A little late, but better late than never

Randy ducked out of the Capital through a service door and crouched behind some shrubs. It was dark now, and he was surveying the lawn and the few remaining cars parked in the loop around the building, searching for any remaining women intent on unburdening their feelings about him through a show of force.

 

He’d just spent the last four hours hiding in a janitor’s closet listening to the commotion of the mob of angry women and the capital press corps as they searched the marble-clad building for him; the women to give him a lesson in domestic violence vs. habitual abuse and the press corps to watch and report on the purse-whipping of a House Committee Chairman and country preacher that had, just a few hours before, killed a common sense bill to allow married people in his state to seek a divorce on the grounds that their spouse committed domestic violence against them instead of having to stay married to the abuser while establishing a pattern of habitual abuse by taking at least one more beating because, as he put it, “It should be the state’s job to encourage strong marriages, not make it easier to get a divorce. If a husband is abusive, his family should love him, help him learn the error of his ways, and rehabilitate him, thereby creating a stronger marital bond.”

 

The ladies there in the Capital, and most everybody else, heard instead, ” If your husband beats you, it’s because you didn’t love him enough. You should stick around, endure the beatings, and try harder because if you get a divorce, you’ll go to Hell when you die.”

 

After 10 or 15 minutes, Randy decided it was time to make a run for his white, 1967, long wheel base, 6 cylinder, 2 wheel drive, paw paw-looking, selling collard greens from the tailgate parked by the train tracks over near the old Jitney Jungle, Chevrolet pickup that he’d driven since he was an overalls-wearing, sitting with the teachers while drinking sweet tea from a Mason Jar during lunch, high schooler. So, he patted his waist with his right hand to make sure his Glock 22 was there and ready. Then he felt under his left arm to make sure the Glock 17 was in its shoulder holster in case he needed a backup. Then, he reached around to his waistband in the middle of his back and felt for his Glock 25 because there was a divot in his truck seat, and if he didn’t have his 25, it made him sit off kilter in the truck seat. Just as he was ready to burst forth from the bushes and make a run for it, he remembered the Glock 21 in its ankle holster and pulled it so one leg wouldn’t be heavier and possibly hinder his sprint to freedom.

 

With pistol drawn, Randy said a quick prayer, lamented not having his AR 15 because situations like this were why he told his wife he needed another one to keep in the truck, jumped up as fast as he could with all the guns and ammo on his person, and beat feet, zig-zagging to throw off any potential snipers, to his truck. He slammed the door after jumping in and fired up the 50-year-old automobile, letting it warm up for 3 or 4 minutes before shifting the three-on-tree into gear because it was a cool evening and Bessie-Nell (the name he gave his truck back in law school) could be temperamental if she didn’t have time to get her skirts straight before heading out.

 

Once the blue smoke from the tailpipe subsided,  he put it into reverse, but as he turned to look behind him to back out of his assigned parking place, someone tapped on his driver side window. It scared him almost into cardiac arrest. He jumped up out of his seat and reached for the nearest Glock. As he was tugging on the pistol still strapped into his shoulder harness, he realized it was just Michael, one of the Capital security guards.

 

“Mr. Randy , You might want to ease around to the back side, over yonder,” He pointed toward the driveway that exited onto Mississippi St. “They’s some ladies hunkered down on the other side of that church bus yonder, parked on High Street,” Michael then turned and, with the butt of his flashlight, pointed in the direction of the bus.

 

Randy squinted, looking toward the bus he could see the feet of the women under the bus as they awaited his escape.

 

“Thank you, Mike. I sure appreciate it,” Randy said. Michael nodded and tipped his hat, and as he turned to continue his patrol of the grounds, he heard Randy say, “Those women’s husbands are failing them. All women need a good man in their lives to show them that prideful, brash behavior, like that, is not the way of good, righteous, proper women.”

 

Michael chuckled as he strolled away thinking to himself, “If I went home and tried to teach Lena about her being prideful or brash, she’d teach me what sound a black iron skillet makes whoppin’ me up side my head.”

 

A little over an hour later, Randy muscled Bessie-Nell’s steering wheel to the left as he turned onto his long gravel driveway, flanked by row upon row of 20-year-old pines that blocked out the light of the moon and corralled the dull, yellow glow of Bessie-Nell’s headlights. He pulled into the car shed set off to the right of the house that his granddaddy built 80 years earlier and sighed with relief as he shut off the engine. After gathering all the Glocks, his empty tea jar, and his briefcase containing his worn, black, leather-bound Bible and the bills to be taken up in his committee the next day, he trudged up the back steps and onto the porch thinking about what a lucky man he was to have such a good, obedient woman that was nothing like those heathen Jezebels that tried to pluck his feathers at the Capital all afternoon.

