Carolyn Lilly Wilson is one of the most beautiful people — in every single way — I know. She is a dear friend from college with whom I’ve been blessed to form a close renewed friendship in recent years. Two years ago we spent a thoroughly lovely Easter with Carolyn, her husband Sean and their beautiful daughters, Ella and Sophie, at their woodsy home in North Carolina.
Carolyn is a writer. A magnificent writer of fiction. Her imagination and wordsmithery are unparalleled imho and her stories, dripping with vivid imagery, truth-filled characters and grace, warm my heart over and over again.
She inspires me to embrace whimsy, to recover my ability to see magic and the power of imagination that most of us lose when we pass out of childhood into this strange world of adulthood.
Driven by Nature
By Carolyn Lilly Wilson
Peaches had a rough morning ahead. The sun was just beginning to stretch up over the heads of the mimosa trees in the back yard signaling the start to her day. She’d been up periodically throughout the night, itching to get out of the house and tortured that she couldn’t. At one point, she tried to nudge the window in the bathroom that was cracked just a week ago. This time, however, it was secured and there was no lifting it. Even if she’d been able to, there was still the screen to contend with and the ground below was a decent drop which would be rough on her left ankle. With the dawn, she was out the door as fast as a hand from a hot stove.
There was still no movement over at Davy Crockett’s house just two doors down. She wandered across the yard, making her way around the lawn chairs, flamingos, gnomes, kissing Dutch children, and the piece-de-resistance fountain where the water spouted from a naked boy statue to make it look like he was urinating. Sometimes, she drank from the fountain when it had fresh, clean water (not too frequently). Honey would occasionally sneak yellow food coloring into the water just to get Mama all riled up but the payoff was scrubbing down the whole fountain from top to bottom the next day after Candi tattled on her. The joke wasn’t always worth Honey’s trouble, but it did give Peaches an excuse to drink from it afterwards.
With no sight or sign of Davy Crockett near the side fence, Peaches called out quietly. She went on through the open chain-link gate alongside the house and into Walter Jones’ back yard. She was glad he no longer had that Doberman, Saber, who died two years ago. Saber was one reason her left ankle was still a bit weak. Mr. Jones was retired and kept to himself, even more so with Saber gone. Curtains stayed drawn, and he only seemed to come out of the house once a week to walk to Piggly Wiggly for a meager supply of groceries. It didn’t look like a new dog would be arriving anytime soon which would keep Peaches a little saner. She hated dogs.
Pushing through a thin space between fences, Peaches finally made it to Davy Crockett’s back yard. She called out then poked her head into the utility shed and looked around without stepping inside. Not a hint of life. Suddenly, a slight breeze carried a scent that she couldn’t help but breathe in. Following the smell towards the back steps, the odor grew stronger- stale and slightly putrid with a hint of sweetness which she couldn’t identify- until her eyes caught a still object between the garbage can and the bottom step. She cried out more than once acknowledging the lifeless figure, instead awakening Amber Lynn Crockett who opened the back door, looked down, and screamed.
Peaches took off running, not from guilt or shame but her inherent flight response. As she ran back towards home through Mr. Jones’ yard, she could hear Amber Lynn cry out, “MAMA, DADDY, DAVY CROCKETT’S FINALLY HOME BUT HE’S DEAD!” Once she reached the fountain, Peaches slowed her pace, took a drink from the fountain, and headed straight for one of the four lawn chairs. There was nothing much she could do now. It was a shame that Davy Crockett found the antifreeze in Don Mason’s garage just down the street, leaving him disoriented and weak until he finally found his way home in the middle of the night with no energy left for the steps. He would have been the perfect mate, and Peaches would have to hope another suitor would soon appear. She’d only just gone into heat.
Norma Lee didn’t bother to snap up her robe, though she did put on her fuzzy pink slippers before shuffling into the kitchen. She was still yawning as she reached into the refrigerator to pull out a Diet Coke, then pressed back the top and walked over to the back door to peer out the window.
