Taffy was still on the phone when I got back, so I came in as quietly as I could. He had defrosted some venison cubes in the microwave while I was gone. All I needed to do was wash and cut up everything else and get it
all going on the stove. I peeled two potatoes and a carrot, swiping the blade away from me the way Mama had shown me, and cut up half the onion.
Taffy must’ve been talking to Aunt Lucy. He told her she had to come, that he’d be there, and it would be okay. I didn’t know what was so hard about it. I didn’t understand why The County insisted that she be the one to take me, when Taffy practically had to force her to come down.
Finally, he managed to get through to her, and once he was off the phone he informed me that she would be arriving either late that night, or early the next morning.
“She’ll be going out to the farm,” he told me, “so we’ll need to head back there ourselves after supper. She doesn’t want to spend more time than she has to in town. She needs to get everything arranged with the social
worker and get you packed to go to Minneapolis with her after the funeral.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” I told Taffy. “Why can’t I stay with you?”
“Oh, Jennie,” Taffy said. “I’m flattered that you’d want to stay. My place is fine for a night or two here and there, but it’s no place for a little girl to grow up. Besides, it’s time you got to know your Aunt Lucy better. The social worker’s right about that.”
“Mama didn’t think much of people from Minneapolis,” I said.
“Well, your Aunt Lucy’s from Leifton, not Minneapolis. Grew up on the very same farm-slept in the same room you did. You might get along better than you think.”
“But….” I started. Taffy got serious and cut me off. “Jennie, there’s nothing I can do about it, whether I want to or not. I’ll be up to visit, but that’s all I can tell you.”
I spent the afternoon keeping an eye on the stew, and drawing pictures on some paper Taffy found for me. He tried again to make the prospect of going to Minneapolis sound better by reminding me of how much I liked to draw.
“Lucy’s husband, Frank actually makes a living from his drawing,” he said. “That’s not easy to do, but from what I hear he does pretty well. Maybe you can pick up some pointers.”
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t keep my mind from going back to those women in the grocery store, saying Taffy would be better off once I was gone. I knew he was trying to point out the bright side of moving, but I wondered if
it meant he didn’t want me around either.
Taffy turned on the TV to fill the air with something other than silence. Mama never let me watch much, she’d told me the devil was in charge of that too. There wasn’t a lot to watch anyway. Taffy had to play with the antenna for about three minutes before he finally got a weak signal from the Mankato station, and we listened to the fuzzy sound of Alex Trebek turning answers into questions.
When the stew was finally done, Taffy dished us both up a bowl and we sat at the kitchen table. The meat was a little chewy, and the carrots were not quite as soft as I was used to, but still, it wasn’t too bad for my first stew,
and Taffy complimented me on it.
I smiled and took a bite. “Taffy,” I said once I finished chewing. “Why didn’t you ever settle down and get married? Do you like being in this house by yourself?”
Taffy tipped back on his chair and wiped his mouth with his napkin.
“Sometimes I like being here by myself,” he admitted. “But I’ve got nothing against settling down. The thing is, Jennie, you can’t exactly pull a good woman out of a hat.”
“Well, I suppose you’ll be able to look a lot harder once I’m up in Minneapolis,” I said.
“Jennie, did someone say something to you?” Taffy asked.
“Not really,” I said. No one had talked to me about Taffy, I’d overheard. “Some lady at the store said you’re going to be better off once I go. It’ll be good for you not to have to look out for my family anymore. I didn’t see her; she was on the other side of the aisle.”
“Mary Jeanette Halifax, you know better than to listen to gossip.”
Taffy said as he got up to put his bowl in the sink.
“You sound like Mama,” I told him.
Taffy took a deep breath and sat next to me.
“Do you know how long I knew your Mama and Daddy?” He paused, but not long enough for me to say anything.
“I met your Daddy in Sunday School, when I was four years old. Your Mama was in my kindergarten class a year later. And you….” He stopped and took another breath. “I first set eyes on you when you were two days old. You with that pale yellow fluff on your head, your gigantic blue eyes staring at me as if an alien had landed in your living room. “Your mama had a hard time sometimes. You know that. But she meant well. She was a good woman, and she loved you. Don’t ever doubt that.”
I shook my head. Taffy was crying again, and it made me cry to see it.
“Jennie, I lost my two best friends within a week, and in a few days I have to send you off too. I don’t know what I’m going to do once you’re gone. But “better off”? There’s no way I’m going to be better off.”
I gave Taffy a quick hug and pulled away in case Mama was still watching. She got nervous whenever she thought I got too close to Daddy or Taffy or any man, so I always had to be careful. Neither one of them would’ve ever hurt me. It was just one of Mama’s moods.
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