 

Randy took a deep breath and reached for the door handle to go in and sit down to the delicious meal that he knew his sweet Kathy would have waiting for him just like she did every night, but the door was locked. He thought, “Well, I am pretty late, and I guess she got a little scared and locked the door.” He reached in his pocket fumbling with the pocket knife, folding skinning knife, bottle of Afrin, $3.47 in random change, and mini LED flashlight until he had a good grip on his keys. The key slipped in the door handle and made a click-pop sound as he turned it and unlocked the door. But, when he went to push against it to go inside, it didn’t swing open as it had done so many times before.

 

Just then, looking through the glass, he saw Kathy coming and was relieved that she was going to unlock the new deadbolt she’d asked him to install because of all the crazy threats he and his family had received for all of the crazy, fundamentalist, unconstitutional legislative actions he had been the root cause of in the past. He’d procrastinated and put it off installing until the previous weekend, telling her that there was nothing to worry about and that nobody could hurt them because he’d really racked up on Glocks at the Labor Day Sale at the Bass Pro last year. After installing it, though, he’d forgotten to put a key to it on his keyring.

 

She came to the door, flipped on the porch light, and pointed to the old wooden church pew pushed against the wall of the house. He looked at her quizzically with his head slightly cocked to the side. They stood there for several seconds looking at each other through the door glass in silence; him confused and her with her hands on her hips while tapping her foot deliberately.

 

Randy finally spoke, but, “Wha-,” was all he got out before Kathy lit into him.

 

“You can just sleep on that bench, right there, tonight! I heard about what you did today, Randall. This phone, right here in my hand-,” She held up her IPhone to the door. “- has been ringing so much that I’ve had to charge it three times this afternoon! Now I don’t know what kind of foolishness you’ve let take over that little noodle in your head, but you’d best get it figured out if you want to step foot back in MY house, Mister Randall Smarty Pants Legislator! You take tonight and see if you can’t reprioritize a few things, and if I get the feeling you have taken a lesson from this little hiccup, I might let you sleep on the couch tomorrow night!”

 

With that, she turned to leave, but stopped and wheeled back around to add, “…and another thing. Don’t think you’re gonna call your mama and go over there for her to nurse your ego, feed you, and give you a nice bed to sleep in. ‘Cause your daddy tried taking up for you earlier after they heard what you’ve been up to today, and he’s sleeping in the barn tonight. Too bad we don’t have a barn, huh…” Then, she flipped off the lights on the porch and then the ones in the kitchen as she went to her bedroom and slammed the door.

 

Randy pulled the little LED flashlight out of his pocket and shined it on the pew. There at the near end was a paper plate with a can of Vienna sausages, a can of cheap sardines packed in mustard, and a sleeve of saltines stacked on top. Beside the paper plate was a Mason Jar of sweet tea.

 

When he saw the sweet tea, he was relieved, partly because she couldn’t be all that mad if she gave him sweet tea and partly because he’d been in hiding and without water since 1 p.m., and he was mighty parched. He spun the top off of the jar and gulped down a big swallow before spitting tea all over the back door.

 

Randy’s eyes got bigger than the Mason Jar lid and he bellowed, “You Jezebel! This ain’t sweet tea! This is unsweet! You’re trying to kill me!”

 

Two seconds later, he saw the hall light flip on and Kathy spin around the corner holding his granddaddy’s double barrel 12 gauge shotgun.

 

“What’s that, Randall? I didn’t quite catch that,” she said with an unsettling calmness.

 

Randy was steaming over the bitter tea, but, though he considered drawing on her for a second, he couldn’t tell if she had the hammers cocked and didn’t want to chance it. He just put his hands up to try to defuse the situation, turned and sat down on the bench.

 

A few moments later, he could tell that the hall light had been turned off, and he sat there in the dark. “So this is how it’s going to be…,” he thought. He popped the top on the Vienna sausages and made a little sandwich using two of the saltines. He continued mindlessly grazing on the canned pig-part-pate until the can of squishy “meat” sticks were gone, and as he sat there contemplating the toilet and toilet paper issues, his phone rang.

