"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.