When she wore that dress

When she wore that dress, that dress of yellow and purple flowers, we walked for hours and hours around Hershfield Lake.  We admired that spring day.  Our talk went to thoughts of the future but we knew that was impossible.  Our fathers intensely disliked each other.

“Juliet?” I squeezed her hand.

“Yes, Romeo,” she answered, her eyes large and round staring at me as if I had all the answers in the world.

“Let’s get married anyway.”

“It would try our families greatly.”

“They’ll get over it.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of white cotton, we stood before the priest and we committed our lives to one another.  We had not told our families yet.  That day would come soon.  We spoke our I dos with hope and faith and a lot of love that day.

“I pledge thee my troth,” she looked into my eyes and said.

“I pledge thee my troth,” I said, happy as I’d ever been.

When she wore that dress, that dress of bright orange with the brown belt, we went to her father’s house.

“Wait in the car,” she said to me, then kissed me.  She opened the passenger door and slammed it behind her.  She crossed in front of the car and came to my window.  “Say a prayer.”

She entered the house.  A few minutes later I heard yelling and screaming from the house.  I reached for the door handle to open it. I saw her run out of the house, her father behind her.

“You married that bastard!” her father screamed.

She opened the passenger door and got in.

“Let’s get out of here.  He’s crazy.”

I started the engine, backed out of the driveway, turned and headed down the street.  In the rearview mirror, I saw her father coming towards us with a rifle.  He aimed at us but we were three blocks away and already out of range.

When she wore that dress, that dress of light blue, we drove to my parents.  I softly entered the house as she followed me, her hand in mine.  Dad sat at the kitchen table, his back to me.

“Dad?” I said.

He turned to me and smiled.

“This is Juliet, John Hazlewood’s daughter.  We’re married.”

A stunned look came over his face.

“Married?”

“Yes, sir,” Juliet said, her soft voice filled with hope.

My father looked at me, then her, then me, then he went back to his beer.

He said to me, “Go upstairs and get your mother.”

Afraid, I hesitated.

“Go ahead,” he said.  “It’ll be alright.  Nothing’s going to happen to your Juliet here, Romeo.  After all, a rose by any other name is still a rose.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of navy blue, we drove to the funeral home.  Turning onto the drive where the funeral home stood, I drove silently.  My father was dead.

“He was a wonderful man,” she said, sitting there in the passenger seat with tears in her brown eyes.  “I liked him a lot.  And he loved you so much.”

She turned and looked into the backseat at our five-year old towheaded boy.

“And he loved his grandson too,” she said.  “Right, Horatio?”

“Yes, Mommy,” Horatio said.

When she wore that dress, that dress of yellow daisies, we walked for hours and hours around Hershfield Lake.  We admired that spring day.  Our talk went to thoughts of the past.  Ten years of marriage and never a fight.  The fights always seemed to come from elsewhere.  Her father, my job, our son’s illness.  But we never spoke a harsh word to each other.

Tears in her eyes, she squeezed my hand, then said, “I miss Horatio.”

“It’s been a year now,” I said, “and I miss him as much as I did the day we got the news.”

When she wore that dress, that dress of gray and green, we met in the doctor’s office.  She came out to see me in the waiting room.

“The doctor wants to do some tests.  I have to go in the hospital.”

“Is it going to be okay?” I asked, fear in my eyes.

When she wore that dress, her dress of maroon and yellow, she lay in the open coffin.  I looked into her dead eyes and thought about what we had together.  But now she was with Horatio, and I felt comforted.

“Goodbye, Juliet,” I said and turned to face her father, no anger on his face, no bad will in his eyes, just pain and desperation.  He took my hand and, with a tight grip, he shook it.

“If I can do anything,” he said.

“Just love your other kids.”

I passed this hard man who had fathered the gentle spirit I knew as Juliet.  I turned back to him and took his shoulder and turned him gently around toward me.

“And thank you, sir,” I said.  “For your daughter.”

SomeThing

A tale of horror

Something moves. Or does it? Del isn’t sure. He looks and listens hard. For an instant, the thin, wiry man sees a motion, a movement among the trees at the edge of his back yard. Holding his shotgun with both hands, he readies himself to aim and fire. His eyes again search the trees and the marsh beyond the trees.

