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Death, Dancing, and Doughnut Holes

ISSUE:  Winter 1997

When I was a small kid, I thought the earth was shaped liked a doughnut. There was the round part on which we all lived, and the middle part that people dropped into when they passed on. This middle had a lot of darkness in it. At night the dark would shoot up from the hole and temporarily engulf everybody, which is one reason it scared me so much, I think. I was afraid I’d be washed down that hole along with the darkness—like water running down a sewer carrying with it a lot of debris. Although I never told anybody about this, I remember searching for other round shapes with holes—probably to reassure myself about death (with which I was obsessed as a child).

One such shape was the plaza in the center of town with a goldfish pond in the middle. I would lie on my stomach for hours peering into this pond. The sun glimmering on the surface made it opaque, as if the bottom was endless with a few cloud-like shapes moving slowly across. I wondered if the sky might be a reflection of the pool so that if we went high enough, we could see ourselves walking upside down. At the moment this occurred to me, I remember thinking that I might be crazy.

The plaza was surrounded by mill buildings. At the top of it stood the large company store known as the Big Friendly—the first floor housing a newsstand, soda fountain, drugstore, grocery store, candy counter, hardware, five-and-dime, meat market, and the second floor containing a ladies ready-to-wear, men’s clothing, and finally, the part my daddy was in charge of: furniture and undertaking. The Big Friendly was the heart of the town, the place where everybody congregated, both blacks and whites, but mostly whites—which leads me to confess that, even then, I was aware of a certain sameness to the people who lived on my particular doughnut. You might say that the doughnut was coated with white sugar with a little sprinkle of chocolate here and there, and very little in-between—that is, until Don Roberto Florio came to town. Don Roberto had a deep olive complexion; he was also the only man, or woman either, I ever knew who wore ballet slippers instead of regular shoes.

His wife was Virginia Bloodworth whom everyone said was “a bit off”—why I’m not sure, unless it was her ethereal quality, her milky blue eyes, her way of pirouetting along the street seeing nothing. Or maybe it was because she’d run off to Cleveland before finishing high school. Or because she had the misfortune to have Mrs. Bloodworth as a mother.

Mrs. Bloodworth wore ankle-length dresses and spoke in a high breathy voice like a 19th-century heroine. She was also pale and sickly, and often had to excuse herself to “go lie down.” What she loved above all else, including Mr. Bloodworth, was her Plymouth chickens, which she kept in two large pens that covered most of their back yard. As far as I could tell, the only time she went outside was to murmur baby talk to these chickens while throwing them feed. Actually it was a weird kind of chicken ritual that she did, hopping from foot to foot and softly clucking at them. (Years later, I was reminded of Mrs. Bloodworth when I saw a New York performance artist, dressed in feathers and clawed feet made of felt, doing a chicken dance on West Broadway.)

The Bloodworths lived next door. Never one to mince words, Mrs. Bloodworth announced at least once a day that my dog Hero was a “detriment to her chickens’ health.” She even summoned the chief of police a couple of times when she spied Hero circling the fence. Chief Brown, patient as always, said there wasn’t a thing he could do about it a long as Hero stayed on the other side. “Barking at chickens is not a crime, ma’am,” he said as Mrs. Bloodworth stood on the porch propped against her long-suffering husband’s arm.

One afternoon I returned from school to find my mother and several neighbors in the yard kneeling over Mrs. Bloodworth’s prostrate body, fanning her face. Hero, who’d been locked up on the back porch, was carrying on something pitiful.

“What’s wrong?” I came running up. Mama’s face was a mess of frowns. She pointed inside the fence where ten chickens lay dead, including Mrs. Bloodworth’s prize hen.

“Your dog,” she said, “did that.”

Though I swore to pay Mrs. Bloodworth back every cent out of my allowance for those chickens even if it took me a hundred years to do it, she wanted real revenge. She wanted Hero “exterminated.” The word sent chills through me. I sat on the porch with my arms around Hero’s neck, which only tightened when Chief Brown showed up at the screen door.

“Afraid we gonna havta do something, hon,” he told me, patting my shoulder. “This here dog can’t be damaging other people’ property.”

My father’s solution was to build a fence around our entire yard, which was not only expensive but “very unsightly,” mama kept proclaiming to anybody who cared to listen; but at least it protected the chickens since there was a good two feet between their fence and Hero’s fence. I was pleased to observe, though, that Hero still managed to terrorize them whenever they came close enough, and if he didn’t, I did—but slyly, being careful to run whenever they started squawking loud enough to bring Mrs. Bloodworth to her kitchen window.

