Selected Story

Published in The Pikeville Review, 1998                                  Karen T. Miller

Overlapping Configurations

Martha glanced in the rear view mirror to see how the old man was doing. He was slumped to the side a tad, but the seat belt and side of the van were keeping him in a basically upright position. It looked peculiar, him sitting there in a black body bag and dead as any corpse could ever be, but she hadn’t been able to figure out what else to do with him. The metal seat connecters in her Chevy van had rusted solid long ago, so there was no way she could take a seat out, and anyway she didn’t want him rolling around back there. Also, this way Boyd and Izzie didn’t have to sit beside each other. That would have never worked.

In the seat beside the old man, Boyd rocked back and forth, holding his fingers up in front of his face, weaving them in and out of each other. That was one thing he did a lot. He seemed fascinated with his fingers and hands. It reminded Martha of the way an infant acts when it first discovers its hands—that look of awe, like a miracle has just occurred. It had been a forty-five-year miracle for Boyd.

Izzie sat, stiff as a rod, in the seat behind Boyd and the old man. She grimaced as if she was in pain and twisted her greying Dutch-boy-style hair around her knobby, arthritic fingers. Martha always made sure she kept Izzie’s hair short so it wouldn’t get too knotted up from all that twisting she did.

Martha checked her watch. Izzie hadn’t let out a scream for twenty minutes, the longest amount since they had left home that morning.

“Res stop! Bathroom!” Junior yelled, clutching his crotch. 

 Martha stepped on the brake and peered intently out of the cracked windshield. A fine spray of yellow and brown bug guts splattered against the glass in front of her nose.

“Exit! Exit!” Junior said.

Sure enough, there was an exit sign. She pushed on the brake hard. A truck pulling a semitrailer zoomed past, honking. “Well, excuse me!” Martha said. It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t see too well anymore. That was why she had Junior in the front seat, so he could read the signs and warn her about what was coming up.

“Res stop! Bathroom!” There was an urgency in Junior’s voice.

“Hang on, Junior. We’re almost there.” Martha whipped into the first road inside the rest stop, and then realized they were in the truck parking section. There was no way out without backing up, though, so she pulled into a space between two semis. Junior unbuckled his seat belt and bolted for the toilets. “Watch for cars,” Martha yelled after him.

Junior had what they called Down syndrome, but his eyes were good and he could read signs. He also could tell Martha when he needed to go to the bathroom, which was more than she could say for Izzie or Boyd. Martha had to keep Izzie in Depends and tell Boyd to go to the toilet every couple of hours. He rarely had an accident if she reminded him.

“Okay. Izzie, Boyd, we’re gonna get out and go to the bathroom,” Martha said. She climbed out of the van, walked around to the rusted side door, and heaved it open.

“Undo your seat belt, Boyd.” Boyd’s head jerked and his eyes darted back and forth, like they always did when anyone spoke to him. He quit playing with his fingers long enough to unbuckle his seat belt, inched his long legs out of the van, and pulled himself into a standing position. Warily, he let go of the side of the van. Then he paced back and forth, his fingers fluttering before his face.

Martha crawled into the seat Boyd had just exited, folded her plump body across the back of it, and fumbled with Izzie’s seat belt. “I’m getting too old for this,” she muttered. Her whole body ached. It had been twenty-seven years since she opened her adult foster home. That was a long time to be caring for other people.

Martha had been tired a lot lately. Recently, she’d been thinking about retiring and moving back to Arkansas. Her sister, Emma, some nieces, and a nephew still lived there. They were all doing quite well for themselves, according to Emma’s Christmas letters. Martha was glad for that. She didn’t think she could take on any more responsibilities. Helping her son raise his kids and running the foster home could be overwhelming at times. Leaving that behind was looking better and better. It was a hard decision though. Izzie had been with her for twenty years and Boyd fourteen. They seemed like family, and Junior was beginning to feel that way. Junior had come to live with her when his mother died five years ago, and they hit it off from the beginning. It was difficult to imagine what life would be like without them.

