by Jennifer Dyer
As far as I was concerned, Jonny was the handsomest boy I’d seen, especially that night with his pressed suit and thick hair. I knew he’d never take a shine to the likes of me.
Except he did. What a night that was. That boy could’ve sold sand to a caravan in the Sahara dessert. He told me he loved me. He told me Heaven was missing an angel on account of me being so beautiful. He said he’d never love another.
Like a fool I believed him.
That’s how I wound up in Doc Bennet’s office a few weeks later, door closed and crying my eyes out at the shame I would bring on my dead father.
Doc’s bushy white eyebrows drew together. “Listen, May. All things that shine aren’t diamonds. What makes a man isn’t a silver tongue or a flashy suit. It’s the heart.” He sat across from me, leaning forward on his elbows. “Old Cleet might not be much to look at, nor is he the most educated man on earth, but he’s good all the way to the core. He’s got that farm and lives all alone since his wife died ten years ago. Been pretty successful, too. Even has a phone. He’s mentioned you before, only he was afraid you wouldn’t look twice in his direction.”
“He won’t want me. Not now. No one will.”
Doc cleared his throat. “Cleet is ten years older than you. He understands the world is full of charlatans, even if he doesn’t know what the word means. He makes a decent, honest living and he’s the best shot in the county, so you’ll never be hungry.”
A month later, thanks to Doc’s intervention, Cleet and I married. A few weeks after the wedding, Doc called us into his office. He explained to my husband that I was pregnant, and since Cleet was such a big man, the baby would most likely come early.
Maybe it was wrong to let Doc do that. I wondered if one day it would come back to bite me like a rabid dog. But the look on Cleet’s face was pure diamond. He’d always wanted children, but his first wife had died so young. He told me he feared he’d never love again, not ‘till I came along.
The baby came six weeks early. I heard talk, but Cleet turned a deaf ear. He named that baby Carver after his father and said it was one of the best days of his life.
Life went on. Sometimes I had to pinch myself to believe it wasn’t a dream. The next year, the tobacco came in so thick Cleet hired several hands to keep up with the harvest. And guess who showed up. The devil himself, Jonny. Apparently, his big plans hadn’t worked out elsewhere, so he had the gall to come live on our farm, to eat at my table, and to pull me aside one afternoon and tell me he knew the truth about Carver. And he would tell Cleet unless I gave him money on the side.
I told him to try it and see if he kept his job.
But that devil kept on bugging me. My stomach wrung tighter than my washing tub, and I got so skinny Cleet said I was practically transparent. He worried I was sick and dying like his first wife. How could I tell him the truth? He’d hate me. It would break his heart. And what about Carver? He’d be left with no one in this world because I would die from the shame.
So, I went on, insides churning as if the devil himself boiled them and Cleet worrying I was gonna die any moment.
But then everything changed. Like every other night before this one, Cleet stepped onto the porch to ponder life. He lit up his pipe for a smoke.
Jonny and the other hands knew about Cleet’s ritual. They’d even laugh at him, since his pondering usually included relieving himself over the porch rail.
So, I heard a crash as if the underworld had swallowed the whole porch. Cleet yelled something awful. Carver woke and howled, so I ran to him first. Just as I carried the boy to the door, Cleet took aim at three shadows running through the yard and pulled off a shot.
The middle shadow pitched to the ground and howled for his mama like a toddler. Said he was dying, that he’d been shot clean through. It wasn’t difficult to recognize the voice. Mr. Jonny Devil, in the flesh.
Cleet took his time reloading. “You ain’t dyin, boy, but come ‘round here again and you’ll get the rest of what I’ve got loaded in this rifle, hear?” He nodded to me. “Go inside and call Doc. Tell him we got an intruder who needs some buckshot dug outta his hide. He can use the barn for surgery.”
From the sounds coming out the barn that night, you’d think we had a dying cow in there giving birth to a three-headed calf. Doc said he’d “forgotten” to put painkiller in his bag before he came over.
Cleet said that was too bad and picked up Carver. As he carried him back to bed, I heard Cleet say, “You see, son? That’s what happens to anyone who messes with my wife and my boy.”
Ten years have passed since that time. I tried to tell Cleet the truth, but he stopped me before I could get the whole story told. “Listen, May. When God gives a gift it ain’t polite to ask where it come from. I’m just gonna be thankful.”
We never heard from Jonny again. And we never had more children. Every Saturday the weather allowed, those two went hunting or fishing, father and son. I hear Carver is quite the shot, just like his daddy.
Doc was right. All that shines ain’t diamond, and sometimes raw diamonds don’t look like much ‘till you take a closer look at them.