All is quiet. Nothing stirs, only the troubled whimper of a wind. Strange. Usually the marsh is alive with chirps and buzzes and all kinds of splashes. But now, not a sound. He listens harder, more carefully. Slowly he begins to hear the normal, marshy voices that grow louder as the afternoon light fades and evening approaches.

“Nothing here,” he decides. “Must be her imagination. She’s always thinking up things.”

He turns and steps easily across the wet grass, drenched from a sudden afternoon downpour that ended only moments ago. Returning to the house, he enters the back door and walks into the kitchen. Ginny stands waiting by the sink. She clenches a large butcher knife.

“Well, d’you see anything?” she asks, her eyes filled with terror.

“Nary a thing.” He sets his gun in a corner by the stove.

“You think I’m making it all up. Well, I’m not. I did too see something sneaking outside the bedroom window. Heard its growls too.”

“Now, now.” He takes his wife into his arms, then eases the knife from her hand and lays it in the sink. He holds her close to him.

“You must’ve heard the noises yourself. They were loud enough.” She settles into the sanctuary of his broad shoulders for a long, lingering embrace. Her whole body is shivering. He runs his hands gently through her hair and whispers soothing words into her ear until she is calm. After a few minutes of silence pass between them, he lightly kisses her lips.

Releasing her from his arms, he asks his usual, “D’you fix my supper for work?”

“You still going to work after what I seen?” She holds onto his arm.

“Course I am. How could I not?”

“Please stay home tonight. Just this once.” Her hand squeezes tighter and tighter.

“Shush.” He wrenches her hand from his arm.

“Sure wish you would stay home with me tonight.” She reaches again for his arm.

He forces her hand away. “Finish my supper while I get dressed,” he says, ignoring the supplication in her voice.

She chokes out the words, “It’s ready. ‘Cept for wrapping up a piece of that chocolate cake I made special this morning.”

“Look, if you get scared again, have George come on by,” he says, referring to their only son. “You can go stay at his house tonight. I’ll pick you up in the morning.” These are his last words on the subject. It is time to ready for work.

Del goes off into the bedroom and changes into his security guard uniform and is back in the kitchen just as Ginny is placing the cake into his gray lunch box.

Her eyes plea with him to stay with her and not run off to work. But he takes his supper from her hands and pulls his Atlanta Braves cap off the hat stand by the outside kitchen door.

Flipping the cap onto his head, he kisses her cheek a goodnight kiss. Then he is through the door and gone.

Ginny walks into the living room at the front of the house and watches Del through the large picture window as he drives away in his Ford Explorer. Then she drops into the large comfortable chair, Del’s chair, and trembles. Soon her entire body shakes. Tears well up into her eyes. Her face, wrinkled and sagging, appears to be much older than her fifty-seven years. The room darkens as the night fills it with its blackness. Ginny sits alone, afraid to fall asleep because of the nightmares she’s been having. She fights off the sleep. It is too much for her. She’s so tired from her lack of sleep over the last few days that she’s soon dozing off.

Asleep, she starts drifting in and out of her subconscious. It is then that a something eases its way out of the shadows of her sleep and into her dreams, those worlds of gray and fog and unhappiness that inhabit her slumber. Through these lands of mist and uneasiness, of phantoms, specters and dark, ugly things, this SomeThing walks, consuming everything in its path.

Thunder shakes her awake. Her clothes are drenched with sweat, the kind of sweat that only comes from fear. Out the window, a storm rages with a hard, driving rain pelting the grass. Again, the thunder grumbles and a tree crashes in the distance. Lightning streaks the sky and brightens the room.

Just for a moment, she sees it. A shadow, or at least what she, at first, believes to be a shadow. It isn’t. It is the SomeThing that had haunted her nightmares for days, the SomeThing that had made those awful growling noises, the SomeThing that had escaped into nothing earlier that afternoon, the SomeThing that had come from some hell of an evil place.

And a wicked looking SomeThing it is, its eyes cold and cruel with a hate that can only come from another world, its mouth dripping a mixture of white, rabid fear and dark, red blood, its huge body a black silhouette outlined against the lightning flashing in the distance.

Ginny cowers into her chair, struggling to breathe. She wants to scream, tries to scream, but the scream does not come out of her mouth. The Thing, the SomeThing reaches for her, its long talons grasping to tear open her neck.

*****

The house is unusually quiet when Del gets home. It is four o’clock in the morning of a cold, clear February night. The storm earlier has passed, leaving everything drenched and a full moon to fill the sky. Guided by the light of the moon, he hurries through the living room and into the dark bedroom. He leaves the light off so as not to wake Ginny and quickly undresses for bed. He crawls under the clean sheets, then turns to give his wife of thirty-seven years a goodnight kiss.

Ginny is not there. She is gone from her side of the bed where she always sleeps.

He starts to get out of the bed, but then decides, “Must be at George’s.”

He is relieved. Within minutes, he is snoring. His dreams delve deep, deeper and deeper and deeper into that subterranean underground that is his inner consciousness until he is struggling through a swamp, legs hip-deep in water. Cypress trees everywhere, and a heavy, red fog closes in around him.

Alone. No other life in the swamp, but the flies. Those damnable flies circling his head, making no noise. An eerie silence breathes on him as he forces his way through the muck and the mire. Feeling eyes following him, stalking him, he turns and sees…nothing. He looks back to where he is going. A necklace, his wife’s necklace, drops into his hand and opens. His photograph smiles back at him. He looks up. There she is, Ginny pinned to a tree.

This startles him awake. His body is unable to move, frozen with fear. Rain beats against the rooftop. Thunder groans nearby. Lightning lights the room while the shadow of a SomeThing covers Del’s face.

Tudorama

“Double double toil and trouble.” Oops, wrong story. Just a sec. Oh, here it is. Right where I put it. Amazing what you can’t see without your glasses. So here goes.

In Merry Olde England, there was a very happy couple. He called her Puddin’; she called him Dumpling. Would have called him her Doughboy, but that one had already been taken by the King of France. Francis One.

Annie Boleyn met Henry on a blind date. She was a sub for her sister Mary Beth. When he walked into the Great Hall of Boleyn Estates and her two peeps saw him, it was love at first sight. It was true that he did look like a doughboy. That was the charm of King Hal. Plus there was that twinkle in his eye, and he was a regular party guy.

Within hours of his arrival, King Hal had a party going at Casa Boleyn. It was a toga party. After all, Hal was a regular practitioner of toganomics. If a courtster was unwilling to wear a toga at court, he was on his way outster. The outster for most was Scotland where the lord in question was condemned to wearing a kilt without underpants. One could get a chill and catch the flu.

Pretty soon Annie eased up close to Hal. She wanted a little kissie-poo as she called it. The king was real accommodating with the kissie-poo, but soon he was wanting more. He was wanting Annie to share her boudoir. She may have been the partyingest of party girls, but she wasn’t about to give Hal the key to her chastity belt for free. She’d heard stories. He even said, “Pleeeze with a cherry on top.” But Annie wasn’t about to give in.

“I’m not that kind of girl,” Annie said. She was not about to be easy, even for a king. Annie being Annie, she had found her Daddy Warbucks in Hal and that was all there was to it. Opportunity came knocking, and she was ready to open the door. But Hal had to purchase a ticket to walk through that door. And her ticket was not cheap. It was a 500 carat diamond wedding ring.

Hal was devastated. This was definitely a true love he had for Annie. He could feel it in the way down yonder. He said, “Don’t be a heartbreaker, Puddin’. Don’t you know I’m a hunka hunka burning love?”

Annie’s response was a smile and a few words. “I really would like to give you the key to my heart, Dumpling. But I will need a ringie-poo pretty please with pudding on it.”

Hal could give his Puddin’ the sable she wanted. He could give her an Astin Martin. He could even give her the Queen Mary. But that wedding ring was out of the question. He already had a wife. If Hal had been a Middle Eastern potentate, he could have potentated all over the place and married as many women as he wanted. Deep down in the heart of Texas, Hal wanted a harem.