“Come on, Izzie,” Martha said, tugging at her arm. Izzie slapped her and let out a scream. Martha sighed. “Oh boy, here we go again.” Izzie sounded like a car alarm going off when she got started, and she was starting now. Her doctor couldn’t figure out why she screamed like that, but she did, on and on and on. He did say it was a sign of stress. She didn’t talk, so screaming was a way of expressing that.

Martha grabbed Boyd’s arm and Izzie’s hand and walked them across the trash-littered rest stop toward the toilets. Junior emerged from the men’s restroom and ran toward them. “Go ahead and get in the van. We’ll be out in a few minutes,” Martha said.

“Trucks,” Junior said, his cheeks rosy with excitement. He waved at a driver who was just pulling in. “Trucks!” he said and ran on past them. Martha chuckled. Junior loved trucks. He had all kinds of model trucks in his room back at the foster home. He was amazingly good at assembling them, too, although her son had to help him with some of the smaller parts. 

After directing Boyd to the men’s restroom, Martha escorted Izzie, who was still screaming, into the women’s. A middle-aged blond, applying lipstick, glared at Martha from the mirror as though she thought Martha was torturing Izzie.

“She’s okay. She just screams this way,” Martha said and grinned self-consciously. The woman kept glaring at her. Martha sighed. This was why she didn’t like to take the residents out. She pushed her black, rhinestone-flecked glasses frames up on her nose and led Izzie into a stall where she removed her wet Depends and sat her on the pot. 

Boyd was waiting outside when they finished, and Martha led Izzie and him back across the rest stop. A car passed slowly, the occupants staring at them curiously. Junior ran back and forth on the grass median, waving at the truck drivers who were pulling in and out, still yelling, “Trucks! Trucks!”

Martha got everybody back into the van and pulled out onto the entrance ramp. She was sure glad interstates had been invented. There were no stoplights or stop signs, no reason even to slow down unless she wanted to.

“Yield,” Junior shouted, reading the sign. Izzie was still screaming. Her screaming was agitating Boyd who rocked back and forth, his fingers flying before his eyes as he pushed them into all kinds of overlapping configurations. At least the old man hadn’t moved.

Martha picked up her speed to forty-five. She didn’t want to go any faster. She couldn’t see too well for one thing, and if she had to stop suddenly she didn’t want the old man falling over. Martha was glad her son could meet her at the funeral home and help get the old man in the van and buckle him in. Her biggest fear now was that the body bag’s zipper would break. She was praying that didn’t happen.

It was strange how she thought of him as the old man. At one time, the old man had been her husband. But that had been a long time ago, thirty years to be exact. That was when they were divorced anyway. The marriage actually ended a few years earlier. 

Despite that, it made Martha nostalgic to be headed back to the place where the one romance of her life had blossomed. She’d gone back to Hazenton to visit several times over the years, but this trip seemed different somehow. She guessed it was because the old man was with her, even though he was dead.

Martha pushed her glasses up on her nose and flexed her fingers. They were stiff and swollen from holding onto the steering wheel for so long. She frowned and grasped the steering wheel again. Ever since the old man’s death, she’d been remembering things. It wasn’t that she had a bad memory. She could tell anybody, even if they didn’t ask, the details of her life, and it had been an eventful one. But these memories were different. They kept gurgling up, splashing here and there like one of those volcanic spots in Yellowstone Park.

Out of the blue. she would smell laundry soap, feel the cool metal of the washtub through her thin cotton dress, or hear the annoying buzz of flies around her head. Suddenly her arms would ache and her hands sting. Beads of sweat would pop out, one by one, across her flushed forehead. Or she would hear his laugh, sense his fingers, lightly stroking her hair, her neck, and the current, that irresistible current, would course through her.

