Ain’t Maryanne stopped at the front porch and caught her breath. She bent over and put her hands on her knees and gulped draught after draught of cold dry air. Deborah turned on her heel and went back inside. She suddenly remembered Maryanne telling her to bring the cigarettes and to call Harry. Plus she was scared of the way Maryanne looked.
I just sat there on the step and smoked my cigarette. Maryanne looked at me for a while. I could see her out of the corner of my eye. Disheveled and panting. Angry and hurt and scared, she glared at me wordlessly.
Presently she began to realize it was cold and she was barefoot. Her breath restored, she climbed the step onto the porch and entered the house. At the opened door, she turned to me, and in her most dramatic fashion asked, “When did you change?” Without waiting, she again turned and entered, slamming the door for effect.
I knew she would go in and call whatever authorities needed to be called in the event of a death. I smoked my cigarette and waited.
Soon a sheriff deputy came by and asked me some questions. I answered politely. A station wagon from the morgue came and picked up Ed.
Maryanne never came out of the house. I could feel her watching me from the window though.
The sheriff deputy gave his condolences and left. I sat out there until late afternoon. Looking out at the unpaved roads and the propane tanks in front of the trailers and the trash in the yards. Yard after yard of abandoned cars and toys. And tow headed children whose noses were never wiped because they didn’t have mothers who wiped children’s noses; and who wore old tube socks over their hands because that was the closest thing to mittens people like us had.
Near twilight I got up and walked back to the river. Going up the dirt road I saw the mistletoe up high in the leafless hackberry trees and remembered harvesting it with Ed when I was a little kid.
We’d take mop handles and throw them into the trees like spears at the big bunches of it and knock it down. Ed would get drunk on ripple and give me some to take out the winter chill. He’d start laughing and acting like a kid himself. We’d act like we were throwing real spears at an enemy who thought he had camouflaged himself well. Then we’d go all over the neighborhood handing out the mistletoe to the people who couldn’t afford to buy xmas decorations, which was pretty much everybody.
Then, after dark, Ed would start thinking about his dead wife, and his dead kids and he’d start crying. It always freaked me out to see a grown up crying when I was a kid. I’d walk him home and tell him everything would be okay. He’d hug me hard and tell me I was a scholar and a gentleman in a very slurred voice. I sure missed Ed.
I walked past Ain’t Maryanne’s house shoe on the road and picked it up.
I went down to the shell dock and pulled the last beer out of the grass near the river. I went back to where we had been sitting just hours before. I pulled out the pack of benson and hedges and fished out the last cigarette and lit it. Then I smoked the last cigarette Ed would ever buy me and drank the last beer he would ever buy me.
Cried my eyes out. Cried great big, round, four year old boy tears. Cried out loud. Pounded my fists on the cold grass until it hurt. Threw my hands and face up to heaven (whatever the hell that is) like an old woman who just heard her grandbaby had died. I cried until it was well dark and my face was covered in tears and snot. Cried until I was done.
Then I got up and threw Ain’t Maryanne’s house shoe into the river.