A Different Voice

Chapter 6

Charles ran back to the church and got Patty and Becky and our purses, and picked up our shoes on the way back. The Reverend followed them.

"Bud---you've been fighting again," he said. "And at a funeral." He shook his head. "I'm disappointed in you."

Bud was leaning against the car waiting for us to be ready to go home. He sighed. "Yeah." He didn't even look up.

The doctor and I spoke at the same time.

"Reverend, that's not fair---"

"Stop right there, James---"

Arbutus said, "James Skinner. I think maybe I'm a little disappointed in you." Said mildly, calmly---not angry, not in that hard unforgiving tone she'd used with her children. Even so, the rest of us shut up and let her talk. "We've known each other a long time, haven't we? You were always a little pompous even when you were young. Your friends overlook that fault in you. Bud overlooks it. I think, though, in this case you might want to know the whole story before you open your mouth again."

He turned red, but he didn't say anything.

"Bud, here," she went on, "was trying to turn the other cheek, like it says to do in the Bible. He was trying not to fight. For me, 'cause I asked him not to. And look what it got him." Anybody who didn't already know how Arbutus felt about Bud could have seen it when she looked at him just then. Like the doctor. He noticed. Patty was just wide-eyed like she always is.

"You just assumed Bud started the fight, didn't you?" Arbutus said. "You know, it seems to me you need to take your calling a little less seriously, and work on figuring out how to be a friend to those people you say you care about."

She turned away and smiled at Charles. "Well. Looks like I've got everybody straightened out. So we can go." She lifted an eyebrow. "I must be having a schoolmarm day."

Charles said, "What's that?"

Doctor Graham opened the door of the car so Bud could get in.

"It means I know what everybody should be doin'," Arbutus said. "And I tell 'em so. You ever have one a' them days?"

Charles shook his head.

"I have 'em every once in a while. The Reverend has 'em a lot. Even Lucius, here, who spends most of his time not telling anybody anything, has one once in a while." She sighed. "I wonder how much rum was in that rum duffle Peaches brought. It sure was good. I might have overindulged."

………………….

Everyone ended up at our house. Patty ran to her house first with Becky so they could both change out of their wet clothes. Doctor Graham went for supplies first to tape up Bud's ribs and take care of his cuts. The Reverend sheepishly offered Arbutus a ride, since she'd ridden into town with Arlene.

I've often wondered since then what everyone thought about all of us leaving the reception at the same time. Or if they noticed. No one ever said anything about it to me.

Charles climbed into the car and sat between me and Bud. Bud leaned his head back on the seat and shut his eyes. His nose was still bleeding, so he was holding a handkerchief up to his face. The ride was pretty quiet until we were about halfway there.

"Bud, when we get home," Charles said, "if you need something, I could get it for you."

Bud raised his head and opened his eyes. "You could," he said. "I might need you to do that for me for a day or two."

And that was that. I was never sure what it was that changed Charles' attitude toward Bud; it could have been any one of several things, or it could have been the right combination of all of them.

And he said "home."

After Bud was taped and stitched and bandaged, and he changed out of his bloody clothes, after the Reverend had finished apologizing to him, after he told Arbutus and I to quit fussing over him……Charles became his devoted servant. A glass of water, a throw for his feet, a cold cloth for his head. I felt safe leaving him in Charles' hands for a while.

The Reverend and the doctor went to sit on the porch.

In the kitchen Patty was playing with Becky. Arbutus was stowing food in our refrigerator.

"Everybody brought me so much food, I couldn't eat it all up in a month a' Sundays. I had James run me by my house to get some of it. I thought we might as well have some of this for supper instead of cooking up something fresh." She hesitated. "If it's all right with you if I stay for supper."

"You know you don't have to ask that, Arbutus."

"Well….there's been a lot a' talk about me and Bud just lately. I figured you knew it was just moonshine, just idle foolery, but then today I thought, what if you don't?"

"I'm not sure I do know that."

"There ain't nothing like that between me and Bud, Lynn. Nothing at all. You know there ain't."

