The Lincoln Town Car pulled up in front of Millie’s Boarding House and State Senator Misty Garth got out without waiting for the driver to open the door for her. She stepped gingerly
around the mud puddles and mounted the steps. Millie came dashing out the door, drying her hands on a dishtowel as she ran.
“Is it all right to hug a Senator?” she asked.
“It’s all right to hug an old friend,” Misty said, grabbing her in a bear hug.
“Bill with you?”
“Left him in Raleigh to take care of things. Since he sold the farm, he mostly just cleans up business matters for me.”
“Best thing you ever did, marrying that man. I knew when you moved out on Jed Purdy and went back to school, you were going places. Marrying Bill cinched it.”
“Bill got me started off in politics. They wanted him to run for Councilman. Told them he didn’t have the time. Suggested they offer it to me. Backed me all the way ever since.”
“You sure look different now from the way you did when you came here offering to work for room and board. You still have that little girl look, but now it has authority attached to it.”
“Still have that little girl feel. Especially with Bill’s arm around me. Nothing like a good man to convince you life is worth living. And nothing like a no-good one to let you know it isn’t.”
# # #
When Jed Purdy brought home a bride from the backwoods of Mittford County, neighbours took bets on whether she would freeze in front of the fireplace without a sufficient supply of logs or starve in the lean-to that served as an ill-equipped kitchen. There was the third possibility that she would work herself to death trying to clean up the mess and grime that had accumulated there since Purdy had taken over the hardscrabble farm. Whatever her future, they felt sorry for the fourteen year old waif who arrived with her entire wardrobe on her back and a pair of ill-fitting brogans on her sockless feet.
“With twenty more pounds on her skinny carcass and some tar soap for her hair, Misty would be beautiful,” Lee Petersen opined, “but as it is she’s just cute as a pearl button.”
If you were extremely kind you would say Purdy was a victim of hard luck and misfortune, but it you were at all truthful you would add that the hard luck and misfortune that accounted for his downfall was Jed Purdy himself.
Each Spring he either planted his crops so early that late frost killed them, or put them in so late that they didn’t have sufficient strength to survive the rains. What little crops he was able to reap went quickly to the society for the preservation of itinerant moonshiners or ended up an ante in the pot of Bud Hawley’s everlasting crapgame.
Misty decided on death by hard labour and set forth on the Herculean task of cleaning up the equivalent of the Augean stables. In no time at all the wide pine boards that were the floor gleamed from lye and hand scrubbing. The inside of the log walls was whitewashed. Years of smoke stains were removed from the mantle and fireplace front and the run down premises began to take on signs of human habitation.
Folks thought her habit of hard work would rub off on Jed, but such was not the case. He fished, and hunted, drank and gambled, but still had no time for chopping wood or tending the farm.
“Bill Garth got more of everything than he will ever use,” Jed told Misty. “I want you to go over to his place and git us some wheat for flour.”
“We got no money to buy anything,” she answered. “How you ‘spect to get wheat?”
“Garth ain’t had a woman at his place since his wife died four years ago. I’m sure you got something you can swap for food we need,” he told her.
She looked at him in astonishment.
“It ain’t like you was a sweet young thing never done nothing,” he continued. “You can give away all you want and still have plenty left for any three men.”
Next morning she walked the two miles to the Garth place.
“Jed wants to know do you have a spare bushel of wheat?”
“I don’t keep any more of my crop than I can use,” he said. “The feed store can accommodate him.”
“We got no money for the feed store. He thought maybe I could swap somethin’ for the wheat. Something kinda personal like.” She turned her face away from him while she was talking, so he wouldn’t see the blush on her cheek.
“You mean what I think you mean?” He saw by the look on her face that she did.
“That worthless son-of-a-bitch. Swapping your body for things he should have earned. I’ll give you the wheat, you don’t have to do anything. But tell him not to send you back again.”
“I cain’t take no charity. I cain’t swap for it, we’ll just have to do without.”
Misty went into the tidy bedroom and began undressing. She shed her housedress and petticoat and was taking off bloomers with the Gold Medal flour trademark still evident when Garth came in. She lay back on the bed to wait for the ten minutes of grunting, thrusting and moaning that was considered love-making in her home.
Half an hour later he was still kissing her on her eyes, her throat, her breasts. His hands were caressing her, bringing her to fever pitch, in a feeling she had never had before. When he finally took her it was with tenderness and care.
“I’ll leave the wheat at the millers,” he told her as breathlessly she was putting on her clothes.
“You can pick up your flour tomorrow.”
When she got home Jed was waiting.
“Sure took long enough,” he told her. “He have to grow the wheat?”
She said nothing, just went into the bedroom and closed the door.
Jed came in, pushed her backwards on the bed and climbed on without taking off his shoes.
Misty tried to push him off, but he was too strong.
“Don’t you even want to kiss me or put your hand on me first?” she asked.
“What other whore things he teach you?”
“He didn’t teach me nothing. It’s jest there’s more to it than wham, bam.”
“You ought to know, Whore.” he spit out the words. “No, you ain’t even a whore. Whores git money. All you’re good for is a bushel of wheat.” He grunted and groaned for a few minutes, then rolled off and went into a drunken sleep.
Two weeks later Jed had needs again.
“Bill Garth got cords of dry firewood under tarpaulins. More’n he’ll ever use. I want you to go over and git us a cord of that wood. Gittin’ cold in here with jest picked up branches.”
“You got as much timber on your place as he has. All it takes is cutting and stacking.”
He struck her across the face with the back of his hand.
“When I tell you to do something, do it. Or else I’ll larn you a thing or two.”
Next day he came back from a hunting trip with a fruit jar of corn squeezings but no game. A pot of pinto beans simmered on the stove, but Misty was long gone. He unscrewed the jar top and started on the liquor. More important things to do than worry about a woman.
Misty went to the boarding house with just the scanty clothes on her back. Good help was hard to get and Millie greeted her warmly. Weeks later when Misty went to the town’s only lawyer to inquire about a divorce, she got a surprise.
“No record of you ever being married,” he told her. “No license taken out and the preacher who married you was never ordained. You’re free as a bird.”
But not for long. Bill Garth came courting as soon as he heard she was free.
# # #
“Thing’s turned out so well for you,” Millie told her over a pot of sassafras tea. “And to think the whole thing started so simply.”
“You’re right. My life and my career started at Bill Garth’s farm, with a little bit of loving and a bushel of winter wheat.”