Needlework, The Novel
Julie completed the first draft of her novel, Needlework, in 1997. After discussions with her agent and a publisher, she began revising that draft until her illness made it impossible to continue. I have compiled the latest versions of Needlework I found in her files.
I am publishing that compilation of her novel, a chapter at a time in serial fashion, on AllanShowalter.com. All posted portions of Needlework can be accessed at Needlework – With Links To Published Portions.
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.
Needlework – Chapter 8: PDF Download
To download a PDF version of Chapter 8 of Needlework by Julie Showalter, go to Needlework: Chapter 8 – PDF
Needlework – Chapter 8: Manuscript
Needlework – Chapter 8
At seven Daddy started making calls. He called Aunt Baby, but she was already on her way. He called Aunt Maureen and got her just as she was heading out the door. Since there was no longer any rush, she said she’d wait until Uncle Henry finished morning chores and they’d both come. He called Uncle Ralph in Waco. He was too sick to come. Uncle Othel in San Antonio. He’d call back as soon as he got his schedule fixed. Every call started the same. “It’s Jimmy,” Daddy would say. “It’s all over. About three this morning. It was peaceful. Yes, I was there.”
Those calls were finished by 7:15. Then he called Mother. His part of the conversation wasn’t much different, but this time he wasn’t talking to a Hopewell so there was more talking on the other end. Daddy would listen, nod, and grunt, listen some more. “As soon as you can,” he said. “I love you, too.” Then he handed the phone to me.
“How is he?” Mother asked. “Is he drinking?”
“OK,” I said, aware of Daddy standing across the room. “We’re OK.”
“You’re OK too? Nothing’s bothering you?”
“Well, Mother, Uncle Clete just died. That bothers me a little.”
“Oh, Jan you know what I mean.” She lowered her voice. “You have to watch your father now. You know that. I’ll get there as soon as I can. I’m riding with your dad’s cousin Willie and I don’t know when he’ll leave. I’ll be there sometime during the night. Don’t let him out of your sight until I’m there to help you.”
I felt something choking me, something unfamiliar. I was angry at Mother. “We’re doing fine,” I said. We were. We were talking about things that were important to us. Now Mother was trying to get me back to talking about Daddy, not to him.
I changed the subject. “Would you call Richard and tell him what’s going on?” “I’m not sure it’s my job to act as your social secretary,” she sniffed.
“No, Mother, it’s not your job. I’m asking you to do me a favor.”
My tone startled her. “Of course I’ll call him, Sweetie. I just thought he’d want to hear from you. I’ll call him, and I’ll see you as soon as I can. I love you, Honey.”
I hung up and stood there stunned. I had made Mother treat me like an adult. Daddy watched me. “Everything OK?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I think it is.”
Aunt Baby came in at 7:30. She’d been to the hospital, so she knew. “About three o’clock,” Daddy told her. “He was breathing. Then he wasn’t.”
Nobody mentioned Pauline this morning. We were no longer eager for her to arrive. When she got here someone had to tell her that her father was dead.
I washed dishes while Granno, Aunt Baby, and Daddy sat around the kitchen table. “They said he’d be ready for viewing by two,” Daddy said. “We could have the viewing today and the funeral tomorrow, if people could get here.”
“That’s not respectful. Rushing him into the ground,” Granno said.
“All right, Saturday then,” Aunt Baby said. “That gives everyone who’s got to drive plenty of time to get here.”
Granno walked over to the calendar by the stove to mark the date. I wondered if she thought she was going to forget. “Oh, No! Saturday’s the fourth of July. It can’t be Saturday.”
“Mama,” Aunt Baby said. “It has to be. Either tomorrow or Saturday. People are driving from all over. They’ll need to get back to their lives on Monday. Anyway, a funeral should be within two days.”
“But the fourth of July. It’s just not proper. There’ll be a parade.”
“We’ll plan around the parade. I’m sorry, Mama. Clete died at an awkward time. We can’t help it.”
