Lookin’ for Number Three

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 down 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.

The Last Summer of a Carpenter

The man’s feet had callouses from all the walking he had done. The man’s legs had scars from all the times a two-by-four had crashed against them. The man’s hands had endured splinters. Though large, they were tender when he picked up his baby boy and held him close, whispering to the boy how special he was. The man’s arms had muscles acquired from a life time of work, and more work. The man’s beard spiraled out onto his chest. The man’s lips easily folded into a smile but said little. Only his dark eyes and the wrinkles on his brow revealed the concern and worry he had carried through the years. His long dark brown hair fell onto his shoulders with a small bald spot capped on the top of his head. This was a man who worked long hours to keep wife and son free from the wolves.

His shop on the side of a dusty road was simply supplied with the needs of his trade. There were no extras. If he needed, he made do. His neighbors brought their woodwork requests to him, and he delivered them well-made yokes for their oxen and ploughs. He was the man they came to whenever any public woodworking was needed. He carved the wood as well. So many of the locals had tables with the history of the village carved into their legs.

When his son was ready to apprentice, the boy came into the shop to work with the man he called Dad. The man showed his son how to turn a piece of wood on a lathe to make a perfect leg. He showed the boy how not to hit his finger when he drove a nail into the wood. He taught his son how to pick and choose just the right wood for the shop. How to watch out for bad splotches in the texture of the grain. How to speak to the wood so that the wood would not be afraid when his ax felled a tree.

The man knew his son had expressed dreams of other work. The man wanted a happy son so he agreed, that when the time came, the boy would pursue his dream. First he urged the boy to learn a trade. Then he would always have something to fall back on. Besides the man found great pleasure working with his son at his side. Showing him the secrets of his trade. Revealing the mysteries of the wood. Gently caressing the love out of the wood so that it would surrender to his mastery. And the boy learned well. He had a great teacher.

The man was at least thirty years older than his young wife. He married her when she had a great need for a husband. He made sure she had all the comforts of home. She was a good wife, making his house a home filled with good food, laughter and the joy of a good home. Everybody in the village said, “What a great match these two made.”

As the end of his years approached, the man made sure that his wife was provided for. He knew his son would go off and pursue his dreams. And the couple loved the dream the boy had. Not to pursue that dream would be such a something they could never allow.

On the waning days of that final summer, the man closed up shop early and walked the hills around his home. By this time, his long hair had grayed but still it was thick. He reflected on his years that had passed through his life. Of his time watching over his wife as she grew fat with child. Of his time on the road, and in exile. Of his days in the shop, giving extra special care to the woodwork he delivered to those who needed his trade. Of his time at his hearth, his wife and his son at his side, passing on the stories of those who came before him. So that his son would always have pride in who he was and treasure his people’s past. Though they were poor, they sprang from greatness.

As he walked, he came upon a spring he loved. He sat down beside it and dipped his hand into the water. The water reflected an old man, staring back at him. How did he become an old man? he wondered. Why only yesterday he was just a boy, chasing the birds through these very fields. He dropped off to sleep. The afternoon slipped into evening. The skies were sprinkled with thousands of stars.

A woman and a man came to look for him. They found the man by the side of that spring he had loved all his life. He opened his eyes one final time. His last words, “Mary, Jesus.” Then the angels carried him away.

A Marriage

“Why do you always run off to the shower after we make love?” This could be the man or the woman asking. On this particular night, it is the woman.

The man, her husband, slides back into the bed beside his wife’s naked body, reaches over, kisses her lightly on the lips. She resists his kiss.

He withdraws to a few inches from her face. “You know you can join me in the shower. It’s not like there’s not enough room.” The best defense is a good offense.

He’s not ready to give up on that kiss. He tries again for her lips.

She is having none of his attempts at getting on her good side. “All I want is to be close,” she says, moving her lips away from his.

“I’m trying to be close now.” He catches her cheek with his kiss.

She pushes him away. “It isn’t the same. After we have sex, all you do is run away.” Slipping over to her edge of the bed, she gives him her back, then pulls the sheet tight around her, making it into a cocoon.

He drops off to his side of the bed. “But … Lenore,” he protests.

“Why do you choose to call me that?” she tosses over her shoulder at him. “You know I don’t like it, Sam.”

“What do you mean? Call you what?” he speaks to her back.

“Lenore,” she says the name as if it is a curse.

“That’s your name, isn’t it?” Of course it’s her name.

“It’s what my mother calls me. But I’m Nora and you most definitely know that.” Of course he knows it. He has called her Nora a thousand times and more. Her back is now a wall and she’s not allowing any climbing over it. Not for this night anyway.

”I like Lenore. It has such a romance to it. Just like you.”

Silence. Not a sound coming from behind that wall.

