Georgia Bottoms

Georgia Bottoms

by Mark Childress

Narrated by Debra Monk

Unabridged — 7 hours, 47 minutes

Georgia Bottoms

Georgia Bottoms

by Mark Childress

Narrated by Debra Monk

Unabridged — 7 hours, 47 minutes

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A best-selling author of books for adults and children, Mark Childress pens his most outrageous work yet with Georgia Bottoms. The titular heroine is the epitome of the church-going Southern belle, except for one teeny-tiny aspect of her life. Georgia's family inheritance has long since evaporated, and to maintain her genteel lifestyle, Miss Bottoms has taken six affluent lovers-the fly in the ointment being that one is a married preacher who's about to reveal their infidelity to the whole congregation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Sassy Southern belle Georgia has a lot of secrets: a rotation of gentleman callers with unique sexual needs, a mother with a tenuous hold on reality, and a lucrative (if dodgy) business of selling at a huge mark-up the folk art quilts she buys and passes off as her own creations. But then 9/11 comes along, Georgia's world of naughty innocence is changed forever, and all the plates she once spun so effortlessly in midair come crashing down: her illegitimate black son shows up on her doorstep; her best friend and town mayor, Krystal, loses her job; her demented mom and drunken brother become increasingly errant; and one of her boyfriends—a spiteful preacher—has an unfortunate attack of conscience and intends to publicly confess his affair and simultaneously condemn poor Georgia to hell. Childress (One Mississippi) is sassy magnolia lit's Truman Capote—sharply observant, unrelentingly honest, and downright hilarious—and his Georgia peach is the freshest bad girl to rise from the South since Scarlett O'Hara. (Feb.)

From the Publisher

"Move over, Flannery O'Connor . . . Mark Childress has written another laugh-out-loud Southern classic!"
Fannie Flagg, author of I Still Dream About You

"The simple act of reading Georgia Bottoms releases tension; buttons are undone, shoes kicked off-man is it hot. Georgia is not perfect, but she's fun to be with."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"One of the most irresistible liars ever to whip up a batch of pimento cheese sandwiches, the irreverent Georgia Bottoms allows Childress to poke fun at a number of sacred cows."—Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Hilarious...Riffs on small-town hypocrisy and racial tensions enliven the plot, but it's the unsinkable Georgia who makes the book delicious."—People

"Downright hilarious....Childress's Georgia peach is the freshest bad girl to rise from the South since Scarlett O'Hara."—Washington Examiner

"Skillfully crafted, memorable, and amusing....Georgia, good-looking and devious, is a compelling character who keeps the narrative alive with her survival skills."—Associated Press

"Georgia Bottoms is a lovingly drawn woman, charming, hilarious, heartbreaking, warm and tough, rich in charm and denial and insight. She's an inspired creation in a story filled with serious challenges and fabulous people, good and bad, rich and poor, stunning and appalling, sometimes all at once. They all ring true, and I will never forget them."—Anne Lamott, author of Imperfect Birds

Anne Lamott - author of Imperfect Birds

"Georgia Bottoms is a lovingly drawn woman, charming, hilarious, heartbreaking, warm and tough, rich in charm and denial and insight. She's an inspired creation in a story filled with serious challenges and fabulous people, good and bad, rich and poor, stunning and appalling, sometimes all at once. They all ring true, and I will never forget them."

Washington Examiner

"Downright hilarious....Childress's Georgia peach is the freshest bad girl to rise from the South since Scarlett O'Hara."


"Hilarious...Riffs on small-town hypocrisy and racial tensions enliven the plot, but it's the unsinkable Georgia who makes the book delicious."

Gina Webb - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"One of the most irresistible liars ever to whip up a batch of pimento cheese sandwiches, the irreverent Georgia Bottoms allows Childress to poke fun at a number of sacred cows."

Susan Salter Reynolds - Los Angeles Times

"The simple act of reading Georgia Bottoms releases tension; buttons are undone, shoes kicked off-man is it hot. Georgia is not perfect, but she's fun to be with."

Fannie Flagg - author of I Still Dream About You

"Move over, Flannery O'Connor . . . Mark Childress has written another laugh-out-loud Southern classic!"

Anne Lamott

"Georgia Bottoms is a lovingly drawn woman, charming, hilarious, heartbreaking, warm and tough, rich in charm and denial and insight. She's an inspired creation in a story filled with serious challenges and fabulous people, good and bad, rich and poor, stunning and appalling, sometimes all at once. They all ring true, and I will never forget them."

Fannie Flagg

"Move over, Flannery O'Connor . . . Mark Childress has written another laugh-out-loud Southern classic!"

Associated Press Staff

"Skillfully crafted, memorable, and amusing....Georgia, good-looking and devious, is a compelling character who keeps the narrative alive with her survival skills."

