In honor of what should be a fabulous new year as long as the world doesn’t end– let’s revisit one of my top favorite stories of all time.
Rufus Bellion was an unlucky man. He’d been an unlucky kid, too, but that was a long time ago and he didn’t like to think too much on it. He preferred to focus on his current troubles, such as they were.
The man, the one who’d shown up at his door, late, anger throbbing across his features, just ten minutes prior was now shaking a gun in his face.
Rufus tried to pay attention to what the man said, he really did but he was finding it harder and harder to concentrate with that gun waggling in his face. He was only able to discern bits and pieces and those were confusing.
“You’re the Rufus! I can’t believe she’d be off with a lame brain like you! The woman has lost her mind! She’s off her rocker! You can have her for all I care, you old bastard! She’s nothing to me anymore!” The man seemed incapable of speaking without exclamation in his voice, making Rufus blink over and over again, stupidly.
Rufus was thinking, was this about that woman that sold apples door to door? She’d been an old crone but she was the only woman Rufus could remember seeing in at least a cycle of the moon. He didn’t get many visitors way out here in the woods. Was this her husband? He knew he shouldn’t have bought her worm ridden apples but she’d looked so desperate that he’d felt compelled to help…
“Me and her been together two years! Two glorious years til you come around and turned her head. I know ye did, you old bastard!”
The man was beginning to make Rufus’s head ache. He felt like swatting him like a pesky fly but his mama had always said, ‘Hear a man out, with a godly ear,’ and that’s what Rufus meant to do. Even if the man in question made no sense at all and was waving a gun at him.
“She ain’t yours, you devil! I got her by law, she’s mine and I mean to take her back! Now where is she, you lily livered woman stealin’ coward?”
Rufus shook his head; he didn’t know. He didn’t know any woman, not since Imelda May, way back in, well, way back when Rufus’s hair was dark and not silver and he had the vigor of a hunting cat on its night prowl, not a sleeping barncat.
“Lemme have her, you devil! Where you keepin’ her?” The man kept shouting. “Evelyn! Evelyn Hayes, you fornicating harlot!”
Suddenly the man pushed past Rufus and through his doorway, intent on finding a woman who wasn’t there and made a point of walking from one end of the tiny one room cabin and back to the door as if hidden spaces would be revealed to him, somehow.
Rufus watched him solemnly, biding his time, waiting for the man to settle down so that he could get to the bottom of this. The tea kettle in the kitchen set to whistling and it startled the man sounding as it did like a woman shrieking, and he turned around and pointed his gun at it, stepping backwards at the same time. “Damn nuisance!” he muttered. He leveled his gun and Rufus watched him try to compose himself before he swung around, wiping his sweaty brow with one sleeve. He mumbled to himself under his breath, “I know he got her, that son of a whore,” and Rufus took umbrage with that kind of talk about his mother, his brow crinkling. The man turned towards him, stumbled sideways over a foot stool that Rufus had made himself just this past winter, a sturdy pine stool that Rufus liked to rest his aching legs on. The stool slid across the room with a screech, the man jerked up his arms for balance, one boot getting in the way of the other, tripping him up and he depressed the trigger and the gun went off with a boom that shook the little cabin. Rufus had just enough time to say, “Oh,” real breathy before his legs gave out from under him and he slipped to the floor and lay there for a moment looking up at the stunned face of the man, and died.
It took two months for his body to be discovered–his unwitting assailant long gone into the night, and it was the old crone, back again to sell him apples that found him.
She was less surprised than one would think, stumbling just slightly on his porch, her eyes confirming what her nose had already determined. She stood for a moment, considering her options before she stepped over his body and began a methodical search of his belongings, carefully shaking out blankets and rooting through cups and tea kettles, behind and under furniture and finally pulling out the whole of Rufus’s worldly worth from an ancient family bible that he had never read a day in his life.
Six one dollar bills, a tenner, a fiver. Twenty-one dollars which she put in her apron pocket before setting the bible back on the shelf, and leaving to go find the Pastor and inform him of the death.
She lamented that she could not likewise make off with his flour and his oats, but she could not figure how she could carry each one, and also her apples to sell.
The Pastor gladly took Rufus’s flour, his oats, his honey and also his dried meat, kept up in the attic space of Rufus’s little cabin. He knew it was wrong but he had mouths to feed too, and he reassured himself that Rufus wasn’t likely to want it anymore. Also, he deserved some kind of compensation for burying the man. It was a charity burial–the men of his congregation had found no money and no will and the man was known to have no relatives.
Just now Pastor could hear the coffin maker hammering the pine box together, the wood coming from Rufus’s own backyard. Across the way, others were digging the grave, swift shovelfuls of hard black dirt piling up on one side, and soon it would be time to lay the poor bastard to rest.
It couldn’t happen soon enough, the Pastor thought, breathing shallowly through his mouth. The spring thaw was fast upon them, and Rufus wasn’t fresh.
As the sun was approaching the tree line, ready to pull the evergreen needles over its head like a good night blanket, Rufus’s limp and partially eaten body (bobcats probably, or maybe wolves) was lifted off his threshold and carefully set into his very own pine box. His head clunked against the top and his body bent in the middle and his feet stuck up above the box. He looked like a ‘V’.
One of the grave diggers lightly swore.
“Bend his knees,” the pastor said quietly and two of the men bent to their task. Rufus’s knees stuck out and his head slumped at a funny angle, pushed forward.
“Damn box is too small,” someone whispered, not wanting to disturb the dead, the only kindness the old man had known since Imelda May had bloomed in his heart.
“Turn him sideways,” the pastor said.
The men hefted his body, slipping his body by small turns until it laid on its side. Rufus’s chin pressed into his chest, his arms flopped at his sides, his knees bent, his boots wedged at the bottom.
“He ain’t look comfortable.”
“He fits,” the Pastor said, beginning the lord’s prayer and absently sliding the lid over top, shielding him from view.
“And here we inter, Rufus Bellion, our neighbor, a man of god,” he intoned.
“Bellion?” Someone in the crowd exclaimed. “Oh, damn! Thought he was Rufus Wellsbrook!”
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