Big city girl - By Charles Williams



Eighty-nine, ninety, ninety-one, Joy counted, tilting her head over to one side and putting the brush down through the shining cascade of her hair. Why? she thought. My God, why?

From where she was sitting in the stifling kitchen she could look out the door and across the sun-blasted, sandy yard of the clearing to the encircling pines. Jesus, she thought, how did I ever get into this mess? And what am I brushing my hair for? If I was as bald as the first row in a burlesque house it wouldn’t make any difference here.

Ninety-two, ninety-three. Oh, that awful ape, laughing right in my face. I could scream! Or die. Or kill him.

She was sitting before a small mirror propped up against a sirup pitcher on the kitchen table. Her hair was naturally blonde and quite silken and long, sweeping down lo her shoulders in a sort of golden torrent, and she spent a great deal of time working on it and looking at herself in the glass. The mirror was a pool from which she drank and restored her confidence, a refuge from a terror that had begun to take hold of her in recent months. She had been born thirty years ago in New Iberia, Louisiana, and was a soul-searching and self-pitying twenty-eight when the black depression and the fear were upon her, but the mirror or an admiring glance could restore her happy belief in twenty-five as her correct age, because she had retained a large measure of the striking beauty of her teens and early twenties.

She had been at the farm for nearly three weeks now, and the fear had become an even more frequent visitor in the night. It was panic that had brought her here in the first place, though the others had no way of knowing this. For the first time in her life she had been thoroughly terrified and had lost faith in herself.

In the three years she had been married to Sewell Neely she had never met any of his family, and she really thought—she had announced upon her arrival—she really thought, didn’t they, that in this trying time they ought to all be together. It was terrible about poor Sewell, she had said to Cass, who was Sewell’s father, still trying to drive out of her mind the way poor Sewell had laughed brutally in her face that last day when she had visited the jail and told him she didn’t have any money left. She had been in one of her twenty-eight-year-old depressions anyway, and when his heartless laughter had ripped away the last of her sagging faith in her looks she had gone to pieces in panic and fled, spending her last six dollars on a bus ticket to Riverview, where, she had some vague idea, the Neelys lived. She couldn’t go anywhere else on six dollars.

Jessie Neely, who had been watching her with rapt attention, turned and looked out the window. Hot sunlight struck vertically into the clearing and she could see Mexico, the big hound, walking across the yard with his shadow sliding along over the sand directly under his belly like a black pool of ink. I guess I ought to see if the butter beans are about done and put in the corn bread, she thought. They’ll be up from the field pretty soon and we ought to have dinner ready.

Jessie got up from the table and went over to the stove to look into the pot of beans. They were all right, she thought. She slid the corn bread into the oven and straightened up with the simple and unstudied grace of a child, her face slightly flushed with the heat and the ill-fitting cotton dress hiked up above her knees. Her legs were bare, as they always were, and quite tanned, with a faint tracery of vine scratches here and there that only contrasted with and accentuated their smoothness. She saw Joy looking at her, and smiled. Joy was so pretty, and she was awful nice to a fifteen-year-old girl who’d never been any of the places she had.

She began to set the table. Joy looked up at her, with her head tilted over as she pulled the brush downward in long strokes.”Do you want me to move, honey?” she asked.

“No, you go ahead,” Jessie said. “I’ll put the plates down at this end.”

“I don’t want to get in the way. I wouldn’t be a bother for anything.” She bent forward to the