The smell was overwhelming. I covered my nose and bookmarked the page on which I was on. I looked around with watering eyes; investigating searching for the source of the smell.
'Where is that coming from?' I wondered. The source however didn't appear on the horizon until after two hours had passed. The wagon moved slowly as if it were weary and downtrodden. There were six people in the wagon.
There were four men all at different ages, one wasn't old enough to be called a man and the sixth was a girl dressed as if she had some type of business here. The wagon stopped in front of my home. The third to youngest turned to the eldest and said a few words to him.
The eldest shook his head and made his way up the driveway. 'How odd,' I thought to myself as this man was not drenched to the bone with sweat as the other Three. Even the girl was drenched far worse than he. The second eldest was lying on the coffin with what looked like concrete on his leg.
'Now what fool put concrete on that poor boy's leg?' I thought to myself reviewing the suspects. The third youngest man was sitting at the tailgate of the wagon laughing and rocking himself back and forth like he was in a rocking chair.
'What in tarnation is so funny,' I wondered, 'that made him be rocking back in forth like that?' The youngest wasn't old enough to be even called a man. Young and innocent, although he was grinning like the cat that ate the canary. As if he had saw something that no one thought he saw. He took no notice of me and knocked on my door. My Aunt came up to him.
"What do ya want?" she asked in her country gruff voice. Her voice was bad enough to send mastiffs away whimpering at the mere sound of her.
"Could I borrow some spades to bury my deceased wife?" he asked quietly and slowly as if the mere effort of moving his lips would kill him. At my aunt's signal I went to the shed to fetch them. When I came back he was in the house with her in the parlor. She smiled when I entered the room.
"Elizabeth, meet your fiancée Anse Bundren," She said smiling with a toothless smile. As a response I dropped the two spades I had carried in. My aunt, with some disgust came over and picked up the two spades.
"Ere are them spades you wanted to borrow, Anse," She said handing them to him.
"We'll see you tomorrow at the courthouse at around noon," She said dismissing him. I stood there silent and dumbfounded; unresponsive, until the door shut behind him.
"What in the name of all that is holy was that about?" I asked her my tone deepening to my growl in which I rarely ever used. The last time I had used that tone was when I had displayed my utter distain when it was decided that I would live with my aunt after my parents died.
"Come on Elizabeth we've got to find your wedding dress for tomorrow, and then you have to pack." She said as a matter of fact and picked up her purse as if she forcibly sent unwilling brides to be married of not their own volition. The smell was still strong enough in my memory. 'Could I borrow some spades to bury my deceased wife?' I heard Anse's voice echo in my head.
"WHAT!" I shrieked. "I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO THE DEVIL ANSE BUNDREN IS? HOW COULD YOU JUST SEND ME INTO A MARRIAGE WITHOUT EVEN ASKING MY CONSENT, WITH NO CLUE TO WHAT I'M WALKING INTO AND HOW DARE YOU EVEN SUGGEST SUCH A THING! She ignored me and pulled on my arm out into the street which forced me to lower my voice.
"Don't you dare ignore me! I want five rational reasons why in high heaven's name you just did what you did!" I said narrowing my eyes and lowering my volume to only where she could hear me.
"One he's single, Two he needs a wife, Three he needs a mother for his five kids, four you are of marrying age, and Five I want you out of my house. It's high time you were married." She said whispering threateningly.
"You mean my house and I do agree that I do need to be married but not to Anse Bundren!" I said defiantly trying to break her grip on my arm.
"Don't you dare disobey me or I will send you to Jackson County until you recover your senses" she threatened gripping my wrist with her Samson like grip. She halfway dragged me to the store. It was for the sake of appearances that I went with her as if it were of my own volition.
I hated my aunt; it was she who sent me and my family on that trip that cost them their lives all except for mine. When we reached the store, we went to the store clerk.
"Ahhh preparing for an unexpected marriage?" he asked leading us over to the tailor's stool and made me stand upon it with my aunt's idea of a wedding dress.
"Yea well really wasn't expectin' for him to come so soon and he insisted," My aunt said happily.
'Yeah my untimely demise,' I thought to myself making it extremely difficult for the tailor to measure correctly. I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I hated what I saw. I was far too young for this. I was barely seventeen years old. 'I should be looking at men far closer to my age than to Anse Bundren. He has no teeth, doesn't even look like he is educated at all.' As soon as that torture was over and while my aunt was busy paying for the gown I ran out the door.
Nearly sobbing and not exactly knowing where to run, I ran to my friend the honorable Judge Alden. I knocked on the door and He answered the door. Seeing the expression on my face he ushered me in with out a word. Judge Alden was one of the people who had tried to prevent my aunt from becoming my legal guardian but had failed.
I sat in the parlor sobbing into my hands while Alden sat across from me and waited for me to regain my senses. When I finally calmed down and was able to talk I told him what had happened.
