Eldred Hagan had been in possession of his great-grandmother’s engagement diamond for near two decades when he decided to take action. Well, maybe possession was too strong a word since it was stolen five years prior, but on the afternoon that ring was syphoned out of the muddy waters at Burnt Springs he was standing in front of the consignment section of Larry’s Gun & Pawn where Larry’s wife leaned over the counter in a provocative way. It was about his favorite place to be especially when Larry was off fishing in the Burnt.
“They have lots of these online dating sites now,” she said in a way that made online sound dirty.
“Don’t think my daddy would approve of me seeking the hand of a stranger, ma’am.”
“I reckon since WJ’s been six-feet under for a couple of decades, you should stop minding what he’d think. And who says anything about marriage?” she added a wink.
What Larry’s wife and no one in the Burnt knew was that he had made a promise to his dying daddy, as great-grandmother Hagan’s ring was pressed into his palm, and his father told him ‘Don’t waste your life thinking there’s any love outside Alabama. Marry yourself a local girl.’ And like all bedside promises it needed to stick like the mask on a coon. At forty-eight years of age Eldred understood this good. But there was never much to pick from, either in the Burnt or passing through, so dating never near happened for him. In this land of who’s your daddy? And who’s your daddy’s daddy?
“Is there any way of only looking at ‘bama girls?” Eldred asked as he ran his finger across the top of the iMac.
“Well, sure sugar! And my cousin found herself a husband on CottonState-Mates dot com where you won’t have to do any fancy searching to find your Roll Tide bride.” The dimple on Larry’s old lady practically gyrated in her smile. Eldred walked home with the computer snug in his arms.
Back in the day, Eldred’s daddy, known as WJ for Walking John, was engaged to an out-of-town girl he’d met during WWII. His betrothed had told him that she would be on the Tuesday 6:00 pm train from Boston. She’d been a no-show. A never. But the besotted WJ still walked the 12 miles to Tuscaloosa to meet that train every Tuesday afternoon. People set their watches to him walking past on the way off the Burnt. WJ stood in the station eating from his sack dinner and waited until the last person got off, and the train would leave. He did that week after week, year after year, day after dark night until he died. It’s true also that Eldred’s daddy never did marry his maw; which means he’d be what some might term a bastard, except they didn’t use such words on the Burnt given the lineage chow-chow of the place.
Then by miracle, that ring was found the same day Eldred brought home a computer. As if all the stars aligned and fell on the Burnt, and the Hagan family name soon to be restored. Despite his maw’s admonishments to never care more for the past than the future, this rekindled ambition of heritage was a’rolling. He’d started attending a series on marriage at the Burntboro Baptist Church, and relayed to his mother the preacher’s careful sermons from Deuteronomy concerning intermarriages— the anger of the Lord, the kindling of destruction. She’d turned her mongrel eyes away from him and asked him not to darken her stoop again. Eldred almost regretted his words, but was fortified with last week’s parting message from the Book of Numbers, “Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father.” He buried the memory of maw begging, ‘character first, genealogy second,’ and launched into his online dating world.
It took less than an hour to find Lolly on CottonState-Mates and less than a month of swift courtship for Eldred to gather the nerve. Lolly was Opry-starlet makings and every country boy’s dream, voice of an angel, body devil sent. Moreover, she LOL’ed at everything he shared. Come to find out this was just her signature answer because her full name was Lonnette Olivia Long, but Eldred was already smitten as all get out. He got down on one knee and typed the words “will you marry me?” exactly twenty-two days after meeting Lolly online. If there’s a phonetic makings of a squeal, that was her answer.
Because there was serendipity in the length of their courtship and Lolly’s age, they took it as a sign not to wait. Eldred wanted to secure a marriage license by the end of the week and Lolly promised to send required documents. When Eldred received the paperwork he came undone. It was all he could do to phone Lolly calmly and agree they were to meet in Tuscaloosa the following Tuesday. She for the purpose of getting hitched, he headed for answers.
When she stepped off the train, he had to admit he still liked the looks of her— hair right pretty, eyes like a doe, and pants so tight he thought he could see her religion. After a quick peck on the cheek, he steered her into a diner and took up a booth with her luggage. Eldred didn’t wait long after the waitress left them alone and he slid her birth certificate across the Formica table. Typed up plain as day, place of birth: Shuqualak, Mississippi. Her brow wrinkled and she blinked at the document as if to cry.
“I know should’ve told you I was from ‘sugarlock.’ But my daddy’s daddy was from Alabama and my mother’s was too. I swear. They just crossed the river for lumber work.”
Listening to Lolly’s description, Eldred smiled. He pictured her family setting off across the river on a hand-strung log raft, her granddaddy large as the Brawny Towel man and her mee-maw gripping a sack of all they owned, like poor ‘bama refugees. It was possible. Besides, what kind of man could resist a girl from a place named ‘sugarlock.’ His daddy’s daddy would approve.
Catherine Moore is the author of three chapbooks including the recent "Wetlands" (Dancing Girl Press, 2016). Her fiction appears in Tahoma Literary Review, Indianola Review, Halo Literary Magazine, Tishman Review, and "The Best Small Fictions of 2015" anthology. A Walker Percy fellow, she won the Southeast Review’s 2014 Poetry Prize and she’s a recipient of a Nashville MetroArts grant. Catherine earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Tampa. She’s tweetable @CatPoetic.