Archive for August, 2009

Skeet’s Bride–Conclusion

August 8, 2009

Loretta’s face felt frozen with shock and shame. Time was when she might have been crying right now, she thought. She sat on her side of the seat, isolated inside her humiliation.

“He ought not to have said that about you,” she heard Francis saying. “Homer gets mad, he don’t even listen to himself. But he had no call to—”

“What he said was true,” she blurted, forced by her hurt and her disgrace into a sudden need to bludgeon Francis with the blunt instrument of an admission. “I’ve done some things I’m not too proud of. I let a man get. . . familiar, and. . . I had a doctor take the . . . take it out. You might as well know it now as later.”

road

The blacktop road unwound slowly before them. A light shower had begun to fall and Francis flicked the lever and sent the wipers squawking across the moistened windshield until a little more rain accumulated. They drove on in silence for a mile, then two.

“It don’t make no difference,” he said, finally, just as they passed the sign marking the Monroe city limits.

“What?”

“What you done—it don’t matter.” He turned the steering wheel, hand-over-hand, and pulled the truck onto Center Avenue, heading for her street. He turned onto the street and rolled slowly to a halt in front of Aunt Darlene’s house. Only when he had shifted into neutral and switched off the engine did he turn and look at her. “It don’t matter to me, Loretta. I still feel the same.”

Time was when she might have been crying, right now…

****

That night, Homer’s chest pains flared up again. At three in the morning, Deke had to drive him to the hospital in Pikeville. By noon, he had been transferred by ambulance to the big hospital in Cape Girardeau, his condition listed as critical.

hospital

Loretta borrowed Aunt Darlene’s ancient DeSoto and drove the six miles up into the hills to the farm. She parked and walked around to the kitchen door, which was unlocked. No one was inside. On her way back out, she noticed the pile of dirty dishes beside and in the sink, the crumbs and smears of food on the kitchen table.

She found Francis down at the hog pens, standing in the mud and pouring feed into the trough while trying to keep his feet among a swirling horde of apparently ravenous feeder pigs. He finished pouring the contents of his bucket and glanced up. He saw her and looked away, like she’d caught him doing something bad. Then, as if resolved to take his medicine, kicked his way through the mob of swine and walked slowly toward her, his eyes on the ground in front of his feet.

“He’s your brother. Why aren’t you there?”

He rested a hand on the top rail of the fence and looked at a vacant place over her left shoulder.

“You won’t do me any good by turning your back on him now,” she said.

images

“Who’s gonna feed the pigs?” He sounded like a little boy with his feelings hurt.

She waited.

“What he said wasn’t just about you,” he stated in slow words. “It was about me, too. I reckon I just ain’t ready to forgive. Even if. . .” He took in a deep breath, let it slowly out. “Even if he is sick. Sick don’t take back what he said.” He managed a glance at her, then turned and slogged back across the hog pen, the bucket swinging forlornly at the end of his arm.

****

When Loretta walked into the waiting room, Deke looked up in surprise. “Can I see him?” she asked.

Deke shrugged. “Not sure. Doc says he needs rest right now. He ain’t out of the woods yet.

“All right.” She sat down beside Deke. “I’ll wait.”

An hour or so later, the doctor entered the waiting room. He had a clipboard tucked under his arm and he wore a neutral expression. Deke glanced at him and immediately stood. “Doc? Is he—”

bed

“He’s awake,” the doctor replied, his eyes flickering from Deke to Loretta. “I think he’s a little stronger, but not much. If you want to talk to him, go on in, but don’t take long. I don’t want to stress him at all right now.”

Deke turned at looked at her. He stoked his chin a time or two and reached around to rub the back of his neck. “Why don’t you go in?” he said, finally.

“But . . . Are you sure?”

A faint grin curved his lips. “Yeah. You go in. You need to more than I do.”

She stood, nervously smoothing the back of her skirt. Taking a final look at Deke, she asked the doctor, “Which room?”

The doctor was looking at Deke. “She family?”

Deke looked at her and smiled gently. “Yeah, Doc. Let her go in and talk to him.”

“Two-thirteen,” the doctor said, inclining his head in the direction of the room. “Across from the nurse’s station, third door on your left.”

The door swung shut soundlessly behind her as she walked into the dimly lit room. Homer was propped up slightly, and an oxygen mask was clamped over his face. An IV tube ran from his arm up into a bag of clear fluid, hanging from a rack above his head. His chest rose and fell in a ragged rhythm. She walked slowly forward, until she stood at the foot of his bed. At first she thought the doctor had been mistaken, that Homer was still asleep, but then she detected the thin line of glimmer beneath his drooping eyelids. “Homer?” she said.

