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Directly across the street the County Diner, which the DiSilvas recently took over from the Bridgefords, serves breakfast and lunch but no dinner. Paramount theater's been closed for decades, Hobhart Plymouth/Datsun more recently. Doctor Chester L. Wallaston, Family Practitioner, keeps regular hours Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Samuel A. Lasherman's law office and The South Charworth Journal have been gone since the late '70s, but their names still linger on faded storefronts like it was yesterday. Way down at the end of Main, Karjak's Towing and Salvage looks open, a wide gravel and weed drive with the sign of the flying red horse suspended by a single hook head down alongside two abandoned gas pumps. The diesel's operable, even though most of that business heads out Route 24 to Shelps Home Heating Oil for a fill-up.
"'Bout time ta ha'vest ya cranb'ry crop, Step?"
"'Notha week. Waitin fa the Po'tugees ta finish up ova at young Coppa'waite's."
"They'a predictin an ea'ly frost this ye'a."
"They'a'ways predictin somethin. Been dry pickin the uppa bog m'self."
"Who's helpin ya with the baggin, ya daughta Kitty?"
"Nope, she's been feelin poo'ly lately. Got ta stop pickin an bag'em m'self."
"Slow goin."
"Might have ta hi'a that Ka'jak kid ta help me cull an crate."
"Wouldn't trust Jesse's basta'd ta pick his own nose."
"He'a ya, but fresh is payin six bucks ma than wet right now."
"What've they been off'rin pa ba'rel?"
"Good twenty fou'a fa my da'k ruby red."
"Twenty fou'a! That's ha'dly wo'th the effo't."
"Make what ya can make in this bis'ness. B'sides I'd have ta pay fa disposal."
"Mo'a a that gova'ment intafea'rence, that's what that is."
"Bog's a bog, I say, let whateva's left ov'a rot."
Helen Alecup pulls up slowly behind the police cruiser in her Saturn, rolls down the window. "Yu boys a blockin the road!"
"Betta get on ­ catch ya lata, Step."
She pulls up alongside Step herself. "Yu two a wo'se than women."
"How ya doin, Helen, just catchin up on all the local gossip."
"Plenty a'that these days ­ how's Sally been doin, haven't seen ha around town at'all."
"Doin fine. Keepin busy."
"An that pretty little Kitty, she doin any betta?"
"Fine. Gettin back ta ha no'mal self."
"Well, tell'em both I said hi. On my way out ta the cemet'ry, put up some fresh flowa's on my folk's grave."
"Nice seein ya, I'll tell ev'rybody hi."
Saturn and manure truck part amicably.
The majority of the town's registered voters live out along windy roads on family farmsteads, though a string of newer bungalows built in the postwar boom of the '50s stretch along Copperwaite Road toward the graveyard where South Charworth's families have been dutifully buried over the centuries. The few Portuguese live along River Road or down Adams Path. The Karjaks live on three acres behind the garage, the yard littered with mounds of junk cars, some dating back to the '40s.
"Co'bin? Co'bin!"
"Wha'd ya want?"
"Step Epton called ta see if ya'd cull cranb'ries fa a few days. Says he's payin two dolla's ova minimum."
"Cheap peckahead. Wha'd ya tell him?"
"Ya've been busy helpin Grampa Bu't in the garage since ya got back, but ya'd least give him a call."
"Call him back, Gramma, an tell him ta get that fat bitch he's got fa a daughta out the'a cullin."
One must endure could be the town's credo ­ for the nearly fourteen generations since settlement ­ which is what these good people have done when forced to ward off intruders, first the renegade Massachusett, followed by dissenters, some stragglers during the Depression, few more after the war and recently the Portuguese who while admired as hard workers are still not addressed by name. A grunt good day clears the throat and gets straight to business. The Karjaks however ­ Burt, Jesse and little Corbin ­ are a different breed altogether and called upon only in case of emergency ­ towing. Truck stuck out on a bog or parked wrong along Main Street during the cranberry festival early Octobers when South Charworth is overrun with strangers.
"Step Epton called back ta offa ten bucks a hou'a."
"Ten bucks! Peckahead's gettin desp'rate."
"Ya gonna call him? We could use the cash."
"Shit yes. Get ta watch that fat bitch besides. Hell, Kitty'll bend way ova fa ten bucks a hou'a."
Burt was the first Karjak to arrive, spring of '62. Obviously a drifter, it was rumored he had rode in slung underneath a freight car when the New Haven & New Bedford slowed to a stop at the Main Street crossing. Whatever his origins Burt was soon pumping gas at Rutland's garage. His wife, if indeed they were married, showed up nine months later from wherever he was from, courtesy of the Ambrosia Bus Lines. Roger Stalton distinctly remembers watching as she climbed off in front of his drugstore with a little girl in tow and another on the way, so burdened with motherhood he thought she'd burst right there on his sidewalk. Her age and ethnicity were indeterminate, she was wiry, had leathery skin with thin brown hair that blew about a prune shaped disapproving face. She wore a dress that almost reached her ankles, seemed to wear the same dress for decades, same style anyway, big knuckled hands stuck out long sleeves.
After the woman's arrival Burt went from solid to fleshy, his eyes shrank to slits, his face round and redder and redder, high blood pressure with a temper to match ­ flash fire up in your face in an instant. Probably what sparked the explosion at the pumps that left Earl Rutland maimed for life and out of the gas business permanently. Burt Karjak reportedly paid him off over time until he finally assumed control of the garage. Place thrived for two, three years until the feds started pouring money into interstate highway construction. Put South Charworth further off the map than it was already.
"Ya can't keep switchin plates from ca ta ca Bu't, ya got ta regista ev'ry one a'them sep'rately."
"Costs money."
E. B. Alecup's attempting to explain the vagaries of auto insurance to the elder Karjak. "Insu'ance goes with the ca, not with the plate."
"Hobha't switches his all the time."
"That's dif'rent. Hobhat's a deala."
"Then so am I."
"He's got a license, resella's license."
"Get me one a'those."
"Yah, but 'til ya do, ya got ta keep the same plates on the same ca."
Korinna Karjak had already had her baby boy by then. Named him Jesse, root of the earth. Couple of years later she enrolled her daughter Easter in the first grade. Had to present the girl's birth certificate. Then's when everyone in town learned the Karjaks were originally from Pawtucket, least that was the previous stop before they blew sporadically downwind into South Charworth.
Transplanted or home grown, everyone in South Charworth reproduced early. Jesse was no exception. Dropped out of school at fourteen, kid was fascinated with anything female or combustible ­ bobcats, go-carts, a rouser dirt bike he'd spin round the school yard, disrupting classes until Officer Foxcroft or Mister Spritch, the assistant principal, would come chasing after him.
"If ya ain't regista'd, ya ain't allowed on school propa'ty ­ ya got that through ya thick skull?"
"That's right. Next time ya come crusin round he'a, I'll lock ya up."
short stories
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