Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ain't No Sunshine


"Tell me about your wife..."

Gretna asked, having no idea what the question would bring up. It hung there in the bright afternoon and she noticed immediately that the easy posture of Roscoe had changed. It was like the bones in his face were struggling with the muscles, like they might pull from the skin all together.

People don't die like they do in the movies. They don't leave this earth with a perfect last statement. There is no angelic moment of clarity. There is only confused looks, lack of breath and a desperate gasping in fear and disbelief. Roscoe had seen people die in the years he spent in the Nam. He had seen a few more stateside, when he found himself at roadside accidents that seemed to find him like a curse. He wished he could drive by, but the medic in him made him stop, and made him help. It was a sore spot between he and Lilly. She hated stopping for stranded motorists and she detested how her life was disrupted by Roscoe's crusade. She had been a nurse in the war and when she came home she vowed to never have blood on her hands again. She never worked as a nurse again, and she never went back to school like she had dreamed as a girl. She wanted to live a quiet life, without the screams of young men echoing in her head. But Roscoe couldn't pass by anyone in need. He would forget whatever was going on in their life. The day would been spent getting parts for broken cars, ferrying people around that they didn't know, and on a few occasions, giving C.P.R. or keeping pressure on a wound.

"She was my angel."

Roscoe said as he looked out the window.

"You know all my life I always wondered about men that complained about their wives. Men that couldn't wait to get to a bar. These guys that say their wives gained weight, or nagged. I never tired of looking at my Lilly. Our lives weren't perfect and Lord, she used to get mad at me, but I never tired of looking at her. I never fought back when she got angry. Maybe I was just simple minded. Maybe I should have fought but, whenever she got upset, I just couldn't ignore how child like she became. I never forgot how much I loved her. I never forgot the good times. I couldn't get angry. Even when she was mad as the devil, I was still happy to be near her. We used to go hours without talking, we would sit and read or make dinner, we were always together. We would put on music and when a song came on that we loved, we would dance a little, you know? Just for a minute or two. No matter what was going on in our lives, she would look up at me and I'd remember those great days in Europe, driving around with nothing but a day and a map in front of us. She wore rose water perfume. I loved the way she smelled."

It was a beautiful day outside and Roscoe clinched his eyes together as hard as he could. The trauma always lurked right below the surface of his skin, just out of sight. Working on old things and making them run, held it all at bay. He would work himself into a walking coma and at the end of the day he'd eat, have a glass of wine and drift off to a place where he could still take Lilly for a turn around the dance floor. He would wake in a fog and move into another day.

"It was August twenty first, nineteen eighty five."

Roscoe gripped his hat like a rope and his hands twisted the fabric into a crumpled knot as he spoke.

"There was a lady standing next to her car on highway twenty seven. It was drizzling like it does ever summer day around three or four in the afternoon. We were on our way to a restaurant, it was our anniversary. She wore a special dress with flowers on it. I can remember it waving in the breeze, as we drove with the windows down. She held the dress in place with her hands and pushed the material down between her knees. She saw the car before I did and her face showed she was mad before I stopped. When I pulled over she asked me to just keep going, but the lady looked so lost and her hood was up. It was starting to rain harder and I told Lilly it would just be a minute. She slapped her purse against her legs when I got out. Her car was half in the slow lane and I told her to get in while I pushed it out of the way. I was preoccupied with trying to get her situated when I heard the tires sliding on the pavement. It was a weird sound like a fingernail on canvas, and then I heard the crash."

Roscoe pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his eyes. His head was down and his other hand held onto the hat for dear life. Gretna wished she had never asked, she wished she could pour them a drink, she wished she could get away. She stared spell bound at the man she hardly knew, lost in a story he didn't want to tell. He was powerless to stop it from running over the levy, and it spilled out of him like a violent wall of water that nothing could hold back.

"She looked fine, there was just a little goose egg on her head. When I got to her she was so confused and she looked up at me like she didn't understand what happened. The man in the truck that hit her was yelling at me and for a spilt second I thought we would be fine, she tried to say something, but the life ran out of her and she stopped breathing. I got her out and started C.P.R. I could hear her ribs breaking as I pushed on her chest. I gave her breaths and and pushed and checked her pulse. It went on forever until the fireman pulled me off her. I fell down there in the gravel next to the road. There wasn't any room for me in the ambulance. I could see them working on her. I prayed to God there on the side of the road. The last thing I can remember was seeing her dress move in the wind as they closed the doors. Those little flowers, white and purple, the radio was still playing. All she wanted was a nice dinner. She was all dressed up."

Roscoe let the tension leave his hands and he wiped his eyes. His chest rose and fell slowly as he returned to his world as it was now. He sighed and stared off to nowhere.

"August twenty first was the day we married, the happiest day of my life. The insurance company settled out of court and I got more money that I ever dreamed of getting, enough to live on forever. That's the joke God played on me. I didn't have to work anymore, but it was all I could do to stay alive.  I had to keep living. So everyday I get up, I try to fix something, I try to make it up to my Lilly. It ain't ever enough. The grass grows back, the dishes get dirty, the house gets painted and Lilly's still gone."

He hit his hat against his leg and a small cloud of red dust drifted away from him in the breeze.

"I'm sorry Gretna. I know you didn't.....I have to go."

Roscoe pulled open the screen door, walked through it and let it slam. His big feet dug into the gravel as he strode away to his car. She heard the old V.W. start up and he drove away, without waving.

Gretna plopped onto a stool and let out a deep breath. She pushed the cold coffee away from her, hit the counter with her hand and shook her head. It was such a nice day, a few minutes ago.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Diamonds and Rust


It was the scraping sound that Gretna noticed first and then the birds. Sounds you miss when in hospital. She smelled coffee on the stove and noticed chairs askew at the kitchen island. The house was a marvel. In the dungeon of bitterness she had built, she never dreamed that light could return to this house. The sun was beaming through the trees across St. Augustine road and she thought of the old days when she walked the old dirt paths. She wandered those fields with Kerry when hope of his return still hung in the air like a kite. She poured coffee and walked painfully to the porch supporting herself on furniture as she moved, to see the source of the sounds, coming from outside.

Roscoe was working a soft block sander on the curves of the old bus. The inside was gutted and transported back to his house piece by piece. The motor, rear end and transmission were nearly done. There was nothing left but to sand and massage the body. Roscoe lost himself bringing the old bus back to the smooth curvaceous beauty she was when she left Stuttgart back in 66. She was sea foam green with a white seats and matching door panels. Roscoe checked the numbers on her and found her whole story, just like him she had a long journey. He stood upright and stretched his aching back looking for low spots in the panel he had sanded.

Gretna lit her one and only cigarette for the day. She allowed herself one, and only one when the boys were not around. Life with no vice is no life at all, and so she hid a pack and kept one little secret connection to her former self.  She looked at the new railing and porch, and briefly thought of her fall back to grace. She was eating right, not drinking and her family was around her again. She went to physical therapy twice a week and met with a nutritionist once a month. She was thirty five pounds lighter and able to walk a little everyday. She had awakened from a spell. Fifteen years of bitter torment at her own hand had ended with a fall in dog shit. The dog looked like a show winner, after that Roscoe man nursed it back to health. Rooney sat wagging, waiting for an invitation to be petted. It was as if he had forgiven her, but still remembered the fire she used to spew at him. Dogs move forward, and Gretna had too. Being broken into pieces had afforded her the opportunity to be put back together again.

Roscoe was finally down past the body line, below the windows. All the corners were repaired, sanded and the floor was finished and primed. The fender wells were tough,  but now nothing stood between this bus being done and Roscoe except the vast expanse of sheet metal below the windows. It was mostly flat and easy going from here. Then the she would go to the body shop for paint rubber and windows. Roscoe heard Gretna calling from the porch and wondered how this would play out. They really hadn't spoken in the hospital, and he worried about what she might say. Kerry had told him a lot about the woman and most was not good. He clapped his hands together and a cloud of maroon dust expanded in front of him.

"Mr. Roscoe? Roscoe?"

Gretna called out to the garage and finally he appeared into the sun light. He patted his overalls shaking loose what ever dust that still hung to him and wandered out toward the porch.

"Thank you for the swing. And all of this."

She motioned around her and up into the air at all the improvements he had done around the house and property.

"Would you like a cup of coffee?"

He nodded and walked slowly to her. He used to get a lot more done when there was nobody around. Now he'd have to get to know her, and the solitude of working on the bus would be harder to find. But is was only a few more days and then the trailer would come. Once it was painted, it would be brought back to his house and he could put her right, in the silence of his shop. Just the Reverend Al Green, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, and Roscoe doing work. Roscoe liked it that way.

"I guess I have you to thank for amazing transformation around here, are you working on that old bus?"

Gretna poured the coffee while Roscoe rotated his hat in his hand in the doorway.

"Come in and sit down. Cream and sugar?"

Roscoe nodded yes and sat in the chair by the counter.

"How'd she pay for all this? I know Kerry doesn't have any money."

"Well, some of the wood came from the part that fell down, and there was some lumber out there in the garage. I had some things around my house, shingles and some paint. I never throw anything away that's useful. Kerry got some insurance money for some of it and I guess the money I paid her for the bus covered everything on the inside. She never told you about any of this?"

"No, I guess she wanted it to be a surprise, and she didn't want to argue about it. Well now, you have seen me half naked and I hardly know anything about you!"

Roscoe howled and laughed at her directness. He hadn't laughed in a long time and had a little trouble stopping. The vision of her and the comedy of errors when he found her was a fresh memory. It was all funny now that she had recovered. 

"Well I am sorry about that, it was a windy day and I am afraid that dress wasn't made for rough weather. I hope you are not embarrassed. I used to be a medic in the army and it's all just the human body to me. I must say I have seen some people that were tore up pretty good, but I don't think I ever saw someone covered in dog mess before!"

And he began to laugh again and this time Gretna joined him. She shook her head and looked out toward the yard.

"I must have been some sight all sprawled out like a turkey waiting to get stuffed! Dear Lord what an awful thing that was."

They began to talk and filled in the blanks in each others stories. They told the simple stories people tell when they meet. The easy stories that don't hurt. The stories that require little effort to bring up. They eased into the cold waters of their histories, each knowing the other had deep scars and long journeys that led to this little moment in a kitchen. A red bird landed on the new rail Roscoe built to replace the one Gretna fell through. It lit there for a moment outside the open window and twitched its head from side to side. They noticed the bird in unison and smiled as is flew off in a dart.