By Dawn DeBraal
Henry Passet tried to move his horse forward. Stubborn as he was his stallion Lightening, stood his ground. Henry pulled out his riding crop, striking the horse several times to get him to move forward. Lightening reared up, dumping Henry into a nest of rattlesnakes. Henry screamed in fear as the rattlers struck him again and again while his horse reared up, coming down on the snakes and Henry’s head, splitting him open like an overripe watermelon.
The doctor told Henry’s wife, Dekora. It was a blessing that Henry died from the head trauma since he had so many rattlesnake bites Henry would have died a slow, agonizing death from the snake venom. Dekora shot the horse leaving it to rot in the field while she buried her husband. She was pregnant with Henry’s third son. They’d only been married for four years. She was tired of having babies and secretly relieved there wouldn’t be any more children now with Henry gone. Dekora Passet, worked the farm right up until the time she delivered.
Dekora’s brother came out from Kansas City to help her get back on her feet, leaving as soon as she was able to work the farm on her own. Dekora strapped her youngest son on her back to feed the animals and plant the crops. When Henry’s cousin Louis came to town, he rode out to the Passet farm. Dekora remembered him from the wedding. He offered to help with the farm and sleep in the barn. Dekora needing help consented to have her husbands’ cousin stay and work the farm. After a year or so, Louis moved out of the barn and into Dekora’s bed shortly after, they legally married.
A few months later, Dekora found herself pregnant with her fourth son when her youngest child turned three. It was then she started to resent her new husband. They had a horrible fight. Louis slapped her in the face Dekora hit him with an oil lamp and scratched his face with her jagged nails while he lay on the floor. No man had or would ever, put a hand on her. She made sure of that. From then, she vowed to make Louis’ life miserable. She did this in so many ways. She burned his meals, ignored or belittled him. When Louis took to drinking and started getting meaner, Dekora spiked the little brown jug in the barn with bitter almonds known to make a man sick. The meaner Louis got, the meaner Dekora responded. She spiked all his brown jugs in the barn. The more he drank, the sicker he got. She kept a few jars of moonshine hidden which had a lethal dose of bitter almonds from him. She still needed Louis to work on the farm.
It was a drunken Louis who fell out of the hayloft onto a pitchfork. Dekora’s eldest son found him in the barn, dead. Such a surreal sight. Louis propped up from the barn floor at the end of the pitchfork with his arms dangling while his legs kept him from falling over. Another funeral, a new grave next to Henry, another baby with a hungry mouth to feed, another day of hard work with a baby strapped on her back. Dekora’s brother came back and helped for a short time and returned to his family in Kansas City. Dekora hired a man, a drifter to work on the farm. She couldn’t pay much, mostly room and board. She fixed up a couple of stalls in the barn fashioned a small-living quarter. Mr. Tansley tried sobering up for the job before him. By this time, Dekora had no patience for drinkers. Mr. Tansley stayed sober for a long time, long enough for Dekora to marry him. He moved into her bed in the house, raising her four sons like they were his own.
Tansley was a hard worker, and the farm started to make a profit, they were able to save some money and put it in the bank, making the payments on the farm. Tansley bought more animals and taught her eldest sons how to work on the farm. The boys liked Tansley. Just as her luck always followed her, Dekora found herself pregnant again. She was not happy. Tansley having never been a father was elated. He made the boys take more of the work from their mother while he babied his wife like no other husband before him, had ever done. When Dekora lost their baby in her sixth month, Tansley was there at her bedside weeping. Dekora relieved that she wouldn’t have another child to care for, accepted what God had given, or taken. Tansley was inconsolable. He left her bed moving back into the living quarters in the barn, consoling himself with one of the many little brown jugs he’d found hidden in a storage area. Tansley was slowly poisoning himself every time the jar went to his lips, not knowing the liquor laced with bitter almonds was making him violently sick.
