The Henderson's

Harold Henderson pulled his beat-up Chevy into the weed grown driveway of his home. He could barely make out the outline of his front steps. The porch light he put a new bulb in last week remained off. The steps creaked under his boots, and the door knob gave way at the first turn. He could hear the TV from the hallway and made his way to the living room, where Faith was draped over the couch watching QVC. Her dress was wrinkled; it was one of those summer dresses with flowers speckled all over it. She was holding the telephone in her hand and with the other one reached for the gin and tonic making a water mark on the coffee table.

He thought to himself how he wished she would stop buying useless appliances. Stop wasting herself with useless things. She would use it once and then it would end up on the shelf in the pantry where it would collect dust or dirt. He thought of asking her what she might have bought this time, but he didn’t want to spark another argument about money. It’s always about money and how he is never here. Maybe if she got a job he could be home more, or if she tried cleaning up this place she would have less time to complain.

She dropped the phone and looked to one side of him with reddened eyes. “What’s the matter with you, not even going to say hi to your wife?” she snapped.

“Why you seemed so busy with that phone there I didn’t want to interrupt," he blustered attempting to think of something better to say. Instead he said, “Have you heard the Fairbury Market is hiring this time?”

“God Harold! I’m done talking to y-y-you!” she hiccupped. Flustered, her hands fluttered over her dress attempting to smooth out wrinkles. She gave up and dramatically threw her hands on her hips and attempted to stare him down.

“Okay Faith,” he said knowing that she was far from done talking to him. He turned around and trudged over to the kitchen. A few seconds later she trailed in behind him. He opened the fridge, and grabbed the container on the top shelf. Spaghetti, again. He tossed it into the microwave.

“Whatever, Harold. Any word about the Banker’s boy, Garret?” she questioned as she stared out the window above the sink. Harold grabbed the spaghetti from the microwave and began to eat at their small table.

He shook his head. “According to Ms. Henson he ran out of town with some young blonde from over in Union Grove. His dad is furious. Hasn’t heard a word” Harry said between mouthfuls.

“Ms. Henson? It’s not like you can really believe anything she says. She probably got this all from one of her fourteen cats,” Faith muttered and wobbled into a seat at the table.

“Fifteen, now. This one’s name is Charles,” Harold responded.

“I thought she already had a Charles?”

“No, that’s Charlie.”

“Same thing.”

“Don’t tell her that. She’d probably feed you to them,” Harold chuckled.

“Well, I don’t believe her. He was supposed to talk about a payment plan for paying on our loans, remember Harry? Remember? He wouldn’t just leave. He’s respectable,” Faith uttered with absolute conviction, seeming to have sobered up if only for a moment.

“I don’t know Faith, he was quite the ladies’ man. He spent more than one weekend in the bar with some woman or another. He was more of a dirty kind of fellow. Who needs someone like that touching our things. Anyways, you look nice tonight. Did you go somewhere?” he asked. She did look nice tonight. Besides her dress being wrinkled. Her hair was clipped back, and she was wearing a pair of strappy shoes that made her legs go on for miles.

“No. Nowhere to go tonight,” she made a bitter face, and Harold tightened his grip on his fork. Hands crawling on her. Dirty dirty hands. He shook his head.

“Well, you look nice. He picked up his empty container and fork and cleaned them until they were perfect. Spotless. “Let’s go up to bed.”

“You go up, I’ll be up in a bit,” she murmured heading back to the living room, probably next to that dirty phone and smudged glass of gin some more.

Harold made his way up the stairs and into their bedroom. The bedding was the same quilt Faith’s mother gave them when they moved in. Different shades of blue, tattered along the edges, but it still worked. It still worked. He kicked off his boots and crawled into bed. He reached over to the night stand and set the clock for 7:30 AM. Harold waited and stared at the ceiling until he heard Faith come up the stairs. He closed his eyes and pretended to sleep as she stumbled around changing. When she crawled into bed, he let himself fall asleep.

Brring. BRring. BRRING. Slap. 7:30. Harold rolled out of bed, and for a moment glanced back at Faith. She was sprawled on the bed, yesterday’s make-up smeared, but asleep. He could almost forget all the pain. The knowing. When she slept he could imagine what it used to be like, and sometimes even imagined that it still could be.

He arrived at Fairbury Post Office before 8:30 AM. Fairbury was a small town with everything in reach. His other job, bartending at the Whistle-Stop Bar and Restaurant was right down the street. He grabbed the keys for his mail truck and unlocked the creaky beast. The thing about Harold was that he found out just about everything about everyone in town, inadvertently and not always wanted, just from his jobs. On this route alone he learned that Mr. Lloyd had his own exploits. He pulled up to the Lloyd’s house, and like clockwork Mr. Lloyd was still in his Subaru scrubbing lipstick off his neck before his wife was to wake up.