Daddy stood up. “I guess I better go tell Lila. Jan, you want to come with me?” He wanted me with him. “Sure.” I dried my hands on a dish towel. “I’m ready.”
We could see Aunt Lila through the screen door when we pulled into the driveway. She was in emerald pajamas, sitting at the kitchen table with her feet folded up under her, drinking coffee. She didn’t get up when we came in. The ashtray on the table was full of lipstick-stained cigarette butts. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.
“Did you call the hospital?” Daddy asked.
“No. I just had a feeling. I couldn’t sleep last night. He’s gone, right?”
“About three this morning.” Daddy sat down. “Jan, get me some coffee. Find something for your Aunt Lila to eat.”
I poured coffee, made toast, straightened the kitchen while they talked. “The funeral’s going to be Saturday,” Daddy said. “We don’t know the time yet. Whenever the parade isn’t.”
“I don’t think I’ll go to the funeral.” She held up her hand to stop Daddy’s objection. “No. I’ve thought this through. Jimmy, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to have to deal with your mother. One good thing about being divorced from Clete has been getting free of that old woman. I know she still hates me, but she can hate me from a distance.”
“You’re Clete’s widow,” Daddy said. “You were married almost twenty-five years. I’ll talk to Mama.”
“No. I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to go through this. Either I’ve done my duty to Clete Hopewell or I haven’t. I’m not going to make a fool of myself at his funeral just to prove I loved him.”
“What about Pauline? She’ll need you there.”
“Pauline is a grown woman. She has Fred and she has you and Ida. I’ll be here for her before and after the funeral. I’m just not going to that funeral.”
Daddy went outside, stood on the porch with his back to the screen door. “I told Mama Clete’d be ready for viewing at two. He’ll really be ready at one. If you want to go see him, I’ll make sure no one interrupts you before two.”
“Thank you, Jimmy. I wouldn’t mind saying good-bye to him by myself.”
Aunt Baby was polishing the already shiny countertop when we got back to Granno’s. “The funeral home’s called three times,” she said. “They need decisions made and papers signed. You know what they said the last time they called? ‘We can’t guarantee your time and space until you get this taken care of.’” She opened a cabinet and started moving drinking glasses around. “Do you think there’s been an outbreak of deaths in Eunice, Texas, in the past few hours so that people are standing in line trying to grab our prime Fourth of July funeral time?”
Daddy grinned. “I doubt it.”
“If there was any place else in town to use, I’d move Clete right now.” She slammed the cabinet door.
Before she could attack the refrigerator, Daddy said, “We might as well get on over there. I told Lila she could see him at one. I don’t want her to come out for nothing.”
I sat on the front porch and watched Aunt Baby and Daddy get Granno into the front seat of the Olds. When they pulled away, I looked at my watch. Nine-thirty.
I put my head on my knees. I was tired and sad and I was angry too. Angry at Uncle Clete for waiting until the day before he died to tell me he loved me. Angry at Daddy for waiting until sixty and one-half days before the wedding to tell me he didn’t think I should get married.
Angry at Mother for being so perfect she could never understand what happened at Winchester. “I know just what you’re going through,” she’d told me when I couldn’t get a boy to go to a Girl Scout skating party with me. “Once I made dates with two boys for the same event. You can’t be any more embarrassed than I was then.”
And I was angry at Richard for — well, for having every last detail of our lives planned out so that any girl could be plugged in, just as long as she liked blue gingham and had good hips.
And angry at Aunt Baby because Uncle Clete wanted to give me something and she said to let it lie. Well, maybe I’d figure it out without anyone telling me. Maybe I was smart enough to solve any puzzle they ut to me. This man’s father is my father’s son.
And angry because everyone was so concerned about Pauline. And more than anything, angry at Uncle Clete for being dead.
