top of page

Speck, WV / Timothy Dodd


 

 Speck, WV


                   For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.

                        Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I

                        have been fully known.         

                                                                        —1 Corinthians 13:12

 

           

In the little town founded along the Greenbrier River thirty years before the Civil War, Barren and Fern Funeral Home stood as its stateliest building. No courthouse or old bank building bested its lovely, baby blue, Second Empire grace. Raywin entered the funeral parlor with no interest in its beauty, however, taking a flyer from the marble counter in the vestibule. Flowery lettering across the top of the paper read: “In Loving Memory of Calhoun Ruff.”

           

Raywin walked into the large reception room and sat down in one of the few remaining seats in the back. The brass-handled, black casket lay open up front, surrounded by a lush array of flowers. Beside Raywin sat an elderly man in a brown suit draped over his gaunt body, long fingernails crawling out from the sleeves.           

           

“A shame what happened to Cal, ain’t it?” the man said, his hands resting on his thighs, fingers moving as if he played the harp.

           

“Sure is. Dying is hard for everyone,” Raywin replied.

           

“Ain’t nobody deserves to go out that way. Good man though.” 

           

“I bet.” 

           

“What do you mean you bet? Didn’t you know him?”

           

“No, I never met him,” Raywin answered, turning back toward the casket.

           

“Oh, you’re just a friend of a friend or something?”

           

An organ sounded and Raywin took a deep breath, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. Two clergymen stood up and positioned themselves near the podium, but a minute later the organist stopped, the ministers returned to their seats, and the old man beside Raywin continued.

           

“Who you with here anyway, if you don’t mind me asking?”

           

“By myself.”

           

“So what’s your connection to Cal then?”

           

“Don’t have much.”

           

The old man lowered his voice to a whisper. “So what are you doing here, son? Why ain’t you out shooting pool, driving around, or hunting for a lady?” 

           

“I’m a seeker of life,” Raywin replied.

           

The man paused and gave Raywin the lookover. “Young man, you know this is a funeral?”


         

           

“Can’t know much about life without knowing something about death.”

           

“Well, I guess that’s true, but I never heard of somebody going to a funeral without knowing the deceased. Truth told, I’m not sure they’d want you here.”

           

The ministers stood and music started for a second time. Introductions and “How Great Thou Art” followed. Reverend Sank Caldron then gave a eulogy, but clichés about the dead man’s character riled Raywin—he’d heard them at the last funeral: “He’d give you the shirt off his back” and “You don’t find people like him anymore.”

When Reverend Cauldron finished, Raywin joined a line to view the deceased, taking deeper breaths as he got closer to the coffin. When he peered over into the casket, Calhoun Ruff’s face appeared tense, and his hands looked like he wore translucent gloves to mask wounds or decay. Raywin stared, saying nothing, then returned to his seat as visitors sang “To God Be the Glory.”

A tug on his arm came as the song finished. Raywin turned, expecting to see the old man again, but instead a young blonde woman stared at him with a scowl.

“Somebody said you didn’t know my daddy. You’re just here stirring up trouble,” she said, her voice scratchy. Raywin didn’t respond. “Well? What’s it about? Why are you here?” 

“Just contemplating. Contemplating life. I’m a seeker.”

“And you think my daddy’s funeral is the place for that?” Behind the young woman, two men wheeled the casket out the back door of the funeral home.

“Well I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I’m trying to understand life better and I figure that means I should know something about dying as well.”

“Yeah, well you don’t have to do it around here. Find someone else’s funeral. Heck, find a cave or a field of wildflowers for all I care—they’ve got dead things in them, too. Hey, Charlie! Come here a second. This guy...what’s your name?”

“Raywin.”


A well-built man in a navy, three-piece suit strolled over. 

“Raywin what?”

           

“Raywin Beet.”

           

“This Mr. Beet don’t even know Daddy. Just decided to show up.”

           

“This is a funeral, fellow,” the man said. A mole danced on his cheek when he spoke. “The family is in mourning, so if you didn’t know our daddy, move on. You’re not wanted here.”

             

Raywin didn’t answer and walked back through the vestibule, the first time his funeral visits had ended in confrontation. Exiting through the grand double doors of the funeral home, he lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. The clouds had rolled back and the morning heated up.