Harold also learned that Kathleen Williams made a mean apple pie. His first week in stopping at the Williams’ residence, he found a woman in her mid-fifties, hiding in the bushes. He looked and saw what she was spying on: curtains forgotten and two silhouettes (Mr. Lloyd and his secretary) fumbling to get each other’s clothes off. Embarrassed he apologized to a red faced Ms. Williams and quickly left.

The next time he went to deliver her mail, she delivered to him the best tasting apple pie he had ever had. The pie might have been for him not to say anything (he never planned to), but wasn’t going to turn down pie from a woman who was actually willing to make dessert for him.

Today she was fidgeting on her door step when Harold pulled up next to her mailbox. She clutched her apron in her hands as she scurried over to him with a box of cookies, looking as if she was about to explode.

“Harold! Did ya hear what happened?” gripping her apron even tighter. She continued before he could respond. “The Banker’s boy! He turned up just outside of town! Dead as a doornail! Shot right in the chest, twice! Can ya believe it?” Harold paled and clutched the steering wheel even harder.

“Harold, Honey are you okay? I know, it’s just awful. Eat some of those cookies! Get some sugar in ya, so ya get some color back in ya,” Ms. Williams continued, mouth faster than a motorboat. Harold pulled his hands away from the wheel and started to open the box of cookies. Macadamia.

“You know what I think happened? I think it was that blonde girl from Union Grove! When Jimmy, ya know Jimmy? Jimmy Shultz, sweet boy on the force. Well he got a call in from some teens, God knows what they were up to, finding a body in the middle of nowhere. Well Jimmy told me, because he’s sweet on me, but don’t ya worry dear, I like ya more,” she winked at him and continued, “The only thing they found on him was an empty wallet. I think that girl swiped him for all he had on him, and dumped him down in a ditch. Probably long gone by now! What do ya think, Harold?” the last of her words came out in a whoosh as she took a great gulp of air.

Harold stopped biting his tongue, bit into a cookie, and pretended to ponder the answer. “It does seem like a mugging, if all his stuff was gone. Could have been a girl, or some junkie. Hell maybe she was a junkie and she needed the money? We all know he liked showing off all he was endowed with.”

Ms. Williams giggled.

Chastising, “Ms. Williams! I meant his wallet! Well that kid thought both were true, you know how he was down at the bar. Anyone could have gotten the bright idea. The cookies are delicious.” Ms. Williams nodded along in agreement. By the afternoon most of the town would be nodding with Ms. Williams if she got around quick enough.

He waved goodbye to Ms. Williams and continued on route. It will all be alright, Harry old boy, he thought to himself along the way.

The end of the route looped back around to the post-office. Harold parked the mail truck and went to his Chevy. He pulled his bag out of the back and took it inside the building to change. He walked down to the Whistle-stop into the back of the building and was about to turn to the door on the left leading into the bar.

At this time at the bar only old man Louis was there already red eyed. He spent most of his time there and would ramble on to anyone who would listen about “back in his day” and “the war”.

That war has ended, but there is a different kind of war happening now, Harold thought. A war involving jobs, debts, and wives…

Harold respected old man Louis. He had fought and won.

The next few hours were slow, but after eight things began to pick up. Screeching laughter, and boasting talk reverberated back to the bar. It seemed that everywhere Harold looked bodies were slithering up next to each other. Talk of the banker’s boy whispered from dark puckered lips. Hands crawled. Teeth Flashed. Dirt. Dirt hurriedly spread over hands, arms, legs.

“Hey man. Can I have a PBR and an extra dry martini for my lady here?” some guy Harold didn’t recognize yelled over the bar, shaking him out of his thoughts. He checked their IDs. From Canton, not too far from here. Harold prepared the martini and took the cap off the beer, sliding them towards the husky guy attempting to grow a mustache, and a nice looking girl who could probably have done better. She had a nice smile. Innocent. Smiles like those never last.

He stared at the martini glass. Stared at the guy’s hand reaching for it. Dirty nails, and greasy hands. Those hands smudging the surface. Groping the handle. The cold wetness of the glass running down the rim, like tears. Not long after it is empty. Cold, dirty, and empty. The glass is left behind. He picked it up with his warm hands and gently began to clean the glass. Clean it till he was able to see his own reflection. Perfect. He set the glass with the others.

When he turned around he saw Ms. Henson walking towards him. She ordered a side-car and crawled into the bar stool. Her frail body bent awkwardly as she tried to drink with her hands shaking. Cat hair stuck all over her dated dress. Rumor had it that Ms. Henson and old man Louis were in love in their younger years. Too bad, he got called in to serve, and when he had gotten back it was with a ring on his finger and a slim arm entwined with his. The owner of the slim arm passed away a few years back. A Stroke. Ms. Henson and old man Louis still haven’t talked. Not for a lack of trying, Old man Louis tried on multiple occasions, but even now after she’s gone Ms. Henson won’t speak to him. Instead the cats just kept multiplying...each time he tried to talk to her. Harold couldn’t blame her anger. He would be enraged too, but he wouldn’t have just sat there. He couldn’t have.

