OYSTERBACK, MARYLAND — Oysterback, Maryland.-- It was about the time that Jeanne took the twins and ran off to Ocean City with Mr. Eddie, the new hairdresser down at the Salon de Beaute, that Hudson Swann took to drinking pretty hard. I guess Mr. Eddie wasn't as gay as we all thought.
A couple of times, I, Desiree Grinch, proprietor of the Blue Crab Tavern here in Oysterback, had to have my ex-, Earl Don, drive him home. It's a sorry thing to see a man walking around with a look on his face as if the rug beneath his whole world has been pulled out from beneath him; he and Jeanne were high school sweethearts, and he just lived for those twin girls, Ashley and Amber.
Not that I don't understand just how Jeanne Swann must have felt; it's a hard thing when your marriage is reduced to the lyrics of a particularly sappy country-and-western song, which is why Earl Don is my ex- and not my present. This way, he has to stay on his toes, and keep the fires burning. I guess Mr. Eddie knows how to light a match.
All Huddie had left was his dog, Philo. Jeanne never did take much to that black lab, or I guess she would have taken him to Ocean City with her when she and Mr. Eddie left. Philo is not an easy dog to like. First of all, he's about as dumb as . . . well, let me put it the way my Aunt Walhalla would have said: If that dog's brains were put on a fork, it would look like a BB rolling down a four-lane highway.
When Philo wasn't riding around in the workboat with Huddie, or hanging out of the back of a pickup truck with his tongue flying in the wind, he was out in back of the yard, lying under the crepe myrtle on his back, all four legs going at once, as if he was running in his dreams. I hate to say a bad thing about a poor creature that can't fight back, but Philo was about the most useless dog there ever was.
He couldn't hunt, because he was gun-shy, and just as like to crawl up your leg when he heard a shotgun as go after a bird. And he got seasick all over the boat, too, even though he insisted on going out. Spoiled a fishing trip for us one time when he ate all the peelers.
That's the way Philo was, but Hudson had had him since he was a puppy, and he was as attached to that dog as Hudson was to his own daughters. Philo would follow him anywhere, and if he went off, the poor dumb dog would sit at the end of the dock or the drive and wait until he came back.
Junie Redmond has been Hudson's best friend since they were put in the same crib together, and even he couldn't stand Philo around him too much because Philo always smelled like wet dog, even during last summer's drought. When Jeanne walked out on Hudson, Junior suggested that a part of the reason might have been that Mr. Eddie didn't have a smelly dumb dog that didn't have enough sense not to eat rotten crabs and lie under the crepe myrtle.
I personally am very fond of dogs, but I do not wish to have them in the Blue Crab, as this is liable to upset the health inspectors. So Philo had to sit outside in the pickup truck whenever Hudson was in the Blue Crab, which was entirely too much right there after Jeanne left him.
Now I think that there are times when a person has a right to get drunk and stay drunk, as long as the person does not drive, or drive anyone crazy, or get mean and trash my Elvis poster. Hudson did none of these things; he merely sat in a corner of the bar nursing shots of Heaven Hell. If he had asked me my advice, I would have given it to him, which is that he should think less about running around with the boys and worrying about his truck, his boat and his hunting and fishing, and more about pleasing his wife, but no one asked me, so I kept my thoughts to myself. But if you want my opinion, men who can only express their feelings in about 60 words, half of which refer to moving engine parts, are in serious trouble when it comes to pleasing women.
Even so, I hate to see a man play ''You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' '' 389 times straight on my juke box. It is bad for business and worse for my morale, especially at this time of year when most watermen are thinking about eeling and making their workboat payments, not spending the day in a bar.
So, I guess in a way, it was Hudson's own fault when Philo finally got tired of waiting for him and took off, too.
At first, Huddie thought Philo had gone after a lady dog, since one of Ferrus' bitches is in heat and it is spring. After a while, he stirred himself enough to put up some signs around the neighborhood, and finally, an ad in the paper. Still, a week went by and no Philo. No wife, no kids and no dog. It was a sad thing.
Hudson was just about heartbroken. I didn't think he could get any sadder. Beth Redmond, my barmaid, had taken to sweeping the floor around him and giving him a flick with the featherduster, he'd become that much a part of the decor at the Blue Crab.
Then one day last week, when he was sitting in the corner drinking Heaven Hell and looking for quarters to put in the juke box, who should walk in but Jeanne.
Well, she says, I am back and I hope you are ready to talk, Hudson Swann. And the first thing I want is an explantation about why you decided to send Philo all the way to Ocean City to get us, when you could not come yourself.
Hudson denies it completely, but I cannot shake the feeling that as dumb as that dog is, he still managed to find Jeanne in Ocean City and get her to come back to Hudson, with the twins.
I guess Mr. Eddie is allergic to dogs.
Oysterback lies the other side of Yoknapatawpha County, on the road to Brigadoon.