This is the first in the ‘Like-Minded Originals’ series — unpublished pieces from the brilliant ‘Like-Minded’ minds.
The following piece is by Ridge Hardy, a Writer from California, USA. A big thank you to Ridge for reaching out and suggesting the concept for the Like-Minded Originals series.
By Ridge Hardy
I was right surprised when Ms. Gant done announced she had a job for a certain boy. Surprised on account of nobody had seen’d her in five years. She wanted a boy to drive her round and keep up that mansion of hers. Not many thoughts came in my head honest but one did just then. I thought of applying but I didn’t know if I was worth her time. I never had no job before. Least a proper one. And I didn’t think I had the smarts for it besides. All I did asides from working with Daddy on the farm was read bout Superman and think about Miss Jean Harlow and play with my pecker.
But I thought more about it and I thought I’d do it. So later that day I sat down and wrote her a letter. I was real honest. I told her what I done told you. I never had no job but I worked with sows and chickens and I didn’t see why them critters couldn’t turn into me working for her. I’d be lying if I said writing that letter were a simple thing. There was times when I wanted to up and quit. But I heard Daddy talking clear in the back of my mind. His voice showed up like a ghost and it said “Son, I ain’t no betting man but sometimes you give my heart a fright and I start betting tween you and that sack of feed.”
I put that letter in the box and I waited for Mr. Fuller the mailman to come. Now some folks might say “Riley, boy, whyn’t you go give it to her to where she could see you? She don’t live that far.” And them folks is right. Problem is I was scared. I done heard a lot of things about her. She weren’t no normal person. She was a real live movie star. Got real famous out in Hollywood way. Least she used to be.
“she said us folk fell into two categories- The stupid and stupider. But there was still some of us loved her all the same.”
Bout fifteen years ago, she done left our town. Said some awful nasty things. Said we was retarded hillbillies. Then she said us folk fell into two categories- The stupid and stupider. But there was still some of us loved her all the same. Miss Bessie Hawkins teached her piano when she was knee high. And Father Bill gave her a lot of talking to when she had a spell of troubles. They tried stopping her from boarding that train. And this is what I heard. She done told Miss Hawkins “Bessie, you old lard ass, you always dress like a cow under a picnic table!” Father Bill was mighty shocked but he still loved her and tried into saving her soul. “Elsa, my child,” he said. “Reconsider. Stay here where the heart of God is. Underneath them orange trees in California is where the Devil seduces God’s children into a life of sin.”
“GOD’S A FUCKING QUEER!” she hollered. Three or four old ladies done fell down from the shock. She could go to California all she wanted they said, but the Good Lord would strike her down just the same. She boarded that train and it started into huffing and puffing and them pistons moved back and forth like somebody paddling a boat down a creak. Then she were gone.
Her first few weeks was rough they say. She tried into being a waitress but she done got the boot when she threw a cup of hot coffee in a man’s face after that man done pinched her behind. She wandered around a spell and sat on a bench one day and started into crying. She come out here all the way from our town she thought and all California done was throw her life around like a mighty tornado. Her luck changed some. A man came driving in a fancy car and clear stopped in front of that bench. “What’s the trouble, kid?” he said, real friendly like. She done told him everything. He told her to come round his house tomorrow and he’d get her an audition. Said his name was Mister Mack Sennett. And she recognized the name. Knew she’d hit the big time right then. She turned round next day and he drove her to the studio and she did an audition and they took some pictures. But the big men said they right didn’t have nothing for her then on account of she looked too much like that Miss Carole Lombard.
“Their personalities was like piss and honey, they said. Miss Jean was a right sweet lady and everybody loved her. Miss Gant was hard to get on with. She had a mouth and she swore like it was nobody’s business.”
