A story about young lovin' set in the rural Midwest.
|“Sue’s Beauty Hut, how may I help you?” I answer the phone. I jot down an appointment onto the already jam-packed calendar. Names, times, and phone numbers run into one another, turning the calendar into a barely legible smudge.
“A little more friendly on the phone Honey,” Sue admonishes from across the room “Don’t want to be scarin’ off any of our regulars with formalities.”
“Joni’s coming in on Tuesday for a color,” I reply with a nod of acknowledgement.
Only in a little poe-dunk town in Iowa would you have to worry about scaring off customers with polite formalities I think to myself with a smile. For some crazy reason I love it though. All through college I kept telling myself I’d never come back. I told myself I’d get out of this agricultural land where it’s so hard to make a living. Maybe I’d go to New York or California or Washington. I’d work for some big newspaper and make the front page with earth-shaking stories. Nevertheless, here I am in Jonesborough, Iowa, and not for lack of opportunity. I had job offers elsewhere, but these little towns are like magnets, drawing natives back in and never lessening the intensity of their hold.
Like I said, it’s not easy to make a lot of money in these little towns, especially not as a newcomer to the local newspaper. That’s where Sue’s Beauty Hut comes in. My second employment position serves a dual purpose—1. I make a little extra cash, and 2. Where better to hear the news and gossip of Jonesborough than the local beauty parlor?
A metallic jingle of bells draws my eyes from the muddle in front of me. “Hello Mrs. Patty! How’s the weather holding out?” I greet one of my old Sunday school teachers.
“My goodness is it a scorcher!” she replied, fanning her shiny round face with one hand and lifting damp, limp curls from her neck with the other. “Mark my words, there’ll be thunderstorms tonight! My Sadie’s been riled up and eating grass to beat the band!”
And with that simple comment they were off. “Did you hear about that Johnson boy who got cut up but good by that big old mutt Henry Picket keeps?” piped pretty Katie Malloy from under the hair dryer. Mrs. Patty nodded knowledgably, but Sue hadn’t heard, so Katie continued with her story.
“Well that Johnson boy and some more of that no-good-crowd decided to go cow tipping out in Henry’s pasteur not too long ago. Well, them cattle started bellerin’ something fierce, and that old mutt can hear pretty good yet, better than Henry anyways, because Henry slept through the whole thing.”
“Henry needs a hearing aid,” Mrs. Patty piped in, “Doctor’s been trying to get him one for years, but he’s just to damn stubborn.”
The ladies nodded in solemn agreement, then Katie Malloy continued with her story. “Well, that dog took after them boys and gnawed a piece out of that Johnson boys calf. He bled all over his daddy’s new truck and had to get thirteen stitches!”
“Oh my!” Sue and Mrs. Patty exclaimed as one.
“And the worst of it is,” Katie continued her voice dropping to a whisper, “Rather than going over to Henry Picket’s and apologizing like he should, he’s thinking of suing for damages!”
“No!” Came the incredulous response.
“Oh yes, you know how those Johnson’s are, wild as hell and full of pride. His daddy was the same way.”
“I cannot believe what our young people are coming to these days! Awful, just awful!” Blustered Mrs. Patty, momentarily forgetting my presence. “Speaking of hellions, did you hear that Jude Donavan is back in town?”
Jude Donavan? Thinking I must have heard wrong, I listened more intently.
“You’re kidding! I thought he left for Texas or Colorado or someplace like that for good. Can’t imagine why he’d show up here again. Didn’t think it quite fit his style,” Sue pondered.
“Well he’s back all right. Had a little brawl at the bar the other night. Nat Bacon had some unfinished business or something with him, but Jude took care of it mighty quick. Nat was into the doc this morning with some broken fingers.”
This drew another, “Oh my!” from the ladies, but I stopped following their gossip, my mind drifting to another scorching summer--four, no five years ago, before I left for college, when Jude Donavan swaggered into our town and my life.
