I loved me a man once, more than I loved my Mama, more than I loved Daisy, the sweet mare Pa gave me before he upped and left. My Frank was a strapping man, and handsome too, a man who would as ready fix the roof as whip up a batch of pone. But he had the wanderlust, it gleamed strong in his eye.
There would come a morning when the sap started running and I’d wake and the bed was cold and bare as the root cellar. Then I’d know -- he’d left to ride the rails. But after some weeks or months passed, he’d come back, coppers in his pocket and stories in his head. I’d welcome him with a warm supper and warmer bed. Last time, though, remembering how cold summer felt without him, I begged to go along. “Ain’t no place for a woman,” he’d said. “No place.”
Four years and I ain’t seen him since. For a long time, I banged around in my cabin, aimless as a cloud. One morning, a man came knocking on my door. He wore raggedy clothes, but clean. He tipped his hat and asked, “Chore for a meal?” I almost turned him away. But then I hoped maybe some other woman would do the same for my Frank, so I set him on some task – chopping a cord, cleaning the flue, churning butter – and when he was done, I fed him drop biscuits and a bowl of bean soup. He reminded me of Frank, the way his face creased when he smiled, the kindly look in his eyes. The way he pulled his bowl in real close. The next day, charcoaled on the side of the privy, I found a sign, x in a circle.
The hobos come from hundreds of miles away. Some days I have me a mess of men at the table. I feel good knowing they’ll mosey into town looking for work with a full belly. They take care of the manly things that need fixin, which sets my heart at ease. When they leave, they scratch their symbols – “good meal here.”
These days, more and more men wander to my cabin. Most work a bit, but some don’t, the soft ones who ain’t so polite. The soup’s stretched thin, but I manage to feed them all. They sit at the table and swap their stories, new ones about the world coming to an end, about city men tossing themselves before oncoming trains. Lost their shirts, my men say as they slurp their soup, their eyes looking wolvish. Looking greedy.
Originally published this past spring in PURE SLUSH. Thanks to Matt Potter, editor extraordinaire, for taking this story for his International Women's Month issue.
Like Annie, my life's been a tough kettle of late. Today, a ray of sunshine to cling to. Life is good. Peace...