"I'm sorry Elizabeth there's nothing that I can do about it," he said gently with his gentle tone.
"I know I just needed to get away while I could for the time being before I'm forced to marry that son of a snake. Do you know that He has five kids? And I know he is going to expect me to…" I trailed off.
"Elizabeth I know that is very little that I can do but if you ever need someone to come to and talk to," he said gently.
"Thank you, "I whispered, "I hope to see you again someday Judge Alden," I said quietly letting myself out the door. I began to walk, dumbfounded not knowing exactly where I was going.
When I finally came to my senses again I was at the train station. I saw Anse and his family sitting in their wagon. Staring at them laughing was the man that kept laughing.
'They're sending him to Jackson,' I realized and suddenly, I felt sorry for the kids. Losing their mom at a time like this, and knowing how I felt after both of my parents died; I started to walk back to the house.
There was a suitcase on my bed. Silently I began to pack my clothing that I still had left. All of my clothing fitted into the suitcase. I picked up my records and placed them into suitcase along with my five books. All fit except for my father's gramophone.
'I'll carry it in my arms,' I thought to myself as if this would give me some comfort of this.
I winded my father's gramophone and I laid on the bed listening to its sad, almost melancholy tune. It was one of my father's favorites.
'What would my father think?" I wondered as I lay on my own bed for what would be the last time that I would ever be alone. Struck with the slap of reality, I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning was a blur. My aunt woke me early and to her surprise, after what she had seen only the day before. I willingly put the gown on. We went down to the courthouse with my things. I was married to Anse Bundren and I took the name Miss Elizabeth R. Bundren wife to Anse Bundren. Stepmother to five unknown children. I silently followed my newly wedded husband down the street after I had changed and stored away my gown.
I carried my suitcase and in my arms was my father's gramophone. He led me towards the wagon where his children looked up and stared at me as I followed him down the street. I twisted my wedding ring as I stood behind him. Anse introduced me to my new stepchildren.
"It's Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell," he said smiling with his newly found teeth. "Meet Mrs. Bundren."
They stared at me. Then after what seemed for like hours Cash spoke.
"Hello stepmother," He said kindly staring at my gramophone in wonder and awe. Jewel moved forward.
"Let me help you with your bag," he muttered taking me suitcase. We went to my new home in silence. For which I was grateful of. The little boy, Vardaman looked at me with wonder and some anger in his eyes.
'He must think I'm trying to replace his mom,' I thought quietly admiring the beautiful day. The day that changed my life forever. We arrived at the house in ample time. I was given a quick tour of the house before I had to get supper going.
I wasn't surprised at the condition of the homestead. I never complained about it, as long as I had my stepchildren and my husband I was content. Dewey Dell came and watched me move around the kitchen trying to prepare a simple meal.
"Dewey Dell is there anything you need?" I asked her gently, not exactly sure what to make of her expression.
"No, I'm just not sure what to make of you," she said quietly. I smiled.
"Well that's okay because I'm not sure what to make of ya'll" I said. She looked at me and laughed. The fear and anxiety washed away from her face. Cash, hearing her laughter, looked up incredulously and began to laugh too. Despite the obvious pain he was in with his newly tended to leg.
After dinner Vardaman came and sat near me while I washed up the dinner dishes.
"Stepmother?" he asked quietly as if he were afraid of me.
"Yes Vardaman?" I asked gaily.
"I was wondering can we play the gramophone?" he asked shuffling his feet.
"Yes we can play it but why don't we wait until we all can enjoy it?" I asked.
"Oh okay," he said scurrying away. After I finished the dishes I went out to call Jewel in for the night.
"Jewel! Time to come in!" I hollered. There was no response. "Anse, I'm going to find Jewel," I said to my new husband. I searched around the barn and found him sitting in an old abandoned stall. I heard him sniffle.
"Jewel, its time to come in," I said laying hand on his shoulder. He pushed my hand away, I gave him my handkerchief. He stared at me with wonder in his eyes.
"What the hell did you do that for?" he asked.
"Do what?" I asked confused.
"Give me your handkerchief." He said with brevity.
"Because I know what its like to lose someone you cared about," I said quietly as he stared at me again with what I think was wonder.
"Come on its time to come in." I took my handkerchief back and we walked back to the house in silence.
Tomorrow I would meet the Tulls' our neighbors and also I would ask Anse about the missing son, Darl. Eventually after talking with everyone, I persuaded them to let me go and get my missing stepson Darl from Jackson County.
Darl wasn't surprised to see me come after him. I paid the fine that he owed to society with a part of my inheritance from my own losses. When he pestered me about paying me back I waved away his protests.
"You are my family now, and family sticks out for one another," I answered as my explanation. And for many years I lived with my new family for the rest of my days. I did my duty unto them as a Christian wife and mother should. I helped repair the damage that had happened before me. And at last I finally knew what God's purpose was for my family and me.