It took a minute for the woman’s voice to register. “Jimmy Ray’s girl. Yoo Hoo. Little Hopewell.” I looked up. It was Mrs. Hersey, from next door. “Why, Honey, you’re crying,” she said. She pulled a Kleenex out of her belt and handed it to me. “Well, of course you’re crying. It’s a sad day.” She was carrying a large cake stand. “Here’s a tunnel of fudge cake. I’m sorry to be so late with it, but I didn’t have all the ingredients. I had to wait to start it till the Piggly Wiggly opened. Folks just love this cake. It won the Pillsbury bakeoff last year. I thought of making angel food; I could have had that over here by seven, but what kind of fool brings angel food to your grandmother’s house when she makes the best one going? No. Tunnel of fudge, and worth the wait. Mark my words.”
I struggled to focus on my responsibilities. I was the official hostess at the moment. “Would you like to come in? I’m the only one here right now. I could make some iced tea.”
No, Honey, that’s real sweet, but I don’t want you to bother. Just wanted to get this cake by. Be careful with it. It’s still hot. You tell Leona I stopped by and that I’m right sorry about Clete. And you tell her I’m praying for her.”
I knew what Granno would say if I told her Mrs. Hersey was praying for her — “Let her pray for herself if she’s got extra time to pray.” Granno had hated Mrs. Hersey ever since she moved in ten years before. She hated her for being loud and for bragging on her children. And for yelling out her kitchen window into Granno’s when she had something to tell her. And especially, Granno hated Mrs. Hersey for calling her Leona. Mrs. Hersey was, at the very least, fifteen years younger than Granno, and the day they met, she just said, “Nice to meet you, Leona,” without a by-your-leave. Granno always called Mrs. Hersey “Mrs. Hersey.”
I took the cake into the kitchen, wondering what we would all have for lunch. But it was as if a parade had lined up behind Mrs. Hersey. The doorbell rang before I put the cake down, and the food started to arrive.
Somehow, through some unknown telegraph, the word had gone out. Clete Hopewell, the third boy, you know — the wild one — Clete Hopewell was dead. Such a shame. A young man, not fifty yet — I’m sure of it. In the same class as Junior Lantroop. Couldn’t have been fifty. As nice as any ole’ boy you ever met. But he had that wild streak. Loved the
whiskey and he loved the ladies, no doubt about that. And he could cook. You ever have those corn dodgers he invented? Good looking man. Real good looking. God’s will, I guess. Can’t question God’s will. I’ll miss those corn dodgers. A real shame.
Uncle Clete died about three a.m., and by ten o’clock food started to arrive. What did these women do? Hear that Uncle Clete was dead, hang up the phone and grab an apron? People brought food to the door. Most didn’t want to come in, or if they did, it was just to put their dish in the kitchen. I got the routine down quickly. “I’m Jimmy Ray’s girl,” I said, “Jaynice Ray.” “Yes, it’s a shame.” “Yes, it’s a blessing.” “Yes, he’s in God’s hands now.” “No, his daughter didn’t get here in time.” “Yes, a shame.” “Thank you for the pie, the cake, the casserole. Is your name on the dish?” “Yes, I’ll tell Granno you came.” “Yes, I’ll tell Daddy you came.” “Yes, I’ll tell Aunt Baby you came.” “Aunt Lila? Of course I’ll make sure Aunt Lila knows you came.”
The food would come in a steady stream for two days. Some women brought food Thursday morning, picked up their dishes Friday, and brought them back filled again on Saturday. Apple pie, cherry pie, pecan pie, Cousin Rita’s Jeffy Davis chess pie. Jell-O with fruit cocktail, Jell-O with bananas, Jell-O with whipped cream and crushed pineapple.
Angel food cakes, devil’s food cakes, coconut cakes with seven-minute frosting. Three tunnel of fudge cakes. Rice Krispie squares.
Fried chicken prepared by women who knew how to stretch a meal during lean times, cut up to get as many servings as possible. Each wing yielded three pieces. The backs were cut into quarters. One cook deep fried the chicken’s feet.
Meat loaf and tuna casserole. Two green bean casseroles with cream of mushroom soup and canned onion rings on top. Chopped broccoli mixed with Velveeta. Fried okra, stewed okra, tomato and okra casserole.