Then her time done come a few weeks later. She done got a part in a picture with Miss Jean Harlow (I swear to the Good Lord I ain’t thinking no impure thoughts.) They was both shy at first, as they was just starting out in the movie business. But they got right cozy and they got on like a house on fire. It were strange the movie people said, on account they shouldn’t have got on. Their personalities was like piss and honey, they said. Miss Jean was a right sweet lady and everybody loved her. Miss Gant was hard to get on with. She had a mouth and she swore like it was nobody’s business. She almost got throwed off the movie set a bunch of times. But they said she had something special so they let her go bout her way. And Miss Jean done told them she would to quit if they gave Miss Gant the boot. Everybody was worried about Miss Jean nuff as it is. She got sick a whole bunch. She had kidney troubles and sometimes her breath smelled awful bad on account of it. One day Miss Gant nearly got in a spell of trouble with Miss Jean’s mama. Miss Jean and Miss Gant was talking about Miss Jean’s kittens and Miss Gant up and said “Goddamn, Jeanie, done smells like somebody took a piss in your mouth!” And Miss Jean’s mama was awful mad. Said nobody talked to her baby like that and said she’d get her thrown off.
But Miss Jean done told her mama that Miss Gant was making a joke. That calmed her mama down some but the movie men done keep’d their eye on Miss Gant a while. Sometime later, Miss Jean threw a right party. It was a mighty fancy party. Everybody was dressed up all nice. Nice suits, pretty hats, shoes shined so fine they glowed like mirrors. There was lions and tigers in cages and some dapper men in colored suits served Champagne and I don’t know what they call it but Mister Malamud, the Jew man down at the Five and Dime says it’s blacker than a shadow’s asshole and made out of fish eggs.
“There was sparks in the air and they done fell in love on the spot. Two weeks later, they done got married in Laughlin, Nevada.”
Everybody was having themselves a ball. They was laughing and talking. Mister Glenn Miller had his orchestra and they was on stage and the music was swinging mighty some. And that’s where Miss Gant run into Mister Tiny Thompson. There was sparks in the air and they done fell in love on the spot. Two weeks later, they done got married in Laughlin, Nevada. Miss Jean was the maid of honor and her husband Mister Paul Bern was the best man. It was like the Good Lord done willed it. They was made for each other.
It was hog heaven then on. Miss Gant starred in a few more of them movies and got rich and famous. She done went to Paris, France and she visited our soldiers on them bases and she sold them those war bonds. And then she and Mister Tiny done had themselves a little girl and they was living high. But it done all come to an end. They said she was getting too old. Said she had too many troubles to count. Then she started into showing up on the movie sets drunker than a mule. And it got badder and badder. They said she lapped that liquor down like evil run in the Devil’s veins. Then she got mad crazy and they put her in the loonie bin.
So like I done said, it were a right surprise when we heard she was coming back for good. She didn’t waste no time. She done hired herself some carpenter men and some men to till the land. She bought some land on a big hill outside our town. Nobody thought a house could be done built there on account of that hill was steep and had a tendency into sliding down when a rain come. We was wrong. In no time, a big mansion come up. And there she stayed put like one of them fairy tale princesses in a big castle. Nobody seen’d her since. We thought she up and died fore that job offer come through the town.
I was in a dream next day, fishing pole in my hand casting out to get me some good trout. They wasn’t biting. So I started into dreaming about Miss Jean Harlow like I always done. I was thinking of that movie I done saw her in. She done played a woman with hair redder than the dirt behind our house. She was mad in love with a man that was married and she was fooling around on account she thought she could be a bigger lady than that man’s wife. And my thoughts starting into thinking that’d make Jesus himself turn red. “Riley, boy!” I started up and saw Daddy a distance. I don’t know how he found me but he done did.
“Daddy, if it’s bout them chickens, well I,” “Hell with them chickens. They be there come tomorrow,” “I done something wrong?” My bones was shaking. I was mighty nervous. Daddy done had himself a temper. “No, boy. A letter done come for you in the box. It’s from that goddamn no good whore.” Only whore I knowed was Miss Audrey Green. She played the organ down at the church. The boys at the Five and Dime said that weren’t the only organ she played.
Daddy seen’d my mind was creeping up in every direction. “That goddamned no good drunk ass Miss Gant. I don’t see what in hell she want with a good God fearing boy like you.” I didn’t tell Daddy bout what I done. My bones was shaking again. I knowed I had to tell him. The Good Lord himself said us children had to respect our Mama and Daddy.
“I done sent in for a job with Miss Gant,” I said. I didn’t know if I should start into crying or pulling down my britches and getting Daddy a switch to tear into my behind or all them things at the same time. “You went on with that and didn’t let your own Mama and Daddy knowed?” Daddy looked like he was up in a temper.
