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‘Since the Shawnee’

Published: November 1, 2013

Jerry ran the edge of his hand along the crease in his hat. He didn’t want to alienate the hardware/dress store family; they represented a sure six votes, and, with their extended kin, ten times that. Jerry was even related to them in a way too distant for him to figure, but which his aunt could delineate without closing her eyes. He cut that crease deeper. The thought of visiting Miss Pickens again made him wince. But her family wasn’t as large, and he thought she was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. He said, “They may be bothering Miss Pickens, too. I’ll have a conversation with her.”

Mrs. Henryetta fingered the chain that held her glasses. Her mouth wiggled into what would have been a smile if her lips hadn’t been so thin. She said, “That’s a good idea, Jerry. I’m glad you came up with it. You remind me more of your father every day.”

He said, “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll take care of it, but it may take a couple of days.” Then he said in a voice loud enough to include Mark, who was now attending to the conversation, “I’ve got to go to Owensboro to a meeting tomorrow. The Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax people are picking our local brains.”

“Don’t give away the locations of our stills,” Mark said with a chuckle.

Jerry practiced the art of sprinkling around official information that sounded secret as a way to garner votes. He tipped his head to Mrs. Henryetta and walked over to Mark. He said in a low tone, “Not up to me, but the rumor is they’re gonna start using airplanes.” He put his hat on his head and walked out the door. Mrs. Henryetta said to her nephew after he went, “I felt fairly certain we could get him to deal with her.”

Jerry was back in Greenville on Wednesday, but he didn’t go see Miss Pickens. He didn’t see her Thursday, either. However, Friday was cloudy and chilly. That’s when he went. He called ahead first; just to be double sure he didn’t catch her off guard, and when she answered the door, he held his hat behind his back and rocked a little on his heels just to show he was unruffled by their last encounter.

Miss Pickens was in a dress with a high collar and sleeves that ran to her wrists. She directed Jerry to a sofa and took the chair next to it. He couldn’t help but notice that both pieces of furniture faced a television set. He decided right there to purchase one before the sun went down, and he laid his hat next to him on the sofa. He said, “I’m here about the buzzards. Do you have any idea why they’re lurking around?”

“Obviously, because I feed them.”

Jerry shifted on the couch so much that he knocked his hat to the floor. He leaned over and brought it up covering his left hand. He rubbed his wedding ring with his thumb, a nervous habit he’d learned to conceal. He said, “Can you tell me about that?”

She said, “There are cats-well, a cat-digging in my flowerbeds. Henryetta won’t do anything about him. And I’m not heartless enough to poison him. I decided to let nature take its course.”

“How have you gotten the turkey buzzards to cooperate?”

“Just luck, at first. I had a dead squirrel. Somehow a buzzard found him before I did. I saw him feast on him one morning at dawn. After that, I got an idea. You know, raw meat will attract buzzards.”

“Isn’t that kind of an expensive idea?”

“I’m an old woman without many hobbies, but I do enjoy my birds. That’s another problem with Barnacle. He killed a whole nest of baby cardinals last spring.”

Jerry put his hat on the sofa, crossed his legs and clasped his hands over his knee. “Well, now, let me see if I understand. You’re using red meat to attract buzzards to keep a cat out of your flower beds and away from your birds.”

“Not really red meat. Puss and Boots cat food.”

Jerry pursed his lips and studied his knee. Miss Pickens, it seemed to him, was losing some of her faculties. He wanted to be careful with what he said so as not to embarrass her. He uncrossed his legs and leaned on his thighs. “Won’t cat food attract cats, too?”

“You obviously don’t know Barnacle as well as I do. He wouldn’t eat cat food if his life depended on it.”
Jerry felt a little relieved. He said, “Well, that’s good to know. But aren’t turkey buzzards carrion eaters? You’re not expecting them to eat Barnacle, are you?”

“Well, I can’t say I’d mind if they did. But I don’t have high hopes for that. I just want them to scare him away. And I think it’s working, too. I haven’t seen him out and about lately. But just to be safe, you could tell Henryetta to keep her cat in. If you could get her to do that, it would save me the cost of cat food.” She added, “Would you like some cookies, Jerry? I just made a big batch of chocolate chips.”

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