before the rumors of last November, my neighbors had complained
that I don't keep up appearances. The picket fence is beyond repair,
the front door is cracked, a rusty thermometer, advertising a
bank that's been closed thirty years, hangs on one of my front
porch columns. But each continues to serve a purpose and will
not be replaced with contemporary inferiority just to calm a few
day I met Helen Lefevre it was forty-six degrees Fahrenheit. I
dressed accordingly in preparation for an early lunch at Mildred's
Diner, the only eatery still open downtown. I wanted to get ahead
of the gossip-and-stare regulars and spread a little flattery
on a so-so redhead waitress. I had a few minutes to kill before
they opened so I meandered through the neighborhood, listening
to the shrill blackbirds and the sad rhythm of scraping rakes.
The old folks were out, bundled like infants, hauling leaves to
the curb in yellow wheelbarrows and black trash bags as if this
might keep death from their doors for one more winter. I waved
to them but didn't slow enough to be detained by self-pitying
Past the old school playground I turned down Morrowan avenue
of Victoriana prominent in the town's historyand found myself
lingering for a look at Lefevre House: two tall, angular stories,
yellow and white with stick-and-ball fretwork and a turret-like
room with stained glass. I recalled days of recess, watching from
the monkey bars and wondering what it was like inside, what it
was like to be rich, not to work or go to school, and what was
hidden behind the stained glass. I was revisiting that old curiosity
when I heard a feminine voice over the cry of the birds.
Widow Lefevre stood tall, slim, and stately in the shadow of the
porch, fingering her mail. She must have thought I was staring
at her. She was fifty-three. I was twenty-five. Dr. Lefevre was
nine years dead.
morning," I returned. "I was admiring your house."
stepped into the light, smiling. I stopped.
you ever been inside?"
please come in. I could use your help with something, anyway."
Her voice was regal.
I followed her through the arched foyer, into a ritzy living roomwarm,
aromatic and softly lit. A light airBach, she saidplayed
in a remote part of the house. She turned to me as if suddenly
"By the way, I'm Helen Lefevre. I'm not feeling my age today
so please humor me by dropping the ma'am and calling me Helen."
offered her hand, which I shook twice as I stammered my name.
reason I asked if you've ever been inside is I thought maybe you
were a friend of my daughter's."
I know who she is, but we've never met. She's older than me."
amused her. "Well the next time she calls I'll tell her I
met you, and what a charming young man you are. Please have a
seat while I check something in the kitchen."
sat on one end of a brocade sofa and scanned the room. Vaulted
ceilings, oil paintings, well placed accent lamps, a cherry credenza
holding an arrangement of dried stalks. Everything a perfect blend
of luxury and comfort.
Helen slipped back in and sat in a red leather chair with her
legs over the arm and her hands behind her head. She watched me
as if trying to read my mind.
pumpkin bread you smell. Like it?"
that. I hope youll have some. It's done now, but it has
to cool before you get the full flavor of the spices. In the meantime,
tell me something..."
grilled methe way all old money doeson my family history,
who I was related to and if I knew so and so. She was amused that
in a town of a few thousand we had no mutual acquaintances. I
gave short answers and awaited each question like I was being
interviewed; she played with the braided fasteners on her blouse.
She had only minor wrinkles, more chestnut than gray hair, and
eyes the color of delphiniums. I knew that I was seeing the afterglow
of rare beauty.
She eventually came back to the bread.
of course, you have other plans. I don't want to detain you."
I was on my way to City Cafe for an early lunch."
she smiled. "Dont let me spoil your appetite, but you're
welcome to stop by on your way home. The bread makes a great dessert
and I'll have coffee to go with it."
rose. "Well, if you'll follow me, please sir."
face must have betrayed confusion. She laughed, not rudely, but
with polish and sparkle. "Remember when I invited you in
I said I needed your help with something?"
She led me back to the foyer and guided me up a winding staircase
to the second floor. We paused outside a tall, narrow door while
she caressed the porcelain knob with her thumb.
have to excuse the cold in here," she said. "I haven't
used this room for a long time. I keep it closed off."
led me into a round, empty room with no other light than the amber
glow of stained glass.
was Charles'Dr. Lefevre's private study. There's no
light bulb in the fixture. I have one here, and a ladder, but
Im afraid to do this when Im by myself."
took the bulb and climbed dangerously high before I was finally
able twist it in. She steadied the ladder and cautioned me. When
my efforts yielded no light she brought me another bulb, this
one she knew worked because it came from her bedside lamp. She
was already pushing the switch before I could get it in. Still
nothing happened. She folded her arms over her breast and gave
herself a squeeze.
you think I need to replace the light fixture?"
this one is fine. It still works. You just need minor electrical
work. I can see about doing it later."
"The sooner the better. I've got plans for this room and
I'm eager to get started."
I came down and we leaned on opposite sides of the ladder, discussing
plans and pasts and how quickly the former becomes the latter,
and what a good man Dr. Lefevre had been. She hunched her shoulders,
rubbed her arms and reminisced about her early years in the house.
Her words echoed in the emptiness and each sentence became an
smiled suddenly, held out a forearm, "Shall we?" and
gave me a quick tour of the house, ending downstairs in the foyer,
where she repeatedly expressed her gratitude and asked me once
again to stay for coffee and bread.
"It should be ready now."
I thought about what awaited me at Mildred's: grease, salt, static-scored
country music, and a skinny red-head with less personality than
the average biscuit. I wondered why I'd ever started my day in
Helen was smiling. Im not sure how, but I'd amused her again.
She stepped toward the kitchen, stopped and spun energetically,
throwing her hair across her face and leaving it there until she
you take cream and sugar?"
We sat facing each other in a bay window seat overlooking the
side yard, where yellow leaves twirled to the ground in cold wind
and branches bobbed in soothing rhythm. Inside was warm, perfumed
with fresh coffee and autumnal spices. She served the bread on
rare bone china shed inherited from her mother. A little
fragile for my habits, but serving its purpose.
Huffman chronicles life in the farm and factory South where
his family has lived for several generations. His most recent
works have appeared in Flashquake and Heavy Glow.
He is a member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance.