That Old Woman over by Beulah

By James Tipton

 

old-woman-toad“Son, this land I’m gone to leave you is flat, wet, and poor…sort of like that woman I used to poke around with over by Beulah. But some years when it’s not too hot, or too cold, or too wet, you can coax enough cotton out of this land to keep you interested in Missouri, with enough left over for taxes and some fun now and then with a willing Mexican woman.

“Pa, when I was a boy…that woman in Beulah…she used to come over here and help you out with the cotton.”

“Son,” the old man said, unable to sit up, “Susanna came over here to help me out with you. The only cotton that Beulah woman was ever close to was the cotton she stuffed into ears when I was trying to talk to her.”

“I just remember Susanna was a Mexican lady.”

“Lady? Susanna Salazar? Son, Susanna was no lady. Every man between here and Beulah can tell you his own stories about Susanna.”

“Pa, you know those stories were started in country bars by overheated farm hands who wanted to be heroes to their buddies. When I was a boy I thought Susanna was beautiful. I used to get up in the middle of those hot summer nights just to stare at Susanna’s slender body, covered with tiny pearls of sweat, sleeping beside you.”

The old man worked his own body over to one side of the bed, struggling to be comfortable.

“But ‘beautiful’? Son, you can’t really say a woman is beautiful unless she’s got a good set of these.”

With his two bony hands he cupped the papery skin on his sunken chest.

“Pa, Susanna Salazar was the closest thing I ever had to a mother, but you were so damn mean she never would stay more than a month or two.”

“Son, you ought to save calling your old man ‘mean’ for after the funeral.”

“Pa, the doctor says you’re failing fast, and so if you’ve got any faith left you better fess up a little right now.”

“And you’re just the man to help me, Son?”

“I’m the man here beside you right now, Pa, and I saw a lot when I was a boy.”

“Are you going to be glad when I’m gone?”

“Pa, I’m going to miss you when you’re gone.”

“Thanks, Son.”

“Pa, did you ever miss anybody when they were gone?”

“Well, Son, maybe I did and maybe I didn’t.”

“Who’s one of the ‘maybe I dids’?”

“You, Son, when you went off to basic training.”

“Pa, you’re breathing too hard.”

“Son, I’m just thinking, probably the last thinking I’ll ever do. I’ll be happy to be done with it.”

“What are you thinking about, Pa?”

“Son, there’s only one other thing I know for sure I’m going to miss after I’m dead.”

“Pa, what’s that?”

“I sure am going to miss that old woman over by Beulah.”

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