Emmie talks with a deputy in the driveway, then gets in the front seat of his cruiser with him. She says, “They’ve been gone more than an hour. I assume my husband has her down at his work.”
“Is your husband having an affair with this woman?” the deputy says. “I hate to be so callous, but a lot of times a man will make up a long-winded story like this only to fool his wife. Good Lord, I’ve seen men act and lie in ways that I can’t even mention to a beautiful woman.”
“No,” Emmie says. “My husband barely pays attention to me. He couldn’t handle a mistress.” She realizes how this sounds. “I mean, I come home all the time to find my husband alone. I come home early and I come home late. There’s no way.”
“I believe if I was your husband I’d be home all the time when you showed up.” He shakes his head slowly and offers a shy curl to his lips. “Now, exactly what does the woman look like?”
Emmie detects a slight blush on the officer’s skin. She thinks about how Walter showed such signs when they first dated. “I’ve never seen her. She was asleep in our guest bedroom, and then she went out the window.”
The deputy says, “Huh,” and follows Emmie’s finger to the right, out of their driveway. “Where do you work?”
Emmie looks straight ahead. “I work downtown at Get a Date! It’s a calendar store.”
“I’ve been there. I know it. When our chief retired we got him one of those gag calendars where every day says Saturday. The numbers are right, you know, but every day says Saturday.”
Emmie looks at his hair and notices how it’s perfect, maybe one centimeter all the way around. He looks as though he is carved exotic blond wood, she thinks. “We sell a lot of those. I bet if we stayed open year-round we’d sell a bunch to people in May or June, when teachers retire.”
The deputy wears a pistol on his right side. There’s a shotgun clamped upright to the dashboard. “I bought a few calendars for Christmas presents this year. You didn’t wait on me, though. I wouldn’t forget you.”
“My husband’s not having an affair, I promise. That’s all I have to say. To get back on subject,” Emmie says.
The deputy drives no more than twenty miles an hour and looks toward the right-hand ditch, as if for footprints. “You know your husband better than I do,” the deputy says. “Probably. I only know profiles of people. They teach us those kinds of things at the academy.” He makes no eye contact; he looks at the berm, using the heel of his left hand to move the steering wheel. “I don’t want you killing the messenger, but I’d bet my pension that he’s messing around. I’m sorry.”
Emmie’s chin quivers. “I’m so confused,” she says.
The deputy nods. “I’ve probably met half the women in this county. You’re the most stunning one I’ve encountered, confused or not.”
Two miles past Seldom’s shop Emmie learns that the deputy’s name is Loris Treen. She begins to cry, he pulls over and brings her torso into his, and he says for her to let it out. Her head’s against his right pectoral, an inch from his nametag. At first she flinches, but then she allows his right hand inside her panties, his middle finger moving in slow circles. Deputy Treen pulls back onto the asphalt and barely touches the accelerator. He looks forward. They pass Jeannie’s mother and Jeannie walking along the tree line, but both of them pretend not to see her. Emmie cries. The officer consoles her in his own way.
Seldom asks Margaret Flythe, “Have you ever heard of Gripe Water?”
She picks up, then sets down, an unfinished tin cutout that could either be Ronald Reagan or Gumby. “It’s a brand name. It’s given to babies with colic. Why do you ask?”
Seldom shuffles across his sawdust. He looks at a metal cutout and thinks how he’ll paint a circle of white in the middle of the head. “Gripe Water sounds political.”
Ms. Flythe sets aside two Adams, two Eves, a dozen baby Elvises, and a John the Baptist that Seldom made when he accidentally lost control of his tin snips. She reaches into her purse and says, “I’d like to get these, if three hundred and seventy-five dollars will be enough.”
He thinks about how it took about two hours’ work for fifteen pieces and that the paint didn’t cost two dollars. “I shore could use about four hundred, ma’am.”
From afar he thinks he hears his wife yell out. “Well, you got me,” Ms. Flythe says. She hands him three hundred-dollar bills and five twenties. “Now don’t you go drink this away or anything.”