Starches and fats and sweets and grease — comfort foods to help us as we grieved. The people brought them and we wandered through the kitchen filling paper plates with absurd combinations which soothed us. Food for the living.
Aunt Baby was hopping mad when she, Daddy, and Granno came back from the funeral home. “The nerve,” she said. “The very nerve. ‘Who will sign the note?’ — sign a note! ‘How much can you put toward expenses today?’ And those caskets! Pay $3,000 or get one that looks like cardboard and still costs $300. There’s nothing else. And then he says, ‘If you’re not happy here, we can arrange to have Mr. Hopewell’s remains transferred for a fee.’ Like we’re going to shuffle Clete all over the Panhandle looking for the cheapest deal.”
Granno wailed. “I don’t know how we’ll pay. I’m a poor old widow woman. They should give discounts to poor old widow women.”
“For goodness sakes, Mama,” Aunt Baby snapped. “Who do you think they deal with every day?”
Daddy choked and turned toward the door so no one would see him laughing. The noise that escaped from me sounded like a surprised chicken. Even Aunt Baby cracked a smile when she realized what she had said.
Granno didn’t miss a beat. “What about veteran’s discounts? Jimmy, you get them to give us a veteran’s discount. I’ve heard about those. You can get a free grave.”
“Clete wasn’t a veteran,” Daddy said..
“Well you were. Get them to give us your plot.” “I don’t think it works that way.”
“Well then, let’s put in the paper that instead of flowers the family would like money to pay for the funeral.”
Daddy said, “We can’t do that, Mama.”
“Why not? You see it all the time — give to the cancer society, give to the heart society. Well, we need it more than they do. We’ll say, ‘give to the family.’”
Aunt Baby stepped out to get the mail from the carrier who was climbing the steps. She slapped it down on the desk. “We’re not going to do that, Mama. Clete would be mortified. I would be mortified. We are not going to do it.”
Granno turned her attention to the mail. “A day late and a dollar short. Isn’t that the way?” she said, holding up Uncle Clete’s social security check. Here, Jimmy, you sign it.” She pushed it at him. “We’ll say it came yesterday and he signed it before he died.”
“I can’t do that. It says right on the check you can go to jail for doing that. Anyway, it may not legally be our money.”
“It’s $185 we’re just going to throw away.” He voice drifted off, as if she were a child talking to herself. “Just throw it away. Like we have money to throw away.” She gave a start, visibly pulling herself back, and turned to me. “Jaynice Ray, you sign it. Your handwriting’s so much like Clete’s no one could tell them apart. We need that money!”
I looked at Daddy. “Jan’s not going to sign it.” His voice was ice. “Calm down, Mama,” Aunt Baby said. “We’ll manage somehow. Pauline and Fred may be able to pay for everything. We don’t know. We’ll manage. This isn’t good for you to be so upset.”
Aunt Baby led Granno to her chair and put her crocheting in her hands. She sat there muttering while Daddy and Aunt Baby discussed the time for the funeral — ten o’clock — and when people would start arriving. “Mildred will be in during the night. I don’t expect anybody else much before tomorrow morning,” Daddy said. He seemed to have forgotten Pauline.
Aunt Baby said, “There’s some of Mama’s relatives we should notify, I guess. And Uncle Herbert, of course.”
Granno was still thinking about money. “Well, maybe we’ll get enough from the ring to cover the funeral, but I don’t know how much of the hospital bill we’ll have to pay.”
I held my breath.
“Nobody’s going to sell Clete’s ring,” Daddy said. “Clete specified where it would go.” Did I imagine that Daddy was avoiding looking at me?
“Well, Clete wasn’t much worried about money the last few days, was he? But we have to worry, don’t we?”
“The ring is staying in the family.” Daddy’s tone said the argument was closed.
Granno sputtered. Her hands fluttered in her lap. She was losing control of her children. In a single morning one of them had died and two others had defied her. She walked toward her room, muttering under her breath. It sounded like she said “proud got the cuckoo.”
