For too long now, as I see it, there has been a smart handful of us ol’ girls that have been quiet for too long, like we’d been told to be. I figure it’s time to get loud, manners or reputations or not. Sometimes, we need to speak up, lest the devils win. They won’t win today, my sisters. Not today, nor ever again. If, and only if, you get loud.
If you stand out on the front porch here and look real close, you can see the devil’s old house over there on the mountain. Nobody lives there now, and the house is all but fallen in. In front of that ol’ woebegone house stands a stately buck deer, his crowned head held high and regal against the fog and lingering snow. I see him out there right now, all glorious and proud against the backdrop of the white mountain and what’s left of that house where the devil used to live. He reminds me of Aunt Margene and Mama and Big Ruby and Snoot. He reminds me of… me. That ol’ deer stands there like he owns the place.
I reckon he does.
I’ll get back to the devil in a minute. Matter of fact, there were several devils running around here back in the day. I’d wager there’s still a few devils out there somewhere. Granny always talked about sheep’s clothin’ and sweet talkin’ and hot mouths that’ll tell us we’re the only ones, even when the ol’ noisy girls like Ruby and Mama and Cousin Snoot know better. Oh, yes, we know better. And so do you. And we’ve been silent for too long, just like we’d been told to be, but now the roost is open for rule. I reckon it’s time we become noisy ol’ girls like them. We’re past due, truth be told.
In the warmth of the kitchen, Big Ruby is cooking something good. My nose can’t tell just yet what exactly it is, but ol’ Ruby ain’t never fixed a bad meal, and that’s the truth. I hear her slurping up a quick taste. It might be a venison stew. I hope not. I never could stomach venison. It’s too wild for my tastes, like that buck deer standing there on the mountain where the devil used to live. It’s too wild like us ol’ noisy girls. Wild and noisy things like us should only be in storybooks and love songs. You know it’s the truth. We don’t belong in a bowl or on some hapless plate. I hope it’s a good vegetable soup with plenty of tomatoes, the ones that Granny saved and canned up last September. I hope it’s got last summer’s green beans and sweet corn and taters in it. I’d even welcome a handful of lima beans or some okra and macaroni. I hope Big Ruby ain’t licked the spoon and put it back in the soup. Even if she has, I’ll eat it just the same.
And I hope she makes cornbread to go with it, with plenty of lard or bacon grease and Granny’s homemade cow butter. I hear that ol’ iron skillet crackling and popping (it sounds like lard to me), and then Big Ruby starts singing along to the radio, her smooth voice lilting and ringing throughout the old house like a regular summer bird. It goes with everything, her singing. Like I said, Big Ruby ain’t never fixed a bad meal, despite what she’s been through, and those old songs she sings are like a dessert before dinner. It’s a Patsy Cline song, I think. I …fall …to pieces…
Big Ruby would never fall to pieces. There was too much of her, both in body and in talk. She was Granny’s oldest girl, my Aunt Ruby, and buddy, she’d had a time. Her first husband, a handsome but shifty boy with a little bit of family money, left her when she was expecting Cousin Snoot. He left her for some floozy up in Grundy, and Ruby was never the same, or so I’ve been told. Granny had chased that boy off the hill with threats of hell fire, but he just kept running until he got to Buchanan County. He’d send Snoot a dress or two or a birthday card with fifty dollars or so in it. Small price to pay for having no daddy, I reckon. Aunt Margene was just a young girl then, but she remembers just fine how her big sister’s first devil came up here and broke all our hearts, especially Ruby’s and Snoot’s.
Now Ruby was a lovely woman in her younger days, with coal-black hair and crystal blue eyes and loud laughter that would shake the sadness off a widow woman. She was once as dainty and svelte as Granny and Aunt Margene. But now, Big Ruby is…big. She’d make a good three or four of Granny, and that’s the truth. Too much lard in that cornbread, I reckon. Anyhow, Big Ruby married another fella when Cousin Snoot was a little girl, a fella that worked down at the Winn Dixie in the meat department. Granny said ol’ Winn Dixie took a liking to Ruby because he figured her first devil had left her some of that family money of his.
That’s how it is in a small town, you know. Everybody knows who you’ve been with and where, and often times, they’ll use it against you. He was a pig’s ass, I’d heard Granny say. And then they’d go talk in secret about what Winn Dixie had done to Cousin Snoot after she’d come home from school when Ruby was slaving away down at the Mattie Williams Hospital in the kitchen, and how she’d found out about it and pulled her revolver on him and dared him to set foot in her house again.
