Turbulent ghost story saga of Savannah’s MacCafferty clan – witches, ghosts, psychic powers and women with tragic tastes in men. Written by Rebecca Ferdman.
(Note: Some Adult Content)
Catherine Leigh was the great-great-granddaughter of Bella MacCafferty who was still seen, on occasion, haunting Oak Knoll. Everyone – the housemaids, the chauffeur, the current generation, and the next door neighbors, Jenkins was their name – would all see the long red hair and mens trousers and whisper respectfully, “Bella’s guarding tonight.” She was the matriarch of Savannah’s MacCafferty clan and a strong witch in her day. It was said that no one could hide a thing from her, and her thirst for retribution was legendary. Once, a pack of boys had tried to cheat her out of some money in a card game, and she unloaded all her Confederate notes on them, which she knew would be worthless by next noon. Then there was the soldier’s body, which was found, hanging, tangled in the Spanish Moss from an oak tree in back. It was Bella’s doing and the soldier had his eyes gruesomely gouged out to prove he was creeping around Oak Knoll looking to bring evil upon her house. Because the town judge back then was a second cousin to the MacCafferty’s and the people of Savannah feared a similar turn should Bella be hung in retribution, nothing ever came of the matter. Catherine Leigh said that Bella’s ghost still walked around to protect her kin and their old plantation, Oak Knoll. It was true, because once the ghost winked at her while passing silently by and once it had appeared before bolting up the front door.
“Hurricane’s coming,” Bella said, before the ghost disappeared and the peach trees were ripped right out of the ground and scattered about like sticks.
Catherine Leigh always left a bottle of scotch whiskey out for her great-great-great-great grandmother, and it always came back empty and thrown somewhere else after a night of Bella’s visits.
“It’s her favorite,” Catherine Leigh would say scooping up the bottle for the Monday trash collection, before kissing aged Aunt Ginnie and her twin brother Uncle Billy on the cheeks, who were fixtures in the parlor, and pouring them mint juleps while they kept on at their never ending backgammon game. It had been several years, and whenever one would get close to winning, the dice would just turn on them and they’d be back to the start of it again. Though close to senility, Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Billy had always had psychic powers and weren’t afraid to use them for parlor tricks. They’d chortle:
“We’d hate to hurt each others feelings by winning, so we figured out a system where no one loses. Now how about some more bourbon, Catie Lee?”
Catherine Leigh attended college at the Savannah School for Women and was studying to become a nurse. It seemed like a nice job for a young lady, and she’d always had a bit of the healing gift in her, even if she was a MacCafferty, whose line of matrilineal and eccentric women were prone to violent outcomes. Each generation going back to Bella had killed a man, though once or twice it was done with witch’s telepathy.
Catie Lee’s mother Darcy MacCafferty got it the worst of them all. Worst luck that is. She fell in love with a handsome devil, the handsomest man in town, and she, being a shy, bookish schoolgirl who’d never so much as kissed a boy, went to seventh heaven when he started winking his black eyes at her, following her around and taking her for rides on his motorbike. Practically scared Nana Koreen out of her wits.
“One of these days you’re going to fall off of that motorbike,” she’d holler. “I can see it coming.” And they did, because Nana Koreen had the sight. One day Jeb the Devil, that was the man’s name, hit a flying rock and the pair took a dive down into the swamps where they both got pretty banged up and Darcy broke her arm and collarbone. Jeb the Devil sponge bathed her every day while Nana Koreen ran around town, and he did lord knows what else with her. She thought they were going to be married and have babies because he had seduced her and she had fallen into bed with his promises that he was in love, big time love with her. Then one lazy afternoon, she found Jeb the Devil in bed with her brother Beau. She had never seen two men together and Darcy snapped like ice cubes in their freezer tray and howled like a wounded banshee. She ran down to Papa Johnny’s den and took his loaded shotgun down from the fireplace. Then Darcy ran right back upstairs and shot Jeb the Devil’s handsome head off and blasted Beau’s manhood in a bloody mess, making him an eunuch in a moment of sweet revenge. Jeb the Devil died instantly. Beau just howled and wept, and clung to his dead lover’s body, for he loved Jeb the Devil as much as Darcy did. Only when Darcy got her head back, and saw the damage from her shooting spree did she have enough sense to dial for help. But that was the extent of it for she never spoke another word again. Beau’s life, but not his testicles, were saved and Jeb the Devil was mourned by half of Savannah. Darcy, had she been more worldly and seasoned would have known, that she was not by a long shot his only love. But when she turned up pregnant with the Devil’s child, the town judge, now a distant MacCafferty cousin, who had remarried into the clan to Darcy’s first cousin, Rebecca MacCafferty the schoolteacher, gave Darcy a lifetime commitment to the Savannah Asylum for the Criminally Insane. He could do no better for her, because the MacCafferty’s were not what they were in Bella’s day. She brought Catherine Leigh there, into the world, alone, with a frosty, disapproving psychiatrist and howling demented patients for companions.
