This short story will be included in a collection of stories due on Amazon in the next month, titled Ezra and Other Stories. Hope you enjoy! Comments appreciated. Thanks.
Delphine and Rainelle
At exactly nine every weekday morning, Delphine walks three houses down the street to Rainelle's. The scent of fresh brewed Colombian coffee greets her as she swings open the door of her friend's newly remodeled kitchen.
Rainelle's husband, Bud, hung the new wallpaper himself. And the walnut finish cabinets. He paid an installer to lay the no wax Solarian floor. It is Morning Meadow pattern.
The minute Rainelle mentioned having the kitchen remodeled Bud said to call J.C. Penney's and order everything. Delphine and Rainelle spent weeks picking out the stuff. Delphine feels the kitchen is almost hers.
It was an accident, the last time Delphine's own kitchen got something new. Charlie was driving through ritzy Hunting Hills on his way home from the plant. There at the end of a driveway was the red carpet. It only took him a jiffy to load it into his LUV truck.
Charlie has picked up discards out there before. He's a recycler from the word go. He brought that rug home and rolled it out right there and then in the kitchen. It's been there ever since. Charlie's funny. He likes nice things. But he's just as happy when they belong to someone else.
After coffee, the two women sometimes go to the Community Center where they do ceramics. Right now they're working on an elaborate nativity scene.
On this day, a Monday, Rainelle is pouring their second cup of the Colombian blend that she buys at Kroger’s every week and grinds herself.
"I love that wallpaper," Delphine says, running her fingers along the row of stenciled houses bordering the walls.
As she refills the cream pitcher, Rainelle stares blindly out the bay window in her kitchen. She read somewhere that dairy creamer is better for you than the powdered stuff. Less cholesterol. At the moment she doesn't give a hot damn about cholesterol. Something awful is about to happen. No. Something awful has already happened.
When the phone rang early that morning, Rainelle ignored it. She was reading the newspaper. She figured whoever was calling would get tired and hang up. Or it was Delphine calling to see what Rainelle was wearing that day. Rainelle knew how to dress in spite of the fact she was a heavy woman. Delphine tries to imitate Rainelle's style, wearing large belts and bright colored scarves with everything. But the effect isn’t the same.
"Hello," Rainelle finally said into the phone, set to be irritated if it was Delphine.
It wasn’t. It was Melanie Hook. Melanie who thinks she owns Women’s Circle at church. Just because she opens her home, the only split level in town, for every holiday. And goes all out at Christmas with a big buffet. Rainelle could take Melanie Hook or leave her. This particular morning she would rather leave her.
Melanie had spoken only a few words when Rainelle felt herself getting sick.
"I might be wrong," Melanie said. "Maybe Bud has a double. What was odd was he was sitting there in the Red Lobster in that new gray suit of his. And the girl was no older than your Cindy."
Rainelle could see Cindy in her long white wedding gown holding onto her daddy’s arm last summer. The guests bragged as much on Bud as they did on Cindy. He looked ten years younger. With that new hair color. And the new gray suit.
Rainelle wasn't listening but Melanie Hook kept talking. The kitchen was spinning. Rainelle saw her form waver as she looked down at the shiny new floor. She felt the way she'd always thought she'd feel if she ever fell out of an airplane. Rolling over and over in mid air, hard earth coming to meet her in a split second, breaking every bone in her body.
After an eternity, Melanie said, “I guess Bud wouldn't be up in Charleston on a week night. Not in the rain." She paused. "Did I tell you how much I loved Cindy's wedding? Look. Forget I called. I'm too impulsive."
"All I know is," Rainelle said in a tight, controlled voice, "it wasn't Bud. Not in Charleston. Not in the rain.”
Just last week Bud had asked where she wanted to go on vacation.
"Myrtle Beach," she had said, not because she wanted to go there. But because that's where they always went.
At the dinner table that evening, Bud had asked Jeffy the same question and the boy had squealed, "Myrtle Beach!" Bud always splurged and got a place on the ocean. Rainelle wasn't much for the water. She liked to walk along the beach when it was deserted looking for shells. To Bud, the beach was for tanning. He spent hours covered with oil stretched out on a towel, a can of beer in one hand and Sports Illustrated in the other.
He also liked to hit the shops. He came home every year with a new beach T-shirt, and either a seashell lamp or another flamingo ash tray.
Rainelle stayed in the hotel room and read. She read every book Danielle Steel had written. She watched reruns of Wheel of Fortune. She loved Vanna White's clothes. Rainelle was good at outguessing the contestants, too.
Or she just walked up and down the strip, listening. She was interested in what other people had to say. She especially liked to eavesdrop on couples. That's how she measured her life with Bud. She always came out ahead.
Some days Rainelle talked to the maid who cleaned their room. Once she even got supplies off the cart and cleaned their room herself. It gave her a sense of purpose. It kept her mind from thinking things she didn't want to think. That was the bad thing about vacations. There was too much time to think.
Now, on this Monday over coffee, she can't seem to let go of Melanie Hook's words. All through coffee and the Baklava that Delphine brought from the day old bread store, she keeps hearing, "That girl was no older than your Cindy."