Sometimes she would feel the baby move, pushing against her clothes. She would smell the alcohol on her daddy’s breath, the oil on his gun, and the stench of his unwashed body as he pushed past her and out the door to find Henry, the twenty-four-year-old man who had impregnated his young daughter. The hysterical wails of her mother would echo in her head.

It puzzled Martha the way those memories kept popping up, especially after all these years. She had tried several things, like turning on the radio, talking to one of the residents, or reciting the twenty-third Psalm, to make them go away, but nothing worked. It seemed impossible to avoid those memories, pulling her back to a time when she was young, red-haired, unmarried, and pregnant. It had been one of the most frightening times of her life. And even though Henry did marry her, what followed hadn’t been much better. His family made her life a living hell. They seemed to think she was their servant, hardly leaving her time to care for the baby. 

Fortunately for Martha, jobs were scarce in Hazenton and rumor had it there was money to be made in Chicago. So six months after their marriage, Henry moved the baby and her to Illinois. Living away from their families had been good for them. Henry found a job at a garment factory, and they had three more children. But then Henry’s leg was crushed in a loading accident and the drinking and beatings increased.

Martha could take getting knocked around, but when Henry almost beat their oldest boy, Teddy to death, she knew she had to act. As soon as Teddy was able to travel, she loaded the kids on the train and they went as far as the money she could put together would take them. That was how they wound up in Crosspoint, a small town southwest of Chicago. There they had survived on the charity of a local church until Martha found work as a cook and housekeeper for a boarding home. It didn’t pay much, but room and board were provided and the woman who ran the place helped them however she could.

Martha still lived in that boarding home, except it was now an adult foster care home. When the owner became ill and went to live with her daughter, she gave Martha the option to buy her out. With the payments from the boarders, doing laundry for people in the community, and the sale of produce from her garden, she had managed to scrape together enough money to make the loan payments. 

Henry found them eventually, but Martha wouldn’t have anything to do with him. He shacked up with a woman across town, old enough to be his mother, and agreed to a divorce a year later. He never did marry that woman, but he lived with her until she died of old age. He had Alzheimer’s by then and wound up in the local nursing home. His social worker and her son begged her to be his legal guardian. None of the kids wanted that responsibility, and she couldn’t blame them. She was the only option left, so she agreed. And it had helped to think of him as the old man, just someone else who needed assistance.

But now he was dead and she still couldn’t get rid of him, but that was what this trip was about. When she called his brothers and sister to ask what to do with the body, they said if she could get him to Arkansas, they would pay for his burial in the family plot. So here she was headed to Hazenton with the old man in his body bag. It was the last thing in the world she ever imagined she would do.

“Junior, pass this back to Izzie,” Martha said. She pulled the Penney’s catalog out from under her wide rear end and the dashboard rose a couple of inches. She could still see over it, just not as well, but Izzie’s screaming called for drastic measures. 

Junior unbuckled his seat belt and hoisted the catalog over the back of the seat. “Boyd, here. Give to Izzie,” he said, leaning awkwardly toward him. Boyd hesitated, and then grasped the catalog at one corner with both hands. He lifted it as if it were the Holy Grail, and a heavy one at that, over the back of his seat, and dropped it into Izzie’s lap. Izzie was really screaming now, twirling her hair with her fingers as if Boyd had just set a slimy frog in her lap.

“Look, Izzie. It’s a book,” Martha said. “Read the book. You know you like to read books.” Izzie looked down at her lap, let out another shriek, and then carefully pinched the first page between her fingers, turned it, and kept turning pages.

Izzie didn’t seem to look at the pictures that much, but she liked to turn pages. The bigger the book, the more pages there were, so the Penney’s catalog worked well. The only time it didn’t was if she was really upset. Then she would rip the pages out. Martha had to use good judgment about when the book thing would work, and it was working now. The silence was wonderful.

At dusk, they pulled off at a rest stop just outside of St. Louis. Martha’s night vision was really bad, so she didn’t dare try to drive in the dark, especially through St. Louis. That would be a hard enough task in broad daylight. 

