by JB Clark
Beau Wilson’s body staggered drunk up a dusty hill. He left his soul with its mate atop the hill weeks before.
“I gave you everything I had, sweetheart,” he muttered.
“I gave everything.” He was yelling, head raised to the sky and fists in the air. “It wasn’t much, but it was all I had.”
He fell to his knees by her gravestone. “It was all I had,” his voice trailed off, sobbing now, as his hands fumbled for a remedy. He tilted the brown bottle until the last bitter drop found its way to his plaid shirt.
“Didn’t you and Jenny do the funeral?” Cecil asked George, watching from a front porch across the street. George nodded somberly.
“I heard he had an argument with the pastor pretty similar to the one he’s having with her headstone right now,” Cecil said.
“He wasn’t too happy hearing Reverend Terry tell him about customary payment, but I reckon that’s between him and Brother Terry now,” George reprimanded in an even tone as he sipped his tea.
“You think those little girls of his are going to be okay?” Cecil said. The sweat from his glass making a dark circle on the arm of the wooden rocker.
“Oh, they’ll be fine,” George said — always the optimist. “Jenny says they’ve been staying at his sister’s house while he ties a few more on.”
“Sure doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing,” Cecil responded, having watched Daryl pass out on his wife’s grave more than once since she died in April. “Seems like he’s tied this one on tighter than the last. Have you seen him in the pews lately?”
“Nah.” George spat the juice from his tobacco plug over the porch railing. “We’re giving him some time to get his head together.”
“Seems like just yesterday he finished that pretty white house down on Poplar Springs — white as his Virginia’s dress the day he carried her home.”
“They sure were a sight, weren’t they? Young and free.”
“It’s beautiful.” Virginia tucked her head to her chest as Beau carried her through the narrow doorway, light shining through each window in the old house. She set her bare feet on the tile and swirled in her wedding dress. “I can’t believe you finished all of this yourself.”
“It’s for us, baby. It’s for you,” Beau said, excited and terrified all at once.
Beau kissed her bare shoulders and fiddled with the new diamond as he led her from room to room, showing her where they would start a family. As the birds sung songs of spring outside his window — he laid his bride down in their marriage bed for the first time.
“I’m going to be the best man you ever did see,” He proclaimed while exploring her soft, pale skin for the first time. “I’m going to be running the garage in no time. I’ll buy you a dishwasher and marble counters,” he paused, thinking of how far he’d come. “We’ll join a church. We’ll have two little boys.”
A flash of blonde and white darted from under the vehicle lift, causing Beau to drop a lug wrench onto his foot in surprise. Anger and pain swelled inside him until he felt Savannah wrap her arms, and white smocked dress, around his greasy Dickies.
“Daddy!” she said with a gap-toothed lisp. “Me and Scarlett didn’t cry at the doctor so mom got us babies!” She presented a doll.
Wary of the cost, he took Savannah’s hand and walked around the lifted truck where Virginia was holding a shy Scarlett under the bay door. He and Virginia hadn’t yet figured how to afford two young girls on his salary. They exchanged knowing glances — “I thought…” and, “I know, but…” Scarlett’s doll dropped to the cement as Beau drew near. He retrieved the doll, wiped a smudge of grease from its foot and handed it back, kissing both Virginia and Scarlett’s foreheads.
All worry aside, he was glad Virginia broke their agreement to spend less so the girls could have new dolls. Money was tight but their old dolls’ clothes had long been lost and they were covered in makeup (marker stains).
“These girls giving you any trouble?” Beau asked, patting Savannah on the head.
“Not even a little,” Virginia answered with smiles for each girl. “And you better not either. I’m putting your tomatoes in a casserole tonight so get home on time and don’t fill up on O’Doul’s.” She teased Beau about wasting his appetite on fake beer but was glad he finally stopped drinking when they got married.
“Yes ma’am,” Beau tipped his cap and watched as his three girls walked back into the bright day.
“Son, I’m proud to tell you the elders have voted to name you a deacon,” Reverend Terry told Beau the moment Beau stepped into his burgundy carpeted office.
“Thank you, reverend.” The excitement in Beau’s throat caused him to stutter as he removed the cap from his matted hair. “I’m not really sure what that means.”
“Well, it means you’ll help with the offering and communion and serve other members of the church — say in the event Ms. Ida needs her lawn taken care of.”
“I can sure do that.”
“You already do, but there is one other matter,” Pastor Terry said. “We ask that all leaders in our church contribute to the congregation, both in time — which you do…”
“Yes sir, we do,” Beau interjected with an unsure laugh.
“…and also financially.”
“Oh,” Beau paused, his head hung in confusion and embarrassment. “I just thought since we gave so much time to the church,” he trailed off.
“You know how much we appreciate your time too, Beau. It’s simply a policy in the church’s statement of faith.”
“Right. I’ll, uh, see what I can do.” Beau extended his hand. “It’s a real honor to serve. Thank you, Brother Terry.”
“Always a pleasure, Beau.”
Beau walked out of the office pulling at his hat with each hand until a popping seam brought him back to reality. How was he supposed to give more when time was all he had.
Beau woke with a raisin for a brain, his hair caked with the dirt that served as his pillow and his wife’s ceiling, his lips cracked from the morning sun.
A silhouette stood over him.
“It’s time to go home.” George extended a helping hand. “Come on now, let’s get you washed off and home to those girls. I’m sure their aunt is worried sick.”
Beau threw his arm up with what little wherewithal he could muster and George gripped his forearm tight and pulled him to his feet. Once the wobbling eased, George handed him a cup of ice water which Beau turned up, making mud on his dusty chin and cheeks. He grunted a thank you, looked down at the tombstone, flowers scattered like slept-in sheets, and slowly walked into the stand of pines.
“Mornin’ Mr. Thomas,” Beau said, as the bus door slid open. He kissed Scarlett’s cheek and turned to Savannah who dodged his fatherly affection as she boarded the bus, bumping his hand and causing warm coffee to splash up his arm.
She found a seat, pulling Scarlett in tow.
Middle school was only a year away for Savannah and Beau wasn’t ready to see his little girl grow up. Scarlett was still a daddy’s girl but Savannah was ready to be a woman of the world. His walks to the bus stop each morning were about the only thing keeping him from starting his day with a bottle of bourbon. Turning the corner he noticed a familiar figure on his front porch. That swing didn’t get as much use as it did when Virginia was alive. She finished every night on the porch with a cup of tea and her journal.
“Beau, sorry to show up without calling,” came Reverend Terry’s voice as he stood to face Beau, “It’s just that you’re difficult to get in touch with these days. I just wanted to check in on you. I haven’t seen you around the church in a while.”
“Do you mind if we sit and have a cup of coffee together?”
“Not at all,” Beau sat on the swing next to the reverend, sipping his own coffee without offering any to his guest.
Reverend Terry sat back down, confused and uncomfortable. “I’ve been worried since I heard about your drinking. Are you still drinking?”
“Little bit,” he took another swig.
“Well, tell me this my brother, how’s your daily walk?”
Beau stood and said his first complete sentence to the reverend in five years. “Terry, the only daily walk I’ve got is to that bus stop and back. Now tell me, are you going to charge me for that too?”
Beau marched inside where he calmly cleaned the girls’ breakfast mess, leaving Reverend Terry alone on the porch swing.