The fandom: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Written for gritkitty as part of 2004 Yuletide Challenge - 2005 New Years Resolutions: What if Delmar and Everett found an herb woman/snake oil salesman/etc. to try to change Pete back into a person?
The concept: In the scene occuring between Everett and Delmar in the car, Delmar holds the frog in his hand, then in the restaurant scene, the frog is suddenly in a shoebox. It feels like there's a missing scene. This is the story of
The Twenty-five Dollar Shoebox
"Tell me, friend," Everett McGill said to the proprietor of the general store, "if I were looking for a tonic, a cure or a love potion hereabouts, to whom would I go?"
The fellow behind the counter gobbled a handful of jelly beans and reflected on the question as his jowls worked. "Reckon you'd want to see Miz Carrie Owen."
"And where would I find this wise woman?" Ev inquired, as the man pawed more candy into his maw. He had enough sense not to ask where to go to get a man changed back from being a frog--that would stretch the bounds of credulity, even that of the residents of this insular backwater, but every community he was familiar with had an old lady who brewed herbs and sold the resulting concoctions to the local populace.
"You take that road four miles out." The candy-eating man pointed to the track where the stolen car sat outside the store. Delmar sat in the front seat, holding the frog that had prompted his friend's question. "There's a fork on your left--can't miss it, there's a cottonwood tree struck by lightning just beyond it. Go down that road and stop when you get to the stone wall. Holler, cuz she's got a real mean ol' boar that guards the place."
"Much obliged." Ev gave the chubby man a little salute and left him to his jelly beans. "Del," he said, climbing behind the wheel, "I found us someone to fix up Pete. Fella here says this lady's the best."
Delmar was clutching the swamp denizen and looked forlorn. "Hope she's not another one of them si-reens," he said mournfully. "She might turn us into frogs too. Then we never would find no treasure."
It would be superfluous to point out to his friend that a frog's idea of treasure would probably be considerably easier to come by--though Everett McGill didn't particularly relish the notion of flies as a steady diet. He had a suspicion that Pete had outlasted them in the consciousness department and gone off with the river nymphs and was even now frolicking in realms of forbidden delights...but it would hurt Delmar's feelings if he went and said that.
The best thing to do would be stall for a while, and see if Pete came to his senses. They'd go visit this Owens woman, and afterward, find someplace for a good dinner. Pete's big dream was to own a fancy restaurant...more than likely he'd go looking for some decent grub just as soon as his other needs were satisfied, after he'd snagged new clothes from someone's wash line. How come everything had to get so doggone complicated?
When he set the brake on the car, he tapped on the horn a couple of times. A stone's throw beyond the wall was a tin-roofed cabin that sagged as if tired. There was a rocking chair on the porch, and he thought he could see someone of the far side of the screen door. He called, "Hello?" but the only response was a grunting noise.
From behind the wall swaggered the great boar, subject of the jelly bean man's warning. "That doesn't look any too friendly," he commented, as much to himself as Delmar. The beast was huge, almost white, with eyes that glinted like drops of black tar.
The big ivory-colored mass of pork chops had the temerity to strut over to the vehicle and look in Everett's window at them. He snuffled, and let out a series of unearthly squeals. It was highly disconcerting that the beast was cunning enough to stand on the running board--and tall enough to look Ev in the eye when he did so. "Damn, we're in a tight spot!" said Ev. "I think maybe we ought to find ourselves another option."
"Naw, he's just lookin' us over," said Delmar complacently. "He pro'bly doesn't care for your pommade. Hi there, piggy!" He made some throaty sounds that old ham hocks apparently found to be conversational; the boar wandered around to the other side of the car and looked in at him. "Hold Pete for a minute," Del said, plunking the bullfrog into Ev's hands.
Before Everett could object, or ask him what he thought he was doing, Delmar had opened the car door and gotten out. "Jesus, Delmar, that old boy's gonna have you for lunch, you don't watch out!" He'd underestimated his friend's talent with livestock; the former farm boy was scratching the big sausage factory like it was a pet dog, from behind its pinkish-white ears to the base of its curly tail. The boar looked as happy as a pig is supposed to look when rooting in mud, though Everett allowed that this was an unusually well-groomed specimen of its race.
So preoccupied was Everett McGill with clinging to the amphibious object of their quest and observing his friend's success in swine handling, that he didn't notice the woman until the screen door banged shut in her wake. She strode across the porch and crossed the yard swiftly. With his free hand, Ev expertly swiped his pocket comb through his hair, tucking it back into his shirt pocket in time to keep the frog from escaping his clutches.
"How-do, ma'am," he said with his most dazzling smile, feeling reassured enough to exit the vehicle, a feat not lightly undertaken while grasping a squirming bullfrog.
"My big boy likes you," she said to Delmar, ignoring Ev completely. "He don't take to many folks." She was an obese, fair-haired woman in a faded print dress, and there was vigor to the way she walked, as if showing the strength it took to carry such weight.
"He's a beauty!" Delmar was enthusiastic and the bacon looked blissful at the attention. "Look at the shoulders on him! What is he, about three hundred pounds?"
"Nearer three-fifty. Morfran, you git now. These fellers have business with me. Don't you?" She looked at Everett as she asked the question, astute enough to discern who was the brains of the outfit, he thought smugly. He aimed The Smile at her again. "Come inside, we'll set and talk."
The boar meandered around the back of the house as they stepped onto the porch, which shuddered beneath their collective weight. Ev looked uneasily at the overhang of the roof, half-way expecting the whole cabin to come toppling down upon them. Inside, the place didn't look much better. It was tidy enough, and nothing smelled bad, but the furniture was crudely crafted from thick pieces of wood, as if whole trees were the only things deemed strong enough to support this vast woman.