People Magazine

Hilarious...Riffs on small-town hypocrisy and racial tensions enliven the plot, but it's the unsinkable Georgia who makes the book delicious.

Gina Webb

One of the most irresistible liars ever to whip up a batch of pimento cheese sandwiches, the irreverent Georgia Bottoms allows Childress to poke fun at a number of sacred cows.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Susan Salter Reynolds

The simple act of reading Georgia Bottoms releases tension; buttons are undone, shoes kicked off-man is it hot. Georgia is not perfect, but she's fun to be with.
Los Angeles Times

Library Journal

Georgia Bottoms is a real piece of work. An Alabama beauty in her thirties who goes to church for appearance's sake, she is juggling a lot of balls (pun intended): she is caring for her mother, Little Mama, who is slipping further into dementia; trying to keep her charming but worthless brother out of jail; and struggling to maintain their crumbling Southern home by sleeping with six town fathers, each assigned one night a week, who leave her "a little something" after their rendezvous. Oh, yes, then there's the matter of her son from a forbidden high school romance with an African American classmate, whose appearance is part of the unraveling of Georgia's carefully constructed house of cards. VERDICT Childress (Crazy in Alabama) is a master of regional detail—his portrayal of shallow, narcissistic Georgia (she's annoyed that 9/11 derails her annual ladies' lunch) is an amusing tale of small-town naughtiness that should please most readers. Just be sure to be up on notable U.S. events, or the last page may sail right on by you. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/10.]—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

JULY 2011 - AudioFile

Debra Monk’s hint of sarcasm colors her straightforward reading just as the character of Georgia Bottoms spices up the lives of the staid citizens of her small Alabama town. In her mid-thirties, the single belle brings in an income and maintains a stable home for her mother, who has dementia, and her brother, an AA member who visits bars as regularly as meetings. Monk’s reading conveys conventional characters who provide contrast for Georgia’s fiery inner commentary and feisty dialogues. Georgia juggles six affairs with the power players in town while planning a pretentious party for the female elite. The story's irony sharpens when that luncheon, scheduled for 9/11, ignites political and personal challenges. S.W. © AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine

Kirkus Reviews

The title of this novel from Childress (One Mississippi, 2006, etc.) refers to a person rather than to a place—and what a memorable character she turns out to be.

Georgia is a good ol' Alabama girl, actually a woman in her mid-30s when the novel opens. She lives with her mother, Little Mama, who's showing increasing signs of dementia, and with her wastrel brother (called Brother), who hits a tavern after every AA meeting. Life is pretty good for Georgia, however, because she freely gives her generous sexual favors to a number of prominent citizens in Six Points, Ala., including the judge, the Baptist preacher, the sheriff, the doctor, the bank president and the editor of the local newspaper. (She takes Mondays off.) Of course, each of these upstanding citizens thinks he's the only one being "serviced" by Georgia, and she takes great pains to keep them from knowing about each other. The affairs start to unravel a bit when Brenda Hendrix, the wife of the preacher, gets wind of her husband's unfaithfulness. Georgia quickly gets the upper hand, however, when she pulls some strings to get the preacher transferred to another backwater town. Georgia also presides over the biggest ladies' social event in Six Points, a genteel luncheon put on every September, but in 2001 this gustatory occasion is ruined by 9/11. Georgia can't believe that such a terrorist act could ruin her luncheon because "it doesn't have anything todowith us!" Other surprises are in store as well, for her 20-year-old son Nathan, whose father is black and one of Georgia's first flings, literally shows up at her doorstep, and a new Baptist preacher moves to town, movie-star handsome and quite interested in Georgia, whose reputation has preceded her. But this preacher is not exactly who heappears to be.

Light, amusing fiction.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940171021092
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 02/23/2011
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Georgia Bottoms

A Novel
By Childress, Mark

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2011 Childress, Mark
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316033046


If only Eugene didn’t run on so long in his sermons, Georgia thought, a person might not have time to think about how hot it was in this church. Beads of sweat were trickling a very personal path around each vertebra, into the waistband of her panty hose. It was September, but still summer held Alabama in a death grip. Georgia did not give a damn about global warming, because she knew Alabama couldn’t possibly get much hotter than this. Although everyone said it was not so much the heat as it was the humidity, the heat alone was enough to drive you out of your mind. And then the mosquitoes would swarm in to finish you off.

The only way to survive summer in Alabama was to sit yourself down sometime in April and hold still until October. Or get out of Alabama entirely. Or follow the rest of the South into the embrace of the one true religion—A/C—with which the First Baptist and most of Six Points were still, at this late date, unblessed.

It’s hard for outsiders to believe that even in the year 2001, there was a town so far from the interstate, so far behind the times that it had no cable TV, no Walmart, McDonald’s, or Starbucks, and hardly any A/C. Most people in Six Points were happy to lag a few steps behind the rest of the world. They liked sitting out on their porches, cooling themselves with a glass of iced tea. They liked having something as dependable as the heat to complain about.