Tansley was out in the woods with the neighbor cutting wood when he started to vomit. The neighbor brought Tansley back to the house. He had severe cramping and lost control of his bowels. Dekora had the neighbor help him off the wagon and got him inside the house. Moaning and groaning like he was about to die. A pitiful sight. Dekora tried to save him but was unsuccessful. No one knew why he got so sick, but Dekora knew when she smelled liquor with a slight hint of almonds, on his breath. Another funeral. Mr. Tansley, was buried next to his miscarried son, who buried next to Henry and Louis. Folks in-town called Dekora the “Black Widow” because she didn’t keep a husband very long and all of them had died tragic deaths. Dekora continued to work the farm with the help of her sons. Though Tansley taught the boys plenty, they didn’t have the knowledge that Tansley had. Dekora was concerned when they no longer had a bank account that had money in it. The farm wasn’t producing as well. Where would they get money to pay the mortgage?
The boys were out in the field when a traveling salesman knocked on her door. Dekora answered flustered. Her hair was falling on her face, flour covering her hands.
“Yes?” she asked, perturbed at the disturbance. The young man started into his spiel. He was a fast-talking smooth-tongued devil. Dekora pretended to listen to him as her eyes followed the gold chain on his vest down to a watch pocket. It was a very nice pocket watch and chain. Looked like real gold.
“Have you talked to anyone else in the area?” Dekora asked nonchalantly.
“No, you’re my first stop. I’ve been riding for days!” said the salesman. Dekora took pity on the young man and invited him in for some refreshment. The boys were out in the fields and wouldn’t return until dark.
“I’m sorry I’m making some bread right now, if you allow me a bit more time, I shall fully devote myself to your sales pitch.” Dekora greased and buttered some bread pans putting a bit of dough into each container to start the rising process.
The traveling salesman was excited. No one had given him the time of day in a long while. He would be patient. After cleaning up her mess, Dekora sat at the table with a glass of water and allowed the salesman to give his speech.
“That’s interesting. So, you say this elixir will cure every ailment my boys and I could have?” she asked feigning interest.
“Why, yes, Ma’am it will. A teaspoon is all you need. It’s got opium from China in it.”
“How many bottles do you have?” Dekora asked demurely.
The salesmen grew excited. “About 100 of them on my horse!”
“Well, I’d like to buy all of them!” Dekora took the brown jug from back in the closet, putting it down on the table, adding, “Let’s drink on the deal!”
She poured a large glass of moonshine from the special jar and handed it to the salesman who was still reeling from the excitement of making a big sale.
“Won’t you have one with me?” the salesman questioned Dekora offering the glass.
“A lady doesn’t drink!” she responded impertinently. When the salesman had his fill of the laced corn liquor, he walked out to his horse, weaving back and forth as he tried to cross the farmyard on his way to get the bottles in the carpetbag on his saddle. Tripping, he fell to the ground having a sudden attack of the gripe, vomiting and diarrhea. He stayed on his hands and knees wretching while Dekora stood watching him from a distance.
“Perhaps I should fetch you the elixir, Mr Trumble? Would that be of help to you?” Dekora called out to him. Mr. Trumble fell to the ground moaning. Dekora picked up a shovel and headed out to the cemetery. Digging a hole near Tansley’s she came back to where the salesman collapsed. She nudged him with her toe. He didn’t appear to be alive. Dekora tied the salesman by a long rope from his feet to his horse, dragging Mr. Trumble out to the cemetery. The pocket watch and his wallet went into her apron. She buried the salesman quickly before the boys came home. The saddle taken off the horse she covered in dirt before Dekora hid it in the barn under some old feed sacks. She hoped the boys would think one of her husbands had left that in the barn and they never noticed it before. Dekora set the horse free in the pasture. She would make up a story when the boys asked about it.
“However, did that horse get in our pasture, I wonder?” she imagined herself saying to the boys when they asked.
She hid the carpetbag of elixir bottles in the hayloft. She felt confident she could get her youngest to sell that stuff in town since Louis’ boy could read best out of all her boys. If Tansley’s boy had been born alive, she knew he would have been the one to make money for them. “A man was either smart or, he weren’t.” Dekora always said.
Dekora slid the bread pans into the warm oven. The boys would be home soon expecting their dinner.