God-damn, these onions sure do sting.
I hear the sirens before I see the blue and red flashes outside my window. Well, shit. I get back to chopping the onions, faster than before. I knew they’d be here sooner or later, and I’d been banking on later. I thought I’d at least have time to finish this stew for Herbert. Speaking of the guy, I hear him purring away in the next room and my heart gets a little soft and gooey, like a peanut butter and chocolate brownie, warm from the oven.
I set down my knife and wipe my eyes on my apron. It’s stained with all kinds of things from paints from the grandkids’ visit to tomato sauce, red and dark, and bold.
The noise has awakened Herbert and he saunters slowly into view, makes a nervous sound in the back of his throat.
“You hush now,” I say to him. “And by golly, you better be polite to our guests.” Not that he would ever hurt anyone, the big lug.
Herbert shakes his head like, “Oh Millie Jane, up to your shenanigans,” and takes a slow easy walk back to the other room. I glance around the kitchen. A fly circles sleepily over a stack of dirty dishes and there’s a pot with something brown caked along the sides and rim. I ain’t been in a real house-cleaning mood the last few days but now I think of it, I shoulda cleaned up a little. There’ll be pictures, maybe not today, but soon, and I doubt I’ll get the chance to clean up after tonight.
I place the stack of dishes in the sink and dust the crumbs from the counter. There. Now it looks like, while still undone, I intended to do them. Intent is important, after all, for so many things. Now when they see the pictures, people will say, “Why, Millie Jane, she sure tried to keep up a clean house. Just a busy woman, is all.” Instead of, “And you see there? She left all those dirty dishes on the counter. A slob is what she is.” I may be a lot of things, and I’m sure in the days ahead I’ll be called quite a bit more, but I ain’t goin to tolerate being called a slob. I kept a clean home for 45 years, and there ain’t nobody that’ll call me a slob.
Our driveway is long, and so it has taken the car this much time to reach the house. The kitchen faces the front drive, and I watch them through the window over the sink. The lights flash, and throw red and blue color against the white refrigerator.
Two men get out of the car and seem to be having some kind of conversation. One of them shrugs and slides back into the car. The other guy walks toward the door. I see him swat at a bug on his arm. The mosquitos have been bad this year, and there ain’t been any wind to blow them farther than the boundary of the pine trees.
The man reaches the porch and pull open the screen door, which creaks mightily. I feel a stab of annoyance at that. Jimmy Bob was supposed to oil that a month ago. I’d asked him and asked him and all he’d done was ignore me. Like I wasn’t even in the room talking to him. Meanwhile, I cooked and cleaned and raised the kids. And how did he thank me? Jimmy Bob ran the store and got pissed drunk with his buddies. He always had dinner ready whenever he stumbled back home and all I asked was that he take care of the Goddamn squeaky hinge.
The man crosses the porch and knocks on the door. They are big heavy knocks, made by a large fist.
Herbert appears again, drawn by the noise and I shoo him back to the living room. He protests with a low, half-hearted grunt but listens to my wishes.
I glance at myself in the front hallway mirror. But there ain’t any use in it. I may have been a pretty sight in my youth but time has made my hair thinner and my waist fuller, and everything now shows the evidence of good old gra-vi-tee.
I open the door and smile at the man. “Well, good evening officer,” I say. “Muggy night, ain’t it?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” says the man. He’s one tall handsome fella, with broad shoulders ad big fists. I look him up and down and wonder if he’s married. “Is your name Millie Jane Jones?”
“It sure is,” I say. My smile stays in place, like a well-tied mask. I know why he’s here, and I’d already made up my mind that I would go with him quietly, just not quite yet. I stand to the side. “Come on in or you’ll be eaten alive. The mosquitos are out somethin’ fierce tonight. What can I do for you?”
The man walks in and looks around. Officer Big Fists. My smile wavers a little and I feel a nervous little tingle in my belly.
“We’re here because we received a missing person’s report of a Mister James Robert Jones,” Officer Big Fists says. “That is your husband, correct?”
