Bride of Wild
Daddy slouched against the cinderblock shed out back of our double wide, his sleeveless undershirt beer-yellowed, sweat-stained, nasty as his temper. The hot August air dripped Carolina wet, building thirst, fueling Daddy’s anger.
“Clementine Quackenbush, you been messing in my gun closet again?” He kicked at the crabgrass.
“No, sir.” I lie good, specially for a girl’s just turned ten. I’d thrown them bullets of his in the trailer park trash bin while he slept off last night’s Wild Turkey. He’d been threatening Mama something awful since Fort Mill Truckers fired him three months back. Even with Mama bringing home her cotton mill paycheck every week, 1963 was fixing to be a piss bad year for us. Daddy’s bullets might make it a whole lot worse. Folks didn’t call him Mad Dog Quackenbush for nothing.
Daddy lived dirt-scrabble ragged all his 35 years though his hitting arm still had a young fella’s punch. Mama and me both experienced it real regular. Mama showed the hard of her 26 years as if she were a rain-beat, weather-worn, tight-harnessed plow horse, wrinkled, going gray. She claimed the ruin of her looks came from breathing cotton dust at the mill but I reckon it’s Daddy’s beatings that done it.
“Gun closet door is open, girl.” Daddy lit a Camel, squinted at the sunset.
“Mice, Daddy. Not me.”
“Go git your Mama. We’re heading to Farley’s. Git away from this dump a spell.”
Mama came out the trailer, still in her Saturday work pants, hair tight tied in a ponytail.
Half hour later Daddy parked us at Fat Farley’s Fish Camp, the mosquito-infested run-down old joint by the Catawba River. Our neighbors, Willadene Troutfisher and her mama, Eula Mae, waved to us from Farley’s side porch. My mama and Eula Mae been pals since starting out as bobbin girls in the mill. Me and Willadene been best friends forever.
“Hey, Peaches,” Eula Mae called. Mama smiled, her face unfolding wrinkles.
Perched on a beat-up plywood picnic table under Farley’s eating room rafters, Willadene and me wolfed down fried catfish. Soon as we finished our banana pudding we ran outside to the Norfolk Southern tracks. My folks and Eula Mae lounged inside. I figured they’d be drinking pitchers of warm beer and sweet tea long after the last hush puppy was gone.
“We’re gonna play chicken, Willie,” I said. “Double dare, next train coming.”
“No way, Clem.”
As the whistle-hooting train from Rock Hill to Charlotte shot past, Daddy stumbled out of Farley’s, Big Brew baseball cap low on his forehead, his scraggly-bearded face shadowed in night. Daddy fumbled his belt. He unzipped his denim britches, took a whiz by the fry-kitchen dumpster.
“What the hell. You young’uns quit spying on me and git away from them damn tracks.”
Daddy finished his business, staggered back up the wooden stairs, scratching his crotch. Banjo music came hound-dog howling from Farley’s side porch, some gal singing Red River Valley.
Willadene bit her lip. “Maybe we should listen to your daddy?”
“You fraidy cat?” I punched her skinny little arm.
“Let’s play truth tales instead. Ask me something, anything, I gotta tell you the truth.”
“Okay, why’s your mama’s arm in a sling?”
“Jesus, Clem, I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Chicken.” I pointed to the tracks.
“Pop twisted Ma’s elbow. Said she was getting too much wild. Snapped her arm like a chicken bone. Satisfied?”
Right then our folks came out of Farley’s, crossed the pea gravel parking lot, Daddy laughing crazy-like, aiming his Smith & Wesson at me and Willadene, pretending to shoot. Mama pulled at his arm. He pointed the gun at her, took a step, and stumbled on a broken beer bottle. Mama grabbed the gun, shoved it in her waistband, butt sticking out.
“Stop that shit, Mad Dog,” Eula Mae yelled. “Listen. I’m making an announcement.”
