The playground sat at the very edge of the cemetary, the sliding board facing the headstone of Paul Patrick, 1889-1959, Beloved Husband and Father. Musethal Copage imagined that if you scooted too far off the end of that old metal sliding board you might well land bottoms down right where she imagined Paul Patrick’s feet rested in peace. She smile faintly at the thought.
Pulling herself from the window, she straightened the lace curtains, then glanced quickly over her shoulder at the large grandfather clock in the corner. It was five minutes to one and it was almost time for her stories. At one o’clock she would turn the CLOSED sign outwards and would lock the front door to her antique shop before turning on the television set.
She hated to be disturbed during her stories, this day in particular. You see, today, Beth Spencer was going to confront her low-life, lying, cheating, pathetic excuse for a husband. She’d found out about him and that harlot, Lindsay and she was going to put a stop to everything that was going on. If Musethal was lucky, Beth would blow his brains all over the television screen and ride off into the sunset with that real pretty Lyle Cannon. If she was lucky.
Actually Musethal could have closed the store any time she wanted. It wasn’t like there was a whole lot of traffic in and out that necessitated her being open. In fact, it had been at least two, maybe three weeks since the last person had come inside and he had only stopped in to ask for directions. Musethal had to admit that the last time she had served a customer had been well over two years ago and that she could barely remember what had been purchased. Instead though, she opened the shop punctually at nine o’clock every morning, took her lunch break from one to two in the afternoon, then closed for the night at exactly half past five. She’d spend the better part of each day polishing up the silver and brass or spreading copious layers of lemon oil atop the mahogany and pine. Her lunch-time soap opera and two, fifteen minute breaks for a cup of chamomile tea and an English Tea biscuit, were generally the highlights of her day.
She dropped her cleaning cloth, attended to the door, then headed for the back room. A commercial blared into the silence as she quickly switched to the station she wanted. She grimaced. Was there no decency anymore? Why they found it necessary to advertise ladies personal hygiene products was a mystery to her. She hated all those commercials. “Nasty filth," she said to Percy, the obese tomcat with ambrosia eyes that had belonged to her late husband. Percy twitched his tail, barely opening his eyes to acknowledge her presence. She pushed Percy out of her favorite chair and he hissed at her as he landed on his feet.
“Watch yourself, cat. You don’t pay no rent here,” she said, making herself comfortable.
Percy hissed again, before settling himself atop the counter.
Musethal wrapped a blue knitted shawl around her broad shoulders as she settled back with a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich in hand. Tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches were her absolute favorite. Her late husband, Xavier Copage, had detested them, calling them and her common. He had been uppity in his ways, which is why Musethal had married him. It had been her dream to pull herself up and out of the benign surroundings of Delacroix and she had figured only a man like Xavier could help her. It didn’t hurt that Aretha Moten had wanted him for herself either. Taking something from Aretha had given Musethal a perverse thrill since they’d been in grade school together.
She shivered, leaning her overweight body forward in her chair. Beth Spencer had just thrown the cheap photos of Lindsay and her husband, Allen, in his face. “Dirty dog,” Musethal shouted at the television. “Rip his eyes out Beth. He deserves it. Lying, dirty, no good dog.”
Reclining back in her chair for the commercial break, Musethal took another bite of her sandwich, washing it down with a swig of Pepsi. Percy rose from his resting place and headed into the outer room. “That’s right, go,” she called after him, throwing the TV Guide in his direction. “No loyalty! Just like that no good Xavier. He should’a taken you wit’ him.”
The cat hissed.
Pulling the shawl tighter, Musethal sighed. Xavier had brought Percy home to Musethal as a present. It hadn’t been a holiday or her birthday. He had said that it was just because he didn’t want her to be lonely when he wasn’t around. He knew she hated cats, but she had thought it sweet of him to give her something different. Besides, Percy had been a cute kitten and usually Xavier only gave her flannel nightgowns or bedroom slippers when he gave her presents.
Of course, when Xavier dropped that small bundle of fur into her lap and had gone over to the Murray's Convenience Store for a six-pack of Pepsi and a newspaper, he failed to tell her that he had no intentions of ever coming back. Musethal had waited for over eight hours for him to return before she realized he’d taken the car to go fifty feet around the corner. For weeks after when anyone called or came looking for him, she had stroked that damn cat’s fur and had told them that he’d gone on an errand and was ‘late’ getting back.
Musethal swore it was Aretha who’d started calling him the “late” Xavier Copage. After a while, that was how Musethal started referring to him too. He became her ‘late’ husband. She finally got a letter from him a year later postmarked from California. He’d taken up residence there with a waitress named Fiona. He’d apologized profusely and had begged for her forgiveness. Then he’d asked if she’d be so kind as to send him his sixteen volume Shakespeare set and his collection of eight track tapes, particularly those by Perry Como and Harry Belafonte.
Initially, she’d considered sending him Percy, stuffed. Instead though, she’d sent all the books, shredded and doused in samplings of cat droppings. She had also included the Como tapes, after of course taking a hammer to them. The Harry Belafonte tapes she’d kept for herself. Harry, she liked.
Musethal sighed, finishing the last of her sandwich. This was taking too long. The way they were dragging this out it would take at least a week before Allen Spencer was going to suffer some real damage at the hands of his wife, Beth. “Don’t be weak," Musethal said to the television screen. “Give ‘em what he deserves. Cheatin’ scum.”
“Damn," Musethal swore loudly. How many commercials was she going to have to endure? Hell, didn’t they know women already knew what to use when it was their time of the month. Not that Musethal had to concern herself with that dreaded curse any longer. Nature had cured that ill years ago with the menopause. The doctor had said hers was early, probably brought on by the stress of Xavier leaving. She had cursed then too. Not only had Xavier not been man enough to leave her with a child of her own, but he’d taken any remote hopes she’d had of getting pregnant from her too.
“My husband won’t no good neither. Sorry son-of-a-bitch.” She wiped the crumbs from her mouth with a pale yellow paper napkin, then pulled her plump frame out of the chair to go turn off the television set. Cleaning up her lunch dishes, she went to unlock the front door and set the sign right. “Percy,” she said to the cat who was slowly making his way back to the rear room and out of her reach, “I should’a just let Aretha have ‘em.”
The cat hissed.
Excerpted From TEARS OF DELACROIX All Rights Reserved © Deborah Fletcher Mello
Thursday, October 12, 2006
THE TEARS OF DELACROIX
Fifteen years ago, I took a creative writing course where we had to write a series of short tales that could stand alone but then be incorporated as chapters of a longer body of work. These have been gathering dust since forever and I thought I'd finally share them. Enjoy!