The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer

 

 

ELEVEN

 

     Lon and I have been standing in the living room for twenty minutes.  The wind howls outside, and lights flicker.  Jake has come inside and waits with us, silently, looking at a series of crayon marks on the living-room wall measuring the growth of children whose names are scribbled by the marks.  Jake rubs his finger over them.   "None of 'em is big as me," he says.

     "You're a big guy," Lon says.

     The woman comes out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

     "Well, ma'am," Lon says, "what did you decide?"

     She takes out her cigarettes, and we have to wait for her to light up again.  Then she says, "You came at a bad time."

     "You said on the phone you wanted to move on this date."  I notice Lon's ears turning red.

     "I just don't know.  I don't know where to take it from here."

     "You're not sure your new place is ready?  You have no where to go?"

     "No.  I got a place all rented.  Borrowed money from my mom to put a deposit down and everything.  There's a swimming pool in the complex."

     "Oh," Lon says.

     "I'm just turning some things over in my head."

     "Well, how about if Fo and Jake and me just get out of your way, and if you decide to go ahead with the move, give me a call and we'll set up another date."

     Lon and I turn to go, but she touches my arm and says, "No, wait."  She keeps her hand on my arm, lightly, and I feel her gently kneading my biceps through my coat.  "I'm going through with it.  I just remembered that pool.  The kids will have something to do, and I can work on my tan."

     I look out the window at the snow.

     Lon says, "You sure you want to move today then?"

     "Oh, yeah."

     "Okay."

     "I sure do.  I do."  She drops her hand from my arm but immediately puts it back.  "That son of bitch.  Living here, eating my food.  Then pulls out.  Runs after some little piece of tail.  Let me tell you something.  This girlfriend of mine?  She had a guy cut off his ring finger for her one time.  She went out with him a few times, then decided to move on, to play the field.  Well, he came to her house about a month after their last date--he'd been calling her, and it'd gotten to the point where she started unplugging her phone.  So there he was on her doorstep.  His hand was all bandaged up and he gives her this little box.  Guess what was in it?"

     I shrug.

     "His finger.  His finger was in that little box.  She about died.  Started screaming.  She thought he was some kind of psycho."

     I stare at her.  "Did she--"

     "And maybe he was a psycho.  But he knew what love is.  He did.  He definitely did."  She nods her head several times. 

"Love is sacrificing and suffering, but it makes everything worthwhile."

     "Fo," Lon says, "let's get that sofa first."

     I move away from the woman.  Her hand drops from my arm.

     "Wait," she says.  "Shit, I don't know.  This guy, see, that was living with me and my kids, stole all my money and ran off."

     I say, "Are you afraid you might not be able to afford this move?"

     Lon says, "Is that it, ma'am?"

     "No, no.  My mom gave me money to get out of this dump."  Her eyes dart around the room.  "He was supposed to fix it up while he didn't have a job.  We were going to make a life together in this house."

     Lon sighs.  "So, ma'am, what do you want us to do?"

     Jake has moved over close to him, and Lon has his hand on Jake's head, patting him.

     "I . . . I . . . .  Why do you keep calling me ‘ma'am'?  Makes me feel like I'm your mother.  How old are you?"

     "I'm sorry."

     "How old are you?"

     "Thirty-six."

     "I'm twenty-four."

     "I was just being polite."

     "It's okay."  She grins crookedly, the cigarette in the corner of her mouth, her eyes squinting.  "Actually, I like it.  You're a gentleman."  She takes the cigarette out of her mouth.  She looks Lon up and down.  Then she looks me up and down.  "Can you wait?" she says.

     She goes down the hall to her bedroom again, leaving Lon with his mouth open.

     Jake says, "What's going on?"

     Lon and I look at him.

     "I hear her talking in there," I say.  I don't hear anybody talk back, though, so I figure she's on the phone.

     We stand around for a few more minutes until she comes out, slamming the door behind her.  "Let's go.  Let's get the hell out of this dump.  That son of a bitch.  If he thinks he can ever come waltzing back into my life . . . .  He doesn't have a clue about what love is."  She fumbles to get a new cigarette lit, her hands shaking.  "Shit.  Stole my money.  Runs off with his new piece.  Shit.  But the new piece can't do everything I can.  I know that for a fact.  Can't.  Won't."

     Lon looks at me, raises his eyebrows.

     "I should shoot him," she says.  "That's what I should do.  Really.  The son of a bitch.  Shoot him between the eyes."

     "Let's get that sofa," I say.

 

* * *

 

     We work for almost two hours.  We load the sofa onto the van, then the kitchen table and chairs, all the other things in the living room and some groceries the woman pulls from cabinets and tosses into garbage bags.  The house is hot, and the wind has picked up even more outside, snow falling steadily.  Going back and forth between the hot and cold makes my head swoon a bit.  My heart is chugging hard like the woman's furnace.  I don't want to have a heart attack just before I'm going to see Rose.

     And doing this hard, mindless work, I find my memory racing into old, dark, crazy territory.  

     The night after I kissed Rose in the woods--actually at about three o'clock the next morning--the phone woke me up from a fitful sleep.  A dream about being lost in the thick woods with Rose evaporated as the phone rang a second time and a third.  I stumbled to the kitchen, flicked on the light, which hurt my eyes, and lifted the black receiver from the wall.

     "I want to know every detail," Rodney said.