His head stirred slightly on the pillow and his eyelids fluttered open. For a moment, it looked as if he was struggling to pin down the location where the voice had come from, but then he focused on her. His eyes widened slightly, then narrowed.

She thought perhaps she ought to leave. It wasn’t as if a man who had just had a heart attack needed another jolt to his system, as a visit from her must surely be. And then, she thought again about why she had come and what she had to tell him, and she stood her ground and began to speak.

“Homer, Deke told me I could come in here. You don’t have to talk to me. The doctor says you probably shouldn’t, anyway; says you need lots of rest.” Self-consciously, she began to toy with the snap on her purse. His breathing was slower now, but his eyes were still on her face. “The things you said about me the other day. . . They were all true. About my past, I mean, and the mistakes I’ve made.” Setting her purse on the bed, she hugged herself and took two paces toward the curtained windows. “Whether you believe it or not, I care a lot about Fran— I mean, Skeet, and that’s the Lord’s truth.”

Her insides were skittish, as if she’d been called to the blackboard during math class. Drawing a deep breath felt risky. She glanced over her shoulder. His eyes were still open, but they no longer watched her. Homer appeared to be looking at a spot on the ceiling of the room. He might be listening to her or he might not, but she made herself keep talking anyway, knowing if she stopped she’d never be able to finish. “I haven’t had much happiness in my life, Homer. Fact, I’ve had mostly the other, seems like.” She moved from the window to a spot near the foot of his bed. “I can tell you’ve had your share of the other, too.” His eyes glittered toward her, then back to the safe place on the ceiling. “We don’t get many chances, I don’t think,” she said, “and it’s easy to be afraid of the ones we get, specially folks like me… and maybe you.”

She unfolded her arms and placed her hands on the footboard of his bed, leaning over it like a pulpit. “Skeet’s giving me a chance, Homer. I’m scared of it, but . . .  You may not can ever trust me, but I hope you’ll at least try to understand.”

She picked up her purse from the foot of the bed. “Well, the doctor said I shouldn’t stay too long.” She turned to walk out, then faced him once more. “I’m sorry, Homer. I really hope you get to feeling better. I think he’d say the same, if he knew how.”

On her way out she passed Deke. He was still standing in the waiting room, hands in his hip pockets, smiling and nodding to himself.

****

They got married two weeks later, in the office of the Justice of the Peace in the courthouse at Pikeville. Deke signed the license as one witness, and the JP’s secretary signed as the other. Skeet wore his one and only suit, a blue serge with sleeves about an inch short of stylish.

Deke drove them to the station in Cairo and carried Loretta’s cardboard valise to the gate where they were to board the afternoon train to Memphis. They handed their bags to a porter just as the last call was announced. Deke shook hands gravely with his twin brother, then with Loretta. “Don’t worry about anything,” he said in his quiet voice, “just have a nice time.”

station

Loretta mounted the steps, but Skeet lagged behind, his hands jammed in his hip pockets. He was looking at the ground in front of Deke’s feet. “I’m sorry about . . . not goin’ to see him.”

“It’s all right,” Deke said. “Let it go. Doc says he’ll be able to come home in a week or two.” Deke risked a glance at his brother. “You might could tell him yourself.”

Skeet nodded slowly, not looking at Deke. “Maybe I will.” He glanced over his shoulder, to where Loretta waited for him on the steps of the car. “Well, I better go on, I guess.”

Deke nodded. Skeet climbed the steps and followed Loretta down the center aisle of the parlor car. The train began moving slowly. Looking back, they could see Deke grinning and waving as the platform slid away behind them.

****

They had just reached their hotel room and set their bags down when a knock came on the door. Skeet went to the door and opened it to find a bellhop standing in the hallway, holding a Western Union telegram. “Mr. and Mrs. Francis Collins?” he was asking.

hotel

“Yeah, I guess,” Skeet said in a puzzled voice. He took the wire and fished a quarter out of his pocket. “Thank you, sir,” the boy said as he left.

Skeet tore open the envelope, shaking his head. “That Deke. He didn’t need to waste his money on—”

He fell silent. After a minute, Loretta came up beside him, reading the telegram over his shoulder.

REGIONAL MEMORIAL HOSPITAL CAPE GIRARDEAU MO

TO MR. AND MRS FRANCIS COLLINS

KING COTTON HOTEL MEMPHIS TENN

GOOD LUCK STOP HOMER

–End–

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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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