Nana Koreen, immediately came to take Catherine Leigh and raise her as her own, with a good bunch of MacCafferty’s at Oak Knoll. Darcy would languish and die young in the asylum of a so-called heart attack that Nana Koreen said was the result of ‘psychic self-infliction,’ which was really a broken heart. All the MacCafferty women died at will like that, when their anger got bottled up so tight and they had no more enemies to fight or life to live, and it sometimes just exploded in on themselves and ended things quietly in that way. But Darcy was special. She was grieving for her lost love, her lost family, her lost baby, and her lost freedom. Darcy’s life had been a quiet tragedy and now, she was at will, ending it.
Anyway, for the short tragedy that was Darcy’s life, Catherine Leigh’s was turning out pretty good. Nana Koreen was a wonderful nana and had never killed a man, save for the time she had, as a young, outspoken hippie, traveled to Vietnam to force the VeitCong to make peace with the Americans, and they had shot down a whole platoon of 2,000 infantrymen to tell her what they thought of that idea. After that she stayed out of things like that.
Nana Koreen’s husband Johnny Horse, as he was called, for his love for breeding and jumping thoroughbreds, also spoke equus, he joked, and would sit out by the stables having long conversations with his mares. Johnny Horse was Nana Koreen’s twin brother, born of the dreamy Rose, a beauty who never learned to read or write her own name or make change for a dollar. In fact, Rose, Bella’s daughter, never had an inclination to do much of anything except glide around the rose garden and peach field in her chemises and knickers with her Himalayan lap cat in arm. One day a traveling evangelist came up to Oak Knoll and saw the beautiful Rose in her corsets, picking a ripe peach and eating it, so that the fuzz brushed her lips and the juice ran down the corner of her mouth. He told her that he was God’s prophet, come to take her out of the valley of barrenness and make her a mother for Christ on high. Rose had not the slightest idea what he was talking about, her mother Bella was dead and she knew nothing about religion, but she liked his crooked smile and the attentions were pleasant. Robert Langham took her for a roll in the horse’s hayloft and promised he’d come back to make her a proper husband when he’d had enough money saved. The prophet never came back, because Rose yelled at him day and night, and though he was not there in body, heard her in spirit. One day she gathered up all of her psychic energies and gave him a mighty push. Off the cliff he was driving on with his horse, that is. Mr. Langham tumbled into the sea. His blue, bloated, body was found by a fisherman, washed ashore a small, deserted island off the coast of Georgia. And that was the end of that.
Koreen and Johnny were born in the spring, and if it had not been for Bella’s favorite lover Annie Roux, who had stayed on at Oak Knoll after Bella’s death, once she learned that Bella’s ghost still visited, the twins would have perished for Rose’s dearth of commonsense. Bella’s ‘husband’ was her own daddy, Jackson MacCafferty, who had forced himself upon her when she turned sixteen and her hair turned the color of apples. Everyone knew, and knew that was why Rose had no brains, but in spite of all that, Bella still loved Jackson and simply kept a frying pan with her at all times, should she need to crack his skull and snap the lechery out of him. Then she learned to shoot and she was never bothered again. When Bella’s daddy finally died the town could see the flames leaping up from hell, a veritable bonfire and hear the devil himself, laughing from the MacCafferty graveyard as he dragged him down to his fiery inferno. They also heard Jackson scream and kick as he wrestled with Satan but eventually lost the fight.
But back to Catherine Leigh… she had Uncle Beau’s choir performance to see tonight. His unnaturally high eunuch’s voice, for he had been shot in his youth, made him a star in the Savannah boys then mens choir. He sang like a young angel, all these year’s later, and he always got asked by the homosexual men in town to visit with him in his dressing room in the back of the church.
She’s in the kitchen now, helping Nana Koreen make Vicksburg tomato sandwiches with the white crusts cut off and what Nana Koreen called Louche Lemonades when someone knocked on the door.
“Gee, I wonder who that could be,” Nana Darcy declared as she put down her mixing bowl.
“It’s a stranger,” Catie Leigh said. She could always tell if it was someone she knew.
“Well the gun’s in the silverware drawer if you need it.”
“Ok. Well go ahead and answer.” Catherine Leigh moved over to the sink where she could get a good view of the foyer. The women of Oak Knoll had a legacy of attracting the strange and occasionally malicious intruders.
Nana Koreen opened the door and Catherine Leigh fell in love. It was the nicest boy she had ever seen. He was quiet and well behaved, with pale skin and clear green eyes. He had a sweet little smile on his face and held out his hand in introduction.
“Are you the lady of the house, ma’am?” he asked with all the polite and respect of good breeding.
“I am, my granddaughter and I are. What can we do for you young man?”