"I'm not saying I know what to call what's between the two of you, but I'm pretty sure it's more than nothing."

Patty got real quiet. Listening.

I think that was the first time I saw Arbutus at a loss for words. Finally she said, "Me and Bud are friends."

"Arbutus---you're a woman. He's a man. He must be losing something if you don't think of him that way."

"Of course he's a man." She looked at the pan of Pork Chop Surprise in her hands, and set it down on the table. "OK, maybe there's something……but you don't have to worry."

"I don't worry. I know my husband."

"You don't have to worry about me either. I hope you know that." She shook her head. "Nothing seems to ruffle your feathers. You're always so calm. Even Charles doesn't seem to have put a dent in that calm face of yours."

She must not have heard me in the kitchen at her house on Saturday.

"Yeah," Patty said. "What's going on with Charles? You never did tell me anything about him. Where'd he come from? Where's his mom?"

"Well, Patty, you know I can't tell you anything I don't want the rest of the town to know."

She frowned and muttered something under her breath.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Anybody who's seen him knows he's Bud's," Arbutus said. "Can't keep that a secret."

She was right about that.

…………………..

I took some lemonade out to the men on the porch. Passing by the living room door on the way back, I shamelessly eavesdropped. Charles was sitting on the big arm of Bud's chair, talking earnestly. While I was listening, he began to sniffle.

"Your mama never came back, Bud," he said. "What if mine doesn't either?"

Silence.

"Hey, she's only been gone a few days," Bud said. "I think your mama'll come back if she can. And if she can't come back right away, you can just stay right here with us."

There was more silence.

"Charles…….you don't have to be afraid. You're not all alone."

And then Charles was weeping. The impulse to go in, pick him up and comfort him was strong, but I didn't do it. They didn't need me.

Bud's got a certain reputation here in Bisbee these days, whether he knows it or not. He's the man who put the fear of God into Donny McAfee. He's the man who survived a winter in the mountains and faced down a mountain lion with a broken leg and both hands tied behind his back.

The people in town don't know about the other things he's done, or the people he's killed, but still, when they talk about him, it's "Don't mess with Bud White."

I have to admit I kinda like to hear that.

But I love him more for other reasons, for things only a few of us know about. I talked to Inez Soto when Bud was in the hospital. She said the days before he rescued her ran together in her mind, her memories mostly of pain and despair; but she remembered seeing him come around the corner with his gun drawn. And she remembered him cutting her bonds, taking the gag out of her mouth, smoothing her hair back from her face. Telling her it was going to be all right now. It made her weep when she told me about it.

Maybe it was her prayers for his life that made the difference in the hospital.

Or maybe it was Loretta's prayers. Loretta, whose husband beat her black and blue out in their back yard one night, beat her slowly and leisurely until her nose was broken, and her ribs, and her eyes were both swollen shut; until she knew she was going to die, he was going to kill her. She couldn't see why he stopped, didn't know what the shouting and the noises meant……but she remembered being picked up off the muddy ground, and held and talked to, until the ambulance arrived and took her away. After she recovered, she asked about that night, and was told Bud's name, but she'd never seen him until she read about the shooting at the Victory motel in the paper, and came to the hospital to pray for the life of the man who saved hers.

I love the man who couldn't stop his tears in the hospital when I lost the baby the first time I was pregnant.

The man who took Becky out of my arms and sent me to bed the night Becky had a stomachache and screamed all night long. I found them the next morning on the couch, sleeping, Becky on his chest, one of his hands on her head, the other on her little bottom.

I didn't understand then, when Charles first came to us, how the two sides of his character lived together inside him, how he managed them….…the violent, cold-blooded killer, and the father tenderly cradling his baby daughter. I only knew a little about his life, about his family. There were things he didn't like to talk about, and things he didn't think were important. If I asked a question, he'd answer me, but I didn't know what questions to ask to find out what I wanted to know.

Now I think it's all the same, really……the violence and the tenderness both come from the same place. If you took one away, the other would be diminished.

He feels everything. He lets it all in. And he responds the same way.