“What’s all that racket?” she mumbled, starting to yawn again. Her eyes focused a bit more in the back yard, settling on the lawn chairs. And like that, she was awake. Her voice grew solid, louder, and demanding: “And WHY the devil is Peaches OUTSIDE?!?? “
Honey had been awake for an hour or so and was just now pouring coffee into the “Life is short…Eat dessert first!” mug. She didn’t care for it (especially the woman in the image that looked far too much like her mother), but every other mug was either in the sink or the dishwasher. She couldn’t sleep past six this morning, what with Peaches scratching her paw incessantly against the door which sounded like Norma scrubbing down a pan with an SOS pad. Annoyed and weary, she opened the back door to let the cat out. Peaches was out of sight by the time she remembered her mother’s late-night reminder -“Whoever’s up first, DON’T let Little Sugar out during the night or in the morning…I think she’s gone into heat or somethin’. Last thing we need is a whole mess-a kittens round here.” Anyway, it made no sense to Honey why her mother would restrain a cat’s instinct if she wasn’t going to have her fixed. Norma had no intention of having Peaches spayed, though she’d pretend it was on her to-do list.
“Sorry, Mama. I forgot.”
“Well ain’t you gonna DO somethin’ about it? Go on out and get her and bring her back in! But you better sneak up on her or she’ll take off again…how dumb do ya have to be to forget somethin’ I told you not even 12 hours ago?? Hurry UP!”
“Okay, okay! Don’t have a heart attack!”
At this point, what with all the noise outside and the yelling inside, Candi walked into the kitchen.
“Cain’t a girl get some SLEEP around here? Y’all know I didn’t get in til after two last nite. Why’re y’all hollerin’ so loud?!”
“Well, you see,” started Norma after setting her can between last night’s hamburger casserole dish and a box of Coco Puffs, “your dumb-as-a-door sister let Peaches out this morning and it’ll take an Almighty wand to get her back in!” She pulled open a drawer and dug around for a lighter. “And for the love-a-Christmas, what do you two keep doin’ with my lighters?”
Candi went over to the dinette table and opened up her oversized faux-leather purse, rifling around until she had a pack of Winstons in one hand and a lighter in the other.
“Here ya go, Mama. Why don’t you sit down now and take it easy? I’ll try to get Peachy Snookums back inside. There’s always them Pounce treats. That’ll probly do the trick.”
“You’re sumthin’ else, Candi, angel! Wish I’d have thought of that sooner before gettin’ all worked up. “ Norma lit a Winston, coughed a little, and sat back in the chair. “Go on, Honey- grab that can-a Pounce and hand it to Candi. Shake it around real good and see if it brings her in. I like that idea. Lure her in then slam the door.”
Honey reached for the cat treats on top of the refrigerator and handed them to Candi without saying a word. Candi grabbed them, opened the door, and shook the can gently. “PEACHES! (shake shake shake) C’mere Little Sugar! (shake shake shake) C’mere Peachy Snookums! (shake shake shake)”
Peaches’ ears perked up and she realized that she was pretty hungry after all. It didn’t occur to her that this was a trap, so she jumped off of the lawn chair and scampered on up the steps, following the sound of the shaking can that meant prize snack food. She waited for Candi to pop the lid open, but as soon as the treat was making its way towards her, the door slammed shut and startled her nearly as much as Amber Lynn Crockett’s scream.
“Now now, Peachy Punkin, it’s gonna be ALLright,” cooed Norma. “Mama’s here and she’s got lotsa goodies for you. C’mere shuga shuga.”
Peaches calmed down enough to wander towards Mama, who picked her up and plopped her down on a wide lap. She liked the neck rub; it helped relax her and she might get more treats, too. Treats and the back and neck massage often went hand-in-hand. If it weren’t for hunting and exploring, Peaches would be about five pounds heavier which Mama wouldn’t mind at all. Thank goodness for Honey, Peaches’ gatekeeper.
Fifteen minutes had passed with Norma smoking, petting the cat, and looking at a couple of gossip magazines, when the phone rang. Luckily, Peaches was in a peaceful reverie – she simply turned her head towards the sound and continued motoring.
“Who in the world? It’s just barely after 7!” cried Norma. Honey had gone back to her room with coffee in hand, while Candi was in her room simultaneously sending text messages to her boyfriend, Randy, while eating a bowl of cereal.
“Honey! Get the phone, will ya!”
“Why can’t you get the phone yourself?”
“ I’ve got Peaches on my lap! C’MONE!”
“Okay, okay!” Honey hurried to the living room where the closest phone was. Right before answering, she quickly shouted, “WHY COULDN’T CANDI ANSWER IT AND WE HAVE A MACHINE YOU KNOW! Hello?”
Even though Honey was on the phone now, Norma was shouting back.
