I'm going to do my best to relate this to you as I remember, word for word, if I can.
I had my first kiss with Trace last night. I’m sure she considers me some kind of old-world gentleman for not taking it further. We both felt the crackling electricity, it was unmistakable, striking either at just the right time, or just the worst. I don’t know for sure which one I’m at. It’s a turning point, but I’m not ready to go.
She is ready to go.
She leaves me happy. I am afraid to feel too much.
Mrs. Purifoy was sitting in a funk this morning. I sang I Need Thee Every Hour because she likes the old hymns and she brightened, even joined in. She has a high, tinny pitch and she tries to harmonize every song, which makes it other-worldly, like a pair of divining rods coming together to bring the spirits over the veil. She wears a crocheted shawl out of bed, one her daughter made in grade school, she says. She remembers Miranda fondly even though she passed on from cancer many years ago.
Miranda’s husband, Harold, was fast friends with Red, and no wonder. They’re both degenerates. Harold is a money-grubber like his brother-in-law only less polished as he’s usually three sheets to the wind when he comes over. I put myself about Mrs. Purifoy to protect her from the scumbags whenever they come around.
Today, she asked if I could stay for dinner, and so I did, making hot fried chicken, hot enough she could actually taste her food for a change.
“Get me my Prilosec, Eddlin, this is gonna give me a heart-burn,” she said with a great big smile that made me proud to be spending time in her company.
“You look something between happy and sad today. A smile is an improvement to your constitution, son. Now tell me why.”
I was unmoved by her at first. She has an uncanny ability to swiftly zero right to the heart of the matter, a skill I suppose she picked up from sitting for so many hours on the porch. An active mind with no good legs to move itself.
Her world is encompassed by me, Red, occasionally Harold, plus the grocery boy and finally, Mattie, the home health aide who was her best friend, or BFF. “BFF, that means Best Friend,” she would say.
Red always piped up, “Forever” when she said it, as though poking at his mother was what she deserved for caring for his every whim the cradle on.
“Yes, it does,” I’d reply to her, shooting Red a look. “And I’m mighty glad you have a B-F-F, ma’am.”
Not to miss a beat, she wanted to sort through her bric-a-brac while I told her about my new lady friend. She gave me a little wink. Sharp as a tack.
I pulled down the boxes from the coat closet and laid the contents on the coffee table a box at a time. The first contained Miranda’s high school year book. In the picture, she had big bangs, the kind that took a host of curlers and hairspray to elevate. She smiled in her Olan Mills pictures, chin slightly raised, side-postured and tanned. She looked happy.
After a while, Mrs. Purifoy asked me again, and I thought it bad mannered to keep delaying. As you know, I always err on the side of caution when revealing personal details.
“I do not have long to live,” Mrs. Purifoy had prodded once I’d gotten lost in thought. “I think if you have the conversation on the outside of your head, it goes much better.”
“She is a special girl. I can’t stop thinking about her.”
“You’re a teenager again! I knew it! Oh, isn’t love wonderful!”
I shifted the contents of the second box onto the table and said I didn’t know if it was love. I don’t suppose I knew anything about love and I couldn’t tell her anything much about why I felt that way, and why it all had to do with Joanna.
Mrs. Purifoy lifted the red velvet cover off the box and pulled out a high school class ring. It read Class of 1964.
“She was a wonderful girl, you’d have like her jokes the most. She could fill up a room with her laughter. Her brother is such a turd compared to her.”
She burped and giggled with that and seeing I wouldn’t budge with another word added, “I’m glad for you, honey. Trace is a lovely woman.”
I hope the world on the other side is treating you both well today. I’ll write again as soon as I get the chance.
Very truly yours,
A few days later, Eddlin was down at the local Rick Mart, a little shop in town owned by, none other than a Georgia native named Rick who stocked it full of tackle, bait, and this and that. Eddlin spent much of his time eyeing up knickknacks in hopes of spotting something nice for Trace in the same way he hoped she’d call again, because he was, after all, hoping.
He was off on Saturdays, but Mrs. Purifoy pestered until he relented and brought her to the church’s annual fair. It was one of those Catholic affairs with a rickety Ferris wheel so multi-colored and lit up it proved a beacon to the surrounding houses, reflecting off of the windows into the dusky sunset. He paid for tickets but she had no heart for spinning wheels of death, a phrase she coined for the big wheel before they could smell the corn dogs and cotton candy.
