The Hemingway Resource Center Short Story Contest> Winning Entries>Yankee Doodle Daddy by Leanne Cloudman (Fall/Winter 2001-02)
Yankee Doodle Daddy
“We’re coming Mama.” Answered Crissy Lee, the oldest of the girls. Dragging five-year-old Jessie El after her.
Sammie Lou, bringing up the rear, a stoic expression on her face, masking the panic that caused her heart to beat faster, her little fists clinched, her back stiff as though held there by the rod she has become so familiar with in her four short years. Her eyes never drifting from the cloud of dust advancing down the road. Jessie started crying then, their frantic pace down the gravel road causing the rocks to cut and bruise her tender little feet. Sammie ran to catch up to her sisters and took Jessie’s other hand. A meaningful look for two so young, passed between the two older sisters. “Maybe we could cut cross the field?” suggested Crissy.
“Mama, can we go cross the field? Sammie echoed.
“Go ahead girls. But don’t dawdle.”
“We won’t, Mama.” they answered.
Half carrying, half dragging their little sister, the three disappeared into the field, the purple tinted rye swallowing them. Carrie Beth shifted the toddler, Jenny May from left hip to right and took a deep breath. Smiling down into the angelic face, she asked the child: “You want biscuits or cornbread for supper, Jenny May?” The child didn’t answer, but snuggled in closer to the protection of her Mama’s embrace. The tone in her Mama’s voice, she recognized. The only words Jenny would say were “Mama,” “No” and “Baby run.” Carrie Beth hadn’t tried to teach her any more. Those were the important words right now for her baby to know. The less she said, the safer she would be. Carrie Beth’s pace quickened and she ran across the yard and up the front stairs just as the old truck turned into the drive. The rear of the vehicle slid sideways, spewing gravel and dust. Carrie Beth rushed through the screen door, letting it slam behind her. She gave Jenny Mae a sugar tit to keep her quiet and sat her in the floor on a blanket in the girls’ room, then raced down the stairs and into the kitchen. She put the finishing touches to the meager fare that would be their supper.
The screen door, forced back against the wall as Sam Cole came through it, shut with a resounding smack, rattling the few knick-knacks that had avoided the rage of the man who stood in the kitchen doorway. “Why ain’t my supper on the table, Carrie Beth? You know I want supper as soon as I come through the door.”
“Evenin', Sam.” Carrie Beth said, trying to be peaceable. “We got a new calf and it took me a little longer in the barn than usual. Ain’t you a bit early?”
“Now what if I am.” Sam Cole said in almost a whisper. “You doin’ something so’s you don’t want me comin’ in early, Carrie Beth?” his voice grew louder.
“Course not Sam. It just means, it might be a few minutes before supper’s on the table, that’s all.” Despite her attempts to be calm, there was the hint of a tremor in her voice.
Sam Cole strode to the refrigerator and jerked open the door dislodging a jar of pickles, sending them to the floor to explode in a spray of vinegar and glass.
“Now look what you made me do.” Sam roared. Carrie Beth hurried from the kitchen calling back across her shoulder, “I’ll get the mop. It’s just pickles. I’ll get it cleaned up.” Carrie Beth began whistling as she half-walked, half-ran down the hall.
“And quit whistlin’ that infernal tune. Why don’t you learn something else besides Yankee Doodle.” Sam Cole fumed as he popped the metal cap off a bottle of beer. Carrie Beth hurried into the kitchen, making short order of the mess the jar of pickles had made and then grabbed up a towel and opened the oven door. The cast iron pan, almost glowing from the heat soaked through the damp hand towel quickly. Without realizing her husband had returned to the Kitchen for another beer, Carrie Beth turned swiftly to get rid of the hot pan brushing up against Sam’s arm.
“Damn it to hell, woman!” he raged, “Can’t you do nothin’ right?” Now you gone and burnt my arm. You done that a’purpose didn’t you?” Carrie discovered she still held the hot pan that had now blistered her hands. Setting the pan down on the counter, she began to cry. “It ain’t bad Sam. I’ll cut some burn plant and fix it right up. Your supper’s on the table.”
