Welcome to the new and completely unpredictable feature on this blog wherein I take a photo of something I see on a walk with the dogs and write a piece of fiction about it. I hope it is less than bad.
Today’s image: a bolo tie in the church parking lot.
Let’s begin, shall we…..?
Desdemona peeled out of the Charleston Baptist Church, singing “So long, succccckkkkaaaaaahhhssss!!!!!” between cackles, which eventually trailed off about a tenth of a mile down the road. It was hedging on dusk, and she had just dumped the losers in the parking lot after a crushing afternoon of strip poker.
These were sons of bankers, a US senator, prominent real estate moguls, a Calhoun (!), and the great great grandson of a plantation owner. A few generations’ pride worth of landed gentry. The men she abandoned, were humiliated, slightly inebriated and in a condition most unbefitting persons of their caliber: they were naked. Utterly and completely. And shivering from sunburn.
To Desdemona McLeod, it wasn’t about winnin’ the money, honey. Although y’all know it always sweetens any deal, it was about vengeance. Despite her own impressive lineage in the Charleston tradition, y’all, she was a woman, and simply put, women don’t play cards. Desdemona played cards, just as her aunties taught her, and their aunties taught them. This was a well-kept “secret” (lie of convenience and complicity) dating all the way back to the 1740s with her most famous relative, Marianna McLeod. Of course, this bein’ the south, it was hush-hush.
People loved to play cards with the McLeods, but no one talks about losing at cards. Especially to a woman, so most losses were relegated to the muted conversations behind the wood sheds or the alley ways along the Battery.
Desdemona didn’t see the fun in that.
“Winnin’ at cards ain’t no fun if I can’t boast about it. What’s the point?” she would huff to her daddy later at the house.
“Winnin’ Dessie. Just plain winnin‘…. It’s a matter of principle too: people don’t take a shine to humiliation. One of the rules of bein’ a card-playin’ McLeod is that we pride ourselves on winnin’ kindly. That means we just take the jackpot and quietly end the game. No need gettin’ anyone’s public pride involved in it…” he trailed off, counting her take.
“To borrow from Scarlett O’Hara, ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ Daddy. That’s just plain ol’ stupid.”
Daddy took off his glasses and stopped counting.
“This is an impressive lot you’ve won here, darlin, absolutely. What keeps this train goin’ is the gentlemanly nature of our relationship with all the players. They all want to be winnin’ over a McLeod, an’ some do. But we play by a simple yet established — y’heah me?– system: we don’t boast … Sixteen thousand four-hunnert n sixty-six … and an West Point ring, poor Perry, and a classic Rolex with sapphire lens crystal. No bad, my dear, not bad a’tall…. That’s what keeps ’em comin’ back, Dessie. We win kindly.” After he organized all the take, he sat up, deposited the funds and the jewelry in the massive vault behind the false door in the wall.
Returning to his daughter who was now in a slump, Daddy rubbed his temples and took a seat in a cognac tanned vintage overstuffed leather club chair; the classic “I have arrived” chair, but in the case of the McLeods, the chair arrived after the family, the chair was the one saying “I have arrived.” He smiled warmly at Desdemona as he sat back, closing his eyes and still smiling. Daddy placed his hands behind his tousled head of blond hair as he propped his legs up on the matching ottoman and released a satisfied sigh.
“Then I reckon I might’ve overdone it, Daddy.”
Opening one eye, Daddy stole a peek at Des. She was biting her lower lip and had perched herself nervously at the edge of her seat. The sun coming in from the tall library windows alongside the room was low; dust motes flickered in the shafts of dappled light which escaped the leaves on the magnolias outside. The summer sun was setting. Daddy noticed that Desdemona was ashamed, but peculiarly animated.
“Come again, deah?”
“We didn’t play here. I also didn’t drink along with them. That’s because of the rules, there was no other woman with me, so I didn’t drink, Daddy. But they did. A lot. Uncle Mitch’s mash, in particular, was a favored drink among the boys. That an’ bourbon…. It was so funny… Jakey Ravenel was the only one left with anything on — his ‘good luck’ black bolo tie… I remember telling him that even if I won it, I didn’t want anything to do with it… they make my stomach turn; ‘There’s no place for a bolo tie in South Carolina,’ I remember tellin’ him… He kept rambling about it because of his Texas uncle… ‘Not an uncle by blood…’ his brother Jimmy reminded him…”
“Where did you play, Des? I’m sure I want to know…” Daddy’s eyes were both open now. The horn-rimmed glasses were back on. The legs were off the ottoman, both feel firmly planted into the cherry hardwood floor beneath the chair. One hand was smoothing his hair and the other elbow was pressing into a thigh, leaning forward in the chair.
“At Lou’s. Off Penny’s Creek down near Wadmal —”
“Down near Wadmalaw Island. You went all the way near Wadmalaw… Did you cross route 700?…”
This was critical.
Desdemona put up her hand, “Just a sec, Daddy. Let me think….”
“Did you cross route 700? Did you go anywhere near Johns Island? Did you leave the county?” he asked, hotly.
“Maybe. But we weren’t playin’ yet. See. We were getting a bite to eat because the boys needed food, so I stopped for a bite. I told them it would be my treat because the next meal they’d need they wouldn’t have the money for… It was hot today…. But no. We didn’t play yet.”
She knew where this was going. She let her ego get the best of her. Des was prone to getting ahead of herself. In all her 23 years, in her fledgling first year of law school, she didn’t care for the details. She just wanted to get in the courtroom. Her family was convinced she’d make a better law enforcement officer than a law interpreter. “Nope. No playin’ cards … least not by me … anywheres near Johns Island.”
“But you drove.” Daddy reminded her.
“Yes, but I can’t play and drive. That’d be crazy. Nope. No cards played by me in the truck while we were on Johns Island.”
Daddy finished law school. Head of his class. UVA. Had an established, prominent and ethical law practice in town and did a ton of pro bono work. To him, it was about the advocacy more than the paycheck. “Sometimes people just get stuck in a bad way and they need help. That’s why I’m here.” was printed on back of his business cards.
“Did anyone play cards in the truck while you were on Johns Island, darlin’?” he asked.
She shifted in her seat. “That I can’t rightly say.”
Meanwhile, back at the church parking lot, the heap of prominent-familied, ruby-skinned, men fell asleep under a palmetto tree on the soft-ish, rounded and warm landscape pebbles and a sun bleached pool towel stolen off a clothesline not too far off in the distance. In the southern sky, a crescent moon was on the rise, reminiscent of the South Carolina flag. Save for the silhouette of the many moons below, it was a lovely picture.
A rejected black bolo tie rested in the setting sun all by its lonesome. Come tomorrow, Sunday morning, early attendees were in for a surprise of God’s creation.