Back before the town elders became Christians paying their wives back for assorted wrongs by going to church, they cooked corn whisky out behind Chesaleen’s barn. She was a sweet thing then, with dead parents and a little money and eyebrows arched up like a movie star. Chesalean knew how to play cards and drink one-handed corn. She had a thirsty wink for the men young and old, single and otherwise. Boys always began coon-hunting, but ended up midnight at Chesaleen’s where she was always wide-awake waiting with a cigarette clenched tight in her smile and one eye squinting for the smoke. She wasn’t even a Methodist.
On the way to church, Mama used to make me cover my eyes when we passed her house and Daddy would cough some. There she’d be, between my widening fingers rising out of her own weeds like a toss-headed witch. Chesaleen scared the hell out of me, just like she was supposed to.
“Good girls go to church,” Mama mumbled straight at my cupped hands, “Bad girls go to hell and burn forever til their blood runs black.” She’d look at Daddy and he’d start fiddling with the gas pedal and that was that.
Chesaleen just waived her housecoat a bit at us and we left her swallowed up in road dust.
There’s a story goes that once Chesaleen showed up uninvited to the Saturday quilting at the high school gym and brought a chocolate cream pie. She wore white rolled-up shorts and spiky shoes with her toes showing. She set that pie down on the table with her red fingertips, mustered up a big lipstick smile, and waited. Well, those good women never quit rocking the needles. They never did anything else either, and when Chesaleen left bawling Mrs. Humnoke went right over to the table, scooped up that pie, and threw it in the stove-fire.
“Smell that pie burn,” my Mama said through the quilt frame, straight down at me underneath it. Women and needles rocking in and out above my head and that sweet, burning chocolate.
Two weeks later Chesaleen showed up again, this time with a pretty lemon pie in her plain fingers and a buttoned-up cotton dress down to her knees. Still, the needles kept rocking and the women set their mouths hard against her. She just smiled pretty and spun around to the door. A few minutes later, it was Mrs. Brashear broke the quiet.
“I think she’s trying,” Mrs. Brashear was blonde and not a little pregnant and had soft spots now and again. She rolled out of her chair, waddled over to the table, and sliced herself a piece of that lemon pie before she screamed and fainted. Women leaping to catch the blonde bride failed before she hit the gym floor planks like a felled pine.
Well, that pie was full of maggots, crawling in all that lemon and meringue like seed pearls. I never told Mama that from under the quilt frame I could see Chesaleen wasn’t wearing any underwear. They were busy enough what with maggots and Mrs. Brashear half-dead from the fall.
When Freddy Brashear was born the next day he had a strawberry mark on his chin and everybody knew it was because his mama had eaten Chesaleen’s maggots.
(I’m not yet sure what to do with this piece. I play with it, find new directions, discard them – you know the drill. Chesaleen’s just a character I can’t leave alone. Maybe I’ll write a little bit more of her over Christmas break. Maybe.)