She never saw him coming, but she felt him and she turned just as the hot cast iron pan came down on her back just below her neck, half the cornbread tumbling down across her arms and shoulders, scalding as it went. Carrie grabbed the counter fearing she would faint from the pain. “You ought to be more careful, Carrie Beth.” he whispered. His alcohol laced breath hot on the side of her face. “Somebody could get hurt bad with that hot pan.” And slammed the pan down on the counter, remains of the cornbread flying into the air.
“Where’s them girls? They not eatin’?” He growled as he sat down at the table.
“They ate a bite before we went to the barn. They’re playin’ in their room now.”
“Sam!” he bellowed. “Sam. Get in here.” The silence that answered him was both deafening and relieving to Carrie Beth. “Sam. I said get down here. Don’t you make me come after you.” “I’m here Daddy.” Came a reply from the top of the stairs.
“I need Sammie Lou to help Crissy Lee to get the little ones ready for bed, Sam. Leave her be.” Sam turned his anger, twisted face to his wife. “Don’t cross me bitch. I said I wanted her down here and I meant it.” He growled through gritted teeth. “Sam don’t make me call you again.”
Sammie Lou hurried down the stairs to stand in front of Sam Cole, defiant without uttering a word.
“You do what I told you today? You wash up all them jars in the shed?”
“Yes Daddy.” She whispered.
“You break any?”
“Sam, don’t torment the child. She said she did as you asked. Sammie Lou get on back upstairs and help your sister now. Do like I told you.”
Sammie Lou hesitated and then ran for the stairs. Thoughts racing through her mind. They’d only broken one and Crissy Lee had buried all the glass back behind the pig sty. There wasn’t no way he could know. “Sam, I asked if you broke any, now answer me.” Sam Cole spit through clinched teeth.
“No Daddy.” She lied. “We was real careful. Just like you showed us.”
“Good," Sam Cole mumbled. “Now git on upstairs and do like your Mama said.”
Sammie Lou ran for the stairs and the safety of their room and her sisters.
“I’ll be up soon, Sammie Lou.” Her mother called after her. “Alright Mama.” Sammie Lou answered from the upstairs hallway.
“You want desert? I made pie.” Carrie Beth asked cautiously.
“No. Bring me another beer. I’m gon’ watch some t.v. That alright with you?” he snarled.
“I’ll get your beer. You go on and get comfortable.” Carrie Beth’s shoulder was throbbing. Her hand was numb and she couldn’t pop the metal cap off the beer bottle. Tears streaming down her face at relief that maybe that was all for tonight, she grit her teeth and mustered all her fading strength, rewarded by hearing the metal cap bounce off the counter into the floor. Maybe this’ll be enough to make him pass out for tonight. She thought as she sprinkled the powdered herbs into the bitter liquid. Well, I guess that’s settled then, she thought to herself. She carried the beer to the front room and sat it down on the table next to his chair.
“I’m going up to check on the girls now. There’s your beer, nice and cold just the way you like it.”
Sam Cole never acknowledged his wife’s presence, merely picked up the bottle and turned it up. Carrie Beth started up the stairs, almost a smile on her face. She needed rest and tonight she would get some. The girls were not in their beds.
“It’s alright now babies.” Carrie Beth whispered. “You can come out.”
The loose board in the wall moved and the girls crawled out. Carrie Beth winced when Jessie El latched onto her right arm. Every time she watched her daughters appear from their hiding place, she was thankful her mother had allowed them to live here and taken a place closer to town. She’d hidden in that same spot when she was little. Her grandmother had that secret room put in when the house was built. She was always afraid the Yankees might come back some day and she wanted a safe hiding place. There was no danger from Yankees now, but a safe hiding place was just as important. Especially if you lived with Sam Cole.
“Are you hurt bad, Mama?” Seven-year-old Crissy Lee asked. “I can put some salve on it for you.”
