Dirty Faces

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Chapter 32: Black and White and Gray All Over

Tears streamed down Mama's face as she wrapped up the sordid tale, speaking between sobs. "It was several weeks before I got the first letter, and by that time, they'd realized Addie was in the family way." Mama squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head, whispering, "She was just a baby herself."

She took a deep, shaking breath before continuing. "If they hadn't left, how could we have accounted for that? People talk. They talk about things they know nothing about, but they would've demanded an explanation for that. And poor, sweet Addie, at the center of it all."

Mama was quiet while she stared at her tightly clasped hands for a moment. "Of course, y'all know how that ended. Addie didn't make it far past the delivery."

Ginny still sat in the floor, her head in Mama's lap. A rogue, hot tear escaped from the corner of her eye, but she quickly wiped it away, lest anyone see. Kody sat on the couch, leaning as close in toward Mama as he could manage, as she barely spoke above a whisper. He stared silently at the floor.

"He took her from us," said Mama. "That monster took her from us and he took everything from my Addie. And I took everything from him." Her face contorted once more into that pained grimace, and just before she buried it in her apron, she wailed, "Y'all's mama is a murderer!"

Kody's eyes shot up and set themselves on the shaking visage in the chair. He placed a hand on Mama's arm and said soothingly, "No, Mama. That's - that's not the way it is. That's not the way it is at all. Anybody could see that."

"I d-d-doubt the sheriff'll see it any other w-way when Ralph gets b-b-back here with him," she replied, her face still concealed by the apron.

After a few more tearful minutes, Mama straightened up in the chair and wiped her face one last time. She placed one hand on Kody's and ran the other through Ginny's wet hair. "So many people are gonna get hurt 'cause of something I did. And all any of them were trying to do was protect me in the first place." She sniffed and shook her head as she scooted forward in the chair to stand. "Best get supper going."

Ginny watched her mother walk into the kitchen but remained in the floor herself, trying to make sense of all that had been said and what was happening. But none of it seemed to want to make sense in her mind. She wondered what would become of them when Ralph got back with the sheriff and Mama was carted off to jail; and what would happen when Aunt Betty's and Uncle Bill's and Ralph's and even the Priest's role in hiding the crime came out.

She glanced up at her brother who had resumed the same position he'd kept while Mama talked: leaning forward, hands clasped, eyes on the ground. Maybe, she thought, when all the adults in her family were thrown behind bars, she'd just stay here with Kody and they'd eat bologna sandwiches and skip church until she was all grown up.

It occurred to her then that it would be in her best interest to get herself into the kitchen and watch Mama cook. Even if all she was doing was frying bologna, this could very well be her last cooking lesson and she had best take advantage of it.

Ginny walked as quietly into the kitchen as the sloshing in her wet shoes would allow and sat down at the table. At the sound of the chair scooting across the floor, Mama looked over her shoulder and forced a smile at Ginny, then turned back to the stove. Ginny watched intently, concentrating on every detail of Mama's every move. When there were several slices of fried bologna on the plate on the stove, Mama glanced over her shoulder again. "Ginny, are them clothes wet?"

Ginny looked woefully down at the smelly, muddy, damp overalls she was still wearing, and nodded.

"Well go change out of them," said Mama.

Reluctantly, Ginny got up from the table to go change. She just knew she was going to miss something important while she was gone. At the doorway, she ran right into Kody, who seemed to have just materialized there. He looked worried. "Mama, where is it?" he asked.

Mama stood at the counter now, buttering light bread. "Where's what?"

"Your box. The shoe box. Your-your-your box of stuff," he spluttered anxiously.

"Yonder," she answered, gesturing with her head toward the cookstove.

Kody stared at Mama in disbelief, crushed by this latest revelation. Ginny shoved past him, shaking her head as she went. Fool, she thought. More worried about the junk in that old box than what's to become of our family. None of this would have happened in the first place if he'd only had the sense to empty his pants pockets.

She was still irritated with Kody when she returned to the kitchen but she kept it to herself; no need in getting Mama more upset. When the sandwiches were all grilled and ready to eat, Mama sat down at the table with them and they had the meal in silence, without even saying grace. Ginny decided it was the best bologna sandwich she'd ever eaten, of a finer quality even than Mrs. Pickett's stolen chocolate cake.

The good news and the bad news both came after supper. The good news was that Ralph didn't return with the sheriff; the bad news was that Ralph returned. He wasn't angry, though, but rather repentant, and he didn't say anything ugly to any of them. As a matter of fact, he brought home a bouquet of flowers for Mama and busied himself with kissing on her and whispering things in her ear while she washed up the dishes.

Kody's jaw seemed to clench tighter the longer he viewed this exchange and he excused himself to go to bed. It left a bad taste in Ginny's mouth as well, and it wasn't long before she did likewise. But sleep didn't come easy for her that night. Her mind raced like it never had before with thoughts that didn't feel like they belonged in her head.

Her sweet little mama had taken the life of a grown man because he hurt someone she loved dearly. That probably explained why Ralph never gave her or Kody a hard time when Mama was around; there was always a frying pan or an iron within arm's reach. She knew Mama had kept it from them all those years because she feared it would change the way they thought about her, but if anything, it only gave Ginny a new appreciation for her mother's strength. One day, she surmised, she would figure out a way to tell her that.

She had known that Ralph and Daddy had been friends, but she'd never suspected that Ralph had ever been a friend worth having, to Daddy, or anyone, for that matter. And Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill...They had told her that they didn't know what happened at the old foreman's house, nor had they known the people who lived there. They had sat there at that kitchen table on that Sunday afternoon and told her a bold-faced lie that she'd never even questioned.

She tossed and turned in bed for what must have been hours. For once, she wanted to talk to Kody, and every now and then would whisper, "Kody, are you still awake?"

"Nooo," he would moan. "Be quiet."

And so she would turn back over and squeeze her eyes tightly shut, and hope the chaos in her head would settle, and the ache in her chest would ease up, and the sick in her stomach would go away.

When sleep finally did come, it was fitful and filled with dreams she was glad she couldn't remember. But there was one dream she could recall:

Ginny was sitting at the big oak table in the dining room of the old foreman's house. It was covered in dust and cobwebs, just as she knew it, but she didn't seem to mind because she was concentrating on the picture she was drawing. She realized she was drawing with a crayon and noticed several of them strewn about the table. But she knew she didn't own any crayons. She looked up and saw the girl from Mama's old photograph sitting beside her, drawing as intently as Ginny had been a moment before. Addie looked up from her latest masterpiece and smiled at her. Ginny noticed that she herself was in color, but Addie, the crayons, the table, and the whole house were the same black and white and shades of gray as the old photographs. In the dream, it didn't seem odd, though, so she smiled back and then both girls resumed drawing.

It was quiet in the house, but soon Ginny became aware of women weeping in one of the other rooms. The weak sound got louder as time passed, not as if the women were getting closer, more like they were just crying harder. She looked again to Addie, who looked back with a very sad face. Ginny couldn't understand why those ladies were crying and why Addie was so sad, and it troubled her.

All of a sudden, a door slammed. Ginny jerked around to look behind her but saw nothing out of the ordinary. When she turned back around, Addie was gone. The weeping had ceased. And Ginny was very much alone.

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