Friday, October 12, 2007

Chapter 5: Hard at Work, Part VI

Sighing heavily, Vernon nodded and let Ware lead him through the press, which parted for Ware as readily as the Red Sea had for Moses. Figures they’d let him through. He scowled at the floor as Travis pulled the green curtain to one side and they passed into the kitchen. He yanked a chair from underneath the table and plopped down before looking up. A soft swell of conversation filled the room. Fewer people had come in here, allowing him to see more of the room itself.

It was perfect. Not a box or bag to be found, just a few appliances on the counter. He caught sight of an upper cabinet door slightly ajar. Plates sat atop one another on one shelf, with a stack of bowls next to it. Ignoring the soft chatting around him, Vernon stood and approached the cupboard, using one finger to hook the door and pull it open. A lemony scent of some cleaner or other wafted out. Inside, glasses and coffee mugs occupied the top two shelves, all arrayed as orderly as a contingent of soldiers. He turned and faced Ware with an eyebrow cocked.

“Some of the women in town got together and straightened the house for you.”

“And you just went right ahead and let them in?” Vernon asked softly. The murmurs faltered and died. Every eye in the room turned toward him.

Travis chuckled. “‘A man’s not fit to organize the home,’ they said. You were married. Did you ever find it beneficial to argue with a woman on matters like this?”

Vernon opened his mouth, then shut it and lowered his head. That “were” stung, hard enough to slump his shoulders and send him shuffling back to his chair. Snippets of conversation sprung up, a couple at first, then more following as they realized the scene had passed. I swore till death. Until I see a body, I’m still married. I don’t care what he says.

Revelers tried to draw him into the party, with words of welcome, compliments on his son and commiseration for his loss offered like bait to a feral dog being coaxed into a cage. He refused to be drawn in. When the attempts at conversation continued, he retreated to the back room. He huddled on the blue couch. The hide-a-bed’s iron works squeaked when he shifted. Finally, they got the message and stopped coming up to him. Even Ware left him alone, for which Vernon was grateful. He leaned his head back, closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep to dream of pushing Alexis on a swing while Cheryl held Raymond and watched from the other side.

“Higher, Daddy! Higher!” His wife laughed. Vernon grinned at her and blinked. She and the baby seemed dim, somehow less substantial than the rest of the world. He glanced down at Alexis. The swing felt as heavy as it always had, but she looked just as faint as the other two. Only his body and the grass at his feet looked solid. He turned his gaze skyward. A shaft of sunlight surrounded him while shadows deepened elsewhere. Vernon stepped forward. Better to be with them in darkness than alone in the light. The illumination moved with him, but his family never got any closer. By now, he could barely see them. Vernon moved faster, trying to share the protective light with them. No matter how quickly he ran, they remained out of reach. Soon he lost sight of them altogether, hemmed in on all sides by darkness except for the small shaft of light around him. It was like being stuck in a well.

“Vernon,” his wife called, her voice faint as if from a great distance. He trembled. “Vernon…” His shaking increased.

Jerking awake, he flailed and grabbed the couch cushion. The textured fabric felt reassuringly solid. His breathing evened and his heart slowed. He looked up at Travis, who had stopped shaking him now that he was awake.

“Everyone’s leaving,” Ware said, nodding at the window, which showed a quickly dying day outside.

“Alright,” he said, sitting up. Vernon rubbed his eyes, frowning as his hands came away wet. He looked back and saw damp spots on the couch where his head had lain. He wiped the last of the tears away and stood. “Where’s Ray?”

“Your son is still with Kateri, at the Williams’ house.”

“Do I need to go get him?”

“No. They’ll bring him back tomorrow after you get home from work.”

“What?” Indignation swelled his chest and drew him upright. “If you think I’m going to let y’all take my kid…”

Travis sighed. “Look, Vernon. This will be your second night in Jennings Grove. In some ways it’ll be tougher than your first. We’ve found it’s easier if you spend at least one night alone to get acclimated. This way, you’re past the shock and can better care for your family.”

“Oh.” Deflated, Vernon nodded and followed Travis through the house to the front door. “Good night, then.”

“Good night. Be careful tonight, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

The door closed with a thump, leaving Vernon alone with his thoughts and the encroaching night. ____

Chapter 6 coming Monday!

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At October 12, 2007 8:03 AM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

A night alone in Jenning's Grove! Can't wait to see what happens next!letra.mb maya  

At October 12, 2007 10:11 AM , Blogger Jeff Parish said...

It ain't easy for him.letra.mb maya  

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