My Daddy, Horndog Hiram Clyburn, announced to every man, critter, and gal he ever encountered: “Two things I can’t abide are polka dots and yellow teeth.”
Daddy, he rose up from Clay County, Carolina dirt. Declared himself a boxcar preacher. Testified all slurred and stumbling on Saturday nights down by the Hayesville & JackRabbit Rail Yards, him and his Wild Turkey speaking in tongues. Saw signs of sin every which way but Sunday, that being the day he slept the whiskey off.
“Drusilla,” Daddy warned me, “Don’t you ever have no truck with them abominations. Devil’s doing, they are, those polka dots and yellow teeth. You’ll see them on the gambling man’s dice and in the smoking man’s mouth. Marks of wickedness. Or weakness. Or both.”
God and my mama blessed me with sweet pearly whites. But still, I brushed my teeth good and hard. Three times a day. Sign of my salvation. Then I came down with the chicken pox. Sign of my end time ending in damnation. Needed cleansing, Daddy claimed.
Daddy made Mama bathe me in piss every night, try to wash away the pox marks. My hair stunk like a mouse nest. My eyes reddened like a she-devil’s pupils. Took a month, but the piss worked. I was saved. Spot scars hidden under the piss burns blooming permanent all over me.
Like I told Cousin Leotis, once the bleach dunkings passed, “My hide ain’t as pretty as the next gal’s, but least I ain’t got polka dots no more.”
Cousin Leotis, he grew up a wildcat, even here in Clay County, NC, where lots of mountain boys run untamed. Gals, too. But Leo, despite his tobacco teeth, he proved a good friend and I ain’t had many of those, folks being mostly put off by the Clyburn clan.
Leo taught me hunting, trapping, firearm handling. Wanted me to know how to save myself, survive off the land, if ever I had the need. Showed himself sweet on me, time and time again. Useful trait in a fella. Didn’t hurt, too, the look of how his britches fit his butt. Daddy contended Leo come from inbred stock. Never liked the boy.
But ain’t nothing odd about that, Daddy hating most all the boys round here, believing every young buck in the county was out to take the flower of my maidenhood. Daddy didn’t know the bloom was already off that particular lily. And it weren’t Leo. But I ain’t naming names, as if I could, though I do have me a bun in the oven. Don’t show yet as I’ve always run to fat.
Couple weeks later, Leo came courting me; brought along his old muzzle-loading walnut-stock hog rifle. “We’re gonna get us some wild porkers, Dru,” he said, spitting chew tobacco on the dirt. Nasty habit, that Skoal of his. “Winchester 45-70, she’s a dandy.” Leo nodded in agreement with himself. He handed me the rifle, “Got five rounds in her. Already loaded. Keep the safety on til you need ‘er. We’ll have us a pig pickin’ in a day or two.”
Me and him headed up JackRabbit Mountain to hog hunt, October leaves bloodstone bright. Rounded a trail bend. A well-muscled Granola Guy stepped out of a patch of oaks beside us, adjusting his zipper, hair slicker than owl shit. All gussied up in fancy hiking boots and them shiny sports good store type shades city boys’ favor. Knee-length leather britches like a fake yodeler crashing a Dollywood talent show.
Granola Guy stopped, “Lordy, why you? Why here? Why now?” I said to him, real quiet like. I raised my rifle. Granola keeled in a single shot.
“Drusilla, what the —?”
“Guy wore a polka dot bandana.”
“You’re flat-out crazy.” Leo knelt by the body, felt for a pulse. Shook his head. “You killed him.”
“I ain’t naming names, Leo, but I knew this here Granola. In your bible sense of knowing. Had his way with me.” I pointed to my belly. “At the rail yards. Did me wrong. Or leastways a fella in fancy hiking boots hailing from some city like Charlotte or Columbia or Cincinnati done it. Don’t remember where he come from, but I know the man wore some real fancy boots. Some sort of bandana, too, round his neck. Couldn’t see his scarf in the dark but I swear I knew it carried polka dots.”
Leo pulled his phone from his pants pocket, “Gotta call the cops, Dru.”
I aimed the rifle straight at him; “Boy, you should see somebody about those nasty yellow stains on your teeth.”
“Okay,” Leo said. “This fella startled us; we reckoned it was the wild pig we were hunting. Accident. Chance encounter.” Leo talked fast, selling himself a bill of goods he ended up buying.
“Roll of the dice,” I said, lowering the gun. I rubbed my belly.
Leo and me got hitched at the pig pickin’ a week later. Not a soul wore polka dots, which appeased my Daddy greatly. The law couldn’t stop Leo and me from marrying, being as we’re only double second cousins, not too close of blood kin. Got me a daddy for my baby out of the deal. Respectable womenfolk need a gelding in their stable.
And, let me tell you, a happy couple Leo and me are, me being the lead horse and all and Leo now seeing the town dentist real regular. My man don’t never miss a teeth-cleaning date. Never wears polka dots, neither. I keep the guns.
Mary Alice Dixon grew up in Carolina red clay and Appalachian coal dust. She is a Pushcart nominee whose writing is in Main Street Rag, moonShine review Northern Appalachia Review, and elsewhere. Mary Alice lives in North Carolina and mourns her dead cat, Alice B. Toklas.