Midwife in the Tire Swing

Chapter 39—Elder Jesse and Heidi discuss Mayonnaise

“He keeps a set of binoculars locked up in his desk. The top drawer. He watches me.”

“You don’t mind my askin’—what’re you wearing? Short skirt, net stockings, maybe? Mighty fine.”

“Chino pants and a long-sleeved shirt. White socks and topsiders. Exciting. Drives the men wild.”

“Binoculars. The object of your affections is a peeping Tom. And nearsighted to boot. Lots o’ folks are both. No problem there. Is he crippled?”

“Not one little bit. He rides a bike to work. Why am I telling you this?”

“Because you want fulfillment. Filled full, heh heh. Get it?”

“He’s hung up on Sue Maldonado; she’s an old girlfriend. He mopes about the office. I know when he’s thinking about her. He goes across the street to the diner and nurses a coffee. He sits alone at a corner table and waits for her and her husband to come in.”

“Then he confronts them.”

“No. He just looks sad, smokes a cigarette and comes back to work.” There was a rubbing sound in Heidi’s earpiece, then a thunk as if Elder Jesse had dropped the phone. “Hello...” No reply. Heidi held the receiver in front of her eyes; she shivered with a horrifying thought. “You are a pervert. You are jerking off while I spill the beans about my deepest secrets.” Heidi slammed down the phone.

The phone rang and she picked it up. “Agricultural Extension.”

“Heidi. This is Elder Jesse. You hung up on me.”

“You have brass balls calling me right back. If this was a random number how come you remembered it?”

“I hit the redial button. Easy when you know how. Heh heh.”

“Were you masturbating?”

“I am 78 years old, young Heidi.” While this was not quite an answer, Heidi accepted it. Lots of people maintained an active sexuality well into their eighties. This was a sidebar on the TV news.

“I was away from the phone. Bladder problems. My age. You said this person watches you. In the bathroom—the bedroom? You undress in front of a window. You don’t pull the shades then.”

“No, he is across the street.”

“At this diner, then. The corner table. You strip at the corner table for him.”

“No I sit up at the counter. I don’t take my clothes off.”

“He then is pining away for you, too. What about your husband?”

“What about him?”

“You would abandon your marriage vows for this man who watches you in the bathroom.”

“In the diner.”

“You watch him.”

“That is different.”

“I see. Your husband...”

“Amberson Nichols: ‘Call me Andy.’ He is an anesthesiologist. He puts patients to sleep. He’d rather be with someone who won’t talk back to him.” The rubbing recommenced at Elder Jesse’s end of the line. He had to be rubbing the phone on his crotch; Heidi just knew it. “You’re jerking off again. No shame, you’re disgusting. And a man of the cloth.”

“Disgusting is as disgusting does. Now there’s them TV preachers—all slicked-back hair and a toothpaste smile. Nothing but dental work, all teeth and promises. I don’t promise you anything, Heidi Nichols. I’m a telephone preacher. All I do is point the way. You vote?” Eating noises issued from Heidi’s earpiece. “Mighty fine,” smack, smack.

“I... vote? Yes I vote.”

“I don’t vote.” Elder Jesse burped. “’Scuse me while I go for a beer. Preaching be’s dry work.” Footsteps, a refrigerator door lunked open, then a muttered invocation, footsteps, a pause and a door slam followed by the gurgling of a toilet. The door opened. “Anybody with somethin’ to sell is about to be lyin’ to you, I accept. Nothing in God’s world happens by mistake. ‘Course now, if you vote, that’s none of my business. Those TV preachers are selling religion. I got Jesus, not religion. If I voted—but I don’t—one of those TV preachers tells me do one thing, I right off go the other way. They say vote Yes, I vote No.” Rustle, rustle, rustle. “Mayonnaise,” said Elder Jesse. “I spilled some mayonnaise. I am making a sandwich.”

“Groundhog.”

“Baloney and cheese. Velveeta. Can’t beat that Velveeta. While Velveeta and Baloney are important, they are not the whole story. This is about my outreach ministry. And about you, Heidi Nichols. You are in pain. I can help; this is why the Lord has sent me to you. ‘...and there shall come forth a ROD out of the STEM of JESSE, and a BRANCH shall grow out of his ROOTS....’ That’s Revelation xxii. 16.” Elder Jesse went silent. The rubbings and rustlings from his end of the conversation got louder. Heidi waited. “Ahh...” Elder Jesse was back on the line.

“The stem of Jesse is getting a vigorous workout this afternoon,” said Heidi Nichols. “Sorry... mayonnaise. Of course, mayonnaise. Another baloney sandwich to go with the beer. To keep your strength up.”

“My little ways. Have faith girl, all will be revealed. You gonna have to break the web of enchantment this other woman has cast between you and the lover whom you desire. You must act. Send a note.”

“Send a note. Tell her I am going to kill her?—chop her up in teensy-weensy pieces and flush her down the toilet if she won’t let him go? She let him go, dumped him. That’s the problem. She won’t give Ed the time of day. And he mopes.”