His wife was Catherine of Aragon. Thing was, Cate was no Annie Boleyn. She had her daddy’s looks and her mother’s hygiene. Like her mom, Isabella, Cate hated to take a bath. She wasn’t partial to showers either. So the odor coming from her boudoir was a bit overpowering. Not in a good way. At one time, Hal sent in the fumigators. But the smell returned within a week. Add to that, Cate wore one of them smiles upside down. So much so she was called Sourpuss, or SP for short. She was the original SPCA, short for Sour Puss Cate of Aragon.

On top of everything else, each fortnight she walked around the castle like Hamlet’s ghost, mumbling, “I can’t get no respect.” It was true. Cate got no respect. Hal wanted a boy and all he got from Cate was a Mary.

“So what to do?” Hal asked himself one dark and stormy night. “What to do?” Then with a flash of brilliance it came to him. “I know. I will get a divorce,” Hal said, and he said it where everybody could hear.

“A divorce?” one courtster said.

“A divorce?” another courtster echoed.

When the echoing finally settled down, King Hal commanded the Pope to give him a divorce. After all, Hal was the Pope’s right hand man in England and Defender of the Faith. But the Pope wasn’t up to the job. He had other things on his mind. Like Cate’s brother, the King of Spain. King Charlie had an army close to Rome and he wasn’t hesitant in using it.

Besides that, it would set a precedent. Precedent is legalese for all those things that come before everything else and give folks permission to do a thing. Like, if you marry a virgin, she has to be a virgin in order to get a divorce. Cate was no virgin. She had a kid name of Bloody Mary. And, no, she was not mixed with vodka. Mary was a teetotaler all the way.

Pretty soon any earl or lord would want a divorce. Before you knew it, the papacy would be so overloaded there wouldn’t be any time left for infallibilities, bulls and indulgences. What if the Pope wanted to profligate a Papal Bull or two, he wouldn’t be able to rope the darn thing and ride him all the way to Rome. No, the Pope had decided. Divorce wasn’t going to happen. So Pope said, “No way. Pretty soon we’d be backed up with all that paper work.”

Hal’s motto was “Esse rex bonum est.” He had a coat of arms to prove it. Now he felt like he was in Nowheresville.

“What to do?” Hal asked everybody. “What to do?” he even asked himself. No one had an answer.

Then he received a letter from far far off. It was across the Channel. It was from Germany. Unfortunately it was written in German and no one could translate it. Hal and his subjects could barely read Latin. But German? Nobody, but nobody could do German. Then Hal realized, “My portrait painter Hans can. Yes, he can can, can he not?”

“Of course, he can can,”” a duke said. So did an earl. In fact, it was the Duke of Earl.

Hans translated the letter. It was from one Marty Luther. “Hal,” Marty wrote, “Is not your motto, esse rex bonum est? Of course, it is. It indeed is good to be the king. As king, you have the right to a divorce. If the Pope don’t like it, he can go out and start his own church. That’s what I did.”

Before Cate could spell it, she was singing D-I-V-O-R-C-E. When asked by a reporter years later about the whole thing, all she could say was, “Yes I have no bananas today.” There was even a rumor that she was zombified in her later years. But I think it was Mary, Queen of Scots, who pushed that gossip.

Anyway Hal got his divorce and a church to boot. He also got the key to Annie’s chastity belt. On their wedding day, King Hal increased every Englishman’s sheep allowance two-fold. That’s twice in today’s lingua franca.

For a while, Puddin’ and Dumpling were just as happy as two finches in a birdbath.

Well, y’all know what happened next. Annie gave Hal a Liz, not a Tom, Dick or Harry. And certainly not a Richard Burton. So his smile turned upside down. Annie delivered a girl. Yes, you heard that right. She gave birth to an eight pound two ounce little darling. Called her Elizabeth, or Bess for short. But oh boy, no boy.

Again Hal was what-to-do-ing all over the place. Then he came up with a plan. Let’s call it Plan B. Hal would get another divorce and then get married again. He already had a victim, I mean a queen picked out. After all, Hal could have the pick of the litter. And Jane Seymour, not the actress, but the daughter of John and Margery, was his Queen for a Day.