“Try to get some rest, Mama,” Aunt Baby said, following her. “Let me help you with your shoes.”
Daddy went to the front door and watched two little boys ride by on bicycles. “We’re going to have a lot of people coming.” He turned and smiled at me. “We’re going to need some rolls. How about it?”
“Sure. I’ll go to the grocery store. How much yeast?” “Let’s do three packets.”
Daddy’s rolls, or more accurately Daddy’s and Uncle Clete’s rolls, were famous. They weren’t anything fancy — just simple yeast rolls — but people always said they were the best they ever tasted. It wasn’t that there was a secret recipe; the whole point was that there wasn’t a recipe. When people asked, Daddy always said, “You can find a recipe for yeast rolls in any cook book. Use that.” But people insisted that his rolls were better. He let people watch him make them, let them measure what he put in, but their rolls never turned out as good. He tried to show a few people, people he wanted to take the time with, but none of them mastered it. No one besides me ever came close.
The real recipe for the rolls started, “Roll up your sleeves past the elbows,” for the secret to Daddy’s rolls was to do each stage until the dough felt right. “I don’t know how much flour I use,” Daddy said. “It’s different if it’s raining. It’s different in the winter. It’s different in Missouri than it is in Texas. You just add flour until it feels right. Get your hand in there and squeeze,” he told me. “See how that feels? Add flour till it feels like this.”
Because yeast came in packets, it was where the recipe started. We used one packet if we were cooking for our family, two if it was for a holiday dinner, three for a crowd. Daddy and Uncle Clete had made rolls together about ten thousand times, and on the day Uncle Clete died, Daddy wanted to make rolls with me. I felt the bond again that I felt the first evening in the hospital — that somehow Daddy and Uncle Clete would stay connected through me. That I was a Hopewell.
I drove Daddy’s car to the Piggly Wiggly. I’d washed my hair and put on makeup. If I saw David Baxter I wouldn’t be embarrassed. If I ran into him in the grocery store, I’d be a grownup. “Have you heard the news?” I’d ask. “About three this morning. Yes, we’re so sad. Visitation is at three.” Whether I saw him in the grocery store or not, sometime he’d have to pay his respects. I’d be ready this time.
On the way back, I told myself it was immature to feel guilty for thinking about David. Other girls had told me that right before they got married they thought about old boyfriends. I didn’t really have any old boyfriends — Richard was the first boy I ever dated more than a couple of times. So, it was normal for me to be interested in someone I had pretended was my boyfriend. Anyway, David was a childhood friend with attachments to my family. It would be unusual if I didn’t look forward to seeing him. Richard would like him too. Maybe David could visit us sometime. I pictured Richard, David, and me sitting around the kitchen table in the Little House. They would talk about milk production, and I would — I swallowed hard, filling in the rest of the picture. I would cook and serve and wash dishes and have nothing to say.
I turned onto Granno’s block, and saw another car had parked in the driveway, a flashy blue LTD. Aunt Baby’s car was in front, so I had to park a house away. I walked toward the new car, both arms full of groceries.
California plates. Pauline was finally there. I let the screen door slam behind me, and stood in the doorway, blind in the darkness. As my eyes adjusted, I could tell that two people were sitting on the couch. Daddy held Pauline while she cried. I waited for them to notice me, but neither of them looked up.
The daughter is here. Nobody’s going to notice you anymore. I walked past them into the kitchen.
Pauline’s husband Fred leaned against the sink with a paper plate of meat loaf and olives. I’d met him once, at their wedding, but I knew he wouldn’t remember me. He was older than Pauline, a lot older it seemed when they got married — twenty-seven to her nineteen. Everyone had said he was a looker back then. He still was.
“Hi, I’m Jan,” I said, putting down the groceries. He nodded. “What time did ya’ll get in?” “Eleven o’clock. About twenty minutes ago.”
“We expected you sooner.”
“I’m aware of that. Believe me.” He put his glass down on the cabinet, hard, and walked out onto the back porch.