“My car broke down right outside of your…house.” The boy was about to say plantation but Oak Knoll hadn’t been used for anything but peaches in a hundred years.
“You don’t say,” Nana Darcy motioned behind her back to Catherine Leigh, cocking her thumb and forefinger in the shape of a pistol. Catie Leigh moved over to the silverware drawer, but something in this boy’s sweet honest face told her that he was good and meant no harm, far from it in fact.
“I hate to intrude on you ma’am, but would it be alright if I stepped in to use your phone? Just to call the towing company? I won’t stay long.”
“How about I lend you my cell phone? “ Nana Koreen negotiated smoothly.
“How about I accept,” the boy held his hands out in the open. They were pale and smooth just like his face.
“You wait right there,” and Nana Koreen ran off to find her purse.
Catherine Leigh looked up at the boy shyly, as she stood behind the drawer with the sharpshooter in it.
“What’s your name, boy?” she called out from across the room.
The young man looked up startled. He hadn’t known there were two of them.
“Michael Milford,” he answered evenly.
“I’m Catherine Leigh MacCafferty. My family’s been here for ages. We never leave, you know.”
“I didn’t know that,” the boy answered uncertainly.
“You from around here?”
“No-ooo. I’m just passing through on my way to Raleigh. That’s where my convention is.”
“Yes, I’m a young restauranteur. It’s the biggest event of the year. All of the vendors and up and coming restaurants of the South are going to be there. I’m planning on setting up shop soon, myself. I’ve already got the backers and sous chef in place. All I need now are the gas and electric, so to speak.”
“Well that’s fascinating, Michael Milford. What’s your concept?”
“Yeah, for the restaurant?”
“Well,” he scratched his head, “I think kind of a modern, high end southern barbeque and grille.”
“Wanna come in here and cook me something?”
“Excuse me?” the boy seemed confused.
“Nah, never mind me. I’m just pulling your chain. Would you like to come in? We just made some Louche Lemonade and Tomato sandwiches, made right.”
“I’d love some.” The pale boy, with what Catie Leigh thought were beautiful green eyes, took a step forward to advance but Nana Darcy swiftly blocked his entry with her open cell phone in palm.
“Here you go stranger, you take your time,” she smiled hospitably but he would have had to chop her down with an axe to get past that woman.
“Tha-anks, I’ll make it quick.”
“You do that,” Nana Darcy smiled.
Catherine Leigh had never liked a boy before, and never this much! She felt she was floating as she plated the sandwich and poured the lethal lemonade, spiked with a heavy dose of vodka.
“Don’t you dare, Catie Leigh, he’s a strange man!”
“It’s ok Nana Darcy, he’s a good boy, I can tell. And I like him. I want to marry him.”
“Are you sure?” Nana Darcy said slowly and sternly, like a mother scolding a very young child.
“I’m sure,” Catherine Leigh replied calmly.
“Well then I guess it’s ok. If he is to be your husband.”
“I think so too.”
And she grabbed the refreshments and walked regally to the front door where just outside, she found the boy sitting down on an iron lattice bench, redialing against a busy signal.
“Sorry ma’am, I just can’t get through. I’ll keep trying. This lousy towing service we joined. Should have kept my AAA membership.”
“They’re the best,” Catherine Leigh agreed.
“Would you like something to eat?” She pushed the plate towards Michael Milford’s lap and the glass into his free hand.
“Oh sure, very hospitable of you.” He took a bite.
“Wow, this is good. I should use it on my menu. What is this?”
“A Vicksburg tomato sandwich.”
“Thanks. I love to fix things to eat. I do it all the time. I can make catfish and slaw, and au jus sandwiches and crawfish, any old way you like them.”
“Maybe I should hire you to cook for my restaurant,” he joked nicely.
“No, I’m going to be a nurse,“ Catherine Leigh replied quite seriously. “But I would make a good wife.”
Michael Milford choked on his tomato sandwich. “I beg your pardon?”
“For the right man, you know,” she smiled sweetly.
He looked at her askance from his seat. “I’m sure you will,” he said evenly.
“Well, Michael Milford, why aren’t you married?”
“I, oh, uh, I have to establish myself first. Make my restaurant a success. You know. And I guess I haven’t found the right girl.”
The sky was turning from purple to black. A net of constellations began to rise in the evening sky and a whole moon shone above their heads.
“Well, if you were to marry someone, what about me?”
Michael Milford paled. “Sorry?”
“Well, what about little ol’ me? I’m willing and able and I cook a mean etouffee.”
“But, but we don’t even know each other!” Michael Milford spluttered. “We’ve just met!”
“And the way it’s looking with your luck, you’ll need a place to stay for the night.”
“That’s true,” he conceded glumly, looking around like a river rat that’s just figured out its being caught in some hunter’s net.
“Well think about it, Michael Milford.”