“Not too bad, my babies. A little salve might keep down the soreness, though.”
Sammie Lou ran to the bottom drawer and pulled out a burlap sack that held the closest thing they had to a first aid kit. She handed the salve jar to her sister.
“One of these days, Mama, I’m gon’ be big enough and Daddy won’t hit you no more.” Sammie Lou declared.
“Now, Sammie darlin’,” we’ve talked about that before. Hittin’ ain’t right. The only reason Daddy does the things he does is because I make him mad when he’s drinkin’. You all know that don’t you?” Three little voices answered her. “Yes Mama.”
“Now into bed all of you. We have more to do tomorrow than we’ll get done.”
Each of them took their turn for a goodnight hug and kiss. “Night night babies,” she whispered before she closed the door. She stood in the hallway, just long enough to hear Crissy Lee’s feet hit the floor and the lock turn before she collapsed into her own bed. It was good she was so tired. With her shoulder hurtin’ so, she’d never be able to fall asleep if she wasn’t.
Carrie Beth watched through the kitchen window as the wind blew the dead leaves from the oak tree in the side yard. Another year almost over. She took it one day at a time. That was how they all lived. How they’d lived for years now. Crissy Lee, and Sammie were off in school again. Jessie El could have started, but she didn’t seem to want to. None of them wanted to leave Jenny May alone. They all worried he would come home while Crissy Lee and Sammie were at school. Jessie El, now six, was much more timid than her other sisters. She froze at the sound of her father’s voice, whether he was angry or not. Jenny May still didn’t say half a dozen words at age four. Still none of them tried to teach her. The knock at the screen door, jerked Carrie Beth from her thoughts. Jessie El came running down the stairs, Jenny May close behind. They didn’t have many visitors.
“Granny Lou, Granny Lou.” Both girls shrieked in pleasure. “How are my girls?” said Carrie Beth’s mother as she came through the front door. “I might just have a surprise for you.” reaching into a plastic bag she carried over her arm, her hand reappeared with peppermint and licorice. Both girls settled down and began unwrapping their treats. Then Jessie El stopped and stared at her candy cane.
“Jessie El, don’t you like peppermint anymore?” Granny Lou asked.
“I’ll wait, Granny Lou. Crissy Lee and Sammie likes candy too.”
Granny Lou chuckled and brought out another two sacks of candy.
“They’s plenty for all of you darlin’.”
At this news, Jessie El tore into her candy and popped the candy cane into her mouth, then finished pulling the plastic off the already sticky candy held tightly in Jenny May’s hands.
“I’ll get us some coffee, Mama.” Carrie Beth called from the kitchen.
“That’s alright Carrie, I can’t stay. It’s gettin’ on to evening time and Sam Cole don’t like me here when he comes in.” For a brief moment, Carrie considered what her Mama had said, then agreed.
“I think we’re all going on a picnic on Sunday. Least that’s what a little bird told me.” Granny Lou smiled at her grand-daughters. “Picnic? I love picnics.” Jessie El said.
“We’ll see you at church day after tomorrow, Mama.” Carrie promised.
“You girls take care now. Granny loves you.”
“We love you too Granny Lou.” Jessie answered for both her and her little sister.
The screen door slammed as Crissy Lee and Sammie came in from school.
“Hey Granny Lou.” Crissy called and she headed up the stairs.
“She’s too old for her years, Carrie Beth.” Granny Lou remarked.
“I know Mama. But ain’t much I can do about that now is there?”
“Come on ya’ll,” Crissy Lee called down the stairs. “We got to hurry.”
“Where you off to in such a rush?” Granny Lou called.
Sammie answered for them all. “It’s Friday night Granny Lou. We’re goin’ to a sleep over at the Miller’s place down the road.”
“All of you?”
“It’s Friday night Granny.” Sammie repeated.
“Well, I guess that’s settled then. Come on and I’ll give you all a lift down the mountain.”
Carrie Beth grabbed her Mama and held on for dear life. “I love you Mama.”
