by Benita Diggs
"Afternoon, Mr. Crowder. How you?" Thalia had used her own key to enter the sixty-year-old man's home. She looked back at me and grinned, motioning with her head for me to follow her into the living room. "He don't bite," she whispered as she turned back toward him. Mr. Crowder didn't say a word as Thalia set a plate of soul food in front of him and proceeded to straighten up the room a bit. "This here is Chalice, Mr. Crowder, my friend what's ridin' me around till I get my car fixed."
Mr. Crowder glanced at his food and returned his eyes to the leaves falling outside. Not bothering to make certain that Mr. Crowder was eating, Thalia simply finished her straightening and headed back to the spot from which I had not moved since we arrived, by the door. "We gone now, Mr. Crowder." She hadn't even turned to look at him. Instead she whispered to me, "Girl, he just as ornery. Let's go." She touched my arm and motioned for me to leave.
Thalia and I had known each other since my husband was hospitalized after a car accident two years ago. When she saw me choose the meatloaf in the hospital cafeteria, she nudged me with her elbow and suggested that I put "that crap" back and get the pork chops instead. From pork chops to how to spend my time while my husband was in the hospital for two weeks to how many times to do "it" if I want to get pregnant, Thalia has been giving me suggestions ever since. Sometimes she can be overbearing, but I overl ook that because I know that her heart is in the right place. Besides, it is because of her that a wonderful man entered my life.
The air in the car during the ride to Thalia's apartment was filled, as usual, with various words from her Lexicon of the Profane. "Oh, I'm sorry, girl, but that mutha...uh, that man just gets on my nerves sometimes. Ain nothin' wrong with him and he just sit there and won't do for hisself. Don't hardly say nothin' either. And when he do, he fussin'." I just drove on and let her vent her frustrations. "D...dang. His wife been dead three years now and he still won't get back into life, chile." As she sat back and let the wind from her open window blow through her permed hair, I wondered why she even bothered to visit senior citizens after a long shift at the hospital if she was just going to complain about it. Still, I said nothing other than a good listener's obligatory "uh-huh" here and there.
As was happening often lately, Laurence was on the telephone when I arrived. "Okay, sweetie. Well, darlin' is home, so I have to go. Take care." He got up and kissed me as usual and avoided talking about the look that I always gave him when he rushed off the telephone as soon as I came home. We went about our routine, "How was your day? and "I missed you" and I soon made dinner just like any other day.
My last day of school before summer break was the most boring one of the school year since there was nothing left to do besides check off what I had already done to make certain that my room was secure and that my students received their grades, so I left early without alerting anyone to my departure. On the way home, all I could think about was making love to Laurence. I almost ran a red light just trying to get home to prepare myself for his arrival. Once at home, I cooked a succulent lasagna, garlic bread, and fresh broccoli. I followed that with a long, hot bath, making sure to use the gardenia body wash that drives him crazy.
Afterward, I patted myself dry, used a gardenia body spray, and donned a short black, silky gown with spaghetti straps and nothing underneath. By the time Laurence walked through the front door, the aroma of a home cooked meal was dancing the lambada with the scent of the white flowers I had sprayed all over my body. I hadn't heard him until he came into the bedroom where I lay across the width of the bed, pretending to be asleep. When I felt him massage my legs, I feigned an awakening and smiled as I heard him say, "Hello, my love." After our own lambada, we enjoyed a romantic candlelight dinner.
"Girl, I 'preciate you comin' to get me. Chile, that car of mine just like to take up residency at the shop. Theo oughta buy me a new one with his cheap self. Anyway, I only have three people to get to today since Ms. Pearson died last week...Ooo, girl, what do you plan to do for your summer? I know I'd take me a trip if I was you. And Laurence make plenty money too?! Shoot...Ooo, girl, turn left here and go on up the block." Thalia's mind always did run a mile a minute, but I enjoyed her company all the same, which is why I didn't mind being her chauffeur even though I was missing my summer bum time. Neither did I mind helping her with her volunteer visits to senior citizens up until we arrived at the last home on her list, that of Mr. Crowder.
"Thalia, you go on in and I'll wait out here in the car."
"Uh-uh, chile, I need you to carry these pies that Ms. Lacey baked for him. He ain hardly stud'in' her, but, bless her heart, she still bake him peach pies. Besides, he ain gon' say nothin' to you noway."
"That's just it. He never SAYS anything with his mouth, but he says plenty with his eyes. There's something going on in his head that just isn't right. I just know it." Thalia didn't say anything else to me. She simply reached in the backseat and grabbed the pies, holding them out to me. Of course, I took them and got out of the car while she retrieved Mr. Crowder's dinner. I waited for her so that I could walk beside her, somewhat guarded. She turned around and shook her head at me before knocking and opening the door with the key she had been given.
"It's the meal wagon, Mr. Crowder. Look what I brought ya. Ms. Lacey done baked you three peach pies. Ain't that nice of her?" Thalia sat his dinner down in front of him as usual and took the pies from me. "I'ma put these in the kitchen for ya, Mr. Crowder."