Other than Izzie’s screaming jags throughout the day, they had done pretty well. Everyone had enjoyed the tuna-fish sandwiches and pop she brought for lunch, and they were excited about eating supper at McDonald’s. People stared at them, but Junior, Boyd, and Izzie were thrilled to get to go inside like everyone else. They did okay until Boyd spilled his french fries and started eating them off the floor and Izzie began to scream the second her food was gone. They had to make a quick exit then. Sometimes Martha was glad she couldn’t see too well. It helped her ignore rude people.

The van wasn’t the best of accommodations, but Martha had brought enough quilts and pillows to go around. Izzie had a whole seat to stretch out on, and everyone else did the best they could to find a comfortable position. It was early May, so the weather was fairly warm. The hardest thing was the way the trucks and cars kept driving through the rest stop, their motors roaring and lights flashing in and out of the van. Martha hardly slept at all, but she could hear Boyd’s deep snores and Izzie’s whistle, so she knew they were sleeping. Beside her, Junior’s mouth hung open and he was drooling on his pillow.

Martha felt like she had just gotten to sleep when a horn honked. She pulled herself up in the seat and put on her glasses. A young man in a Volkswagen bug was honking at a car that had stopped in the road in front of him. An elderly couple sat in the car looking befuddled. They finally pulled over and let him pass. “Brother,” Martha said. “Poor old folks.”

It was 6:20 a.m. according to Martha’s watch. She stretched and then shook Junior lightly. He snorted and sat up, bewildered, drool dribbling down his chin. “Time to wake up,” Martha said. She turned around to check on Boyd. At first Martha thought he wasn’t in the van. Then she saw he was lying down in the seat, his head resting in the old man’s lap.

“Boyd!” Martha yelled. The sight of it gave her goosebumps. She reached back and tugged at his shirt. Boyd jerked out of his sleep into an upright position, and the body bag lurched forward. The the old man’s head bounced against the back of the seat, and then slid sideways as far as the seatbelt would allow, till it looked like he was trying to rest his head in Boyd’s lap.

 “Oh, my Lord!” Martha said. Junior shrieked and jumped out of the van. Izzie popped up in the back seat and started screaming. Boyd rocked back and forth, twisting his fingers around each other like they were pipe cleaners.

Someone tapped on Martha’s window. It was a state patrol officer, one of those redneck-looking, middle-aged ones. The kind she liked to avoid. She rolled down the grimy pane a tad.

“What’s the problem here?” he said. Junior was running back and forth outside the van yelling, “Cop! Cop!” People were gawking at them.

 “Well, officer,” Martha said. She nodded toward the black body bag and swallowed hard. “The old man just fell over, and it upset the residents.”

“What the  . . . ?” the officer said, peering into the van past Martha. The old man appeared to be suspended in the air as if he was in one of those magic shows. Boyd was rocking back and forth frenetically. Izzie’s screams were deafening.

“I’m taking him to Arkansas for the burial. Couldn’t afford to have him shipped,” Martha said. She nervously sifted through the McDonald’s napkins, gas receipts, used tissues, and other assorted items that had accumulated on the dashboard. She had placed the funeral home receipt there in case something like this came up. It was nowhere to be seen.

“Ma’am, I’m gonna have to ask to see your driver’s license and registration,” the officer said. His tone had turned grim.

“Yes, sir.” Martha lugged her heavy purse up off the floorboard and felt around in it until she located her billfold. She pulled out her driver’s license and handed it to him. Then she dug around in the glove compartment until she found her registration. She was breathing hard. Sweat dripped down the back of her dress and pooled under her arms. Junior was still yelling, “Cop! Cop!” as though he thought somebody would come rescue them. 

“Could you do something about the boy?” the officer said, frowning.

“Junior. Get over here,” Martha called, leaning toward the open passenger’s door. The sharp tone of her voice caught Junior’s attention and he quit yelling for a minute. “Get over here!” Martha demanded, beckoning with her chubby hand. Junior sidled up to the open door and peered inside. 