So, Eddlin gave the attendant two tickets and boarded the gondola alone, the gate at his waist swinging shut with a click.
While the ride was loaded full of screaming girls and teenagers kissing hard the moment they took a quarter of a turn upward, Eddlin scanned the immense crowd for Trace.
Up at the top, it was peaceful. Time alone was never wasted unless you spent it bickering with yourself for what you didn’t have.
He did no such thing up there away from the swelling music, the banging classic rock band playing Journey on the black top lost in a haze of barbeque smoke and people weaving around playing chuck-a-luc and over-under, buying raffle tickets and playing pull tabs while a wobbly voice announced winners of games over the loudspeaker temporarily turning off the band. Eddlin chuckled to himself.
Up at the top, it was quieter. A breeze ruffled his hair from his neck. He exhaled deeply, gripping the sides of the carriage as a wave of vertigo passed, spreading over his arms and hands with tingles. The wind gave a slight rock forward and back, making Eddlin’s heart skip a beat, which instantly gave him the same giddy feeling as when he first kissed Trace.
So vertigo and being smitten were close cousins, he supposed.
The ride jerked to life wiping away his thoughts as it careened over the top and down to the loading ramp facing him to the fair and up and through the circle until he peaked again at the top, just fast enough to raise him a hair up off the seat.
Mrs. Purifoy sat expectantly in her wheelchair sipping a Coke and pecking away at a bright, red candy apple. Eddlin could see her smiling at him as he whizzed by, she even let out a hoot once, loud enough for him to hear. The ride went around a dozen times, about eight more times than he thought necessary.
The attendant lounged diagonally against a metal beam smoking a cigarette as the wheel spun frantically past, inches from him.
Eddlin missed smoking at times like these and also playing pool or just watching the game drinking beers.
He sighed feeling that tug in his heart where this woman now resided. She had made herself a place there, somehow.
When the gate clicked back open, Eddlin jumped down and collected his old gal at the foot of the steps. She wanted to be wheeled to look at every ride, grass be damned, so he dutifully strolled from the apple barrels to the mixers and finally to the massive slide alight with flashing bulbs outlining the words Phantom Rider.
The children were lined up in a stream steadily trudging upward to the five colorful slides and when safely inside their potato sacks were given a hefty push by the man with a nametag reading Stagsending them downward rapidly with trailing screams followed by more screams to ride it all over again.
They ate a cheeseburger and listened to the band play a few slow country numbers, watching the couples swaying in the shadows.
“I feel like hell, Eddlin, take me home,” Mrs. Purifoy said after the band died down.
Eddlin pushed her five or six blocks home and carried her up the front stairs in his arms like Superman. He helped her get ready for bed, tucking her in with a cup of warm milk to soothe her stomach. She ached, she said, and he believed her and every crotchety old person still living on the face of the planet – everything hurt after a certain age and it made for a long day every day.
“Read me a story, will you?” she asked in a tiny voice.
“Well, I don’t have a book, ma’am,” he replied, not wanting to refuse her, or sound rude. “But I know a song…”
“Oh, yes, that’ll do just fine,” she replied, settling into her covers.
Eddlin closed his eyes and dug deeply inside to age eight when he sat cross-legged in school assembly, the head master on the stage with the staff seated beside him and Ms. Ridden on the old piano playing them in with first few bars of the song. And then he lifted his voice to Mrs. Purifoy with its memory:
When a knight won his spurs
In the stories of old
He was gentle and brave
He was gallant and bold
With a shield on his arm
And a lance in his hand
For God and for valor
He rode through the land.
No charger have I
And no sword by my side
Yet still into danger and battle I ride
Though way back in storyland giants have fled
And the knights are no more
And the dragons are dead.
Let faith be my shield
And let joy be my steed
Through the valleys of anger
The ogres of greed
Though way back in storyland giants have fled
And the knights are no more
And the dragons are dead.
He sang the last two lines again and ended softly, his eyes still closed. He had to wipe a tear off his face as it had falling during the singing of it, fallen at the memory of singing it as a much younger person.
“A beauty,” she said. “Medieval, too,” she added.
On the walk back home, Eddlin considered his life before when it was just him and the sea, and his life now, with the elderly lady and the other lady, the woman who had just miraculously appeared. He was preoccupied now. His mind was busy all day and night. He realized he was waiting for the phone to ring, for Trace to reappear, but she had not.
The house was warmer and slightly musty when he opened the door. He was glad to have this little cottage, this no-frills haven, a safe place to go and hang his hat at night.