Photo by A.H. Jerriod Avant.

Rufus and Ella’s Essay of Days

Ella early in the school kitchen. Peel a few potatoes, take a pull from her tin bottle.
9am and wine teeth. 9am and her sciatica lacing her leg up in nerve pain. Hardest work of the day

still to come. The light-skinned women called her Ella Blue cause she so dark and her voice is sad
and slow like smoked honey, but when she laughs. Every pot rings and jangles. Too many days

she’s made the fifteen mile drive, her jeep like a beetle through the grey flake fog. When she saw the new
girl of 16 and a redhead to boot, she hollered red on the head and fire in the hole! So many days

leaves her man ripping bark in bed, worn slick from last night’s sweat and tussle. She misses the early days.
Her loving was like good food: high pressure; high pleasure. She met Rufus out on Rural Route 639

while he was dodging scales. She was sitting on a butane tank like a searing silver horse. Saturday nights
the moon rose out of the scrubpines and he’d sling her over his shoulder

in the barbeque line at Wangos. Some years back he took her to the grand opening of the Piggly Wiggly
and they had a seven or ten pound lobster that walked around on the sales floor like an old dog. She loves

him like a burning wagon. She’d go down to hell and yank the devil’s tail for him, but hates people
knowing it, so at work she yells God almighty send me a man, I’m done tired of that boy every day.

If he could even find my hot spot heaven would split open. Rufus, he’s a simple man raised on biscuits
and a busted bible. He tried to understand her appetites. The whiskey at night, the wine early in the day.

Smoking and cussing. Lord knows what I’m doin. she’d said once gone for three days. He shrugs it off
and gets back to work welding. His shed is clean save for the slag and rust shavings on the floor, daylight

noodling in through the corners. He has a meat saw from when he failed being a butcher. And old Biro.
On hot days He would sit down in the creek dressed and watch minnows nibble dead skin off his hands

and he loved the cedar smells and how they dipped in the breeze. More than anything, Rufus loved
owning things. The John Deer he won in a hand of poker a pint deep in a jar of juniper moonshine, day-

light shedding its skin over Wolverton Mountain. His Cadillac slicker than greased owl shit
with Turtle wax. He told Ella on his knees one night by the swing, gnats going wild, tagging her sweet

shining skin, Now Ella Blue, I’m gonna give you a house. No more this trailer shit, you hear me?
Sundays, be damned if she wasn’t sleeping, her man in the front pew. They was praying for her every day.

And it came to pass that on a Sunday when the wind cut every cloud into dumplings and whistled
through every crack in the Second Baptist church, bringing down honeysuckle and smoke, daylight

and hellfire. By God, can you believe a pan of frying chicken could burn a trailer down to the cinderblocks?
Rufus in the front pew. Ella still not home from her poker game the night before. Can you believe a day

broke open with smoke. The whole town ended up out there at his place watching them put out the fire.
The sheriff toed the burnt dirt and said, Well the lord gives, but the devil plays for keeps. Hours later, day

light all spooled out when they finally finished. Rufus knew he was headed for the insurance company
next day, then the bank, then he was going to start building a home for Ella Blue, who sat on the hood

of her jeep wiping her face saying The days, lord, the days keep piling up. That night they slept
on her momma’s porch, drinking long into the night when the mind get hazy but the body is a live wire.

  • About

    James William Dunlap is an Arkansas poet. He studied creative writing at University of Arkansas and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal, storySouth, and Copper Nickel.