Circumstances

by Rebecca S. Mills
Citation
Title:
Circumstances
Author:
Rebecca S. Mills
Year: 
2001
Publication: 
Feminist Studies
Volume: 
27
Issue: 
2
Start Page: 
493
End Page: 
498
Publisher: 
Language: 
English
URL: 
Select license: 
Select License
DOI: 
PMID: 
ISSN: 
Abstract:

CIRCUMSTANCES

I'm facing a felony, introduction of contraband into a penal insti- tution. It carries time.

Before Homer and after Homer, that's how I divide my life now. Before Homer, I went to work and came home, nothing in- between.

Plain looking and pale yellow, I was always asked if I had liver problems. My liver's fine. I'm almost sixty and pushing two hun- dred and fifty pounds. Tall, I'm a big woman, people say. It sounds better than a fat one. My stoop gets worse every year. I've been a machine operator on an assembly line for almost forty years, and all that leaning on the job made my spinal cord crooked as a snake.

"Flossie, we have this cousin in prison," Ruth said. "Homer Macon." That was the first time I'd ever heard of Homer. Ruth is my first cousin and best friend who talks more than necessary and most people think possible. She's always trying to hook me up with somebody.

"I've never heard of Homer," I said stirring the cake batter. Ruth drank a cup of coffee, sitting at my kitchen table.

"Fourth cousin on your daddy's side. Hardly much kin. I hear he gets mighty lonesome in the pen. His people live two hundred miles away and he doesn't get much company." Ruth sipped her coffee. "It would be nice if you paid him a visit. It's less than a fif- teen-minute drive from here."

I poured the batter into the greased pans. I just read this maga- zine article about a woman who married a serial killer who was on death row. She was a guard where he was incarcerated and left her husband and small kids for him.She said it was love at first

Feminist Studies 27, no. 2 (summer 2001). O 2001 by Feminist Studies, Inc.

493

sight. Fired, divorced, and remarried all in one breath. There was this picture of them. They stared at the camera as if they'd seen a ghost. She held his hand through the bars. I shook my head. "What did Homer do to go to prison? Murder someone?"

"No, it wasn't murder. I don't know exactly what he did, but I know it wasn't murder. It would help your depression to go out there and see him. What have you got to lose?" Ruth believes I suffer from depression and bases her diagnosis of me on what she's seen on TV talk shows. She believes everything Jerry Springer says because she thinks he looks like an evangelist.

I rubbed my hands across my apron. "How in the world do you think a prisoner can help me?" I asked her. "Where could he take me beyond those four walls?" I wiped the batter off one of the cake pans. "Ruth, that's the craziest thing I ever heard. It's worse than the time you wanted me to advertise in the paper for a man."

"Rosie Sneed met a nice city fellow like that."

"He took her out one time and never would have taken her out the first time if she hadn't lied about herself in the paper. Said she was athletic and loved poetry. I don't call reading Hallmark cards poetry. And walking to and from the mailbox is not athletic."

"Just think about it, Flossie," she said talking faster. "Think about it. That's all I'm asking."

I didn't give it another thought.

Two days later, there was this television program about prison- ers. A young blonde, who bounced around too much for my lik- ing, interviewed these fellows. A rainbow assortment. She asked them some real personal questions. But they were real polite. Nobody slugged her. They talked intelligent. One guy said he'd read over four hundred books in one year and added they weren't comic books. Toward the end of the program, they let down their hair. Most of them said their circumstances put them in prison. They told some heartbreaking stories about their child- hoods. It got my attention. By the time that perky little blonde signed off, I was dabbing at my eyes.

I guess I could have been a prisoner if Daddy hadn't watched me like a hawk. I've had some crazy notions in my head. If I owned a gun when I was married to Billy West, I would have killed him.

Two weeks later I asked Ruth for the information on Homer. "Flossie," she said giggling, "that program was divine intervention."

Rebecca S. Mills

"It wasn't divine intervention. It was NBC," I told Ruth. She gves God credit for everything, and I'm sure he doesn't appreci- ate it.

"Are you going to write him?"she asked.
"I'm going to think about it," I told her.

Homer:
I never thought I'd be writing a prisoner. Of course, you're
not just any prisoner, you're my fourth cousin. I realize
everyone there is somebody's cousin, somebody's son, and
somebody's husband. That kind of thinking brought me to

writing you. I've never done this before, and I'm not much of
a letter writer. I've written two in my whole life.
I'm 58. I've not made the best choices in the world, but I have

always tried to be decent. I had two husbands. One died on

me, and the other ended in divorce.
Neither was a great loss, because they were both worrisome.
One of them didn't have sense to come in out of the rain, and
the other stayed drunk and tried to whip up on me. Hard as I
tried, I never had a baby. Alls I've ever wanted was a baby
not a husband.

I work in a factory. Been there since I was 18. It pays the

bills.
I love tofish, sing, and dance. I can't dance much anymore.
My spinal cord is crooked now. You can do what you want
about writing me back.

Vey truly,
Flossie Mae Williams

Four days later, I got a letter from Homer. He wanted a picture of me. Ruth took one of me sitting down behind the kitchen table in front of a chocolate layer cake I made. Behind the table, I fig- ured he couldn't see how fat and crooked I was.