“It is indeed,” I say cheerfully. “But I don’t think anyone in his entire life called him James Robert. He’s always been known as Jimmy Bob.”
The officer nods and writes something down, I reckon something about what I said. He looks up again. His eyes are the exact shade of my late husband’s-- my first husband, and I feel a little twist somewhere in my chest. “And he’s missing?”
“Well,” I say. “Yeah. I guess to those who don’t know the whole of it, they’d say he’s missing, sure.”
I get quite a delight in seeing the officer take in my response. I know people like me are supposed to appear remorseful and all that. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m not all that sorry about what happened to that son of a bitch. And there ain’t never been anyone who called Millie Jane Jones a liar.
“The whole of it, Mrs. Jones?” the officer asks.
He’s looking a little more alert now. Less of “there ain’t no way that this old lady knows anything, we’re just wasting our time” and more “is this old lady crazy, or somethin?”
He places a hand on his belt near his gun, walks toward the living room. “Mind if I look
I sigh. “You better be careful, officer. You’ll upset Herbert.”
“Who is Herbert?” Officer Big Fists asks as he rounds the corner. He lets out a holler, somewhere between a shout and a scream.
I follow him into the living room to see a hell of a sight. Officer Big Fists has drawn his gun and points it at Herbert, who crouches on the carpet.
“Oh put that down please, officer,” I say. “I know that it’s alarming at first to see him, but he’s harmless.”
“Ma’am,” said Officer Big Fists, “that is a six foot gator on your rug.”
“I know what he is, officer,” I say, and I keep my voice calm, even though I want to snap at him. I’m a little more upset by this whole thing than I thought I’d be, but I think it’s because I just don’t like people pointing guns at Herbert. “I know he’s a gator. But my daddy raised gators as his daddy did before him. All out of the little pond out back. I know gators, and Herbert is as cuddly as a kitten, once you get to know him.”
“I’m not sure I can do that,” he says. His voice is shaking and his hands are shaking and I’m mighty annoyed that he hasn’t put the gun down yet.
I don’t like threats.
“Please officer,” I say again. “Let’s just go in the kitchen. Herbert will stay here.”
Officer Big Fists looks with uncertainty at the gator, and then at me. I can see the cogs whirring behind his eyes.
I wonder if he wishes he were the one who got to stay in the car.
“Fine,” Officer Big Fists snaps. He shoves his gun back into his holster.
“Thanks officer,” I say. I put my hands in pockets and rock back on my heels. It’s something that my pop used to do. When I was little, I used to follow him around like a dopey little puppy and copy his movements. I guess some of them stuck. “You got a name behind that uniform? I’d like to know who I’m talking to.”
“Ted,” he says, but he keeps his eyes on Herbert. He glances quickly of me. “Let’s go to the kitchen.”
He walks with strong confidence from the room. Now, that Officer Ted over there has what Jimmy Bob would call that olden days au-thor-i-tee.
We go into the kitchen and sit at the table. Ted has his notebook out and is scribbling again. Probably something about Herbert. I sure do hope they’ll treat Herbert well when I’m gone. Let him swim in the pond out back and hunt for fish and such. That is what has always made him happy. But I don’t think they’d be feeling kindly enough to take suggestions from the likes of me. They’d never listened to me before. Why’d they start now?
“Ma’am, when was the last time you saw Jimmy Bob Jones?” Ted asks. His voice is different now, less soft the way all young men talk to old ladies, as if we’d grown backwards back to babies. As if we didn’t clothe and feed and raise all these young men. As if, now that they’re grown, they had no more use for us.
“‘Bout three days ago,” I say. “The night of July 1st.”
Ted writes it down. He keeps glancing toward the living room as if he's afraid that Herbert will sneak up on him. Again, this annoys me, as if Herbert is the biggest threat in this house. He ain’t even close.
Come back next Tuesday, 7-9-19 for the conclusion to "Independence Day"