“I’m awful sorry, Daddy,” I said. “I jest wanted to make you and Mama mighty happy. I wanted to try into making myself a man.”
Daddy looked like he was into thinking. “Well, boy. I cain’t say you’s wrong. The Good Book says a man don’t work don’t eat. And you’s getting into that age to be a man. I’m mighty proud of you, boy. Cain’t say I like the idea of you with that no good whore. But a day’s work is a day’s work any which way you see it. But don’t done tell your Mama. She mighty worries about you nuff as it is.”
I pulled the letter out the box. It was pinker than a baby’s behind and they’s was flowers on the side of my name. There it was. Said “Riley Hascomb.” I opened the letter. Said all matter of things. Things I didn’t understand, honest. But there was some things I did. So I was mighty happy. She said she hoped I was tall and strong and handsome. I didn’t have none of those things. I was a little feller and Mama said I wasn’t classically handsome but that I’d do. But I figured if the Good Lord willed me to look like Mister Clark Gable then he’d done do it. But at the bottom were the good. She said I had myself the job and that I’d start right into tomorrow.
I started into walking next morning. I turned up at the drugstore. Then I went down a ways. Right through the briers and brambles and dandelions, I went. Nearly got my britches caught. Another hour done went by and then I see’d it. That mansion of hers.
I walked till I was standing right by her letterbox. Almost couldn’t believe my eyes. That mansion shined on like a stack of diamonds. It were three stories tall. There was as many windows as there was Chinamen in China. And jest like my letter, it was painted all pink and had itself these two big white columns that was holding it up like two big arms.
I took myself a quick breath and started into walking down the road that went into her yard. There was a lot of flowers and near a hundred windchimes. They was big bushes too. Somebody had done cut them into a man showing his muscles and another one a big poodle dog. I near run into the door. My bones was shaking again. I was mighty scared to knock. But I told myself Riley, don’t be none stupid.
I let out a knock and it done sounded like a haunted house door yawning. I didn’t think nobody was there on account of I knocked a few more times. I wanted to plumb give up. Then I done heard a voice that near made me stain my britches.
“Honey, you’re late.”
She was laying down on one of them rickety beach chairs. They was a polka-dotted umbrella keeping her in the shade. She stood up and I tried into not looking. She was wearing a skimpy red bathing suit that just about showed everything. A big straw hat was covering her head. And she was wearing black sunglasses.
She run her hands down my behind. Then she done give it a squeeze. “Honey, you got the ass of a well-oiled racehorse!”
She come up to me. She started into running her hands up and down my arms and chest. “Such a fine boy,” she done let out a meow like a cat. “Such a strong boy. You lift them dumb-bells?” “No, Ma’am,” I said, my voice shaking. “Turn yourself around,” she said. I couldn’t rightly move. “I said turn around! You ain’t got no fucking ears?” I done as I was told. She run her hands down my behind. Then she done give it a squeeze. “Honey, you got the ass of a well-oiled racehorse!”
“Ma’am,” I said, nervous like. “Let’s get us something straight,” she said. “We ain’t using none of that ‘Ma’am’ shit. That’s for them stupid housewives and old ladies fixing to die. And I ain’t fixing to marry or tee off. So you jest call me ‘Sorceress’ and don’t ask no questions.”
“Yes, Sorceress,” I said. And jest like it never happened, she clapped her hands and said “Let me give you a grand old tour of the house!” She opened that door and there was cobwebs everywhere. She swatted them away. The house was an awful mess. Smelled like pee, that liquor, and cigarettes.
She sat on the sofa and let out a smile and reached for me. Her teeth was yellow and I thought they was on account of all them cigarettes. She reached to the side and pulled out a bottle of that evil liquor. She took herself a swig and let out a big breath. She done reached for me again. “What’s your goddamned problem,” she asked me. “You ain’t one of them faggots, are you?” I said “No, I done like girls,” “Then get your happy old ass over here!” She sat up and grabbed my hand and pulled me right into her. I thought she was going to tell me to sit right next to her. But she done pulled up my hand down right up between her legs and up inside her bathing suit. I done never felt what I was feeling. I started into wondering if that’s what Miss Jean Harlow felt like down there. And my mind started into sinning and I done turned red.