 

It was the Speaker of the House, Bobby Greely, calling him from his daughter’s treehouse. Apparently, his wife found out about Randy’s absurdity earlier that day as well. Bobby told Randy, “My wife informed me in my driveway as I was getting out of my truck that I would need to get my mail forwarded to the treehouse I’m currently calling you from if I don’t get YOU to undo the unconscionable idiocy you demonstrated today, and I have no plans of sleeping in this tree again. So, Randy, ol’ boy, you need to get your butt in that committee room before your rooster gets finished yawning in the morning and figure out how to get the legislatorial defibrillator charged up and shock that bill back to life.”

 

Randy replied, “Bobby, you know I can’t do that. I have a moral obligation, as well as a mandate from my voters, to do everything I can to protect all marriages from the sin of divorce, and besides, the deadline passed tonight to pass bills from the opposite chamber out of committee.”

 

The phone went silent. Then, Randy could hear Bobby’s breathing getting heavier and heavier. Calmly, but with discernable emphasis, Bobby broke the silence and said, “Randy… Where you at right now, son?”

 

Randy thought for a second, realized where this was headed, and said sheepishly, “Uh… I’m lying on my back porch.”

 

“Think about this for a second, Randy. You, in one epically bonehead move, have pissed off pretty much every woman, and most of the men, in this entire state. Now, I recognize that you believe you’ve done the right thing, and that’s what we’re supposed to do in our positions. But, let me tell you a little secret, Randy. You were wrong, and not just a little wrong or debatably wrong, but obviously and fantastically wrong. You were so wrong, if you’d given Silvio Berlusconi the choice to make that you made today, even he wouldn’t have done what you did. Let me tell you something else, though. Now, listen to me real close. Are you listening?” He paused a moment. “Randy! Wake up! Are you listening to me!?!?”

 

Randy, who was lying there, taking his beating obstinately, said through gritted teeth, “Yes. I hear you.”

 

The Speaker continued, “Good. None of that makes a fart of a difference to me, Randy. You understand? You can prance around spreading your delusions like fairy dust, but the minute my wife kicks me out of MY house for it, I have a problem, and that means you have a problem too.”

 

Randy mumbled a forced affirmative, “Unh hunh.”

 

With that, Speaker Greely shouted, “Now fix it, Randy!!!” and abruptly ended the call.

 

Randy laid there sulking over the chiding he’d just received from Bobby and the kung fu chop to his manly pride delivered by Shotgun Kathy who was sleeping in his bed with a stomach full of baked ham, sweet potatoes, butterbeans, cornbread, pickled okra, and SWEET tea while she snuggled up next to his shotgun as he laid there on a hard, cold, wooden bench with his breath stinking of the Arkansas tube steak sandwiches he’d washed down with the jar of Satan’s sweat she’d left on the pew to torment him.

 

As he laid there fuming, his temper finally boiled over, and he sat bolt upright. But, the sudden movement wasn’t a good idea with a stomach full of Grade F food-like substances, and in a scant few moments, his temper wasn’t the only thing boiling over. He shot up off of the bench, jumped down from the porch, and sprinted off into the darkness with one hand holding the tiny flashlight and the other grasping the seat of his pants as he prayed for just a few extra seconds before the volcano in his butt erupted.

 

A few minutes later, he limped back to the porch mostly unscathed thanks to a 5-gallon bucket, a nearby water hose, and a few answered prayers. He sat back down on his bed for the night and took a big slug from the Mason Jar without a thought to the unpalatability of its deceptive contents. Then, he felt his stomach grumble just a little and decided to try a sardine just to see how that would sit with his stomach and if it would quell his hunger. So, he reached for the can of mustard packed minnows and cracked the top open just a little. But, as soon as the smell reached his nose, he knew putting one of the little fish in his mouth would replace his action from earlier that day as the most regrettable thing he’d done in the last 24 hours. So, he put the can on the floor under the bench, laid down using his briefcase as a pillow, and covered himself as best as he could with his suit jacket to try to get some sleep there on his back porch.

 

He tossed and turned for a few hours until exhaustion finally took over and the sweet throes of sleep consumed him. He was in a deep sleep, dreaming of coon hunting with his grandpa when a small clanking sound followed by the crash of breaking glass jolted him awake. He struggled to see through the fog of waking up as he scanned for what was causing the commotion. It took a few seconds for him to process the sight of the raccoon squatting in front of him having a fine meal of sardines. As they both stared at each other for a few moments, the furry little trash panda cocked his head to one side and seemed to ask, “Hey, Randy. Got anything else to drink?” Then, Randy started patting himself down for a Glock and the raccoon made off like a bandit with the can of sardines and disappeared behind the car shed.

 

Randy’d had enough. He got up, snatched up his coat and briefcase, and headed for Bessie-Nell. He thought, “It’s already 3:00. I’ll go back to the Capital where I can get a cup of coffee and maybe a nap on the couch in Bobby’s office or at least some soft carpet somewhere.”