“Oh, we’ll have to date for a few months first,” he said, a bit exasperated.
Catherine Leigh giggled and felt her heart leap giddily with delight. So they were dating! Oh joy! “How about I fix your room for you?” You can call AAA in the morning and become a member. Then they’ll come out and tow your car.”
“Oh, ok,” he said. His pretty green eyes starting to look around nervously. His back stiffened as Catie Leigh led him by the scruff of his sleeve toward the house. She thought of him as her pet now, and would dote on him and give him all of her attentions.
Michael Milford found the whole thing a little disconcerting, but went along with it because Catherine Leigh was nice and pretty and had a soft, sweet Southern drawl. She also smelled like peaches, a very becoming scent, and figured he could do worse than her.
He made it in again past Nana Koreen keeping guard whose smile was like flint. He felt an involuntary shiver go through his spine and then noticed the pair of old folks in the parlor who were gently laughing, playing some strange kind of board game.
“Would you like to come with us to our Uncle Beau’s choir concert? He’s an eunuch. Not by choice you know. His sister Darcy shot him. But he has the prettiest voice in town. Sings more beautiful than the girls, and he’s 82. That’s why everyone likes him.”
“Uh, sure, I’d love to,” Michael Milford answered politely, not quite knowing what to say.
“Great, then we’ll get our coats and go.”
She put out her forefinger as if giving a maternal order to a child.
“Now don’t go anywhere.”
Catherine Leigh smiled and left, now certain that she had bagged the boy of her dreams.
That night Uncle Beau shone at Our Lady of Redemption Cathedral and impressed even Michael Milford with his golden soprano.
“I’ve never heard singing that good,” Michael offered involuntarily to Catie Leigh as men threw long stemmed red roses at Uncle Beau’s feet.
“Neither have I,” Catherine Leigh sighed. “That’s why we and all the town comes out to hear him every time he croons.”
They saw Uncle Beau disappear behind the curtains after his encore bow and song and the men begin to file discreetly past the event ushers toward his dressing room where the homosexual orgies took place.
“Hey Nana Koreen,” Catie Leigh drawled on their ride home. “Michael needs a place to stay for the night.”
“Fine, you take care of him Catie Lee.”
“Oh, I will, I will!”
For the first time that evening, Michael Milford looked grateful.
That night, alone in his bedroom Michael had a weird dream. There was a woman with long red hair in men’s trousers, staring down at him over his bed. He thought she was going to kill him, then a small smile spread on her features and she backed down, looking at another woman on the other side of the room. She was in old-fashioned underclothes but was quite beautiful.
“I like him,” she said dreamily, but he could see by looking at the far away look in her face, that she wasn’t all there. “Looks sweet and smells nice.”
Then she turned her head toward another woman – small, and shy and reticent – who didn’t say a word, but gave him the once over and nodded her head primly. An approval.
“He’ll make a good husband for our Catherine Leigh,” the woman with the long red hair said, and the others nodded in assent.
He could have sworn he was awake and someone was opening his bedroom door. It was Nana Koreen and Catherine Leigh, smiling happily. Nana Koreen was less steel and more magnolia now and Catherine Leigh was radiant, just glowing.
“Welcome to the family,” they both said.
And then the pair shut the door and all the women surrounding him vanished. The one with the red hair was the last to go.
Michael Milford lay in bed, staring up at the dark ceiling, considering what had just transpired. He thought he knew but it was too supernaturally impossible to believe. So he just tried to shut his eyes and go back sleep.
In the morning he tripped over an empty whiskey bottle on his floor and hit the wall. There, in front of him, were old sepia photographs of all the women from his dream last night, each in the period dress of their day, save for the one with the long red hair who wore men’s trousers, horse boots, and shirt.
“Must have seen them first. Must have dreamt it,” he muttered tiredly.
This was one odd family, even the well-bred Michael Milford had to admit to himself. But he could tell Catherine Leigh liked him a lot and wanted to take care of him. She grew on him more and more, and if the ghosts of her deceased relatives had come all the way back from the dead to welcome him to the family, than this was indeed a genuine invitation. He decided to accept it graciously.
“I’ve fixed some chicory and grits for breakfast,” he could hear Catie Leigh’s voice drawled up across a high winding staircase. It sounded as if she were throwing her voice and she was right in the room beside him, giving Michael Milford a jolt.
“Thanks, be right there sweetie.”
“I’ll keep it warm, honey pie.”
“How did you sleep?” Nana Koreen stepped in between him and his descent down the stairs. There was something slightly menacing about her. The corners of her lips kept turning up in a twitchy sort of motion.
“I want to know your intentions toward my granddaughter, young man.”
Something about the way she said ‘intentions’ scared the hell out of him. He could tell there was a restrained but wild look in her eye, a pistol hidden not too far out of reach should she need it.