“CANDI’S PROBLY BUSY TALKIN’ WITH RANDY AND IF SOMEONE’S CALLIN’ THIS EARLY THEY GOTTA GET A’HOLD OF US FOR A REASON!”
“Just a second…” Honey covered the phone with her hand and yelled back to the kitchen, “SHUT UP, MAMA, I’M ON THE PHONE!”
Norma mumbled to herself, “What’s gotten IN to her? Hmmph. I’ll have somethin’ to say to her when she’s off the phone. Wonder who it is. WHO’S ON THE PHONE?”
Honey didn’t respond this time but Norma could hear her talking still. After half a minute more, she heard Honey say “I’m so sorry- thank you for calling, though. Bye bye,” and the phone clicked back on the receiver.
“WHO WAS IT HONEY?”
“Mama, you don’t need to yell- I’m right here.”
“Well? I’m waitin’- you gonna tell me who it was or you gonna whisper it to my coffin?”
“It was the Crocketts down the street. Their cat Davy died. Amber Lynn found him by their back steps this morning, and she also saw Peaches next to him but Amber Lynn screamed and Peaches took off running. Betty wondered if Peaches was okay.”
“Oh no…poor little Davy Crockett! What happened? I shore hope they don’t think Peaches had…Peaches had nuthin’ to do with that!” “No, relax would you! She said Don saw a trace of antifreeze on his lips- they’re going to the vet to make sure that’s what happened.”
“They shouldna let him out. See, that’s what happens when you let ‘em out- they can get in all sorts a’trouble.”
“Yes, Mama. I’ve got to get ready for work now.”
“Mm hmm. Hand me that box there- the CheezIts – before you go. And pick up the things on that fridge list while you’re there.”
Honey grabbed the box, handed it to Norma, took the list, and headed back down the hallway to get ready for work. She had a little extra time on account of waking up earlier. Plus, she didn’t have to be at the Walmart pharmacy until 9 on Saturdays.
“How you doin’ this mornin’, Honey?”
Honey adjusted the “Irene” nametag to her white jacket. She chose her grandmother’s name because she wanted to avoid unsolicited comments which she got plenty of when her Golden Corral nametag said “Honey”. Of course, Honey didn’t know that it was also the name Norma chose for Honey’s older sister, just sixteen years younger than Norma herself and living who-knows-where, close to twenty-three years old now. Norma gave “Irene Lee” up for adoption at birth. As far as Honey knew, she (herself) was the oldest child of two.
“Good, Jo- how ‘bout you?”
“Oh, I’m good. Didn’t get much sleep last night what with Chris workin’ on his carburetor ‘til about 3 in the mornin’. Your hair needs fixin’, Honey. That a.c. still out?”
Honey looked in the mirror.
“Ohmygosh- it’s awful! Thanks for telling me! Can you hand me my brush, Jo? Front pocket.”
Honey brushed out her long, black hair (something else from her grandmother) and used the scrunchie on the brush handle to pull it back.
“Pretty as a parakeet now! Let’s go, Honey!”
With five minutes to spare, Honey followed Jo behind the counter. There was already a line of four customers, so Honey started up the second register. Jo’s job was to help with new prescriptions.
“How’re that Mama and sister of yours?” Jo narrowly avoided adding “Honey”.
“Okay- we had a big to-do at the house this morning because I accidentally let the cat out. She’s in heat now. Mama had a fit over it but Candi got her back inside so it’s all fine now. Except that our neighbor’s cat died from eating antifreeze so Mama’ll probably never let Peaches out again. Can I help you, sir?”
“I need to pick up my blood pressure pills- name is Richard Davis, date of birth March fourteenth nineteen hundred and thirty-one. I also want to get the cough drops and toilet plunger here.”
“Yes, sir.” (Honey rummaged through the prescription pick-up bins and was back at the register within 15 seconds.) “Here it is. Would you like to speak to the pharmacist, Mr. Davis?”
“No, I’ve been getting these pills for five years now, so I know what they’re about, for goodness sakes.”
“Just sign here please.” She scanned Mr. Davis’ three items. “That’ll be $28.30.”
Mr. Davis opened his billfold and pulled out three tens, then dug around in his right pocket. “Here’s thirty dollars and thirty cents. You can give me two dollars back in change.”
“Here you go, Mr. Davis.” She ignored his assumption of her lack of math skills, and nearly smirked – she had top scores in Advanced Calculus last year. Still, she planned to focus on medical courses at Fayetteville Tech in the Fall. “Have a great day.”