 

At 6:30, as the inmate cleaning crew was giving the Capital its morning scrub down, a nice lady in her mid-30s, who’d been caught up in a drug bust for unknowingly taking a box of what she thought was jars of scuppernong jelly, but was actually jars containing crystal meth hidden in jelly, from her handsome, well-to-do, apparent drug supplier boyfriend to his buddy, who turned out to be a major drug dealer being surveilled closely by the DEA on the morning she did this favor for her boyfriend on her way to school, where she was in her last semester of grad school earning her Master’s Degree in International Business, which the judge that sentenced her assumed was part of her plan to start a multinational drug cartel, probably because he’d spent the weekend before the trial drinking whiskey and binge-watching both seasons of Narcos on Netflix, was vacuuming in the House conference room closest to the elevator when she found Randy sleeping in the fetal position under the huge mahogany conference table in the center of the room.

 

When Randy awoke, he was greeted by the sight of several Capital Police officers, a few of the inmates on the cleaning crew, and Bobby Greely, all leaned over looking at him as if they wanted to see if he was alive but nobody could find a stick to poke him with to see if he was going to move. There was a simultaneous exhale of relief when his eyes opened and he tried to sit up.

 

Alfred, a long-time Capital Policeman that had worked security in the building for longer than anybody there had been in office, said, “Mr. Randy, we thought one of those angry women might have poisoned you yesterday. I was just about to call for an ambulance for you when you opened your eyes up.”

 

Speaker Greely spoke up and said, “Alright, folks, he’s okay. Let’s everybody get back to work,” and he shooed everybody out of the room.

 

Then, after the last inmate left and closed the door, Bobby turned to Randy, his face portraying his elevated level of consternation, and said, “Okay, Randy…” He paused for an uncomfortable few seconds. “Have you got it figured out how you’re gonna unscrew your unmitigated screw-up?”

 

Randy hem-hawed and stumbled through some unintelligible sounds for a little bit before Bobby cut him off, saying, “I knew you wouldn’t. So, while I laid awake up in a tree in my backyard last night,…” He paused and leaned in close to Randy’s face while scowling to ensure the disdain he had for the situation he endured due to Randy’s actions were adequately conveyed. “…I figured out how this is gonna go down.”

 

For the next 15 minutes, Bobby stood over Randy explaining his plan. A few times, Randy tried to interrupt to protest and present a counter-argument, but Bobby forcefully rebuffed Randy’s attempts each time until, finally, Bobby was sure that, like an Army recruit’s pride after two weeks of boot camp, Randy was broken down and ready to carry out his orders to the Nth.

 


 

Just a little after their dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Winston were sitting on their veranda staring at each other. Sally looked at Big Jim with fond adoration as she thought about the 57 years they’d been married, their kids, and all of the good times they’d experienced right there in their house. Big Jim was looking back at Sally wondering why she was looking at him so funny, and whether there was any chocolate ice cream left from when the grandkids were there last week.

 

Then, just about the time that Sally was going to tell Jim, “I sure do love you, Big Daddy,” which was usually how she told Jim it was time to find the Viagra,  Jim leaned in toward her and farted. “Uh… Hey, Sally-babe. That was a mighty fine plate of spaghetti. You reckon there’s any of that chocolate ice cream left in there in the deep freeze?”

 

“I’ll go check and see,” she said as she rolled her eyes, picked up a napkin, dipped the corner in her water glass, and scrubbed Big Jim’s cheek to clean off a few errant drops of tomato sauce.

 

As she was inside getting a bowl for the ice cream, the local midday news was on, and there was her preacher, Bro. Randy, with his arms around two women who were smiling like the cat that ate the canary.

 

“Big Jim! Brother Randy is on the TV!” she shouted to him outside.

 

She turned the volume up so she could hear what the announcer was saying.

 

“What’s he up to?” Big Jim bellowed back to her.

 

“Hang on and I’ll tell you!” she replied.

 

Two or three minutes later, she strolled back out onto the veranda and placed a modest bowl of chocolate ice cream in front of Big Jim. “Is this all there was left?” he whined.

 

She was taking a bite of a banana when he asked why he received a child’s portion of the delicious frosty dessert, and she replied silently by pointing a finger at his protruding rotundity. He grumbled briefly, but his protestation faded as he shoveled the cool, sweet treat into his mouth.

 

Between spoonfuls, with chocolate ice cream childishly dripping from his chin, he inquired, “Oh yeah. What was Brother Randy doing on the TV?”