“She’s a virgin you know.”
“Oh, I, uh, Mrs. MacCallough…”
“Sorry, Mrs. MacCafferty.”
“And my granddaughter’s name. It’s Catherine Leigh MacCafferty. She like to be called Catie Leigh by those she loves. She’s got her mind on marrying you and if you don’t do her right, I can find a way to put a hole through yours.”
Michael Milford’s pale skin turned ashen.
“How’s tomorrow?” he croaked.
“Sounds good to me. Now you enjoy your breakfast. And forget about your car. You won’t be needing that for a while.”
Michael Milford ate every last bite and made sure to compliment his new bride-to-be on her fine culinary skills. He found he had a throbbing headache due to nervous tension and when he mentioned it to Catie Leigh she said, “let me help you with that,” and she put two soothing hands on either side of his head. Within moments the headache was gone, and he felt lighter than air.
“How did you do that?” he asked in amazement, looking at Catherine Leigh with new respect – and a little fear.
“It’s just something I’ve always had. That’s why I’ll be a good nurse.”
“Good?” Michael Milford’s green eyes practically bugged out of his face. “You’re a miracle worker. You could probably bring the dead back to life.”
“Yes, I probably could, but it’s not recommended. Something always goes wrong,” she sighed. “And it doesn’t last. So I hear we’re getting married tomorrow?”
When no one was in earshot, Michael Milford picked up the old rotary phone in his bedroom and called his family in Macon to tell them he was happily engaged to a wonderful girl and if anything should happen to him he was last seen at Oak Knoll, the plantation off Oglethorpe Road in Savannah. The convention in Raleigh would have to wait till later.
The wedding was a small but joyous ceremony held in the rose garden of Oak Knoll. Catie Leigh wore Nana Koreen’s wedding dress, the one she wore when she married her twin brother, Horse Johnny, who had long since passed away after a gelding threw him. The dress was long sleeved and timeless with lots of lace and a long lace train to match with real pearl buttons.
“It’s time we got some new blood in this family,” Nana Koreen said to Catie Leigh as she buttoned up the fabric so delicate it seemed the wind could tear it.
In the rose garden shiny blue dragonflies fluttered around, hitting Catie Leigh and Michael on the face while an egret flew overhead. The hundred or so guests gathered in the backyard were MacCafferty relatives and plenty of first and second and inbred cousins, old friends, neighbors and business associates from the gun factory that Bella had started on the eve of the Civll War and had made the MacCafferty’s their money. Uncle Beau sang, making everyone weep, and a priest married them because Michael came from Catholics and they insisted on having something some say in their only son’s wedding.
“You sure this is the right girl son?” Old man Milford asked Michael in a slow, paternal sort of way.
“Oh, I’m sure dad, she’s the one.”
“Alright son, if you’re sure we’re happy for you. But you did just meet her yesterday.”
“It’s ok dad,” Michael’s voice was shrill, “It’ll work out just fine.”
Poor Michael Milford never had a chance. But it did work out – the marriage, that is.
After the wedding Michael got his car fixed and moved into Oak Knoll with Catie Leigh and Nana Koreen. Catherine Leigh got pregnant the first time they tried. “Another MacCafferty girl child!” she sighed dreamily, as the pair walked through the shaded courtyard squares of Savannah, planning their future and watching Catie Leigh’s stomach turn into a round, ripe fruit. Michael no longer feared Nana Koreen as he did before, who now got out of his way and really ignored him. She had her own fish to fry.
Nana Koreen was chairman of the board of MacCafferty Guns and the whole enterprise gave her a mighty headache. Cousin Clyde wanted to get in on the semi automatic weapon market, and Nana Koreen disagreed wholeheartedly. She prayed that one day Catie Leigh would take over, but she had her doubts and was looking for a trusted replacement, Maybe Auntie Irma, who still had all her hair and wits about her and collected MacCafferty guns like lladro porcelains. Michael, who never expected this much happiness in his life, was able to make some headway in getting his restaurant started. It would be called “The Flying Pig Tavern,” and would open in June downtown.
Catie Leigh finished nursing school and started a women’s quilting circle for friends and classmates where they each tried to sew the most unique blocks made of the best fabrics to contribute to the artwork. Catherine Leigh stitched a picture of Oak Knoll with the peach trees in back and a blue heart in a cradle and a pair of wedding rings out of real shiny gold fabric. Her next square showed a pair of hands, representing her healing palms, which she would sometimes lay on arthritic or ailing friends and relatives, a starched nurses hat and little likenesses of all the matriarchs of the MacCafferty line, including Bella’s red hair. She served spiked peach iced teas and sugared lemon loaves soaked with brandy and fried dill pickles which Michael would put on his menu. The quilting circle came to Oak Knoll every Wednesday until some of the older relatives began to die – Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Billy, who died on the exact same moment, ensuring that no one one the backgammon game. The quilting was replaced with funeral services in the parlor. Catie Leigh was too depressed to continue without them and Auntie Stella and third cousin Rachel so the quilting stopped.
