Saturday, May 06, 2006

Kin to the Saboteur - Ch. 4

Without lips ajar in shock, Halona blinked rapidly to make sure she’d seen correctly. There was no way such a handsome man could exist on the face of the earth. She had to be seeing things.

Surely Halona didn’t just see a tall, gorgeous muscular white man in a black Stetson, black boots, a gray suit, with flaming red hair. The stress of the last three years had to be finally getting to her. Either that or her bitterness towards God had somehow transformed into hallucinations.

Although Halona went to church every Sunday as the weather allowed, it was more out of habit and honor to her deceased father than anything else these days. She was still angry with God for allowing her parents to leave the earth sooner than she wanted them to. Even though her mother left when she was very young, the resentment didn’t appear until her father departed. After three years, it seemed that no amount of preaching could remove that bitterness, either. Halona wouldn’t allow it to.

“Halona, have you ever seen such a handsome man like that before?” Elnora asked as she waited for her Creole husband to come out of the church. Napoleon, who was handsome in his own right, yet in a different way, was still inside. He was helping the other deacons tally the church finances as he often did after worship services.

So I wasn’t just seeing things, Halona mused. She closed her mouth and turned to face her cinnamon-skinned friend in the brown and white floral dress.

When Halona opened her mouth again, words came out this time. “No, I don’t believe I have,” she replied.

“And that hair color…why, it looked almost like burnt clay,” Elnora went on to say. “And I bet he has freckles, too. Most men with hair that color do.”

“Shh…no betting on church grounds,” Halona admonished. She looked hastily around to see if anyone else had heard Elnora’s comments. Fortunately, no one had.

Elnora’s brows rose and a smile appeared on her face. “Was that a reproof I just heard? Does this mean that you and God are on friendly terms again?” Inwardly, Elnora prayed for God to forgive her this one slip up. She honestly didn’t mean to even speak of wagering on church grounds.

Halona’s olive skin flushed crimson. She hadn’t reached her maximum summer color of deep bronze yet, but she would soon with all the long days she’d been putting in lately.

“Never you mind what goes on between me and God. Worry about your own soul salvation,” Halona snapped as she slightly lifted the bottom of her dress and climbed aboard her carriage. The bloody cushion had been removed from the long bed. Now the thick wood base and frame showed in the back. A new cushion had been put on order.

Elnora simply chuckled, not taking offense to her friend’s tone or her words. She knew that Halona’s temper was only a defense mechanism half of the time. The other times it was used as a protective cloak in order to shield her from the harsh realities of life. Elnora also knew that her friend had a heart of gold behind that temper and would do anything for someone in need, just like her father had before her.

Halona did have a heart of gold. In fact, it was that same heart that caused her to hire Elnora and Napoleon to run the Ackerman General Store and live on the adjoining land in the back when the young couple’s plans to buy property in Kansas fell through a few years back. The greedy railroad folks and equally greedy cattlemen had wanted the same land as the Duplantis’ and they’d gotten it.

Elnora’s mother, Marilu, already worked for the Ackerman family as cook and general household help and had for years. Having just lost her spouse to cholera on the long journey from Alabama, Marilu had initially been hired to provide help for Halona’s mother, Kachine, during the latter months of her second pregnancy.

After Kachine died, Marilu had been asked by Gordon to tend to Halona and the Ackerman household full-time. He even provided her and her small daughter permanent lodgings in the detached guest lodge on the Ackerman homestead. This way, they wouldn’t have to continue staying with other migrants whose husbands had successfully made the trip out west.

As a result of their close proximity, the Ackermans became very close to Marilu and Elnora. In fact, Halona and Elnora were raised almost like sisters and they were the best of friends. Whatever one got, the other one got - good or bad, and that included the chicken pox.

Additionally, Halona grew very close to Marilu over the years. There were too many times to count that she secretly wished that Marilu was her mother, even though the Negro woman didn’t seem interested in her father at all. However, Halona had caught Gordon giving Marilu the eye on several occasions so she knew that at least one of them had been keen to the idea.