Seldom runs his left hand through his hair and holds out his right. “No, I won’t. I might get my teeth fixed.”
Margaret Flythe holds what she’ll sell for upwards of two grand. “Mr. Seldom, as always, it’s good doing business with you. Have you ever thought about doing a series of conjoined twins? I think that would go over well. Or people with prehensile tails. There’s a family up near Darlington, you know, with tailbones sticking out of their backsides. We need to keep alive the folks we have living among us, it’s my belief. We have more Siamese twins born here than any other place in the world. At least that’s what I read.”
Seldom nods. “I’m pretty much consumed by that woman with the perfect holes between her teeth who just left. I got to get my drill working right to finish her off.” He thinks about how he needs to make life-size works concerning people that he helped to take Prozac, Xanax, Ritalin, Valium, and extra-strength Motrin back when he sold.
Margaret Flythe says, “I don’t see where you have any bad teeth, Seldom. Let me look at you smile.”
She sets her artworks down on the floor and reaches towards Seldom’s mouth, all thumbs and forefingers. She wants to pull back his lips. He says, “Don’t do that, ma’am.”
“I’m serious. I never thought about it before, but your teeth are strong.”
Because Seldom has never thought of Margaret Flythe in a sexual manner he holds two palms upward, as if for a shield. She presses her body against his and flips his upper lip back as if looking for a tattoo on his gums. Her breasts urge into his upper stomach, and from where he stands against the back wall Seldom can see where she needs to re-dye her off-red hair. He mumbles out, “I was borned with good teeth.”
“I’ve always been infatuated with creative people,” Margaret Flythe says, breathless, pulling Seldom’s zipper down. When she falls on her knees and Walter feels the building shake, he knows that he must go beneath it soon to reinforce the floorboards, the joists, the foundation that he stands upon more often than not.
Emmie takes her foot down from the spotlight attached to Loris Treen’s passenger door. She says, “It might not be how you got me to start thinking. My husband might be innocent.”
“No husband’s innocent,” the deputy says. “Believe me, that’s one thing I’ve learned on this job. I’ve been a cop for ten years. Before that I was in the Marines, over in Beaufort. I’ve learned some things I’m not proud to admit as true.”
Emmie pulls her panties up from her ankles. What the hell am I doing? she thinks. “You better turn around and go the other way. It’s obvious that this woman hasn’t gone this far.” For the first time she thinks about what would’ve happened had they driven by Walter.
Loris Treen hits the brake. He doesn’t turn one way or the other. “It’s kind of obvious that you’re in a bad marriage, and that you and I get along good, Emmie. It’s kind of obvious.” He lifts his right hand hard against her crotch. Then he releases, meaning to grab the back of Emmie’s neck. When Loris Treen tries to pull her face down into his lap, he pops her upper lip by accident.
Emmie says, “You son of a bitch.” She opens her car door and steps out.
“I didn’t mean to do that,” Loris Treen says through the window. “I swear to God.” He puts the patrol car in reverse and tries to keep up with Emmie, but she shoots off shoeless into the woods, running, holding her skirt with two hands in front of her. She thinks, This is not April, this is not April, this is not April—nothing else.
When she hits the stagnant water of a cold, shallow swamp, Emmie pulls her skirt higher, then looks for cypress knees and occasional rocks on which to take her from one point to the next, not thirty feet from the roadside.
Seldom makes admissions. “I’m not the person you think I am. To be honest, I have a college education.”
Margaret Flythe lifts her eyes. She shakes her head and gets off her knees. “You’re a phony primitive artist? Like Tubby Burt? Goddamn, Seldom, that makes you more important than ever. I swear to God.”
“I don’t want to be important, Ms. Flythe. I just wanted to make people laugh.”
