Saturday, July 6, 2019
Welcome to the crossroads.
To my friends to the north, I hope you had a lovely Canada Day. To those in the USA, I hope you enjoyed the Fourth of July and celebrated our precious freedom.
I appreciate you coming back after my little break last weekend.
Thanks to Dan Antion of No Facilities for letting me use more of his great photos.
If you need to review a past chapter, click over to A Pause for links.
From last time in Chapter 9 — A Hallelujah
Tammy turned to Brother Love, who apparently had not noticed her come onto the stage. The child gasped and stretched her hand toward Brother Love. Suddenly a dark red stain seeped across the bodice of her pure white dress.
Her hand went to the rapidly spreading stain. Tammy sank to her knees.
Without further ado, let’s get to the crossroads.
10 — A Cut
Magnolia Leaves, Earthly Bonds, Spaghetti
Wind through the magnolia leaves made a ghostly sound outside. Insects of all sorts flew around inside the top of the tent. A trio of crows had managed to get inside. Unnoticed by the humans below, they sat on the topmost trusses, feasting on the bugs.
The crows weren’t interested in the magpie, and Jinx paid them no mind as he roosted on the lowest of the tent’s trusses, closest to the action on the ground.
Jinx gazed curiously at Tammy as her white dress gradually covered with red. He remembered the song he had learned. That was right before the first time he saw Tammy. He knew the song had been about the girl.
The magpie looked at Birdie. He wanted to sing that song to her again, but she didn’t like the hymn. So, he chirped out the song while he watched the drama unfold from the safety of the high tent trusses.
“Are you washed in the blood? In the soul cleansing blood of the lamb,” Jinx sang.
The woman with glittering balls dangling from her ears started screaming.
“My baby! My baby! Somebody, help my baby!” she wailed.
She dropped her fan. She put one hand to her head and flailed the other like a hurt wing as she staggered. Then she flopped down on the floor.
Ever intrigued by the odd behavior of humans, Jinx leaned as far forward as he could. He slipped, but he unfurled his wings and dug his claws into the beam.
“I meant to do that,” he whistled.
He glanced up at the three crows. They hadn’t noticed.
All the people stopped looking at Tammy and turned to see what the woman was doing.
The bird recognized that group of men who wanted Sinnerman to do something earlier. They hurried to the woman.
Birdie sprang up from her seat and darted onto the stage. As Birdie ran, the shiny box she wore on a chain around her neck fell to the floor.
She reached Tammy before anyone else. She knelt beside the child. Doug was there a second later.
The magpie’s eyes were glued to the locket as it reflected the stage lights. He knew the metal box was special to Birdie. She never let him play with it.
He also remembered the little paper that was covered with strange human scratching. Birdie folded that paper and put it inside the shiny box when she was getting dressed earlier that evening. (Chapter 7 — A Lament)
The paper had a peculiar odor. The humans didn’t seem to smell it. However, to the magpie, there was something familiar about the scent. He just couldn’t say what.
The bird swooped down to grab the locket. He didn’t want the crows or any of the humans to get it. Jinx was quick and there was a lot happening, so nobody seemed to notice him. After he got the shiny box, he darted behind the podium, near Birdie.
Momma hadn’t cared one way or the other, and I’d had all I could stand of the gossips and bullies. So, I had dropped out of high school years before that day.
Most of the teachers weren’t any better than the students. However, the first aid teacher wasn’t as bad. I liked her class. It was just basic stuff, but I remembered you were supposed to put pressure on a wound to slow the bleeding.
Tammy’s eyes weren’t simply closed. Rather, they were shut tight. I thought that must mean she was in terrible pain.
“But where is the wound?” I murmured aloud, frantic to do something about the bleeding.
Doug said something in response, but I didn’t hear his words. He gently lifted Tammy’s head enough to feel behind it.
I didn’t think that was a likely place for the wound. Then I remembered what he told me about the fight that sent him to prison. Of course, Doug would look there. The other man’s head got cut. He hadn’t died because of the fight. He died because he was a free bleeder. Doug had “come to Jesus,” plus he had been a model prisoner. His sentence was commuted.
“Have mercy, Jesus! Earthly bonds can’t hold the child here,” an old lady keened from the front row. “She’ll be safe in the arms of Jesus.”
Amid gasps of horror, Brother Love’s eyebrows climbed toward his hairline. He looked at the blood-soaked front of Tammy’s white dress quizzically.
