The Queer in the Cellar

June 7, 2010
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“You ain’t gonna last two seconds out there like that boy! You get your pretty little behind in here with Miss Henrietta; she’ll take ya in for the storm.”
Considering that he was being viciously assailed by the wind and his mouth was now full of Mississippi dust, George thought it best to take this strange little woman up on her offer of hospitality. He followed her into her storm cellar, holding her arm so that she didn’t slip down the rickety old stairs. As they settled into the cellar and adjusted to the relative darkness, George noticed that this storm cellar also doubled as storage for a large assortment of preserves and pickles, jams and spreads, all homemade and hand labeled.
“So where’d you come from, son?”
“Philadelphia,” replied George.
“Oh, well, that sure explains why you was out there running around in a storm lookin’ like a lost puppy in a cornfield,” she asserted. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Miss Henrietta Q. Sawyer and I am ninety-three. But you can just call me Nettie,” she said proudly. “Rhodesville sure decided to give you a warm welcome, didn’t it? Quirky little town.” She then settled in and began to examine him.
George felt surprisingly self conscious as the little bug of an old lady scrutinized his appearance.
“Are those leather pants,boy?”
“Lord in Heaven high, those pants are tighter than the lid on a pickle jar!”
“Is that a problem, Miss Nettie?”
“Well, real men don’t dress like that.”
George bristled. He knew he would encounter some people like her down here in the Deep South, but he hadn’t expected her disregard to be so blatant. Fed up with her speculating beady eyes, George said, “In case you were wondering, I’m a homosexual.”
“Oh Lordy Lordy Lordy! I have a queer in my cellar!” Miss Nettie threw her hands up in the air and then locked them in prayer. “Lord Jesus, forgive me for harbouring sinners from the storm, I didn’t know!”
“Oh, give me a break!” George, too, threw his hands up in the air. “Miss Nettie, I am a junior professor of law at the University of Philadelphia and there’s no reason for you to disrespect me or fear me.”
“My boy Hank, he’s in the military. Now that’s a career.”
“I’m sure your boy Hank is quite nice.”
“You’re a queer little youngling.”
George dug his fingernails into the palm of his hand deeply to keep him from blowing his composure. There was silence while Miss Nettie fixed the severely drawn white bun on top of her head and pushed her glasses up her bony nose so as to better examine George, the queer.
“You liked Barbie dolls when you were a boy?”
“No. I read books,” George replied bitterly.
“Queer,” muttered Miss Nettie. “What’s so wrong with women anyway? Don’t you like a full bosom and a nice set of hands to cook you a good meal?” she badgered him.
George wasn’t confrontational, except in court, so instead of combating Miss Nettie, the hostile witness, he figured he’d let her tire herself out.
Turns out, that particular line of questioning went on for the entire storm. George kept himself from going crazy by reading the dates on all of Miss Nettie’s pickle jars.
When the storm had finally come to a howling halt, George picked himself up, cordially thanked Miss Nettie for her hospitality, and offered a hand.
“Are you crazy boy? I don’t want no dirty AIDS!” She squirmed away from his hand like it was a spider in her pillowcase. That remark was the last straw for George and he whirled angrily around and stormed up the cellar steps.
“Well, at least you won’t die alone Miss Nettie! Your ignorance will keep you company till the day you shrivel up and die!”

Two weeks after the cyclone ran through Rhodesville, Mississippi, Miss Nettie found herself dressed in black. She wore her sharpest Church attire and tried her best not to get any red dust on it as she walked down the road to the Rhodesville Church. The solemn tones of the organ drifted like melancholy waves over the hot Mississippi air as she stared up at the steps of the Church. Hobbling to climb the stairs, she found she couldn’t make it today, not with grief weighing on her fragile body heavier than a ten pound pot of her best strawberry jam. Crying silently before the steps, she barely noticed a young man standing beside her.
She sobbed incoherently to the stranger, “I have to…I gotta get up these damn steps…my Hank…they have to put…I gotta…the folded flag …that’s me you know…my Hank…” and she continued to sob as the stranger gently held her by the arm and helped her up the stone steps. Clearing her eyes when they were finally inside the church, Miss Nettie looked up to see George, also dressed in black. Dumbfounded, Miss Nettie stared at the man blankly.
“What are you doing here boy?”
George sighed. “I guess I’ll never know my father now.”
Shock and grief swirled inside Miss Nettie like a Mississippi cyclone. Her anguish was too much to bear anymore. “I guess I really will die alone with my ignorance, now that my Hank is gone”.
Taking her hand now, George smiled gently at her and said, “Not if your queer grandson has anything to do with it.”

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