By Sandra P. Aldrich
Published by Bold Words, Inc.
Plowing Day at Widow Zetta’s House
Zetta heard the other women gasp as she grabbed a salt dish from the table, along with the plate of sliced onion. She started toward the door, but Jim stopped her.
“Stay here,” he said as he grabbed the dishes. “Loren’s sucking the poison out. Get the bed ready.”
Zetta and Sally hurried to spread Luttrell’s pallet in its usual spot in front of the fireplace while the women watched the men from the window. Zetta hurried back to the kitchen as the men carried Luttrell up the steps. Paw Davis and Loren held Luttrell under his arms. Jim and Ben held his legs. Hobie and Frankie scurried behind them.
As Zetta held the door for them, she saw a red bandana tied above Luttrell’s ankle.
She took a deep breath to steady herself as she looked at Luttrell’s gray face. Please, Lord, don’t take my sweet brother was her inward cry.
Sally gestured toward the front room. “In here. Be careful now.”
Zetta saw the men ease Luttrell onto the pallet. Then Jim quickly pulled Luttrell’s boot off. As Zetta started for the front room, Loren came back into the kitchen and grabbed another salt dish from the table. He tossed the contents into his mouth and followed that with a dipperful of spring water. Then he stepped onto the porch and spat the salty water into the yard.
Zetta waited for him to come back inside.
“How’d this happen?” she said.
Loren started to answer but suddenly muttered a curse and hurried into the front room.
As Zetta followed, she could see Naomi bending over Luttrell.
“Get your feisty self away from him,” Loren said as he grabbed her arm. “In fact, leave. You’re why he got bit.”
“That’s right. I saw you sashaying up to him whilst he was clearing brush at the field edge. And when you put your hand on him all flirty and silly like, he backed up instead of watching where he was stepping. Now get out of my sight!”
As Naomi stomped into the kitchen, Sarah turned on Loren. “Don’t you talk like that to her! This ain’t her fault.”
Loren leaned close to Sarah. “I’m the one that seen her silly prancing. So you can get out of my face, too.” And he turned back to his brother.
“Loren!” Sarah said. When he didn’t look at her, she slapped her hand over her mouth and ran from the room, followed by her mother and aunt.
Sarah’s father stepped close to Loren. His voice was sharp.
“Don’t talk like that to my girl, Loren.”
Loren didn’t look up. “Now’s not the time to talk on this. So I reckon y’all better leave.”
As Sarah’s father tightened his fist, Zetta knew he wanted to hit Loren. Instead, he suddenly turned and followed the women into the kitchen.
Asa never let anyone leave here angry, Zetta thought as she hurried after them.
“Folks, please don’t go,” she said as they opened the door. “Loren’s worried is all.”
They ignored her as they hurried down the steps.
Stunned, Zetta watched them leave. Lord, this day just keeps getting worse, she thought. We need your help more than ever.
She put her hand to her forehead and looked around the kitchen for something helpful to do. Then she poured spring water over a clean cloth.
As Zetta knelt to put the damp cloth on Luttrell’s forehead, Becky clenched and unclenched her hands.
“I can’t have him back at the house with all I’ve got to do already,” she said.
Zetta forced herself to answer calmly. “He’s staying right here,” she said. “After all he’s done for me, I won’t have anybody else tending him. Especially one who don’t want him around. I appreciate your help today but you can go now.”
Becky turned to Frankie and Hobie. “Bring our wagon. I know when I ain’t wanted!” Zetta didn’t follow them. Instead, she turned the cloth to the cooler side and put it back on Luttrell’s forehead. Her father watched her for a moment
“I appreciate you taking care of my boy,” he said. Then he touched her shoulder and left.
* * * * *
Ben left as soon as Paw Davis did. Now only Loren and the Reed family remained. As Sally brought another cool cloth for Zetta to place on Luttrell’s forehead, Loren untied the bandana to pour fresh salt on the bite. Jim handed him more sliced onion and studied the leg for signs of swelling. Luttrell’s eyes remained closed.
Abigail and Deborah, along with their brother Bernard hovered near the door, waiting to see how they could help.
“I wish I could talk to Clarie Farley,” Zetta said. “She’d know what to do.”
“Let’s do that,” Sally said. “Bernard, go have Albert send a telegram.”
As Bernard stepped forward, Sally turned to Zetta. “What’s the name of the camp? I know it’s near Hazard.”
“Rusty Hinge. No. No. That’s what the miners called it. Uh, the Golden Gate Camp. That’s it. Ask her what we should do.”
Sally gripped Bernard’s shoulder. “Now listen close. Send the telegram to Clarie Farley at Golden Gate Camp near Hazard. Say this: Luttrell snake bit. What best poultice? And then you wait right there ’til you get her answer.”
Bernard headed for the door before Sally finished the sentence.
Jim finished tying fresh onion slices over the salt then stood up. For a moment he and Sally watched Zetta on her knees beside Luttrell.
“It hurts me to see him like this,” Jim said. “And I’m worried the leg is starting to swell. I wish I could do more.”
Zetta looked up just as Sally whispered, “You can, you know. And our little Mary would be pleased.”
Jim’s eyes filled with tears as he answered Sally. “I reckon I can at that.”
He leaned toward Zetta. “I’ll be back directly. Please let us do this for him.”
Zetta nodded. But as Jim left, tears rolled down her cheeks as she looked at Sally.
“Don’t get me started,” Sally said. “That bed has been taking space in the workshop all these years. It’s time to put it to good use.”
Then she and Zetta embraced and cried together as Loren solemnly watched.
* * * * *
Before Jim had time to bring the bed, Bernard returned. He was breathless from running.
“I got her answer quick like,” he said. “The telegram said, ‘Raw onion to start. Will arrive morning train.’ ”
“Thank you, Lord,” Zetta said. Then she looked at Sally. “I didn’t expect her to show up. But I’m glad.”
“That’s good news,” Loren said. Then he leaned close to Luttrell.
“You hear that, Brother? Clarie’s coming. So you hang in there. You’re gonna be all right.”
Zetta’s next breath was a prayer. Oh, Lord. Please. May that be so.
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