Stuff Richardson was a man who could look at you and make you feel like you were two cents and waiting for change. Mable followed his progress up the gravel road from the barn with that stupid chicken following him. Her heart beat a rat-a-tat-tat rhythm against her rib cage. Steam from the soup she stirred on the stove floated up and fogged the window, obliterating her thoughts with it.
The door in the mudroom slammed, Mable jumped and soup slopped over onto the stove. She grabbed a towel and sopped up the mess. His breath reeked of tobacco as he stomped up behind her.
“Soup again. Mable, you worthless lump. Can’t you cook nothin’ but soup?”
She tried to move, but he pinned her against the stove. “Stuff. Get away from me.” Mable poked her elbow back until it made contact with his rib cage.
He spit a word at her and stomped away. When the chair squeaked across the floor, Mable turned.
“Mama hated when you talked like that.”
His laugh came out as a snort. “Mama’s been in the grave for 40 years and she was as worthless as you.”
“Why you so mean?”
Stuff pushed his chair back and took two long steps toward her in the small kitchen. His hand came up, and he laughed when she flinched. “You don’t deserve nothin’ more from me.”
“I never did nothin’ to you for you to be so nasty.”
“You stole Pappy’s love. Before you came along, he loved me, but then you stole that.”
A smile snuck across Mable’s face.
“You cow. If you’d had to put up with Pappy and the things he did —”
Mable threw the towel on the counter. “Don’t you talk about Pappy that way.”
Stuff reached out and grabbed a fistful of her gray hair, “Yeah, you have to cling to him. He’s the only one whoever loved you. No one else can stand you long enough to love you.”
Pulling away, Mable backed toward the door to her room. “That’s not true. Bobby loved me until you made him go away. You couldn’t stand that I was happy. You don’t know love. The only one you ever loved is that stupid Thelma.”
“Thelma ain’t stupid.”
“She’s a chicken, you dummy. Just cause she follows you around don’t mean she loves you. It’s the chicken feed she loves.” Mable disappeared into her room and slammed the door.
Stuff pounded on the door. “Don’t you ever talk about me or Thelma that way again.” He wiggled the knob and forced the door opened.
“Get out. I’m done with you. Hank is going to take me away from this hell hole.”
A laugh erupted from Stuff and hung in the air between them. “Hah. He don’t love you. No. You will stay here and cook my dinner every night for the rest of your useless life.”
“Get out. Get out. Get out. You’ll be sorry, just you wait and see.”
The next night, Mable put Stuff’s dinner on the table just as he pushed the door open. He stumbled over the suitcase that sat just inside the door.
“What do you think you’re doing, Mable?”
Mable came into the mud room. “I’m leaving. I’m going with Hank and I ain’t never coming back. I’m done with you, you mean old cuss.”
He grabbed her arm. “No way you’re leaving. Hank don’t want you.”
Hank stepped between the two and peeled Stuff’s hand from Mable’s arm. “We don’t need any drama. She is coming with me.”
“Whatever. She’s your problem now.” Stuff nudged past Hank and Mable and sat at the table. He grabbed a drumstick off the plate of fried chicken and ripped a piece off with his teeth. “Who’s gonna cook for me?”
“I made you one last meal. Then you’re on your own.” Mable took Hank’s hand as he grabbed the suitcase and opened the door. “Oh, and enjoy your time with Thelma.”
“What?” Stuff looked at the plate of chicken and then at the back of his sister as she disappeared through the door. “Thelma? Nooooooooo.”