It was a cry that woke Honey Maxwell that morning, as it usually was. She opened one grey
eye and brought a stiff hand up to her face, wiping away a few dust motes from her cobwebby hair. She really must remember to get some better shampoo; Cal worried when it got so stringy, said she wasn’t maintaining herself well, and what would the neighbors think? With dual reverence and exhaustion, she pulled herself out of the grave of sleep and took a morning walk down the lane to get her back in order. That hard, unforgiving bed was going to put her out of alignment if she wasn’t careful. It wasn’t long before the glow of a cigarette soon found its way into her hand as she flicked the ashes into the grass on the lawn.
She unlocked the latch on the gate and walked outside, hands in her pocket to fight the chill
of the morning, where calla lilies and carnations took on a clean, crisp look as they were blanketed by the morning dew. In her mind, there was little better than dawn in the south, though it was all she’d ever known. The air felt clear, and despite the light fog, she could see all the way to the treetops on the other side of the mill. It was so quiet as well; no pesky cars at this hour to rattle down the road and send up plumes of dust so thick she could have swept the sky with a broom.
As she walked, she picked up one of the calla lilies, smelling it and smiling before placing it
back beside one of the stones. Walking back inside the house like she’d done so many times, she went into the bathroom and removed herself from her coat and Sunday-best dress that she was always forgetting to change out of, into a more suitable pair of pajamas and robe.
The cry that had brought her up in the first place grew more persistent, so she ended her
morning routine sooner than usual; right in the middle of brushing her hair out. She sighed and dragged herself past the antique grandfather clock with the little hand slugging its way past IV, up the stairs, and down the hall, where the first inklings of summer morning came dripping through the window.
She opened the door with a beautiful daisy painted in the center, underneath which
“Patricia” was written in looping, sky-blue letters. Against the far wall was a white metal crib of the same design, with smaller, metal flowers adorning every post. The cigarette was deposited into an ashtray on the dresser. From the crib, Honey plucked a pink, wailing baby with ringlet curls and eyes matching her own. The baby was positively beautiful. She noticed every time she picked her up in the morning. She had little brown loops corkscrewing from her head, behind which shone two glimmering blue eyes. She was round and plump and reminded Honey of biscuit dough, as all babies did. Still, there was always something ineffably pure and sweet about Patricia, as if no harm could come to Honey when she held her, like she was her own personal good-luck charm.
“Mornin’ baby,” she smiled, rocking Patricia, whom they called Patty, in her arms until the
cries subsided, “You miss mama?”
She carried the baby over to the little table beneath the window, set her in a patch of
morning light filtering through the blinds to drool and chew on her hands contentedly, and scooped a few spoonfuls of dried milk into a crystalline pitcher.
As she worked, she opened the window to watch the sunrise.
It was certainly going to be a hot one judging by the humid breeze that rustled the curtains
and frizzed her hair, maybe even hotter than it had been that one summer in Atlanta, where she had met Cal.
He’d caught her eye as she stood in line for ice-cold, snow cones, and told her his life story
in exchange for hers. He was an entrepreneur like his old man, with a summer job in the radio business as an engineer, fixing up the equipment for 75 cents an hour and working his tail off the whole summer long. His folks were down near Griffin in a little unincorporated community called Experiment. She had thought him brilliant and clever at the time and still did to some degree. She had explained that she was born and raised in Atlanta and wanted to write romance for pulp magazines, to which he called her a spoiled city girl.
They shared the snow cones over a scalding sidewalk that had warped her poor ballet flats
to a crisp. When she found herself nearly stuck to the pavement, he had picked her up like a knight from her mother’s collection of fairy tales and carried her into a little hole-in-the-wall diner. They’d spent an utterly wonderful week together before he declared her his girl and took her down to Griffin in his grass green, 47’ Super deLuxe convertible that he had paid for all on his own. She’d finally met his folks downtown at a coffee shop that afternoon, and they were married in the spring of 1950.
Pinching herself back into the present, a small flake of dry skin peeling from the back of
her hand as she did, she found herself in the kitchen over a bubbling pot of baby formula. Patty whined and kicked from her iron highchair, prompting Honey to pat her cheek matronly and coax the glass bottle into her mouth. Baby pacified, she relit the front burner on the stove and pulled two thick strips of bacon from the ever-chattering refrigerator along with three brown eggs.
The bread had just been clamped into place in the medieval-looking toaster when the
ringing of the upstairs alarm clock sprang to life. Up against the clock now, Honey managed to get the last dollop of cream into his coffee cup just as Cal came through the threshold adjusting his shirt buttons.
“Mornin’,” He kissed her cheek distractedly, the blush she’d applied religiously dying his
She gave a polite smile and took Patty into her arms.
“Oh, guess what?” he said through a mouthful of toast, “John n’ Mary’s girl called. She’s
outta school for the day and wanted to know if she could earn some babysitting money. I told ‘em you’d be happy for the day off.”
Honey nodded appreciatively and grabbed a pen and paper from the living room desk,
sitting down across from him, bouncing the baby on her knee and dictating the following on a clean sheet of paper:
Patty naps 11:30-12:30 and 4:30-5
Goes to bed at 7
Formula 13 oz. evaporated milk, 20 oz. water, and 2 tbsp Karo syrup
Check diaper every hour; pins in the baby drawer
Pacifier in the
“You’ll be here ‘til I leave, won’t you?” He eyed the baby uncertainly like she might have
been a poisonous snake or a cuddly kitten.
