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Writing Fiction - Chapter 29
Here's where Chapter 28 left you.
Jay looked at me then. Total, serious, full-on, eye contact looked at me.
“Listen Pearl. You want to know what my problem is? It might be easier to just show you.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on here. Jay pushed his chair back and pulled mine back as well. We waited at the coffee counter and when Griffin pushed our to-go cups across the counter, Jay made a motion to get his wallet.
Julia piped up then. “No, we insist. Really. And Mr. Jay? Thank you, sir.”
What was with the “Mr. Jay"? And another thank you?
Jay acknowledged their words with a sad, little salute and held the door open for me as we walked outside.
I still wasn’t sure what was happening. The only thing I knew for sure was the bell was going jingle merrily behind us.
And it did.
And now, Chapter 29 continues...
Jay started walking as soon as we left the coffee shop.
I started to follow him, but then my imagination took over and, after the deeply disturbing vision of a distressed Griffin telling a news reporter, “I can’t believe it. I thought I knew him. I can’t believe Jay stabbed that nice lady 17 times,” circulated through my mind for the third time, I knew I needed to regain some control of this situation.
I stopped on the sidewalk. Jay kept walking. I waited. He walked a few more steps. Finally he realized I wasn’t following and turned around.
“Are you coming, Pearl?”
“Ummm… Jay, I don’t even know where we’re going so how can I be coming anywhere?”
“Listen, Pearl, since we’ve met you keep asking me what my problem is…over and over…I can’t talk about it. Especially today. So if you want to know why I’m such a son of a … Oh, just forget it!”
“But, Jay? I don’t even know what you’re talking about…what do you want to show me?”
“Listen, Pearl, I have someplace to go…either you’re coming or you aren’t,” and he started walking away again.
In that moment I made my decision. Okay, yes, I was curious. Yes, I was puzzled. But I was also determined not to get stabbed 17 times. “Jay,” I shouted after him, “I’m coming with you, but I have to drive. I have a hair appointment later in the morning and I don’t want to be late.” Okay, it was technically a lie, but I think if I had to choose between knife wounds and a lie, I would totally do it again. Wouldn’t you?
Without even turning around, Jay just waved his right hand in the air as he approached his silver SUV. I’m not sure what it meant exactly, but I took it to mean “follow me”.
So I raced to my car, got in and followed him.
My heart was pounding. I felt excited and worried and nervous. I could see a bit of his face reflected in his rearview mirror; he looked pale and subdued. I sipped at my scorching coffee, rummaged through my purse and found two more aspirin and lip gloss. I ducked down, so he wouldn’t be able to see me if he happened to glance back, and smeared on the lip gloss. Don’t be thinking anything about me spiffing myself up with lip gloss, my lips were just dry...from all the throwing up and stuff. I finger-combed my hair. I put a little spritz of cookie scented body spray on to make sure I didn’t smell like vomit. The strong cookie scent was almost my undoing, but I knew I’d lose Jay’s vehicle if I stopped to be sick, so I rolled down the window and took deep gulps of the fresh morning air.
I was so busy pulling myself together, that I almost rear-ended his SUV at a traffic light. Thank heavens for good brakes and quick reflexes! “Pay attention, Pearl,” I cautioned myself as I rolled up the window and focused on the task at hand.
I suddenly realized how familiar everything looked. It was just my luck that Jay wanted to drive to his destination by way of the cemetery… driving anywhere along this particular road made me feel anxious. We were so close to ‘Permanent Slumber Acres’, I thought I might get sick. As I began to roll my window down again, Jay’s brake lights blazed red right at the top of the next hill.
“Please, please, please be braking for a squirrel in the road,” I pleaded as the top of the gray SUV disappeared over the hill. It became apparent that no powerful figure in the universe had heard my prayer once I reached the crest and saw that Jay had just started to turn into the cemetery. The pounding in my head began again with a vengeance, beating like the metronome of his turn signal.
Darn! Darn, darn, darn! Jay was headed into the cemetery.
He pulled over a little bit to the right side of the gravel road to wait for me. I debated gunning my engine and speeding past the arched entrance. I doubted he was gullible enough to fall for, “Oh, you turned? I’m so sorry I didn’t see you. I drove on for something like 10 more miles.” Yeah, the man might be a jerk but I don’t think he was a stupid jerk.
I slowed down as much as I could and followed Jay into the cemetery. My heart was pounding and I felt like I might hyperventilate, but, before I could, Jay’s turn signal came on again and he turned right, into a small headstone strewn area of the graveyard I’d never even noticed before. He parked the car almost immediately and got out. It was weird, really. He just leaned on the door for a few seconds and stared at me while I pulled in behind him. Before I could get out, he started walking briskly up a small rise.
I felt almost dizzy with relief that we were nowhere near my husband’s … ummm… interment.
In our town there’d always been just one cemetery. It had expanded as the need for space grew. Over time, the trees and shrubs planted as memorials had grown to maturity and were now ablaze with autumn color. The grass was still green and a little scruffy. Most of the headstones were well maintained, but here and there a neglected one caught me eye.
I followed behind Jay, blanketed in the serenity and sadness of my surroundings; when he stopped, I stopped, too.
He was standing at a grave. Around it small American flags fluttered. The gold finials on the top of each caught the light in the late morning sun. I realized this was what he wanted to show me.
I walked the last few steps to stand beside him and realized his fists were clenched at his sides. I could see the muscles in his jaw working and then I noticed the name and the date on the dark gray polished stone.
I recalled headlines from our town paper and even a town memorial service that I had not attended.
Jay’s son was the only young man from our town who had been killed in recent war. There were several graves scattered around the cemetery from other wars, but this loss had felt very close to home for so many of us living here.
“Jay,” I said softly, putting my hand onto his shoulder. I could feel the tension in the man. It was almost frightening to feel so much anger and sorrow emanating from someone other than myself. It had been brutal since my husband had ‘deserted the land of the breathing’, but I couldn’t imagine how cruel it must be to lose a child.
For once, I could think of nothing to say. We just stood there for a long time, until I finally felt Jay relax a little bit. I felt the sun warming the back of my shoulders. A train whistle could be heard in the distance; it was mournful and beautiful.
Finally, Jay turned to face me. I lowered my hand from his shoulder. Darn! Darn, darn, darn! This man wasn’t going to try and kiss me or something, was he?
I’d heard of things like this before. People grieving a tragic loss seek comfort in …ummm… well …other people’s ‘company’, if you get my drift. But, I mean, I certainly never felt like that after ‘you know’…
I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I just stood looking back into those gold-flecked, brown eyes for a long moment. When he cleared his throat, I took a small step back.
“Pearl,” he said in a quiet, solemn voice, “Do you want to hear his story?”
Have you ever had about three emotions run through your mind at once? In that instant, I felt relief, and odd sense of disappointment and curiosity.
I decided to follow the curiosity path and sort the relief and disappointment out later.
“Jay, of course I want to hear his story.”
Jay dropped down to the grass. I wasn’t sure how to get down to the ground gracefully, so I just stood awkwardly. “It’s kind of a long story,” he continued, “You might want to sit down.”
Pretending I was still young and agile, I dropped down on the grass a short distance away. For now, I was just too inquisitive to worry about how I was going to get up later.
I put my hands in my lap and resisted the urge to pressure him to begin.
He remained silent a moment longer, so I closed my eyes and tipped my head back to enjoy the warm sun on my skin. Then he began talking. “I hope you don’t mind listening to this, Pearl.”
And I didn’t.
To be continued, Tuesday, April 5.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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