“Quit yelling. Just quit yelling,” Martha scolded. Junior looked stunned, and Martha felt bad. She rarely had to get after him. 

“Okay. These appear to be in order,” the police officer said. He handed her driver’s license and registration back through the window. “Now, what about the body? You got some papers or something to back up your claim?”

“Somewhere here.” Martha rummaged through the papers on the dashboard again, knocking several of them onto the floorboard. “Junior, do you know where I put the receipt from the funeral home?”

Junior stuck his head into the van, studied the pile of papers, and deftly pulled out a white folded sheet of paper and handed it to Martha. “Receip’,” he said matter-of-factly.

Martha fumbled with the paper, her hands trembling, until she finally got it unfolded. Sure enough, it was what she had been looking for. She handed it to the officer.

“Well, I think I’ve seen it all now,” the officer said, shaking his head as he examined the receipt. He helped Martha sit the old man in an upright position, got into his patrol car, and drove away.

“Okay, everybody to the bathroom, then let’s get out of here.” Martha was anxious to be rid of the old man. It was as if he was trying to cause her grief one last time before he was buried in the ground.


Arkansas was beautiful at this time of the year. Redbuds and dogwood trees, sporting pink and white blossoms, lined the streets of Hazenton. The smell of wild honeysuckle wafted into the bedroom where Martha stood, surrounded by the sturdy walnut furniture that occupied her room as a girl. She had spent many a restless night sandwiched between that ornate headboard and footboard. The faded violets on the brittle wallpaper had accompanied her through many a long day. Nothing had changed here except for the occupants of the house. Emma, her oldest sister, inherited it when their parents died. She was the only family left in Hazenton by then, so it made sense. It was okay with Martha. Her memories were enough.

“Come on now. We’ve got to get ready,” Martha said as she helped Izzie put on the dress brought especially for the funeral. Izzie only had two dresses. She usually wore a blouse and slacks, and she wasn’t too happy about the dress. It wasn’t really appropriate for a funeral. It was polyester with a pink and yellow flowered design, but it would have to do. Martha spit on her fingers and tried to wipe away an ink mark on the dress she hadn’t noticed till now. “Oh well.” Martha sighed. She hoped no one else would notice.

 It was a relief to know the old man’s body was resting in a casket at the local funeral home. She’d dropped him off there as soon as they arrived at Hazenton. The mortician hadn’t been too happy about the way the old man had stiffened up in a seated position, but how was she to know? It wasn’t every day she hauled around a corpse in her van. 

For two nights now, Martha and the residents had been at Emma’s house. Martha could hear her in the dining room where Junior and Boyd were finishing their breakfast. “Do you boys want anything else?” Emma asked, trying to be the polite hostess, her voice strained with the effort.

“Boyd. Anything else?” Junior asked. “Boyd?”

Martha heard one of Emma’s antique wooden dining chairs squeaking rhythmically, and she knew Boyd was rocking back and forth in it. “Boyd, don’t rock, now,” Emma said. “Don’t rock.” The rhythmic squeak got faster and louder.

 “I’ll be right back, Izzie. Just sit here on the bed a minute,” Martha said.

Emma had a stricken expression on her face as she stood watching Boyd rock in her chair. “Boyd, time to wash up now,” Martha said, pretending she didn’t know about the chair problem. Boyd quit rocking and stood slowly, studying the floor. He rarely looked at anyone directly. His preference was to fade into his surroundings and not be bothered.

“This way, Boyd.” Martha led him to the bathroom. “Now when you get washed up, go sit on the couch. Junior, after Boyd washes up, you wash up, too.” 

Martha walked back toward the bedroom where Izzie waited. Emma’s mouth was twisted into a little ball as if she was trying to keep from crying. Martha knew she was counting the minutes until they would leave.