Bella continued her nightly visits and saved one of Johnny Horse’s stallions from a pack of hungry wolves. Michael was the one who saw Bella pull the horse out of the mud and ride him back to his stall, which she shut herself.
“Hey, that lady with red hair is here again. She’s getting that horse away from those wolves.”
“Oh, that’s grandma Bella,” Catie Leigh said. “I’d better get the whiskey out for her.”
“I thought Nana Koreen was your grandma.”
“She’s my great, great, grandma. She’s a ghost.”
“She haunts, I mean visits Oak Knoll to watch over us.”
“Oh boy,” Michael Milford sat down on the bed and put his head between his legs. She welcomed me to the family one night with a bunch of others. He was shaking now.
“I know,” Catie Leigh said. “I was there.”
And then she put her arms around Michael and said, “Don’t worry, Bella really loves you. You have nothing to worry about.”
He looked out the window again and there was Bella, with her long red hair and men’s trousers, stroking the hair of the stallion. She looked tranquil. Then she looked up at Michael Milford’s window and looked him straight in his beautiful green eyes. A jolt of electricity went through him and he fainted onto the bed.
When he came to, Catherine Leigh was screaming, pushing a vial of sodium carbonate under his nose, and Nana Koreen was slapping his cheeks.
“It’s ok boy. What? Never seen a ghost before?”
Michael stared at his Catie Leigh whose belly looked ready to pop and Nana Koreen who stood over him with mild concern.
“Oh Michael, I’ll love you longer than the moon will shine.”
He looked at her oddly then went downstairs to make himself a double mint julep. He slept fitfully, his head full of dreams of cradles and ghosts. He awoke in the morning to find Catherine Leigh sitting beside him in bed holding a new rosy infant. She had Michael’s beautiful green eyes, Bella’s red hair, and Catie Leigh’s ski-slope nose, and had little appendages of such smallness and delicacy, they brought tear’s to Michael’s eyes.
“I’ve named her Susannah Quentin, after my beloved great uncle and favorite horse growing up,” Catherine Leigh told him matter of factly “But I think we’ll call her Susie-Q.”
“Oh, Catie Leigh, you’ve made me so happy,” Michael sighed as he watched his baby nurse.
“She is wonderful,” Nana Koreen said smally from the back of the room.
“Nana Koreen,” Catherine Leigh gasped, startled to see that the fat had melted from her bones overnight. She was almost a breathing skeleton.
“It’s my time honey. It won’t be long. Bury me next to Johnny Horse if you can find some space and get someone to replace me on the board of directors. I hoped it would be you, but Auntie Irma’s my second choice.”
She passed that night into the world of spirit, and they buried her body the next morning beside her twin and husband Johnny Horse according to her explicit instructions, only she and Michael and their Susie-Q there. Absolutely no clergy were called. Nana Koreen couldn’t stand those self-righteous men, really anyone for that matter, standing over her and telling her how to live her life. Catie Leigh immediately sent a telegram to Aunt Irma who didn’t want the responsibility of the chairmanship of MacCafferty Guns, but was bribed handsomely by the family and melted at the sight of little Susie-Q.
“Ok, Catie Leigh,” she said, “as I see you’re in no position to do it, I’ll step up.”
“Thank you, Auntie Irma, you’ll do great.”
The Flying Pig Tavern opened up as scheduled in summer, when the sweltering humidity made water droplets fall from ladies armpits. Susie-Q was babbling and crawling then. She had developed a taste for The Flying Pig’s fried green tomatos and crawfish gumbo and had an almost magical ability for finding shiny things. Pennies and loose change, a lost golden cufflink, Nana Koreen’s diamond stickpin, and when she got older, gem and mineral deposits in abandoned mineshafts, in which she’d descend with boys to make out in the dark. She’d go back alone with hammers and chisels, and carve chunks of treasure out of rocks that the world had forgotten.
When it was time for Susie-Q to go to college she picked out mining science and technology as her major, and upon graduation, went around the country buying up old abandoned silver mines in Idaho and the like with MacCafferty Gun money, to make a fortune and build a prosperous enterprise in its own right. One day while inspecting her Dakota gold mines she fell in love with a miner. She didn’t know if it was the cold black air of the mineshaft that made his voice echo deeper than a baritones’ or the way his hat light made his eyes glow like coffee. Susie-Q couldn’t even see half is handsome face or tell if he was shorter than her, but she yielded like plywood and that was that. It was the days of her youth revisited and he swept her up in his arms in a torrent of muscles and passion. Susie-Q was lost. All she could think about was her miner and the touch of his dark skin.
