Friday, January 8, 2010

Erma Boggs

Restless I am. Troubled by something I cannot identify. It’s as if there is a vapor in the room, an aura, some noxious fumes that I cannot smell, cannot see. I need to write something to figure out what it is. And having no inspiration, not even knowing what to write, I pull out the freewriting exercise—close my eyes, pull a book from the shelf, open to any page, the first sentence I find . . .

Jeannette Walls—The Glass Castle, p. 180

“As we walked home, Mom asked us kids if we had anything nice to say about Erma now that she had passed.”

All I want is simply a dozen doughnuts all to myself—six jelly (but it has to be those perfect raspberry jelly doughnuts from Burke’s Bakery, not the ones filled with that strawberry slime with no real strawberries that they sell at the A&P), three chocolate glazed, and three plain. I am giving some thought to the order in which I will eat the doughnuts. I know I'll start with one jelly or two jellies and probably will end with a plain one. But the order in the middle has yet to be decided. I know that I will eat them all in one glorious doughnut orgy and that surely I will have a horrible stomach ache when I am done, but I need them to soothe my soul. I am also giving serious thought to including a biggie bag of rippled barbequed potato chips. Francine told me that she was reading a book on Roman history and the Romans used to have orgies where they drank and ate until their stomachs nearly busted and they had sex in public in front of other people. In comparison to the Romans, my little orgy will be nothing. And besides, there will be no sex involved. I’m only 12 years old—I don’t have sex. You might wonder exactly what happened that got me so worked up that only a dozen doughnuts would make me feel better. I am hoping doughnuts have the power to stop nightmares. It has to do with that old witch Erma Boggs. Erma Boggs lived up near the top of the hill in a big white house that had been built long before the Civil War. Her family way back owned slaves and grew tobacco. Our little town was built on land that used to be the Boggs family’s tobacco plantation. Erma Boggs weighed about 85 pounds and she was all bent and withered and her teeth were rotten. Her hands were deformed and her fingernails were long, yellow, and curled around like goat’s horns. She wore moth-eaten woolen black clothes, even in the heat of summer. I used to see Erma Boggs driving her old rusty car and every once in a while she’d show up at church. She’d arrive late, park in the front in the no parking zone, sit off to the side, and not speak to anyone. She didn’t mingle with the locals. Erma Boggs had no children and never married, and she was the last surviving member of her family. Francine’s mother, Maribelle Watkins, used to work for Erma Boggs sometimes. Mrs. Watkins would run errands for Erma Boggs and occasionally she tried to clean the house for her. But Mrs. Watkins said it was a losing battle because Erma Boggs had piles and piles of junk all over the house—magazines and spoiled jars of food and clothing that had belonged to Erma Boggs’s parents. So on a Saturday afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, just before Thanksgiving, I was walking through the woods looking for pretty leaves and acorns for our cornucopia centerpiece. I jumped across the creek into a wet pile of leaves, tripped and fell. With my right hand, I grabbed what I thought was a branch in the leaves. It wasn’t a branch—it was an arm with bony fingers and long curled fingernails that looked like goat’s horns. I’m not even sure I screamed. Bubbie Link, the sheriff, said she probably had been dead a couple of weeks and it had been over a month since anyone had seen her alive. Mom said we kids needed to be respectful and she forced us to go to Erma Boggs’s funeral. Everyone was horrified at how she died but no one cried. As we walked home, Mom asked us kids if we had anything nice to say about Erma now that she had passed.

1 comment:

  1. Waiting for you to write something else...that photo of Mrs. Boggs is creeping me out!! Sue