Georgia’s house was the only one on Magnolia Street with central A/C. Neither neighbor on either side had it. The Pinsons two doors down had a window unit for their bedroom, but the Simpsons didn’t have any A/C at all, nor the Wallers, nor even Billy Russum on the corner of Cedar with his flashy Lowndes County girlfriend Dawn, who you’d think would be the first one to want it. No, in Six Points there was a general opinion that A/C only makes a hot summer hotter, because every time you go out in the heat, you’re just counting the moments until you get to go back in where it’s cool. Judge Barnett always said A/C is for people who don’t have the patience to be hot.

Georgia thought that was ridiculous and they were all idiots. A/C was the greatest invention in the history of mankind. In July and August she kept her thermostat on 68, kept that big Carrier plant in the backyard humming like a dynamo. She wished she could bolt out of this sweltering church right this moment, go home and crank the thermostat down so low she’d feel a chill and need a blanket for her feet. She would turn on her propane firelog and have a nice cup of tea while the rest of town was perspiring into its Fruit of the Looms.

Could she crank the thermostat low enough to give herself frostbite? If they had to amputate her fingers and toes, could she get a job operating a computer with one of those headset things you blow into?

“If we take an interpretational view, we begin to realize,” came the wandering monotone of Eugene Hendrix, “why Paul’s attitude in his answer to the Ephesians is one of puzzlement, almost as if he is thrown into doubt by their lack of faith. As if their agnosticism is a contagious disease, and he has come down with a bad case of it himself.”

If only Eugene didn’t throw around those ten-dollar seminary words, “agnosticism” and “interpretational” and such. He was not bad to look at, even handsome in his nervous, bookish way, but as a preacher he could use a good dose of Shut Up and Sit Down. His little cowlick was cute, standing straight up. The John Lennon spectacles reinforced the boyish aspect. The problem was that his sermons tended to drone on and on until Georgia felt this terrible urge to rush out the door. If only Eugene would thumb through the Reader’s Digest once in a while, find something halfway witty or clever to keep a person awake, not intimately focused on the rivulet trickling down the valleys of her silky underthings.

Georgia’s mother had a saying on the subject of sweating in church. Sweating like a… Georgia flipped to that card in her mental Rolodex, but it came up blank. She was turning up more of these blank cards lately. Was that a normal sign of aging?… Or beginning to age?… She was hardly old enough to start worrying about that. There was not a trace of gray in her naturally blond and beautiful hair. Thirty-four is not even old!

But then—it’s not as young as thirty-three. And a good bit older than twenty-nine, the last age she remembered not thinking constantly about her age.

She had noticed the trend in that department and it was not good. The numbers all seemed headed in one depressing direction: up. She saw how a person could become obsessed.

Georgia had not quite admitted to herself that getting older was something that would actually happen to her. Just because everybody else did it didn’t mean she had to. Perhaps it was one of those things you could prevent if you ignored it hard enough.

That was one secret to Georgia’s cheerfulness: she thought about the things she wanted to think about, and blotted out everything else. Another secret: she was the exception to most rules. A woman without a husband isn’t supposed to be happy, but Georgia was. A woman alone is not supposed to have fun… but Georgia had it all, and then some. Women are supposed to hate the idea of getting older, but Georgia knew she would be fine if it ever did happen to her. She would give up makeup and dieting, sit all day in front of the TV, happily eating peanut M&M’s. Hell, bring it on!

Just not yet. She wasn’t ready quite yet. There was still a bit of juice in the lemon.

She had plenty of time to chase the question out of her mind, while Eugene Hendrix took a detour around the subject of what kind of stamps Paul might have used on his letter to the Ephesians.

There were plenty of things everybody believed in, but not Georgia.

She never missed a Sunday in church. There had to be other doubters in the crowd, but Georgia was fairly certain she was the only one who attended every Sunday without believing a single word of it: not God, not Jesus, not the Bible, not one word of the whole fantastic giant marshmallow everyone else had swallowed whole. What a whopper! God talks from the sky in the voice of John Huston! Nails his son to a cross to save you!

Yeah and I’ve got a bridge here I think you might like.

Every Sunday morning at five minutes to ten, Georgia sailed through the First Baptist vestibule looking for all the world like a true believer. If that made her a hypocrite, so be it. She was in good company. Everybody else gave the appearance of believing, but in their day-to-day lives, she knew, they were no godlier than she was.

She hugged and howdied her way to the fourth pew, seated herself among the believers. She bowed her head in a practiced imitation of prayer. She mouthed the words to the hymns in case anyone was watching.

In Six Points, a woman had no choice but to go to church, especially a woman of a certain age who was as yet untouched by marriage. Otherwise who knows what they would say about you? (A small town looks sweet from the outside but not when you grew up there, not when everybody’s got the dirt on you.) Members of Georgia’s family had sat in this pew for generations, since before her grandmother Big Sue changed the family name from Butts to Bottoms because she thought it sounded more genteel.

