Archive for June, 2009

Skeet’s Bride: Part 1

June 12, 2009

Homer had his first hint of the trouble when he noticed a bottle of bay rum beside the bathroom sink. He knew it wasn’t his, and neither of the twins had ever used any such fancy toiletries, either. He picked up the bottle, carefully removed the cap, and gave it a wary sniff. Yep, bay rum, all right. Just like the kind Phil had down at the barbershop in town. Fine and dandy to let Phil splash a little on after a fresh haircut and shave, but what use did he or the twins have for their own bottle of the stuff, with nobody around to smell it but the other two brothers and the pigs? Homer went on about his business and said nothing to either of the twins, but the thought of the mysterious bottle appearing from nowhere stayed in his mind like the twinge before a cold sore.

The following Saturday morning, Skeet announced at the breakfast table that he’d be needing the pickup that evening to go into Monroe.

“What do you need in town?” Homer asked his little brother.

Deke ducked his head, intent on sopping up the last of his egg yolk with his toast. Skeet didn’t look at Homer. He just shrugged, slurped his coffee, and mumbled something about the pickup being as much his as it was Homer’s, and he guessed a man who was nearly forty-five years old didn’t have to tell anybody else his business if he didn’t want to.

Homer was annoyed. It was plain to him that Skeet was up to something, that Deke knew about it, and that neither of the twins were going to tell him. It had been this way ever since they’d been boys: the twins always siding against him, even though he was only trying to look out for them and keep them out of trouble. “Well, I might need the pickup this evenin’ too. You ever think about that?”

Skeet scooted his chair back from the table and tromped to the sink, clanking his dishes down and running a little water on them. He pulled his cap from the back pocket of his overalls. “I asked first,” he said, headed for the door. “I’ll be cuttin’ brush down by the silo.”

pigpen

Before Homer could say anything else, Deke was scooping up his dishes and heading for the sink. “I’ll go start feedin’,” he said over his shoulder as he hustled outside.

Homer fumed while he washed the breakfast dishes and stacked them in the cupboard. A bottle of bay rum and the sudden need to go to town on a Saturday night could add up to only one thing. Well, if Skeet wanted to go and make a fool out of himself, that was up to him. But why couldn’t he answer a simple question from his older brother?

No woman had lived here since Mom died, back in ‘51. Now and again one of them would make a solitary drive through the hills to Cape Girardeau and purchase an hour or so of companionship, but nothing was ever said about it. There was no need.

But this business of Skeet’s was different, and Homer didn’t like the look of it. He dried his hands on a dish towel and put on his cap. Skeet might be going soft in the head, but there were still pigs that needed to be pulled off the sows in the farrowing house and moved to the feeder pen. Somebody had to keep things running around here.

When Homer came into the house that evening, the place fairly reeked of bay rum. Skeet had on his white shirt and his black dress trousers and had exchanged his brogans for a pair of shiny, uncreased, black lace-up shoes. Homer had never seen such footwear on any member of his family, and from Skeet’s ginger gait it looked like he was not much accustomed to it, either. Skeet’s face and neck were freshly shaved, bearing several red nicks as proof. His hair was wet and steam was still rolling down the hall from the bathroom doorway.

“Well, did you leave any hot water for anybody else?” Homer said as Skeet paced into the kitchen.

“Deke, where’s the Vitalis?” Skeet asked his twin brother. “I looked in the cabinet above the sink, and it ain’t there.”

“Is too.” Deke was peeling potatoes into a small dutch oven. “Right behind the aspirin bottle, same as always.”

Skeet headed back down the hall. As he passed, Homer sniffed dramatically. “Hell, that gal’s gonna smell you soon as you open the pickup door, much bay rum as you’re packin’.” If Skeet heard him, he gave no sign.

“Time she lays eyes on you,” Homer went on, “she’ll probably pass out from the fumes.” Skeet vanished into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. Homer shook his head. “What’s for supper?”

“Stewed potatoes and ham. I think there’s still some mustard greens left, too.”

“Fourth time this week we’ve had stewed potatoes. You lose the fryin’ pan?”

Deke gave him a sidelong glance, but made no reply.

“I’d like to wash my hands sometime before supper,” Homer mumbled. Jerking a thumb down the hall, he said, “That is, if Lover Boy ever gets done in there.”

A minute or two later, Skeet came down the hall. Homer wolf-whistled at him as he passed the kitchen table. Skeet took the pickup keys from the peg by the kitchen door.

“Reckon I ought to wait up for you?” Homer said.

Skeet stared at his older brother a moment, jingling the keys between his fingers. “I wouldn’t.” He went outside, and a moment later they heard the truck engine roar to life. Gravel spattered against the side of the house as Skeet gunned the vehicle down the driveway and onto the two-lane blacktop to Monroe.

vitalis

***

Loretta waited in the living room by the picture window, positioned so she could peer out the gap between the wall and the drapery without being seen by anyone on the street. She glanced at her watch. Still only seven-twenty. Dark was settling down; the mercury-vapor lamps were fluttering to life up and down the block. Sergeant Bilko was on TV in the next room.

She heard Aunt Darlene’s soft footfalls behind her. “He here yet?” she asked in her abrupt, brittle voice.

“No, ma’am. He’s not supposed to be till seven-thirty.”

“Why you starin’ out the window, then?”

Loretta had no civil answer. As Aunt Darlene shuffled back toward the bluish, flickering light of the television screen, Loretta gritted her teeth and reminded herself how grateful she was for Aunt Darlene’s offer of free room and board until, as their informal agreement discreetly put it, she had “gotten on her feet.”

