Short Story Prompt: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
By the time Jimmy Lee’s grandmother rode to Florida with him, she was working on her third husband. She felt that it was another chance to get the husband thing right. But Jimmy Lee knew that his Gran was the kind of woman who would fall for anything in pants if the man threw a smile her way.
Her wandering eye was how she lost her two husbands. If another man smiled at her just right, she could not resist. As soon as they did, she took off after them. Come hell or high water she was going to enjoy the pleasure of that man. In Moslem culture, she’d have lost her head for looking the wrong way at a man who wasn’t her husband. Thank Allah she wasn’t a follower of Islam. She belonged to that congregation known as barely a Christian.
Husband Numero Uno was a jackass anyway. That is a Jack with a capital J, Ass with a capital A. So she didn’t mind foolin’ around on the side. Served him right. Thing was he took her for everything worth taking her for. Jimmy Lee’s mom was the only good thing to come out of that marriage.
Husband Numero Segundo was a preacher she met when finalizing her divorce from Uno. The Reverend Lyle Taggart counseled her right into bed, then into marriage. That was where she got the Barely-Christian from. As she recalled, this husband was as good in bed as he was a-preaching. Unfortunately she got bored in her role as Mrs. Perfect Sunday School. So her eyes began wondering in the wilderness. But it was a mighty long dry spell. There weren’t that many men in the small congregation of two hundred folks who would give her the smile she was craving. Pretty soon she was craving it something bad.
Then the church got itself a new deacon. Before you know it, she was diddle-dadling with that Deacon. When she took a liking to the Deacon and the Deacon took a liking to her, all hades broke loose in that church she was barely the Christian of. One Sunday that preacher husband of hers looked down from his pulpit like God must look from On High. It was a couple of weeks into her adultery. He pointed his finger right at her and said, “Repent, Woman, or thy name is Jezebel.”
Right then and there she decided Jezebel might be a good name to have. It rolled off the tongue something easy and it was downright Biblical. She stood herself up in that pew, the special one that was reserved for the preacher’s wife and other VIPs. She gave that husband of hers the finger, you know the finger I’m talking about, then she grabbed the hand of her eight-year-old daughter. With that child in tow, she sashayed herself right out of that church. There would be no more praying or Bible studying or singing the praises for her.
Last she’d heard of that second husband of hers he went and married one of the good sisters of that church six months after that marriage was dead and buried. Good riddance to the both of them.
On the trip south to Florida in her grandson’s automobile, she smiled, thinking of the what-for she’d given to those hypocrites that day. It was a real hallelujah, five-star perfect day.
From that time to this, she’d spent running from man to man, looking for Mr. Perfect and mostly settling for less. It was like her mother used to say, “A good man’s hard to find.” Nobody could say she hadn’t tried though. Thing was her wandering eye was ready to settle on one man if’n he was the right man.
She was sure her luck had changed. Her astrologer told her it was written in the stars. He ought to know. He’d laid her life out for her so many times before. She was absolutely certain, as certain as a being can be, that Florida was the place she was about to find a jim dandy of a husband. She’d heard that the Sunshine State was the place a lot of men hightailed it to when their wives passed on to the other side. They went there for a good tan and a new lease on life. She was the very one to give one of them that lease. She wasn’t even going to pass up a younger man if he’s a good ‘un with a fat wallet.
She took a good look at herself in the rearview mirror. She looked ten years younger at least than her true age. And she still had a damned fine figure. She could cougar with the best of ’em. One thing was for sure. She wasn’t about to spend her last days in the poorhouse. She had done that way too much.
There had been a time she’d thought she’d just give up. She’d about given up hope. Finding her a husband she’d be pleased as punch with was almost as impossible as a smarty ass Yankee saying a proper y’all. It couldn’t be done. Then Jimmy Lee came back up from a semester of his cooking school. Cordon Bleu Something-or-Other he called it. He offered to take her to the Promised Land. As they say in church, she was reborn and ready to give that old demon Discouragement a kick in the backside.
Jimmy Lee crossed the Florida-Georgia line on I75 and continued southward. Then he looked Gran’s way and said, “You’re going to love my fiancée, Gran.”
Gran knew she would. Gran was the only family Jimmy Lee had left, his mama and his daddy killed in an accident five years earlier. Going to Florida and school there had been the only way the twenty-year-old could escape his grief. And she knew that he knew how to pick ’em. He’d never go for a girl that didn’t have a good heart. He was a good boy like that.
“And you’re going to like her dad too. Emmy Jo’s dad raised her all by hisself. His wife. the one he calls his one-and-only, she died in a car accident ten years ago. Drunk driver hit her.”
“Sounds like he is a good man,” Gran said.
“The best,” Jimmy Lee said.
How ’bout we stop for some refreshments?” she said. “My legs could use a good stretch.”
So they stopped at a Cracker Barrel. Had themselves a fine meal. Besides the food, it gave Gran a chance to brag on her grandson. And one thing she loved to do was brag on the boy which she did to the waitress.
“You do have a fine looking grandson there,” the waitress responded to her praises. “I’m sure I’d be proud if’n he was mine.”
On the way back to the car, Gran said to the boy, “I sure do like this Florida hospitality.”
Jimmy Lee opened the door for her, then he said, “I knew you would.”
Before she knew it she was in Orlando. There was so much sun out she swore she had never seen so much sun. After a couple of nights settling in at Jimmy Lee’s apartment, it was time for him to take Gran to meet his girl.
The two of them drove up in front of a two-story house with a white picket fence. The kind she’d always dreamed. Jimmy Lee straightened his tie in the rear-view mirror, turned to his Gran and asked, “Do I look okay?” He was as nervous as all get-out in that suit and tie of his.
“You sure do, ” Gran said.
The two got out of the car and walked to the door. Jimmy Lee pressed the doorbell. Before you could say “Hallelujah. Praise the Lord” three times, a tall, gray-haired man answered the door.
“Well, hello, Jimmy Lee,” he said, then asked, “Melissa Sue Maryann?”
“I’ll be,” Gran said and laughed. “If it ain’t the Reverend Lyle Taggart.”
“Jezebel, may you rot in hell,” Tall-and-Gray said, then slammed the door behind him.
Jimmy Lee stood there in front of that door, surprise all over his face. “What was that?” Then his voice turned to anger. “How dare him call my Gran that name.”
“Didn’t I tell you it’s my second name. He give it to me a long time ago. He’s my second husband and he always was a son of a bitch.”
Getting Jimmy Lee away from that door was like pulling a thing glued with crazy glue from another thing. But she did.
Jimmy Lee reluctantly started the car and turned to his Gran and said, regret in his voice, “Guess that’s one girl that won’t be marrying me.”
“I’m sorry,” Gran said. And she was. She really was.
“You know I always thought there was something about that man. He seemed just too good to be true. Seemed to not have one fault.” Jimmy Lee pulled away from the street parking and drove straight toward the stop. When he stopped, he took a deep breath and said, not so much to his Gran but to himself, “Well, there’s more fish in the ocean. I’m sure I can catch a good ‘un sooner or later.” Too bad thing’s had turned out the way they did. He sure liked that girl.
“One thing is for sure. There goes another of my not-so-Mr.-Rights.”
She laughed and laughed and laughed like she hadn’t laughed in years. And Jimmy Lee laughed right alongside of her. They didn’t stop laughing till they were back at his apartment.