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  • Writer's pictureAnne Hodges White

LuLu's Southern Beach House School for Wily Deceivers - 3

But it was the likker and the long distance bills toted up by friends visiting the beach house that stuck in Hodgie’s craw. LuLu always gave herself over to hosting friends, and most weekends the beach house filled up with them. The men baited hooks and cleaned fish. The women trailed LuLu through antique shops from Morehead City to New Bern, herded us children along the tideline and waved us beachside of the breakers. Late in the afternoon, we were shooed off into the dunes, then into the showers out back where we captured frogs, then to the supper table where we released them, then to sandy beds under nets and fans. At night, judging from what I could hear, the grown-ups settled back with some of Kentucky’s finest whiskey. Sharp laughter blew up the stairwell that wound like a conch. Phone calls were made late into the night—as far as Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia; nobody who mattered lived farther than that—and when everybody turned in, nobody was shown into the One Night Room.

After weekend shopping trips, Hodgie could be counted on to grouse about the useless stuff LuLu brought home in the trunk of her car. Ruby red mugs, conch lights, German steins, and ships in full sail.

Where did that come from? he asked when she hung up the plaque that claimed all gentlemen fishermen were drunks and liars. He was heard to say that the owner of every junk store in eastern North Carolina had the beach house phone number thumbtacked to a wall.

Enough! He seemed to me mighty close to tossing LuLu’s stuff out onto the dunes. She took to hiding her finds in the One Night Room again.

But Hodgie was just getting started. He went on to complain about the frequent wrong numbers.

Whoever that was on the other end hung up again, Hodgie said one afternoon. When he stepped off the porch for a brisk walk, LuLu rang up Old Man Sanderson, Hodgie’s name for the junk man over in Morehead City.

You have something for me? she whispered into the phone.

Next morning after a big breakfast of fried ham and eggs, Hodgie rocked in his corner chair, chewed, and spit over the rail.

The can, John.

Mama combed my thin hair back into a plastic barrette that looked to me like a white slug. LuLu, who’d shoved her go-to-Morehead shoes under her chair, shelled butter beans into yesterday’s Daily Reflector, breathed lightly, and hummed something that sounded like Whistle While You Work.

Mid-morning, Hodgie gathered his rod and reel and bait bucket. I’m off to the pier, Beulah. Back in time for lunch with some spot for supper. He was a you-kill-it-you-eat-it man. He patted me on the head, cut his eyes at LuLu’s shoes, and winked at me. When he disappeared around an outcropping of sea oats behind the beach house, LuLu leapt up, spring-loaded.

Let’s go, she said to Mama. Then to me, Run get that blanket from the One Night Room. She looked for all the world like a pirate with a low bun. Mama blinked once, put an arm out for me, and sighed her permission. I couldn’t stay there by myself, and I’d sat in a hot car in Morehead City before.

LuLu drove her blue-black Buick Roadmaster around front. The Buick settled into the sand, a giant bug breathing through the silver holes along its sides, at any minute fixing to open its wings, defy gravity, and take off across the Sound where it would land on the weeds in front of Mr. Sanderson’s. The next thing I knew we were off, LuLu driving fast and Mama holding on.

Mr. Sanderson’s place, a string of derelict warehouses, sat two blocks from the railroad tracks that split Arundel Street in half. A stooped old soul, wiry and ready to deal, he ran a slow business with his son, a leathery youth who looked old to me but was probably a teenager, mostly legs. Mama said that Old Man Sanderson could pick up what LuLu wanted just from sniffing the breeze across Bogue Sound.

How do, Mizz’odges, Old Man Sanderson mumbled to LuLu. His fingernails glowed mahogany. He rubbed paint thinner into the creases of his hardwood hands with a rag smelling of paint stripper. His son—Spider was his name, or if it wasn’t, it should’ve been—leaned against a door that squeaked.

LuLu nudged Old Man Sanderson into the dark warehouse. Put something aside for me?

Mama and I followed, her fingers digging into my arm like a clamp. The hush of the place suggested dead distances. I looked way up where sparrows chirped against the roof windows. Dust jumped around my sandals. LuLu led us down narrow rows of carved bedposts, massive breakfronts, and grandfather clocks with their innards missing. The place smelled like mouse droppings. LuLu breathed the place in like she did breezes off the Atlantic.

Old Man Sanderson stopped at a tabletop. Go get it, boy. Spider leapt into the gloom on his long legs.

LuLu chuckled and pulled me forward as if what was about to happen was essential to my education. She laid an arm around my shoulders, and Mama took in a deep breath. Spider reappeared, struggling under the weight of something massive and covered.

Set it down here, boy, Old Man Sanderson told him, and with a sweep of his arm he cleared a space on the battered table. Dixie Cups, Pepsi bottles, and Mason jars took fly, clattered to the floor, and rolled into dark corners. We moved in close. Old Man Sanderson whipped off the canvas that covered the thing. He grinned at LuLu, his long teeth dull with tobacco.

He looked at it. I took this for yourn when I first seen it.

LuLu smiled down at it. It’s perfect.

Mama took a small step back from it. It. Is. Lewd.

LuLu nodded to Old Man Sanderson. I’ll take it.

I stared up at it. What is it?

Published in 2013 by "Prick of the Spindle," this true story is a family favorite, often told and enjoyed. It's long, so I'll post it in serial. More later ....

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