I got a picture of him in the mail shortly after that. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. It was all blurry. With the picture he sent a note and asked me to bring him a piece of that chocolate cake.

After two months of writing, I went to see him.

When I saw Homer Macon, my heart stopped. He's the prettiest man I've ever seen in my life. I know it's rude to stare, but I did. I inhaled him.

Half-Cherokee, his skin is light almond, and he has thick, white hair that rises above his head and falls like a horse's mane. His eyes are deep blue and his teeth are milk white and straight. I imagine he didn't eat gum balls and hard candy growing up. A good body, he didn't have an ounce of fat on him.

We sat on opposite ends of a picnic table. Talking was hard and when we were quiet for longer than comfortable, I commenced singing "I'm a Honky-Tonk Woman." What could I lose?

I can sing and nobody will tell you any different. Homer asked me to sing, "Coal Miner's Daughter." I did. I sang a dozen more. Folks always asked me why I didn't make a career of singing. Nobody pushed me and I didn't believe in myself.

It started sprinkling. Homer walked over, sat down, and put his arm around me. I patted his knee several times and left my hand there. After that first visit, I didn't miss a weekend for a year.

Homer made me all kinds of leather things. Key chains, belts, and a pocketbook. I don't remember anybody making anything for me besides trouble. On weekends, I wore the leather belts with my polyester pants.

I always wondered why Homer was in prison and it began to eat at me. Three months after I'd been visiting, I asked him. "Homer, what circumstances brought you to prison?" We were sit- ting at the picnic table having lunch.

He put his sandwich down, wiped the mayonnaise off his chin, and looked at me. "Child rape." "Good Lord, Homer, whose child did you rape?" My face got hotter than a red pepper.

"My own."

I commenced to heaving. He patted me on the back as if he were burping a newborn. "I can understand murder," I said breathing hard, "but not child rape. Especially your own." "Flossie, I didn't rape nobody." "But-"

"Let me explain." He swallowed. "Me and my ex-wife, Marlene, fought day and night. She was bad on booze and running around on me. I met Brenda and decided to leave my wife. When I left her, she said she'd get me back. Said she'd make sure I rotted in jail before that bitch married me."

"Did you move in with Brenda?"

"I did, and the next thing I know there's some deputy knocking

Rebecca S. Mills

on my door serving me with papers for child rape. My daughters

claimed I raped 'em."

"Good God," I put my hand over my face and shook my head.

"DA offered me ten years if I'd plead guilty. I was looking at

fifty if I went to trial. I wasn't going to cop a plea for something I didn't do." "Hmmrn,"I sighed. It wouldn't make sense to risk forty years of your life unless you were innocent.

"We tried it. Jury believed my grls. Me without a record. Mar- lene always could talk our girls into doing what she wanted them to." He paused for a moment. "She was true to her word. I'll rot in this place until I die." He rubbed his hand through his hair. "A day doesn't go by that I don't ask God to take away the hate and anger I feel for my ex-wife and daughters." He buried his face in his wide hands. Hands big enough to choke a bull.

I poked at him with my finger. I didn't know what to do or say. "My Lord, Homer."

"Flossie, if you don't believe me, you can talk to my brothers and sisters. They'll tell ya about Marlene and that bogus trial." He said, his voice cracking.

Uncomfortable, I sang "The Wreck of the Old '97," and he laid his head on my shoulder. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I promised myself then and there I'd never talk about his charges again and I didn't.

Two weeks after that, Homer asked me to sneak him in some Wild Turkey. Begged me is what he did. It's a sad thing to see your man beg, particularly behind bars. He'd never ask me for anything before, except a little money. I did it four times before I was caught.

When they found the whiskey, I heard my heart beat in my ears. I'd never been in trouble with the law before. Not even a speeding ticket. The guard just shook his head back and forth and told me to go with him. I followed him on my tiptoes.

"You know, Homer wouldn't give you the time of day if he was on the outside," the guard said to me. We were waiting in his office for the sheriff's department to pick me up and carry me to jail. "Prisoners use people like you all the time. He doesn't give a damn about you."

His words hit me like hot grease and fell hard on my ears. Pimples on his face, he was young enough to be my grandson and talking to me like he was my father. What did he know about anything?

It was a long ride to the jail. The longest ride I've ever been on. On the way, we passed a little girl who sat in a ditch with her hands folded under her legs. She had scabs on both her knees and looked like she'd been crying. Our eyes locked. I turned and watched her until she was nothing more than a dot. She was a familiar past.

I was fingerprinted and photographed. I didn't care if I was fat and crooked in those pictures. Sheriff turned red when I told them I wouldn't talk to him without an attorney. I might have cooperat- ed if that guard hadn't said what he did to me.

After I made bail, I found a lawyer. She said the worst that could happen to me was probation. Although my attorney said I won't go to prison, I still worry.

My arrest came out in the paper. My family's ashamed.

I'm not going to lose my job. My supervisor said, "Flossie, you've been with us for forty years, and we hope you'll be with us forty more." That scares me more than prison.

I can't see Homer again unless I'm found not guilty and the warden approves my new application for visiting.

Homer calls every Sunday morning collect. I write him every day. When I see Homer again, I want to be nice and skinny.

My sisters asked me, with their hands on their big hips, if Homer was worth all the trouble he's caused. Homer Macon took me beyond those four walls.

And, after all, it was my circumstances.

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