“You got another bun in the oven?” Daddy pointed to her thick belly. “You’re running to fat there, girl.”
“Shut up. I’m creating a change. I’m heading for the hills, joining the wild. Taking me a new name. From here on out I’m gonna be Bride, be Bride of Wild.”
“What?” Willadene’s eyebrows shot up.
“Taking my young’un here, moving us out to that wilderness camp in the Sandhills, round Darlington. Place where you can run free, not wear clothes if you don’t feel like it. Leaving my Mister behind. Lot of gals there already. I hear tell they broke free from wife-working for men. They calling it the rebellion of wives.”
“I wanna run naked.” I rubbed my behind. “Have adventures.”
“Muzzle your mouth, girl.” Daddy spit in the dirt.
“Ma?” Willadene frowned.
“Call me Bride, Willie. You’ll like living under them pretty sand pine trees.” She put her good arm around Willadene.
“Righteous wives don’t run off to nudist camps, Eula Mae.” Daddy said. “Your man’ll put a stop to that crap.”
“The hell he will. I’m going free.” She winked at Mama. “Going wild.”
Daddy jerked the pistol out of Mama’s pants, then took aim at the moon rising above Eula Mae’s head. He pulled the trigger.
“What the – ain’t got no bullets in this thing.” Daddy twisted around, mad as a hornet. He glared at me.
I looked down at my feet, kept quiet ‘bout messing in his gun closet, pitching his bullets in the trash. But I sure felt proud.
Daddy’s eyes narrowed. “You tig bitties have yourselves a gab fest til I’m good ‘n ready to go home.” He turned his back on us, clumsy making his way back to Farley’s, tripping over a bucket of orange bucktail jigs. “Damn. I need me more beer.”
We watched Daddy sidle up to some gal on the side porch, pat her butt, sling his arm around her, and grab another beer. They started drunk dancing, pawing at each other, while the banjo picking grew louder. Daddy and her disappeared inside Farley’s.
“He’ll be busy a whiles, won’t be wanting home tonight.” Mama scowled, her eyes meeting Eula Mae’s.
“Mama.” I stood up straight. “Let’s us escape from round here. Like them rebelling ones.”
“Pretty hot running naked in the Sandhills, don’t you think?” Mama sighed, still looking at Eula Mae.
“Lordy, Peaches I ain’t going to the Sandhills. Just throwing your hound off the trail. Heading west to the high country, to them smoke blue mountains where the gals grow apples and drink cider. Chuck their clothes when they feel like it.”
“I wanna go there, Mama. I ain’t never seen mountains.” Something gleamed shiny on the ground. “Look, Daddy dropped his car keys.” I handed them to her. “Let’s leave. For good. Let Daddy fend for himself.”
Mama put one hand on her stout hips, squared her shoulders, tossed her hair loose from its tight ponytail. She pulled me to her side. “Truth tales, Clem. You really wanna go to them mountains?”
“Yes, ma’am. We been Daddy-chained too long.”
“Okay, Clem, I wanna go, too. We’re breaking free.” Mama grinned, jangling Daddy’s car keys. “We got wheels. We’ll head home, pack up, find that camp tomorrow. We’re going with Bride. My new name is Wild.”
Mary Alice Dixon is a member of SC Writers Association and a former professor of architectural history. She lives in Charlotte, NC, where she is a longtime hospice volunteer. Mary Alice is a Pushcart nominee, Pinesong Award winner, finalist for the 2021 Broad River Review Rash Award in Poetry and finalist for the 2022 LIT/south Award in Fiction. Her work is in numerous publications, including Belmont Story Review, Broad River Review, Capsule Stories, County Lines, Kakalak, Main Street Rag, moonShine review, North Dakota Quarterly, Northern Appalachia Review, Stonecoast Review, and three Personal Story Publishing Project anthologies. Mary Alice grew up playing in Carolina red clay and running wild at fish camps by the river.