(Big Sue died before Georgia was born, but Georgia always felt grateful to her for the change. She was happy not to go through life as Georgia Ethel Butts.)

Week after week, month after year, Georgia sat in that pew, upholding the good Bottoms name, tuning out Eugene Hendrix’s sermon to the best of her ability. She used those fifty-five minutes every week to think about her hair, her manicure, the dress in the window at Belk’s, the heat versus the humidity, the phone calls she planned to return and the ones she never would, the ever-lengthening list of things she wanted from life.

Georgia was not a bad person, really. But if it turns out there really is a vengeful God like in the Old Testament, he probably has a special hell for women like Georgia who use their time in church to make lists of their worldly desires.

  1. New dress, navy striped twill (Belk’s)

  2. New teakettle w/ whistle so I can stop almost burning down the house

  3. New shoes, Gucci, Aug. Vanity Fair

  4. New Orleans

She noticed a stray beam of sunlight bedazzling the white collar of Eugene Hendrix’s shirt. On his neck just above the collar she saw a mark. You would see it only if you knew where to look—a little bruise in the shape of a flying saucer, or a kiss.

Everyone else came to church to improve their souls and reflect on Jesus. Georgia felt certain she was the only one studying the hickey she had made on Eugene’s neck while he stabbed helplessly at the air with his big fat—

A good Christian woman would not sit here thinking about sexual intercourse with the preacher. But how could she help it? It was just a few hours ago!

It must be even harder for Catholic girls to keep their minds pure in church, with naked sexy-looking Jesus hanging right there in front of them.

Georgia pictured Eugene’s face scrunching up in that earnest grimace as he reached the end of his efforts: a comical mix of pain and surprise, like a little boy whose toe has just been pinched by a crab. Georgia had to close her eyes to keep from laughing. One time she’d laughed, and Eugene pouted for a week.

She was always so careful not to leave any marks.

“Are we not every one of us filled with the same doubt as Paul, as Mary, as Jesus himself in the garden at Gethsemane when he let out his great peal of doubt—‘O Father, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Listen to that cry! Doesn’t it sound familiar? Don’t we all feel a little bit forsaken, every morning when we wake up?”

No we don’t, Eugene. The congregation sat unmoving, and unmoved. Forsaken, my foot! Too depressing! Snappy sayings, little stories, easy lessons they can take home and turn over in their minds—that’s what the people want. Marshmallows, fluffy and light. Not this sticky theological molasses. The only one interested in feeling forsaken is you, Eugene Hendrix, and you really need to cheer up.

Eugene in bed was much like Eugene in the pulpit: earnest, sincerely grateful for your attendance, but always wandering off down these unproductive side alleys. It took him forever to get to the point. You might think he’d have learned something from all those Saturday nights with Georgia, but the lovemaking abilities of most men were fixed in stone before Georgia got her hands on them. A man learns to tie his shoes one way, and that’ll keep him for life. He’s perfectly happy to shave his face with the same exact pattern of strokes, every day.

Georgia could never be satisfied with just one way. She liked to keep her list fresh and updated. She liked to add new items from time to time.

Normally in church Eugene avoided her with his eyes, but now he glanced directly at her. “Where can we find these moments of beauty,” he said, “these hopeful shoots of green poking up from the dry rocky desert of our daily lives?”

Georgia answered him with her brightest smile.

His gaze ran away from her, quick as a fish running away with a hook. It skimmed over the heads of the congregation to the plump shoulders of his wife, Brenda, in the second pew. Lined up beside Brenda were the four little Hendrix girls, stairsteps from ten years down to two, perfect posture like their mother, frilly dresses from the American Girl catalog. Brenda Hendrix’s shellacked Clairol-blond pouf was so flawless and stiff that Georgia wanted to throw a coin at it, to hear the tink! as it bounced off.

Eugene was making cow eyes at his wife, so the congregation might think he meant Brenda was the hopeful shoot of green in his life. Only Georgia knew who he really meant.

“The loving embrace of a family is a fine place to find those green shoots,” he said. “But family love, the love of our children, even marital love cannot be our only comfort. We must turn to the Lord. He wants us to give up our lives of sin, and search for a holier way to live. But do we do that? No. We keep right on sinning, don’t we? Every day we have to ask God to forgive us all over again.”

Oh for God’s sake, Eugene, tell the whole world, why don’t you? Georgia’s thought echoed so forcefully that for a moment she thought she’d spoken out loud.

The navy dress in Belk’s window had a slimmer waist and a deeper neckline than Georgia’s usual style. At least she had the figure to pull it off. Unlike Brenda Hendrix, who was built like a can of Campbell’s soup.

