I leaned on the rickety horse fence an’ stared at the only standing wall of my home. My gaze settled on the sheer fabric flappin’ in the wind. Mama helped me sew them curtains when I got married an’ moved here with Roy fourteen years ago.
“I been sayin’ that one of these gosh darn days you’d burn the place down. Well, ya’ finally gone and done it,” Gertie said with arms folded across her ample chest. Her already thin lips pressed into an even thinner line.
I knowed Gertie ever since we was knee high to a grasshopper. She meant well, but bein’ two years older, she tried to be the boss of me. She shoulda asked Roy- I don’t need nobody to be my boss.
“So what was it this time?” Gertie asked. “Lamp tipped over? Quilt caught fire after burnin’ loose thread? Log rolled outta the fireplace and caught yer rug on fire?”
Me an’ fire went back a long way. I useta steal papa’s flint and would spark grass after school. No amounta Gertie’s scolding could make me stop. Like men at a saloon on Saturday night, my relationship with fire tended to get outta hand an’ somethin’ always got burned. “No. Not any those things,” I mumbled.
“You gonna make me pull it outta ya? What happened?”
“Stove burnt up.”
She furrowed her brow. “Stove burnt up? How in the-” She paused and took a deep breath. “Even fer you, that’s a stretch. How in tarnation could ya’ burn up somethin’ that’s supposed to hold fire?”
“My potholder caught fire gettin’ biscuits.”
“And Roy couldn’t snuff it out?” Gertie threw me a skeptical look.
I focused on the billowing white cloth, rather than Gertie’s scrutiny. “It burnt too fast. No way he coulda stopped it.” On account of I’d already knocked him upside the head with my cast iron skillet an’ threw lard on the flames. I didn’t say that part, though.
“How come you got out an’ he didn’t”
I sighed. “I dunno”. I din’t wanna say no more, but my tongue kept goin’. “Maybe ‘cause I wasn’t hung over after boozin’ all night and rompin’ with Angie Flowers.”
Gertie gasped. “Roy wouldn’t do that. Mighta been a dim-witted fool, but no man could be that daft.”
Gertie’s eyes narrowed. “I oughta slap yer smart mouth!”
“Just statin’ fact. Yer husband was a daft fool, indeed.” I nudged her elbow. “Why else would Ernie dally with her an’ leave you waitin’ alone?”
Gertie let out a sigh and a wistful smile played on her lips. “S’pose so. Prob’ly got what he deserved with that plow, ya’ know.”
I smiled. ‘S’pose he did.” I’d never tell it wasn’t no accident.
Inspiration: The photo at the beginning of this story wasn’t actually what inspired this story – this one was. Writing a story for Emilio’s photo was kind of a side challenge, and I’m all for anything that distracts me from what I should be working on. Squirrel!!
Seriously, though, this was a nice break from some other projects, but it’s back to work now. Oh- if you are feeling the stress of the holidays, I’m going to share the secret to surviving in my next post. I discovered this “secret” last Christmas from an elderly woman who lives in town. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out 🙂
I think your story might have happened similar to the way you tell it more often than people might think. I remember my grandmother who had homesteaded by herself in Wyoming just after the first world war, used to tell me about the different places she had lived and the cabins she had built, and how many times she had lost everything when the cabins caught on fire. I would ask how the cabins would catch fire, and she always speculated the wood stove, fireplace, candle left burning or oil lamp got tipped over.
I imagine it was fairly common back then. The main character in this story had many accidents, so when she staged the accidents, no one thought anything of them. Not even Gertie 🙂 Thanks for reading and sharing your comment, Timothy!
I see you decorated the tree in your header. 🙂
The bodies are stacking up! Who was Ernie?
Yep, tis the season for decorating everything 🙂 Ernie was Gertrude (Gertie’s) husband… before the narrator took care of him!
I thought that might be the case. Thanks for clarifying. You can come decorate my house, btw. 😉
Haha, decorating is the fun part… Boxing it up after Christmas… That’s another story!
Excellent story. 🙂 Pioneer women are made of stern stuff!
A couple of things to maybe think about:
The line, ‘I’d always been enamored by fire. The intense heat, destructive power;’ … jarred. It seemed out of character, not language she would use.
