MAGNOLIA WOLF, PT 1
Eight years earlier
“Jibber babber, Jibber babber,” cried the river as it overflowed,
Carrying souls to the underworld, towing its heavy load.
"Jibber babber, Jibber babber," mourned the spirits that wept,
A macabre ballet, a melancholic retreat.
"Jibber babber, Jibber babber," wept the dead trees, stark and bare,
White, skeletal hands, reaching from their lair.
"Jibber babber, Jibber babber," sung the brackish water of the swamp, turned into a tomb,
The dead, now swallowed by its watery womb,
The sound echoing through the dissipating mist,
"Jibber babber, Jibber babber, eternal bliss.”
The lyrics to the nursery rhyme consumed my mind as I sat under the table, watching feet. The superstitious words, chanted at funerals on Blackbone Island to keep evil spirits at bay, had me worried for my mom.
I hope the water didn’t rise and carry her body away.
Although she’d been the one to teach it to me. “Sing this anytime you’re afraid,” she’d instructed, unafraid herself of the marsh as she held my hand, guiding me through them.
And now, there were too many legs to count, most of them lingering at the table, munching on bereavement finger foods. There was the occasional drop of a cracker, topped with black truffle fromage and raspberry fig jam.
No one bothered to pick it up, instead smashing it into the hardwood floor until it was in a crumbled, goopy mess, then walked away.
I held my breath, crossing my fingers as more shoes lingered, heels clacking loudly, overcrowding the low and sympathetic murmurs.
"Where's her husband?" The hissing tone I easily recognized as Mrs. Stretson grated on my ears. I instantly recognized her black Mary Janes, crowded by several other black heels. "He should be here, making sure the guests are taken care of."
I wanted to plug my ears instead of listen to the humming tones of agreement, a bunch of old biddies, gossiping about my father. All judging him, complaining that they'd run out of shrimp cocktail.
The fear that thad been boiling in my stomach for four days now changed into a quick strike of anger. He’d attended to them for two whole hours until finally, he’d quietly isolated himself in his study, unable to hold himself together any more.
Tightening my hands into fists, I wanted to scream!
Unlike you, he actually cared about my mom! You shouldn't even be here! You didn't even know her!
"She was there, you know." Mrs. Stetson kept on with her big fact ugly mouth, "The eldest daughter. Heard she saw the the whole thing. Was even in the car.”
I froze, fear making me jumpy as I heard another one say my name in questioning astonishment. I clutched my hand to my throat, hoping they didn’t know the truth.
The truth about what had happened that night.
The truth that had stripped my peace, turning it into sticky tar that sat at the back of my throat.
I gasped in surprise as the black, lace tablecloth was ripped away. Mrs. Stretson’s wrinkled face appeared before me, her eyes narrowing. "There you are!" Long bony fingers tightened around my arm. "You shouldn't be under there, spying on the adults." Her fingers were like a vice as she dragged me to her, shaking me. "And look how dirty and wrinkled you are! I knew it. Your mama isn't cold in the grave and the children are already running wild."
I stared her down with a ferocity that teetered on violence. “We’re not wild, we’re just tired of you being here.”
“How dare you!” Sharp nails like tallons dug into my skin, piercing it. "Young lady, you don't back talk the adults. Didn’t your mother teach you to respect your elders?”
Another woman pipped up, her voice grave, like the six-foot-deep one only yards away from the house. "Maybe she should be sent to a school, now that her mama's dead." There were murmurs of agreement, nodding of heads, their earrings jingling.
"A proper one," Mrs. Stetson's sharp voice cut through the assented chatter, "A boarding school would teach you how to behave." She clucked her tongue, "Should'a taught you better manners before she died."
“My mama taught me enough,” I sneered at them, “taught me to stay away from old, mean ladies like you!”
The gasps of shock and disapproval looks made me bite down on my tongue, trying to keep the tears burning at the back of my eyes from falling loose.
“I’m going to talk to your daddy tonight. Tell him he needs to give you a proper education.”
I jerked my arm from Mrs. Steston’s hold, crying out, "My daddy'll never send me away!"
They laughed, the sound high-pitched, like a pack of hyenas, and I clamped my hand over my ears, finding a small break in-between bodies and rushed through it, breaking free. Eyes and low whispers of disapproval followed me as I ran through the crowd, searching for the only person who would understand me. When I couldn't find her, I scrambled through the crowded kitchen, where waiters struggled to keep up with the demand for more food and champagne like it was a New Years Eve party, then burst through the back door...