So what was Hal to do with Annie? Here’s where Plan Boleyn came in. Annie would be accused of consortin’ with those she shouldn’t be consortin’ with. Treason with a capital T. A trial, Then she would be singing “Going out of my head”. The executioner would do a Lizzie Borden.

But the truth was that Hal couldn’t bring himself to truly rid himself of Annie. She was his Puddin’. She was his One True Love. At the Archbishop of Canterbury’s suggestion, Hal got a sub for Annie. No one would know the difference. Except for the sub. Sub would wear a hoodie. Annie would hide out in a nunnery down the way. Only there weren’t any nunneries left in England. Instead Archbishop would start a Home for Wayward Girls and Annie would supervise. Then once a fortnight Archbishop would slip Annie in the back way to Windsor Castle and up to Hal’s room.

And that’s the real story. Not.

Divorce in America

Maggie and I had been married for three years when the word “divorce” first came up. There we sat on our screened-in back porch, gazing out at the soft summer rain, sipping glasses of iced tea, day dreaming as if we had forever.

Then Maggie turned to me. “Jack and Anise are getting a divorce. Anise says it’s for the kids.”

I looked over at her. “For the kids? Nobody gets a divorce for the kids.”

“That’s what I said. But she insisted.” She went back to studying the lawn. “You think we should plant a rose bush over there.” She pointed to the back corner.

“It’s okay with me. Remember you are the gardener. I have the black thumb.” I gave it some thought. Maybe roses would look good at the edge of the yard. “What kind of roses?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“I would have liked to be a fly on the wall when they told the kids. ‘We’re getting the divorce because of you kids.’ Bet that was one heck of a conversation.”

Maggie reached over to the pitcher on the table between us and poured herself another glass of iced tea. “She said the kids had pretty much figured it out. They were troopers about the whole thing.”

I swirled the ice in my glass with my finger. The cold felt good. “I thought they were the perfect couple. Who’ll be next? The pastor and his wife?”

“Naw,” she said. “It would mean his job.”

“As if that would be a bad thing. His sermons are so boring that the devil wouldn’t have a hard time recruiting our congregation Sunday mornings. Anything to get out of that sanctuary.”

She giggled, then said, “You’ve got that right. Why do we keep him?”

“Nobody wants to hurt his feelings.”

“If she’d only have an affair. She’s the type you know.”

My interest perked up. “What do you mean? She’s such a tight ass.”

“The ones you least expect, you know.”

“Are you saying?” I couldn’t imagine this. Helen, the preacher’s wife? Who’d have the gall to sleep with her anyway?

“I’m just saying.” She laughed. There were times I wasn’t sure if Maggie was joking or serious. This was one of those times.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I don’t know for sure. I have my suspicions though. Just call it woman’s intuition.” That closed that subject. She brings up woman’s intuition and I knew that was it.

“So when’s the big day?” I asked.

“The big day?”

“When is Jack moving out?”

“As soon as the kids go off to college this fall. He’ll be there when they leave. When they come home, he’ll be gone. He’ll be coming over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They’ll be one big happy family for the holidays.”

I shook my head. “That sounds nice and cozy. How long they been married? Twenty-three years and now they’re getting a divorce. And for the kids too. Did she say what she meant by that?’

“No,” she said, then leaned over and kissed my lips lightly. She had tears in her eyes.

I offered her my lap, then I held her, trying to fend off the fear I knew she was feeling. She said softly, “It’s Mom and Dad all over again. We kids go off to college and they get their freedom. Only it’s freedom from each other.” There was unforgiveness in her voice.

I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. I remembered the arguments between my parents. All the yelling, and they stayed together for us kids. At least, that’s what Mom told me at Dad’s funeral.

Maggie squeezed my arm and drew it closer around her. There we were, Maggie and I, sitting on the back porch of our new house and talking about divorce. Hoping it wouldn’t happen to us.

Do Socks Get a Divorce?

Inquiring minds want to know. Or at least this inquiring mind. I have a perfectly nice pair of socks. They look good. They feel good on my feet. There isn’t a soldier who wouldn’t like this pair of socks.

