The door was opened by an elderly lady wearing a bright floral print housedress.
“Sorry to bother you Mrs. Stanley. I didn’t know you were resting.”
“What?” she said looking slightly confused. “Oh, you mean my moo-moo. It’s what I usually wear when I’m not expecting company. What can I do for you young man?”
“It’s me, Jake Burns from the market.”
“Oh yes, Jake. Come in,” she said backing up and pulling the door wider. He stepped in just far enough to allow her to close it.
“All that sunshine behind your back made you look like a shadow. I thought you were a stranger. You know I’m sorry I haven’t been to the market in a while. The doctor’s afraid I’ll burn my skin up, get cancer or something. I can’t imagine why it would matter. My old body is so broken down anyway. Would you like a beer?”
She had always been a real character, mind going in five directions at once. Since her husband died, she didn’t get out much. They had had the type relationship that doesn’t last much anymore – publicly talking each other down but staying together nonetheless. Everyone that saw them knew that it was just an act because they never went anywhere alone.
“No, thanks. I’ve kind of abandoned the store just now and I need to get back .”
“Well, how about some iced tea?”
It’s impossible for someone from the age before televisions and cell phones to not treat a visitor as a guest and it’s a sign of very bad manners to not accept their hospitality. Although a borderline rascal, Jake knew this.
“Iced tea would be nice.”
“Go have a seat in the living room and I’ll bring some right out,” she said heading towards the kitchen.
Jake followed her orders and went down a low dim hallway past several closed doors into the dark living room. The entire south wall of the room bordered the Gulf although you couldn’t tell because of the heavy drapes that hid the windows. As a result, there were only two light sources: an old twenty inch color TV tuned into a soap opera and a table lamp next to her chair. Jake walked to the window and peeled back the drapes to look at the beach.
“Ooh, it sure is bright out there,” Mrs. Stanley said as she brought in two tall glasses.
Jake tried to close the drapes back quickly. There was a loud crack and he grabbed the curtain rod with both hands to keep it from falling.
“Don’t worry about that. It’s been doing that ever since Morris put it up some twenty years ago. He never was useful around the house, bless his heart.”
She put down the glasses on a wicker coffee table and went to the end where the rod had jumped off its bracket. With her arms fully extended, she made a bunny hop without leaving the ground and the rod fell right back into place.
“Have a seat, Jake. Tell me how things have been,” she said shuffling over to the television to turn it off and then back to her chair and slowly lowering her self into it.
“Oh, you know, not much changes around here,” he said sitting in the middle of a long, low sofa with wicker arms that matched the table.
“That’s not true, the one thing you can count on in your life is change. This place is no exception. How are your parents doing?”
“Well, they retired last year and bought a place on Lake Mitchell in North Alabama. They’ve been pretty happy living the slow life.”
“I wish they had moved down here. We bought this place thinking more retirees would come.”
“You’d think so, being Florida and all. But, except for the beachfront, no one seems interested in developing normal neighborhoods. But Mom and Pop would never move down here. He just hates coming down, says it’s too hot. Instead he spends all his time sitting in the market, watching TV and flirting with my cashiers.”
“Oh, I know. He is a handsome devil. It’s easy to see where you get your good looks from,” she said with the giggle of a high schooler.
“It’ll be a good thing if that’s all I get from him,” Jake replied flatly.
“I always believed that the greatest thing that a generation could inherit from the previous was character. Bad children don’t just happen. And you are a good boy Jake Burns. You can only thank your parents for that. Now, what brings you around? I’m sure you didn’t stop by to hear a little old lady give a lecture about honoring your parents.”
“Yes ma’am, I guess you’re right. Mrs. Stanley, I wanted to talk to you about the accident.”
“Oh that poor dear. It was such a waste. I’m sorry I didn’t attend the funeral. You know the doctor says I shouldn’t get out in the sun.”
“I heard that you gave a statement to the Sheriff’s office about what happened that night. Could you tell me what you told them?” Jake asked.
“Well, I didn’t do it at the Sheriff’s office, of course. But I did call down there and that nice Deputy Allen came over, sat right down where you are and I told him all about it.”
“What about it?”
“It was sort of odd, but I couldn’t sleep that night. I usually can sleep through most anything, but I was up and down all night that night. I had decided to turn on the TV back in my bedroom, there was some show on one of the channels that I don’t usually watch because my favorite channels are all infomercials that time in the morning. Lord knows I don’t have any need for hair rejuvenating products or one of those little machines you sit on that’s supposed to make your thighs smaller. So, anyway, I had found a nice murder mystery show but the language was just awful so I turned the volume down so that I wouldn’t have to listen to all those hoodlums with their garbage mouths. Out my window I heard a car just absolutely flying down the street and then it put on its breaks real hard and was just skidding its tires. Then I heard another engine racing from the distance and as it got closer, it started honking its horn.”
“How did you know which car was honking its horn?” he asked elbows on his knees and chin on his fists.
“I’ll tell you like I told the Deputy. I might be old as dirt, but I’m not yet senile. I can still tell when a horn is coming and when it’s sitting.”
After she said it, she leaned forward giving Jake a reprimanding squint to boot.
“I apologize. Please, do go on,” he said politely.
“I heard a terrible crash and jumped up out of bed and ran out into the carport to see what had happened and I noticed it was little Eden’s car. She was such a sweet girl. You know, she volunteered about two years ago to take me shopping. She was over here every Tuesday and Friday, always on time. Just as sweet as she could be.”
“Did you ever see the other car?”
“No, not really. I heard one going up Seagrove Road towards 98 when I walked out. Did the Deputy tell you anything?”
“No, ma’am. I’d better get back over to the market.”
They both got up and walked back towards the garage door. Jake paused with his hand on the doorknob and said, “Mrs. Stanley I’d be happy to drive you up to the grocery anytime you need to go.”
“Oh, no. Thank you, dear.”
“It wouldn’t be any problem. I promise.”
”Jake, it’s not right for a man to go shopping with a woman who isn’t his wife.”
“Ah, people would talk, wouldn’t they?”
“It’s not that, although at my age, I wouldn’t care if they did. I mean that a woman’s shopping is a special kind of torture that only her husband deserves.”
“Well, if you need anything, you just give me a call. I’ll be right over.”He walked down her driveway to the road and stopped again to see if her story gave a new
interpretation to what was left of the scene. The skid marks from Eden’s car started about half
way between Mrs. Stanley’s driveway and the stop sign in front of the market. The investigators
on the scene had left a graph of dotted orange lines, numbers and abbreviated codes that were
meant for their analysis. It was no use to Jake. To a layman, it looked like a calculus problem
off of a college blackboard. The only thing they had shared with him was that she was probably
going about forty-five when she hit his house. He was staring at the tarp over his living room
wall when he saw a black pickup inching through the market parking lot and then stop at his front
door. He hurried towards it, not wanting to lose a customer, when the driver got out. The loud
Hawaiian shirt dripping with a wild mane of hair was announcement enough: Hoss had returned.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 12