Then she just started walking, and the children, puzzled, hurried after her. Even as an old woman Ava could walk most people plumb into the ground, and as a young woman she just lowered her head and swung her arms and kicked up dust as she powered down the dirt road to home.
When she swung into the yard, sometime later, it was almost dark and Blackie Lee was on the porch, cooling herself. Ava stopped and drew a breath and just looked at her for a moment, measuring her for her coffin. Then she stomped over to the woodpile and picked up the ax.
About that time it must have dawned on Blackie Lee who this young woman was, who these big-eyed children were, and she ran inside, put the latch down on the door and began to speak to Jesus.
Ava just stood there, breathing hard, her long hair half in and half out of her dew rag, and announced that the woman could either open the door and take her beatin' or take her beatin' after Ava hacked down her own door. And "you might not want me to walk in thar, with a' ax in my hand." Blackie Lee, hysterical, unlatched the door and stepped back, and Ava, as she promised, dropped the ax and stepped inside.
She might not have beat the woman quite so bad if it had not been for the dishpan. It had dirty water in it, from that woman's clothes. No one, no one, washed their clothes in Ava's dishpan.
Edna stood at the door, peeking.
Listen to her:
"Momma beat her all through the house. She beat her out onto the porch, beat her out into the yard and beat her down to the road, beat her so hard that her hands swelled up so big she couldn't fit 'em in her apron pocket. Then she grabbed aholt of her with one hand and used the other hand to flag down a car that was comin', and she jerked open that car door and flung that woman in and told the man drivin' that car to get her on outta here.' And that man said, Yes, ma'am,' and drove off with Blackie Lee."
Charlie was at work when this happened, which was very fortunate, so fortunate that, even now, his children swear that there was God's hand in it. Even with temptation at his house, he went off to work, and made a living, and it saved him, it saved everything. A weak man would have just laid out that day, and if he had been home Ava would have killed him dead as Julius Caesar.
Ava and the five children went back to Newt Morrison's to spend the night. Newt was distant kin and Ava knew she was welcome there. But first she walked inside her house and threw that dishpan out into the yard as far as she could.
That night, Charlie showed up to take them home. And Ava lit into him so hard and so fast that Charlie lost one of his shoes in the melee and had to fight from an uneven platform, which is bad when you have what seems to be a badger crawling and spittin' around your head. They fought, Edna said, all the way down the hall, crashing hard into the wall, making a hellish racket and scaring everybody in there to death. Children screamed and dogs barked and Charlie just kept on hollerin' over and over, "Dammit, Ava. Quit." Finally they crashed onto a bed, and into the room walked the old man, Newt, barefoot, one of his overall galluses on and one off. Newt thought that it was Charlie who was beating his wife to death, instead of the other way around, and all he knew was that this boy, Charlie, kin or not, had invaded his home, rattled the walls and frightened his family.
Newt, stooped and gray and gnarly, was much too old to fistfight a man in his own house. So he reached into his overalls pocket, fished out his pocketknife and flicked out a blade long enough to cut watermelon.
Ava took one look at that knife and flung her body across her husband, to shield him. Then she looked up at Newt, and when she spoke there were spiders and broken glass in her voice.
Excerpted from Ava's Man by Rick Bragg Copyright 2001 by Rick Bragg. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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