Page 55 of Ford County

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Adrian stood and slowly stretched, as if every movement had to be contemplated. "Well, I'll be back in an hour or so. I'm just going to the library to get a few books."

"You gonna be all right now?" Emporia asked with great concern.

"Sure. I'll be fine. Nice to meet you, Miss Doris," he said, almost like a real Southerner.

"I'll be seein' you," Doris said with a huge smile.

Adrian stepped off the porch, down the steps, and was halfway to the street when the white Hershel scrambled out of the car and yelled, "Oh no! No way in hell you're gettin' in my taxi!" He walked to the front of the car and pointed angrily at Adrian. "I've heard about you!"

Adrian froze, stunned, unable to respond.

Hershel kept on. "You ain't ruinin' my business!"

Emporia was at the steps. She said, "It's okay, now, Hershel. You have my word."

"That's enough, Miss Nester. This ain't about you. He ain't gettin' in my car. You shoulda told me it was him."

"Now, Hershel."

"Ever'body in town knows about him. No way. No way in hell." Hershel stomped back to the open driver's door, got in, slammed it, and sped away. Adrian watched the car as it disappeared down the street, then slowly turned and walked up the steps, past the women, and into the house. He was tired and needed a nap.

*

The books arrived late in the afternoon. Doris had a niece who taught in the elementary school, and she agreed to check out whatever Adrian wanted. He had decided to finally confront the fictional world of William Faulkner, an author who'd been forced upon him in high school. Back then, Adrian believed, as did all students in Mississippi, that there was a state law requiring English teachers to include Faulkner. He had struggled through A Fable, Requiem for a Nun, The Unvanquished, and others he'd tried to forget, and he'd finally surrendered in bewildering defeat halfway through The Sound and the Fury. Now, in his last days, he was determined to understand Faulkner.

After dinner, or "supper," as it was called, he sat on the porch while Emporia washed the dishes and started at the beginning, with Soldiers' Pay, published in 1926, when Faulkner was just twenty-nine. He read a few pages and stopped for a break. He listened to the sounds around him: the soft laughter from the other porches, the squeals of children playing in the distance, a television three doors down, the shrill voice of a woman angry at her husband. He watched the languid foot traffic on Roosevelt, and was quite aware of the curious looks when anyone walked past the pink house. He always smiled and nodded when there was eye contact, and there were a few reluctant hellos in return.

At dusk, Emporia came to the porch and settled herself into her favorite rocker. Nothing was said for a while. Nothing needed to be said because by now they were old friends.

Finally, she said, "I feel real bad about Hershel and his taxi."

"Don't worry yourself with it. I understand."

"He's just ignorant."

"I've seen far worse, Emporia, and so have you."

"I suppose. But that don't make it right."

"No, it doesn't."

"Can I get you some iced tea?"

"No. I'd like something stronger."

She thought about this for a second and didn't respond.

"Look, Emporia, I know you don't drink, but I do. I'm not a big boozer, but I'd really like a drink."

"I've never had alcohol in my house."

"Then I'll drink on the porch. Right here."

"I'm a Christian woman, Adrian."

"I know a lot of Christians who drink. Look at First Timothy, chapter 5, verse 23, where Paul tells Timothy to have a little wine to settle his stomach."

"You got problems with your stomach?"

"I got problems everywhere. I need some wine to make me feel better."

"I don't know about this."

"It would make you feel better too."

"My stomach's good."

"Fine. You drink tea and I'll drink wine."

"Where you gonna find wine. Liquor stores are closed."

"They close at ten o'clock. State law. I'll bet there's one not far from here."

"Look here, I can't tell you what not to do, but it'd be a big mistake for you to go to the whiskey store at this hour of the day. You might not make it back." She couldn't imagine a white man, especially one in his condition, walking four blocks to Willie Ray's whiskey store, where the young toughs loitered in the parking lot, buying his liquor, then making it back to her house. "It's a bad idea, let me tell you."

A few minutes passed without a word. A man approached on foot in the middle of the street.

"Who's that guy?" Adrian asked.

"Carver Sneed."

"Nice fella?"

"He's all right."

Adrian suddenly called out, "Mr. Sneed!"

Carver was in his late twenties and currently living with his parents at the far end of Roosevelt Street. He was going nowhere, in fact was walking by for the sole purpose of catching a glimpse of the "ghost" who was dying on Emporia Nester's porch. He had not planned to come face-to-face with the man. He veered over to the picket fence and said, "Evenin', Miss Emporia."

Adrian was standing at the top step.

"This here is Adrian," Emporia said, not happy with the encounter.

"Nice to meet you, Carver," Adrian said.

"And you."

No sense wasting time, Adrian thought. "Don't suppose you'd make a run to the liquor store, would you?" he said. "I'd like something to drink, and Miss Emporia here doesn't keep much in the way of liquor."

"Ain't no whiskey in my house," she said. "Never has been."

"I'll buy you a six-pack of beer for your trouble," Adrian added quickly.

Carver walked to the steps and looked up at Adrian, then he looked at Emporia, who sat with her arms folded across her chest and her jaws clenched. "He for real?" he asked Emporia.

"He ain't lied yet," she said. "Not sayin' he won't."

"Whatta you want from the store?" Carver asked Adrian.

"I'd like some wine, preferably a chardonnay."

"A what?"

"Any kind of white wine will do."

"Willie Ray don't carry much wine. Not much of a demand for it."

Adrian was suddenly worried about the definition of wine on this side of the tracks. The selection on the other side was pal' try enough. He could almost see a bottle of spiked fruit juice with a screw-on cap. "Does Willie Ray have any wine with corks in the bottles?"

Carver pondered this for a moment, then said, "What's the cork for?"

"How do you open the wine bottles at Willie Ray's?"

"Screw off the top."

"I see. And about how much is a bottle of wine at Willie Ray's?"

Carver shrugged and said, "I don't buy much. I prefer beer."

"Just guess. How much?"

"Boone's Farm'll run you 'bout four bucks a bottle."

Adrian took some cash out of the right pocket of his dungarees. "Let's forget the wine. I want you to buy the most expensive bottle of tequila you can find in the store. Got it?"

"Whatever you say."

"Buy a six-pack for you, and bring me the change." Adrian held out the cash, but Carver froze. He looked at the money, looked at Adrian, then looked at Emporia for help.

"It's okay," Adrian said. "You can't get sick from handling money."

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