When Eugene came over on Saturday night he definitely did not want to talk about Brenda. Once you got him out of his preacher suit, Saturday-night Eugene was a flirt and a big old tease. A sweet-talker, a smoothy. He looked sexy flung out on the four-poster bed in the black silk boxer shorts Georgia had given him for Christmas. He only wore them at Georgia’s, of course. She kept them for him in the seven-drawer highboy during the week.

Last night he was there but not there. Staring at the wall, off into the distance. Georgia offered him a penny for his thoughts. He was worried about his sermon for today, he said. Trying to fit the pieces together.

It was sad how hard Eugene worked on his sermons. Would the people pay more attention if they knew how he slaved over each sentence? Would they at least make an attempt to keep from falling asleep?

You couldn’t listen to Eugene’s voice without drifting into that pleasant trance that can lead to… if you don’t… make yourself sit up and…

Georgia pinched her thigh, hard. She blinked and sat straighter in the pew.

“Take me, for example,” Eugene was saying. “If you want to see someone who’s been walking down the wrong road, brothers and sisters, take a good look at me.”

Georgia clicked full awake.

While she was dozing, Eugene had somehow wandered out of his sermon and up to the brink of catastrophe.

A warning bell shrilled in her ear. Any confession from him would pretty much have to involve Georgia, would it not?

Last night—he clung to her long past time for him to go. He pulled her in close, snuggling under the comforter, out of the arctic blast of the window unit.

Then he answered a question she hadn’t even asked. “No,” he said, hooking his feet around her ankles. “This is perfect, right here.”

Now he was staring down, his fingers gripping the sides of the pulpit, a fierce battle under way behind his John Lennon specs.

Georgia had seen this look in the eyes of other men. Occasionally one of them lost his mind, fell ridiculously in love with her, and decided to throw over his whole life for her. (He always seemed to come to this decision without consulting Georgia.)

She saw how this was going to go. Eugene meant to confess his infidelity right here in front of God and everybody. In front of Brenda and his lovely daughters and the congregation, he intended to declare that he loved Georgia too much to keep on living a lie.

It was the same old story: middle-age fever. A man’s desperate attempt to feel young one last time before beginning his slow topple into the grave. But Eugene was only thirty-two years old—and a coward. He had to make his declaration in front of witnesses. Otherwise he wouldn’t go through with it.

What he didn’t realize was that he was risking much more than Georgia’s reputation. One word could ruin a lot more than that.

She had to stop him.

A glance at Ava Jean McCall drowsing at the organ brought to mind a spitball, a word Georgia hadn’t even thought in twenty years. She opened her purse—yes she did have a straw from the Dairy Dog, a cash-register slip she could chew the corner off… aim for Ava Jean’s ear, startle her into producing a noise that would stop Eugene from making the biggest mistake of his life.

But what if Ava Jean brushed the thing off her neck? What if she yelped, but Eugene kept talking?

Georgia had to stop him. Before he had a chance to say her name.

“There’s a heavy burden on my spirit, and I need you folks to help lift it off me,” he said. “This has not been an easy decision.”

Georgia rose from the pew. The quick way out was to the left, but she had to make Eugene notice her. She grabbed her large jingly purse and plowed the other way, toward the center aisle, forcing everyone in her pew to turn their knees to let her by. Geraldine Talby glared at her, annoyed.

Georgia batted her eyes and concentrated on appearing woozy. She was a splendid actress. Anyone could see her face growing paler by the moment.

“I’ve lied to you all, and I’ve lied to myself,” she heard Eugene say. “The more I have prayed over this, the more I’ve come to realize… I just can’t go on living this lie.”

Georgia made sure she was well into the aisle, clear of the pews on both sides. She didn’t want to get hurt. Her eyelids fluttered. Her gaze turned upward. All the muscles in her body went limp. She collapsed in a heap on the carpet runner—a most convincing and ladylike faint.

She heard screams, a male shout of alarm: “She fainted!”

In every crowd there’s one genius, Georgia thought.

She fell into a pose of prostration, one arm stretched artfully over her face. She felt thunder through the floor as people sprang to help her.

The rules of fainting required her to keep her eyes closed, her jaw a little slack—not unattractively, of course, and just long enough to be convincing.

Actually it felt rather nice, stretched out here on the carpet. A bit cooler than sitting in the pew. She hoped no one would try to splash water on her face.

The real purpose of her maneuver would be obvious to anyone who’d been paying attention to Eugene’s sermon. Georgia hoped no one had been.

One thing was certain. He wouldn’t be finishing that sermon today.

“She looks all right to me.”

Georgia recognized the serrated edge of Brenda Hendrix’s voice. She could feel the weight of Brenda’s shadow pressing down on her. She was glad she had chosen her most form-fitting sage green Ann Taylor suit. Even sprawled on the floor she must look fantastic, and that would be making Brenda sick with envy.

“Mommy, is she dead?”

“She just fainted, honey,” said Brenda. “Ladies do that sometimes.”

