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The woman on the far left standing with her hands in front of her waist is Kirk Curnutt’s great-grandmother.

She is 115 and currently the oldest person in the world. The boy in the right in the overalls is his grandfather.

& Manning the House


T HIS WAS IN the time when

refrigerators were just becoming
mistaking me for the ice-cream
man,” the drivers had been schooled
commonplace, so each morning a to say. Most of the time they
fleet of Model As still set out from the delivered that information a lot less
DePrez Ice and Coal Plant on the politely than Mr. Daniel DePrez, their
corner of South and Noble streets boss, would have appreciated. Quite
delivering blocks to homes. The often they improvised a bit of bad
drivers with routes inside Shelbyville news meant to shoo the children
were the envy of those who worked back to their chores. “Ain’t no ice-
the outlying county farms. Once past cream man coming to the
the city limits only a handful of roads boondocks,” they would declare.
were paved, and even though Mr. “Best tell your folks to buy an extra
Ford was making a reliable product block from me and set you a cow on
up in Detroit, his pneumatic tires and it. ’Cause that’s the only way you’re
vanadium suspensions were still getting ice cream out here.”
susceptible enough to ruts that the Ortis C. Huber was one of the
men had to putter along at a speed few drivers who didn’t taunt the
that barely outpaced a pair of strong children. It was likely the reason Mr.
healthy horses. Only one thing DePrez assigned him the poorest of
irritated the drivers more than the the delivery routes, which ran all the
conditions, and that was the children. way out to Blue Ridge Road heading
Regardless of whether they were toward Gowdy. That and Ortis had
walking to school or working the the makings of a good company
fields, when they saw a DePrez truck man. He’d only worked for Mr. DePrez
they dropped what they were doing for nine months, having come to the
to race up to the running boards and ice plant after teaching nearly half of
beg for flavored shavings. “You’re his thirty-seven years. He probably

would’ve still been teaching, too, if But that was to the future. For
not for the Snodgrass girl and all the now he was content to rattle along
talk she’d started about him. That Blue Ridge Road, passing the time
was why Ortis happily considered daydreaming about his customers.
himself a company man: Mr. DePrez He wondered what Hester Cherry
hadn’t paid a whit of attention to would be like had her boy, Howard,
those rumors. He just plain hired Ortis, not died in the Argonne (Ortis
talkers be damned. Maybe driving an regretted not getting over); whether
ice truck wasn’t a path to a quick the cripple bachelor Dar Fately
fortune, but it beat hiring out as a would’ve had better luck with
farmhand or working at the furniture women if his legs hadn’t been eaten
factories that were then Shelbyville’s off by a thresher; whether poor
major employers. If Ortis played his families like the Pruitts would replace
cards right, he figured he could get their horses with motor cars had they
off the road by graduating up to a dollop of prosperity.
mechanic, maybe even managing Only one family Ortis didn’t
the garage at some point. And, as it care to conjecture about. He’d
turned out, that’s exactly what heard tales aplenty about the widow
happened: within a decade, Mr. Brandywine, and they were too
DePrez would promote him to reminiscent of what the Snodgrass girl
supervisor of the fleet, and from there had said to cost him his teaching job.
Ortis would go on to become an So as he knocked on the mudroom
engineer and then plant manager. door Ortis made sure he had nothing
Even after the ice industry went extraordinary in his expression, lest the
under and necessity transformed the woman think he was gossiping to
company into a water distillery himself about her. Only it wasn’t the
(among other things), Ortis C. Huber widow who answered — it was the
stayed with the DePrez family. He man. The one, rumor had it, Mrs.
would still be receiving a paycheck Brandywine refused to marry.
from them when he died in 1982. By The one, rumor made sure to
that point, he would be ninety-one, add, whom marriage was the only
and the scurrilous things the thing she refused him.
Snodgrass girl said about him were “Jus’ checking to see if the
long forgotten, even by Ortis himself. icebox needs tending,” Ortis said in