     I saw my own reflection in the window, then Meg behind me in the doorway, and I turned the light off.  Meg said, "Is it her?"

     Rodney sighed into the phone.  I could imagine the heat of Rodney's breath.  I heard Rose whimpering in the background and saying, "Leave him alone, Rod.  Just leave him alone." 

     I shook my head at Meg.  I said into the phone, "Nothing happened."

     Meg stepped closer, flicked up the light switch.  I shook my head again.

     Rodney said, "I could have you killed.  I know men in this county who will kill a person for two hundred dollars.  I'll have a bullet put in your head.  How would you like that?  Huh?  How would you like that, you fuck?"

     "Nothing ever happened."

     Meg stepped closer.  She had on her dark blue robe over her long nightgown.  She had been sleeping or maybe just lying down in the spare bedroom, the one that would be the baby's.

     "You ever fuck her up the ass?  She likes it that way."

     Meg said, "It's her, isn't it?"

     I shook my head.

     She went to a drawer, opened it, and pulled out a long, large soup ladle with a thick black handle.  She stood in front of me with the ladle at her side.  On the phone, Rodney breathed hard.  I looked down at the ladle in Meg's hand.  "What--" he began to say when her arm came up in a blur and the bowl of the ladle caught me on the side of my head.  She let it drop at the same time I dropped the phone.  I fell to my knees, my hand pressed against my temple.  Meg had left the kitchen.  The door of the spare bedroom slammed.

     When I picked up the phone, I listened.  Then Rodney said, "You there?"

     "Yes."

     "You ever so much as talk to her again, I'll kill you."

     "You don't have anything to worry about.  Nothing happened."

     "Rose is a whore, like Bathsheba, like Delila.  But I like to fuck her."

     "Nothing happened, Reverend.  Not a thing."

     "Nothing happened?  That's not what the whore here says.  I'll tell you, she makes Bathsheba and Delila look like Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney.  She says she loves you."  Rodney paused.  I could hear him breathing, and I could hear Rose in the background crying.  "Now listen.  She wouldn't be in love with you unless you fucked her and did a pretty good job of it.  She's probably fucked a hundred men in her life.  You must be real good."

     Suddenly, Rose was screaming in the background.  Her screaming got louder.  No words, just screams.  Shattering glass or porcelain.  Then the phone went dead.

     I returned the receiver to the cradle on the wall.  I should kill myself, I thought.  That was what I should do.  I had ruined my life.  I had ruined Meg's.  I had ruined Rodney's.  And Rose's.  And the life of my unborn child.  I stood in the dark kitchen, trembling. 

     I bent down and picked up off the floor the big ladle Meg had hit me with.  I touched the side of my head, pressed the bruise to intensify the pain.

     What had I done?  Then I remembered that I had actually done nothing.

     I took my hand away from my head.  Something formed in the pit of my gut.  What was I feeling now?  It swelled rapidly.  Blood pounded in my temples.  I had a vivid image of Rodney--his big belly, his lips slack and glistening with spit, his eyes dark and small, his face red.  I wanted to kill him.  This was Rodney's fault, not mine.  I knew I could break Rodney in half

with my bare hands.  I stared at the black phone on the wall.  I looked at the ladle I held.  I looked at my reflection in the kitchen window, then threw the ladle at it.  The window cracked but did not shatter. 

 

* * *

 

     The woman's little kids wake up and stand around, staring at me and Lon and Jake for a minute, then get excited about the snow and get on coats.  They throw snowballs at each other in the front yard.  Lon and I get caught in the cross fire a couple of times.  Jake is helping to carry things and stays away from the woman's kids.

     After she clears out the kitchen cabinets, she opens the doors of the hutch full of teddy bears.  She stares at them for a good ten minutes. 

     I say, "Miss, we need to get into your bedroom soon.  We'll probably want to use the mattresses off your bed to pad some things."  I wait for a response but don't get one.

     Then she starts slamming the porcelain teddy bears down into a box.  I hear each one shatter.  "Son of a bitch," she mutters.  "Bastard."

     But when she pulls the last one out and throws it down, it doesn't break.  She picks it up and throws it down again, but it still doesn't break.

     "Damn," she says.  She rushes back to her bedroom.  The door slams shut.  And she gives out a wail that comes through the walls and chills my spine.   

     Then I don't hear anything.

     Lon and I keep working, carrying out the TV and the bookcase full of romance novels.  Jake carries out some TV trays.  The kids keep throwing snowballs.  Their coats aren't buttoned, and they're wearing only gym shoes.  When hit by a snowball, they yell, "Shit!"

     "You ready to wrestle that hutch?" Lon asks me as we're trudging through the yard.

     Just then the woman comes to the front door of the house.  She's smiling, her robe open still.

     Lon and I both stop dead in our tracks when we see the man next to her.  He's got red jogging shorts on and nothing else. 

His skin is pale.  On his shoulders are tattoos of coiled snakes, cobras.  On his chest over his heart is an eagle with what looks like a mouse in its beak.  His head trembles, his teeth chatter, but he grins.  Two or three of his front teeth are missing.

     Lon says, "Oh no.  Let me guess what she's going to tell us."

     She says to us, "Ah, guys?"  She giggles and looks at her man, who smirks at us.  She shrugs.  "He came back.  I think . . . I mean, can you bring my stuff back in?"    

 

 

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