Sunday, August 05, 2012

Coal Dust On My Feet ~ part 10

Word spread quickly of the shootings at the cook shack. By noon, the mine had closed again. Thirl had left early to meet with the heads of The Elk River Coal and Lumber Company.

When there was no work and he couldn’t meet Savina at the cabin, James Curtis found solace in drawing pictures of Powells Mountain or listening to Elvis Presley or Chet Atkins sing their latest hit record. He had shut the door to his room and turned on his radio.

From the moment Highpockets left her front porch, dread ignited like a small burst of flame in the center of DeDe’s stomach. She stood on the other side of her son’s door and wept. Some time later, she wiped tears from her face and found the courage to knock.

“That you, Mama?”

The door creaked when DeDe opened it. She avoided his eyes and sat heavily at the foot of her son’s bed. “Oh, James,” she breathed deep and searched for words. “There’s been an accident. Doc Vance sent Highpockets to the house.” Her face twisted. Tears slid down fast as though she’d been waiting until this moment to allow herself a full measure of grief.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s Savina.” Her hands came to her face and covered her mouth. Inhaling sharply through her fingers, she then closed her eyes and let it out in one long breath. “She’s been shot ... on the Widen road. Her car broke down and she got out. She was trying to find Odie. Warn him not to go to the cook shack. It was Cole Farlow that shot her. His mama found him drunk in the back seat of Odie’s car. He took off. Nobody can find him.”

DeDe had dreamed of Savina the night before—dreamed of her tiny body, bloody, slumped on the ground. She saw her dead, though she didn’t want to believe it was anything more than a dream. The vision was a cold pain inside her now.

James let his gaze fall and sat for a moment, silent, his eyes focused on his hands and the tear that had dropped into his lap. Jumping to his feet, he grabbed his rifle. “Where is she?”

“Don’t, James! Don’t do this … you can’t take a life for this …”

He stopped at the door. “Is she dead?”

DeDe could only go by her damned premonition, but this time it wasn’t enough. “I don’t know … she’s at Doc Vance’s office. Cole’s mama found her, too, and took her to Doc’s.”

DeDe drew closer to her son, attempted to hold him. He wept quietly and thoroughly, as she couldn’t remember him weeping since he had been a small boy—long shuddering inhalations, and then a gentle high keening as his inheld breath came out. He pulled away and shrieked, “I’m going to see her!” He looked back at his mother. “Tell Daddy, I love him.”

Her eyes pleading, she sensed a sorrow she’d not felt since the day they pulled her grandfather out of the mine in pieces. “Stop, James … come back here this instant! You can’t raise her up; only God can do it … only God can do it …” DeDe followed behind him, grabbing his coat and clutching his arm. Great tears coursed wild down her pale cheeks.

James escaped the grip of his mother’s fists and drove off in his truck. DeDe fell in the road, the coal cinders cutting her knees, the mud sucking out her life … the sound of her son’s cries still in her head and piercing her heart. Time passed in slow motion again. DeDe managed to pull herself up by the gate in a drizzling rain. In the mist, Thirl’s car could be seen speeding up Nicholas Street. He nearly hit the fence post where she stood before he braked fast and rushed to her side.

            Thirl held his wife tight, his arms attempting to console her. “I heard,” he said. “I heard.”

            DeDe allowed herself to be comforted then she pushed away, wanting to talk but not finding the strength. Thirl’s shirt was wet where she had leaned against his shoulder.

“How did it happen?” he asked at last, keeping his voice gentle. “When?”

She seemed stricken again at the question. Her eyes swam and grew larger but she held on and whispered, “Savina was trying to find Odie and bring him home. Herald Wingate, the visitor from Pennsylvania who knew her mother … he’d told Savina of the danger before he left town today. Highpockets said Mister Wingate wanted her to come pray with us, not go after her daddy. Oh, God.” DeDe held tight to Thirl as if she might faint or be sick. “This afternoon. In the rain. Her car broke down on the Widen road. Highpockets said it was shot in the radiator. Cole Farlow. He was drunk and …” Her body became too heavy for her legs to hold. She slumped by the gate again. Thirl eased her back into the yard and down to the grass where she sat and held fast to her husband. Gulping for air, she managed to squeak out her words. “Oh my God, Thirl, he shot her in the back. She’s at Doc’s. James went to her. But I know he’s gonna go after Cole, Thirl, he’s gonna kill him, or be killed … we got to stop him …”

            Before she’d finished her sentence, Thirl had jumped up, swung himself back into his Plymouth, and barreled back to the middle of town, to the clinic, and to find his son.


A stench in the back room of Doctor Vance’s clinic seeped from the cracks between the wooden floorboards. The smell of death and remorse—sweet and pungent.

Savina’s body made a small lump beneath the sheet like a bundle of firewood.  James picked up an unresponsive hand. It laid motionless in his palm. He stared at it with sorrowful compassion and talked to her like people talk to their babies in the womb, hoping she could hear him. He bent down and kissed her lifeless cheek. Someone had washed the mud off her body, but her hair was still damp. Dirt and blood had formed a crust along her hairline and the corners of her mouth. The table was moist with the stink of an overused dishrag. Her bloody dress had been cut off and thrown into a corner. She deserved better than this.

Doctor Vance stood obscurely by the bed. “She’s in a better place, James Curtis. You must be strong for her.”

It stuck like a thorn in his mind. He swung around and stared at the doctor. “You don’t know the half of it,” he cried.

“You’ll recover from this, son. You have to go on.”

“To what? Die in the mines like the rest of the crazy men in this town. No thanks, Doc.” His cheeks wet with tears, he turned back to brush her hair from her face. “We was leavin’. We had plans. But they’re all wasted. All wasted.”


The state police arrested 52 that evening, incarcerating all including one woman and two small boys in the county jail at Clay. Bill Blizzard protested, but for the first time was ignored by Governor Marland. The police confiscated a twenty-gun arsenal from the cook shack and from the trucks around it. Warrants were issued for the arrests of Odie Ingram and Cole Farlow—the two who remained at large.

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