& Kirk Curnutt Manning the House


as blasé a voice as he could muster. “She doesn’t think I can do it

“You know if Mrs. Brandywine’s right, so she’s insisting on doing it
needin’ a delivery today?” herself. Her husband and her shingled
“It don’t take a ‘Mrs.’ to tell the house, the barn, and that shed
when the water pan’s full. We got a out there, she reminds me. There’s
ham in here trying to go bad, so not a lot around here she thinks I can
yeah, we need us a new block. Make do right jus’ because I didn’t grow up
sure you wrap her tight so you don’t farming. But I’m about to show her.
dribble on the rug.” There’s too much work that’s wasted
The widow Brandywine’s man effort around here. I’m a-redesigning
always talked this rude, so Ortis this operation to be more efficient.”
wasn’t too offended. He went back “Efficiency’s a big word these
to his truck and draped a towel over days,” Ortis admitted. “Mr. DePrez
a block before swinging it hip-high had a man from Indianapolis down
between his pincers. preaching on it not long ago. The
“You’re wondering where she’s man said ‘efficiency’ about as often
at,” the man remarked inside as Ortis as he said ‘me.’”
swung the block into the insulated The widow’s man squared his
oak cabinet. There was a ham in shoulders, but he wasn’t at all
there, all right. Ortis didn’t need to intimidating. Even though Ortis
peek into the food cupboard to see considered himself a teacher by
it; the smell had seeped into the profession, he’d done enough
upper chamber, salty and rich. manual labor in his day that he
“Can’t say I was wondering. If wasn’t about to be cowed by
it’s not Mr. DePrez’s business, it’s none somebody who slicked back his hair
o’mine.” with something other than sweat.
“‘Mrs. Brandywine’ as you call “Did Mr. DePrez’s efficiency
her is up on the barn roof, re- man tell you how inefficient it us for
shingling. She’s got her boy up there, folks to buy their ice from a plant
but otherwise she’s working by her when they make’m home machines
lonesome.” what grow their own?”
“A roof’s gonna need re- “From what I’ve heard those
shingling,” Ortis agreed blankly, not home machines run pretty expensive.
knowing what else to say. I heard of rich men spending twice as

& Kirk Curnutt Manning the House


much for one as they spend on a competition for his plant.”

flivver. I heard of them needing a Ortis nodded, trying to swallow
spare room, too, just to house the a smile. “I’ll let Mr. DePrez know. I’m
motor and compressor. Now rich men sure he’ll want to hear whether Mrs.
might have spare rooms, but Brandywine shares your view of the
everyday folk like me and.…” future … friend.”
Ortis made a point not to It was about as rude as Ortis C.
say you. Instead, he said Mrs. Huber had ever spoken to someone
Brandywine. who wasn’t the Snodgrass girl or a
“You been hearing old news, member of her family. He felt the
friend,” the man smiled, impervious to widow’s man eye him all the way
the insult. “General Electric got’m a back through the mudroom and
model now with the compressor built outside. There Ortis noticed the barn
on top of the machine. It’s all of a shimmering red against a green-and-
piece and hums quiet as a dream. gold backdrop of corn some twenty
The best part is it only costs $300. yards off the dirt drive. A silhouette
They’ve got an installment plan to slowly inched across its top, stooped
boot for folks who can’t lay cash on at the waist as a hammer swung and
the table. You know how I know all fell over the decking. Ortis didn’t
this? Because I just bought us a need to know it was the widow to tell
monitor-top, friend. That’s what it was a woman: each time the
they’re called: monitor-tops. Like I silhouette took a step, she had to lift
said, I’m a-making this operation the hem of her dress to avoid
more efficient.” tripping.
The widow’s man stopped “It’s not work what makes a
long enough to take a self-satisfied man. It’s the quality of his ideas, and
breath. I’ve got plenty of them.”
“I’d appreciate you telling Mr. Ortis shrugged and tossed his
DePrez this farm won’t be needing pincers into his truck bed. He wasn’t
more deliveries after today. We’re going to answer the man, but as he
making our own ice from here on out. started for the driver’s side door he
You best tell him to get used to spotted an object in the pebbly dirt.
hearing that news, too. $300 and an Three paces to the right, and his foot
installment plan gonna be tough would’ve been impaled.

