Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fred, a short story by Ray Wade


Fred is standing by-side the road staring at a telephone pole. For two hours now he has wondered over a sign tacked to the pole. “Phil’s Place”. Wonder which Phil that is, the psychologist feller up at state hospital when Louise went crazy or the one what’s a preacher over at the Muleyville Church? There were two other lines on the sign, “Crickets and Beer, Bread and Worms”. They sure ain’t got much, Fred thought.
Fred does pretty much what he’s always done which is work different days for different folks. Cash only. He works one day each for four different fellers, they each pay him at the end of the day. Fred figures he has a four day work week and every day is pay day.
For two weeks Fred’s been trying to get over Louise being gone. She’s gone and that makes him walk a lot, sleep very little and feel tough-like, hard on the outside but soft like as to soak up water on the inside. Fred figures that’s why he can’t cry.

Two, that’s his lucky number. When he left home he had two shirts. He met Louise two years later. When Phil, the psychologist, asked him about Louise, Fred said he’d known her about two years but that was all he knew about her. Then she got well after two more years in the hospital.

As Fred goes through his day at each job, he keeps track of what Louise would be doing if she were at the trailer or over in her room. Now she’s talking to the kitchen table, then talking to people who come by for one of them songs she makes up for them. Right now she’s staying with Fred’s Aunt Mae at one of them senior centers. Fred never could help his Aunt Mae so he is thankful for Louise to return all the favors Aunt Mae had done for them all these years.

The day before Louise left, Fred came to the house, went straight to the bedroom and put all her things in two clean, stout paper grocery bags. When Louise came home, he was sitting in his chair on the porch by the front door, them bags beside of his foot, staring straight ahead. The TV was on inside and the news man was talking about the big fire over at James’ trailer sales place and Sister Dollie’s Tabernacle. They’s talking about something strange causing the fire and about investigating what all had been going on there.

“What’s they all talking about?” Louise asked.
“Whatever it is, it ain’t good,” Fred answered.

That’s how it was between him and Louise. She was always talking and could hear real good. Fred hadn’t heard a word since he got sick when he was three, didn’t talk much and listened real good. Louise could hear but never listened. She asked lots of questions. Fred could answer anything that ever bothered her. Some people called it lip reading but Fred called it paying attention to Louise. Sometimes Louise didn’t even know she was bothered and Fred already knew the answer. He felt real well-off when he thought about it.
“We need to start walking.” Fred told Louise. They picked up the bags. Fred knew a way through the saw mill he worked ever Thursday. That put them on the highway to Hattiesburg in less than fifteen minutes. They walked all night.

The sun was just starting to pink-up the sky when they knocked at the center where Aunt Mae was staying. When the door opened Fred surprised the lady inside. He handed her both bags of Louise’s things and said, “This here’s my wife’s stuff and her, she’s my wife.” Nodding his head in Louise’s general direction he told the lady, “I’m leaving her to help with my Aunt Mae.” Glancing at Louise he squinted his eyes to keep from crying and walked back home.
They’d met each other at a church homecoming. Both were from the same neck of the woods but Louise had been away at that hospital since she was a little girl. Two years later they were married. His lucky number again.

Fred misses Louise. Her voice all warm, the smell of her hair and neck next to him at night. Back in Hattiesburg Louise talks in that clear sweet-toned voice. Louise keeps herself pretty, wiping back the long hair she never cut since she started going to the Holy Ghost Tabernacle.
Fred spent some time in thought most evenings after he cleaned the trailer and before going to bed. Sitting as it did, at the end of a long road to the top of a clay gulley, the trailer was in a good place for thinking and watching the sun go down. No one ever caused any trouble out here even when he walked down by the highway like right now, Fred could think here. He liked to think about things slow and easy and from both sides, like breathing in and out.

He and Louise had done everything they had ever tried. They lived together ever night of their 12 year marriage until tonight. And they never let down anybody who counted on them.
They went to Florida once with some church people. But Fred didn’t like the way they did things. He was about church like some men were about getting married, he’d tried it twice but it never took neither time.

That didn’t stop Louise none. She kept going and praying and singing then she came home saying she’d been preaching and making up them songs to give to people when Sister Dollie preached.
When she told him about all the money people gave at the Tabernacle, Fred knew something wasn’t right. He’d been raised up with those folks and if they had any bunches of money, they’d keep it for themselves. He knew that for a fact.