“Good Lord! Quite a mornin’! By the way, has your Mama found out about Candi yet? ” “No. She thinks she’s still working at Golden Corral.”
“But doesn’t she get home after two or three most every night?”
“Mama just thinks she’s out with Randy. Which she kind of is since Randy is her manager. ”
“Oh, boy. Well, your Mama’ll find out sooner or later. And she’ll near have a heart attack if she knows what her sixteen year old is up to. Looks like I have a customer now. Talk with ya later, Hon…I mean, Irene.”
“I know, Jo. Believe me. Later.”
Peaches had been asleep in the living room for an hour on her leopard-print “I’m the Princess” cat sofa when she heard shouts and screams well beyond those of Amber Lynn Crockett’s in the early morning. After the initial shouting that woke her, she heard doors slamming, more shouting, a hair dryer hitting a door, and an exasperated scream. This was Peaches’ cue to run under Mama’s bed, though she’d much rather just get out of the house altogether and finish that business of finding a mate.
By now, it was noon and Peaches heard Mama in the kitchen mumbling. The shouting and screaming that had gone on for half an hour had stopped. The refrigerator door opened a few times, and Mama’s feet shuffled down the hallway towards Peaches.
Peaches heard the initial creak and could tell Mama was on the bed now. After a few plate scrapings, Mama’s arm extended to the floor just inches from Peaches’ nose, placing two-thirds of a piece of coconut cake – served on her grandmother’s Limoges china along with a sterling silver fork– on the floor. Peaches wasn’t interested.
“ I cain’t believe it! What am I gonna DO about her, Peaches? Doin’ that when she’s only sixteen years old! She says “it’s just dancin’”. This near kills me! Where’d I go wrong? Thank goodness for my lil’ Peaches…and Honey.”
Peaches heard Mama readjust and ease herself onto the mattress. Soft and mournful sobs soon led to steady snoring. Mama would nap for a while. Peaches considered easing out and jumping onto the bed, but Mama’s heavy arm sometimes squeezed her too hard during sleep. She was glad she stayed put when the bedroom door quietly opened. Mama continued snoring in spite of the whispering figures that approached. Peaches recognized Candi’s footsteps but the others she couldn’t make out so easily. Peaches felt unsettled and wary and moved back further under the bed. She sensed something in the quiet, as unsettling as the false stillness in a hurricane’s eye. It passed quickly, too, followed by jerking, thrashing, and muffled sounds above her. Silence and stillness came again, but ended more quickly as the footsteps moved back out the door and Peaches heard an unfamiliar voice shouting this time.
“Candi, come OWN and git out of here NOW! Put that down! We don’t have time- we gotta GO!”
Peaches heard the front door open, and she realized that this was her chance. She came out from under the bed, quickly sniffed and licked Mama’s limp arm hanging over the side, dashed down the hallway, and out the door, nearly tripping Randy.
“Damn CAT! Nearly KILLED me! C’MONE- let’s GO!”
Peaches didn’t turn around. She was reveling in her freedom again, and had her own job to do.
It was 3 o’clock and a line was picking back up again when Jo answered the phone, telling Honey that she’d better answer it right away.
“You gotta answer this, Hon…Irene. It’s Candi and she sounds hysterical. I can cover the register. Go take the call in the back room.”
After ten minutes, Honey came back, all the blood drained from her face. Her work coat was off and she had her purse in hand. “Good Lord, Honey. What’s happened? Hold on- Mike? I need you to take over this register here. It’s an emergency. Honey, you can tell me in the back room.” Jo raced after Honey.
“Okay, Jo, but I don’t have but a second. I have to be over at the house right away.”
“She found out about her, didn’t she? Did your Mama have a heart attack from the news?”
Honey lowered her voice. “They killed her. She and Randy started to drive away, but then she came to her senses, pulled a gun on Randy – where’d she get a GUN? – and called 911 at the same time.”
“Noooo- Lord a’MIGHTY!”
“Candi used her one phone call on me. I’m going by the house first to see…Mama. They’ve got an ambulance and officers there now.”
Honey grew pale again, ran to the open trash can and threw up. Jo rubbed her back and hugged her.