& Kirk Curnutt Manning the House


“I wish Mr. Ford would make a turned his truck around and crawled
machine what grows its own tires.” slowly up to the widow’s drive, close
Ortis bounced the nail in his palm. enough to see the black script
“Now that would be some kind of painted above the rear tire of the
efficiency.” chrome-colored chariot. GENERAL
He set the nail on his dash as ELECTRIC, it said. REFRIGERATOR. And
he started the truck and rattled back above the word, in the open flatbed,
toward the road. As he passed the as if there to rebuke the doubters, sat
barn he spotted a second silhouette a fancy white box. It, too, had a
on the roof — the widow’s boy, Ortis crown: an odd, glassy contraption
figured. He gave the pair a farewell shaped like a pillbox hat.
honk of his horn. He knew the boy Ortis watched the driver
well enough: on hot days, Clinton unload the appliance, the widow’s
was one of the children who hopped man telling him how to do his job the
on Ortis’s running boards begging for entire time. When there was nothing
shavings. left to see Ortis again turned back
*** toward Shelbyville. He was passing
He’d finished the day’s the cornfield that marked the edge
deliveries and was already past the of the widow’s farm when a boy
widow’s farm returning to Shelbyville hopped the drainage ditch and ran
when a truck came barreling down toward him. Normally Ortis would
Blue Ridge Road at him. It was neither merely slow and tell Clinton how
as wide nor as tall as Ortis’s truck, but dangerous it was to jump on a
it was spiffier and acted like it owned moving running board, but today he
the ground it traveled — even the stopped his truck.
plume of dust it churned up looked “I thought you were roofing.”
regal. Ortis had to veer toward the “Ma saw the scarecrow was
drainage ditch to avoid getting down.”
clipped. Even then the woosh when it He pointed toward the ditch,
roared past sent a shiver through his where a cross of wood was wrapped
axle that vibrated all the way up with a plaid shirt and topped by a
through the steering wheel into his crocker sack, both stuffed with hay.
hands. Ortis cursed the other driver The face on the sack gave Ortis a
until a thought entered his mind. He giggle.

& Kirk Curnutt Manning the House


“I bet you painted that smile “All you’ve got to do is slip this
yourself, huh? It’s the same red as under that G. E. fellow’s tire, without
what your ma’s barn is.” him or Horace seeing.”
“Ma said a smile scares the The boy seemed to study the
crows more than a scowl. She sent nail. Then his eyes flicked up toward
me to prop ’im back up. Horace Ortis, and just as suddenly back to
planted him but didn’t tamp the post the sharp tip.
in deep enough. Crows keep “I know what you’re thinking.
knocking him over.” You’re wondering what Horace is
“Knockin’ which over? — gonna care if a delivery man gets a
Horace or the scarecrow?” flat. The refrigerator’s already in the
Ortis didn’t wait for Clinton to house, idd’n it? Well, you’re just
laugh. He didn’t figure the boy gonna have to trust me. Something in
would. me thinks that G. E. fellow is every bit
“‘Horace,’ huh? I guess I never a smart-mouth as your —”
thought to ask his name. What do He almost said stepfather.
you think of that fellow?” “The son of a gun darn near
The boy didn’t answer. blew me off the road,” Ortis told the
Probably out of respect for his mother. boy instead. “That’s the funny thing
“Well, I hope I don’t offend about the future. It’s always in a hurry
you when I say I don’t much care for to run down the present.”
him,” Ortis went on. “Strikes me as a Clinton still hadn’t budged.
smart-mouth. Thing is, since he’s “All right then. I’ll make it really
buying you and your ma that fancy worth your while. I’ve got some extra
monitor-top, I won’t have to put up blocks back there. What say we crush
with it. You’re still gonna have to, one up and you can have a cup of
though. I don’t envy you that. I feel shavings? Gotta be hot on that roof.
so bad for you I’ve got an idea. It Shavings for the rest of the week
may not take the smart-mouth out of could keep a boy like you mighty
old Horace, but it could give us both cool. Tomorrow I’ll even bring a bottle
a leg up on him.” of flavoring for you. You can hide it
He swiped the nail off the out here in the field and Horace’ll
dashboard and held it toward never have to know.”
Clinton. Ortis had just about given up

& Kirk Curnutt Manning the House


when Clinton finally plucked the nail the creek.