Granny Lou held her daughter away from her and looked into her face. “You can always try and get away again, daughter. You know this.”
“Yes, Mama. We can try. But he’ll find us like he has before. Ever time we come back it gets a little worse. No point in makin’ him worse.”
“No. I guess that’s settled then. Come on girls it’s gettin’ late.”
It wasn’t of course, but everyone in the house knew what Granny Lou meant. Sam Cole could be comin’ home at any minute and nobody that didn’t have to be there wasn’t going to be. Carrie watched the old Scout back out into the gravel road and head down the mountain before she uttered a great sigh of relief. Another Friday night that her girls would be safe. She saw the cloud of dust come over the rise, but it was coming from the wrong direction to be Sam. Carrie sat down in the porch swing and waited to see who it might be. The car slowed and turned in their drive. It was Wayne. Sam’s cop friend from Haven. Carrie Beth didn’t like him. She’d met him once before when she’d tried to press charges against Sam Cole for beatin’ her up. She’d been wearin’ so much make-up tryin’ to hide the bruises on her face, she looked like somebody Jake Miller had got a’hold of down to the funeral home. Wayne had told her so then and wouldn’t help her either.
She stood as Wayne got out of his car.
“Where’s Sam?” Wayne called.
“He ain’t come in yet. But it’s Friday night. I’ll expect him when I see him.”
Wayne came up to the porch and shook his head at the cast on Carrie Beth’s arm. “You ought not to make Sam Cole so mad, Carrie Beth. He wouldn’t hit you hard enough to break your arm if you didn’t make him so mad.”
“I didn’t make him mad, his truck did. But it ended up bein’ my fault somehow anyway.” Carrie Beth said. “Besides that he busted his knuckles punchin’ his truck one time before. He don’t bust his knuckles on me and I ain’t so expensive to get fixed.”
“How many stitches you got over that eye?” Wayne asked her. “Sixteen, but Sam didn’t mean to do that. It was an accident. I got in his way when he was shovelin.”
“Yeah, well I guess I better get goin’. He turned to see another car turning into the driveway. “Now who is it you got comin’ to visit in a county car Carrie Beth? You know Sam Cole don’t like nobody messin’ in his affairs. ‘Specially not nobody from the social service.”
“I didn’t call ‘em and I don’t know who did.” Carrie Beth whispered.
Wayne got in his car and backed into the yard driving around the county vehicle and heading back down the way he’d come. The county car pulled up in front of the porch and the door was opened by a middle aged woman, dressed far too nicely to be welcomed with open arms in these hills. “Somethin’ I can do for you, Ma'am?” Carrie Beth asked, hoping to stop the woman from coming any closer.
“Is this the residence of Christine Elizabeth Cole? the woman asked, not daunting in her approach to the porch. “Crissy Lee lives here, but she ain’t home. She and the other girls have gone off with my Mama. What you want with Crissy Lee?”
“Are you her Mother?”
“Yes Ma'am. What’s she done?”
“Christine has not been in school more than two weeks out of the last six. I’ve been sent here to find out why.” Shading her eyes from the afternoon sun, the woman caught her breath when she got a good look at Carrie Beth. “Have you all been in a car accident? Was Christine hurt? Is that why she hasn’t been in school? the social worker fired the questions so fast, Carrie Beth didn’t have time to think up answers to all of them. “Yes Ma'am. But she’s doing fine now. She’ll be back in school come Monday morning.”
“Well that’s fine then. I’ll be on my way. Are you certain you should be out of bed Mrs. Cole. You appear to have been seriously injured.”
“I’m doin’ fine too. Now, if you don’t mind, my husband’ll be home soon and I got to get supper on the table.” The woman frowned at Carrie Beth’s black eye and appeared to be checking around the yard for a wrecked vehicle.
“You just see that Christine is back in school on Monday or I’ll be back.”
“She’ll be there.”
The social worker returned to her car and Carrie Beth headed inside. “Well I guess that’s settled then.” She said to herself.