She straightens her dress, shoos sawdust from her legs. She hands Seldom another hundred-dollar bill. “Let’s keep this between the two of us,” she says. “I mean, about you being a fake and all that.” She picks up her purchase. “I’m a writer, too, by the way. I’m betting that I could write Seldom’s life story one day, if you want. We could make some money, dear heart.”
Walter Inabinet thinks about his wife. He thinks, This is a day that shouldn’t have happened.
When Emmie passes Jeannie’s mother holding Jeannie, they look at each other as two specters might. Emmie’s farther in the swamp, choosing a makeshift trail that turns from creek bed to muck to flattened saw grass where deer bed down nightly. Jeannie’s mother carries the child as if she were a thin bag of gum erasers, closer to the drainage ditch on the side of the road. Emmie knows it’s the woman who escaped the house, but Jeannie’s mother thinks only that she’s finally met a woman worse off than herself.
“Tell me you’re not having an affair with my husband,” Emmie says from fifteen yards away. She stops and leans against a live oak. Her bare feet sink into what’s not mud or water, not dry land or the detritus of splintered limbs and fouled fern. “Or tell me that you are.”
Jeannie’s mother turns her baby away from the woman. “You live in the swamp? I ain’t never seen you.”
“You were at my house. Where’s Walter?”
“You the swamp witch they talk about? You the woman conjures up healing?” Emmie shakes her head; she shakes her head thinking about Walter, and about Loris Treen. “Are you the one they all talk about lives in the House of Fog over past Ringworm Creek?”
Emmie looks toward the road. She hears Officer Treen’s cruiser accelerate and imagines him driving hard towards nowhere, hoping that she doesn’t file a complaint. “You and your baby were at my house. You know that and I know that. Tell me where Walter is.”
Jeannie’s mother stares at Emmie, then looks down at her submerged feet. When she jerks her head, Emmie can’t tell if it means “back there” or if a bank of mosquitoes has risen. Jeannie’s mother walks away on a path that isn’t visible, recorded, or known to reptiles or mammals. When Emmie gets to the road she thinks she hears Jeannie’s mother call back, “No man knows where he’s going, either.”
Emmie shows up at Seldom’s shack looking much the same as Jeannie’s mother did. Emmie doesn’t so much collapse on the front step as give up completely, as if each muscle inside her frame relaxed. Walter sidles up to her and sits. He puts his arm across Emmie’s shoulders. “I take it you went looking in the swamp.”
His wife turns and buries her head into his left armpit. Although she has never been a deeply religious or philosophical person, Emmie says, “There are some things we cannot explain, right? There are some things we can’t figure out.”
“I’ve been back and forth to the house twice looking for you. Where’d you go? Did the cops ever show up?”
Emmie stands. “I’m sorry I complain all the time about you giving up a regular job.” She doesn’t say, “But I’ll quit,” or “You were right and I was wrong.”
“I know you’ve been shoving money into a bank account,” Walter says. “I don’t want you moving out, but I could probably understand.”
Emmie almost says, “I have something I need to tell you.” She turns her body ninety degrees and looks down the path. Instead, she says, “What a weird day. Here’s a day I might mark down on my own calendar, you know.”
Seldom wants to go back inside and work on a series of tin cutouts that incorporate conjoined babies with prehensile tails, white-white open mouths, and wedding bands on their ring fingers. He says, “Margaret Flythe showed up when I came back here looking for that woman. She bought four hundred dollars’ worth of shit.” He reaches in his front right pocket and pulls out the bills. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to open up an art gallery and sell work from Seldom. Goddamn. I could reinvent myself into some other visionary artists, too.”
Emmie says, “That’s not a bad idea. That’s not a bad idea until we get caught. Maybe later on after we’re both dead.”
In the distance, a feral cat screams. Sporadic traffic veers along the winding rough asphalt of Pinkney Mill Road. Walter Inabinet thinks about his wife on their April wedding day, and how she looked coming down the aisle, eyes filled with an exuberance known only to a woman wearing blinders to what pains may burble up into a marriage like swamp gas—or like a seer attuned to what catches a marriage on certain days, in time.
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