Editor’s note: Thanks to everyone who is following and leaving comments. You’re keeping me honest and pumped for NaNoWriMo! Enjoy Chapter 2 and don’t forget to let me know what you think!
Sunrise came too quickly. It seemed as though I had just crawled into bed and curled up under the covers moments ago when the shards of sunlight burst through the opening between the curtains. Another thing to add to my To-Do list…seal up that gap!
I rolled over to the other side of the bed and pulled the covers around my ears. Just a few more hours of sleep would be nice. I hadn’t had more than an hour or two of sleep a night since that last day at work, and those weren’t exactly restful hours.
But, it was useless. The gears in my brain were already cranking up for the day, and I had plenty of things to do. When I was a little girl, I hated that about being in the country. The day always started early and ended early, and here I was again. After all, it was already 6:30 a.m. Had my grandfather still been alive, he’d have been out in the field for at least an hour by now, and my grandmother would have already cleared the breakfast dishes and be out in the garden on her hands and knees digging into the earth. By that timetable, I was way behind schedule.
I took only as long as necessary to get dressed and make my way outside. I backed my tiny little trailer up to the porch as close as I could and made a makeshift ramp to offload what clothes and supplies I brought from my home in Montgomery. There wasn’t any food in the house that wasn’t frozen in one of the deep freezers, so a trip to the local Piggly Wiggly was added to the list. The hungrier I got during the morning, the closer to the top of the list was the Pig.
I didn’t bring much from home – clothes, laptop, some books and photos – so settling in didn’t take much time. Next stop would be groceries and WD-50 for that screen door, and that’s where I knew I would meet my first challenge.
The Piggly Wiggly was one town over in the metropolis of Geneva. After taking a quick peek in the mirror, I knew I would have to put on the full court press before hitting town for the first time. Samuel and Mary’s granddaughter would most definitely run into every person in town who hasn’t seen her since she was knee high to a turnip stalk! Truth be told, I saw most everyone at the last family reunion a couple of years ago, but every time they saw me it was the same thing…not since I was knee high to something.
Good thing I cleaned up, though. Everyone was out that Wednesday afternoon picking up odds and ends for dinner at church later in the evening. I was quickly spotted hiding behind the apples in the produce section. It would have been futile to run.
“Oh…my…word!” shrieked Mrs. Banks as she walked into the Pig. I don’t know how she spotted me so quickly. After all, I was hunched over the barrel of Honeycrisp apples so the best view of me she had was a rear view. I had no idea I was so recognizable from behind! “And, in the middle of the week, too! Harper Matthews…what a pleasant surprise, Sweetie!”
Before I could put the bag of apples gently into my buggy, Mrs. Banks reached out and snagged me around the neck. She pulled me close to her tiny 5 ft. frame and gave me a tight squeeze. She swayed from side to side and patted my back, the same way Granny used to hug me when I hadn’t seen her in so long. It made sense since Mrs. Banks was Granny’s best friend. They even wore the same perfume. It was some off brand concoction they bought at the local drug store, but it smelled of a bouquet of freshly cut American Beauty long-stemmed roses. I adored that smell, but it always made me sneeze so hard I’d almost pee my pants every time I’d get near it.
“Oh, dear!” Mrs. Banks said as she pushed back just a bit. “My perfume…I forgot how allergic you are. I think they have something for that down there on aisle seven,” she said pointing toward the pharmacy aisle. “Or you can just stop at Walmart on the way back to the farm. So, what brings you to town? You on vacation?”
“Something like a vacation, Mrs. Banks,” I said as I eased the now bruised fruit into the top rack of my buggy. “My parents are on a cruise, so I decided to take some time off for myself. I couldn’t think of a better place to be than here.”
“Well just look at you! You’re too skinny! That’s what happens when you work too hard, Abby. You stop by the church tonight for supper. I’m making my famous lagniappe. It’ll put some meat on those bones!” She stomped her right foot and waived her hands in the air.
I always loved Mrs. Banks, especially since she was my grandmother’s best friend. But, you know that old adage about Southern cooks? Well, it doesn’t apply to Mrs. Banks. The woman simply couldn’t cook her way out of a wet paper sack if she had to. What she lacked for in talent, however, she made up for in enthusiasm. She owned every kitchen gadget known in the culinary world, but she didn’t know how to properly use a single one.
Mrs. Banks, wife to Probate Judge Bubba Banks, never missed an opportunity to show off her “chefing” skills learned while watching episodes of Top Chef, Iron Chef, Mr. Food on the local news, or any other show involving food. She was a self-professed foodie, and she had the “Kiss the Cook” apron to prove it. It was hot pink with white eyelet lace around the edges. Heck, Mrs. Banks took better care of that apron than she did Mr. Banks. She hand washed it in the sink at the end of every day, allowed it to dry on the laundry line outside a few hours and then ironed it crisp and fresh for breakfast the next morning.
Every Sunday and Wednesday, she treated the congregation of the First Baptist Church to a delectable treat from her professionally designed kitchen, compliments of the Judge, and this Wednesday evening she would apparently be cooking her lagniappe, which most people know as lasagna. But, in Mrs. Banks’ kitchen, since she couldn’t pronounce it anyway, she played with the traditional recipe adding broccoli and pine nuts. It was her concoction. She would call it whatever she liked.
Italian grandmothers everywhere gasped in horror the day that came out of the oven.
No one knows who tasted the lagniappe first, or if at all, at the church. But the pan is always empty when it’s returned to her, and Mrs. Banks’ pride is bursting at the seams at another successful dish.
I made no promises, explaining that I was just getting settled at the house, but I would definitely try to stop by. We shopped side by side that afternoon, and it was actually a lot of fun listening to Mrs. Banks gossip about everyone else in town. I was sure she would go to church that night and say her prayers to atone for being such a chatterbox…and potentially giving anyone food poisoning.
Armed with my groceries and enough dirt to fill a garden, we parted ways at the door, and I headed back to the car.
I hadn’t taken a dozen steps from the front door of the Piggly Wiggly when I noticed the sheriff’s SUV parked on the far side of my CRV. I slowed my stride and pulled back on the buggy. Without drawing attention to myself, I casually looked around the parking lot. Middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday, there weren’t many cars around the small strip mall, and I didn’t see a deputy inside when Mrs. Banks and I were shopping. Small town. Uniforms tend to get noticed.
As I got to the car next to mine I released the security alarm and parked the buggy against the rear bumper. It didn’t take but a minute to toss the few bags into the back hatch of my CRV. I made a conscious effort to act NORMAL. Inconspicuous. Just buying some groceries.
The truth was, nothing about me or my life would be normal again. Eventually THIS would be my new normal.
After everything was squared away so nothing would spill, roll over, or get squished, I closed the hatch and walked the buggy back to the storefront. The sheriff’s SUV was still parked next to mine when I walked back, got inside, and drove away.
I couldn’t remember who won the election last year for sheriff. All I could remember was the previous sheriff should have been run out of town on a rail. It was never proven that he was cooking his books, but after the state auditors spent three weeks tearing his office apart, Sheriff Alman Goree decided to take an unexpected leave of absence. An interim was appointed until the election, but I lost track after that.
If you think politics on the national or state level can be dirty, then you’ve never experienced them on the local level…especially in a small community where everyone knows you and the skeletons you’ve been hiding. Once the mud starts slinging, everyone ducks.