I took the groceries out of the bags and got out mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons. The top of the range was warm where the oven pilot light vented. It was a perfect place for the rolls to rise. Pauline had never been interested in cooking. When Daddy and I made rolls, she’d be the outsider.
Daddy came into the kitchen. He buttered a slice of banana bread and grabbed a chicken leg, then leaned against the counter eating. “Baby and I are going out to the cemetery.
There’s two plots close to Granddaddy and we need to pick one. We’ll be gone a while. We’re going to clean up Granddaddy’s place while we’re there.
“We’ll make the rolls when you come back?”
He looked blank for a minute. Then said, “That’s just foolishness. Look at all this food coming in. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“But I got the stuff, and people love — ”
“If you want rolls, go ahead and make them,” he said and walked out of the room.
When I was seven, we visited a neighbor who had a new milk cooler. Daddy held me up to look over the edge and dropped me into the thirty-four-degree water. He thought it was funny. He never realized that hearts could stop from such sudden coldness. All the familiar feelings came back. You’ll never please him. He’ll never love you. Now that Pauline was here, he wouldn’t have time for me.
I spent as much time as I could putting groceries away, putting back the mixing bowls, wiping off the counter tops. Daddy and Aunt Baby said good-bye to Pauline in the living room, and I heard the screen door bang behind them. I looked for things to do in the kitchen. I wanted Pauline to walk in and find me in charge of things.
But she didn’t come, and I felt more and more awkward as the minutes passed. Finally, I gave up, dried my hands and walked into the living room.
She was sitting sideways on the couch with her head resting against the back and her eyes closed. The light coming in the window behind her made her hair blaze, a bright, dramatic red, not a tentative red like mine. When I was twelve and she was sixteen, I would place myself where I thought she had to see me, had to talk to me. I’d plan clever things I was going to say to her. Here I stood again, waiting for her to notice me. I cleared my throat, but there was no reaction. She must be asleep. I was tiptoeing away when she put her arms over her head and stretched.
“Oh, hi Jan,” she said,. “I’m really beat. It was a long drive.” She patted the seat next to her, but I stood firm. “Thank you for being here,” she said. “I know you helped Daddy and, of course, it’s been good for Jimmy to have you with him.”
Blood surged to my face. It was one thing for her to assume I was a fill-in with Uncle Clete, but to thank me for helping my own daddy was sheer arrogance.
“I couldn’t get here,” she said. She started to cry again. “I swear I did everything I could to get here sooner, but there was nothing I could do. I’m glad someone was here for him. Thank you.”
She looked up at me, and the sun hit her face. She looked older, a lot older than twenty- three. Her eyes were swollen and there was a deep crease between her eyebrows — it would be like Granno’s in time. Her whole face was puffy and rubbery. No one would say she was beautiful anymore. She raised her arm to push her hair off her face and her sleeve fell back. There were bruises, like finger marks on the inside of her arm.
“I’m glad I could help out,” I said.
She stood up and hugged me. In my family grownups hug kids and grownups hug each other. Kids don’t hug other kids. I felt a little like a small girl playing movie stars. But Pauline’s hug marked a change. She greeted me as an adult.
We sat on the couch facing each other. She pulled out a cigarette and offered me one.
“No thanks, I don’t smoke.” I sounded like a prissy twelve-year old. Right then I wanted nothing more than light a cigarette, inhale, stare at the smoke, tap the ash. You didn’t have to talk if you were smoking. I stared at the floor while Pauline went through the routine. After she let out her first deep inhale, she said, “Well, I know you’ve been a comfort to everybody. Grandmother Hopewell even mentioned it.” Pauline, like all of Granno’s grandchildren besides me, called her Grandmother Hopewell. Mother told me about Granno drilling me when I wasn’t even two, over and over, “Say ‘Grandmother Hopewell,’” and me crying, trying my hardest and coming out with “Granno.” But Daddy thought the nickname was funny, and once he called her “Granno,” she decided to tolerate it. She now forced “Granno” on her great-grandchildren with the same determination as she had forced “Grandmother Hopewell” on me. So far they all called her “Nonny.”