Jude Donavan with his leather jacket and bike stood out from the wrangler and flannel wearing, pick-up driving locals. Word had it that he was from Chicago, but at one point he must’ve done some farm work, because he came to Jonesborough to work as a hired man for some distant relative just outside of town.
He liked to drink and he liked to fight. Or at least that was the impression I got the first time he came into Joe’s Pub. I was a waitress there and witnessed him survive two skirmishes with local guys (which were halted by a cussing Joe who was hopping mad at being yanked from the kitchen) and drink himself silly. I happened to have drunk van duty that night and since he and one other man were in no condition to drive home, I was granted the pleasure of their company. Joe’s wife is the school guidance counselor, and her “don’t drink and drive” message seemed hypocritical since her husband owned a bar-hence the drunk van.
Jude lumbered into the front seat and swung a heavy arm around my shoulder. He leaned in close and with a thick tongue and hot breath murmured, “Listen sweetheart…”
“In the back loverboy. Passengers ride in the back,” I cut him off. Taking his time, he climbed into the back seat. The ride to the second drunk’s house was accompanied by loud country music. Garth Brooks maybe? Whatever the song, drunk number two gave it a whole new meaning. I had a tough time getting that one into his house because he was so far gone. He kept stumbling all over, but eventually we made it.
With Garth gone, the van was silent and I thought that the newcomer might have passed out. I rolled down the window and sighed deeply as cool night air rushed into the van.
He startled me by speaking, “Sure is nice, you given me a ride. Hafta thank you sometime,” he slurred slowly as the car crunched over the gravel of his driveway.
“Company policy,” I replied briskly as I got out of the van to help him to the house. I wrapped an arm around his lean waist and with him leaning on my shoulder we made it to the door with no trouble.
Propped against the frame of the door he smiled, slow and easy, and looked down at me with heavy lidded eyes, and all I could think about was how sexy he looked. Then he leaned to the side and wretched all over the shrubbery beneath the porch. Totally disgusted, I got him inside the door and left.
Nevertheless, I dreamed about those heavy lidded eyes that night. I didn’t see him again until the next weekend. To my dismay, I was even a bit disappointed when he didn’t show up at the bar that weekend. There was no need for disappointment however, because when I left work, I found him astraddle his bike, cocky and confident. “Need a ride? I’ll be the DD this time,” he said with a grin. He had dimples. They seemed so out of place in that tough, dark face.
Seeing my eyes dart nervously from my car to his bike, he said, “I can drop you off here.” And that settled it; on total impulse, I hopped onto the bike. Maybe I was just so worn out from work my responses were dulled. Maybe it was the biker bad-boy appeal. Maybe it was just his dark good looks. Whatever the reason, I ended up on the bike with my arms wrapped tightly around a man I’d only met only once, and sloppy drunk at that.
We sped through town and into the country. The rush of nighttime air felt wonderful against my body, covered in layers of smoke, grease, and sweat. I screamed and laughed, and then just sat quietly taking in the night and thinking about the stranger I was wrapped around.
We stopped at a bridge. One of those old rusted ones on a gravel road that only farmers travel. We took off our shoes and just sat, feet dangling over the side and a warm breeze tickling our toes. He took my hand and we just sat beneath the sparkling sky, talking in low easy voices now and then. We told each other little stories from our childhoods. Such stories reveal so much about a person-their personality, beliefs, their family. Jude’s parents were divorced. His mom lived in the city and his dad farmed. They loved him and that was that. A quick temper sometimes got him into trouble, but the rumors of gangs and drugs made him laugh. Oh, his laugh! It was so easy to bring on that deep rumble, and once it got going, it just didn’t stop. I think that’s what made me agree to see him again. That and his fun-loving attitude towards life, his sexy eyes, sexy body, bad-boy motorcycle …
We went everywhere on that motorcycle. To wedding dances and county fairs, to the gravel pits to swim and movie theatres in nearby towns, even in the rain we rode that bike. There was something erotic about riding a motorcycle in the rain. Slippery bodies, alert and fused, wrapped so tightly together and body heat radiating between us.