“Stand aside, folks, give her some air!” The courtly baritone of Judge Jackson Barnett came with the smell of peeled garlic, which he carried in his pockets and nibbled all day as a snack. No vampire would ever get hold of Judge Barnett. Georgia heard his knees pop as he crouched to take her hand.

She let her eyes swim open. “Well hey, Judge. Where am I?”

“Right here, Miss Georgia. In church.” The judge hid his concern behind a smile. “I believe you have swooned. Did you eat a good breakfast this morning?”

“Why, I’m sure I did, I always do.” She tried to sit up but the men all said no! not yet! She let them talk her into lying back down. “How embarrassing! It’s the heat, I guess. I felt light-headed, I was going to get a drink of water, and next thing you know…” She made a keeling-over motion with her hand.

“It’s not so much the heat,” said the judge, “as it is the humidity.”

“You have a point,” Georgia said.

“The important thing is, you’re fine,” said Brenda Hendrix. “If it were me, I would want to get up off the floor, get the blood circulating.”

It must be killing Brenda to see Georgia at the center of all this attention. Look at the array of concerned gentlemen who had rushed to her side—the judge, Sheriff Allred, Lon Chapman of the First National Bank, Jimmy Lee Newton who owned the Light-Pilot, and here came Dr. Ted Horn to take her pulse. The most powerful men in town, shouldering one another aside to make a fuss over Georgia.

Their wives were clucking over her too, offering their own stories of fainting. Everybody in Six Points loved Georgia. They had loved Little Mama when she ran the town switchboard, before private phone lines came in. When her daughter Georgia grew up to be beautiful and cheerful, they loved her too. She was all over town her whole life, mixed up in everything Six Points had to offer. How could anyone fail to love her? She hadn’t set out to become a star, but in a place like Six Points it was inevitable that someone with her qualities would either rise to the top, or get the hell out of town.

“You think she’ll be all right, Doc?” Jimmy Lee Newton’s high-pitched giggle only came out when he was nervous.

“Pulse is good,” said the doctor. “Georgia, you stay right here while I get my bag from the car.”

“Oh Ted, come on, is that necessary?”

“I think it is. Be a good girl, now.”

Georgia had started this. She had to let it play out. She noticed Eugene Hendrix standing—no, hiding behind his wife, hands tucked into the folds of his black robe. When Georgia looked at him, he turned away. “Take her to the choir room,” he said to no one in particular. “There’s a sofa in there.”

“Now Reverend, nobody needs to take anybody anywhere,” Georgia said in a tinkly voice. “Y’all, I’m fine. Would you let me sit up?” This time no one stopped her. “See? Much better. I just had a little spell, that’s all.”

“The vapors,” said Martha Barnett, Mrs. Judge. “Lord knows we’ve all had ’em.” The other ladies agreed.

The judge and Jimmy Lee helped Georgia to her feet. Half the congregation had crowded around to make sure she was all right. The other half were fleeing to their cars in case Eugene got a notion to resume his sermon.

Georgia let them help her up two steps to the choir room. There was a sagging couch covered in green corduroy, beneath a decoupaged plaque of Jesus overturning the money changers’ table. The room reeked of Wednesday-night fellowship hall lasagna. Georgia hated the thought of her Ann Taylor suit steeping in that smell, but that’s why God created dry cleaners. She sank down on the sofa to wait for Ted Horn.

Louise Gingles brought a cup of water and a damp paper towel. Martha Barnett told how her mother-in-law fainted at her own wedding, cracked her tailbone and spent her honeymoon in the Mobile Infirmary. “And sure enough, she was a sore-ass the rest of her life,” Martha said, her whiskey cackle punctuated by a cigarette cough, HA!

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Georgia said. “I’m just lucky I didn’t break anything.” She couldn’t wait to call Krystal and describe the scene: Six Points’ most prominent Baptists milling about the choir room, Brenda Hendrix patrolling the door to keep her precious Eugene away from the hussy on the sofa. Krystal didn’t know all the complications of Georgia’s life, but she knew more than anybody.

“Have to ask you folks to step out, please.” Brandishing his doctor bag, Ted Horn cleared the room. He shut the door, and turned to Georgia. “Now, then. Are you pregnant?”

“Oh hell no. No, Ted. Not possible.”

“Anything is possible in a young, healthy, sexually active female, which pretty well describes you, if I’m not mistaken.”

“I’m glad you managed to work ‘young’ in there,” Georgia said. “I am not pregnant.” Not a chance. She took precautions, overlapping layers of precautions.

Ted unlimbered his stethoscope. “When you passed out—it looked like somebody just switched off the lights. Probably just an everyday vasovagal syncope, but I’m going to examine you to be sure.”

“This is so silly. Don’t you have any real patients who need you?” Secretly Georgia was thrilled that her performance had fooled a medical professional.

