No one ever suggested disease or a curse as the reason for her abnormality, not outside roomed conversations anyway. Rather, we simply accepted her peculiarities as environmental. Her baldness, as well as her disregard for public decency, to us, became, or perhaps always was, the first leaf to change its color. Autumn always comes, the first leaf always turns, it’s just the way things are– but sometimes, sometimes you remark on it absentmindedly.
“Wessa, look at her– just traipsin’ around here with her titties all out as if she was born with a bat between her legs. She ain’t no man, she needs to cover up.” Plural complained, leaning on the brand new wood fence surrounding her partial acre of land.
“Aw, she ain’t hurtin’ nobody. My boy, Rascal, got a bigger bust than her. She’s one of those paranoid schizos anyway. Notice how she always looks up at the sun and smiles? She probably thinks the aliens are gonna emerge from one of its rays and take her back to the mothership.” Wessa laughed erratically on the other side of the fence.
“Yeah, well, I don’t care if she is one of them crazies,” Plural stated flatly, “Somebody needs to tell her that civilized folk wear shirts.”
“Ha! Civilized folk! That’s a good one,” Wessa blurted, adjusting her stance and regretting the heels she’d thrown on to check the mail. “You can look in her strange eyes and tell that civilization passed her by. I wonder what Bullie thinks about her daughter flashin’ God and the whole neighborhood all the time.”
“Well, I heard Bullie is a minister at Hand Of God, now. That’s Elder Bullie to us common sinner-folk, I suppose.”
“Wait a minute. Wait one minute. You mean to tell me that Bishop allowed her to take the oath?” Wessa’s surprise added a few dry logs to Plural’s hearth for gossip.
“He sho’ did. Rascal went to Sunday School and stayed past Breakfast Meeting and seen her in the pulpit with her pants suit, her gold prayer cloth, and the Bible to match right behind Bishop.” Plural’s oak brown eyes all but glowed as she shared her hearsay.
“Well, I’ll be a weed whacker in the jungle. Sho’ nuff?” exclaimed Plural’s neighbor, Laz Deacon– Deacon Laz to everyone in Eddenton, though he hadn’t set foot in a church since his christening. Wessa rolled her eyes as he leaned across the fence toward Plural.
“Sho’ nuff. Rascal might be mean as a red furred bull but he ain’t never carried a lie past Sunday.” Plural confirmed, gesturing for Laz to get off of her fence. He just smiled at her motions as if she were a silly toddler.
“So that woman up there preachin’ while her daughter runnin’ round topless as a good stripper? I knew somethin’ won’t right about that church. Bishop Reverend hasn’t been the hand of God since his son was caught playin house with that minister of music they used to have.” Laz remarked. He then leaned off Plural’s fence, winked at her, and continued his journey to the end of the path where the mailboxes lived.
“Minister of music, huh? More like minister of house music. Ain’t that what they play at them sissy bars?” Replied Wessa, a little too desperately. She hated being the third wheel in the gossip. It paid off, though.
“Girrrl,” Plural drawled, “you would tell God He shoulda made Eve from Adam’s eye socket so Eve woulda had enough sense to see the devil talkin’ to her.”
“Plural, I sho’ would. You know I can’t hold my tongue with the right hand of God,” boasted Wessa.
“Look at her, Wessa. Look at her. She comin’ outta that store with nothing but a can of soda. I swear she don’t eat. That’s why she’s built like a stick bug.” Plural motioned with her head to the young woman in question.
“Woooo, Plural, you can’t hold your tongue either, can you? And you talkin’ about me. Be careful what flies out your mouth when you stand before God on Judgment Day. He might put the drop on you, too.” Wessa finished, now eying Copperhead’s slow, but steady, stride in their direction.
“Girl, hush. We’ll drop together, then, and tell Satan a thing or two about sweet talkin’ Paradise.”
That caught Wessa’s attention. “Sweet talkin’ Paradise,” she repeated, “what in the world is that?”
“I guess you ain’t never heard that before, huh? My granddaddy used to say that all throughout my childhood. I’d say, ‘Grampy, ol’ Gregory Hanes told me I was black as the spit of a mamba snake.’ And he’d say, ‘Oh yeah? Well that Gregory just tryin’ to sweet talk Paradise’ then he’d go sit on the porch and smoke.” Plural’s words were all for Wessa, but her eyes belonged to the woman approaching, sipping a soda, staring off into the morning sun.
“Mmm. Mr. Dixon was a thoughtful fella. I’m sure it means something to somebody who’s been to Paradise–“
“Wessa! Wessa! Look! Copperhead is comin’,” Plural urgently whispered, no longer leaning on her fence. “I’m going to go ahead and prepare dinner before it gets too late. Biscuit acts like a 12 hour day warrants him eatin’ twelve pounds of food. At least he does work, otherwise I wouldn’t feed his ass.” Wessa opened the gate just as Copperhead came within hearing distance and said, “Ain’t nothing in that mailbox anyway but final notices. I’m going to come in and help you until that snake slithers back into the grass. ” Copperhead continued staring at the sun as the two ladies stared at her through the blinds of Plural’s kitchen.