And I guess that's a roundabout way of saying that Charles was in good hands.

………………………
Arbutus let Patty paint her fingernails that afternoon after Becky went down for her nap. Patty chose

a lurid red that looked somewhat out of place on Arbutus's worn hands, but they both were happy when she was done.

Charles came out to the kitchen later for a snack, and said Bud was asleep. He laughed when Arbutus held up her newly painted fingers. After a piece of chocolate cream pie, he started hopping on his toes around the room. The dishes in the cabinet trembled.

"My goodness, you sure are good at that," Arbutus said.

"It's easy," Charles said.

"Is it? Do you think I could do that?"

Charles started to laugh. "No."

"And why not?"

"Cause you're a granny." And he laughed some more.

"Ha. You just come outside with me, young man, and we'll see."

A few minutes later, I glanced out the window. "Patty---you have to see this."

We stood at the back door and watched Arbutus. She looked like she was having the time of her life, and I know Charles was. Arbutus was bouncing on her toes just like a kid; and while we watched, Charles fell on the ground, laughing so hard he couldn't stand up.

"Where's Tonto?" Bud came though the kitchen door, walking carefully. He looked like he just woke up.

"C'mere, Kemosabi. Take a look for yourself."

Doctor Graham and the Reverend followed him into the room. "What are you all looking……." The doctor's voice trailed off as he got a look.

We stood and watched the two of them playing for several minutes. Bouncing lost its appeal pretty

quick, and then they were playing something resembling tag, although there were only the two of them. Mostly it consisted of a lot of running and laughing. Arbutus was trying to catch Charles, I thought, but he was too fast for her.

"Amazing," the doctor murmured.

Suddenly Arbutus clutched at her chest and fell on the grass. Have you ever seen five people all trying to get through a door at once? I've heard people talk about your heart in your mouth; now I know what that means. We all rushed out on the porch and started down the steps.

Charles bent over Arbutus. "Hey. Granny. You OK?" He reached down and shook her. "Hey. Are you sick?" He looked worried.

"BOO!!" Arbutus yelled and grabbed Charles. "Ha, HA! I got ya, boy!" Charles screamed, and then laughed until I thought he was going to choke.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Bud said. He sat down kinda hard on the top step, and took a deep breath. "I thought she was havin' a heart attack."

Patty said, "I think I had a heart attack."

The Reverend didn't say anything, but his face was ashen.

The doctor was silent for a few seconds, and then he started to chuckle. He snickered, and chuckled, and then belly-laughed.

Arbutus was tickling Charles, rolling around in the grass.

"OK, you two," I said, walking closer, "Now that you've scared the liver out of everybody, you can come in and wash up. That Pork Chop Surprise ought to be warmed up good by now."

……………………..

Arbutus wore an elegant grey dress ("I can't abide black") to the funeral, full-skirted, with a navy belt and navy piping around the collar. It didn't look so elegant with grass stains on it. I said something to her about helping her clean it; she said, "Well, hell, it ain't like I'm ever gonna wear it again."

Arbutus herself was a little tousled, too; but her cheeks were rosy, and her eyes were shining. Or twinkling, maybe, with mischief. She looked younger than I'd ever seen her.

I wasn't the only one who thought so. The doctor hardly took his eyes off her all through supper.

Charles was apt to break into peals of laughter for no reason at all. He'd look at her, she'd look back, and then he'd fall off his chair laughing.

The Pork Chop Surprise was surprising because it tasted lots better than it looked. And if the pork chops hadn't been so tender, Bud would have had to stick to potatoes and peas. His face was hurting, you could see it; the bruises were beginning to show. But he stayed until the meal was over, even though he was done eating before everyone else, and he looked exhausted. He didn't say much, just watched and listened and smiled.

No one left till after dark. Reverend Skinner took Arbutus's arm….and Doctor Graham said, "Excuse me, James, I think it's my turn to escort the lady. If the lady doesn't mind." And he held out his arm, bent at the elbow, for her to take.

