Mercy Sings at Midnight

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Chapter 11

Dixie sat on her bed at the end of the week. It had been several days since her conversation with Mr. McAllister. The days had been busy and she was tired. She had had little time to catch up with Sadie or any of her other friends.

A tense sadness had settled over the house and she found herself walking on eggshells or avoiding her mother all together. Seasons, she was learning, fell on a household, and individuals, in the same manner they changed in nature. She hoped the icy reserve in her and her mother’s relationship would thaw some day in a wave of spring. She wondered if it could happen. There had been a time laughter wasn’t such a stranger to their home. As recently as Dixie’s high school days her mother had welcomed her friends in, she’d gone to pep rallies and school football games. Dixie smiled as she recalled moments when her mother’s reserve had slipped. But it was a sad smile. The memories were far and few between. Her dad and Sadie had been her source of warmth for a long time.

Pulling a shoe box from her closet she spilled old photos out onto her bedspread. Nostalgia wafted over her, weaving a sort of melancholy Dixie only occasionally indulged in.

She missed Sadie. In high school they had been inseparable, but college, and now working, had set them drifting on the current of change. It unsettled Dixie. Not one to be opposed to change, in general, she still felt things keenly, and changes in friendship made her uncomfortable.

Her slender, white fingers ruffled through the stack of memories, spreading them out on the bed. She picked up a photo to examine it every now and then. A young version of herself and Sadie smiled at her from a snapshot. They were wearing cheerleading uniforms and holding pompoms, their arms around each other’s shoulders. In another one young Daniel and a tiny Dixie sat on Santa’s lap. Her brother looked excited, her own eyes were cast with suspicion over her shoulder.

Ah, here was a picture she loved. In an elegant room with a Persian rug, wingback chairs, and lace curtains, stood a gorgeous white Christmas tree. All the decorations were icy blue, white, and silver. Beautiful white lights glittered in the branches. Under the layers of blue and white was spread a velvet blue tree skirt. On the skirt sat a creamy white porcelain nativity. Joseph stood at stoic, loving attention by Mary’s side. Mary’s tender face was transfixed in holy wonder, staring at the precious baby tucked in his china manger. The three kings, regal in their glazed robes, were flanked by a glazed donkey, cow, shepherd and his sheep. She remembered the milky white sheep, with his curly hair, had been her favorite. In the picture a small Dixie was captured lying with her head under the branches of the magical tree, tiny fingers stretched out to touch the porcelain figures. The room, the tree, and the nativity had been off limits to childish attention, but she could still remember being drawn to its beauty. A parent must have gone in search of their missing daughter and captured the stolen moment. She was glad they did. It had probably been her dad, she thought to herself. Why, why did she think that? The thought came unbidden, a reaction. It was a presumption that seemed natural to her. Why did she assume her mother wouldn’t have taken the time to record that moment?

She stared at the room in the photograph. It spoke of good taste, privilege, order. It was the parlor of her maternal grandparents’ home in Vicksburg. Old money they were called. Her grandfather, John Hall, was a respected attorney. The Hall family had been in Vicksburg for generations. Some had fought in the battle of Vicksburg in the Civil war. Her grandmother, Edith, was even more reserved and image-conscious than her daughter. Dixie had never bonded well with them. She liked visiting her grandparents, enjoyed going with them to the Christmas tour of homes, Confederate Christmas ball, and concerts. But she wasn’t close to either of them.

She looked through the stack of pictures for more images of John and Edith Hall’s home. Maybe she could find a secret hidden in them, maybe she could understand her mother better. She ruffled through the pile, faces of people from the past staring back at her. She came across an altogether different face. There was Pap, his dimples making his wrinkled face merry and boyish. In the picture his hand rested on ten year old Dixie’s shoulder. They each had a fishing pole in their hands. Pap was wearing his ever present suspenders over a white t-shirt that held up his khaki pants. Their relationship had made up for the coolness with her other grandparents, and then some. Quick with a story and a laugh, he and Dixie had spent many happy days together. She missed him.

She flipped through a few more pictures. Antebellum grandeur filled the shot. Dixie, her mother, her mother’s two older sisters, and her grandmother posed in front of a lovely, massive house. It had been some cousin’s wedding. Who knows which cousin. They were starched and pressed, dressed in their prettiest clothes. She looked at her aunts’ pretty faces. Judith and Amy smiled back at her. The family similarity between the three sisters was obvious. But her mother’s sisters had never seemed to have the same hard edge to them her mother did. They laughed easier. All three sisters had married respectable men and were active in their communities. But something about her aunts seemed more relaxed, warmer. She wondered what the difference was.

Dixie scooped the pictures up and tossed them back into the shoe box. She may never understand her mother. Maybe Joe was wrong, maybe her mother wasn’t afraid; maybe she was just a cold woman. She glanced at the clock - 4:00 p.m. She needed to freshen up and head out to the race track in Greenville. It was almost an hour’s drive and she didn’t want to miss Bo’s race. Usually she and Sadie would have gone together. She determined not to think of that now as she jumped up, sending Pumpkin scrambling. Jeans, her favorite brown boots, and a clean white button up were accented with a turquoise necklace and earrings. She would probably see Sadie there.

Dixie grabbed her navy blazer and messenger bag, and off she went. She clattered down the stairs and through the kitchen.

“Where are you off to in such a hurry, Dixie?” Sharon was at the sink peeling potatoes.

“I’m going to Greenville to watch Bo Sheridan race.” She told her mother as she searched the fridge for a Diet Coke.

Her mother’s eyes looked approving. “Good, I’m glad to hear you’re going to have a little fun. Is Sadie going with you?”

Dixie grabbed her Coke, closed the fridge, and popped the top before answering her mother. “No, I haven’t had a chance to catch up with her this week. I imagine I’ll see her there.”

Her mother’s brow furled. “You haven’t talked to her all week? Did you have an argument?”

Dixie was impatient to get going. “Not exactly. She wasn’t any happier about my guest on Sunday than anyone else. I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Yes dear, I’m sure it will. You have a good time.”

Dixie kissed her mother on the cheek. “I will. Bye.” She was out the door in a flash. Boots clattering, red hair waving.

Sharon sighed. She prized order, peace, control. She couldn’t remember a time she had ever burst from a room in the way her daughter was able. Would she ever understand that girl?

Dixie’s truck growled to life. Sharon looked out the kitchen window and watched her back into the street. She hoped the evening, and Bo Sheridan, would take Dixie’s mind off of her new, unsuitable friend.

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