“I done thought the Good Lord was going to strike the both of us dead. I couldn’t say nothing on account of I was sinning and on account of what she was doing felt mighty good.”
“Now you know what a real woman feels like,” she said. “If you done ever forget, all you need do is smell them fingers of yours.” I stood there a fright. “Have a seat, honey,” she said. “You want some of this hooch?” I shook my head. She tipped her head back and swallowed that whole bottle. “You being deaf again?” she asked. Fore I could answer she done pushed me down on that sofa. Then I had a mighty shock. She started into unbuckling my pants. Then she pulled my britches and drawers down. Fore I could say anything she done put my peter in her mouth. I done thought the Good Lord was going to strike the both of us dead. I couldn’t say nothing on account of I was sinning and on account of what she was doing felt mighty good.
“It ain’t over for miles,” she said. She took off all her clothes and threw them at the piano. Then she jumped on top of me and started into kissing me. She done put her tongue in my mouth and I thought I was going to choke something awful bad. She started into grabbing my peter and she stuck it inside of her legs. “I ain’t never had me no girl before,” I said. “Only Bertha Marsh and she’s big, fat, and ugly. She done invited me to the Sadie Hawkins Dance.” “Honey, you ever shut the fuck up? I ain’t no little mosey round girl. I’m all woman. Hunnerd percent!” Fore I knew it my peter went off like one of them rocket ships to the moon. Then I don’t right know how It came about but I done went to sleep.
When I waked up, I saw her at the piano. There was some candles on top she done lit up. And she was still naked as the day she were born. But she was playing music; prettiest dern music I ever heard. She sawed that I was up. “Listen, honey,” she said. “Jest listen and close your eyes.”
“Sorceress, I said. “I can’t right recall them songs you’s playing. I only knowed Mister Stephen Foster and them pretty songs the player piano does over at the Five and Dime.
“The piece I’m playing is called ‘Liebenstraum’,” she said.
“I don’t right speak Japanese,” I said.
“It ain’t no Japanese; it’s Jur-mun. Man named Liszt done wrote it. All them girls went crazy as a fire on him; he was so handsome they threw their undergarments on the stage and everything!”
I was right confused. I didn’t know much about what them smart folks called culture. My brains couldn’t touch it none. She broke my thinking and went back to tinkling them piano keys. “Honey,” she looked over at me. “I wrote a song myself. You done want to hear it some?” “I reckon I wouldn’t mind none,” I said. I never heard a song nobody done wrote themselves. I hoped to the Good Lord it was mighty fine.
“There was a burning cigarette sitting on an ash tray up top. She put it in her mouth and took herself a puff. She put it back and picked up that evil liquor again and swallowed some more.”
She stretched out her back. The piano bench creaked and she poked one of them keys. But she stopped. There was a burning cigarette sitting on an ash tray up top. She put it in her mouth and took herself a puff. She put it back and picked up that evil liquor again and swallowed some more. She was happy and she started into playing them piano keys. “Honey,” she said, “This is that song I wrote. But it ain’t none of that Swanee River shit.”
“I’m sure it’s mighty fine,” I went about encouraging her. “A little angel come to me in a dream,” she said. “Her eyes was a crystal blue. And her hair was yellower than a cornfield. She had herself a pair of lips like rubies.” “I can see it done as clear as you’s describing it,” I said. She banged out a chord. “I was picking strawberries and she lifted me clear up out of that patch. We was flying like birds and we went through big clouds that turned black and started into thundering and raining. There was a rope bridge that went to where the sun was hiding his head and the sun done got tired of all that storming and came up and put a stop to it. The sun handed that angel a harp and she started into playing music like I never heard before and she said ‘Elsa, take this gift and turn it into for piano. And all your days will turn into rainbows’.” I rolled over in bed and fell down and woke up with this song in my head. I run to the piano and wrote it in ten minutes.”
“I cain’t hardly wait to hear it,” I said. “’Specially as a beautiful angel done give it to you.”
“Sit your ass up then, honey.” I done like she told me. “Let me warm up some,” she said. Her fingers slided up and down them piano keys. She cleared her throat some. “Do, do, do,” she sang a little. “Do,” she dragged out. Then she really got into practicing. “Do, rei, mi, fa, sol, la, ti!” She stomped out like she were speaking some language only martian men knowed.
