Jessie Darcy peeled off her yellow rubber gloves, took the last drag from her cigarette and stubbed it out in the sink. She gazed out the pitted window of her double-wide. The hovering mist, not yet burnt off, muted the golden cast of the soybean fields. She sighed, exhaled, coughed, then towel-dried her plate, her bowl and her coffee-stained Smyrna Bulldogs mug and pushed them back on the counter for later.
Two nights earlier, her husband Woody had finally kicked the bucket. She knew it was destined, no matter how much she warned him, wheedled him, begged him, screamed at him. He had rolled over his Ford pickup out on Sam Ridley Parkway on his way home from the roadhouse. The troopers told her a test had been done. "Sorry, ma'am. He was inebriated. Just thought you needed to know."
Thank God she wouldn't have to identify the body. One of the troopers - Cooper was his name - knew Haywood Darcy from way back when they were on the Bulldogs football team together until Woody blew out his knee. And, of course, they knew him from running him in for DWI's, though they usually cut him a break for old time's sake.
Jessie thought back to the good ol' times. There were some, though she realized they all involved drinking, carousing and the like. They never bothered with birth control - "It just don't feel right, Jess" - and Billie Jean came along lickety-split. But by then, Woody was working steady at the Duke Energy power plant over by the airport and he was able to put down ten percent on the double-wide.
Jessie lit another cigarette and stared out the window again. She played the words back in her head. Billie Jean had called early that morning out of the blue, said, "I heard about your husband," not once calling him Father or Dad. Finally said, "Sorry for your loss," then hung up.
Billie Jean had cleared out on her fifteenth birthday, some six years before. She had accused Woody of molesting her, of forcing himself on her. She had gone to her teachers, then her guidance counselor. Swore it had been going on for years. But Jessie claimed she'd walked in on Billie Jean screwing Royce Blackmun on the pull-out couch and had grounded her, then insisted that those false and horrible accusations were Billie Jean's way of getting back at her. After that, no one believed Billie Jean, even after the physical examination. The official investigation was put on hold after Billie Jean took off in the middle of the night, with her mother's 10-karat gold wedding ring and eighty-two dollars from her father's wallet.
Around dusk, Billie Jean called again. Said she'd decided to come to the funeral. "Do you need money? Maybe for bus fare?" ... "No, I can handle it." ... "You sure? You know I can send some." ... "No! Stop it!" Though all Jessie heard was "I don't want a goddam thing from you" as the line went dead.
The day of the funeral, Jessie was in her flannel robe daubing on makeup when there was the tire-crunch of gravel outside. She went to the screen door and watched as a taxicab pulled to a stop ... and Billie Jean?! stepped out of the cab ... reached back to ... take the hand of a little girl wearing a lavender party dress and Mary Janes ... who jumped out of the cab ... and brushed aside a blonde hair ... who looked around so innocent-like ... and said, "Is this where you used to live, Mommy?" ... and Mommy replied, "Yes, it is, honey" ... and fumbled in her pocketbook ... and handed the driver a couple of bills, saying "keep the rest" ... and waited for the cab to pull away ... and only then looked up at her mother, standing inertly behind the rickety screen door.
Billie Jean called out, "Aren't you gonna come on out and say hello?"
Jessie opened the door and stepped down. She stood before them motionless in her frowzy robe, half made-up, her hair still in curlers.
The little girl hid behind her mama, peeking out at this withered woman, this stranger. Billie Jean pulled her around. "C'mon, 'Nona. I'd like you to meet someone. Wynona, this is your Grandma Jessie."
Wynona stood still, wary, big-eying Jessie. Billie Jean knelt down, whispered in her ear. The little girl said, "It's nice to meet you, Grandma."
Jessie tried to hold back the tears, but couldn't. Her mascara began to streak. She got down on one knee, stretched out her arms.
"Go ahead, 'Nona. Give Grandma a hug." And Jessie drew Wynona close.
After a few moments, she allowed Wynona to pull away. To Billie Jean, she said, "So, uh, it's been over six years. What made you ...?"
"It's the right thing to do. But it's taken a helluva lot."
"Where've you been living? What's been happening with you?"
But before Billie Jean could answer: "And look at you. You look real good. You're all growed up."
"Yeah. I grew up too quickly, Ma. Way before I should've." Billie Jean motioned towards Wynona, who was scampering off towards a rusted swing set. "Don't get your dress dirty," Billie Jean called out.
"She's such a pretty little girl. She looks just like you when you were her age. And she's the spittin' image of your fa ..." Jessie felt stricken as the realization hit. "How old is Wynona?"
"Six and a half years old, Ma. Six and a half."
Rev 6 / February 18, 2010
February, 2010 Copyright © 2010, Lloyd B. Abrams