It was a moment I'll always remember. She took his arm, gracious enough to be a queen. "Why, thank you, Lucius, I think that would be just fine." And then, when she looked back at me to say good-bye, a silly "Who knew?" grimace crossed her face for a second.

Charles ran up just as they were going through the door. "Granny! Granny!" He held his arms up like a toddler, and she picked him up. "Could you….?" He said, then he thought a second. "I wish you was my granny."

"I expect I could be. But what about your real granny?"

"I ain't got no granny."

"Well, then. That settles it. I'll be your granny."

"I bet you're the funnest granny in the whole world."

"I wouldn't be surprised," Doctor Graham said.

……………………..

Charles fell asleep on Bud's lap, listening to the radio in the living room. I offered to take him up, but Bud shook his head. "He's OK here."

The next time I looked in on them, they were both asleep. I couldn't resist. I ran upstairs and got my Brownie.

I wish I could show you that picture. It's so sweet. Charles has his head back, laying on Bud's arm. Bud's head is leaning against the wing of the chair. Their mouths are both open. You can almost hear the snores when you look at it.

The bruises show, and his fat lip, and when Patty saw it, she said, "Oh, too bad he looks that way, otherwise this'd be a cute picture," but she's wrong. That's just Bud. Lumps and bruises and everything, that's just who he is. I'm glad I got a picture of him that way.

The flash woke him up. I carried Charles upstairs. Bud managed to get himself undressed and into bed while I was getting Charles out of his suit, but I heard him swearing.

After I had my nightgown on, he held out one arm and said, "C'mere, baby." He snuggled me into his armpit, my head on his shoulder and his arm around my back; my leg over his thigh and my arm lightly over his taped up ribs.

I think at that point he'd gained back everything he lost when he was in the mountains. He was so thin when he came back, so thin……. My first instinct was to push cakes and pies at him, but Dr. Graham said no. Roast beef instead of cake. Ham sandwiches instead of cookies. Grapes and pears instead of candy.

His old clothes hung on him, but he didn't want new ones, he said the old ones made him feel at home, comfortable. After I changed almost the whole house, I didn't feel like I could make an issue of it. So he looked like a scarecrow for a while.

By this time he looked pretty much the same as before he left, except for the scars. And once in a while, he'd get a look in his eyes that was different…….Actually, I think his shirts were beginning to be kinda tight across the shoulders right about then.

He didn't go to sleep.

"What're you thinking about?" I said finally.

He shook his head. "Not much." After a minute he said, ""Well….do you ever feel….strange? Like…..I don't know…..like…..how the hell did I get here?"

I thought about it. "I think I know what you mean."

"Five years ago, I coulda never seen this. You know? If I was trying to look ahead."

"Seen what?"

"All a' this. You and the baby, and everybody having supper here, just like…." He had to think some more. "The Christmas you had everybody here on Christmas Day, like a family Christmas dinner……"

I nodded.

"That was the first one for me. You know?"

"I know."

"And now…..people come to our house, my house, and they eat, just like…..I don't know…..I can't explain it. It was just strange, to think about the difference between then and now."

"I know," I said and raised my head. "I know exactly what you mean."

He kissed me, put his free hand in my hair and kissed my mouth. Let his head drop back down on the pillow and said, "Ouch."

I let my hand trail down his body. He smiled and caught it. "Nah, baby, I think I better take it easy tonight. Just sleep with me."

"One more kiss, then." I was careful not to hurt him, but I made sure it was a doozie.

I know my husband. When I raised my head, I could hear it in his breathing, see it in his eyes……..feel it against my thigh.

He pulled me back. "One more," he said.

He does love to kiss.

When he rolled me over and settled between my legs, I felt bad for a moment or two, 'cause some of those grunts were from pain. But not long, 'cause tonight I wanted it. Wanted to love him, wanted him to love me.

After a few minutes, he raised up on his elbows and looked down at me. Pushed some of my hair back away from my face. And said, "I don't tell you very often. I guess I figure you already know……"

"I do know. You do tell me."

A little later, he told me……it was nice to hear, even though I already knew it.

And I didn't have to fake anything.

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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