           

A burgundy El Camino pulled up near Raywin, tires screeching and its back seat cluttered with boxes and junk. A thin-faced man with a long arm reached across the passenger’s seat to roll down the window. Raywin didn’t recognize the man or the car.

           

“What do you say, young fellow? You aren’t deep in thought, are you?” the man asked, his voice high-pitched and his teeth looking as though he’d eaten raspberries.

Raywin shook his head, staring at the man’s moss green suit and black fedora pulled over his brow.

           

“I’d like to have a word with you. Mind getting in the car?”

           

“I’d prefer not to,” Raywin answered.

           

“Won’t take long, my friend. Just a gentle conversation for a moment or two.”

           

“No, I’m in the middle of a walk.”

           

“Oh yeah? Out here ruminating on eternity, are you? Where you walking? Convenience store?”

           

“Actually I am. And not going anywhere in particular. I just like walking.”

           

“Oh, okay. I figured you needed some coffee or a Snickers. Thought I could park this mad machine and we’d join forces.” 

           

The man turned off his engine and got out of the car. Thin as a month-old cadaver and maybe the tallest person Raywin had ever seen, he looked neither young nor old. His black Balmorals clicked on the crack-filled sidewalk as he stepped near the storefront of Hunt’s Vacuum Cleaners, nauseating Raywin with his strong cologne. Two warts blocked half of a small tattoo on his left hand—Raywin thought it might be the skeleton of a fish. 

           

“Might be your lucky day,” the man said, following after Raywin who had resumed walking at a moderate pace. Empty streets and the mid-afternoon quiet had put the shops around them to sleep.

           

“Listen, I’m not the person to try any hard sells on.”

           

“No, no, of course not,” the man replied, hands in his pockets jingling coins. “But you’re no fool either, and I’m sure you know life can go up or down with little more than the snap of a finger.” Raywin imagined the man pulling a pogo stick out from under his hat. “In any case, I know you’re a young guy who thinks about his purpose in life.”       

           

“Yes, that’s true,” Raywin confirmed, somewhat impressed.

           

“Very noble of you. And would you happen to have a social security card?”

           

“Not on me, no.”

           

“No, no, of course not. I mean tucked away at home in some old, faded dresser under piles of flannel shirts and tube socks that aren’t so white anymore.” 

“That’s about right,” Raywin replied. “Had it since I was twelve when my mother took me down to the bank one Saturday afternoon.”  

“Good, good. Is your mother an Ernest Tubbs fan by any chance?”

“Not particularly, no.”

“How about you? You a singer?”

“Not really.”

“Well that’s not so important anyway. You got any skills with your hands?”

           

“What do you mean?” Raywin stopped and leaned against a parking meter. Nearby, A Bunch of Grapes Cafe had their chalkboard stand on the sidewalk with specials of the day advertised. “And what’s the point of all this? You didn’t even tell me your name or where you come from.”

           

“Just stick with me a little longer and it will all make sense, son. And if you’ve got any ability with woodworking, fixing cars, appliances, anything like that, you’d better tell me.”

           

“I’ve got some experience in bricklaying. That’s about it. I’m all right with bicycles too. I’m not really interested in all that though.”

           

“All right. That’s good. Those are skills. That might actually do,” the man said, pulling back his sleeves to check his watch, revealing another fish skeleton.

           

“Do what?” Raywin asked.

           

“You see, young buck, out past Skoal Run I’m building me an estate up on the ridge. That means there’s a lot of work to be done, but it isn’t easy finding the kind of quality help I need. Hard to find good people these days. You can hardly trust folks.”

           

“I’m not interested in any of that,” Raywin said, raising his voice.

           

“Well now don’t dismiss things so fast. I have another gentleman doing most of the work. He’s doing the bricklaying too, in fact. You’d just be a helper to him and all. Easy work. And I’ll pay you twenty bucks an hour. Plus lunch is on me up at the house any day you’re working there. Not to mention you’d learn a lot of skills from this other guy that you could use later on. Calhoun Ruff’s his name.”

           

“Calhoun Ruff?”

           

“Yep.”

           

Raywin stopped and turned to face the man. “Calhoun Ruff’s dead.”

           

“What do you mean he’s dead? He’s working on my estate as we speak.”

           

“No, no. I was at his funeral yesterday morning.”  

           

“Funeral? I just saw him on Friday. Look here, I even got his business card in my wallet.” From a skinny, black wallet with a dancing skeleton on its exterior, the man took out a professionally designed business card, white with red letters, and handed it to Raywin.