“Honey, you’re gon come stay at my house tonight, okay? I’m expectin’ it. Come as soon’s your done with all this mess. Poor Honey. I’ll take care of everythin’ here. You just go do whatcha gotta do. I’m so sorry, Honey. So so sorry.” Jo wiped away tears.
“Thank you, Jo. I will. Thank you.”
Three streets away, Honey found herself driving slower. The dread she felt outweighed anything she’d ever known, as heavy as a summer storm bringing its ominously pregnant clouds to bear down on everything below it. The house came into view sooner than she was ready, but before she reached it, she pulled over. Peaches was in front of Walter Jones’ front yard on the receiving end of a Maine Coon cat that Honey had never seen. Honey wondered if Mr. Jones had gotten a new cat and just now let it out of the house for the first time. She surprised herself by laughing out loud. The unexpected amusement gave her the energy needed to get out of her car, walk past the ambulance and two police cars, reach the yellow tape, and pull out her driver’s license to prove that this was, indeed, her residence. She was allowed in because the chief investigator was her old boyfriend’s father, Ronald Dean.
The weight and fear began to bear down again, and this time Honey had to remind herself to breathe. With reluctance, she moved forward feeling an outside force guide her steps reminding her legs to move. When she reached the door-frame to her mother’s bedroom, she gasped and caught herself leaning against Officer Dean. What struck her most was the contrast between a body that appeared to be napping and the chaotic nature of the bedding against her mother’s final pose: her dark eyes and mouth wide open in a look of horror. It reminded Honey of a time she otherwise might have forgotten, when she was just four years old entering the street to pick up a ball that had rolled from the yard. A car swerved, narrowly missing her. The difference in her mother’s look then and now was about eighty pounds, as well as a scream now frozen by death.
Honey was done. She would have to join her mother’s body again at the funeral home -when the investigators were done with her – to begin preparations. It might be a little easier then, away from the scene of the crime. There was only one more thing. Honey walked back to the kitchen, grabbed the cat food and the can of Pounce and headed back to the living room where she picked up the “I’m a Princess” bed. Officer Dean allowed it, figuring none of it really would matter for evidence. Honey thanked everyone and walked back to her car. She loaded everything into the front seat except the can of Pounce, shook it three times and called for Peaches. By now, Peaches was long finished; she and Mr. Kitty (who was, indeed, Walter Davis’ new one year old unneutered cat and had just been let out for the first time since adoption) were about ten feet apart licking their own private parts. The sound of the treat can alerted her right away and Peaches was more than willing to heed the call. Honey gently lifted her and placed her in the front seat. Honey thought she saw Mr. Jones peeking out from behind a curtain.
It took less than fifteen seconds to pull around the corner and into the Crockett’s driveway. Honey got out of the car and walked the winding brick path to the front door. She had hardly lifted her hand to knock when the door swung open and Betty came out, hugging her. Honey’s first thought was that this was about Davy Crockett and that Betty was seeking comfort; before she could think to say “I’m so sorry,” Betty had already said it. Word of Norma’s fate had spread throughout the neighborhood faster than a freshly-exposed ant hill.
“Honey…” Betty’s eyes were red, with splotches against her skin beneath. “What can we do? I’m just so so sorry. You poor thing.”
“Thank you, Betty. I just need one thing right now. I know you lost Davy Crockett this morning and maybe it’s too soon to ask this, but can you take Peaches for a while? She needs a better home for now. Only problem is that she might be pregnant…”
Betty didn’t hesitate. “Bring her to me, Honey. Anything we can do to help. It’ll probly help Amber Lynn get her mind offa Davy. Even better if she DOES have kittens.”
Honey walked back to the car, carefully lifted Peaches in one arm and her bed in the other and handed them over. “Let me just get her food. Ohh- I forgot her dishes.”
“No worries, Honey. We’ve got all that stuff.”
Honey leaned down and kissed Peaches on the head.
“You’ve had quite a day, huh Peaches? Poor thing. Thank you, Betty. I’ll be in touch.”
And before she had a chance to break down in front of Betty, she ran to the car, sobbing all the way to the county jail.
Peaches could smell Davy Crockett all over the place, though she knew he was gone. She kind of liked this house, but was definitely curious as to why she was in here and not back at home. Still, she could see her bed and heard food rain into a ceramic bowl. Amber Lynn was massaging her back now, and she felt less anxious than she had earlier thanks to Mr. Kitty. The day may not have started well, but things were ending on a pretty good note for Peaches. She would sleep well tonight.