Hubert Welcome


– for Matthew, for pushing…

Hubert Welcome couldn’t see the woman’s face – it was blurred by the fine checkering of the screen – but he heard her voice well enough to know whose it was. He’d only been on the porch of the grand house a few minutes, knocking hell out of the door, before a blinding white-hot light from the overhead porch lamp flooded the scene. The door flew open, expectant in its temerity, and a large woman’s form backlit by the capacious house’s interior filled the doorframe.

“You’re drunk again, aren’t you?” the voice accused through the grey mesh of the screen door.

“Yes, yes, ma’am, I am, and I can’t really explain it other than to say it’s a fine spring evening and I was wondering if your daughter might be available….”

His voice trailed off as he lowered his face and looked at his shoes, a pair of construction boots that had mudded over so many times they took on the look of brown clay more than red leather.

“You have boldness beyond bold, Hubert Welcome!” the woman on the other side of the screen door said, her voice rangy as a trapped animal and husked like a scalding rock in a campfire. Her features tended sideways – suggesting a beauty which had devolved into strict maintenance – although her attitude of hands akimbo on her hips still held a certain calling out that in an earlier day would have passed for feisty appeal.

“I admit, it’s bold, ma’am,” he said, suddenly sobered – or at least mindful that his drunkenness would not obscure his mission, not this time, not now. “You see, I’ve come to tell her that I can’t be with her any more. And you might as well know, too. You see, her father and my mother were lovers once and –“

The door slammed and the lights went off in an instant. The sudden disorientation distracted Welcome long enough that he didn’t at first realize that the woman was standing a hair’s breadth from his face.

“You stink like a goddamned skunk in heat,” she said as he felt her breath on his bearded cheek.

He was startled as much by the image her words conjured as by their severity, but he drew himself up in an instant and tried a more salutary approach to the imparted news which, had he not splashed it across the porch with considerable volume in the first place, would have met with no more response than the abject silence of a long, slow unrequited walk back along the Kickapoo River flats.

“Mrs. Awlshaw, I apologize –“

“Filth. Pig. Smut. Garbage. Shit,” Mrs. Awlshaw said, not with anger but the casual ease of one listing off items on a shopping list to George Hinkle on a Saturday afternoon down at Hinkle’s Meat and Grocery.

“But you know, don’t you?” he asked, never so sure of a shot at a squirrel or possum as he was at the guess he’d made, the guess that came together like so many of the facts he’d discovered, trailed, tracked down and made his own over the course of the week.

“I know what? – you puke, you vermin, you maggot, you flyblown cunt of a weasel,” she said, still quietly enumerating objects in an array, numbers in a subset, trophies of quantity in a mind full of rooms….

“You know, don’t you?” he repeated, this time, paying out his words with the exactness of crosshairs. “Yes, Mrs. Awlshaw, I do believe you do know.”

Her measured breaths were no different from those of the dying animals that made their way to the banks of the Kickapoo, where he’d finish them off with a knife, or a quick jerk of the spine or a drowning or…

“Your daughter and I – we’re brother and sister –“ but here he stopped, because to say anymore would have led, after he’d come so far, to that long walk home after all – back down among the soggy skunk cabbage, the exposed roots of trees upturned by the seizure of too many floods, and the jagged rocks that littered the banks like shark’s teeth.

“And –“

“–and she’s not my daughter.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He felt her hand at his throat but knew that it posed no threat. Already a weak women, she was further weakened now by the news he knew they both knew.

The feathery weight of her hand pressing against him had much the same force as the punches thrown in barroom fights he’d seen and sometimes even been a party too. Most of the time one or the other mad bull was too annihilated with drink to throw anything but a soft, feminine fist.

The small slap of pain accompanying such aggression always had, in his mind, an accidental sort of kindness to it.

At such moments, Welcome recalled, the liquor-buffered punches would tickle and could almost be taken as a josh had not emotions been so high about someone calling someone else’s gal a fat bitch, a coon’s tail, a spare hole or somesuch. He felt the same sort of weird mix of sentiment and aggression in Mrs. Awlshaw’s hand around his throat, evidently neglible, ultimately tired.

Feeling her feeling for his jugular, he suppressed the desire to laugh, though it did tickle his Adam’s apple beyond bearing.

Then the woman’s flailing grasp froze . A window was laboring to scrape open. After a silent second, Welcome and Mrs. Awlshaw heard a voice float down from up above the roofed porch.

“Momma?” a female voice called out.

Even in the dimness of the porch, aided by the mansion’s interior lights, Welcome could see the egg whites of Mrs. Awlshaw’s eyes expanding beyond mere threat.

“You. Say. Nothing!” she hissed – and he nodded assent.

“Glory, you go back to bed now, you hear?” she called up with a sugar at once mollifying and commanding.

“Momma, what are you doing out on the porch at this hour – and who’s that with you?”

“Glory, I think I said–“

“It’s me, Glory,” he called, setting his eyes in firm challenge against Mrs. Awlshaw’s. “It’s Hubert. Your Hubert.”

“Well, Hubert Welcome! What are you doing down there at this hour of the night?”

“Nothing, dear,” he said. “But I’d much appreciate it if you came down right now to talk with me…”

His voice trailed off as Mrs. Awlshaw slowly backed away from him and, her hands behind her fumbling in their blindness for the door, pressed her back against it.

“You’re drunk again, aren’t you?” Glory Awlshaw asked with a giggle. There was the same singsong to her voice that he knew so well and so often down in the river flats….

And so he looked off to the Kickapoo which, even in the half darkness of Glory Awlshaw’s porch, he could see snaking its way through the valley, its persistent glistening unthwarted by clouds which stood tall in a mass of muffled moonlight. The crazy legs of its flow though were a constant movement, meandering but knowing beyond knowing where it was heading.

“You hold on,” she said and then silence and then another giggle as she returend to the window, her voice breaking the silence again:

“This better be good, Hubert Welcome, or I’m never going to speak to you again…”

Though it receded as she crossed her bedroom, her voice hung on the soft April air – like an angel’s, Welcome thought.

It was the same voice Hubert Welcome had fallen in love with – a voice partly sweet, partly discerning.

Comments

  1. Good story.

  2. Rufus McCain says

    Heck yeah! Let there be fiction!

  3. Jonathan Webb says

    Thanks. I'll read it when I have some time.

  4. Quin Finnegan says

    Nice; I liked this sentence especially: The door flew open, expectant in its temerity, and a large woman’s form backlit by the capacious house’s interior filled the doorframe.

    And those insults are great!

  5. Uh-oh, I feel like the guy who shows up at a party dressed up when every one else is dressed down, or vice versa.

    Do you not regularly run fiction at Korrektiv?

    JOB

  6. Rufus McCain says

    What? Huh? We totally run fiction. In fact, the more the better. And this is great stuff, man. Keep at it!

  7. Dorian Speed says

    The more fiction we can have here to counterbalance the "Today In…" posts, the better.

    I like the description of her voice, and was very amused by the cataloging of insults.

  8. All,

    Thanks. I hope there'll be more, if the muse is kind enough to oblige…

    Dorian,

    Hey, wait a pockin' kitten minute – that Today in Civilized Collapse is the best thing since Will Barrett began chasing after Sutter's Edsel…!

    Think of it as everything Sutter told Barrett once he climbed in…

    JOB

    Word Ver: "baembo" – "many bimbos" Gk>"αἱ βείμβαι"

  9. Jonathan Webb says

    Nicely done JOB.

Speak Your Mind

*