Only once can I recall riding in my car with Jude. It was one of those hot steamy days where you can hardly catch your breath because the air is so still and heavy. Tornado and thunderstorm warnings filled the weather forecast. It was too hot even to ride the motorcycle. Because the heavy stillness of the day and the maddening sense of waiting was driving us crazy, we decided to go for a drive in my car. With air conditioning blasting and staticy radio buzzing in the background we drove around the county.
We drove roads we’d never traveled before and stopped at abandoned houses and barns, weathered and sagging in the heat. The interior of these buildings was musty and stale, but a couple of degrees cooler. As we dashed into one of the aged houses, rain began to pour down breaking the tension of the day. The heat lightening turned into jagged streaks of light followed by rumbles of thunder.
The tension of the day and final release, made us crazy. In one swift motion I was in Jude’s arms, soaking wet and laughing. He kissed me and a thrill of intense urgency swept through my body. In a ravenous daze, driven only by need, we hastily discarded our clothing, throwing them into muddy. Jude hoisted me to his hips braced himself against a wall. He entered me and drove into me swift and hard until I cried out in pain. Slowly he lowered me to the cool, dusty linoleum and began again, slowly and gently at first, looking into my eyes for any signs of pain. Little gasps of pleasure fueled his need and he drove us powerfully to a tumultuous climax to the cacophony of pounding rain and claps of thunder.
Exhausted, we lay together under that dripping roof, breathing heavily, listening to the storm. Then I cried.
He took me home. This time the ride was strangely silent. The rain had stopped and the rainbow against a still-dark sky to the east seemed grossly out of place. At my house he cupped my chin, and wiped my dirty, tear streaked face with his thumb. He kissed me slowly and carefully, eyes open and watchful for…resentment because he took my innocence? Regret…? He didn’t find either of those. I only felt flat. Drained of emotion and flat.
Jude knew something wasn’t right. He sat there looking at me for a long time, stroking my face apprehensively and I wondered what the hell was wrong with me. I wasn’t ready; I had wanted to wait until I was older before getting involved like this, that’s what was wrong. Everything would be different and I didn’t want that. I knew in the back of my head that was what made me feel so empty, so distant, so listless and flat.
He hugged me tight before he left, whispering, “I love you,” into my hair, and I squeezed back tears.
I remained distant for the next couple of days, and Jude grew frustrated as attempt after attempt failed to bring me back. I didn’t want to let him get close again. He was leaving, I was leaving, and everything had already changed so much for me after that turbulent day. I hated to see him hurt, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself and I grew more and more distant as the weeks passed.
Then one day he didn’t call. He didn’t call the next day, or the following day, or the one after that. He didn’t call for twelve days. Then on the thirteenth the bell finally sounded. “I’m going back to Chicago,” he said. I didn’t ask any questions and he didn’t volunteer anything. Then a sad, “I love you Jamie,” and a click as the line was disconnected.
“I love you too,” I whispered into the dead phone.
Five years ago! My, it’s hard to believe it had been so long ago. ‘Time flies so fast!’ I thought as I waved goodbye to Mrs. Patty and Katie Malloy. I helped Sue clean up shop. I began to sweep locks of hair. When I heard the metallic jingle of bells I turned around, a cheery smile upon my face and froze.
Jude. I wasn’t ready for this yet. Still wasn’t ready. I needed time to brace myself, to plan exactly what to say.
“Hi,” I said stupidly, an octave too high.
“Hi,” He replied, “I heard I might find you here.”
Another metallic jingle of bells drew our attention and this time the visitor was someone I expected. My little Summer skittered across the floor and jumped into my arms with an excited “Mama!”
I looked over her dark head and made eye contact with a confused and shocked Jude.
I set Summer down and leading her across the floor said, “Honey, say hello to your Daddy.”