Joe got into his truck and squinted at the sky. He didn’t see any sun. “Must be behind a cloud or something,” he thought to himself as he cranked up
the motor and pulled out of the driveway. “It’s gonna be a good Thanksgiving,
even if we aren’t gonna be together for the turkey and everything. Shoot, after we’re done at each of our folks we can get together and go to Asheville or something.
Maybe take in a movie or go hear us some music. Then it’ll be about time for some
all-night good lovin’.”
Joe had called earlier when he was getting dressed but all he got was her
answering machine. He didn’t think much about it because she was probably in the
shower or something. Laurie was like that. One time he came to pick her up for a date early. He slipped into her apartment quiet-like, tip-toed into the bathroom,
and ripped the shower curtain open. Laurie screamed and darned near knocked him
out with a shampoo bottle. His head had hurt for a couple of days after. Whenever Joe had reminded Laurie about the joke, she usually punched him in the ribs and told him “don’t ever try that again Herbie Joe or else you’re gonna be missing something real special to you, like the family jewels.” To this day, Joe hadn’t dared to try her on it. He knew when she was serious.
Traffic was non-existent going through the small college mountain town of
Judaculla Rock near where he lived. “Seems like everybody’s at Granny’s house today”, he thought, as he passed a guy in a red Volkswagen jacking up his rear end to change out his flat tire. In the back seat Joe thought he saw a coffin-shaped box. “Strange,” thought Joe, “why the hell would somebody be carryin’ around a coffin in the back of a VW? Folks are getting’ weirder and weirder every year.” The guy didn’t look like he needed any help though.
Joe thought he’d give Laurie another call from his cell phone. He punched in the numbers he memorized almost from the first time she’d given him her number. He hit send and it started the first ring.
Joe could remember the first time he’d seen Laurie. He’d been in a club over in Asheville sitting at the bar sipping on a cold one when a dark-haired beauty in a black miniskirt, tube top, and black stiletto high-heeled boots had walked through the front door. Joe couldn’t believe the energy the woman gave off. She wasn’t putting up with any crap though. The dark-haired mystery woman fended off two guys who tried to stop and talk with her by icily ignoring them and brusquely walking on by.
She came and sat down on an empty stool just a couple away from Joe. She lit a cigarette as the barkeep hustled down the bar to take her order. Joe took a deep breath and a hefty swig from his bottle and turned to the mystery woman and smiled.
“Hey, name’s Joe. What’s yours?”
“You tryin’ to pick me up too?” she said as she looked him suspiciously.
“Just trying to find out your name so I can make some polite conversation.”
“Keep your shirt on cowboy, the name’s Laurie an’ nobody picks me up unless I
know who they are. I already know what they want. What do you do when you’re not in
here?” she asked.
“I go to school and I’m a part-time disc jockey at the rock station at Scottsford in Jefferson County. What do you do mystery lady-named-Laurie?” She smiled when he said that. He was dazzled by that smile.
“I work with computers; office systems stuff. Kind of boring. It’s a living
Joe didn’t get a date that night but he got a phone number; which eventually led to a date, and to a relationship which took his breath away. She was the most exciting woman he’d ever dated, and she knew it too.
“Damn answering machine again,” said Joe as he thumbed the stop button on the
cell phone. “She must be in the shower or using the hair dryer.”
Laurie always kept herself looking good—classy good. Hell, the short skirts she wore made it extra hard for Joe to keep his hands off of her, even in public places. Laurie was that attractive. He remembered one time they were sitting in a café in Asheville.
She was wearing one of those frilly miniskirts. All the guys in the place were looking at Laurie’s legs, especially when Joe put his hand on her thigh and slowly started moving it upwards….
Joe pulled into the road along the river that Laurie’s apartment was on. The light was golden and diffused, yet the river looked flat and dark. Joe still couldn’t see the sun. “Normal for these mountains for it to get behind one and you not to see it,” he thought.
Laurie was more than some sweet-lookin’ eye candy too. In the past couple of
years Joe’s mother’s dementia had been getting worse. She needed somebody to do for
her—help her take a bath, get dressed; help her with memory exercises. Laurie was there when Joe needed her. Laurie knew about problems. She’d been abused when she was a kid. It haunted her despite her seeing a shrink. Joe still wanted to kill the bastard that had messed with her.
Joe pulled into the driveway that led to the apartment complex Laurie lived in. He always felt a charge of anticipation when he was coming to see her. He could
remember waking up of a morning in her bed, looking up at the pictures and awards hung up on the wall. He’d hear the covers rustle next to him and Laurie’s husky voice would ask him, “would you like some coffee or something else cowboy?”
Mostly he couldn’t keep himself from saying “something else Laurie darlin’.”
They always ended up breathless, with hearts pounding; too exhausted to move from each other’s embrace.
Joe pulled up in front of Laurie’s apartment. He cut the motor; let the radio play low. Laurie was a big one for rock ‘n roll. He’d come in the door and she’d have the stereo on. Laurie would be dancing, some eighties or nineties rock ‘an roll blasting, eyes closed, lost in it. She’d open her eyes, see him and smile. It made him love her more.
Joe got out and went up the walk to Laurie’s door. Usually one of her two cats were sitting in one of the two front windows. Joe didn’t see ‘em. He knocked a couple of times on the door, stuck his key in and turned the lock. The door opened a couple of inches and stopped. Joe pushed against what looked like a couple of chairs propped up against the door. When he got in, he could see the apartment looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Joe’s heart started to pound. He walked real fast through the mess on the floor. Joe turned the corner in the hallway to Laurie’s bedroom door. She was there by the bed, lying on the floor. He got down on his knees, grabbed her arm and started shaking her; no life. Joe jumped up and ran into the living room. “Where’s the phone, dammit?” Joe roared to an empty apartment. He spotted it lying on the floor, picked it up, and punched in the emergency number. Joe told the dispatcher he needed an ambulance quick at Laurie’s apartment, gave him the address, and hung up. Joe noticed a piece of paper on the coffee table at the end of the couch.
“Dear Herbie Joe, Mother and Dad, I couldn’t take it anymore. The pain was too much. Please forgive me. Take care of my cats. Love you Mom and Dad. Joe, I will always love you. Do not resuscitate.”
Joe went into Laurie’s bedroom while he was waiting on the ambulance. He knelt down and kissed Laurie on the cheek one more time and prayed for a few moments.
“Laurie, I love you so much. Why did you have to leave me?” He didn’t know if he’d
ever know the answer to that question. Joe got to his feet and walked out of the
apartment. A deputy was getting out of his patrol car and putting on some rubber gloves as Joe walked up to him. “I checked for a pulse,” Joe said in a flat voice. “She’s cold. I didn’t try cpr.” The cop came out a minute later and spoke into his radio; “cancel that 10-52; cancel all first responders on that last call.”
Joe felt a sharp pain, like somebody had kicked him in the back of the head.
Crazy, dark thoughts were spinning round and round like a million fireflies going nuts in his mind. The only thing he could focus on was how good a drink would feel right about now. He doubted it would do anything for him but he didn’t much care. He wanted to get totally obliviated and forget that this day ever happened. Joe looked up at the sky and didn’t see the sun. He didn’t think he ever would.