She hired a manager to look over her mines and ran off to the local justice to marry her lover. Because very handsome men make notoriously bad husbands, she was devastated to find him the following year, in bed with two prostitutes from the local brothel. When he asked her to join them, she got her rifle and fired a warning shot into the chandelier. Much like Darcy had done, with her devil, Jeb. They fled and escaped with their lives. Susie-Q got her marriage annulled but not before she found herself 9 weeks pregnant. It was a blessing and a tragedy. She had plenty of money but no daddy for her baby, so she went home to Catherine Leigh and Michael in Savannah for comfort and reassurance and to figure things out.
“We love you and support you, whatever you choose to do,” Catie Leigh told her only daughter.
“That’s right, Susie-Q, we’re right here behind,” Michael added.
Depressed, and still half in love with her cheating husband who she would rather run over with her truck than take back or send so much as a telegram to again, Susie-Q sold off her mining enterprises to DeBeers and settled into life at Oak Knoll as she grew more rotund and docile. Susie-Q moped around the property, eating peaches and helping Catie Leigh make them into pies and cobbler and canned syrupy gifts for kinfolk and friends and neighbors.
Catherine Leigh, who went back to nursing after Susie-Q left, had hardly noticed that her young plump skin had turned grey and small crows feet now spread from her warm eyes and small lines had cropped up around her mouth. She worried about Susie-Q, whose troubles always unfolded before her in dreams, worried about Michael’s health, and worried about her patients, whose touch seemed to alleviate pain and prolong life. Michael did not appear to have aged a day, however, because he was swathed in love and happiness and had made his Flying Pig Taverns into an international chain. The next one was set to open in Hong Kong next Wednesday.
Susie-Q would go down to the Flying Pig and sit in the bar, eating plates of jambalaya pasta and fried onion strings, watching her belly grow fatter and her dreams wither like a winter vine.
One day a man tried to sit next to her.
“Mind if I sit down?” the nice and kind looking blue eyed man with a baby face asked.
“It’s taken,” she responded glumly without looking up.
“Look’s pretty empty to me,” he replied with some humor.
“My invisible friend’s already there,” she replied seriously. “Don’t bug her.”
“Fine, I’m Jesse,” he extended his hand, still standing up.
Susie-Q shook it half-heartedly.
“I’m Susie-Q MacCafferty. I’m four months pregnant and left its daddy. I’d like to see him burn in hell like all the other men in my family all did.”
“I’m charmed,” he smiled genuinely.
“You can sit down now,” Susie-Q said evenly.
And that was how Susie-Q found Loren’s daddy.
The only trouble with Loren, from Susie-Q’s perspective, was that he was not a girl. MacCafferty’s always were girls. Except of course Johnny Horse, Nana Koreen’s twin and husband. Buck was a spitting image of her miner, too handsome for life itself. It made her sad to think she had borne Satan’s child, bringing it into the world to raise for such an unworthy creature. From the first time she looked him over and saw a little male doll, a miniature of her adonis ex, Susie-Q knew she had trouble. But in Jesse she had none. He worked in an insurance office and was unshakably kind. His only vice was that he drank a bit much, but then, so did the MacCafferty’s. Sometimes he fell asleep on the porch, sprawled out without his shoes, snoring loud enough to spook the horses. But he was a vegetable of the mild variety.
As Loren grew older his ways grew more wild. He would get into fights at bars and leave half the boys in town bleeding out of their noses. He’d spent so many of his nights in jail, the police force and warden knew him by name. “Back again Loren, what happened to those anger management classes?” And worst of all, with the MacCafferty Gun money and Susie-Q’s mining money behind him, seduced fifty of the liveliest girls in town. There were at least a hundred babies born, listing Loren MacCafferty as the father on the birth certificates, and Susie-Q had to pay for them all.
She was mortified at her son’s life but she always kind of new it would come to this. When he was younger she’d threaten to cut him off without a cent, but now it was too late. He’d just go live off of the girls the MacCafferty’s supported. Besides women and getting rowdy, Loren had scant ambition. He didn’t like to work or take direction, and he had no real goals. He did like horses like Johnny Horse and Bella, and would be seen riding around the ring or out about town on one of the thoroughbreds.
The night Loren was murdered in his bed at Oak Knoll, Susie-Q dreamt she saw the ghosts of the MacCafferty matriarchs fighting with the devil on who was to keep him. It was no surprise to Susie-Q when the devil won and she saw the gates of fire open up to claim the town’s biggest sinner. The next morning Loren lay bloody in his bed, with his eyes open and throat slit. Ashes were scattered all over the place and the MacCafferty’s swiftly buried their most troublesome heir. Susie Q shed no tears but stood morosely above her sons body as some hired men lowered him into the earth. Part of Susie-Q, the dark side that she didn’t like to look at too long, said ‘relief’ that her Loren, who lived as an open wound was gone at last. She thought inviting a preacher would be a mockery of Loren’s damned life and death, so she just brought Catherine Leigh and Michael and Jesse and seventy five wailing women in black hats with about two hundred kids who, as soon as they saw Loren covered in dirt, started fighting with her like cats and dogs over who was to inherit what.
