A Different Voice

Chapter 4

I stopped at the shop before I dropped the children at Mary's the next morning. You should have seen Patty's face when she got a look at Charles. Her jaw dropped; her eyes got big and round; she didn't have anything to say. Not a word. She looked at me. I nodded. She sat down.

Bud wanted to take Charles back to his mother that morning, but I thought maybe it would be better if we both went. I had a feeling he didn't intend on leaving Charles there. And as we talked about it over breakfast, I could see that, with Bud's state of mind, it might be better to leave the children out of it altogether. If things turned ugly, and they might, it would be upsetting for Charles to hear what might be said.

Mary was Becky's godmother, and she said she'd be happy to watch them for us. I bought a change of clothes for Charles on the way to her house.

Arbutus usually took care of Becky on Thursdays, but Donnie was out of prison, at least for a while, and she was spending time with him.

We went to her house once after he came home. Not again. She asked Bud not to come out while Donny was there. It might have had something to do with Bud throwing Donny up against the wall while we were there.

Donny didn't give a shit about anything. Bud cares about almost everything. I guess it was too much to expect them to get along. By the time we'd been there an hour or so, they were both hot under the collar. Then Arbutus said something to Donny he didn't like. I can't tell you now what it was she said, but he told her to shut up, and gave her a shove. She tripped and fell on the floor, and Bud blew like TNT. Donny flew across the room, hit the wall, and then Bud went for him. If Arbutus hadn't picked herself up off the floor fast and gotten between them…….and if Becky hadn't started to cry……..Donny might have been in a bad way.

That was the first time I saw Bud put his arms around another woman. He asked her if she was OK, then he hugged her real tight, both arms. And she hugged him back for a minute before she stepped back and said maybe he should go. It made me feel strange.

I know Bud loves me, and I know Arbutus would never try to take him away from me, and of course she's probably twice his age…….but just then I couldn't help a little flicker of resentment. That little feeling of not wanting to share something that means so much to me.

Donny was such an idiot. He got up off the floor, and spit at Bud. If Becky hadn't reached out and grabbed her daddy's ear just before that, and had such big tears rolling down her face while she cried, it might not have made any difference what Arbutus or I said or did.

But he took her instead of beating the shit out of Donny. She smacked him on the cheek, on the neck, on his chest, with the palm of her hand. I couldn't tell if she was mad at him, or patting him, or just what, but he knew what she meant.

"It's all right, baby-doll, I'm fine, everything's fine."

She started the hiccuping babies do after they've cried a lot, the sobbing and breathing at the same time, even though she hadn't been crying that long, and patted him some more. He rubbed her back, and hushed her……and turned around and walked away from Donny. Arbutus and I just looked at each other.

Then we went home. And Bud didn't go back there. Or call her. And she didn't call him. I couldn't really blame her for wanting to avoid trouble, but Bud didn't look at it that way. I think it hurt his feelings a little. They didn't speak to each other for close to two weeks.

I couldn't help hoping Donny would move to another city.

Bud called Richard's house Thursday morning to tell him he wouldn't be at work. Nancy hung up on him. He wasn't in a very good mood by the time everybody was sorted out and we got in the car, finally ready to go. It was almost lunchtime, and he was probably hungry, and that doesn't help his mood much.

I suggested we get some lunch first. He thought about it while he was driving. We ended up at Roberta's.

I suppose I'm explaining all this to you, what we did all morning, because I felt a little guilty. I felt like if we'd gotten there sooner, it wouldn't have happened. Bud said no, it wouldn't have made any difference. He said it was all over with before morning, maybe before Charles and I were there. But I felt like we should have hurried, like we shouldn't have wasted so much time.

Herbert was standing outside #14 when we drove up. There was a black&white next to his car, and the hearse on the other side.

As soon as Bud got out of the car, he said, "Is she dead?"

Herbert turned around and said, "Who?"

"Rhonda, or Roxanne, or whatever the hell she registered as. The woman in this room."

"No, this room was registered to a Rachel Roosevelt. And she's not here anyway." Then Herbert looked uncomfortable. "I suppose Arbutus is at home."

A sudden change of subject. Bud looked worried. "Why?"

Herbert waved at the sheet-covered body being carried toward the hearse. "Somebody's gonna have to tell Arbutus. I know it's my job, and all, and I know Arbutus and I are friendly, but she's not an easy woman……."