The thing was, Martha realized, it probably wouldn’t have been that different if she had come alone. She had never been that close to Emma, and now it seemed the years had made them even greater strangers. All Emma had talked about for the past two days were her children’s accomplishments and the Pentecostal Church she attended. She was especially enthused about the ladies’ missionary group, which was knitting fifty afghans to send to the needy in India. Whenever Emma wasn’t cooking or doing some other necessary household task, she was knitting one of those afghans. She seemed obsessed with it. Martha had tried several times to talk to Emma about her life in Illinois and what it was like to run the foster home, but it was apparent Emma wasn’t interested. Martha’s nieces and nephew hadn’t bothered to come by. They were too busy, Emma said.

Emma’s face flooded with relief when they loaded their bags into the van, said their goodbyes, and left for the funeral. She would not attend. Martha couldn’t blame her. Emma hadn’t seen the old man in years and couldn’t have many good memories of him.

The church was ten miles out of Hazenton on a winding dirt road punctuated with rickety wooden bridges that straddled meandering creeks. The white clapboard structure, badly in need of a fresh coat of paint, was perched at the edge of the Ash Grove cemetery. A freshly dug grave with a red canopy erected over it stood out like a fresh wound in the middle of the sun-bleached tombstones. 

Martha pulled into the dusty churchyard where the hearse and an assortment of older model cars and pickups were parked in a haphazard fashion. She helped Boyd and Izzie out of the van, and they all headed toward the church. A small cluster of people were gathered by the door under a shade tree. Martha recognized them as she got closer. It had been years since she’d seen most of Henry’s family. She could tell it took them a few minutes to figure out who she was, too, from the way they stared at her and whispered among themselves. Henry’s sister greeted her guardedly.

Martha nodded and guided the residents up the steps and into the church. Henry’s family had never accepted her. They hadn’t liked it that she was so young and got pregnant. Seeing them huddled together made her feel like she was that fifteen-year-old girl again. She could feel their judgmental silence hot on her back.

I didn’t even have to come, she thought, but she had come. She had come for the old man, but the old man, in this place—surrounded by his family, had turned into Henry. She hadn’t counted on that.

Henry’s older brother, Elmer, was already seated in the family section. He twisted around and glared at Martha and the residents as they walked down the aisle. It was apparent he’d been drinking from his bloodshot eyes and the awkward way he hung onto the back of the pew for support. Martha guessed he was too loaded to process in with the rest of the family. 

Martha led Izzie and Boyd into a pew near the front of the church, across the aisle from the family section. Since she had divorced Henry, she certainly couldn’t be considered family. Junior followed and they sat down on the narrow grey slatted pew. Bringing the residents to the service was worrisome, especially Izzie, not knowing when she might start screaming. However, Martha didn’t have a choice. There was no way she could leave them with Emma. As nice as she had tried to be, it was apparent the residents made Emma nervous, even seemed to scare her at times.

“Father,” Junior said loudly. “Shhhhh,” Martha warned. Junior looked at her, a confused expression on his face. He had been reading again. A small wreath of red carnations stood at the front of the church with a satin sash draped across it that had FATHER printed across it in glittery letters. Martha turned around and scanned the room. There were only about twenty people there, not counting the family. None of her kids had bothered to come that she could see, but someone had sent flowers, which was more than Henry deserved.

The Baptist minister, Preacher Hinkle, and a droopy looking choir were assembled at the front of the room. Everyone stood as the pianist played “Farther Along,” and the family walked in and sat down. Preacher Hinkle began to read the obituary.

“‘Henry Rayburn Spotts, born April 8, 1947, went to meet his maker on May 2of this year . . . ’” Martha handed Izzie the Penney’s catalog, and hoped turning the pages would keep her quiet. Boyd was studying his fingers. Junior’s lips moved as he silently read the song-selection board. “’He was the son of the late Elmer Joe Spotts and Lilly Jane Spotts and is survived by three brothers, Elmer Joe Spotts, Jr., Leroy Parker Spotts, and Oscar Mason Spotts, all of Hazenton, and a sister, Anna Marie Jenkins, of  . . . ‘”

It was all kind of a blur to Martha. She hadn’t expected to feel loss, but here it was, no doubt about it. She guessed she might have even loved the man, the one who beat her, who almost killed their boy. The young woman who had gone through all that seemed so distant, yet so present. It made her sad and angry to think of all the awful things she’d allowed to happen—to her, to her kids. It was a hard pill to swallow. “‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters  . . . ,’” Preacher Hinkle droned on.