Louise didn’t care about that. She walked around inside that trailer talking about all the wonderful things the Lord was doing and how she was the Lord’s handmaiden. If Sister Dollie was willing to give her a place to minister, Louise was going to take it.

If Louise ever found that Sister Dollie or James were doing wrong, what would she say to them? “Tell it. Tell it and confess your sin.” Louise would do anything, anything except give up on God. “No, no, no,” she practices. “You can beat me, you can kill me…Go ahead and kill me but you and me we all know that God don’t love ugly. No, No, No!”

Fred just went on living like he always lived. He never worked more than four days a week and never spent more money than he had.

A silent warm strength took over Louise. It showed itself in her keeping on preaching and doing songs at the Tabernacle. James would read the Bible to her every day so she would have something to preach about. James had given her a special room in one of the trailers he had for sale. Folks could go there and she’d give them a song. They’d write them on the walls, the ones that could write. It was pretty.

They would be home together ever night. Louise expected Fred to complain about what she did ever day. But he never did. She believed he’d understand about the Tabernacle people. He believed she would see the light. Neither of them ever did.

It was the night before the Tabernacle’s second birthday service and Fred thought they’d been mighty lucky not to get caught doing whatever it was they were doing wrong. Food was ordered for the people to eat after service. Louise had brought home the new dress Sister Dollie gave her to wear to services Sunday. Now Louise was getting her things laid out for the morning.
“It ain’t none of it right,” Fred said. They had been silent about it for almost two years now.

“It ain’t you what’s doing nothing wrong Louise, it’s all them others. There’s too much money, too many hands and too little work going on. God just ain’t in it.”
Louise laid her fresh Kleenex down. “I trust the Lord’s judgment. He knows the hearts of men and women too.”
“Does he ever say anything about it, though?” Fred asked.
“If he does, I’ll never hear him, we both know that.” Answered Louise. Fred looked surprised then said, “I love you, I rilly, rilly love you. I do.”
“Then how you gonna show me?” Louise asked.

Their loving went smoothly. It always had. Whatever they did was agreed to. Fred adored Louise. He’d protect her with his life. She wanted to give him the same affection and comfort.

Fred finally learned the truth the day before Louise went to help Aunt Mae. His boss at the fish camp told him the law was looking into James’ trailer sales business and the folks at the Holy Ghost Tabernacle. They’re cooking up drugs in Louise’s room in that trailer and then sell them and put on a show with the offering at the Tabernacle. Make it look like all those poor people suddenly have lots of money and are giving it all to God.

Fred had come straight home and packed up her things. When he got back from walking to Hattiesburg, it wasn’t more than a couple of hours before Sister Dollie and a bunch of them from the Tabernacle came around. “Is Louise here? Oh please tell us she is.” they’d all said.
“Well, she ain’t.” Fred told them. They all took on a crying and carrying on awful like.
“There was a trailer fire and by the time they got it put out there was this body where somebody died in it. We just knew it was Louise but we hoped not.” Sister Dollie told Fred. “We’ll miss her, such a loss, oh, we needed her so…now don’t you go doubting God’s ways, Fred. You just trust in Him ‘til you see her again one day.”
Fred said, “Yes Ma’am.”

They all got in their car and were almost to the highway when the sheriff come and arrested them all. After they were all gone to jail, Fred walked out to the road to watch the two police cars drive away.

At seven-thirty Fred is still out by the highway. His boot sole makes a scrubbing sound as he shuffles his right foot first left then right then back again. The wind is rattling the black jack oaks sprouted around the light pole. In two weeks he will go visit Louise and Aunt Mae. Aunt Mae will smile at him and Louise will talk at him.

“You love me, you rilly love me.” Fred will tell Louise. He knows because she went to help Aunt Mae just because he said she needed Louise to help her. Louise was a saint, Fred figured.

It was a secret most folks would never know because they didn’t listen to Louise like Fred did. He thought maybe someday other folks would notice all the good possibilities of Louise. She made most folks kind of uncomfortable. Louise did not know how to lie and some thought that would be the end of her, what with her not listening too. Fred thought those folks were always wanting too much from life.

He turns from the highway and heads back towards the trailer. He rubs his hand over the top of his head. He would adjust his cap if he wore one but Fred never wore a cap. Just before entering the trailer he stopped, stretched tall and opened his arms wide, like when he hugs Louise.

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