Excerpted from the novel Raney
Charles is in the bedroom covered up in the bed. There are eleven broken monogrammed glasses here on the kitchen floor and every window in the house is locked from the inside.
This all started last Saturday afternoon when I called Mama as usual. I try to call her every day. We’ve always been close and I say those television commercials about calling somebody—reaching out and touching—make sense. Belinda Osborne drives to see her mother every day—forty miles round trip—which I’m not about to do. That is too close. Three times a week is often enough. (Belinda’s mother is sick a lot though.)
I’d like to be living closer to home and I know Mama and Daddy were disappointed that we didn’t move into the Wilkins house, and I would have, but Charles insisted we live here in Listre because it’s close to the college. I finally said okay when he promised he would still go to church with me at home in Bethel.
But: he’s been going to church less and less, and we’ve only been married six weeks. He’ll take me to Sunday School and drop me off, still wearing his pajamas under his clothes. He’s done it twice. Deacon Brooks said since Charles was Methodist he must think he’s too good for Free Will Baptists. He pretended he was kidding, but I could tell he was serious.
Well, as I said, I called Mama last Saturday afternoon and she told me that she had come by with Aunt Naomi and Aunt Flossie to see us that morning but we were gone. They came on in to use the phone to call Annie Godwin so it wouldn’t be long distance. (We don’t lock the door normally.) Aunt Naomi went to the kitchen to get a glass of water and accidentally broke one of the monogrammed glasses Cousin Emma gave us for a wedding present. Mama told me all this on the phone. I didn’t think twice about it. I figures I’d just pick up another glass next time I’m at the mall. I know where they come from.
Sunday, the very next day, we’re eating dinner at home in Bethel with Mama, Daddy, Uncle Nate, Mary Faye, and Norris. Mama fixes at least two meats, five or six vegetables, two kinds of cornbread, biscuits, chow-chow, pickles, pies, and sometimes a cake.
Mama says, “Where did you tell me you all were yesterday morning?” She was getting the cornbread off the stove. She’s always the last one to sit down.
“At the mall,” I said.
“I like where you moved the couch to,” says Mama. “It looks better. We waited for you all fifteen or twenty minutes. I’m sorry Naomi broke that glass,” she said.
I hadn’t mentioned it to Charles. No reason to. He says—and he was serious: “Why were you all in our house?”
I was mortified in my heart.
“We were just using the phone,” says Mama. There was a long silence. It built up and then kept going.
“Pass the turnips, Mary Faye,” I said. “I couldn’t figure out what was wrong in there so I moved things around until it looked better and sure enough it was the couch. The couch was wrong.”
My mama ain’t nosy. No more than any decent woman would be about her own flesh and blood.
Listen. I don’t have nothing to hide. And Lord knows, Charles don’t, except maybe some of his opinions.
We finished eating and set in the den and talked for a while and the subject didn’t come up again. Charles always gets fidgety within thirty minutes of when we finish eating. He has no appreciation for just setting and talking. And I don’t mean going on and on about politics or something like that; I mean just talking—talking about normal things. So since he gets fidgety, we usually cut our Sunday visits short. “Well, I guess we better get on back,” I say, while Charles sits over there looking like he’s bored to death. I know Mama notices.
Before we’re out of the driveway, Charles says, “Raney, I think you ought to tell your mama and Aunt Naomi and Aunt Flossie to stay out of our house unless somebody’s home.”
To stay out of my own house.
He couldn’t even wait until we were out of the driveway. And all the car windows rolled down.
When we got on down the road, out of hearing distance, I said, “Charles, you don’t love Mama and never did.”
He pulls the car over beside the peaches for sale sign across from the Parker’s pond. And stares at me.
The whole thing has tore me up. “Charles,” I said, and I had to start crying, “you don’t have to hide your life from Mama and them. Or me. You didn’t have to get all upset today. You could understand if you wanted to. You didn’t have to get upset when I opened that oil bill addressed to you, either. There ain’t going to be nothing in there but a oil bill, for heaven’s sake. Why anyone would want to hide a oil bill I cannot understand.”
He starts hollering at me. The first time in my like anybody has set in a car and hollered at me. His blood vessels stood all out. I couldn’t control myself. It was awful. If you’ve ever been hollered at, while you are crying, by the one person you love best in the world, you know what I mean. This was a part of Charles I had never seen.
Here’s what happened yesterday. We went to Penny’s Grill for lunch. (I refuse to cook three meals a day, I don’t care what Mama says.) When we got back, there was Mama’s green Ford—parked in front of the house.
“Is that your mother’s Ford?” says Charles.