This was the situation when Virginia Bloodworth Florio and her new husband, Don Roberto, showed up one Saturday in an old Chevy, having driven all the way from Cleveland with a huge trunk tied to the top of the car and the inside piled high with clothes and small bits of furniture. They looked, as my mother noted, like “itinerant pedlars.” I hid inside the chinaberry, watching Mr. Blood-worth help them unload, wondering at all the sequined costumes and especially at the short brown-skinned man who wore black ballet slippers with white socks.

Mr. Floria, it turned out, was a “foreigner,” which explained his darkish skin and rolling r’s (crying out for imitation). “Do ra me la so flo r-r-ree o,” we kids would chant. And “Flo-r-r-ee-o/ that so-and-so . . .” and “Eeenie, meenie, minie, mo/ Catch a Flor-r-r-io by the toe.” For me, it was a way of getting back at Mrs. Bloodworth. And when Don Roberto posted pamphlets at the grammar and high schools announcing his intention of giving “beginning classes” in ballet and tap dancing, this merely added comic fuel to the flames. My friends and I did mock dance steps all the way home, each trying to outshine the other, and falling on the grass in paroxysms of giggles whenever someone managed a genuine parody. This was before I learned that my mother had signed me up for ballet.

“No, no, no, I won’t,” I protested. I’m pretty sure I stomped my foot even though I was generally fairly docile. “Not from him. I refuse.”

“Oh, yes, you will, little sister,” mama answered, her jaw set. “We owe that much to a neighbor, especially this neighbor.”

So every Saturday morning, my mother—not trusting me to get there on my own—drove me to the high school gym where eight victims were made to go through a mortifying routine to the strains of Brahm’s Lullaby, Don Roberto coaching us while Virginia plunked out the music on an out-of-tune piano. All joking promptly stopped; this was agony, so much so that my mother took along a switch to force me out of the car. The fact that the other kids now made fun of me didn’t help the situation—especially when Don Roberto Florio, in a moment of exasperation, called me an “elephant,” (I was thin and bony, which made the epithet doubly insulting). My popularity barometer—such as it was in second grade—fell drastically. “Please, please,” I begged my mother. “Please let me quit.” But she would not. Some days I even scolded Hero, refusing to let him out of the fence for our usual romp in the big field across the road. “It’s all your fault,” I said, kicking at the wire and walking away when he began whining.

The climax of the torture came in May when Don Roberto decided to give a recital. He handed our mothers a list of costume requirements, which in my case was a cut-off sheet with neck and arm holes trimmed in gold rickrack—he termed the effect “Grecian.” My mother, not being a seamstress herself, hired a widow named Mrs. Chambers to sew up this little number for me; but Mrs. Chambers’ eyes were bad and she was unaware that the whole hem was crooked—rising high on one side and falling low on the other. When I slipped in—late as usual—for the dress rehearsal, Don Roberto took one look at me and began shaking his head. “No, no, no, no, no,” he said, this time rolling his eyes as well as his r’s, “eet r-r-reely will not do.” Taking me aside he folded over the entire hem with scotch tape, making my costume much shorter than anybody else’s. On recital night, I lived in mortal fear of my panties showing and being teased by the boys, so whenever the choreography called for us to raise our arms above our heads, I only raised mine as far as my chin—constantly looking over my shoulder at my hemline and even surreptitiously tugging at it. Once I glanced toward the left wing of the theatre—an old motion picture house owned by the superintendent of schools, Mr. Bell—and saw Don Roberto standing with his head in his hands, but I had no idea that I was responsible for his despair until the recital was over and he stalked over to me, his face inflamed. Virginia was at his heels trying to calm him down, but I suppose his Latin temperament got the better of him because he said between clenched teeth, “You . . .are no dancer, you will nev-vairr be a dancer, eet is quit, ker-plunk.” This ker-plunk was exactly what I’d been hoping for, and I pushed through the mob of parents offering congratulations to each other’s children to report to my mother what he’d said. She was irate. “So rude,” she hissed through pursed lips. Having heard titters during my performance, I knew that Don Roberto was right: I had been awful. The one person who came up to me afterwards and said anything at all complementary was my loyal buddy and sometimes “boyfriend” (he’d actually kissed me on the lips once when we were up in the weeping willow tree), Billy Bell. “Susie,” he said, “you were . . .outstanding.”