The people in the pews in front of them were shuffling out of their seats now as the pianist played “In the Sweet By and By” on the out-of-tune piano. The casket was opened, and it was time for people to view the body. Martha leaned forward and motioned for Junior to move out into the aisle. He stood, and then froze, his eyes filled with fear as he looked at the pale corpse lying in the casket at the front of the room.

“Move on out,” Martha whispered. She waved her fleshy arm as though to shoo him away. People were waiting. “Junior!” She stood and tried to wiggle past Izzie and Boyd but got trapped between Izzie’s legs. Izzie slapped at her and bumped against Boyd. Boyd started rocking back and forth, his fingers flying. Izzie let out a scream.

An overwhelming nausea swept through Martha. She pushed her full weight against Izzie’s stiff legs, trying with all her might to get unstuck, but the more she struggled, the more Izzie screamed. Then she heard it, the ripping of a page, and then another, and another. Izzie was tossing them up in the air as fast as she could rip them out. Boyd started to moan.

“Get them damn lunatics out of here!” It was Elmer, Henry’s brother. The drunk one. “Ya hear. Get them lunatics out of here, you sorry bitch. Why’d you have to come in the first place?” He pointed a bony finger at her from across the aisle, his bloodshot eyes straining to focus.

Preacher Hinkle frantically motioned for the choir to stand, and began singing “In the Sweet By and By” as loudly as he could. The choir members joined in as soon as they could find the page number in their songbooks.

Martha broke free of Izzie’s legs, pulled her up from the pew, and pushed Izzie, Boyd, and Junior into the aisle. There was a rage boiling up in her that she hadn’t felt since she left Henry. A rage she hadn’t felt since all those nights he came home and beat her. A rage she hadn’t felt since he almost killed their boy.

Holding firmly onto Junior’s and Izzie’s arms, she marched them all up to the front of the church and planted herself in front of the casket. It was him all right, lying there dead, Henry Spotts, not the old man. A vision of Henry, his face flushed from alcohol and rage, kicking Teddy who lay on the floor unconscious and covered with blood, flashed before her. The scar from the milk jar she’d smashed over Henry’s head to make him stop coursed across the corner of his eye and eyebrow.

“So long, Henry,” Martha said. She was surprised to hear the way the words got scrunched up in her throat.

“Okay. Let’s go,” she said and steered Junior, Izzie, and Boyd back down the aisle. She stopped abruptly beside Elmer. “At least I was there for him when none of you were,” she blurted.

Elmer gulped and fumbled for the back of the pew, trying to get up, but couldn’t manage it.

“Bitch! Bitch!” she could hear him yelling as they walked down the steps and on across the scraggly bits of grass that dotted the hard-packed dirt to the van.

Martha made sure everyone was buckled in, flounced into the driver’s seat, and slammed the door hard. “Lunatics, my hind foot,” she said, floored the accelerator, and roared right past the bullet-ridden sign as Junior yelled, “Stop!”

“Who do they think the lunatics are anyway?”

In the rear view mirror, Martha could see the catalog pages flying around Boyd’s furiously rocking figure as a cloud of powdery dust swirled down the road behind them. Beside her, Junior, eyes wide and mouth gaping, watched her anxiously. Izzie’s screams were deafening.

“Let’s go home,” Martha said, her rage shifting to something like elation, then to laughter, the kind that starts little and gets bigger and bigger, the kind that makes your stomach hurt and tears run down your face, the kind you don’t think you can stop, that you don’t want to stop, you hope will never stop—because it feels so good.