He couldn’t let it go. Wouldn’t let her go.

The rest of the night was mostly steady, but at closing those Late Nighters that slithered in groped for hands and skulked out into the shadows.

Harold collected glasses, wiped the tables, scrubbed the floors, and closed up shop. He made his way back to his Chevy and started home. He wondered if Faith had heard the news. Maybe she hadn’t. He pondered how he might tell her. “Faith. We’re going to need to set up an appointment with another banker about our loans. That boy was found dead. What a shame” or “Faith, did you hear about the banker boy? He’s Dead.” Dead. Dirty. Dead. When he gets home she’ll be sad and he’ll be there, like he always has been for her.

He pulled up into the driveway and jumped out crushing weeds under his boots. Oddly light shined down from the porch. The porch light was on? He hopped up the stairs and grabbed the door knob, it twisted.

He was met with a dark house. He listened for a moment, but didn’t hear anything. He climbed the steps and entered the bedroom. Nothing. He continued to look around, but she wasn’t there.

Harold made his way back to the living room fuming. She should be home. She hadn’t said she was going anywhere. Who could she be with? Who.

Harold dropped into his chair and began to yank at the ties on his boots, thought better of it, and re-laced them. Bounding out of the chair he stomped into the kitchen. The bottle of gin in the cabinet was low, but would do the trick. He wrapped his fingers around its neck and took a large swig as he went to sit back in the chair. Waiting.

She stumbled through the door an hour later. She switched the light on, and jumped when she saw him sitting there waiting. Her face was smeared black and her eyes glazed.

“Harold! You scared me, I thought you would be in bed,” Faith yelped stumbling backwards.

“Faith, where have you been?” he said as he pounced up from the chair.

“I had to go out Harold,” she leaned against the door and tried to kick off her shoes, but the clasps were tight.

“But where Faith? You’re obviously a bit sloshed again, but the bar is closed,” he shouted walking back and forth into the entry way of the living room.

Hiccup. “Can we talk about this in the morning, Harry?” Faith’s eyes began to water again.

“Why Faith? Why? Why couldn’t you just stay home?” Harold stopped passing and looked at her.

Faith looked blank for a moment before stuttering, “Garret die-d-d-d Harry, did you hear?”

Harold’s anger increased, because he wanted to be the one to bring it up. “I’ve heard. What a shame” he said through clenched teeth.

“He was a nice man,” she stated sliding down the door to the floor.

“A little too nice,” he mumbled.

Faith’s head lifted up, “What’s that supposed to mean Harold?”

“Nothing. Just never liked how he was in the bar,” he replied.

Looking him right in the eyes she said clearly, “Harry, I slept with him”.

Instead of her honesty making him feel better, his anger tripled. He stormed over to her and in his anger spouted, “I might not be here as much as you like, but I’m not an idiot. You don’t think I didn’t know?”

Shocked, “Harold, Harold if you knew…You didn’t...did you h-h-hurt him?” Faith clamored to her feet, mouth hanging opening.

Harold turned away, “Of course not Faith!” He walked to the stairs and began climbing.

She grabbed his arm following him up the stairs, “Harold! You’re lying. You KILLED HIM! Didn’t you!”

Harold swung around, “He was dirty Faith! He was here! In our house when I got home. In our home!”

Tears poured down her face, “You k-k-killed him”.

Harold just stared at her, “You are my wife. Mine.”

“No. No Harry!” she screeched and tried to run, but he grabbed her arm.

“I’ve worked hard for the two of us! I’ve worked two damn jobs for years for you and your pretty things. I’ve done everything for you. I love you Faith, he could never love you like I do. I would do anything for you! He was slime—”

“You’re the slime! He loved me! He said so! He was here when you weren’t!” she said jerking her arm.

He let go. For a moment she was suspended in time. Arms stretched, fingers splayed, and then her body plunged down the stairs with a crunch. Harold sprinted down the stairs after her. Her neck splayed oddly, eyes staring back at him accusing.

His eyes watered as he brushed her hair with his fingers, and lifted her body.

“It’s okay Hun, I still love you,” he whispered carrying her up the stairs. He laid her down on the bed and pulled her mother’s quilt on her, closed her eyes, and righted her neck just so. Then he went into the bathroom and grab a wash rag, ran warm water on it and went back to the room. He gently washed off her smeared face till it was clean of all the smudges. Perfect.

He watched her sleep. No more pain.

“Perfect,” he whispered again as he leaned down and brushed his lips to her forehead.