Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stir with a Knife ~ Part Four

They were an odd thing, those golden needles. You wouldn’t think gold, as soft as it was, would make a good sewing needle. But these needles pierced true and sharp and with deadly accuracy.

But when Bessie took out her special golden needles, they said an eerie green glow could be seen around her house. The few people who saw the glow could swear they heard the sounds of laughter and music. They also said they saw shadows moving in the house behind the lace curtains. But everyone knew that Bessie kept to herself after the “accident”. She never had anything to do with the folk in the community anymore. So who could possibly be visiting her?

No one really connected Bessie with the untimely deaths that occurred on the mountain. Well, not at first, anyway. Life is cheap where life is that hard. It was not out of the ordinary when Bart Roach died in a sawmill accident. It was out of the ordinary that the three friends who left Bessie out in the woods all bled to death during childbirth within months of each other. Everyone commented how the three had been so looking forward to having their babies.

Stella, the last of the three who delivered, kept saying over and over in her delirium, “She’s coming to get me…she’s coming. She’s stitched my name, just like she got Cora and June…she’s coming to get me.”

No one really knew what she was talking about. They named her daughter, Lucille.

But it was in the nature of the community to revel in gossip. They gossiped about the good and the bad and often made things up just to spread around. And Bessie became something of a legend on the mountain. They called her “The Sew Witch”. And many a naughty child had been admonished with the words, “You better watch out or The Sew Witch’ll git you!”

Children often crept up to her house and then ran away screaming when she opened her door. Many a young boy had been dared to set foot on her porch. Few attempted it.

Bessie didn’t leave her house often. When she did, people tended to talk.

It was just such a day, many years later that the boy first saw her.

He huddled closer to his mother when she came inside the dusty confines of Timman's store. He'd been a good child and his mommy had bought him a Payday candy bar. He grasped it protectively when the woman came in and stood with the door open.

The rain was blowing in but no one said anything.

The child's mother picked up a knife and stirred her cup of coffee, averting her eyes from the newcomer.

The woman's one good eye took in the farmers and folk in the store. Her bad eye rolled around at nothing in particular. She did something that might have been a smile. It might have been a grimace. It was real hard to tell. There was dreadful scarring on her face, just visible from the knitted scarf that hid part of her face.

Everyone was silent.

She moved awkwardly around the store, her left foot dragging ever so slightly. One of her shoes had one heel that was two inches taller to account for the shorter leg. The rain still blew in the front door, but no one said anything.

She brought her purchases up to the counter. Everyone parted to give her a wide berth. There was a packet of no. 7 sharps, several spools of Coats white cotton thread and a thimble. Timman rang them up and took her money for the purchases. Her bad eye wandered around looking at no one. A few people made surreptitious hand signs.

She wrapped her purchases and put them in her tapestry bag and hobbled to the door. She turned before exiting and looked back, focusing her good eye on the young mother. She made that thing with her face again. Could have been a smile, could have been a grimace. She giggled and it made a sound like a crow eating poisoned corn.

"Stir with a knife....trouble and strife." Her voice croaked out with the sound of a barn latch not used often.

The young mother started and pulled her child closer as the woman left. She left the door open and the rain blew in.

Timman came out from behind his counter, wiping his hands on his apron. He shut the door behind the woman and looked at his customers.

"Well, that were right interestin'." He said and moved back behind the counter.

The young mother looked up from her coffee and whispered, "What do you suppose she meant?"

"Don't you worry none, Lucille," said one of the farmers. "All that stuff you hear 'bout that crazy old bat cain't be true. She's just a sad, sad old woman."

One of the young teens in the store said with wide eyes, "My momma said she got like that when the rats tried to eat her face whilst she were sleepin'!"

Timman snorted. "Nah, she got mauled by a bear. Ain't been right since."

Lester, whose farm was just up the road, chimed in, "She sure do sew purty, though. Heard she sold one of them baby quilts fer 50 dollar to some outsiders."

The young teen said, "My momma said them people, their baby died after they got that quilt. She says she sews hate into them there blankets. She says she wouldn't have one of them in the house fer love or money."

The young mother said again, "But what did she mean....trouble an' strife? She was looking right at me."

Lester laughed, "How can you tell? I sure can't tell what she's lookin' at!"

"The evil eye...that's what she's got." Said another patron.

"Pshaw!" Timmon said, wiping down the counter. "Ain't no such thing. It's just something she's always a'muttering."

One of the boys scuffed his boot in the sawdust on the plank flooring of the store. "Well, I heared that she keeps a big ole quilt that she never finishes. Every square got a hex on somebody on it. She sews a body's name on it and then you die."

"My Mamaw said she drownded her own baby in the creek and then ate it!" Said the boy's companion, in a fit of oneupsmanship. The boy looked peeved at his companion. He would have liked to reveal this detail.

Some of the patrons nodded grimly. They had heard all of this before.

"Awright, now! That's enough!" Timmon said. "She's just a hateful old woman. Don't you boys got chores to do? Get on out of here, you're takin' up air!"

The boys filed out into the rain, unhappy to leave the gossip in the warm dry store.

Later that night, Bessie stitched another square onto an impossibly huge quilt on her frame. Her deft needlework embroidered "Lucille" into the details of hand-sewn panel. She sat back and surveyed her handiwork with much satisfaction. The quilt stretched over the frame and spilled over the edge.

She cackled to herself softly. "Yes, indeedy. Stir with a knife, trouble and strife."

And her sisters laughed with her, as one spun the thread and another held the skein and the third cut it.

The End


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