Midwife in the Tire Swing

Intermezzo 16—Middle-aged Virgins

Heidi asked Ed about Francyann. “She gets on the telephone and spreads rumors like she and I were best buds. If she never goes out and is afraid of incoming calls, where does she get her stuff?” It was five o’clock and the Incredible Farm Service Agency was shutting up shop.

“Outgoing calls—science as defined by Francyann Keneally says that lightning won’t hit you if you’re calling for pizza. She asks loaded questions, plants innuendos. People make stuff up to keep her happy—and themselves out of that day’s news bulletin. She’s afraid of thunderstorms, too. No shower, either; she might get scalded. Keeps the shower stall full of Kraft dinners—macaroni and cheese? She makes things up. Be careful what you tell her.”

“I’ve got to get home.” Heidi. “To the phone.”

“To your place.” Ed.

“I’m expecting a call. It’s personal, a personal call.”

“Personal...”

Not your Aunt Francy.”

*  *  *

Ed Hobart whistled; this was a recent habit. Tiny circles in his cheeks popped out, were sucked in, and there was no sound He walked with his cheeks puffed out and silently whistled. “He’s always puckered up,” said Heidi Nichols. After three days, Heidi and Ed decided it was time—they would make their item-ness official. This they accomplished by going shopping together at the Red and White. Ed played the part of the dutiful suitor, pushing the shopping cart while Heidi carried a list. “You’re the boyfriend. You push the cart. Just like on TV.”

“Jesus, Heidi, aren’t we old enough to dispense with all this?”

“People expect it. Come on, let’s give them an eyeful.” She extracted a bunch of the greenest bananas from the bottom tier of a pyramid. “Yellow. Like my letter.”

“They are green.”

“So were we. Middle-aged virgins.”

“What about Terry Wintrode?”

“And Sue? Speed bumps on the road of life is all. And Terry turned out to be gay.”

“Sue laughed a lot. I wouldn’t say gaily, necessarily. More like spiteful, grim but jolly.”

“With the things she said about you.” Ed looked surprised. “The jungle telegraph. Women share these things; Francyann was happy to pass ’em along.”

“OK, grim but jolly and with Aunt Francy in the mix. Let’s make it legal. If we want to take this to a logical conclusion...”

“A divorce. Andy will get his feelings hurt. He should have thought about that ten years ago.”

“A divorce. And I’ll be the bad guy,” said Ed. “No one thinks he’s the bad guy.” A wisecracking private eye in a snap-brimmed fedora said that, and in doing so shaped the clay that was young Ed Hobart. It was in a paperback detective novel, one of many that stood in a wire rack at the bus depot when he was a kid. Mike Hammer? Philip Marlowe? One of those. Insouciance, sang-froid even in the arms of a well-endowed blond, a quip on his lip in the teeth of the Grim Reaper. Now, thirty years later, he was the bad guy—the home wrecker. When had everything become so complicated? Office, weekends with the TV and lawnmower, the flow of events broke around him like ripples in a gentle stream, even Sue Maldonado. If things were going to happen they would happen further on, not around him. And now Heidi.

“We are having sex outdoors in flu season. How about setting up housekeeping simply to have a roof over our heads? We can move into my place. Just like on TV. Ahh, that personal call? Old boyfriend...?”

“You are jealous and I love it. That is a gray area question. Are you asking?”

“Yes.”

“No. My pastor.”

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