“It ain’t the child what needs healing,” Brother Love stated calmly.
Murmurs of confusion and astonishment rose from the congregation.
I found his words just as confusing as everyone else. However, I was so focused on the little girl that I didn’t take time to process the bizarre statement.
With a sudden thought, my head whipped around toward Doug. When his eyes met mine, it was as if he already knew what I was thinking.
“The man you killed,” I started. “I mean the man who died, the free bleeder. He was Tammy’s father, wasn’t he?”
“I’m not exactly sure,” Doug replied quietly, as his fingers searched the back of Tammy’s head. “When I went to prison, he didn’t have a daughter,” he explained with a slight hesitation. “I had been seeing a woman, and he was her ex-boyfriend. The fight was about her. But she wouldn’t have anything to do with me after I went to jail. I didn’t know there was a child for years, but Tammy’s age is right…” he finished uncertainly.
We only spoke for a couple of seconds. Our attention never wavered from the child.
Most of the blood was on Tammy’s chest, but I didn’t see any tear in her white dress. Cautiously, my hands checked the wet area. However, part of my mind was stuck on what Doug had not said.
“Do mean that you think you might―” I started to ask the question.
Something squished under my fingers. I drew back, disturbed. I touched the spot again with one finger. I felt the same squish, and a lot more blood seeped onto the girl’s dress.
“Hello! I am Chef Boyarrrrdee,” Jinx whistled and said with in an Italian accent.
Startled, I turned my head. The magpie was sitting on a shelf inside the podium. He had my locket. I hadn’t even noticed it was no longer hanging from my neck.
Jinx saw me looking and started scratching a frayed white hankie to cover the necklace. It was one of the big handkerchiefs like Doug always carried.
Not thinking about my blood covered hands, I lifted one to push back my hair. That’s when I smelled it ― spaghetti sauce.
I put my red coated fingers to my nose. It wasn’t blood covering the girl’s dress. Rather it was some sort of tomatoey liquid.
Tammy’s eyes popped open and she looked right at me. Her gaze was at once fearful and conspiratorial.
“Whaa―?” I began.
The child’s hand went to her cardboard fan. However, my knee was on it. When she pulled the fan out from under my knee, the edge of the paper cut her finger.
“Ow!” Tammy sat up and exclaimed.
That was real blood.
Tammy shrieked. She stared in horror at her bleeding finger.
Every eye returned to the child. Except mine. I saw Ruth Leiber slinking toward the choir exit.
I stretched up onto my knees, as far as I could and still hold Tammy. I was afraid to let go of her. If there had been some trick going on before, the blood coming from her hand was real. I was afraid she would panic and run. That would be disastrous for a hemophiliac.
Fortune smiled on me and I spotted Sargent Lamar Poole. He must have started toward the podium when pandemonium broke out, because he was almost there.
I yelled his name. With my free hand I pointed toward Ruth Leiber.
“Over there, Sargent! Stop Ava Gardner!” was all I could think of saying that would get my meaning across quickly enough.
Sargent Poole looked at me like he was sure I had lost my mind. Then he looked to the other side of the stage and saw Ruth. Comprehension dawned on Poole’s face. He inconspicuously maneuvered through the crowd. By the time Ruth reached the exit, so did the policeman.
In her distress, Tammy’s fingernails dug painfully into my hand. Ruth Leiber and Sargent Poole immediately left my thoughts.
As I looked down at Tammy, she deliberately raised her bleeding hand. With bulging eyes, she regarded her real blood.
Doug seemed to be saying something to me. His mouth opened and sluggishly changed position, as if he had taffy stuck in his teeth. He made a loud but dull warble of incomprehensible sound.
Tammy’s eyes darted from Doug to me, to her bleeding hand. Her hand jerked as she pointed to Doug. The blood was flung out in a stream.
Then the blood slowed as it passed through the air of that hot August night.
It hung there. A stream of red droplets was suspended in… nothing.
Jinx mimicked the sound of a telephone ringing one time.
My ears started to ring with the very same sound. However, it went on and on, an endless ring.
Real World Notes — Chef Boyardee
Chef Boyardee in his first commercial — that was broadcast in 1953. Chef Boyardee wasn’t exactly a fictional character for the brand. He was a real chef named Ettore “Hector” Boiardi, an Italian immigrant. This first commercial features Mr. Boiardi as Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, commonly known now as Chef Boyardee.
Now for the obligatory shameless self-promotion…
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This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2019 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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