How polite of us to break bread together

Cathy Calvert led me inside.  I stepped across the threshold and into a living room with blinded windows, an effort to fend off the hot sun. I wondered how much the inside of the house had changed since my grandfather’s time. A pair of weathered couches and three matching easy chairs formed a semi-circle around the television.  My Aunt, Faye Calvert, sat on one of the easy chairs, wearing a bath robe, legs propped up, in an apparent slumber.   I looked past her to the far end of the living room, which segued into the kitchen.  The aroma of many spices filled the air.  An array of pots on the range called attention to themselves—and to Cathy’s absence, for it was clear my cousin was the one doing the cooking, and most likely the one keeping the house going.

I looked from Cathy to her slumbering mother.

‘Is your mom OK?’

‘Oh she’s fine,’ Cathy said enthusiastically, waving her hand and returning to the kitchen. ‘Right as rain. She’ll wake up in a bit and you’ll see.’

I followed Cathy into the kitchen so I could look at her instead of her drugged-out mother.

‘You’ll stay for awhile, won’t you Jackson?’  Cathy said.

‘Uhh…yeah, of course.’

‘We thought you’d be here a few days ago but that’s alright.  I’m so happy you’re here. And you’re timing is good because we already had dinner plans.’  Cathy began to slice and butter rolls. ‘My brother Mitchell should be here any minute and then we’ll be ready to eat.’

On cue, Mitchell walked through the front door.  He was taller than me by an inch, the same sandy complexion, leaner and more muscular in his build.  He wore a pressed olive uniform and a sheriff’s badge on his chest.  I smiled to myself, recalling the heirloom I’d stashed in my bag.

‘Mitchell Calvert,’ he said.  His handshake was much tighter than it needed to be and I saw a flash of competition in his turquoise eyes.

‘You two must be about the same age,’ Cathy said.

‘I’m twenty-four,’ I said.

‘Twenty-six,’ Mitchell replied.

‘How old are you?’ I turned to Cathy.

‘Seventeen,’ she said shyly. 

‘You arrived today?’ Mitchell said.  ‘From where?’

‘I was down in Biloxi for a few days.’

‘What were you doing in Biloxi?’ He had a smug, superior way of talking.  Only two years older than me, he wanted to make it seem like ten.

‘Very little,’ I said, becoming conscious of my hands.  I stuck them in my pockets.

Mitchell immediately went to work in the kitchen. He acquired a large wooden bowl.  He began assembling a salad, methodically tearing the lettuce.

‘Your first time in Mississippi?’ Cathy held a roll with a bent wrist, like a Betty Crocker photo shoot.

‘Yeah, although I don’t feel like I’ve been in Mississippi yet,’ I said.

‘We’ll show you the best parts of Mississippi,’ Cathy said, smiling with a tilt of her head.  I’d just met her but I already had a little crush, even if she was only seventeen and even if she was my cousin.

‘Everything’s ready,’ Cathy announced from the kitchen.  ‘Jackson, why don’t you sit down? Mitchell, why don’t you wake up mama.’

I moved to the table and took my place and watched as Mitchell went to rouse his mother. He had a heck of a time and had to shake her more than once before she began to grumble awake. Mitchell spoke quietly in her ear and then she spoke.

‘Jackson? Jackson Calvert? Lemme see lemme see.’

She wormed her way out of the recliner and, with Mitchell’s help, found her way to her feet. I could see what Peter had ment. She seemed to move around fine once she got going. Physically, she was recovered.

‘Hi Auntie,’ I said, coming around the table to give her a hug. She smacked my cheeks and smiled up at me.

‘Been awhile,’ she said.

‘Too long,’ I said, not really meaning it. She was blond, like Cathy, and you could see the resemblance. But even as she smiled at me, I saw a subdued reflection of my real aunt in the blue eyes looking back at me. I tried to remember what I knew about Faye. She was my father’s kid sister, and possibly the only person on earth who’d ever loved Johnson Calvert with the kind of positive energy people hope for. Mitchell was Faye’s oldest; Cathy was her youngest.  Between them there was another son, Gabe.  No one gave an accounting of Gabe so I didn’t ask.

We took our seats and uncerminoiously began to eat. Faye munched in silence while her children carried the conversation.

‘What brings you to Poscataw?’ Mitchell asked over a full plate.

‘I’m just on a little vacation, kind of passing through.’ Mitchell looked at me and I had the sense he didn’t believe that was all I was up to. Still, he left me to the food. First came the Creole fish, spiked with enough pepper to disarm the common Yankee.  Then the southern traditional: red beans on rice with five-alarm pepper sauce.  My forehead pocked sweat.

‘So after all these years what made you want to come here?’ Mitchell said, continuing his casual interrogation.  I came up with a sufficiently duplicitous answer while fighting to chew through an incendiary mouthful of beans.

‘Dad talks about this place all the time but I’ve never been here.  Thought I should get acquainted with where I’d come from.’

‘How is your dad?’ Cathy said.  ‘I haven’t talked to him in ages.’

‘He seems to be doing well,’ I said, feigning at a frequent correspondence.  ‘Does he ever come down and visit?  From Arkansas, I mean.’

‘It’s been years since I’ve seen him,’ Cathy said.

‘I bet he’d come if he knew you were here,’ Mitchell said. I could tell he was guessing at something.

‘Oh I told him,’ I said. ‘He can’t make it.’

I did my best to be polite, clearing the table after dinner. In terms of manners, that evening was probably the best I managed during my time in Poscataw County.

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