… and this bit at the end, ‘I’d never tell it wasn’t no accident. You reap what you sow.’ … you’d already got that across with the dialogue between the two women.
Thanks so much for reading and offering your suggestions, Widdershins! I agree with your points, especially the first one and made a couple changes 🙂
One of my hubby’s relatives died many years ago while cooking the Christmas pudding – the house caught fire (this was in the old, old days). Poor old dear, what a way to go! Now my son is a fireman he’s constantly telling me what I shouldn’t do in the house!
I’m looking forward to finding out about your ‘secret’ 😉
That’s horrible! (It would be much better to go while EATING the pudding!) Probably a good idea to listen to your son so you don’t burn your house down! Well, the ‘secret’ may not be a secret to some, but it was a learning experience for me last year, Dianne. The post will go up tomorrow 🙂
This makes one imagine the “real” stories behind the ancient family lore handed down!
Haha, we may never know… before the time of advance forensic science 🙂
Well told tale, Janna ~ clearly Roy weren’t the boss a her!
Looking forward to your “secret.”
Nope, he got fired 🙂 (Um, perhaps that was a bad choice of words!)
I think there are good solutions for everything.. The dialogue is just perfect, and i love the fact to gradually understand what really happened to Roy and Ernie. I think the picture of those fences would inspire similar stories for me.
Thanks for reading, Bjorn! I had hoped the gradual reveal of the circumstances would work 🙂
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned ….
This was justice the old fashioned way 😉
I think she did get her justice, Joanne!
I think I recall Gertie from somewhere else. I enjoyed how you brought the characters to life. i remember reading something about how the stove would be set up in the middle of the room with the flue running across the room. With the heat going through the pipe, it would heat the cabin more efficiently. The real inspiring photo almost looks like a painting. It almost has an unreal appearance to it. If it was back in October, I could see you coming up with something creepy with it. Take care and enjoy your week. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the kids are still in school.
Interesting about the pipe and the heating – makes sense. I loved Emilio’s original photo – he’s really good at the processing (I am not!) I’d hate to think how much creepier it could get… I think a woman killing her friend’s husband and then her own husband is scary enough 🙂 Thanks for reading, Sean!
Loved this story, Janna. The only thing that concerns me is the dialog in dialect. It’s a tad harder to read that way, and I’ve heard from the so-called experts that it’s frowned upon. I’m not trying to be critical — I wrote my first novel that way, too, but decided to redo it more traditionally. It’s still unsold, which might lend credence to your style here, though, ha!!
Hi, Debbie! I don’t take your comments as critical at all – I’m glad you felt comfortable in sharing your reaction/opinion. I would agree that the dialect does make it harder to read, and I don’t know that I could follow it on a longer piece. My hope was that this was brief enough that most people made it through 🙂
I seriously love this story. I love the voices. I could literally hear the characters talking in my head and envision it all. Amazing…I loved the dialect and how it added authenticity to the whole thing. I personally think you aced it. Brilliant.
Thanks, Kathy! I’m glad you liked how the dialogue turned out. I know the dialect can be distracting, but I had fun trying something I don’t do very often 🙂
Hi I too wondered about the dialect, partly because I recently read (a well selling) novel set in my home province that used similar dialect, and it was set in the time frame of my life. I have never ever heard anyone speak in this way. But maybe it is realistic in the setting of your novel…
I pictured this to be around 1880 or 1890. I don’t know if the dialect would’ve been accurate or not 🙂
You are really good at surprise endings. I have to confess you made me laugh all the way through, but I really got a good guffaw at the end.
“Gertie ain’t ’bout to tell no tales on nobody neither.”
Blessings to you, Janna…
Some secrets are best kept… well, secret! Thanks so much for reading, Carol Ann!
The voices in this are just great. I imagine Gertie and the narrator are wonderful women to have as friends, but they’re obviously dangerous to cross. I like the way you got the detail of the curtains and the timeframe in so subtlety in your opening sentences.
Thanks, Sarah Ann! I’m glad you liked the story. Yeah, I wouldn’t mess with either one of ’em 🙂