"I'll miss you!" she blurted.
She hurried down the front steps, sniffing, searching her bag for a Hardee's napkin she knew was in there someplace.
He felt stricken. "Emma! We'll ... we'll have jelly doughnuts in the morning!"
"I'll have jelly doughnuts, you'll have dry toast! We don't want to ship you down there in a coma!"
She got in her car at the curb, slammed the door, gunned the motor, and roared up Wisteria Lane.
For one fleeting moment, he'd completely forgotten his blasted diabetes.
"I'm out of here," he said, kissing his wife.
"Get him to leave something for the island breezes to flow through, darling. Don't let him cut it all off."
"You always say that."
"Yes, well, you come home looking like a skinned rabbit. I don't know what Joe Ivey does to you."
Considering what Fancy Skinner had done to him time and time again, Joe Ivey could do anything he wanted.
"Leavin' us, are you?" Joe ran a comb through the hair over Father Tim's left ear and snipped.
"Leavin' us in th' lurch is more like it."
"Now, Joe. Did I preach to you when you went off to Graceland and left me high and dry?" Joe cackled. "Thank God I come to m' senses and quit that fool job. An' in th' nick of time, too. I'm finally about t' clean up what Fancy Skinner done to people's heads around here, which in your case looked like she lowered your ears a foot an' a half."
"My wife says don't cut it too short."
"If I listened to what wives say, I'd of been out of business forty years ago. Do you know how hot it gits down there?"
If he'd been asked that once, he'd been asked it a thousand times. There was hardly anything mountain people despised more than a "hot" place.
"I'm an old Mississippi boy, you know."
"An th' mosquitoes ...!" Joe whistled. "Man alive!"
"Right there," he said, as Joe started working around his collar. "Just clean it up a little right there, don't cut it -- "
Joe proceeded to cut it. Oh, well. Joe Ivey had always done exactly as he pleased with Father Tim's hair, just like Fancy Skinner. What was the matter with people who serviced hair, anyway? He had never, in all his years, been able to figure it out.
"I hear it's a ten-hour trot t' get there," said Joe, clearly fixated on the inconvenience of it all.
"Closer to twelve, if you stop for gas and lunch."
"You could go t' New York City in less'n that. Prob'ly run up an' back."
"There's a thought."
Joe trimmed around his customer's right ear. "I'm gettin' t' where I'd like t' talk ..." -- Joe cleared his throat -- "about what happened up at Graceland."
"I ain't told this to a soul, not even Winnie."
There was a long pause.
Father Tim waited, inhaling the fragrance from Sweet Stuff Bakery, just beyond the thin wall. Joe's sister, Winnie, and her husband, Thomas, were baking baklava, and he was starting to salivate.
"You couldn't ever mention this to anybody," said Joe. "You'd have to swear on a stack of Bibles."
"I can't do that, but I give you my word."
Joe let his breath out in a long sigh. "Well, sir, there towards th' end, I got to where I thought Elvis might be ..."
"Might be what?"
"You know. Alive."
"I ain't proud t' admit it. Thing is, I was gettin' in th' brandy pretty heavy when I went up there. My sister's husband, he was laid off and things was pretty tight. Plus, their house ain't exactly th' Biltmore Estate when it comes to room, so ever' once in a while, I'd ride around after supper t' give Vern and my sister a little time to theirselves."
Text © 1999 Jan Karon. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Viking.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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