A Turn South
by Thadd Presley
“She’s worse, Pa,” Maggie said, coming down from the attic, “she won’t even touch the biscuits and I put jelly on ’em special.”
Of course, I couldn’t help it. When I heard that Angela wouldn’t eat, I started cryin’ and Pa tore off in a tantrum.
After Pa had left Maggie got up and took as if she was goin’ to slap me, sayin’ that I was drivin’ Pa to drinkin’ ag’in and that I needed to quit my cryin’. That made me feel worse than ever because all I ever wanted to do was help.
John came down from Angela’s room then and just looked at us. During the few seconds, where us girls just looked at john, he said, “Call Doc Morgan,” then he looked toward the window. “Tell him she has taken a turn south.”
June, the youngest of us, asked what “a turn south” meant and that made me start cryin’ again, because she was so innocent, but John didn’t answer. We all knew that Angela was gonna die and she would be with Momma in heaven. And although these two thoughts conflicted each other in emotion, they seemed to make the other worse; on the one hand, I felt so bad about Angela and I never wanted her to die, but I also knew she wanted to be with Ma and that she mourned her the most, being as she was Ma’s favorite, but I also didn’t want her to see Ma because that wouldn’t be fair. I also wanted to see Ma. So she couldn’t die, that was it.
John had the phone to his ear and I could see the disappointment in his eyes, and then his face seemed to fall, and I thought is this what the bible meant when it said that Cain’s countenance fell?” Somehow I knew it was right and John’s countenance had just fallen. Then John said, “the doc ain’t home, he’s out on a house-call.”
I thought a moment about praying, because Pa said prayer could make any situation better, but before I could a knock came on the door. Then Pa’s voice called out. “Might as well go on in doc, since as you done come all this way.”
“Thank you.” The doc said, and I heard the door handle turn. I looked toward John to see if he had realized and immediately knew he had. The doc was here. To myself I felt that the prayer was working and I hadn’t even said it yet.
The doc came in and went straight up to see Angela. He nodded at John, on his way, and smiled to us girls, but the smile was only for appearances. It didn’t show any of the doc’s real emotions. I could tell by his eyes and by the way he held is breath that something was bothering him.
He was always so nice, I thought.
Ten minutes after the doc had disappeared up the flight of steps going to the attic, Pa came through the door with a load of split wood. “where’s that quack at?” He bellowed, breathing hard from the chopping. “I got a supper to cook and you girls needs’da finish your outside chores.” He dropped the wood into the box behind the stove. “John?”
“Are you going to tell me where the doc is, or do I need to smoke him out myself?”
“Oh,” he looked up the steps. “He’s in with Angela.”
“Bless that man for caring,” he said and looked at the roof. “Bless him for trying. But girls, and you John, you know what he is doing is tampering in God’s business, right? You know he is trying to be the Lord himself.”
I could see John’s mind turning over and over and I felt Pa’s words grow bigger and bigger in the air, just asking for someone to bust them so all the insides could fly out and make everything worse. “Yes, Sir.”
“‘Cause it’s the Lord that determines life and death. Just like before…”
“Before was different, Abe,” the doc said from the stairs, “and I thought you might have learned something from you wife’s,” he seemed to watch Pa, “condition. Why did you wait so long to call me?”
“What I want to know is how you found out?”
The doc finished the three last steps and came into the living room. “My wife heard it at church. During the women’s study group Yvonna asked for everyone to remember the little Ramsey girl. Of course, my wife told me, thinking I should check in.”
“Does she know how me and my family feels about good for nothin’ know-it-all’s meddlin’ in God’s business?”
The doc didn’t answer, he only looked at Pa. Then, he seemed to relax. “No, Abe, she does not,” he paused, “and the reason is this: I don’t think she could understand what you did.”
“Do you think she will understand it this time?”
“I think she would have a hard time believing it.”
“I am still firm in my belief, and I don’t want my daughter taking them elixirs and potions you’re cooking up down in town. You can keep it.”
“Abe, if you would have given your wife only a few doses of that bottle…just a few…” he hung his head. “Do you realize that she would still…”
“The Lord knows what He’sa doin’,” Abe bellowed. “You should know that. You went to school didn’ye?”
The doc looked at us kids, and then back at my father. “Damn you Abraham Ramsey, damn you to hell.”
John shot out of his chair then. “I’m sorry, doc, but they’s won’t be none of that. We don’t swear in this house.”
“Mind the children Shelby,” Pa said, as he stood up, “I’m takin’ this man to his horse and I’ll see to it that he gets down the road.”
“Let me do it Pa,” John said,” grabbing his hat. “I’ll make sure he get’s fer good.”
“Hold on,” the doc called, “now just hold on.” He looked at John. “We need to help your sister first. Now, I took on a hunch and brought the medicine she needs. She should only take two spoons a day until she gets better and then…”
“And then nothin’,” John said. “Now, get outside and on your horse.”
The doc turned and went out the door. His head was low and John was right behind him. “I will not have you deciding God’s fate in my home,” Pa said. “And that’s that. The Lord is something you can trust in.”
“You will live to regret your errors, Abraham, and you will never forgive yourself.” Then quietly, John and the doc walked outside.
I watched as John and the doc were in the window. Pa didn’t pay them any mind. Pa knew that John would get him on his way and that the doc would go easily. His face was turned down and I could see his lips moving. He was praying.
In the window, I saw the doc give John a dark colored bottle and John hid it under his coat. They shook hands and the doc left. Then John came back in.
He sat back down for a while in the living room, but no one said anything for a long time, and then he said, “I’m going to check on Angela.” Then stood up to go upstairs.
“Take that coat off,” Pa called.
“Yes sir,” John said, but walked on up the stairs as if he wasn’t disobeying a direct roder. When he vanished behind Angela’s door, I felt a lot better. I couldn’t help but to think, that if we would have been older and wiser last year, we could have saved our dear Ma.