After several minutes of waiting for a truce and a goodnight kiss, he reaches over and switches off the bedside light, sighs and slides deeper into the bed. He lies on his back and studies the shadows spreading out across the room as the night grows deeper.

A sob escapes through a crack in that impenetrable wall lying next to him. His wife is crying, pouring herself into her pillow. He reaches over to offer her a tender, comforting touch.

She moves away from his hand and rolls over and faces him. “My name is Nora. And just why do you always feel the need to wash me off after we have sex? Guess you can’t stand the smell of me, the taste of me, the touch of me on your skin. Bet you can’t even stand the sound of me.”

He starts to protest but holds it in.

“Next thing I know you won’t even be able to stand the sight of me.” Shoving the covers off, she jumps out of bed, grabs her robe, heads for the door. Takes one last look at the man in her bed. “Ever since Candace went away to college,” she says, changing the subject but not really. She throws the robe on and heads off down the hall.

He calls after her. “Candace doesn’t like Candace for a name, you know.” Their daughter likes to be called Dash.

“That’s her name, Sam-u-el,” she cries out into the night. She’s Candace’s mother and she can call her daughter any damned name she wants. Why doesn’t he understand that?

“And Lenore is yours,” he wants to yell back but doesn’t. She is the woman he loves, has always loved, and he knows that this is not a good time to call out “Lenore”.

He moves over onto his side and faces the wall, pulls the sheet closer around his body. He hates these dark, restless nights when nothing seems to go right. When everything he tries is wrong.

He waits in the dark and hopes. What is he hoping for? That she’ll come back to bed? That he can somehow show her that he didn’t mean for the night to turn out the way it has? Maybe that, after twenty years of marriage, things can change? That he can change? He keeps hoping but he knows. This will not be the night.

It’s one thirty and he has to get up in the morning for work. But he’s not going to get any sleep. Not till Lenore comes back to bed, and they make up.

Why does he keep calling her Lenore? he wonders in his sleeplessness. He knows how much she hates it. It’s only at times like these when he drops his guard that she she is no longer an average, everyday Nora. She is the Lenore of his best dreams and he is recalling their honeymoon in that long-ago before twenty years wore down their marriage.

He glances over at the clock on his nightstand once again. It’s two and she’s not coming back. He slips out of bed, pulls on this pajama bottoms and a robe.

Downstairs and out on the patio, she hears him slide the glass door open behind her. “I’m not mad,” she says to nobody in particular. “It’s just that, well I’m not mad,” this time she’s speaking to her husband.

There she goes. Making peace. Why does she always do that? he wonders. “I was a jerk,” he says, looking at the back of her neck. The moon throws its light across the room and he can’t ever remember seeing anything so beautiful.

“No, you were just being you.” Her voice is soft and lonely. Then she thinks, “There I go again, making peace. Why do I always do that?”

He doesn’t know what else to say or do so he waits.

She looks over her shoulder and up into his face. His eyes gaze at her the way he did that first night oh-so-many-years-before on the the beach where they first fell in love. Her hand reaches out for his, takes it, draws him to her side on the bench. “I love this house,” she says.

“It has been a good house.”

“I wasn’t sure it was the one for us.” She leans her head on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know that.” He squeezes her hand with all the affection that comes from years of loving and arguing and making up and arguing and making up some more. “I wasn’t that positive myself.”

She squeezes back. Her head feels the strength of the shoulder she has always known that she can lean on no matter what. No matter what. She then takes her head off his shoulder and looks up at the sky. “That sure is a pretty moon.”

“We didn’t think we’d we be here that long.”

“And, my god, the mortgage.” She laughs.

“We’d never owed that much money to anybody. But Dash loved it.”

“We thought we were buying the moon. Five years old and Candace knew it was for us.”

“Why do you keep on calling her Candace?” he whispers. “You know how much she hates it.”

“Why do you insist on calling me Lenore?” she whispers back. “It spoils eyerything.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, unsure how to tell her all that her name means to him.

“I can see we got what we paid for.” She is back thinking about the house.

“It was a good price.”

She points toward the sky. “We got that moon too, and it is much better than the one we thought we were buying.” She looks at it for several minutes. “You think that Brett and Dash will last as long as we have?”

“I hope so. He seems to love her but not as much as I loved you then, Nora.” He kisses Lenore, not a soft easy kiss, not a deep passionate kiss, but a kiss that makes up for everything. And she kisses him. Then he whispers, “And still love you.”

She stands, reaches for his hand, and they go inside.

On the way up the stairs, he says, ”If you let me call you Lenore every-once-in-a-while, I promise not to run off to the shower after we make love.”

“Only when we’re alone,” she says from the stair above him.

He nods yes, and they are back in bed and soon asleep.

Forgiveness fills the house as it has so many times before and they continue their married life together. At least for one more day.