Mabel peered through her faded, lace trimmed curtains at the slowing Cadillac. The car, complete with a pair of steer horns mounted on the hood, rumbled to a stop in a cloud of pale dust on the other side of her picket fence. Stubborn weeds twined around the paint cracks marring the sturdy planks.
A curious hawk coasted through the clear sky, blotting the morning sun for a moment. The shadowed stretch of wings rippled over the white steel with a piercing shriek.
Mabel watched the bird drift over her barren fields and down the slope toward the dry stream bed in the valley below. Then, she set down her knife alongside the split orange she had divided for juicing and sighed. Citrus blended with the heavier aroma of coffee from the percolator bubbling on the counter. The breakfast flavors however turned sour on her tongue as the car’s driver door opened.
A trim chauffer in bland suit swiveled to open the passenger door behind him. He straightened his cap as a tall figure uncoiled from the interior.
“Phineas Ragen,” Mabel growled.
Pressing down on the curving ends of his waxed moustache and then adjusting his sunglasses, the pasty face man surveyed the rolling hills surrounding the house from over the sheen on the vehicle’s roof.
Mabel didn’t need to guess at the greedy thoughts churning beneath his slick backed hair and thin grin. The plans he had brought with his first visit spun before her crow’s feet flecked eyes. Diagrams of supposed petroleum output, photographs of potential machinery, and the amount of the check he had wanted to pay her for her land, for their land, swirled so much Mabel pressed a hand to her suddenly rolling stomach.
She had not sold out then, she thought, and she was not about to cave in now.
“Give me strength, Ned,” she asked to the ghost she always felt hovering at her shoulder.
Her imagination, she knew, gave the sense of her long passed husband’s strong hands gently squeezing her upper arms through her thin flannel shirt. Real or not, the touch calmed her belly and leveled her nerves.
She watched with a lifted chin as the chauffer slammed closed the door and hurried around the front of the car.
Meanwhile Ragen tugged the end of his shirt sleeves back into place and lay flat the shoestrings on his bola tie. The rhinestone and turquoise pendant at his throat glistened. Gravel crunched beneath his sharp tipped boots as he rounded the trunk and hovered like a vulture before the pickets. In his hand dangled the ever present briefcase full of his predictions and plans. The snake skin leather seemed to slither around the square frame. His shaded gaze lingered on the front porch as the chauffer opened the other door.
With a scowl Mabel pushed back the edge of her curtain in order to see who had joined the greased man on his unannounced visit.
The glint of a nail file bounced back the morning light. A mane of bleach blonde hair surrounded a disinterested face and two finely arched brows mounting a pair of sunglasses with dish plate lenses.
Mabel watched the woman’s wet, salmon stained lips move.
“What do they farm here, Phineas, dust?”
“They don’t farm anything here, Gloria. Not anymore.”
Mabel’s dull finger nails scraped across the counter.
The woman pouted and tucked away her nail file somewhere into the car’s interior. “Then why are we here?”
“For the future, my dear. The future.”
Ragen turned and offered his hand. The seams of his damp shirt strained against his shoulders. After a moment the tips of manicured fingers slid into the waiting palm. Spiked heels drifted into nylon legs and Gloria’s snug violet dress.
Mable found the whole plastered ensemble made the woman look like a spoiled sausage.
Straightened from her lean into the window, Mabel wiped her juice stained hands on the towel draping her shoulder. She closed her eyes as the hinge on the fence door groaned and footsteps started up the path to her front door.
Gathering her coffee pot and waiting mug, Mabel turned to place them on the round table occupying the center of kitchen. The stain glass lampshade hanging over the sparse table swayed as her frizzy gray curls brushed against the scalloped edge. She stilled the movement without a second thought then pulled off the towel from her shoulder, folding the edges carefully. She laid the towel on the placemat next to hers, the setting bare except for the decorative plastic daisies.
Her screen door gave a moan then a quick rap echoed down the front hall.
In the following silence, a meaty zap came from the bug catcher as the device snatch a fly from her wraparound porch.
Mabel gazed toward the door and silently wished Ned had bought a bigger one.