Though Don Roberto eventually came next door to apologize, the jig was up, so to speak. Mama had “done her duty,” as she saw it, and no more was required of me than to “keep mum” about the episode, which I gladly did since the thought brought a shameful flush to my cheeks. Then I became involved in other things and forgot about it. I forgot about Don Roberto, too—especially after he and Virginia moved out of the Bloodworth’s house into a tiny apartment above the post office and I rarely saw them, though I heard rumors about his classes dwindling. Then just before school was about to start the next fall, Billy told me that the Florios were leaving. “Can’t get enough students,” he said. “Maybe he should stop wearing ballet shoes,” I sniffed. “He’s just different,” Billy sighed. “Mr. Murphy,” (the general manager of the mill), “told my dad that he thought Mr. Florio looked “greasy.” “Even I, as much as I loathed the whole idea of ballet and Don Roberto in particular, sensed that this was unjust.

Not long after, I saw the Florio’s Chevy—again piled with stuff—pull up to the Bloodworth’s house, and Mr. and Mrs. Blood-worth come running out, Mrs. Bloodworth holding a handkerchief up to her face as if she’d been crying. Before they drove off, she handed them a paper bag—filled with sandwiches, I guessed—and gave her daughter a hug which Mr. Bloodworth had to pull her away from; they both shook Don Roberto’s hand, then the Florios departed in a great cloud of exhaust that seemed to form a screen around the car. I was surprised at how sad I felt—so sad that I wrote a story about them entitled “The Dancing Gypsies” which described a team of exotic dancers who departed a small town, taking all their “otherness” with them and leaving everybody else with their same old white skins and cracker talk. It was the talk that bothered me most because it seemed to simplify complicated things—though I certainly wouldn’t have put it like this at the time. I might have said, rather, that words were used as smokescreens, much like the Florio’s exhaust.

The one relief from this sameness was Billy Bell. He was of us, but not really one of us, if this makes sense. He had a huge vocabulary, and was always coming up with words that made the rest of us blink, words like “incorrigible,” “laudatory,” “incessant,” “necrophiliac”— which he called my father once when he was very angry at me, the only time I ever knew Billy to be cruel, although I didn’t realize it until much later. At the same time—and this was almost a contradiction—he was obsessed with American Indian lore, and had convinced himself that, in spite of his piercing green eyes and light brown hair, he was one-quarter Cherokee. From April to late October, when it starts to turn chilly in Georgia, Billy ran around with nothing on but a leather flap in front and back (cut from his mother’s old pocketbook) sewn to a strap. Sometimes he put shoe polish on his hair to make it black and straight, the way Indians’ hair looked in the cowboy movies that we saw on Saturday afternoon at his father’s picture show.

By this time, Billy was hanging out a lot over in the Quarters, the colored section of town, and up on Piney Ridge, where the white trash lived—which is what mama called them. When I asked why, she said they didn’t work and were “good-for-nothing.” Actually, I discovered through Billy, that most of them did work, they just didn’t have very high-paying jobs. One man, Robert Smith, who had lost the use of one arm when it was accidentally pulled through a natting machine, was reduced to being a “sweeper,” which meant that he cleaned lint off the floors. He had two sons, Melchior—nicknamed Skeeter—and Marvin, whom we all liked except for one thing. They both had two shirts and two pairs of overalls, which they alternated wearing, but never bothered to wash. Sometimes Marvin, who was younger, wet his pants in school, and the odor of piss, particularly on a rainy day, was so sharp that it made the other students’ noses twitch, or so they claimed. They also said that kids would crawl over each other to get away from him. “Why don’t you wash your clothes once in a while?” Billy asked, the only person who could get away with it. This was a brand-new idea for Skeeter, and from then on, his and Marvin’s rank smells more or less disappeared—although some days, when Marvin’s overalls didn’t dry properly, it might surface again like a low-lying hum.

Speaking of hum, the most astonishing thing about Skeeter was his love of music. He could turn almost anything into a musical instrument—a bobbie pin became a Jew’s harp, a cigar box a guitar; he created a beautiful flute from a strip of cane that he hollowed out and cut holes in; my favorite was the “suzoo” (his name) made from a large gourd and fitted up with strings of left-over wire that Mr. Bloodworth slipped to him free under the counter in the hardware department. The other thing about Skeeter was his patriotism. Whenever “The Star Spangled Banner” was played, he instantly dropped whatever he was doing to stand rigid in a tense salute, which his dad had taught him. He was in charge of taking down the school flag since he did it ceremoniously, with just the right folds and creases until it was precisely compact. At that time, World War II was on everyone’s lips.