“Alright then, honey. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. You behave yourself right there and there might be some prime pussy in your future.” She shifted some and I done saw her butt cheeks spread some. She started into playing and her necklace and her boobies starting into moving along with the music. “Innnnnnnn,” she started. “In France, there’s a dance so always in season! So dainty, so gay, so purely Parisian! Put on your cares and put on your airs and stroll with Pierre and never think you need a reason!”
She finished and turned around, looking right at me. I done thought the song was too short but I was done too scared to go about telling her. “Beautiful, ain’t it?” she said. “Just like that angel told me. I done made a rainbow,” she smiled and come over and took my hand and done pulled me up. “Honey, I want you to meet someone special. The specialest person in my life!”
She done brung me into the kitchen. She told me to sit down and run up them stairs. I could right hear her talking to somebody. “Come on, sweet pea,” she was saying. “Mama wants you to meet somebody. He’s special just like you.” I took into guessing it was that little girl of hers. We’d done all heard of her but none of us had ever sawed her. She didn’t go to school or church and she didn’t play with them other young ones none.
“Then I sawed her. In her hands was that little girl. That little girl’s head was on the Sorceress’s shoulder and I couldn’t see her face none. She was wearing a blue and white dress with some buckle-up shoes.”
I heard the Sorceress’s feet plow down them stairs. Then I sawed her. In her hands was that little girl. That little girl’s head was on the Sorceress’s shoulder and I couldn’t see her face none. She was wearing a blue and white dress with some buckle-up shoes. On her head was a pretty blue bonnet sitting up top some long pretty yellow hair.
“Becky,” she said. “This is Mister Riley. Mama got him to help us out some.” That little girl didn’t say nothing. “Don’t mind her, honey,” she said. “She’s just bashful some.” “I reckon it shore is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Becky,” I said. “She’ll come to you,” she said. “Just be a patient boy and give her time.” I thought to myself that that little girl was the quietest little girl I done ever met.
“Honey, I got a grand idea!” she said. “Let’s go get us an ice cream and see a movie!”
The Sorceress told me where to find the car in that garage. I done opened up them doors and there that car was. Looked a mighty bullfrog. It were painted green and there was black and brown holes where the paint come off.
This was only bout my eighth time driving. Daddy had done let me drive us to the feed store seven of them eight times. I put the key in the hole and started her up till she roared a mighty lion. I drove on up to the front door of the mansion. The Sorceress stood on the front steps holding Miss Becky and looking pretty as she could be. She was wearing a black gown that shore showed off her figure some and pearls round her neck; her blonde hair was done up.
She run over to the car and the two of them done jumped in. “Honey, let’s all go down to the Maxwell and catch us a good movie! I hear the one tonight is one you ain’t missing for the world!”
“That’s down Central and Bluebird Way,” I said. “If I do say so myself,” she said back. I drove a spell. Past the shacks where all them log men lived and worked. Birds singing in the trees and tall brown grass twisting in the breeze.
“We’ll get us some ice cream after,” she said. “Anything you say, Sorceress,” I said. I could get used to living through lazy Sundays like this I thought. We passed through downtown. A man was riding a horse and that horse was dragging a mighty buggy of big potatoes and corn on the cob. Some little kids was playing stickball in the street. And Miss Audrey Green was down in her undergarments causing a right fuss with Mister Malamud outside the Five and Dime.
The Sorceress done stuck her head through the window and yelled to Miss Audrey, “Put some goddamned clothes on you goddamned whore! There’s kids playing out!” Miss Audrey hollered right back but I couldn’t make out what she said. I turned a left and we was there. It was a drive-in theater so we done drived up in the middle of two other cars.
“Sit on Mama’s lap,” she said. Miss Becky sat down and she looked right on. “Sorceress,” I said. “I don’t mean to be awful fresh but how come I never see’d Miss Becky’s face? I’m shore she’s pretty jest like her mama,” “When she’s ready, honey,” she said. “She’s awful shy and it takes her a spell to come round to new people.” I didn’t say nothing after that on account of the movie was starting.
The screen done went to black. Letters and words was going down the screen. That’s when I sawed it. “Eliza Gant as Jane Harrison.” Then the name of the movie come up. The Summer We Knew Our Love. There was the Sorceress. Couldn’t be more than twenty-one years old and pretty as a picture.