"Miz Owens, we have a rather delicate problem--"
"Owen," she interrupted. "Not Owens. Owen, no 'ess'."
"Beg pardon, Miz Owen--"
"Who sent you? You're not from around here."
"Ah, no, ma'am, we're not, that is to say, I'm from Ithaca and Delmar here is from Yazoo City. I'm Ulysess Everett McGill, by the way, and--"
"And this here's Pete!" Delmar, apparently concluding that the formalities were taking too long, retrieved the frog back from Everett and extended it toward the fat woman. "He got turned into a frog, and we need you to turn him back!"
There was a rauccous squealing from behind the cabin somewhere as Miz Owen repeated sharply, "Who did you say sent you to me?" She sounded more than a little indignant, and Delmar looked petrifed by her raised voice.
"A gentleman from the store down the road," said Ev quickly, before Delmar could stick the other foot into his mouth. He put as much syrup as he could into his tone. "He recommended you highly if someone were to need a cure."
Their hostess nodded understanding. "That's my oldest boy, Tal. I 'spect he had his hand in the candy jar and wanted to get rid of you so he could settle back with a dime novel and a co'cola." Behind her back, the screen door at the rear of the cabin opened, and in walked a young man with white-blonde hair and not a stitch of clothes on. Without looking, she said, "Boy, you'd best have clothes on if you're coming in this house!"
The massive tow-headed nude looked like the woman's progeny, and Everett saw a family resemblance to the pudgy storekeeper. The young man grunted and disappeared behind one of the hanging quilts that partitioned the one-room structure. Ev dragged his attention back to the reason for his visit just in time to hear Delmar ask anxiously, "You're not going to turn us into frogs, are you?"
Miz Owen looked from Del to him, and Ev tried not to roll his eyes too obviously. He gave a little shrug of his shoulders, hoping that conveyed his own lack of expectation. She ought to be able to see for herself that Del was a bit feeble-minded. He was just being the concerned friend trying to set his mind at ease...
"Young man,' she said to Del, "I've never turned anybody into a frog in my life."
"But can you change someone back?"
"Well, now, that might be difficult. First off, I'll need a consultation fee. Twenty-five dollars. Either of you have twenty-five dollars?" Although she was addressing both of them, she was looking at Ev, who hated having to part with that kind of money on such a fool's errand. He dug into his pocket and pulled out the remains of their bankroll. That was a hefty chunk of it, and he sorrowfully watched it vanish into the woman's cleavage as she tucked it away. "Now, suppose you tell me how this happened?"
Delmar took that as his cue to blurt out the story of how they'd been driving along when Pete had seen the ladies in the stream and wanted to visit with them, seeing as how it had been a while since they had had any female company, being in jail and all. Ev groaned silently. Let Delmar finish without mentioning the treasure, he asked whatever deity might be hanging around listening. If there were such things, he reminded himself.
"Hit's them Gordon sisters," rumbled a throaty baritone. The cotton-haired young man edged out from between a gap in the quilts. He had shrugged on a pair of threadbare bib'alls, and that was clearly all he was wearing. "Betcha a nickel it was!"
"Reckon you're right," said his mama. "Those girls are the devil's daughters--brewing hooch and stirring up trouble like they stirred up for your friend."
"Can't you help him?" Delmar pleaded.
"Delmar, you're just danged lucky you and your friend here didn't wind up in the same kind of trouble they caused for Pete. I won't lie to you, he's in a bad way."
Everett saw the other man's lower lip trembling. Miz Owen must've seen it too; she looked over at her son and said, "Bring me that cardboard box next to my sewing kit." He went through the curtains on the other side of the cabin, and returned with a cardboard shoebox. She accepted it from him, opened it and removed its contents--squares of cloth thriftily set aside for patching clothes or quilting---then handed the box to Delmar. "You're a good-hearted boy, Delmar, even if you are in poor company. Put your bullfrog in here," she coaxed him. "There you go... Line it with some marsh grass, and he'll be comfortable enough in the time he has left."
The horrified squeak that Del let out at that made the blonde boy smile a little, though he tried to hide it. Everett caught his eye. Used an ingratiating, man-to-man tone. "These Gordon ladies--any chance you could show us where they live?"
"There is no chance of that!" Miz Carrie Owen thundered. "You know better than to get near those hussies, don't you, Morfran?"
"Yes, Mama," the young man agreed, looking away.
"I think you boys should leave now." Her tone permitted no argument.
Carrying the shoebox, Delmar left the cabin ahead of Everett, who was startled when the fat woman caught his arm. "In the land of the blind, the cyclops is the one you want to watch out for," she said cryptically.
He stared at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Go on about your business, Mr. Useless McGill," she said, a smile twisting her full lips. "You'll figure it out, just not in time for it to do you any good."
"There's no need to be insulting! I just paid you twenty-five dollars for a shoebox!" he said with some heat, until he realized the pair of overalls looming beside him had a face with a scowl above them.
"I wouldn't worry about the money. The picture show only costs a dime." With that last utterance, she shooed him out the door, and her son followed Ev out to the porch. Not a terribly amiable individual, Everett thought with unease. The young man did have a farewell wave for Delmar, as all the while his dark, squinty eyes bored into Ev.
As he took his leave, Everett McGill counted himself lucky that the woman hadn't set that boar on him. When he scooted in next to Delmar, the other man was peeping into the shoebox at...Pete. "What a fraud!" Ev grumbled.
"She was a nice lady," said Delmar as the engine turned over, "but I'm worried about what she said about Pete not having a lot of time left. Do you think we should get a second opinion?"
End of "missing" scene.
I own the DVD, that's all.
I wasn't planning to post this until Thanksgiving, but right now, Real Life is sucking out loud. A little kind feedback would be welcomed. Thanks.