I was ashamed of my father—who unlike most of my friends’ fathers—was too old to fight; Mr. Bell was too old, too, and this, in a curious way, brought Billy and me closer. Together with Skeeter, we followed the war in whatever newspapers we could lay our hands on. Sometimes we begged our friends to read their dad’s airmail letters aloud—at least the military parts—so that we could reenact them in the big field. We called ourselves “Commandos.”

At first the war centered on Hitler, whom we hated worse than death itself, although he was too evil for anybody to impersonate. Skeeter knew someone who’d fought in North Africa and then moved up through Italy where he’d hidden in a stone barn to avoid capture by the Germans. We acted this out on cold winter afternoons, the colder the better—seeing our breaths balloon into smoke added a much-needed reality. When my uncle wrote from a troop ship somewhere in the Bering Strait about the fog and evenings spent listening to ice cracking, it seemed the doughnut hole business all over again: men in uniform, sometimes troops of them falling right off the edge of earth into it. Every night before I went to sleep, I thought about my uncle tumbling down into the darkness.

Sometimes the war came to me as a nightmare: a child in a deserted building screaming (had I seen a picture of this?), a group of sinister men creeping through woods where I crouched, terrified that they might find me. Words buzzed around my head: Patton’s Third Army, the Rhine, Eisenhower, G Company, battalion head-quarters, troop ships, field hospitals, K-rations (which in my mind consisted of tangerines, pecans, and squares of Hershey’s chocolate). Military place names such as the Ardennes (which we called Awe-din), Corregidor (Corridor), Midway, Bataan (Baton) were assigned to different parts of the field: the woods, the swamp near the big ditch, the open area where it was hard to hide. The worst times—the time when war ceased to be a mere game—were the arrivals of the bodies of hometown men from overseas, My father, as the town undertaker, was responsible for picking up the bodies at the depot and giving them the most impressive burial possible. There was also the question of the identification of remains and whether the casket should be open or closed, depending on how badly the body was mutilated. (One young man was returned—I overheard my father telling Mr. Bell—with his fingernails missing; he’d been wounded in Burma and taken prisoner by the Japanese.) Each time a body arrived, the church bells would toll twelve times. The soldiers’ mothers would cry like Olivia deHavilland did in my favorite move, To Each His Own, which I saw four times at Mr. Bell’s theatre.

One afternoon in early March—just when the jonquils and pear trees were beginning to bloom—my father called mama and told her that Don Roberto Florio had been killed on a carrier as it approached Guam. Mama quickly mixed together an ice-box pie and took it over to Mrs. Bloodworth, who, coincidentally, was expecting Virginia and her infant daughter momentarily. She was driving all the way from Cleveland “by herself,” Mrs. Bloodworth said, drawing her mouth down.

Virginia arrived looking paler than flour, as if she had milk in her veins instead of blood. Not only that, but she was breast-feeding the baby, a scandal to the other women who looked away whenever she started to unbutton the top of her dress. The baby was collicky, too, and her screaming agitated Mrs. Bloodworth beyond reason. “I’m gonna die if I don’t get some sleep,” she complained to my mother, as they waited for Don Roberto’s body to be flown to Washington, then shipped south by train. Now that he was dead, the town, including myself, was ready to forget past differences and join in giving him a funeral with full military honors. A few old veterans from World War I had formed a rifle brigade and they were the ones who performed the nine-gun salute as the flag was taken off the casket, folded by Skeeter and Billy (both in their Cub Scout uniforms), and then handed to Virginia. Some of Don Roberto’s former pupils, including me, holding daisies and yellow roses, stood together in a little claque beside the grave and threw in petals as the casket was lowered and Mrs. Bloodworth prepared to faint.

When VE Day arrived, there was dancing in the plaza with a small band imported from Chattanooga. Practically the whole town turned out to celebrate, including we kids. Our side had won, and in some way, we were responsible, I wanted Billy to dance with me, and he did finally, but only in a half-hearted way that gave no satisfaction. Skeeter was not much better, but at least he pumped my arm a bit harder as we singlemindedly burrowed our way through the throngs of people who were jiggling up and down, stepping on each other’s toes and not minding at all. Over in one corner, Virginia Florio danced by herself with her eyes closed, performing beautiful ballet steps that had nothing to do with the actual music. When we looked around for Billy, he’d already left.