Ted slid the steel disk of the stethoscope inside her blouse, his palm warm behind the cold circle. “When was your last period?”

“Ted. Listen to me. I—am—not—pregnant. You hear me? You know how careful I am.”

He grinned that rabbity grin. “Just answer the question.”

“Two weeks ago? Two and a half. God. So personal.”

“I’m your doctor.” He thumped her chest and listened.

“I know what you are,” she said. “You are bad.”

“Yes I am.” His voice softened. “I am very bad. I’ve been naughty.”

“You have. A very naughty doctor. You need to be punished.”

“Shhh…” He moved the stethoscope to her back. “Okay, deep breath—let it out slow. And again.” He sat back. “Listen, why don’t we go to my office and run an EKG. Just to be safe.”

“Ted. I’m fine. Don’t ask me how I know, but I know. I fainted. It’s over. Case closed.”

“I don’t tell you how to be Gorgeous Georgia. Don’t tell me how to be a physician.” He massaged her jawline, feeling her nodes and glands. “Come on. Quick little EKG.”

“I can’t! You know somebody has already called Little Mama, she’ll be hysterical any minute, I have to drive Brother to his meeting and my September luncheon is Tuesday—”

“Okay, okay.” He poked a nozzle into her ear. “Were you listening to that sermon?”

“Not really,” she lied.

“Sounds like Preacher Eugene’s feeling a little guilty about something.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Georgia. “Probably cheats on his wife.”

“You call Debra first thing in the morning, she’ll work you in. I want to run blood, check a few things.”

Georgia crossed her fingers where he could see them. “I promise.”

“You better,” said Ted. “And, uhm—Wednesday?”

“Of course Wednesday,” said Georgia.

He snapped shut his bag. “Go home and put your feet up. Read a book. Don’t do anything else today. That’s doctor’s orders. And tomorrow I’m getting that EKG. If I have to come over there and drag you to my office.”

She shook her head. “You just want me out of my clothes.”

He fixed her with a look: I won’t dignify that. He opened the door to reveal Brenda Hendrix’s ear more or less pressed against it.

“Oh hey, Dr. Horn,” she sang, bustling in. “How’s our little patient?” No one could have missed the note of fake concern in her voice.

“Much better, Brenda,” said Georgia. “Thank you for asking.”

Ted waved, and ducked out the door. Georgia’s mob of well-wishers had dispersed. Eugene was nowhere to be seen.

Brenda planted her fists on her hips. “You get up from that couch.”

Georgia felt a twinge of panic. She never intended to be left alone with Brenda Hendrix. “I beg your pardon?”

“We both know there’s nothing wrong with you. Physically, anyway.”

Georgia batted her sapphire eyes with the long, long Maybelline lashes. That would drive Brenda crazy with her squinty pink pig eyes and that pig nose on her face. Georgia wondered what could ever have attracted Eugene to this woman. Even fifteen years and four children ago, that would not have been a pretty face. “Brenda, is something the matter?”

“Don’t you play innocent with me. I know what you’ve been up to with my husband.”

“All this heat must have gone to your head,” said Georgia. “Bless your heart, you’re delusional.”

So Eugene spilled it all to his wife without a word of warning to Georgia? How typical!—to take for granted that Georgia would be standing by, ready to upend her own life to help him through his midlife crisis.

Every man thinks any woman would be lucky to have him. When it’s always the other way around.

“You didn’t fool anybody with that display out there,” said Brenda. “You knew what Gene was going to say, and you wanted to stop him.”

“I did stop him.” Georgia maintained her smile. “You should be glad I did. Or did you want him to blab it to the world?”

“Oh, he has to tell,” Brenda said. “It’s the only way he can come clean with his Lord. Gene knows he got his own self into this mess. And he’s going to need the help of not just the Lord but his whole church family to get out of it.”

“That is really so interesting,” Georgia said.

“You didn’t stop anything,” said Brenda. “You just postponed it.”

Poor Eugene. To let himself be run over by this bulldozer—and for nothing! Georgia didn’t want to marry him anyway! He was a nice diversion on a Saturday night, but one night a week was enough.

He must have had to do some big-time confessing when he got home last night. Which is how he wound up in the pulpit with this gun to his head.

Georgia was tired of acting ladylike. She was ready to move on to the slapping and hair pulling. She was strong, she could take this tub of lard with no difficulty. “I don’t think there’s any need for a scene, do you, Brenda? You want your girls to hear?”

“How dare you. You leave my girls out of this!”

Georgia spoke softly. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“Damn it, Brenda!” Out of his holy robes, in khaki Dockers and a white shirt, Eugene Hendrix looked unmistakably mortal. “I told you I’d talk to her!”

Brenda whirled on him. “Where are the babies?”

“Outside. There’s plenty of folks out there to keep an eye on them.”

“You left them by themselves? Are you out of your mind? Have you forgot about JonBenét? You go back out there this instant! I’m handling this.”