The pair would make a great companion for the long march ahead. After all, there are those in the know who say a battle is lost or won by the socks on a soldier’s footsies. Napoleon learned this the hard way. That was what defeated him in Russia. Not that he got cold feet, but that his soldiers had cold feet. They had holey socks.

You can see why this pair of socks I have brings me such comfort. Not only do they make me feel like I am walking on air, they make my feet smell good too. That’s no easy feet. I mean feat.

Last weekend I did laundry. Separated the lights from the darks. The whites from the lights. Put them into separate piles. ‘Fore you know it, my washing machine is going chug-chug-chug. Then my dryer is whirring away with my load of laundry. I open the dryer door, pull out the load, throw them into the basket, take them into the bedroom for sorting and folding.

At the end, there is only one sock left from the pair of those best socks. You know, the comfortable pair. The pair that look good. The pair that made my feet smell nice. Real nice.

I am frantic. Where’s the other sock? I hurry out to the laundry room, open the dryer door and hope against hope. No, it’s not there. I look in the washing machine. The sock isn’t there either. I trace my trail back to the bedroom where I once sorted. No sock.

So I give the sock remaining the inquisition. How did you do it? Did you poison your partner? Did you strangle her, then bury her among the lint? Then it hit me. Maybe it was a Sock Rapture. Maybe the Sock Jesus returned and claimed all the good socks. Yes, that had to be it. The reason for the disappearance. It could happen. Not.

If the Sock Jesus came and took all the good socks, why was this one sock the only one who disappeared. Were there no other good socks in the load? Was my sock drawer a regular Sodom and Gomorrah? I don’t think so.

No, it was looking more and more likely that something had come between the pair of socks. Maybe they had a fight and the female of the pair went home to mother.

They were such a handsome couple. Let’s call them Fred and Wilma. They seemed so happy. Deep down Wilma resented her lot in life. She deserved a sock much better than Fred. She was locked into a marriage she had come to despise, forced to stay home and clean house, babysit Pebbles and cook Fred’s Neanderthal dinners. When she wanted to go vegetarian, all Fred could spout out was “Meat. I want meat.” Then there was the Dino problem. He was the family’s pet dinosaur. Have you ever tried cleaning up dinosaur poop? As John Lennon once sang, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy.”

You get the point. Wilma Sock was deeply unhappy. She was a fine wine and caviar kind of girl and Fred was all pretzels and beer.

Then a day later, quite by accident, I discovered another sock missing. You know, those socks the tennis pros wear. This was a sock like that. Let’s call him Fabio.

After much investigation, I got to the root of the problem. Wilma found herself in the washing machine with Fabio. He was whiter than white and he was very unhappy with his partner. Her name was Betty. She had stains all over her. He wondered what had happened. When they were first dating, she kept herself spotlessly pure white. Then they married and she let herself go. She just didn’t seem to care anymore. When Fabio Sock saw an unhappy Wilma, he was smitten. She was something, taking pride in her appearance.

Fabio sang “Sock it to me” to Wilma’s, “Sock it to me.” Before Fred knew what had happened, Wilma ran off with Fabio to Sock Vegas. The couple got quickie divorces and remarried in twenty-four hours. It was like the dish running away with the spoon. As everybody knew, Fabio was a real stud and Wilma was a real dish, a very Socksy Lady.

Unfortunately there was no happily ever after for Fabio and Wilma. Wilma has triplets on the way and Fabio is laid up with tennis elbow. His pro career is over and he can’t even find a job in a pro shop at a country club.

In the meantime, Betty realized she needed some whitener. In the next wash, she had an extra dose of bleach. It worked. She was back to a perfect white. Fred and Betty met at a Speed Dating for Singles of the Socks Set get-together. They hooked up. Next thing you know Betty is a perfect housekeeper, loves to cook only meat, and is helping Pebbles, as a Girl Scout Daisy, earn her Golden Honey Bee Award. Fred got a new promotion. Mr. Slate retired and Fred is now General Manager of the Slate Rock and Gravel Company.

Oh, and one final thing. Fred and Betty have new neighbors in the drawer. Right next to them is what seems like a nice couple. Names are Barney and Wilma.