After that, Ruby gave up on a husband, and Snoot slept with her mama until she was in high school, and that’s the truth. Snoot had bad dreams and woke up talking about ghosts and such. And then Snoot up and married a boy with some family money and broke Ruby’s heart again. And not long after that, Snoot altogether disappeared, leaving that boy and her mama for a place where no memories lived.
Snoot ain’t never said anything about it at all, but I wish she would. We’d go and find ol’ pig’s ass Winn Dixie and knock on his door and say, “you remember me?” And we’d ask him why he did what he did to Snoot and if he knows or cares how bad he hurt her, and we’d dare him to deny a notion of it. Oh yes, we would dare him. We might even tuck Big Ruby’s ol’ revolver in Snoot’s purse, just for good measure. If he hadn’t done what he had done, Snoot might have been the sister I never had. You never know. I was nearly thirteen before Big Ruby spoke of Snoot in my presence again, and even then, it was to tell us about her big wedding to some Yankee, some fella we hadn’t never heard hide nor hair of, some fella old enough to be her daddy.
I think about Mama and recollect how I was never allowed to go up to her folks’ house when I was a little girl. Daddy wouldn’t hear of it; he’d said he’d be dead and gone before he’d see his daughter within sight of that son of a bitch. And I didn’t lay eyes on my mama’s devil, unbeknownst to my daddy, until my twelfth summer, and I swear, he didn’t look like a devil to me at all. He was just a skinny old man then, with not a tooth his in head. But it was around that time that I learned what he had done to Mama, and her just a little girl like Cousin Snoot had been, and how her own mother had told her just to shut up about it and not tell anybody. Good girls don’t talk about such things.
And it wasn’t too long after that when I met my own devil.
I wasn’t even thirteen yet, and he was going on thirty-five, at least. And no, he didn’t look like a devil either. Not at all. He wasn’t some stranger. He was an uncle, one I only saw when he needed a ride or a dollar, a jolly, round-bellied dimwit that I’d known all my life. But in the span of one afternoon, after he’d done his best to con me out of my culottes with a box of old cassette tapes, I saw him for the devil he was. And he did it while my mama was in the other room.
He was brave. He knew what all the other devils had known: good girls don’t talk about such things. He thought I wouldn’t say a word. He counted on me being ashamed and confused and taken with the idea of cassette tapes.
He was wrong.
“My daddy will kill you,” I told him. Five words only, but they were salted with enough truth to make him take his dirty hand out of his shorts and stick his tongue back in his mouth and take his other hand off my skinny, twelve-year-old knee. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t say anything. He acted like he didn’t have a clue why I would make such a threat. But he knew. Yes, he knew. I didn’t see him again until the day he was laid out in his casket at the funeral home a good twenty years later.
They all know.
Oh, those devils are everywhere, I figure. I’d wager that most of us have laid eyes on one or two. Or three, like Big Ruby. They count on us being quiet. Ashamed. Confused. They warn us about our reputation and tell us nobody will believe us. Or worse, nobody will care. Not too long ago, they were right. But not anymore. Not even here in the hills with a clear sight of the devil’s house over there on the mountain. No, sir. And my own girls have been warned about you devils and your threats and your cassette tapes. My girls will holler and scream, right after they tell me and Mama and Big Ruby.
Like that ol’ piano man said, we didn’t start this fire. But for some reason, we’re being criticized while we try to put it out. If anybody wonders why I go a’ mentioning devils and stirring that old pot, all they’d have to do is look at Mama or Snoot or Big Ruby and a right smart handful of girls I’ve talked to in my time. And you, too. Don’t let them shut you up, you ol’ noisy girl, you. You go on and holler and scream and tell. They’ll listen, whether they want to or not. They all know. They might even laugh at you or call you names.
Sticks and stones, you noisy girls. Sticks and stones.
But, Lord yes, Big Ruby is cooking something good. I can smell the cornbread and that soup a’ simmering. The hearty scent of it fills this old house like a regular blessing. And you, you, that ol’ noisy girl there, you come on up here on the mountain and we’ll have us a bowl and a slice of pone or two with Granny’s good cow butter, and we’ll eat and talk until the sun sets on the devil’s mountain over there. And then we’ll stand out here all glorious and proud like we own the place.
I reckon we do.