In the brief moment that Thalia was gone, something happened that had not happened during the previous Crowder visits I had endured. The weeks that Thalia's car actually worked, the weeks I had away from the disturbing Mr. Crowder, had not prepared me for what came next. "Why don't you have a seat?" Without turning to look at me, this avuncular, soft, yet deep voice wafted through the air. Mr. Crowder had spoken to me.
"What's wrong, Chal?" As I stood there with my mouth agape, I didn't even feel Thalia's hand on my shoulder, not until she shook me. "Chalice, girl?" Whe I saw the frown on her face, I closed my mouth and stood against the wall by the door while she went about straightening up the living room. After a wile..."Well, we gone, Mr. Crowder." I was not far behind Thalia but far enough to hear Mr. Crowder speak to me again before I departed.
I had thought about that man's voice all the way back to Thalia's apartment, all the way home. There was something endearing about his voice...I slowly turned the key in the door...something sad...I slowly opened the door and walked into my home...something loving...I slowly placed my keys in my pocket...somethin sweet...I slowly walked toward the master bedroom...
"You better watch yourself, girl, before I come out there and do to you all the things you only dream about...Oh, you know it would be on if I did..."
There was nothing sweet about my husband's voice as he talked to his "friend" on the telephone. He was sitting on OUR bed talking on OUR telephone abouit what he would do with ANOTHER WOMAN if given the chance. What the fu...I walked into the room with the usual look on my face, that look of suspicion that I always gave him when he was talking to HER.
"Okay, sweetie. Later." He hung up the telephone and put it on the nightstand. "Hey, darlin'." He actually got up to kiss me, to hug me, to pretend that he had done nothing wrong, that he had not just spewed lust all over the receiver. I took a deep breath and cringed as his arms wrapped around me. "What's wrong, darlin'?" Had he actually fixed his mouth to ask me that? Did he actually think that everything was okay? Ooooooooooooooo!!!!
"I'm just tired, Laurence."
"I don't know. I don't know why he needs her. I don't know why I'm not enough. Am I not pretty enough?"
"Am I not smart enough?"
"You're one of the most intelligent women I know."
"I guess I just don't understand him the way she does."
"There is no excuse for it, Chalice."
"Why, David? Why does he carry on with her like that? Why can't he let go of her? You know, he actually told me that he can't help lusting after her because of residual feelings that he has for her. David, he sat there at our table and tried to justify this ongoing lust fest he's been having on the telephone!" I had been going to see David Crowder for weeks, ever since Theo decided to spend more time with Thalia. My visits had become less about just checking on a senior citizen and more about my leaning on David's shoulder. "It hurts, you know. It feels like he's taken a butcher knife and stabbed me in the heart over and over. I could be crushed by the weight of an elephant and feel better than I do when I look at my husband...I do love him, really. I guess that's why it...hurts so...so...baaaad." My sobs had broken my speech and my head dropped into my hands while my tears fell to the floor.
"I am truly sorry, Chalice." He sat beside me and put a still strong arm around me as I cried. "It is nothing that you have done and no shortcoming that you have. Laurence has a problem that has nothing to do with you. He should have taken care of that long before he met you but he didn't. It's up to him to deal with it now." He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped my tears away...
"You'd better go home, Chalice. Go get ready for work tomorrow."
"I don't want to. I don't want to see his face. He still talks to her, David. He sees how it hurts me and he still talks to her." I was beyond tears at this point. All that I had left were whispers to show the pain that Laurence was causing down to my very core. "I know that I have to go. I know." When he walked me to the door and embraced me, I couldn't let go of him. I couldn't help pressing the side of my face to his chest and listening to his heartbeat. I couldn't help wanting to stay just like that all night.
"It's not that easy, Chalice. I can't just cut a piece of me away like that. She is a part of my very being. Not having her in my life would be like not having my arm or my leg. You want me to be handicapped? Is that what you want, Chalice?"
"I want you to be mine!!!"
Laurence talked me into taking a trip with him to see her "just one last time" before he stopped talking to her forever...to cement our relationship...to make him become all mine.
I sat in the hotel room watching television alone, wondering why I let Laurence go to her without me. Perhaps it was because I still loved him and still wanted to trust him. Show after show passed across the screen as I waited for my husband to return. "These things take time, Chalice," is what I told myself after three hours. Soon the actors on the television were watching me as I clinched a pillow in my sleep.
The next thing I saw was the red numbers on the clock on the nightstand telling me that another day had crept up on me as I heard my husband walking into the hotel room with his clothes in disarray, his head hanging low. I could just SMELL the guilt oozing off of him. When I turned on the light as soon as he closed the door, I saw a mixture of guilt and fear in his eyes as he looked at me.
"I'm sorry, Chalice. Darlin', I'm so sorry. I...I didn't mean to stay gone so long...I just...just lost track of time." He sat down on the bed and stared at me in my silence. "Say something, darlin', please."
"Then all I have to say is goodbye."
To no avail Laurence tried to put his arms around me as some form of comfort while my tears wet the clothes that I was packing. Because the very thought of him touching me nearly caused me to vomit, I pushed him away. I called a taxi to take me to the bus station where I caught the first bus back to David.
"Come to bed, Chalice Crowder. You promised me something special for my sixty-fourth birthday."