He was not the only one to disappear. Some months later Virginia took off in her old Chevy, leaving the baby with her parents. As days went by and she didn’t return, Mr. Bloodworth flew to Cleveland to see if he could come up with any clues about where she might be, but her old friends knew nothing. There was a rumor that she might have gone to New York, and if this was the case, as Mrs. Bloodworth said, “she might as well have fallen into a snake pit.” I had a recurring nightmare about Virginia writhing around, her cobra head occasionally rearing up to cry out. After a few months of sending her picture to newspapers with a caption that begged her to return home for the sake of her child, the Bloodworths gave up looking.

The baby—with the peculiar name “September,” which was the month that Virginia vanished—seemed to give Mrs. Bloodworth what my mother termed “a new lease.” She neglected her chickens and even forgot to complain about Hero. In fact, September loved my dog—”Row Row,” she called him—and he was very gentle with her even when she pulled his ears. Soon Mrs. Bloodworth was calling him “Row Row,” too, and the change of name seemed to give him a different personality in her mind. I even saw her once or twice lean over to stroke his fur.

Three years passed before Mrs. Bloodworth came to my father with her strange request. She wanted to buy a casket, an expensive one, to “bury Virginia in.”

“But she’s not dead, is she?”

“She is for me and her father.”

“Yes, but it’s not official.”

“What difference does that make?”

My father was flummoxed. “Well. . . for one thing we don’t have a body.”

Mrs. Bloodworth was scornful of the literalness of all this. “A body isn’t necessary for a funeral.”

“You want a funeral, too?” He was aghast.

“A symbolic one. Not at the church, at the cemetary. And I’d like you to officiate,” she said, as if bestowing a special favor. “September needs closure to all this. You know, she calls me “mommy”.”

“But she has to be told . . . .”

“She will be . . . in due time. And when she is, I’ll take her to the cemetery and show her Virginia’s tombstone.”

My father stood there, shaking his head. “Mrs. Bloodworth, I don’t know. . . . I never heard of such a thing.”

“Good,” she said. “It’ll be a first.”

My father appealed to the Big Friendly manager, Mr. Greer, hoping that he’d say no. But the commercial aspect was too inviting.

“She’s buying a casket, you say?”

“A steel one, with copper trim.”

He thought for a moment. “Then let her do it.”

“But there’s no body. I’ve never buried anyone before without a body.” Something about the thought stopped him cold. “Okay,” he said. “Okay.”

“What the hell,” Mr. Greer said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Saves you a lot of work.”

This was in August. The funeral was to take place September 12th, the anniversary of Virginia’s disappearance. Mrs. Bloodworth bought September a white lace dress with a flouncy petticoat from the women’s ready-to-wear, and herself a black shantung suit and a hat with a veil. Mr. Bloodworth was also dressed in black. A huge funeral wreath, ordered from Joy’s Florist, hung over their front door. Instead of keeping it a secret, the way my father had hoped, many in the town found out about it, and a few of the neighbors even planned to attend.

My father was not only embarrassed, but slightly chagrined, as if he were about to perform a parody of a serious ritual. “Wish I’d never consented to do this,” he told my mother over and over.

“Well, you have,” she said, and added, “You can’t back out now.”

“Maybe it’ll rain, and everybody will stay home.”

Instead it turned out to be one of those beautiful fall days that fill us with longing. At least they did me, and maybe this is why I begged my father to be allowed to go, though normally I would’ve hidden under my bed at the prospect. At first he said no, but then he changed his mind, or rather I persuaded him to change it. He needed some facts about Virginia to give the ceremony “authenticity,” as he put it, and I could supply them. Because without being aware of it, I had studied Virginia carefully, especially her head-in-the-clouds approach which I thought the most satisfactory method of dealing with doughnut holes. When I adopted the same attitude, it drove my mother nuts. Mama would get right up in my face, run a hand over my glazed eyes, and say, “Hello, hello! Anyone home?” Sometimes she shouted it.

Yes, I knew a few things about Virginia, which I recited while my father wrote them down in his florid script that resembled the John Hancock signature on the insurance policy. One memory was seeing her and Don Roberto waltz across the gym together, oblivious to anyone and anything except their airy lightness and smooth turn of their bodies, seemingly dancing not on the floor but a few inches above it. (Years later, in high school, I wrote a poem about this in which I said at the end, “I have not seen anything lovelier since,” which is still true.) And I reminded daddy that she did the same thing at the V-E dance, though without her husband of course.