“I started into wondering if maybe Miss Becky were too big for that. But I thought bout what Daddy always done told me. He told me what other folks do ain’t none of nobody’s business, ‘specially not mine.”
The Sorceress held Miss Becky up and she said “Ain’t Mama beautiful, sweet pea? Mama had it. Mama had presence,” she held Miss Becky to her heart. She started into rocking her. I started into wondering if maybe Miss Becky were too big for that. But I thought bout what Daddy always done told me. He told me what other folks do ain’t none of nobody’s business, ‘specially not mine.
The Sorceress looked over at me. Her eyes was like two shining lights. The Good Lord done said the vain and righteous were wicked but that didn’t bother the Sorceress none. She loved seeing herself up there. “Honey, I’m swimming in a dream,” she said. “Ain’t Mama grand, sweet pea? Right up there on that big screen. Didn’t even need no makeup. I was right pretty.” Some heads turned to her from the other cars like they was wondering if that were the same girl on the big screen.
But I give em a dirty look and they went to minding their business. I almost forget. I didn’t told you what the picture was bout. It were a war picture. And a love picture, too. The main man was Mister Jack and he done joined the army and flyed one of them big aeroplanes. The Sorceress, as I mentioned before, played a girl by the name of Miss Jane. Mister Jack had to go over to Jay-Pan and fight them bad men with the funny eyes. Miss Jane carried on into worrying over him. She wrote him all kinds of letters of love. And them letters sailed big seas but the bad men stole em and Miss Jane never got no answer and started into worrying over whether Mister Jack were dead or not.
But like I done said, it were a love picture and them always end happy. At the end Mister Jack was standing by his aeroplane and Miss Jane run over into his arms. He took her and right said “I miss the feel of a real woman,” and she done said, “Now it’s time for the kiss of a real woman.” And everybody in they’s cars started into whooping and hollering and whistling and carrying on. Hats flyed up out the windows and so did some shoes for reasons I cain’t explain.
I came out with some ice cream for the three of us. The Sorceress got vanilla, Miss Becky wanted strawberry, and me I got me some chocolate as it were my favorite.
“My face done went white like a ghost and I near had myself a heart attack.”
The Sorceress was done feeding Miss Becky her ice cream. That shore is a pretty blue bonnet I thought. “Honey, Becky says she has a special surprise for you,” the Sorceress said. “Right now?” I asked. “She’s gonna let you see her,” “Pretty jest like her Mama I always thought,” I said. “On a count from five to one,” the Sorceress said. She started into counting backwards and she got to one and held Miss Becky and turned her round. My face done went white like a ghost and I near had myself a heart attack.
That wasn’t no little girl. Least one that was alive. That was a dead little girl. A mummy skeleton face was done wrapped under that bonnet. I saw flies a buzzing around her mouth. A big worm was coming out of the hole where her eyeball used to be. “Tell Mister Riley how do,” the Sorceress said. “Show him that dance Mama taught you,” she said. She held Miss Becky or what used to be Miss Becky up in the air and started into spinning her round. Then I done heard a crack. I looked to my side and done saw Miss Becky’s arm on the shift of the car. And some maggots come raining down where that arm used to be attached.
I held my head tween my arms on the steering wheel. I felt like into throwing up. The Sorceress put her hand in my hair and run her fingers through. “It’s the ice cream, ain’t it, honey?” she said. I wasn’t in no mood for arguing so I just nodded my head. “I’ll give you something for your stomach when we done get back,” she said.
These days life runs like a river. Every day I got my peace of mind and my mind at peace. I go fishing all day and when I come back the Sorceress is shore to have a mighty fine dinner a waiting. Wedding bells done rang and me and her done got married. Right now I’m teaching Miss Becky to ride a bicycle. She and he’s the bestest of friends round for miles; thicker than two thieves bout to rob a bank. And we’s a right nice family. We got our health, our thinking, ourselves, and all the ice cream we want to eat.
The Summer We Knew Our Love was an original, unpublished piece by Writer, Ridge Hardy from California USA.
Ridge juggles writing alongside an Anxiety & Bipolar diagnosis. See his Q&A here.
Thank you Ridge!