Published on August 13th, 2015 | by Rafael Alvarez0
“Cherry in Magnolia”- Part 6: Take Me To The River
“And now Mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything…”– Bobbie Gentry
As Cherry’s cab followed the Monte Carlo away from the cemetery and toward who-knew-where, the ah-coor-deen player kept a keen eye on his prey: through the windshield of the taxi, the distance between the vehicles, into the of the bird-dogged Chevy and past the mess of floral arrangements that Charlene had taken from the funeral and stuffed inside the car.
The windows of the Monte Carlo were open and clumps of petals and leaves flew out as it rolled west, some sort of commotion in the Chevy flaring up a half-dozen miles past the graveyard on the approach to the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, rose blossoms sailing past.
“Right here,” said Cherry, paying the driver with money he’d made that morning busking on the boulevard, tipping the man generously and adding an extra ten for the cabbie to remain stopped behind the Monte Carlo for as long as possible.
Slowly approaching the driver’s side, Cherry saw Willie and Charlene in violent argument, his brother recoiling from a barrage of slaps, trying to protect his face with a wreath of red and white carnations as Charlene’s woe-is-me Baltimore accent echoed between the bridge and river and back again.
“I should have known better than to get mixed-up with a pussy like you…”
Cars behind the taxi began to honk, Cherry just behind the driver’s door and about to yank it open when Charlene bolted from the car with one of the bouquets, barely missed being hit by a car headed in the other direction, ran to the side of the bridge and dove some 112 feet into the Mississippi River, her halter giving way as she clutched the flowers so tight her knuckles turned white.
“CHARLENE!” cried Willie, running to the rail, staring down, watching her float downstream as her body sank below the rushing water.
A rubbernecker stuck in traffic, talking to himself: “You see that? Lawdy, lawd, that ole flyin’ whale gotta be halfway to Tunica by now.”
The cabbie pulled around the Monte Carlo and sped away as Cherry got behind the wheel of the idling Monte Carlo and drove it off the bridge and into the rear of a Kroger supermarket. He parked it between a station wagon and a dumpster, locked his satchel and concertina in the trunk, put on his hat with the brim pulled low and headed back to the bridge.
There, police had stopped traffic and a cop was asking Willie questions.
“Baltimore,” said Willie. “We came down for the funeral. I don’t know her last name.”
“You drove a thousand miles to Elvis’ funeral sitting next to a woman whose name you don’t know?”
“Minner, I think,” said Willie, rattled beyond rattled. “I don’t know.”
Cherry kept his distance—making sure Willie didn’t see him—as State Troopers arrived and the river patrol began searching the water, the bridge blocked off to further traffic.
“MY CAR!” shouted Willie as the cop led him to a police cruiser. “SOMEBODY STOLE MY CAR!”
Blending in with the small crowd that had gathered as a traffic cop guided cars off the bridge, Cherry walked past the cruiser where Willie sat in the back seat, nodded to his brother through the window—Willie’s eyes popping, unable to hear the question the cop just asked—and kept walking, no one paying him any mind.
As the police car drove Willie away, the teenager in mourning, agitation, and shock—Charlene drowned, his car gone and his brother appearing like a ghost—all the cops asked about was narcotics.
“What was she on, boy? What are you on? Can you describe this phantom vehicle you say you drove here from Baltimore and no one seems to have seen?”
Cherry walked back to the Kroger—biding his time before attempting to rescue his little brother—and saw that he had somehow grown a wart on a knuckle of his left hand, the one he had maimed when he drove an ignition-popping screwdriver through it while trying to open an oyster ten years ago.
And began to put together a song about a penny and a wart.