Cuz

From the short story collection - Once Upon

Cuz

The smell alone clogged my windows and filled the cab of my truck. I had spent the morning doing honey-dos, intending to take a shower, but never making it that far. Indeed, I even went to the hardware store earlier in that condition—stinky.

I opened the cabinet to the soft drinks.

A voice behind the counter called me. “Hey Cuz, ya been workin’?”

I looked up at her and jokingly said, “Nope, just like to be filthy dirty on Saturdays.”

She laughed and rang the cash register. “Dollar sixty, Mr. Smartpants.”

“Gosh, Cuz, I oughta drink beer, it’s cheaper.”

She laughed and took my money. “She’s got ya work’n I bet, in and out.”

My dear cousin is a wonderful person but totally in control of the obvious. “Yeah, Shirley, I haven’t even had time to look back on what I got done.” She didn’t look up just started making notes on a pad and humming along with the radio.

Customers came and went from the tiny country convenience store. Shirley rang the cash register with a constant patter of small talk.

Finally, business slowed down a bit.

“So, you come’n over this weekend?” I thought I would at least make the offer. Shirley rarely visited my house. Not because she wasn’t invited, but because she moved in different social circles.

“Whatcha cook’n?” There was a twinkle in her eye.

“I think we’re puttin’ on a pig. There’s plenty, come on over. Jeff’s comin,’ so ya know there will be pick’n.”

“I’d half to dress up.” Shirley was a woman of too tight fitting tee shirts and tighter jeans. I had seen her in a dress only once in my life, and that was at the funeral of her son.

She fit into the part of my family that kinda moved away from the mainstream. Her father and my father were first cousins. I hadn’t even known about Shirley until about 20 years ago. Somebody said, “Shirley got divorced again.”

I had asked, “Who’s Shirley?”

“One of Richard’s kids.” Was the only answer I heard. It would be at the funeral, which is anther story entirely, that I officially met Shirley.

Anyway, back to the convenience store. “So, should I tell everyone you are coming?”

“I dunno.”

“Just stop by for some pig n’ tea.”

“Okay, maybe.”

I headed for the door. “Great, see you tomorrow.”

“Not unless you take a bath.” She laughed and coughed hard. Cigarettes had long since taken a toll on her skin and voice.

Saturday came, family and friends gathered. A wonderful time was had. About nine o’clock a car pulled in the drive. Nobody really noticed.

“Hey cuz.” Shirley appeared in the door with her friend Dixie.

My wife jumped up and joined me at the door. “Welcome Shirley, hey Dixie.”

“Food’s in the kitchen.” I pointed down the hall. “Get some pig and join us on the deck.”

I went back to the party and my wife helped Shirley and Dixie find paper plates and drinks.

Soon, they were on the deck with the rest of the group.

Shirley settled into a chair. “So, whatcha all doin’ tonight?”

I handed Jeff his guitar. “We’re about to do some pick’n.’

“Jes a minute.” Shirley handed her plate to Dixie and left the porch.

We busied ourselves tuning guitars and getting music out. Shirley reappeared, but this time carrying a fiddle case.

“I didn’t know you played.”

Shirley laughed. “So, what do y’all pick?”

"Well, cuz, we play whatever strikes us."

She drew the bow across the strings. “I mostly play gospel, at church, but I don’t get much practice.”

My mouth dropped open. My perception of my cousin was that she was basically from the wrong side of the tracks, not very cultured, and definitely un-churched—perhaps her three husbands caused that opinion. Anyway, I was ashamed of my unchristian like judgment. “You start.”

She drew the bow across the strings. “How about ‘Wade in the Water.’” She began to stroke the fiddle, Jeff joined in, so did Jerry and I. Everybody played for about a minute; then she stopped.

“Hey, did you take a bath?” She pointed her bow at me.

I could feel my face burn. Nobody on the deck got the joke. “Yes, ma’am.”

She laughed. “Good.” The bow again touched the strings and the jam began.

I’ve known Shirley for over twenty years. But, I really met my cousin for the first time that night.

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Dub Wright

Curmudgeon; overeducated; hack writer; too much time in places not fit for habitation.  

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