sixty eight. Runs it herself, does Miss Li'l Bit, just has that girl
Cora come in to do for her twice a week. And she keeps up the Old Justine
Gardens too. Well, they're not the originals you understand, but she
re-did them close to. The Justine family is famous in these parts. They
owned a plantation that covered all of Lawson county until the family
lost it during Reconstruction. Miss Li'l Bit's great grand daddy bought
the big house and the gardens around it to keep it from going for taxes.
The Justines were his wife's people, you understand, cousins a couple
of times removed. And Miss Li'l Bit, she keeps the gardens like they
were back in the olden days. Why she's got even got some magnolia trees
that were put in a hundred years ago."
for inevitable tourist response to quaint local eccentricities."
Yes Ma'am, I guess we Southerners do take our history real serious.
And Miss Li'l Bit, well, like I said, she's the real thing. "
"the real thing" was lying like a lump under her blankets
wearing the skirt and blouse she'd put on yesterday morning, her support
hose, and her second best pair of Natural Bridge Oxfords. Her admirers
would be shocked. And if they knew what else she'd done in her time…
But she wasn't going to think about that.
hoisted herself up in bed so she could read the clock on her night stand.
The numbers were insultingly large, meant for eyes that were starting
to fail, although of course the salesgirl who suggested it had not said
so. Her nap had lasted forty four minutes. Pleased, she turned off the
vanquished alarm. She prided herself on waking before the thing went
off , because no clock was going to tell her when it was time to stop
sleeping. Especially not tonight. She was in control tonight. She had
she pulled herself out of the bed, her knees giving her the hard time
she'd come to expect. But she wasn't going to coddle them. Tonight there
was no such thing as aching joints. Tonight her body would have to perform.
phone rang. "Yes, Peggy," she answered too quickly to give
the caller time to identify herself. Proving she was still in control.
Staying a step ahead of the music.
here," said Peggy. Her voice sounded tired, and not too young for
her age as it usually did, "I came out to call you from the car
as much." It was indulgent and needlessly showy to have rented
a car with a telephone in it, and she'd told Peggy so when she got the
you need me to come get you?" Peggy asked.
I'll be fine on my own."
real cold out, Li'l Bit. And dark. Couldn't you please drive?"
have my flashlight, and I'll take the shortcut over the ridge."
Impossible to explain how much she needed the short walk alone in the
dark to collect her thoughts. There was a weary laugh on the other end
of the phone.
so funny? "she demanded.
said you'd want to walk through the woods. She says when you're alone
in the woods that's when you pray." That was total nonsense. She
did not pray. Not in the mealy mouthed way most people meant, she never
had and she never would. She left the praying to Maggie who insisted
in believing in her saints and Madonnas in spite of having a first class
mind and an excellent education.
"That's what we've been doing, Li'l Bit. We've been praying. Maggie
gave me her rosary beads and we've been saying that prayer to Jesus'
mother. I never thought I could do it tonight, but somehow having those
beads in your hands really helps. And it's much easier praying to a
woman, at least, that's how it feels to me. Maybe I should convert to
Catholicism after all these years. What do you think?" She laughed
again, and sounded close to tears. Too close.
how much have you been drinking?"
Pause. "Not more than usual. And Maggie's sharp as a tack. She's
remembering everything. So if you'll just change your clothes, the three
Miss Margarets will be fine."
wish you wouldn't use that ridiculous phrase, it makes us sound like
a Gilbert and Sullivan trio." No need to address the issue of changing
her clothes, Maggie and Peggy knew her too well.
Bit, stop stalling. It's not as bad as you're afraid it's gonna be."
There were times when Peggy could be unpleasantly clear sighted. "Just
get yourself over here now," she said and hung up.
right, it was time to get on with it. Li'l Bit took a deep breath to
steady herself, then marched into her bathroom, where she'd already
laid out her clean clothes. Her freshly ironed clothes, thank you very
much. As she entered the bathroom a dog the size and color of Gentle
Ben heaved herself up from her resting place on top of the heating vent
and came over, her long brush of a tail wagging happily. Automatically
Li'l Bit reached out in time to save a box of tissues that was perched
on the vanity before it went flying.
lights are usually on dim, " Peggy had said when she conned L'il
Bit into adopting the half starved mongrel, "But she'll be a true
and believing acolyte. You two need each other." She was ruthless
when it came to finding homes for the strays that were left at the shelter
she had founded, she'd talked poor Maggie into taking three. Peggy named
her dogs after performers she had admired over the years. Giving them
a little pizzazz, was the way she put it.
now," L'il Bit said to the dog, "I can't take you for a walk,
go back to sleep." Petula sighed and plopped back down on the vent.
L'il Bit picked up her comb and began to drag it painfully though hair
she hadn't touched in days.
It was so
like Peggy to turn to the sloppy comfort of Maggie's religion. Well,
let them chant over their beads, and confess their sins, and beg for
God's mercy. L'il Bit would not be joining them. She did not need mercy.
And as for praying to God, she sincerely hoped she'd been right all
her life and no such being existed. If one did, he or she had much to
answer for .
the comb became too heavy. She put it down and turned away from the
mirror. Petula was still watching her. L'il Bit lowered herself to the
floor, ignoring the grumbling of her knees and wrapped her arms around
the dog's neck, burying her face in thick black fur. But she was not
crying. On this night she would not shed one tear.