Loretta hadn’t thought that gaining a sure footing would be difficult in a place as small and uncomplicated as Monroe, but she hadn’t fully reckoned on how hard it was to leave one life behind and launch a new one. Sometimes it seemed like she’d been trying to get on her feet for as long as she could remember.

Loretta was under no illusions: she was plain and she was pushing forty. Those were the simple facts. She was also too acutely aware of how these circumstances had made her oh, so vulnerable to the easy promises of a man like Kyle Dewalt…

She told herself to quit picking that old scab. The operation had salvaged some of Daddy’s pride, and sending her here to Monroe had done all else that could be done. She made enough from her teacher’s aide job to pay a little each month on the medical bill, and pretty soon she was going to start thinking about going back to night school.

She saw a pair of headlights pivot off Center Avenue and turn their beams down the middle of her street. It was no more than a block from anywhere in Monroe to the main drag, and Aunt Darlene’s house was about halfway down. The pickup was moving slowly, then turning into her driveway. Loretta forced herself to take several deliberate paces away from the picture window and wait for him to get out of the truck and knock on the door. After a slightly longer time than she thought necessary, the knock came. “I’ll get it, Aunt Darlene,” she called in the direction of the tinny laughter from the studio audience. She walked slowly to the door and opened it.

“Evenin’,” he said in that bashful, eyes-averted manner of his that she, for no good reason she could understand, found so appealing. “Hi, Francis,” she replied. She locked the door and closed it behind her. He took her elbow as if it were a piece of Waterford crystal, and they walked down the steps, then down the driveway toward the shiny Ford pickup.

He’d let her know, very early, that he didn’t much care for her calling him “Skeet,” like everyone else in town. His mother had named him Francis, he said, and he’d just as soon someone used the name that was on his birth certificate. She’d agreed, even though she thought “Skeet” sounded kind of cute.

Ernest Tubb belted out “Walkin’ the Floor over You” from the radio as they drove slowly out toward the main highway. “How about a hamburger and a shake?” he asked without looking at her. That phrase, she had learned, was Francis’ code for Wanda’s Cafe, seven miles up Highway Twelve on the outskirts of Pikeville. Loretta wondered if he’d hold her hand tonight; she was scooted well more than half way across the vinyl bench seat, and was even leaning slightly toward him. But he just kept his ten-and-two grip on the steering wheel and stared down the highway as if he were all alone in the truck cab. “That sounds fine to me,” she said.

diner

***

“Hi, Homer,” called Phil as Homer sauntered through the glass door. He nodded at the burly proprietor of the barber shop, picked up a dog-eared copy of Field and Stream, and sat down in one of the chrome-and-vinyl chairs. He shifted about uncomfortably for a moment; Phil’s chairs were all high-mileage numbers with numerous cracks in the vinyl that allowed the cotton batting to leak through. He’d been after Phil for over a year to spend a little money on his customers’ comfort, but Phil just laughed at him.

“Say, Homer,” said Lem Dycus, the man whose face Phil had just lathered, “what’s this I hear about ol’ Skeet takin’ up with Darlene Claypool’s niece?”

Homer flipped a page of Field and Stream and tried to act as if he hadn’t heard anything.

“Yeah, Homer,” chimed Phil. “My daughter and her boyfriend was at Wanda’s this last weekend and saw ‘em there eatin’ together, and she said that wadn’t the first time they’d been there, either.”

Homer began to grind his teeth. He could feel the eyes of the barber and the other two or three men in the shop boring into him, waiting for his answer. Damn that Skeet, anyway, for making them all look like fools! “Well, Skeet’s a grown man, I guess,” Homer said. “I don’t tell him where to go or who to go with.” He flung aside the Field and Stream and reached for a grimy, six-month old issue of Progressive Farmer.

BarberShop

“I heard she come up here from Memphis ‘cause she got herself knocked up or somethin’,” put in Will Klinger, seated a couple of chairs down from Homer. “My wife she goes to the beauty shop same time as Darlene, and she said Darlene let as much slip one day.”

“What about it, Homer?” asked Phil as he troweled the lather off Lem’s face with his straight-edge razor. “Reckon ol’ Skeet’s sweet on this gal?”

Homer got up and tossed the magazine into his seat. “If you boys are so dad-blamed curious about it, why the hell don’t you ask Skeet?” He stomped out the door. He didn’t need a haircut all that bad, anyway.

***

By the time another month had elapsed, it was plain to Loretta that something was happening between herself and Francis. He had shown up each Saturday evening at seven-thirty, regular as clockwork. They had consumed eight or ten hamburgers and nearly a gallon of milkshake, between them. He had never asked if she would be available the following weekend, and she had never offered the information. There didn’t seem to be any need.

But the clincher, the item that put her on certain notice was his terse question, asked last night just before she placed her key in the lock of Aunt Darlene’s front door.

“Reckon you’d care to meet my brothers?”

She had turned and looked at him. Unsure she’d heard correctly but deciding to chance it, she said, “I sure would. When?”

He’d shifted from one foot to the other, careful to keep his eyes averted. “Tomorrow’s Sunday. Don’t reckon we’ll be too busy. How about noon?”

“Tomorrow?” She hoped the giddiness she felt hadn’t gotten into her voice. “Well. . . sure, I guess so.”

He had nodded, shoving his hands into his hip pockets. And then, he had leaned awkwardly forward and planted a hasty kiss on her forehead, just before retreating down the steps and across the driveway to his pickup.

She went inside, feeling a warm glow in her cheeks. It was the longest conversation they’d ever had. She thought she might be falling in love.

(to be continued…)

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So Fair and Bright (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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