into his own grip. What he remembered
“Strawberry and spearmint,” concerned Clinton’s father. The
he said in a near whisper. “That’s how husband whose death left Mrs.
the hokey-pokey man at the fair Brandywine a widow. The one whose
serves his shavings.” death left somebody thinking she
The boy had disappeared needed a man.
back into the corn before Ortis had a Lest he was mistaken, the
chance to wonder where in husband and father whose place
Shelbyville he might find a bottle of Horace wasn’t quite fit to take had
spearmint syrup. died of lockjaw — after stepping on
He sat for a while before a nail.
deciding a G. E. driver would never So as Ortis returned to Blue
waste time waiting for a mere Ridge Road he felt the future
iceman to pass him by. He drove a trampling down the past again—only
mile or so to where Blue Ridge this time he was the future. He was so
intersected with Range Road. A mile irritated at himself for pushing
up it, a little creek cut diagonally mischief on the boy that he didn’t
across the farmland. Ortis parked by take a lick of pleasure when he
the marshy bank and unwrapped a passed the G. E. truck, which sat
ham sandwich he’d packed that listing away from the drainage ditch,
morning. The ham didn’t smell half as its back left tire so flat the steel rim
rich or salty as the one the widow’s had carved its own rut in the dirt. Ortis
man was probably relocating into his pulled his truck over and stuck his
new refrigerator at that exact head out the window. “You need a
moment. As he chewed Ortis thought hand?” he shouted over his shoulder.
about Clinton and how oddly he’d “God done give me two,”
looked at that nail. Like he was afraid the other driver huffed as he
of it or something. Like it might jump unbolted his spare from its storage
up and bite him. Then, after about spot atop his side fender. “They ought
twenty minutes, without warning, to serve me well enough. I do wish
something unsettled Ortis’s stomach, they’d pave these goddamn roads
and he rewrapped what was left before they ask me to drive ’em,
of the sandwich and pitched it into though. You never know what in hell

& Kirk Curnutt Manning the House


you’re running over out here in the that Horace — who was snapping a
boondocks.” switch-stick into the corn with a
*** sloppy, unfocused violence that said
Ortis only wondered how he probably wouldn’t have been any
much efficiency that new refrigerator use laying shingle. What he was
brought the widow Brandywine’s whipping couldn’t be seen; it was
farm for about a week. He made sure obscured by the chest-high stalks.
the boy got his daily cup of shavings, Ortis had a pretty good idea, though,
but other than presenting Clinton his and it chilled him with fear and guilt.
promised bottles of strawberry and The nail was his idea, after all—he’d
peppermint, he never again pushed the mischief on the boy. Ortis
mentioned the nail. Mr. DePrez didn’t jerked his gearshift into neutral and
seem too worried about competing jumped the drainage ditch, yelling,
against monitor-tops, either. Ortis was “Let him alone! Let him alone,
there when his boss crossed the dammit!” as the dangling thicket of
Brandywines off the company ledger unshucked ears thumped his chest.
with a light stroke of his pencil. “The Only it wasn’t Clinton on the
thing about those installment plans,” receiving end of that disciplining. It
Mr. DePrez told his favorite driver. was the widow’s scarecrow. The
“You miss a single payment, and the switch-stick had popped the buttons
store comes calling for its machine. A off the tattered shirt that held its
big company like G. E. won’t float a stuffing, so hay spilled everywhere like
customer through hard times. My dry innards. “I’m in charge here!”
guess? The widow’s man will be back Horace screamed. He was so caught
with his tail between his legs. up in proving it that he didn’t even
Probably stuck there by the widow notice he wasn’t alone anymore. “I
herself.” run this farm! You hear me? I do!”
That day had yet to come The object of his beating
when Ortis next saw him. He was was so compliant in taking the
working his usual route on Blue Ridge punishment that its expression didn’t
Road when he spotted an odd sway change a lick. The smile Clinton had
in Mrs. Brandywine’s cornfield. He painted on the crocker sack just kept
slowed enough to see it wasn’t due on grinning, red hot as a taunt.
to a breeze or a loose cow. The sway Even the widow’s scarecrow
was caused by the widow’s man — couldn’t help but laugh at her man.

& Kirk Curnutt Manning the House

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