           

Raywin read, “Calhoun Ruff: Fix-it Man,” as he recalled the closed eyes and face of the corpse. “Middle-aged? Graying, thinning hair parted on the side?” he asked.

           

“Yep, that's him.”

           

“He’s purely dead. I saw him yesterday in his casket.”

           

The man lifted his fedora to scratch a bald head with a noticeable number of stitches above the right ear, then ran back to his car, his lower jaw quivering. “You best watch yourself now, son,” he called out, lowering his lanky body into the front seat. Raywin stood and watched in dismay as the man turned on the ignition and sped away. 


 

           

Officer Silvers’ police car floated into the parking lot, stopping near the gate to the city park. He got out of his vehicle on a mission, straightening his shirt and pulling his pants up by the belt. Raywin sat on a bench surrounded by tall maples and elms near the park’s waterless fountain. Journal open on his lap, he fidgeted as Silvers approached.  

           

“Mr. Beet?” the policeman sneered, his young face sunburned.

           

“Yes? Afternoon, Officer Silvers.”

           

Silvers parked his strut directly in front of Raywin, his belt buckle about two feet from the youth’s nose. “Tell me, how did you come to know a fellow by the name of Calhoun Ruff?” 

           

“I didn’t.” Raywin looked down at the park bench where a line of ants flowed, hard at work. “I mean, I don’t really know him.”

           

“What do you mean you don’t know him? You were at his funeral.”

           

“I didn’t go there because of knowing him.”

           

“So now why the hell else would you go to a man’s funeral if you didn’t know him?” Silvers asked, arms folded and sweat stains streaked down the side of his shirt. 

           

“I go to funerals because I’m trying to figure out some things,” Raywin said. Behind him, an acorn hit the ground.

“Figure out some things like what?”

“Like things about life and death.”

“And you’re telling me that’s why you went to Calhoun Ruff’s funeral? And that otherwise you don’t know the man?” Officer Silvers shifted his weight to his left foot and looked out across the park grounds.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I tell you, this town gets crazier every day. Walnut Festival in September, two Mexican grocery stores. Now you. Do you go to every stranger’s funeral in town?” Officer Silvers flicked his head towards an elderly woman in a long, floral night dress who had stopped to let her mutt urinate. “You going to go to her funeral too?”

“I guess I might if she passes away.”

The policeman bent over to look Raywin in the eye, his eyebrows reminding the young man of crabgrass. “You might,” Officer Silvers said, poorly mimicking Raywin’s voice.

“Yeah.” 

The little dog nearby yelped a couple of times and kicked up some grass. “Of course she’s gonna pass away. I guess you might know a little something about Calhoun Ruff being murdered too.”

“Murdered?” Raywin shook his head several times. “No, I had no idea he was murdered.” 

“So you’re saying you didn’t have anything to do with that?”

 

“If I didn’t know about it, then I didn’t have nothing to do with it, Officer.” 

“That’s queer.”

“What’s queer?”

Silvers raised his voice. “Hey, are you getting smart with an officer of the law?”

“No, I’m just minding my business and you’re making insinuations.”

“We can make them down at the police station if you’d prefer. You ever been down there before?”

“Just driving by.”

“Just driving by, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“You know what? I ought to search you.” Raywin bit his lower lip, remembering that Calhoun Ruff’s card, along with a few nickels, rested in his front pocket. “You own a car?”

“No, never had one.”

“Well that’s good because I suggest you don’t go very far in the next few weeks. We’ll be wanting to have an official word with you. This here word is just unofficial.”

Raywin sat expressionless, contemplating the difference.

“It’s a fixing to rain,” Officer Silvers said, turning to walk back to his vehicle.  “In the meantime, maybe you might want to start searching for some alerbi.”

 

Two weeks after the funeral, Calhoun Ruff’s daughter found Raywin walking his usual route on Main Street, slowly stepping in the shadows of the town’s decrepit, turn-of-the-century, two-story buildings. Raywin didn’t recognize her. She hadn’t looked particularly well-to-do in her black dress at the funeral, but now she looked downright haggard in places. Her halter top and flip-flops revealed a bulging stomach and several deformed toes with worn off, dark blue nail polish. There was a band-aid wrapped around the fourth toe of her left foot. She wore oversized sunglasses, and her hair was pulled back and tied in a tight bun.