“Oh? What did she say?”
“She said you were almost as much help as Quilla would have been.”
I shook my head. Quilla was the only granddaughter Granno liked, and she was always being held up as a model to the rest of us. Pauline started to giggle, and then I did too. Suddenly we were both laughing out loud. The more we laughed, the funnier it was. I held my stomach, and rolled from the couch to the floor. Tears streamed down Pauline’s face. “Oh my god, we’ve got to stop this,” she said. But we couldn’t.
I looked up. Fred was standing in the kitchen door. Pauline turned around to see what had stopped my laughter.
His mouth turned down and his eyes narrowed. Probably the way he looked when he stopped drunk drivers. Pauline’s eyes moved from him to the floor, darted around the room. She picked at the prickly upholstery on the couch. “Fred, it’s not what it looks like. It’s — ”
Fred smiled, the opposite of a Hopewell smile — his mouth turned up but nothing else in his expression changed. “I know what it is, Babe. You’re just letting off a little tension. I understand. Believe me.” He walked over and bent and kissed her on the mouth. “I’m going to run along now. I’ll be over at Bub’s in Hale Center.” He ran his hand through her hair and pulled her head back so she was looking at him.
“When will you be back?” Pauline asked. He stared at her and her voice dropped, “People will want to know.”
“Well, you tell people that I’ll be here for the funeral. Ten o’clock on Saturday, right? I’ll see you girls then.”
Pauline didn’t say a word as he walked across the room and out the front door. Through the window we saw him open the trunk and put Pauline’s suitcases beside the car. “Your bags are out here, Babe,” he yelled. We heard his tires squeal around the corner.
Pauline pulled out another cigarette. She had to use both hands to hold her lighter steady. She squinted against the smoke, and for a minute looked just like Uncle Clete. Then she picked a piece of tobacco off her tongue and looked like Aunt Lila. Then she stood up and paced the room, and looked like Pauline again. “I need to get out of here,” she said. “I need to see Mother.”
I gave her the keys in my pocket. “Take Daddy’s car. He won’t mind.”
“Yeah. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll get it back to him later. I’ll take my things to Mother’s house. I don’t want to stay here.”
I helped her carry her suitcases to Daddy’s car. She got in and pushed buttons like she was born driving cars with electric seats.
I hoped Granno would sleep until Daddy and Aunt Baby got back. I didn’t want to be the one to tell her that Pauline had gone to Aunt Lila’s. I checked my watch. Twelve-thirty. Richard might be in the house for lunch. I needed to talk to him, to be reminded of how good and steady he was, how glad I was to be marrying him.
He answered on the second ring and accepted the charges. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
“Uncle Clete’s dead.”
“I know. Your mom called this morning.” I could feel him calculating the cost of the call.
“I just wanted to talk to you.” In the silence that followed, I could imagine him thinking, so talk. I said, “I wanted to hear your voice.”
“Oh.” After a short silence, he said, “You know that couch you liked at Lowrey’s? I put it on lay-away. We probably won’t be able to get it before the wedding, but I thought you’d like to have something to your taste in the house.”
He had noticed I was upset about the curtains after all. “Thank you. That means a lot.” He cleared his throat. “So when’s the funeral? Your mom didn’t know.”
“Saturday. Saturday morning.”
“Would you like for me to come? Dad could do without me for a couple of days.”
“No!” I tried to cover the strength of my reaction. “You’ll just wear yourself out for nothing. Thanks though. Look, I don’t really have anything to say. We’ll be back sometime Sunday evening, I think.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
I know. “I love you, Richard.” “You too. Bye.”
Each one of the past three days seemed like a week and this one was barely half over. I went in the kitchen and filled a paper plate. I sat alone at the table and looked at what I was eating — red Jell-O, potato salad, banana pudding with vanilla wafers, watermelon pickles. When I finished that, I had a glass of milk and some tunnel of fudge cake.
Note: Originally posted Sept 27, 2007 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com