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All the Sunday afternoons I can remember have that same grainy, black-and-white quality as those old photographs in a familyscrapbook.
Edna and I are at home. She's cooking, a chicken probably, or a roast, and I'm doing the things I always do on Sundays, loungingaround the house, maybe working in the yard, reading the paper, or watching an old movie on television.
We sit on the porch, my mother and I, wave at the neighbors as they drive by, cuss out the politicians, or the Atlanta Braves, or theweather, or each other. It don't mean a thing.
Nothing happens, nothing changes. It's a lie we tell each other, a charm to keep us safe, like the tiny gold St. Christopher's medalEdna wears on a fine gold chain around her neck.
My daddy gave Edna the medal when he got sick and knew he would die. The Catholic Church took away Christopher's saintfranchise at about the same time we Garritys stopped going to Mass. Edna doesn't really believe in saints, but she believes if sheacts like she believes, something good could happen.
I believed it too, until the Sunday late last summer when my ideas about goodness and evil were shaken like one of those snowglobes we put on the mantel every Christmas.
It was one of those unremarkable Sundays. Not unbearably hot, because we'd had an early afternoon shower. The windows wereopen, and I could hear the soft swish of a lawn sprinkler nearby. I was inside the house, watching an old gangster movie. I thinkGeorge Raft was in it. Edna had put a chicken in the pressure cooker, and I was supposed to be listening for the steam to besputtering good so I could turn down the heat. She was outsideon the porch, probably dozing over the Sunday paper.
All of a sudden she let out a howl like a scalded dog. I went running out just in time to see her out in the yard, beating this poorold drunk with a dripping-wet floor mop.
She chased him down Oakdale, halfway to DeKalb Avenue, his pants still at half-mast around his knees, her pink terrycloth houseshoes slapping against her bare feet, and all the while she was right behind him, jabbing the wet mop at him like a bayonet.
Her heart condition has slowed her down some in the past year. Otherwise, I believe Edna would have run that old wino to groundand pummeled him to death with that mop. As it was, she stopped chasing him only because I went after her and dragged her homeby the arm.
"For God's sake," I told her, standing there on the sidewalk, panting for breath, hoping my own heart wouldn't give out, "that guycould have had a gun or a knife. What if he'd turned on you? What would you have done?"
"Son-of-a-bitch bums," she yelled, brandishing the mop in the direction he'd run off in. "The son of a bitch was using my yard asan outhouse. I saw him, Jules. He came right up to the edge of the porch and took a crap on my gardenia bush!"
I was pulling her along the sidewalk toward the house, trying to get her to come along quietly. But she had an audience now.Neighbors had heard her screams, and now dogs were barking and people were standing at the edge of the street or on their ownporches to see what was going on.
Old Mr. Byerly across the street met us by the driveway. Homer, his Boston terrier, was barking and snarling and running incircles around Mr. Byerly's feet.
"I seen him, Callahan," Mr. Byerly said, working his toothless gums in agitation. "It's that same damned wino I caught sleeping inmy car last week. Stank up the Buick so bad I had to use a whole bottle of Pine Sol on it. I think he's been sneaking around myback porch too, stealing Homer's food. Homer ain't never eat a whole box of Gainesburgers in one week. Have you, buddy?"
Homer lifted a black-and-white leg and directed a good-natured stream of urine at Mr. Byerly's work shoe.
"It's awful," Edna said. "Awful. Decent folk shouldn't have to put up with this. And I intend to put a stop to it." But her chest washeaving so hard, she couldn't say more. The chase had done her in.
I slipped my arm around her shoulder. "Come on, Ma," I said. "Let's go on inside and check on your chicken. You'll have a strokestanding around outside in this heat."
She pushed my arm away. "My gardenia," she said. "I've got to hose off that gardenia."
"I'll do it," I promised, steering her toward the porch.
"Soap and water," she said, pausing to rest after climbing the first step. "Otherwise, it'll be burned. Damned bum. I've beennursing that gardenia for four years. Longest I've ever been able to keep one going. Everybody says Atlanta's too cold forold-fashioned gardenias."
She eased down into her rocking chair, and I hustled into the house to turn off the pressure cooker, which was rattling and hissingand throwing off great clouds of steam inside the kitchen.
"The chicken's fine," I told her when I got back outside. She just nodded and pointed at the hose.
I squirted bright green liquid dish detergent all over the shrubs and breathed through my mouth and averted my eyes as I directedthe spray at the neatly clipped azaleas, camellias, and sasanquas Edna had planted near the underpinnings of our little wood-framebungalow. The shrubs made a frothy green hedge across the front of the house, and Edna always planted great swaths of pink andwhite impatiens in their shade so that it looked like a lady's lacy underpants peeking out from under her skirts. Never red, neverorange.