“Oh Mama you really think Santa Claus is gonna come way up here?” Jessie El questioned.
“Course he will” Crissy Lee answered for her Mama. It was Christmas Eve and there was no sign of Sam Cole. The girls and their Mama had enjoyed a wonderful supper with their Granny Lou and she had brought all kinds of presents and put them under the tree. It didn’t look so sad now. Sam Cole had broken most of the ornaments the year before when he threw their tree out the back door. Granny Lou had brought ornaments and candy canes and all sorts of brightly wrapped packages. “Are you sure we shouldn’t go ahead and open these presents now? asked Sammie Lou, “before,” she hesitated not wanting to break the festive mood. “Before Daddy gets home.” She finished.
“Well now, I saw your Daddy at the gas station in Haven and so I went ahead and gave him his present then and there. I figure if he opened it, he probably won’t be back up the mountain till tomorrow or maybe even the next day.” Granny Lou beamed at her scheme to make her girls have a happy Christmas.
Carrie Beth called out from the kitchen. “Mama, could you come help me a minute? Girls you go ahead and pick out one present each to open then off to bed with you. “Mama, what have you done?” Carrie Beth asked her Mama, her eyes frightened.
“Just what I said Carrie darlin’. I give Sam Cole his present early.”
“What on earth did you give him, Mama?”
“Why the thing his heart desires the most. A whole gallon of liqueur.”
“Oh lord. He’ll kill hisself with that. Mama, what made you do such a thing?”
“I thought if he got drunk down to the service station he wouldn’t be up here hittin’ on my girls for Christmas. You can’t tell me he’s not startin’ on them. Crissy Lee ain’t been wearin’ make-up before. Two Sundays ago, she looked like Jezebel. I knew why and don’t you start lying for him. Besides. The girls need at least one happy Christmas to look back on.” “I just hope he don’t come home to drink it.” Carrie Beth whispered.
“No chance of that. He’d already broke the seal before I got through pumpin’ my gas. He’ll not be back up the mountain tonight.” “I hope you’re right Mama. I hope you’re right.”
Carrie Beth saw Granny Lou off back down the mountain and the girls in bed, She slid down into her rocker and poked at the coals in the fire. It was awful cold tonight and the snow had started almost two hours ago. If it kept up they might have a quiet Christmas after all. It was a slim chance Sam Cole could get up that mountain as drunk as he’d be by now, and with the snow, well there was hope.
Carrie Beth jerked awake. The fire had gone out and it was cold. She hurried to light another one, the flames lickin’ at the pine knot within minutes and already starting to warm the room. The storm had taken out the power, so she set the kettle on the wood stove and bent to light it. There was a heavy thump on the front porch, like something fell. Carrie Beth stopped fiddlin’ with the stove and listened.
“Damn piece a’ shit dog. I’ll teach your ass to make me fall.”
It was Sam Cole. He’d made it back up the mountain and he was drunk and mad. Whistlin’ as loud as she dared, Carrie Beth ran to the hall closet and grabbed her coat and boots. Jerking them on, she ran for the front door.
“Sam Cole, what are you doin’?” Carrie Beth asked before she even had the door all the way opened, blood flew and hit her in the face. The dog screamed like Carrie’d never heard an animal do before. Sam Cole was beatin’ it to death with the shovel she’d left on the porch after she shoveled the snow.
"That poor dog," was all she could think.
“I’ll teach you to make me fall, you damn piece a’ shit dog.” Sam swung the shovel again.
“Sam you’re gonna kill the girls’ dog. Stop.” Carrie Beth realized what she’d done as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Sam Cole turned slowly toward her, his eyes wild, an animal growl coming from deep in his throat. Carrie Beth backed away from him as he raised the shovel. She was backing toward the end of the porch and she knew there wasn’t much room left. She decided, she’d rather break her neck fallin’ down the mountain than to have Sam Cole beat her to death with a shovel the way he’d just done that poor dog and her girls there to see it. Her girls! Panic rose in her at about the same time she heard a scream from inside the house.