 

Sally said, as she wiped his mouth with another napkin, “Jim, when are you gonna learn how to eat like an adult?”

 

He shrugged his shoulders without much distraction from his chocolatey mission.

 

Sally continued, “Well, remember yesterday when I told you about him making all those people mad about the divorce bill?”

 

Big Jim stared at her with a look of confusion. “Huh?” he inquired.

 

“You remember. I was reading the IPad, and we were watching Family Feud on TV?” she said.

 

He perked up suddenly and spouted out, “Them IPads ain’t good for nothin but rottin’ your brain and gettin’ those little teenage fellas in trouble with all that pornography. Ain’t nothing good ’bout that internet. You heard Brother Randy warnin’ us about it last Sunday. That internet is just a den of iniquity, I tell ya. It ain’t right!”

 

She shot back, “Calm down, Jim! Focus! Look at me. I’m not debating the internet with you again. That’s not what we’re talking about right now. Calm down. If you’ll stay calm and let me finish, I’ll get you one of those red popsicles you like in a little bit.”

 

He sat back and mumbled something under his breath about she’d better get him a popsicle or he was gonna pop something or other.

 

Sally then told Big Jim about Bro. Randy’s big mess-up the day before and how he’d talked to the angry women’s organizations and how they had explained their position and how even though he hadn’t relaxed his convictions on the role of the state in making sure it protected the religious unions that were ordained by God, he saw the necessity of the domestic violence provision as a ground for divorce and went even further by clarifying several legally questionable parts of other divorce statutes by adding all of the provisions as an amendment to a bill that was still alive and had already been passed out of committee to the full House of Representatives.

 

Big Jim sat listening intently to his wife as she described the event and the repercussions which led to the eventual passage of the new law that would protect spouses from abuse. He became more and more engrossed in what Sally told him as she went along, and finally, when she was done, Big Jim sat in his chair at the table on the veranda across from his wife of 57 years, the mother of his children, his lover, his other half, with his face in his upturned palms, tears streaming down his forearms. Sally slid her chair over next to Big Jim and embraced him, her cheek resting on his thick shoulder as he sobbed.

 

He struggled to control his breathing enough to speak. Between sobs, in a voice just above a whisper, he said, “Sally… I-I miss my Janie.” He paused for probably 30 seconds as he broke down into sobs and then tried to regain enough composure to continue. “You know… Whew!” He exhaled. “She woulda been 46 this past fall.”

 

Sally, quietly weeping on his shoulder, her tears forming a small dark circle on his red polo shirt, nodded in silent acknowledgment.

 

Big Jim continued after a few moments, “If they’d a done this 10 years ago, my Janie might still be here. My Little Janie could have gotten away!” he cried.

 

They sat there in each other’s embrace. The thoughts of that morning 8 years ago ping-ponged through their minds.

 

They were awakened by a phone call at 1:30 a.m. by the Biloxi Police letting them know that they’d responded to a domestic violence call at Janie and Brian’s residence. Then, Big Jim heard the words that almost killed him.

 

As the officer on the other end of the line said, “We need you and your wife to come and identify the body,” Big Jim dropped the phone and collapsed onto the floor. He’d suffered a massive heart attack.

 

Their son, Ben, had to drive to Biloxi to identify his sister’s body at the morgue. Her body was a mess of bruises, some old, some new. She had 3 broken ribs, a broken forearm, a crushed foot, and a cracked skull, which is what they said killed her.

 

Big Jim was still in intensive care at the Baptist Hospital in Jackson when they buried his sweet Janie on that chilly Monday afternoon. He was unconscious, recovering from a quadruple bypass surgery 2 days earlier, while his family, their friends, and others from their small, close-knit community gathered to remember his little girl, pray, and lower her broken body into the ground.

 

Then, Big Jim squeezed Sally, wiped his eyes with a napkin still on the table from lunch, scooted out to the front edge of his chair and kissed her ever so tenderly on the cheek. Then, spoke softly in her ear, “Now, somebody else’s little Janie can get away.”

 

With that, he looked into her eyes, still red and puffy. He nodded reassuringly and said, “I love you, Sally-babe. It’s gonna be okay.”

 

Then, as he struggled to hoist himself into a standing position, Sally watched him, and when was up, she said, “I know, Big Daddy.”

 

He nodded and turned to leave. “I’m gonna go hammer on something,” he said.

 

Then, she watched him shuffle into the kitchen, grab a 6-pack of High Life from the fridge, and disappear through the door into the garage.

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