“Oh, in front of the house? I think it might be.” That long silence from the dinner table last Sunday came back to me, and I hoped Mama was out in the back yard picking up apples because I knew I couldn’t stand another scene within a week. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I didn’t want to fuss at Charles right before he talked to Mama, and I certainly wouldn’t dare fuss at Mama.
Charles got out of the car not saying a word and started for the house. I was about three feet behind, trying to keep up. The front door was wide open.
Charles stopped just inside the door. I looked over his shoulder and there was Mama coming through the arched hall doorway. She stopped. She was dressed for shopping.
“Well, where in the world have you all been?” she says.
“We been out to eat,” I said.
“Mrs. Bell,” says Charles, “please do not come in this house if we’re not here.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. It was like a dream.
Mama says, “Charles son, I was only leaving my own daughter a note saying to meet me at the mall at two o’clock, at the fountain. The front door was open. You should lock the front door if you want to keep people out.”
“Mrs. Bell, a person is entitled to his own privacy. I’m entitled to my own privacy. This is my—our—house. I—”
“This is my own daughter’s house, son. My mama was never refused entrance to my house. She was always welcome. Every day of her life.”
I was afraid Mama was going to cry. I opened my mouth but nothing came out.
“Mrs. Bell,” says Charles, “it seems as though you think everything you think is right, is right for everybody.”
“Charles,” I said, “that’s what everybody thinks—in a sense. That’s even what you think.”
Charles turned half around so he could see me. He looked at me, then at Mama.
Mama says, “Son, I’ll be happy to buy you a new monogrammed glass if that’s what you’re so upset about. Naomi didn’t mean to break that glass. I’m going over to the mall right now. And I know where they come from.”
Charles walks past me and out the front door, stops, turns around and says, “I didn’t want any of those damned monogrammed glasses in the first place and I did the best I could to make that clear, plus that’s not the subject.” (I gave him a monogrammed blue blazer for his birthday and he cut the initials off before he’d wear it.)
So now Mama’s at the mall with her feelings hurt. Charles is in the bedroom with a blanket over his head, and I’m sitting here amongst eleven broken monogrammed glasses, and every door and window locked from the inside.
Evidently Charles throws things when he’s very mad. I never expected violence from Charles Sheperd. Thank God we don’t have a child to see such behavior.
We didn’t speak all afternoon, or at supper—I fixed hot dogs, split, with cheese and bacon stuck in—or after. I went to bed at about ten o’clock, while Charles sat in the living room reading some book. I felt terrible about Mama’s feelings being hurt like I know they were; I hadn’t known whether to call her or not; I couldn’t with Charles there; and I couldn’t imagine what had got into Charles.
I went to bed and was trying to go to sleep, with my mind full of upsetting images, when I heard this voice coming out of the heating vent at the head of the bed on my side. I sat up. I thought at first it was somebody under the house. I let my head lean down over the side of the bed close to the vent. It was Charles—talking on the phone in the kitchen.
Now if we’d been on speaking terms I would have told him I could hear him, but we weren’t speaking. And besides, I won’t about to get out of bed for no reason at eleven p.m. And so I didn’t have no choice but to listen, whether I wanted to or not.
Charles was talking to his Johnny friend. I could hear just about everything he said. If we had been speaking, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell him how the sound came through the vent. But we weren’t speaking, as I said. He was talking about—you guessed it: Mama.
“. . . She just broke in, in essence . . . just walked through the door when nobody was home . . . It’s weird, Johnny . . . What am I supposed to do?”
Now why didn’t he ask me what he was supposed to do? He didn’t marry Johnny Dobbs.
I agree that some things need to be left private—but the living room? The living room is where everybody comes into the house. That’s one of the last places to keep private on earth. I just can’t connect up Charles’s idea about privacy to the living room.
He went on about Mama for awhile and then said something about everybody saying “nigger,” and that when Johnny came to see us for him not to drive in after dark—which I didn’t understand until it dawned on me that maybe Johnny Dobbs was a, you know, black. He didn’t sound like it when I talked to him over the phone at Myrtle Beach. Charles and his other army buddy, Buddy Shellar, at the wedding kept talking about “Johnny this” and “Johnny that” but I never thought about Johnny being anything other than a regular white person. They were all three in the army, which of course everybody knows has been segregated since 1948, according to Charles, so I guess it’s possible they roomed together, or at least ate together.
He didn’t sound, you know, black.
I’ll ask Charles about it when we’re on speaking terms and I tell him about how the sound comes through the vent; but if he is a nigger, he can’t stay here. It won’t work. The Ramada, maybe, but not here.