Eugene looked relieved to have an order to obey. He turned to go.

“Eugene, don’t you move,” Georgia said. “You told her about us?”

He stopped. His face flushed red. “She found out.”

“He was calling you from our home,” Brenda wailed, “like I’m too stupid to listen in on the extension?”

Georgia turned to Eugene. “Dummy, if you wanted to leave your wife for me, don’t you think you could have discussed it with me first?”

She couldn’t quite decipher the look on his face—confusion and something oddly out of place. Sympathy? She plunged ahead.

“I did the only thing I could think of, Eugene. I couldn’t sit there and let you ruin my life—and your life, too! What were you thinking?”

“I have to come clean,” he said. “This sin is weighing so heavy on me. It’s pressing down on my soul. I’ve been living a lie, Georgia. I can’t go on like this.”

He didn’t sound at all like himself. He sounded like the guy who’d had to explain it to Brenda last night.

“Eugene, listen to me. I don’t want you to leave her. I don’t want to marry you. Do you understand?”

“Marry? That’s a hoot,” Brenda said. “What makes you think he would ever leave me? And our babies? For a tramp like you?”

“Now come on, Brenda,” Eugene huffed, “there’s no need for that kind of thing.”

Georgia said, “One of us is crazy, Eugene. Who is it? Her or me?”

“Tell her, Gene,” cried Brenda, “tell her what you were going to say when she put on her little fainting act.”

Eugene’s eyes didn’t make it all the way up to meet Georgia’s. He pressed his lips together, looked at the floor, and sighed as men do: None of this is my fault.

That’s when Georgia understood the truth. Brenda was not the fool in the room. Georgia was.

Eugene was not leaving his wife. He was staying with her.

No doubt this was mostly Brenda’s doing, but Eugene had to be in on it too. They’d worked it out between them. In a desperate attempt to save their marriage, Eugene intended to denounce Georgia in front of the congregation as a home wrecker, a wicked woman. Never mind that he was the one skulking down the alley to Georgia’s garage apartment every Saturday night, it was always Eugene who came to see Georgia. Never the other way around.

Georgia didn’t know why she was attracted to men like this—the good-looking, nice-seeming, treacherous type. She vowed to start working on that as soon as she got the hell out of this church.

“What we did was just plain wrong, Georgia, you can’t argue with that.” That was Eugene, trying to convince himself.

“If that’s the way you want it,” said Georgia. “But you better not go making any public statements. There might be a few things you might not want told.”

Brenda made a face. “Like what?”

“Like that cowboy hat you wear when you’re riding the horsey, Brenda.” Georgia winked. “What is it you always yell? Giddyup? Go horsey?”

“Gene!” she shrieked. “You told her that?”

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Georgia said. “And if you think I’m too shy to go tell it on the mountain, you might want to think again.”

“Oh, now you’re threatening me?” Brenda cried.

Georgia said, “I’ve been coming to this church all my life. Y’all have been here what, five years? I’ll be sitting in that pew when the two of you are just a vague memory.”

“I don’t think so,” said Brenda.

“Brenda. You want your husband?” said Georgia. “Take him home. Good luck keeping him there, by the way.” A nagging voice said, Get out of here, Georgia. Fix this later. Just go.

Brenda wasn’t quite finished. “You put on all these airs like some pillow of the community. Prancing around like you own this town. People ought to know exactly what kind of woman you are.”

Eugene winced at his wife’s misapprehension of the word “pillar.” He looked embarrassed that Georgia had this close-up glimpse of the woman he’d been married to for fifteen years.

Until this moment Georgia had felt mostly sorry for him, but that wince made her hate him thoroughly, all at once. How dare he look down his nose at his fat unattractive wife, who put up with his cheating and his endless wandering sermons, and gave him four lovely daughters! He must have known what a cow she was when he married her. How dare he wince at her now!

Georgia whirled on him. “You spent three hours at my house last night and couldn’t find a moment to mention this to me? What the hell is the matter with you?”

“Last night?” Brenda began squawking, flapping her wings. “But he—Gene, you were at Fellowship Circle last night!”

“Oh no, it wasn’t a circle,” said Georgia. “Although we definitely did have some fellowship. How many times, Eugene? Was it three? Look at that hickey on his neck, Brenda, did you even notice? Of course not. You really should pay more attention.” Georgia pushed up from the couch. “He spent half the evening lying to me, then he went home to lie to you. That’s the one thing he’s really good at. Believe me, honey, you do have a problem. But I ain’t it.”

Eugene looked horrified. His hand went to the spot on his neck. He must not have noticed in the mirror this morning, but his hand knew just where to go. “Now wait a minute,” he said.

Georgia sailed out the door. “Y’all have a nice day.”


Excerpted from Georgia Bottoms by Childress, Mark Copyright © 2011 by Childress, Mark. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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