“You bastard. Don’t you get any closer to my Mama with that shovel.” It was Crissy Lee. Panic flooded Carrie Beth's whole body as she realized what the girls were doing.
“Who said that? Sam Cole staggered back and headed into the house. Carrie Beth knew she had to stop him. He was going after her girls, the shovel in his hands dripping blood from the dog he’d just beat to death. Growling, Sam Cole raised the shovel over his head. Carrie Beth struggled to keep her footing on the icy porch as she reached the doorway just in time to see Sam Cole hit from behind with a big cast iron frying pan. Sammie stood there watching, a confused look on her face. She always listened for her Mama to whistle Yankee Doodle. Mama hadn’t whistled. Sammie turned to face her Mama, questioning with her eyes, when the shovel hit her, the question still on her lips. The force of the blow lifted her into the air and sent her limp body flying across the room where it hit the wall and slid with a sickening thud to the floor.
“Sammie!” Carrie Beth screamed. “Sammie! Run girls. Remember and run.”
The other three girls crying and screaming at the sight of their sister crumpled in a quickly forming pool of blood ran for their lives up the stairs to their safe hiding place. Carrie Beth knelt down at her little girl’s side and something snapped inside her. Sammie wasn’t moving. She didn’t seem to be breathing. Sam Cole had killed one of her babies. Before her husband could react, Carrie Beth was up the stairs and into their bedroom. She grabbed the loaded shotgun from the corner and cocked both barrels, raising the gun just as Sam Cole staggered through the bedroom doorway. A surprised look on Sam Cole’s face turned to rage as he realized what his wife had just had the nerve to do.
“You stupid bitch. Look what you caused me to do.” Sam Cole exploded. Very quietly, Carrie Beth warned, “You hurt one of my girls.”
She pulled the trigger. He staggered backwards with the force of the shotgun blast. “I told you Sam Cole, never to touch my girls again.” and she pulled the other trigger. Sam Cole was knocked on his back at the top of the stairs and then began to tumble. When his body reached the bottom of the stairs, it lay still.
Carrie Beth walked to the top of the stairs and looked down at her tormentor’s broken body at the foot of the stairs. “Well, I guess that’s settled then.” Carrie Beth whispered as her fingers released their grip on the shotgun and it fell to the floor.
The girls went tearing down the stairway after their Mama who was kneeling by Sammie Lou’s still silent form.
“Crissy Lee, you go start the truck. We got to get Sammie Lou down the mountain into Haven and get the Doctor. Take Jessie El and Jenny May with you. Girls put on your coats, you’ll catch your death.”
“Mama, what about Daddy?” Jessie El asked.
“Sam Cole is dead. Nothin’ anybody can do for him now. We might be able to save your little sister if we hurry. Now go.”
“But Mama, you had to, he was gonna kill us all,” cried Crissy Lee.
“I did what I did. Whether I had a choice or not will be up to the Judge. Now go. Do what I told you. I’ll carry Sammie to the truck.
Granny Lou loaded the last of the girls things into her old Scout. She watched as Sammie Lou carefully laid flowers on the shallow grave where the family dog was buried. “Come on Sammie Lou. It’s time to go, we’re all waiting.”
Sammie quickly wiped away a tear, took a deep breath and spit on another fresh grave as she hobbled by it to the car. She struggled with the crutches she was using because of the cast on her leg and the cast on her arm, and then stops in front of Granny Lou. “Well I guess that’s settled then,” she says and climbs into the car with her sisters. They are all quiet. Jessie El laid her head into her older sister’s lap and reached across her to pat the cast on Sammie’s leg.
“It’s okay now Jessie El. Won’t be no more Yankee Doodle.” Crissy soothed, as she stroked back the hair from her little sister’s tear-streaked face.
“No more Yankee Doodle Daddy.” Jessie El mumbled as she closed her eyes, smiling for the first time in as long as any of them could remember. Sammie smiled too, and Jenny Mae said, “ Well, I guess that’s settled then.”
© 2001, Leanne Cloudman