She nodded, “Course.” and finished writing:
Cal sipped his coffee, relieved, and stood up, wrapping his arms around her shoulders in a
disassociated manner, as if assuring himself that she was still there, still real.
“My good little wife,” he said, nearly as an afterthought.
My dense little husband. She thought back, loving him more than imaginable, but damn it
if he wasn’t the biggest dope in the county sometimes.
With a dry giggle, she swept up the dishes and plunged them into the soapy abyss of the
His eyes swept towards her with a cautious air. “Hey Honey? I’ve been thinking. Maybe we
shouldn’t keep going with this-“
The doorbell gave a strangled ring and Cal nearly ran from the room, ushering in the
timid, poodle-skirted “John and Mary’s girl.” She wore a starched, pink cardigan and white collared shirt, which Honey remedied by providing her with one of her longer aprons. Without saying a word, she showed her around the rest of the house and helped her hold the baby until she was assured that Patty would be in safe hands.
Cal shifted uneasily at the door like a lost bird.
“I’ll leave you girls to it,” he kissed Honey once more and left her alone with the new
domestic employee, who looked as if she were regretting not spending the day at the movies with friends.
“M-Mrs. Maxwell,” she began, “Are you gonna go out somewhere? I only wanna know if I
“No, I’ll go.” Honey’s voice was juxtaposed against her saccharine name, raspy and full of
dust. The girl gasped softly and looked away, seeming to feel as if she’d seen something she shouldn’t have, her face paling behind the little makeup she’d been allowed to wear.
Honey smiled cynically and kissed the baby on the forehead, wiping away the remnants of
a lipstick mark, before returning to the bathroom and donning the muted orange swing coat Cal had bought her two years ago. She folded up her pajamas and placed them in the cabinet under the sink, slipping out the door and down the sidewalk.
The sun had come out and illuminated the tendrils of grey hair sprouting from her head,
causing the mealy lines of her face to stand out. She pulled the coat collar up self-consciously and pushed the air from her decaying lungs in a pseudo-sigh. Her looks were leaving her faster and faster; she could see it in the mirror, Cal probably could, and that girl certainly noticed when she so foolishly opened her mouth. It wouldn’t be much longer until she couldn’t come back at all, as one of the neighbors was bound to notice and call the police at some point.
She turned and walked kitty-corner through the houses on East Poplar, before making a
stop at the library to pick up a pulp paperback off the withdrawn cart, needing something to do for the rest of the day. She took a key out from her pocket and opened the back gate of Oak Hill. Some of the others were up, not that anyone outside would notice, as they knew better than to concern themselves with it. Ms. Marceaux sat spinning her parasol, the lucky duck; Antebellums always seemed to have their whole house along with them. She was talking to Margie Taylor, who watched her children, and those she’d taken in, chase each other around the stone angels.
Honey took off her coat and folded it over one arm, relaxing her shoulders as she nodded to a man in an old-fashioned cowboy hat and matching vest.
“Mornin’, Mr. Holliday,” she was grateful to hear no strange inflections in her voice, and in
Oak Hill, none of the others did either.
“Good mornin’, Ms. Maxwell,” the Wild-West hero rumbled good-naturedly, “How are lil’
Miss Patricia and Callum.”
“Good as ever. How’s your father?”
“Stubborn as ever.”
Continuing on her way and in a starkly better mood, she passed a Confederate memorial
where the soldier of the same allegiance sat below it, looking surly and ready to pick a fight, making her chuckle and decide to interject.
“Henry, what in God’s name are you poutin’ about now?” she called.
“It’s them damn Yankees again-“
“Well, o’ course. It’s only been ninety-two years this past May,” Honey shook her head,
“Now stop that mopin’ on such a nice day and make up with that poor man you been starin’ down this past century. You’re bringin’ us all down!”
The Civil War ones were always so scowley, especially when they started burying Union
soldiers alongside them. Oh well; nothing at all they could do about it now, so they might as well learn to start living with each other, at least that was her opinion on the subject.
Passing some of the newer arrivals, she found one of her old high school chums,
Gwendolyn, resting under a stone, fanning an old piece of newspaper in front of her face.
“Hey, Gwendy.” She called, raising a hand.
“Honey,” her friend stood, joints crackling, followed by a cough that seemed to rattle her
Poor thing, Honey thought, feeling suddenly guilty about her own sulking. Gwendolyn had
been at Oak Hill a year longer, and it was frightening to watch her deteriorate like this, not only to see her well-being spiral down the drain but knowing it was an indicator of Honey’s future.
“Oh fine, fine,”
The woman paused before venturing forth, “Callum take her off your hands today?”
“John and Mary’s girl came by,” Honey gave her what her mother called the “Scarlett
O’Hara Eyes,” warning her to tread lightly.
It caused her to sputter. “Well I-I didn’t… He really needs to learn- You can’t do this forev-”
“Gwendy,” she interrupted, “You know I love you like a sister, but it is my baby, and my
husband, and my business.”
A frigid air cut through the hot morning, and the other woman wisely changed the topic.
“W-Whatcha got today?” Gwendy asked, nodding to the paperback.
“The Bird’s Nest. It’s supposed to be one o’ those psychologic ones,” Honey draped her coat
beneath her, accepting the question graciously, and sat down at her own modest little plot, patting the soft grass beside her, “Sit a while and I’ll read you some,”
A tall oak tree above shadowed the two women, and she was grateful for her mother’s
pickiness when deciding such things. Wrapping one arm around her friend's stiff shoulders, she opened the book, cracked the spine, and flattened it out on the small memorial stone that read: