By Nita Wilson
Norma sat on the ground next to the fresh grave and spoke to her dead husband as if he was sitting across the kitchen table.
“The washing’s done and I hung your work shirts in the closet; I’ll iron them when I get back this afternoon. Supper will be on the table at five and the tomatoes have been weeded. I hope that pleases you. I’ve done my best today.”
She sat picking at blades of grass holding in her smile as she didn’t want to appear ‘uppity’ as her husband used to yell at her. But she was always happy when she could tell him she had finished all the tasks he’d given her to do. She had to admit, the daily tasks were a lot easier to complete since he was dead and out of her way. Just knowing there would be no more beatings and no more yelling made her smile in spite of herself. She was finally catching on; he wasn’t coming home to yell and spit his fire at her. The first week she couldn’t believe he was really dead. No way in hell was he going to leave and let her go without killing her first, but in the last couple of weeks he hadn’t returned from the grave, he hadn’t appeared in her sleep and he hadn’t surprised her in the tub as he had so many times in their many years together. He was gone and he wasn’t coming back. She could stop washing the clean work shirts and having supper ready every day at five o’clock on the dot. She didn’t like eating that early, but her likes were never an issue with him. He wanted to eat at five and by damn she would either eat at five or wear her food in her lap.
Suddenly she was afraid. She was alone and she was lost. Without him to tell her what would to do how would she get by? She believed him all the years he told her she would be lost without him. Her stupidity would be her downfall, she had believed it for so long, she had to stop and think. Deep down, deep, deep down in her soul she knew he was right. She was a stupid woman who wouldn’t be able to make it without someone as all knowing as her husband. She was glad they had no children to witness her down fall, her destruction, her falling into some abyss of ignorance and ending destitute and lonely.
She got her checkbook out of her purse and opened it. The insurance money had been doubled with the help of Ms. Brian at the bank. Her mortgage was paid off at the death of her husband and her bills were set to be paid from the bank each month, from the interest of her money. She had to think about this. According to Ms. Brian, she’d never have to pay another bill and would have more than enough money to live comfortably the rest of her life and travel if she so desired. Travel, where would she go? She was sure she wasn’t smart enough to travel on her own, maybe she could take someone with her, but who? She had no friends, they weren’t allowed in her life. Her family long stopped having anything to do with her, her husband made sure of that. When she was young and first married she packed her things and moved home when he gave her the first black eye. She remembered the day well, walking up on the big porch with such joy at being free from him and home again. She couldn’t wait to feel her mama’s arms around her telling her everything would be alright. She would help her mama put up jams and plant tomatoes… but it hadn’t worked out like that.
“Frank called us, Norma. Why you running back here with your tail between your legs; you have a husband who loves and needs you. He’s worried to death.” Her mama met her at the front door.
“What’d you do gal, to make your husband mad enough to slug you?” Her father asked pushing past her mama.
That was the day her heart broke into a million pieces; not from the black eye and the bad words from a husband she thought loved her, but her mama and daddy blaming her for her husband’s outrageous behavior. She felt a deep betrayal, a betrayal so deep and sorrow filled, she knew she would never get over it. She turned and walked back down the front steps and took the first bus back to her husband. From that day on she knew she must have done something horrible to warrant her husband’s disappointment in her and through the years worked to right the many wrongs she did on a daily basis.
Gerry looked across the cemetery at a woman sitting next to a grave, stood up from his wife’s grave and took his hat from off her tombstone. Just that day the police told him he was no longer a suspect in his wife’s death. The coroner declared her death an accident after being shot in the head while Gerry was cleaning his gun. Gerry would be lying if he said he wasn’t happy about the report. He felt bad enough that things had gotten that out of hand the night he killed his wife. He’d aimed the gun at her before when she did something so stupid he lost his temper, but this time he went that extra step and pulled the trigger. It was her fault, damn it. She knew he hated biting into a piece of fried chicken and finding blood. She knew not to rile him when he was tired from working all day; would it have killed her to make sure the damned chicken was done? He’d told her so many times he was sick of telling her, but she was just too stupid and needy to listen. He was sorry now though. He missed her. He could have been kinder to her. She did try as best she could, but she just didn’t get him. She had never understood him at all. He just picked the wrong woman. He missed her though. Her heart was in the right place and he missed having clean clothes and supper on the table when he got home and God knows he missed her in his bed.
He was hungry; maybe he’d stop by the diner and eat a hamburger before going home to watch “Wheel of Fortune”. Besides, without Beth, the game show wasn’t fun anymore. She was real good at guessing the words two seconds before the contestants. He turned in the direction of the parking lot and noticed the woman lamenting a flat tire.
“Need some help, Mam?” He asked in his best man-to-the-rescue voice.
Norma turned to the man walking up to her car and gave him a nice smile.
“I’ve never had to do this before. Frank took care of things like this. I’m helpless when it comes to car fixin’s.” She laughed nervously.
“We’ll have you fixed up in no time. You got the key to the trunk?” He asked and walked around to the back of the car. He wondered if her husband was in the cemetery with Beth. Why else would she be out here at supper time.
Beth wondered if he was as nice as he seemed. Frank would have been yelling and cursing at her for getting the nail in the tire. This man was gentle and helpful. She’d bet he’d never yelled at a woman.
Once the tire was fixed he wiped his hands on the towel she kept in the trunk and cleaned between his fingers while glancing at her standing next to the back door.
“You from around here?” He asked as he put the towel back in the trunk and closed it.
“Yes. My husband and I live over by Potter’s Creek. Well, at least, I live over by Potter’s Creek, my husband’s buried over there under the big willow. He just died a month ago.” She clutched the neck of her blouse with one hand and smoothed the strands of hair from her forehead.
“My wife’s buried over there by the fence. Just two weeks ago. I miss her somethin’ terrible.” He took his hat off and held it in both hands… it seemed like the proper thing to do talking about his dead wife and all.
“My name’s Norma Hatten.” She said and extended her hand.
“I’m Gerry Potter. How you do, Mam.” He took her hand and shook it gently.
“Well I better go, I left supper on the stove.” She turned to get in the car and turned back. “You want some supper? I got plenty.” She blanched; what the hell had she just done?
“You a good cook?” Great, open with an insult, Gerry thought to himself.
“I’m told I am.” Please let him say no, she prayed to herself.
“I’d love some Mam, or we could go to the diner and get a burger.” This was more like it. He was getting a second chance with a nice woman. This time would be different. This time he’d watch his anger and be nice.
“Whichever you’d like, Mr. Potter, either one is fine with me. It’s up to you.” She was getting a second chance and this time with a nice man. She would be so nice and accommodating, there’d be no need for him to yell. He seemed like a nice gentle fellow and she would love the company.