These days, Halona was just so glad that Marilu had finally found love. As a matter of fact, she’d recently attended the woman’s wedding to a very nice Negro man named Jether Bridges from Arkansas. Halona offered to pay for the ceremony, but Marilu would not hear of it since the generous young woman and her father had already given her so much over the years.

Halona’s generous heart was also why the town now had an orphanage. But not just any orphanage. The Miskito Orphanage came with indoor plumbing, electricity, and a newly installed telephone. Except for the Ackerman homestead, general store, and a few select businesses, most places around these parts didn’t know what it was to have even one of those amenities.

That same generous heart was why most of the misfits of Miskito’s society were gainfully employed on the Ackerman farm. Blacks, Indians, Asians, and white worked together on Halona’s land. She even had a pair of married little folks, which others called midgets, working for her.

“Quit your laughing,” Halona said. She found it hard to continue glaring down at Elnora when she was constantly being such a good sport about her temper. But then again, Elnora had always been able to look past Halona’s imperfections.

Elnora only laughed harder at Halona’s now semi-stormy expression. She couldn’t help it. Especially when her friend was looking like the Indian side of her family while using her Irish temper. The two put together was just the most unique blend of cultures she’d ever seen.

Just then, Halona burst out laughing, too. She couldn’t help it, either. Elnora had such a warm smile and her sniggly, giggly kind of laughter was truly contagious. “I’ll see you and Napoleon at dinner. Your mama is making meat loaf today,” Halona said, promptly her horses to move with a gentle tug on the reins.

“We should be there directly,” Elnora replied, stepping further out of the way as she fondly waved goodbye to Halona.

~~<<>>~~

Although Elnora was three years older than Halona, they’d played together as equals as children. They still treated one another as equals today, confiding their deepest most thoughts with each other. And even though they’d also had a few sisterly catfights over the years, they’d shared more good times than anything else. They were having one of those good times right now in Halona’s dining room.

“Mama, you should have seen Halona’s face when that red-haired man rode past. She looked like a fish searching for bait,” Elnora said, mimicking her friend’s earlier open-mouthed expression. The chuckles were already starting in her belly area and working their way up. Any minute now she would be engaged in sniggly giggles that would eventually led to full-belly guffaws.

“I did not,” Halona denied from the head of the table, the same place that her father used to sit.

“Did too,” Elnora countered with a smirk on her face. She shook a knowing finger at her friend, completely ignoring the sumptuous meat loaf in front of her.

“Did not,” Halona replied, sticking her tongue out in defiance. She also ignored her meal in lieu of this lively debate.

“Girls, girls! Can we please eat our meal without all this bickering?” said the full-figured older woman in the red and blue checkered dress. Marilu had broken up these kinds of arguments for years, a few catfights, too, especially whenever Elnora teased Halona about liking some boy.

“She started it,” Halona said, pointing accusingly at Elnora on the right side of the table. Mirth was clearly in her eyes. She was not offended at all. Neither woman was.

“Did not,” Elnora countered, scrunching her nose up at her friend, trying not to laugh as hard as she really wanted to.

“Did too,” Halona replied, smirking as well now as she folded her arms defiantly across her chest. Even a smirk was better than those usual frowns she wore.

Marilu put her hands palm side up in surrender and then looked across the table at her son-in-law. “Napoleon, they too big for me to whip now. So do what you do best with the one that belongs to you.”

Then before Elnora could get another word or snicker out, Napoleon captured her lips in a sweet kiss. While he did that, Marilu pointed to Halona in a scolding manner. “When you get your husband, I’m gonna have him to shush you up the same way.”

Halona chuckled at the scolding, yet kindly woman on her left. “Oh really? Well how ‘bout I use that same trick on you right now.” Then she looked beyond Marilu to the other male at the rectangular-shaped table. “Jether, can you do what you do best with the one that belongs to you please?”

“Glad to,” Jether replied as he leaned towards his wife, cutting her protests off with his lips.

As Halona watched both happy couples kiss, she suppressed a wistful sigh. Although she didn’t want to want a man in her life, she still did. Anything to relieve the constant loneliness she battled with day in and day out. Yet if Halona was so lonely, why didn’t she try harder to attract a husband?

© 2006 Suprina Frazier

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