“I knew I’d find you eventually,” she said, grabbing Raywin by the arm in front of the dark, cobwebbed doorway of Billy’s Shoe Store, closed for nearly a decade. “Remember me?”

“Of course.”

“I just got paid last night, and you’re coming with me to DQ.”

“No, no. I’ll have to pass. I’ve got some thinking to do. Plus I’ve only got some small change.” 

“Don’t worry, it’s on me. And we’ll do your thinking together. I know I didn’t treat you so nicely the other day.”

“That’s all right. You had your reasons. You sure you can afford an extra mouth at DQ?”

“Depends how much you eat,” she said, tilting her head to the side with a smile. 

Raywin giggled. “Not much really. We could just get a couple blueberry soda pops up there at McCrory’s. Or I can just get a sundae at DQ and pay for half of it. Then you could eat the other half.”

“Deal.”

The girl walked much faster than Raywin as she immediately set off toward the Dairy Queen two blocks away. Raywin quickly fell behind, thinking how much shorter she was without heels. She whistled as he followed her, and the handful of people on the sidewalks—all but one a senior citizen with a walker, crutches, or wheelchair—stopped and stared as she passed.

“You got a cigarette?” she yelled back.

“I’ve got Husky.”

The girl didn’t answer and instead started sprinting when she passed B&S Bank. She ran the last block and turned the corner to the Dairy Queen entrance where two El Caminos and two Chevy Novas sat parked in the lot. When Raywin caught up he found her holding the door open for him, the newly planted morning glories at the entrance already trampled on.

“You’re not in too much hurry to get that half-price sundae,” she said.

“What’s the rush? Dairy Queen’s not going out of business.”

“They aren’t, but we are,” she replied. “You remember we met at a funeral, right?  Now grab us a booth.” Raywin sat down in the first booth inside the doorway. “Jesus, can’t you pick a place a little more private?” the girl asked, bypassing him for a spot in the rear corner of the store away from other customers.

Raywin got up and followed. When he sat down across from her, a large, laminated menu hid her face. “I hate it how their strawberry sauce always looks so bloody,” she said. 

“The blueberry sauce looks bloody too.”

The girl lowered her oversized piece of plastic to peep at Raywin. “What?”

“Horseshoe crabs have blue blood.”

“Hey, that reminds me. Are you planning to go to any more strangers’ funerals? I might like to go with you to one.” Raywin followed the girl’s hands as she placed the menu back in the rack against the wall, then put them under the table.

A waitress wearing a lopsided apron loaded with ketchup stains came over and interrupted the conversation. Raywin thought her hair looked especially fine. “Can I get you all anything to drink to start off?” she asked.

“No, my man and me are just having some sundaes. What kind you want, Beet?”

           

“Banana.”

           

“Banana?”

           

“I always get banana.”

           

“All right. Make it one banana for Beet and a hot fudge for me. Medium-sized.”

           

The waitress scribbled a few words on a tiny notepad with her oversized pen. “You all want nuts on them?”

           

“What kind of a question is that? Of course we do. I want lots of nuts and so does he. Right, Beet?”

           

“Sure.”

           

“Okay, that’ll be two medium sundaes with extra nuts. One banana and one hot fudge. Anything else? Sodas or something to drink?”

           

“No, you already asked us that,” the girl answered, one hand now fiddling with the saltshaker. By the way her other arm moved under the table, Raywin knew she was scratching her leg.

           

“Okay, then. Be just a few minutes and I’ll bring those little treats out for you all.”

 

“You know, Beet, I really hate them advertising posters they stick up in these places,” the girl said as the waitress walked away.  

“Don’t seem real, do they?” Raywin said. Several times since meeting the girl he had wondered if he should ask about her father and how the family was doing, about the news of murder, but she always got her questions out quicker than he did.

“No, they don’t,” she replied, leaning across the table to look at his face more closely. “Hey, you remember you told me you’re a seeker of life, right?”

“Right.”

“You think there’s people out there then who are seekers of death, Beet?” Raywin didn’t answer as a fluorescent light above the table flickered. “Well, do you? Why do you always have to take so long to answer a question or keep the conversation going? Don’t you know it pays to be quick on your toes? Why do you think mine are all screwed up? I know you’ve seen them.”

“I guess so.”

“You guess what?”