The other memory was of Virginia coming up to me once after a dance class when I was feeling particularly awkward and inept, and putting a hand on my back. “Stand up straight,” she said. “You have a good body for a dancer.”

“Mr. Florio doesn’t think so,” I sulked.

“Oh, don’t mind him,” she smiled. “Sometimes he doesn’t see what’s right in front of his eyes.”

When I told my father this, he frowned. “I think that’s too personal,” he said. “But the first one is nice.” He went on writing.

I stood by my mother at the cemetery. In front of us was the gaping grave with a green cover over it, and the elegant casket covered with a large spray of yellow roses, which Mrs. Bloodworth said were Virginia’s favorites. Mrs. Bloodworth bounced September—”looking absolutely adorable,” my mother whispered—on her lap under the small tent while daddy read a few verses from the Book of Ruth. Then he shut the Bible, cleared his throat, and launched into a description of Virginia’s grace and talent, repeating my comment about her seeming to float just above the ground, as if she was bodiless. “So,” he said, clearing his throat and looking slightly uneasy, “perhaps it’s fitting that Virginia Bloodworth Florio’s body is missing here, and that we are burying an empty casket.” While he talked, Mrs. Bloodworth drew out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. Even Mr. Bloodworth shed a tear or two.

When it was over, the Bloodworths asked us to stop by for coffee and cake, but my father declined. I think he thought the whole thing had been carried far enough and now was the time to put a stop to it. Me, I could have gone on forever, and did. I told him that while he was speaking, I could see Virginia’s smiling figure hovering over the casket. I meant it as a compliment and when his hand came crashing down on the kitchen table, it surprised me. “Susie,” he said in the kind of voice I rarely heard him use. “I will not have you making up such things. Is that clear?” The scared look in his eyes was also startling. “IS THAT CLEAR?”

“Yessir,” I said. I knew better than to protest that I had seen Virginia as clear as day because that would only scare him more, and maybe me too. I wondered whether to tell Mrs. Bloodworth, but decided not to. But maybe I’d write an account of it to give September when she was old enough. Then she could decide for herself.

Not long after, Billy Bell turned up in our yard wearing his Indian flaps, sticking out his tanned chest to wallop several times with his fist and let out a bloodcurdling yell that was meant to be a war cry. I was beginning to be very aware of Billy’s chest, and even more, to be titillated by what lay behind those flaps, especially the front one, which I tried to sneak a peek at whenever he crawled up and down the branches of trees.

My mother must’ve sensed this because she marched over to Mrs. Bell’s house and told her—Billy overheard this—that he was too big to be running around in those “things” and she’d appreciate it if he at least wore underwear underneath. Maybe this hint of sex scared him as much as it did me, because his personality began to take a sharp turn: until then he’d been merely eccentric; now he became truly strange, even a bit bizarre. He stopped putting shoe polish on his hair, instead he let it grow long and tangled, held back by a dirty string. He often deserted me and Skeeter to go off by himself. He built a canoe out of genuine birchbark which he paddled down the Chattooga River as far as the “Suck,” a dangerous whirlpool where he overturned and was almost swallowed up. His school marks dropped and he seemed unusually distracted. Before, his hand would’ve been the first to shoot up when the teacher asked a question; now he simply sat there looking out the window. When I asked what he was doing, he said, “Drawing darkness,” and turning, showed me a paper filled with black holes within round circles. I could only stare at them.

As for Virginia Bloodworth Florio, in my fantasies she moved to England, married a titled aristocrat (“Lady Sawyer” was what I named her), acquired a British accent, gave birth to other children, and never revealed a word about her Southern origins—except on her deathbed when, to the surprise of her blueblood family, she asked that her remains be flown back to Trion, Georgia, USA for burial. (I particularly relished the thought of the consternation that this dilemma would cause the Bloodworths.) For a long time, I awaited the arrival of her body at the depot—even imagining the opening of the casket—but it never happened.

In another fantasy, I had Virginia slip back into town, visit her own grave, and slip away again, silent as a ghost. In still another, she passed by on the Central of Georgia that ran on the track across the road. Through the window she could see September—now a beautiful young girl with long blonde hair—skipping rope in the Blood-worth yard with her friends. A tear rolled down her cheek even as she put on her Olivia deHavilland happy-ending-in-spite-of-everything smile.

As far as I know, though, nobody ever heard from Virginia again. “It was,” Mrs. Bloodworth once murmured, “as if the earth just swallowed her right up.”


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