Two Kinds of Sorry
The old woman, wearing a tiara and elbow length gloves, is hunched over her stove frying Sunday chicken. Above the crackle and hiss of the iron frying pan, rifle shots echo up from the woods.
Wind blows and the backdoor squeaks open. She looks through the screen at the field. The shooter is somewhere between the far edge of the field and the creek down in the woods.
She sits at the back porch steps, shotgun at her side. She is lacing up a boot when three more shots resound from the woods.
She looks out over the cornfield. Wind reaches up from the woods through the brittle stalks. The rustle of dried corn fodder is scratchy background for more rifle shots. The cold wind finds her weathered face. Her eyes lift to the changing leaves of the sunlit treetops.
Having reloaded, the shooter looks through his scope. From his high perch he surveys where deer cross the creek at an old dying sweet gum bent over the water. He looks at bullet holes he has just put in the new POSTED-NO-HUNTING sign on the tree, above other bullet shredded signs.
He guzzles down another beer, throws the empty up in the air and tries to follow it down with the scope.
He shakes with nasal--snorting laughter as he lights a thick joint. The tip flares and he sucks in, burning the joint back, filling his lungs with heat. He belches and smoke curls about his head.
He taps out the lit end with a spit-wet thumb, stained yellow. He tries to put the roach in a bullet slot on his hunting vest. It slips from his fingers. His eyes follow it to the ground.
"Smoking in these dry woods," she says.
"Jesus fuckin' Christ!" he yelps. "Scared me shitless old woman."
He sees her standing on the floor of leaves below his deer stand, gloved hands on her hips. Her long white apron hangs over her sagged body like a grease-stippled shroud.
"Mizz Jincy, how'd you sneak up on me like that?"
"Elihu, you so tanked up and high," she says. "How you know I'm not Mary of Nazareth?"
"I don't" he says, popping the tab on another beer. "And I don't want to know. Hope you's just a ghost."
"Ghost," she says. "I'd have to be a corpse first."
"Well, whatever it takes," he says and laughs.
He coughs, hocks up a phlegm wad, and spits near her.
"Mizz Jincy," he says. "What you doin' down here?"
"You thought I was still in the hospital," she says. "Didn't you Elihu?
"What of it?" he says, opening his zip-lock stash bag.
"Elihu," she says. "You know I don't let folks hunt on my land, don't you?"
"Yes ma'am," he says, rolling the joint. "I know."
"Then why you keep violating my posted signs?"
"Cause your land ain't hunted," he says.
"I see," she nods. "Bet you'd like to shoot catfish in a barrel too, wouldn't you?"
"Yeah, I would," he snorts and lights up. "You got a barrel of'um?"
He chokes on smoke and laughter.
"Elihu," she says. "You a sorry piece a'somethin."
There is slow movement through nearby undergrowth. Leaves crunch and twigs snap on the floor of the woods.
"Mizz Jincy," he says. "What's that thang you always wearin' on yo'head?"
"Won't hurt to tell now," she says. "This little bridal tiara keeps my hair pulled up tight, so the top of my head won't shine like a peeled onion."
"Bald?" he asks. "You don't mean it."
She unhooks the tiara and pulls it free. Hair falls away evenly from her smooth crown like a flower blooming.
"Good Gawd," he says. "You is bald. Cover it up."
"Why's this bother you?" she asks, touching her scalp.
"I don't know," he says, pinching the joint between thumb and finger. "But it's gonna take another one of these bad-boy doobies to get rid of it."
He holds it at his lips, trying to stop laughing.
"Elihu," she says, gliding forward. "You sure that marijuana cigarette hadn't been dusted with something?"
"No, it ain't, but I wish it was, cause I'm gonna need all the buzz I can get if you keep hangin' round."
"Elihu Stout," she says. "You a hell-bound heathen."
"Hush up!" he says.
He lifts his rifle and fires over Jincy's head at the doe drinking creek water at the old sweet gum.
"Hot damn!" he yells. "Dropped that bitch!"
He looks down and sees Jincy laid out over the leaves, arms out from her body, her mouth agape, her eyes fixed skyward.
Shafts of sunlight pierce the tree canopy above. Leaves float down in the light beams like spun gold snowflakes. Jincy glows, from bald crown to apron hem, in blanched white brightness.
"Mizz Jincy!" Elihu yells, scrambling down from the deer stand. "Mizz Jincy, I'm sorry. Mizz Jincy?"
He's in the shadows, looking for movement from her sunlit body. Twirling, spiraling down in a beam, a bright leaf comes to rest on her forehead. He backs away and runs in the dark woods until lost, until the light finds him sitting on a sweet gum log, smoking his last dusted joint.
"She told me she soaks her chicken in buttermilk overnight," says the preacher's wife, closing the car door. "No sirree, nobody can beat Miss Jincy's fried chicken,"
"Hope she didn't overdo," the preacher says, taking his wife's arm as they walk up the driveway.
"Miss Jincy!" the wife shouts and runs to her, sprawled out on the back porch. "What in the world?"
They kneel. Her dusky eyes are set upward. The preacher closes them and lays his hand on her forehead.
"Hasn't been gone long," he says. "She's still warm. Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the blessed life of thy chaste servant, Sister Jincy . . ."
Her tiara is in place and her shotgun at her side. Her gloved arms reach out. One boot is laced up on her foot, the other still waiting.
About the author:
Joe Frank Buckner is a Writing & Linguistics major in his fourth year at Georgia Southern University. His stories have been published in or are forthcoming in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Southern Exposure, The Powhatan Review, The Savannah Literary Journal and other publications. His work has been anthologized and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He and his spouse of twenty-six years live with a Basset Hound named Jean Louise Finch, but they call her Scout.