He was talking to the air. Bud was striding toward the hearse, pushing Jones and his cousin out of the way, pulling back the sheet. He turned around and looked at me. I could tell by his face it was Donny.

Herbert was still talking when Bud walked back by him on the way to our car. "---maybe I should have one of the ladies from the church go out with me, what do you think?"

"I'll tell her," Bud said. He yanked open his door. "We'll go out there right now. You just keep anybody from letting her know before we get there. I'll tell her."

Bud drove in silence till we hit the city limits. "It's a good thing the kids weren't with us," he said. Then he hit the steering wheel with the heel of his hand. "Dammit. She loves that sonuvabitch."

We could see her standing at the screen door as we drove up into the yard. She walked out on the porch when Bud got out of the car. She shaded her eyes against the sun; it took her a few seconds to really see Bud's face. She ran down the steps then, and said, "What happened? Where's Becky? Oh my God, did something happen to Becky?"

Bud put his hands on her arms. "Nothing happened to Becky, she's fine."

"Mercy, Bud, you gave me such a fright!" She put her hand over her heart. "You look like……..I thought something had happened."

"Arbutus……..It's Donny."

She looked into his face again. "Donny? Is he…..Did he get hurt? Is he in the hospital?"

He shook his head. "He's not in the hospital, sweetheart. He's dead."

I thought she'd say something. I thought maybe she'd say it wasn't so, the way people do at first sometimes, or maybe she'd cry. She just stood. She looked into Bud's face, and stood very still for several minutes. Then her face started to work, her eyes closed, the tears ran down her cheeks………..

The sound she made has to be what pain sounds like. Not a scream, not weeping, not shouting, no words……….Wailing. Pain made audible. It tore itself out of her throat, it hurt to hear it. I expected to see blood come out of her mouth along with the sound.

She sank to her knees. Bud went to his, and his arm went around her, to keep her from laying down in the dirt. And she wailed.

I stayed out of their way. There would be things I could do in a little while, but right now, I left her alone with Bud. I watched him, so gentle with her, waiting until she could bear it before he put his arms around her and held her.

There was something between the two of them right from the start. I used to think maybe he felt like she was a substitute mother; she's old enough to be his mother. I thought maybe she was a really maternal person, and that part of her could tell Bud needed mothering. But that wasn't it.

I wasn't sure what "it" was. I'd have sworn it wasn't sexual…..but they were, and are, as comfortable with each other as lovers. No, not that, it's more like an old married couple. I've caught them holding hands; they've never tried to hide it. It might have worried me, if I weren't so sure how Bud feels about me. He loves me. I know that, I knew it that day. And if there was anything for me to worry about, Arbutus would have been nervous around me. Right? And she's not. Never has been.

He tilted her face up and kissed her on the forehead. Sitting in the dirt, pulling her up next to him, rocking her back and forth…….Did he have to kiss her?

I've never worried about the two of them "that way" at all. I guess that's not the same as being jealous. Watching him murmur in her ear, watching her snuggle against him like a teenager……I can't say that made me feel good.

I knew I was being a bitch. She just lost her son. She wasn't snuggling, she was crying. But I wished he wouldn't hold her just like that. I wished……I guess I wished I had what she had with Bud……and I didn't even know what it was.

I did know, though, even if I didn't want to admit it. He loves her. Not like he loves me, maybe. But he loves her; and I was green because I didn't want him to love anybody but me.

…………………….

I found the phone number for Arbutus's daughter in Tucson---Arlene---and called her. She said she'd call everybody else that ought to know. She was the first one to show up at Arbutus's house.

She disliked Bud right off the bat. I could tell she wanted to tell him to get lost. If Bud knew it, he ignored it.

I called Patty, and she said she'd pick the children up after she closed the shop. I'd owe her, 'cause Becky wouldn't be happy. At all.

A few other people trickled in to stand around after Arlene got there, and then a few more. As the news got around town, people starting showing up with food. The noise level increased with every arrival. Arlene's other brother, Tom, showed up with his family. Everyone was talking at once. It got louder and louder. Tom's children shouted and ran from room to room. Their mother went into the kitchen and didn't come out. When I went in to put some more casseroles away, she was sitting at the kitchen table eating a pie. The whole thing.

