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Tough, and: An Elegiac Point of Honor, and: Ducktail

From: The Missouri Review
Volume 37, Number 1, 2014
pp. 135-147 | 10.1353/mis.2014.0012

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Tough, and: An Elegiac Point of Honor, and: Ducktail

Buena Vista Ragsdale

the dew lay all night heavy upon my branch

Job 29:19

The morning the mailman found her after eighteen hours on that caliche ground hard as a mule trail, the dregs of dawnlight streamed up like a cockscomb above their rickety farmhouse ridgepole and wallowed with the blue tick heeler the raindrip groundedge under the Texas porch far sky still dark blue as a shotgun barrel

above where she lay in the body-length embrace of death, wash hung stretched out and starched on the clothesline like a flock of angels nesting in rows under a fading daylight moon the cheatgrass whitewashed with hard rime

she fell and then waited for him to find her through the afternoon and cold night with a broken hip, her dyspeptic husband inside with the T.V. wondering where supper might be until he found buttermilk and cornbread in the cold box with a quarter of onion that would have to tide him over until she finished whatever she was doing and made him something for breakfast never noticing she didn’t come to bed [End Page 135]

when the mailman knocked him up from his Captain Kangaroo reverie to wallow out of his chair and come answer the door he said You need to get on the phone call an ambulance to come out here he said What for? I aint sick yet the mailman said It’s not about you it’s your wife Miss Buena laying out there on the ground half froze to death and hurt bad it looks like and he said I wondered how come she hadn’t made no coffee

she wouldn’t even take an aspirin with a glass of whiskey for the pain so she could stay awake and keep her mind alert enough to hear what that damned Dr. Tubbs and those nurses might be saying about her behind her back who didn’t know a sonofabitching thing about it anyway and after the mailman offered his opinion on how tough she was she said Like a ocotillo limb to which Dr. Tubbs said What? She said A devil’s walking stick just find a bed and put me in it I need to get some rest

her husband hitched a ride in with the mailman the next day and sat in a corner of her room saying nothing, like a waterlogged raft waiting for a huge shove to get underweigh but accepting a dinner tray when they brought it then hitched a ride back to the farm every evening with whoever he conned out of a lift the seven miles so introverted and evanescent the nurses and Dr. Tubbs on rounds never even noticed his presence [End Page 136]

he made such a science of mute insociability except to ask that the channel be changed on rare occasions of documentary or political commentary beyond his cognition, having as Dr. Tubbs said the mental capacity and vocabulary of a second grader plus the word firetruck

she lay dying through the winter with her nonhealing shattered pelvis and femur uncomplaining and acceptant of fate only asking the nurses one request, that the call switch be hung on the toilet paper holder saying By god they can find me being dead in bed or on the ground but they are not going to discover me stretched out on top of the bedpan when her husband said What was that about? She said Just shut up, your mind is as black as a table of face down dominoes on top of a midnight velvet cloth go on home you aint doing anybody any good so you might as well do it there as here

Dr. Tubbs said she was a lily of the field her toiling and spinning days done let her have anything she wants anybody who put up with that man and that hard a life out there alone for fifty years is a candidate for sainthood

not to speak also of the fact she could do any job needed to be done on a...