It took some slow doing for Lillie to climb down the jacked-up side of the wagon. Nervously rubbing her over-swollen belly, she told the girls to unload as she walked around to Charlie’s side. While he stood looking down at the wheel-less axle, she nagged, “I tole you to slow down, but you so bullheaded an won’t lissen to nobody. At least you coulda come roun an hep’d me git down frum—”
“Lillie, jes shet up an leave me alone so I kin fix the damn wagon! Sally, go back down there’n git that wheel an roll it up heah.”
“Yessuh.” Sally about-faced and took off down the road.
Lillie yelled, “Take Emma witcha so she kin git my hat,” adding to herself sorrowfully, “I know it’s all messed up.”
“Yes’m. C’mon, Emma.”
“Do you thank you kin git it back on?” Lillie asked while they waited.
“Yeah, I bleeve so,” Charlie replied as he rummaged through the junk he stored underneath the seat. “Gotdammit! I thought I had anutha pin, but I ain’t. Well, ef I kin jes git the wheel back on the axle, I’ll use a nail. Maybe itta stay on long nuff to git y’all to church.”
Emma found the hat and ran back eagerly. “Mama, is all broke,” she said sadly, handing it over to Lillie.
“Yeah, baby, I know.”
Sally rolled the wheel up to the wagon and leaned it against the side. Charlie bent down and lifted the bed up. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead as he strained to keep it hoisted. Realizing he needed help, “Bama, git over heah an ketch holt.”
Obediently, Bama rushed to his side and began lifting. She grunted and strained shoulder to shoulder with her father. When the heavy oak bed was up a little higher, Charlie told Sally, “Roll that wheel roun heah an git ready to shove it on.” She quickly rolled the wheel in front of the axle and stood waiting, but they couldn’t raise it high enough before his arms gave out. “Les ease it down, Bama,” he told her, winded. After wiping away the sweat with his bandanna and catching a breath, he bent back down. “Okay, les try it, Bama,” prodding, “but this time lift hard is you kin.”
“Yessuh.” Bama drew a deep breath and bent over.
Before they could start lifting, Lillie, with motherly instincts, stepped up and nudged Bama away. She took her place, saying, “Charlie, you know this thang’s too heavy fo that gal to be tryin to pick up.”
Shoving Lillie away from the wagon, he snarled, “I didn’t tell you to do it! I tole her to do it! Bama, git over heah!”
“Naw, Charlie, I dun tole you thas too heavy fo her,” Lillie persisted.
He stood up. “Thas whut’s the gotdam matta now! You pamper these rotten chillun all the time an won’t let ‘em do nuthin! You the reason they ain’t worth a shit!”
Angered, Lillie blurted out, “Charlie Barnes, sometimes you make me so mad I could jes wring yo neck off! Lemme—”
“Jes shet up an git yo ass outta my way! I mean it, Lillie!” he roared. “C’mon, Bama!”
Unhesitating, Bama tried to heed his order, but Lillie would not relinquish her and got a lifting hold on the bed. Without looking back, she snapped, “Ef you tired uv foolin roun, les git this thang up. We late nuff as it is.”
In deathly silence, Charlie reached into the wagon bed and grabbed the extra singletree. Blind with rage he gripped one end of the wooden crossbar in both hands like a club, raised it high above his head and powerfully crashed a deathblow across Lillie’s lower back. As she lay writhing and gasping on the roadside, he stared at her for a moment, then dropped the singletree and fled into the woods. Bama took off running for the church to get help. A few minutes later Lillie was dead. Horror stricken, Sally and little Emma clung to each other and looked on while their baby sister was born.
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