“Ten Pounds Short”: A Short Story by Rickey Pittman

Here is the short story that won honorable mention in the 24 hour short story contest I entered not long ago.

“Ten Pounds Short” by Rickey E. Pittman

Ellis B. slashed a diagonal line on that day’s date on the calendar. The annual Festival of Pumpkins in Paris, Texas was only a week away.

Ellis B. Evans, like his grandfather, grew pumpkins.  His grandfather had been killed by the Kiowa in 1871 in Young County, in what was known as the Warren Wagon Train massacre.  His grandfather and other teamsters had been hired to take supplies to Fort Richardson.  The two Kiowa chiefs, Satanta and Big Tree, killed most of the teamsters and tied Evans’ wounded grandfather to a wagon wheel and roasted him to death.

The Evans family then moved to Paris, Texas where many Welsh families had settled in the days of the Republic.

Ellis B. grabbed his denim jacket hanging on a peg in the hallway of his Jim Walter home. “I’m going to the pumpkin patch, then to town,” he said to his wife.

“Why am I not surprised?” she replied. “Tell your friend Jessie Fae hello if you see her in town. That woman is so stuck up. When I’m around her, she doesn’t pay me any mind. It’s almost as if I’m not there–or as if she wishes I weren’t there. If she thinks she can . . .”

“Oh, stop it,” he said. He tried his best to not slam the door as he left the house, but he didn’t succeed. Dorothy just didn’t understand. She didn’t understand his love of pumpkin farming.  Pumpkins were a beautiful fruit, both food and ornament, with skins of white, green, blue, red, and tan as well as the ubiquitous orange.  Ellis B. loved the roasted seeds, the bread, soup, candy and pies that pumpkins produced and he loved the stories about them in our holidays and legends.

Ellis B. intended to produce the largest pumpkin ever grown. So far, the largest had come from Rhode Island in 2006 and weighed 1502 pounds. He didn’t have to surpass that weight by much, but if he did, his name and his pumpkin would go down in history.

No, Dorothy–and yes, ironically she was from Kansas–did not understand his love for pumpkins. Nor did she understand Jessie Fae.  Of course, he didn’t know if he understood  either of these two women. He knew he had to sort things out quickly. If he did not, then circumstances would make the decision for him. His grandfather had always said, “To not make a decision, is to make a decision.”

He walked the field until he came to his prize pumpkin. He felt that the many weeks of obsessive tending and gentle turning ensured a blue ribbon at the Festival of Pumpkins. He imagined the envious stares of the other pumpkin farmers and his chest puffed and swelled with impending pride. He patted the pumpkin and said, “Soon.”

A gust of cold wind caused him to shiver, and he glanced up, watching the sky darken too quickly, the way it does in Texas when a blue norther was coming.  Another gust ripped through the treetops and bright, painted leaves whirled through the air and rained on his field of pumpkins.

Ellis B. heard an infant’s cry and turned his head. At the top of the hill, under the old Maple, he saw her silhouette. He began walking her way.  When he reached her, he could see the blue shawl he had given her, draped over her head and shoulders.  Her arms clutched a bundle to her chest, and she fumbled with the buttons on her blouse.

“Jessie Fae,” he said.

“Ellis B.,” she said. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”

“You knew I couldn’t say no to you. How is little Jimmy Dale?” He could see her shake from the cold. Her lips were blue and her teeth rattled slightly.

“He’s real sick, Ellis B.,” she said. “Won’t stop crying. You nearly caught me feeding him.”  She pulled her shawl tighter across herself, trying to shield the baby from the wind.

“You take him to the doctor right away.” He handed her a roll of twenty-dollar bills.

“Thank you.”

“Have you told her yet?” she asked.

“No. I was going to wait till after the Festival of Pumpkins.”

“Maybe I should have named your son Pumpkin instead of Jimmy Dale.”

“Don’t be like that. He’s your son too. I’m going to tell her.”

“And leave her?”

“Yes.”  He placed a hand on one shoulder and drew her close to him. “I swear I will. It will be just you, me, and little Jimmy Dale.” He looked over her shoulder at his fields, green foliage dotted with balls of orange.

“I’m not Cinderella, Ellis B. There’s no pumpkin in that patch of yours that’s going to turn into a fancy carriage to take me to the party. If I get out of this mess I’m in, it’ll only be because you took me.”

Ellis B. knew he couldn’t ask her to continue with their secret much longer. Nor did he think he could either.

He kissed her goodbye and returned home. He spent several restless nights that week, wrestling with the knowledge that these would be the last nights sleeping next to Dorothy. He knew love was not free. There’s always a price to be paid. If he wanted to be with Jessie Fae and little Jimmy Dale, then he would have to make the break.  Jimmy Dale needed a father.

Jessie Fae did take Jimmy Dale to the doctor. The doctor sent the baby to the hospital, and within a week, the baby had passed on.

Ellis B. won the blue ribbon at the festival, but came short of the world record by ten pounds—the exact weight of little Jimmy Dale when he died.

Jessie Fae moved to be with her parents in Abilene, and Ellis B. remained with Dorothy and began planning next year’s pumpkin crop.

Word Count 995