That's where I was when Bud had had enough. I heard him bellow, "Shut the fuck up!" and then there was complete silence. I ran back into the living room. Arbutus was looking at him with amazement on her face, then she started to chuckle. Nobody else laughed, just Arbutus. Tears came back soon enough, but the noise level stayed reasonable after that. The children got shushed if they got too loud, and some of the adults went out on the porch.

Arbutus tried not to ignore anybody, she talked to as many people as she could bear to, I think. Once someone said something that made her face crumple and tears roll down her cheeks again…..and she looked for Bud. Said his name. He put his arms around her. There were a lot of raised eyebrows. Arlene looked like she was about to burst.

I figured it was my job to look unconcerned. So that's what I did. Someone said something to me about it, and I said, "They're very close. Arbutus is a good friend." And left it at that.

She finally fell into an exhausted sleep with her head on Bud's shoulder. He started to pick her up, and Tom said, "I can take her up."

Bud said, "No, I got her." Picked her up and headed for the stairs.

Tom said, "Let me show you where her room is."

"It's OK, I know where it is."

The telephone lines would be on fire tomorrow. Maybe even tonight. Tact was not one of the things I married Bud for, I guess.

My face was hot; everybody was looking at me, I wanted to sink through the floor…….and then it hit me how funny this all was. If it wasn't for the death that brought everybody here, this would be a comedy. Sort of. Maybe I was ready to burst myself. But I had to run into the kitchen before I made a fool of myself laughing.

Tom's wife was standing at the stove frying a big pan of potatoes for the children sitting around the kitchen table. At least I hoped she gave them some.

I covered my mouth, but it came out anyway. I laughed and I laughed, the children started to edge their chairs away from me. At first I knew what I was laughing about, but later……I wasn't sure. I think I was laughing about Roxanne and Charles, too, and myself, the whore, at the party in disguise. Those things don't sound very funny, I know, but I couldn't seem to stop laughing. Pretty soon I had tears running down my face.

That's where I was, what I was doing when Bud found me. He didn't know what to do with a woman who was sitting at the kitchen table laughing hysterically as well as he did with a weeping one, but he tried. Bless his heart. He bent down next to me, and said my name so gently………I suppose he thought I was losing my mind. Maybe I was.

But somehow while I was laughing, I discovered some answers. Don't ask me how. I don't understand it. And I felt better when I finally wound down.

I stood up, put my arms around his neck, and said, in a voice loud enough for everybody to hear it, "I love you. You're a wonderful man, and I love you to….pieces." Thank God I had enough presence of mind not to say, "to death."

I kissed him hard, long and open-mouthed, and he was confused, but he's not one to refuse a kiss.

Let 'em chew on that.

So maybe I can't help being jealous sometimes……but I know better. He loves me. He loves other people, too. If Bud wasn't the man he is, he'd never have given me a second chance……so the way he is, is the way I want him. Even if he knows the way to Arbutus's bedroom.

I didn't even ask him about that…….till later.

……………………..

The funeral wasn't until Monday because the state coroner came out to examine the body. Just a formality, I guess, but it set the funeral back a day, and then the Reverend refused to have the funeral on Sunday.

Bud went out to Arbutus's house every day. Roberta was there on Saturday when I went with him. She said Arbutus had been fussing and fretting all morning.

Arlene's nose was clearly out of joint. She glared and her nostrils flared until I thought she was going to break something when Bud kissed Arbutus on the cheek.

"How can you stand to watch that?" she hissed at me. "Doesn't it bother you that your husband is touching another woman?

I knew her type. I'd run into them before. In the past, it was me that made their nostrils flare like that. "Do you think your mother is sleeping with my husband?" I asked.

Arlene was horrified. "Certainly not! She would never do such a thing!"

"Then I guess I don't see what you're upset about."

"You need to keep your husband away from her."

"I think she likes having him here. In fact, I think they like being together."

"She's making a spectacle of herself. It's disgusting, and I want it stopped."

"Maybe you should tell your mother what you want her to do." I thought, I'd like to be around to see that.

And I was.

prologue  chapter 1  chapter 2  chapter 3  chapter 4  chapter 5 
chapter 6  chapter 7  chapter 8  chapter 9  chapter 10

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