Estelle slapped her hand at the stinging on the back of her damp neck. The humidity was awful and while the screen doors in the farmhouse were good, what with all the coming and going, some tiny, flying insects were bound to get in.
Letting out a deep sigh, she collapsed into the big chair, her mind drifting into the chronic ruminating on the state of her life. The life that wasn’t even close to the one of her dreams.
The house was quiet; the kitchen and dining room cleaned just to an acceptable standard and she was weary. She gave a slight shake of her head, quickly adjusted one of her hair curlers, and considered the amount of food the day laborers had put away. With their sun browned faces and tired eyes they’d eaten the noon meal on their best indoor manners. Heads bowed, they’d looked intently at the food on the plates in front of them instead of looking at Estelle.
All of them were useless. Still, she and her sister-in-law June were dependent on them to help keep the place running since Estelle’s husband Earl had gone missing the year before.
June, now she was annoying, relentlessly optimistic in the face of never ending work and the tedium of a small community. There was definitely something wrong with that girl, behaving as if every new day held the possibility of a grand adventure. If she kept up with the whistling and singing in the house, Estelle swore to herself she’d whack her upside the head with a rolling pin or skillet.
It had been much slower with Earl. What a waste that whole situation had been. He’d been so dashing in high school. Estelle hadn’t been much interested in boys; most of her attention had been on escaping here. She’d suspected she was destined to become a notable film star, spending any free time and cash she could acquire to sneak away to the local cinema in the afternoons. Earl had a nice car, easy-going nature and leading man good looks if you squinted just right. He made her laugh once upon a time.
They married just out of high school. He’d been just wild enough and she had him wrapped around her finger. He was supposed to help her get to California.
Then his mom and daddy were killed when a semi plowed into them and he was left in charge of the small farm. He refused to consider leaving June with all the work and within a summer began acting and looking like an old man. Estelle had become more frustrated and unhappy.
Life was then hopeless until Patty came back to town. Her dad had the local café, where Patty had worked behind the counter all through high school. She’d gotten out for a while, going to Hollywood and returning with grand tales, airs and a funny way of moving her hands while talking loudly.
Estelle pretended to believe the stories so she could mine her for information. She’d go to the café almost every other afternoon and walk out irritably if Patty wasn’t working. Otherwise, she’d sit at the counter and have a milk shake and they’d talk if it wasn’t too busy.
Soon the talk and complaining got old; they were both miserable. Patty began lowering her voice to a whisper and dropping hints about some old recipes her granny had, recipes that aided in taking care of some of life’s more stubborn problems. Over time a plan was hatched.
Earl just kept on working and smiled less. June kept whistling and singing. Then Earl began to weaken and have a grayish cast to his face. Then he disappeared one rainy weekend. Efforts were made to locate him but there were no leads and as life went grinding on the talk eventually turned to other things.
Things became worse for Estelle. Now she was expected to pitch in with even more of the work and she feared her pretty looks were fast fading. The cherry on top of all this was some nosy lady from Little Rock had been snooping around. She was at the café too often, always alone with no known business. A few people had told of rumors that she was a lady detective. Estelle didn’t believe that. She’d never heard of a lady detective.
She brushed at the bite on her left forearm and looked at the clock. June was late coming in from her afternoon break. She’d usually pour a glass of iced tea and bang away at the piano for half an hour or so. Where did she get all that energy, instead of wilting like a normal person?
Estelle stood and plodded out into the back yard to look for her sister-in-law. A flash of alarm jolted her as she saw June standing in the doorway of the cow shed. What had she needed to look for in there anyway? Estelle found herself unable to look away as June gazed at her with questioning eyes, the questioning mingled with mild hostility and suspicion.