Susie Q assured them all that they would get their checks in the mail, just as before, and they all left quietly, like proper ladies again.
Life went on quietly at Oak Knoll with Jesse and Michael and Catie Leigh and it was only a month after Loren’s death. Susie-Q never did find out who snuck in past Bella to commit the crime. The police were never called, and frankly, no one was surprised. No one but Loren’s women and children would ever miss him.
“It’s time he got what was coming to him,” they all thought.
But had Susie Q looked closer she would have noticed a bloody peach knife, the kind in the downstairs pantry, hidden under the rug in Loren’s room. And had she looked even closer, she would have noticed a faint shiner over Catherine Leigh’s left eye, that she thought was shadow from lack of sleep.
“Never cross a MacCafferty gal,” Bella had always said. “They’ll send you straight to hell.” How true it was.
Susie-Q was in her middle age and Catherine Leigh was ancient. The daughter was again confounded as to what to do with herself. Jesse had retired from the insurance office and Michael had died peacefully in his sleep one night. It was the first time angels were seen flying a MacCafferty man up the other way. He left the Flying Pig Taverns to his widow who had no strength left to manage a chain. She decided that Susie-Q would take the post. Showing little interest in Loren’s extended family she agreed to diversify the Flying Pig into an umbrella corporation of pig restaurants. There would be the Piglet’s Bistros, the Little Pig bakeries, Big Pig Southern drive thrus, and so on and so forth. It was a great money-maker and continued to support Loren’s enormous brood in the style they were accustomed.
One day the doorbell of Oak Knoll rang and Susie-Q, who now fed Catie Leigh through a straw, answered the door.
There were two of them, identical girls. They had black hair and black eyes and olive skin. They looked like her miner and her son.
She said, “I knew you’d come,” and she turned around and walked into the kitchen, leaving the front door open behind her.
Once Catherine Leigh heard the arrival of the girls, she knew she had been adequately replaced and died immediately. She went peacefully and neither angels nor the devils, but the ghosts of the MacCafferty women came. Apparently Catie Leigh chose her own society and shut the door.
The girls were Carline and Chloe and their mother had just died of the yellow fever after a holiday to San Domingue. They thought of nowhere else to go and unfortunately, their mother spent all the MacCafferty Gun and Flying Pig money as quickly as she got it. The twins were fifteen and ready to tumble into womanhood.
They paid no attention to Jesse who sat around the house like a well- trained lap dog sipping gin and tonics until he passed out, a placid grin never leaving his face.
Now Susie-Q had the daughters she wanted. Thank heavens something good had come from her two devils. Between chairing the Flying Pig industries and shuttling Carline and Chloe around town to malls and swim practice, high school and friends – just normal stuff – Susie-Q again felt purposeful again.
The girls were wound up like a yarn ball. They came as a pair and finished each other’s sentences and predicted each other’s steps. They ate the same dishes, read the same books, and wore the same dresses. They sat together in the same class and where one went, the other came too. So it was no surprise to Susie-Q that when they turned 16, they fell in love with the same boy in the same second. He was a waiter at the Flying Pig Tavern, a college boy studying to be an architect. His dreams were made of glass and steel, wood and stone.
After setting down their fried chicken salads they smiled their Siamese smiles and Trent Jenkins, who happened to live next door to the MacCafferty’s, took up a scrap of check with their numbers. He whistled a low catcall and by Monday, the three of them went everywhere together forever after.
Trent graduated college and went to architecture school where he learned to make structural confections of the four elements. He only had to go next door to check on his folks who talked death blue in the face until it finally came. Carline and Chloe also finished school and enrolled in culinary school to learn a skill ,which would please Trent and their family as they became breeders whose offspring came in identical multiples of twins, triplets, and quadrooplets. They realized that family was the only thing that you could rely on so they organized huge parties for the MacCafferty siblings and cousins at Oak Knoll. Trent had moved in with them and Susie-Q and Jesse. They got a found a financial advisor, Jake MacCafferty, and started trust funds for the women and siblings of Loren, and then second, third, fourth, and fifth cousins varying by their strength of kinship.
Susie-Q died with three hundred MacCafferty’s surrounding her bedside. She had made peace with her past and place in the world. She saw that the best and brightest MacCafferty’s were picked out to take over MacCafferty Guns and the Flying Pig Industries to ensure that the next two hundred years were as profitable as the last. Susie-Q went on to join Bella and Rose, Nana Koreen, and Darcy, and her beloved Catherine Leigh. They welcomed her into the life and in between world of the spirits. And they all lived on richly, forevermore.
– THE END –