“I guess there are seekers of death. I don’t see why not. There are people out there who seek for anything.”

“Well, wouldn’t a seeker of death just find it and die? That’d be the end of it.”

“Not necessarily.”

“You think a seeker of life and a seeker of death could ever get along then?”

“Seems like it’d be kind of difficult maybe,” Raywin replied. “I doubt one would be very interested in the other.”

The girl leaned back from the table as if relieved to get an answer to a burning question. “You’re no seeker of life then,” she said. 

Raywin kept his eyes down on the table. “Sure I am. What makes you say that?”

“Somebody killed my daddy, you know.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“He wasn’t no seeker of life. That’s for sure. And I’m not either.”

“I don’t know. I never met him. The reverend sure painted him as a pretty righteous fellow.”           

“They all do that. Even the serial killers get bragged on at their funerals. Don't mean it’s true.” A teenage couple came in giggling and sat down two booths over from Raywin and the girl. “To tell you the truth, I’m not here to get into all that. I was just kind of curious.”

“Curious about what?”

The waitress returned. Without speaking, she laid down two napkins, then two long-necked spoons, and finally the two sundaes with extra nuts, the hot fudge in front of Raywin. 

Raywin looked across at the girl’s turned up nose. “Go ahead and try the banana,” he said.

“No, that’s okay,” the girl replied, switching the sundaes.

“Listen, Ms. Ruff…”

“Call me by my name. It’s Candy.”

“Listen, Candy. Just so you know, I went to a lot of funerals before your father’s.  I wasn’t trying to pick on him or on you. It’s just something I do.”

“We already talked about all that. Let’s just drop it and enjoy our sundaes, okay? I been working hard doing meaningless lawn care and helping build this new house outside of town. Laying low. I need to relax a little bit. There isn’t nobody who doesn’t have but a limited amount of time.” 

Raywin agreed and dipped into his sundae. Conversation died as Candy doubled him in bites, and when Raywin looked up again, the door to the men’s restroom creaked open at the end of a hallway. He recognized the tall, lean man poking his bald head out before crossing in front of the cash registers, black shoes clicking on the tile. A mixed scent of Brut and human waste floated out with him, strong enough for a whiff to reach Raywin and Candy.

“Stinks in here half the time,” Candy said with almost half of her sundae finished. A minor commotion had started behind the counter, followed by the sound of a police siren in the distance. The siren steadily grew louder, and within two minutes a police car pulled up in the parking lot. Officer Silvers jumped out of his patrol car and yanked open the door to the Dairy Queen. 

“Cheeseburger, no pickles, Eunice,” he yelled. “I’m in a rush.”

Candy slouched down in the booth and tried to hide behind her sundae.

           

The waitress scurried over to the policeman’s side. “Don’t you have time to sit down, sweetheart?”

 

“No, I don’t,” Silvers answered emphatically. “And where’s the girl?”

Candy had stopped eating, and Raywin put his hand into his front pocket, felt Calhoun Ruff’s card again. He couldn’t hear the waitress answer Officer Silvers, but she nodded in their direction.

Officer Silvers turned and looked back at Raywin and Candy. A wide grin slowly spread across his face, and his index finger twitched close to his gun like the tail of a dog in love.


 

 

Speck, WV first appeared in Hard to Find, An Anthology of New Southern Gothic, published by Stephen F. Austin University Press.


/

 

TIMOTHY DODD is from Mink Shoals, WV. He is the author of short story collections Fissures, and Other Stories (Bottom Dog Press), Men in Midnight Bloom (Cowboy Jamboree Press), and Mortality Birds (Southernmost Books, with Steve Lambert), as well as poetry collections Modern Ancient (High Window Press) and Vital Decay (Cajun Mutt Press). Tim is also a visual artist who primarily exhibits in the Philippines. Sample artwork can be found on Instagram @timothybdoddartwork. His website is timothybdodd.wordpress.com.


Recent Posts

See All

Cleanse / Patrick Trotti

The rancid smell of dirty diapers filled her lungs as soon as she stepped into the house. It was a welcome change from the cloud of smoke she’d been under for the past few days. She closed the door as

Leaf Blower / Wilson Koewing

It was late December and we were living in the house on Fenner Avenue. A cold spell had broken, and the sun peeked quietly through the clouds. I decided to go outside and blow leaves off the driveway.

Comments


bottom of page