“Mopers go limp. This is a proven scientific fact. Are you sure you want this man? Well... I guess you do; that is why you came to me for help.”

“You called me.”

“The Lord sent me. Jes’ let him know you want to get laid, is all.”

“You want me to write to him.”

“A note. Handwritten, yes. A typed invitation to get it on is... well, insensitive. Lined paper will be OK. Use a yellow legal pad. Romantic, yellow.”

*  *  *

In a deep crouch, only millimeters from a squat, Francyann Kennealy pondered her animal nature. “I am squatting. A lady does not squat. A lady sits.” These were her mother’s words while lecturing on the niceties of using an outhouse. Not everyone had the luxury of a chamber pot, it seemed. That the evacuation of one’s bowels was a necessary evil her mother grudgingly acknowledged; there was, however, a proper way to accomplish this.

It was a humiliating posture. But from this fresh perspective Francyann discovered that she could get both hands around a jar of kosher dills. With a supreme effort she twisted off the lid and gratefully drank the brine to slake a mounting thirst. A rapid escalation in her heartrate and a sudden stab of agony from her viscera proclaimed that now perhaps might be a good time to die.

The next afternoon the neighbors’ kids formed up in the yard for an after school baseball game. They were supposed to be playing slow-pitch softball, but Henry (Hank) Havermeyer brought along a first baseman’s trapper glove cured-in with a major league ball. The glove was soaked in mink oil, fitted with a pro league hardball in its pocket, wrapped with twine and left in the dark to reshape itself for a week. Hank tossed the ball to Sammy (Slimy Toes) Griffin, the pitcher. Slimy Toes was renowned throughout the lesser vales of Willipaq as an arm to be respected. “Throw me one,” said Hank Havermeyer. “Hard.”

Thonk. The high-velocity pitch snuggled itself into Hank’s outstretched glove. It did not pop out. A perfect fit. Big soft regulation balls forgotten, they went big league, hitting pop flys and grounders. Whap. Slimy Toes’ speedball was connected on and rocketed like an artillery load straight toward Francyann’s kitchen window. Apologetic parents called, knocked, then eventually broke in the door.

“I remember a man trapped under his house, stuck in his crawl space,” said the ambulance attendant. “One of those stump-jumpers from up on the Ridge. He lived alone...” An admonishing glance toward Francyann, who crouched face first over a jar of marshmallow fluff, a white sugary smear across her face. She had starved in the midst of plenty and had come away from her ordeal by pickles unable to straighten up. “Dehydrated. All that pickle juice. That’s the problem. Here.” The man handed her a bottle of mineral water. “Decomposed. That’s how they found him. After the Spring thaw? Smelled to high heaven.”

“My house,” said Francyann. “My house attacked me.”

“You got stuck is all. When your body dehydrated, you lost enough fluid to get out. Except you were unconscious. All the salt in that vinegar pickle you were drinking stopped your kidneys up.”

To Francyann this sounded preposterous. Too much this, too much that. This man was just like Lucy, Lucy Hobart with his snide sidelong comments. “I have my pride. I have my house. I have a cat.” As she heard herself recite it this list of worldly responsibility sounded weak.

There was a rattle of glass as Hank Havermeyer’s dad swept up fallen glass from the kitchen linoleum. He had brought along his handyman’s carryall, an open wooden rectangle from which protruded the handle of a saw and a framing square. He had come to replace the window, “Sorry about that,” he said, vaguely addressing her. These were the first words Francyann could remember them exchanging since his family moved in three years past.

“Uh, thank you,” she said. His tone took her by surprise; there might be some substance hidden here. The Havermeyer père was a man who wore an apron, carried a beer, and grilled in their separating yard from April until the first fall of snow. Charcoal fumes darkened her curtains and made her keep her windows closed even through the sweltering afternoons of summer. His younger wife (much younger, thought Francyann) showed herself off as she pushed a lawnmower dressed only in the bare minimum of shorts and a halter top. To a chorus of appreciative comment from passing cars, she—Gwennie, as Francyann would later learn, the harlot had a name—kept her family’s greensward with golf course precision, right up to, but not over, a mutual boundary.

The ambulance technicians busied themselves with forms attached to metal clipboards and spoke into the two-way radios they wore at their belts. “Assisted living,” said one. “Not an old folks’ home. Assisted living, the newest thing. Congregate housing, a place to park your mom. There’s one over to Eastport, just three-quarters of an hour. You drive a car? Well, you can come back an’ visit if you want, whenever you want. There’s a waiting list. If I was you, lady, I’d get on it.” Problem solved, she was ignored.

These men were not men of substance. These men could not understand the labors of accumulation a proper pantry demanded—the coupons, the trips to the store, all the scrimping and saving against an uncertain future. These men wanted to take her away, lock her up. Next they’d be telling her about global warming and the starving children of Africa who could use some of her dilly beans.

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