Wally Pemberton," her father had growled, but Jenny thought it wouldn't take much turning.

Everybody said how much he looked like his daddy.

"Oh, now, Aunt Lucille, Ruthie's a good little mama," Mary Helen said.

"Huh. Ruthie don't have the sense God gave a goose about raising children. You know what she did? Went out and bought a book about how to take care of babies. Don't that beat all? A book. Who ever heard of raising kids with a book?"

"Oh, young people got different ways, Lucille," jenny's grandmother said. "Gotta let'em do things their own way."

'Don't make no sense to raise a baby by a book, Bertie," Aunt Lucille said, taking the child from jennys mother. 'Women are born knowing how to raise babies. I told Ruthie so."

'When are Ruthie and Bud getting married?" Sue Ann asked.

"No telling," Aunt Lucille sighed. '!He wants to get married right away, and she keeps putting it off. I told her, she better hurry up and get him while she can, her being like damaged goods and all. I mean, it's not like she can have her pick any more. Divorced and a baby. She better get him while the gettin's good."

"Bud still as fond of the bottle as he always was?" jennys grandmother stirred her coffee, not looking at Aunt Lucille.

"Huh. Nobody's perfect. Hes a lawyer. Makes good money. Not that I approve of liquor, mind you, but all men got their faults. He'll settle down once he's married."

'Never seen it happen yet," her grandmother muttered.

"What?"

'Nothin'."

Mary Helen and jennys mother smiled at each other over their cups. Jenny wandered back into the back bedroom.

Time dragged. Nothing came on the radio but music. Todd fell asleep on the daybed. Jenny went out on the back porch. The rain had stopped, and several men were gathered under the locust trees in the back yard; she could see the glowing tips of their cigarettes in the darkness.

"Henry," a voice in the night was speaking to her grandfather. 'That just flat don't make no sense. How come Ruthie would do a fool

1 .1 - ---- I thing like that, anyway? What would you wanta go dragging that pond for, getting Roy and Lucille all nervous. You know pure-dee well that Ruthie wouldna-"

Her grandfather had seen her by this time, silhouetted against the light, and he must have stopped the speaker. The cigarettes turned toward her. "Jenny, what're you doing out here?"

'Nothin'."

"Well, you get on back in the house. Don't you be hanging around here listening to the grownups."

She went back into the house and poked around the back bedroom. Then she wandered down the hall into Ruthie's room. There was a bookshelf beside the bed, mostly grownup books, but down at the bottom was a worn copy of lack and fill by Louisa May Alcott. She pulled it out and took it to the back bedroom. Ruthie wouldn't mind; she'd put it back later. Inside the front cover was written, "RuthAnne Marie Partlow, Age 10. Farmington. Washington County. State of Mississippi. United States of America. North American Continent. Northern Hemisphere. The Earth. The Solar System. The Universe."

She curled up in Aunt Lucille's rocking chair with the book and read it for a while, but it wasn't very exciting, and she nodded off over it.

She couldn't have been asleep very long when she was awakened by a clap of thunder, and she jumped, dropping the book to the floor. Outside she could hear voices, and they sounded mad. What were they doing outside, anyway? Why didnt they come in out of the min?

She got up to go to the bathroom, but she stopped in the hallway because she could hear her parents talking in the kitchen. She peeped around the comer. Her father was leaning against the cabinet, lighting a cigarette behind his cupped hands, and her mother was washing cups in the sink. Her father was wearing hip boots.

"They're going ahead with it then," her mother was saying.

Her father nodded. "Yeah. Daddy finally worried 'em into it.

Guess they figure the only way to shut him up is to go ahead and do it."

.What makes him think shell be there? I mean, of all the places why does he think she'll be there?"

"Lord God, Sue Ann, don't ask me. Ask Daddy. He can't tell you either, though, come to think of it. I think he just thinks she's there because she's not any place else."

They both saw her at the same time.

"Jenny, what's the matter, honey?" Her mama was over her mad, she guessed.

"I'm real tired, Mama."

"I guess so, bless your heart. It's after midnight. Come on." She dried her hands on a dish towel. "I'll put you down on that daybed in there."

"Todd's asleep on that."

'We can put Todd in his own bed. Give me a hand, John."

She settled down on the daybed and went to sleep.

The next time she woke up, her mother was shaking her. "Come on, baby. Wake up, now. Come on, Jen, get up. We gotta go home. Come on, honey, that's it, wake up now." Somewhere in the house, people were running back and forth. Somebody was saying, "Oh my Lord! Oh, my Lord!" over and over. Somebody was screaming. She thought it was the radio.

"You better turn off the radio, Mania, you'll wake up Todd."

"It's okay, honey, weve gotta go home."

Her mother half carried her out the front door. It was pouring rain. "My raincoat, Mama," she muttered. "I left my raincoat. I got to go get my raincoat."

"No!" Her mother hurried her along. "I'll send for it tomorrow. We can't get it now. Come on."

Her parents wouldn't let her go to Ruthie's funeral.

"You're too young," her mother said. "Besides, there'll be a thousand people there, just plain curious. No point in you being one more."

She got most of her information about the service from Merlene. Merlene got to go, of course. "It was real awful," she said, though when she told it, she made it sound like a movie. "Everybody cried, it was so awful. Bud Wilkins cried right out loud. I never heard a man cry loud like that. Aunt Lucille screamed and tried to throw herself into the grave. Took three people to hold her back."

Jenny's parents never said much about Ruthie's death, at least not in front of her. Once she heard her father say that even after all the time he spent in the war, all the men he saw killed, he never saw anything that horrible.

Merlene gave Jenny all the details about the finding of the body, dragging it out, making it dramatic. 'They drug that pond three times," she said, her eyes big. "First time, they didn't get nothing. The second time, they felt this little tug like, on the seine. Uncle Henry made them do it one more time, and that's when they found her. It was the awfullest thing."

They put up a gravestone that said, "She died as she lived, trusting in God."

Jenny thought that was beautiful.