Later, at the Community Center, while Delphine labors over the nativity figure of Mary, Rainelle finally tells her about Melanie’s call.
Delphine goes right on working. She's like that. When it is anything important she takes her time answering. If she ever does.
Rainelle goes to get a Coke with Melanie’s words racing around in her head like they’re on a speedway. She puts coins into the slot. As the can of Coke falls, she presses her hot cheek to the cold machine and wishes she could die.
Rumors had flown before. Bud was involved with an office girl. She saw the girl at McDonald's on Cindy's eighth birthday. As Cindy blew out her candles the red faced girl turned and fled.
Rainelle watched Bud but there was nary a sign. If anything he was more attentive. And he took up calling her Baby again. That had been his name for her before their wedding. Back when Cindy was on the way.
Rainelle sips the Coke and watches Delphine dab at Mary's delicate face with the tiny paint brush. Unable to stand the quiet any longer, she blurts out, "It isn't true, Delphine, what Melanie Hook is saying. She's a liar!"
Delphine raises an eyebrow and gives Rainelle a look that says she believes every word Melanie Hook is saying. The look says, "Wake up, Rainelle! Smell the coffee!"
Rainelle closes her eyes. Doesn't her friend know? Waking up is not an option.
On the trip home, the women are silent.
At home, Rainelle stretches out in her Laz-E-Boy recliner surrounded by her collection of Avon decanters. The one place in the house that brings her comfort. She takes her time organizing her coupon box. She is president of the Krazy Klippers Koupon Club.
"You have a chance to come from behind and win the whole ball game," she reads her horoscope aloud from the newspaper, her voice echoing in the quiet room. "Weigh all sides before making a decision. Plan a vacation." Then she reads Delphine's. "Do all those little things that need doing. Get organized. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today!" She cuts out both horoscopes, highlighting "get organized" on Delphine's and sticks them on the refrigerator with teddy bear magnets.
Rainelle believes Delphine is the most disorganized person she knows. She loves home parties and has stacks of Tupperware and Rubbermaid. The stuff has even spilled out into her living room.
It's a puzzle why Delphine buys so many plastic containers. Delphine and Charlie eat out every night. But she's good to loan out things. Like her cake taker and lettuce keeper. And she gives the stuff away.
Rainelle has several pieces she's borrowed and never returned. Delphine gave Cindy enough stuff to fill her car trunk the day of the girl’s shower. She even threw in some gadgets from Walter Drake. Plastic hooks to dry pantyhose over the shower and burner covers with snow scenes. That same day Delphine gave Rainelle a silver tea egg and a silver spoon rest. She is a goodhearted person.
It was when Rainelle was a newly wed and out buying new kitchen utensils that she first overheard the remarks. In Woolworth's. She wasn't sure it was her Bud they were discussing. But she'd heard, "Bud," and, "fooling with," and the women from church had clammed up when they caught sight of her. She'd walked away, head held high.
"Baby, certainly you don't believe those biddies. Now, come here," Bud had said when she told him. "Poor baby to hear that kind of stuff." He held her tighter and tighter and pulled her over to the bed.
She'd gotten pregnant with Jeffy, right then and there, and had to put all her suspicions away. They changed churches, Presbyterian to Methodist, and she felt better all the way around. The day Jeffy was christened she knew she'd done the right thing.
After putting away the newspaper and her coupons, Rainelle can't seem to settle down to anything else. She straightens pictures and waxes furniture. She puts Delphine's horoscope in easy view on the refrigerator. She wants her to see it first thing.
But Delphine doesn't come to Rainelle's for coffee the next morning. Or the next. Or the day after that. She doesn't call either. She sends word through Charlie that she wants Rainelle to keep her cake taker and the lettuce keeper.
One evening, Charlie shows up at their door with a Tupperware ball for the baby Cindy is expecting. He stays for coffee. Delphine's name isn't mentioned.
Rainelle knows she will be back. She always comes back. The last time this happened, Delphine said, "You can only be run over by a train once, Rainelle."
Well, Rainelle knows better. You can be run over many times. You just become less. That's all. You become less and less.
A month passes. Rainelle leaves word with the girl at the Community Center that the nativity scene is Delphine's. That it has been hers all along.
In May, Rainelle begins to pack for Myrtle Beach. Bud buys her a new car. It's blue, Rainelle's color, Bud says. But, he drives it every day. He says he is breaking it in for their trip.
One morning Rainelle sees the Volunteers of America at Delphine's house. They're loading up boxes of Tupperware and Rubbermaid. Delphine stands on a ladder cleaning the front window. Charlie's pruning bushes. Bare to the waist. Sweat glistening on his back. They don't see Rainelle as she drives past in Bud’s old truck.
Later that week Delphine and Charlie both see Bud. They are walking into McDonald's.
Delphine is telling Charlie she plans to call Rainelle and join her coupon club. "Yes," she repeats, smiling at the thought of seeing Rainelle. She opens the door of McDonald's. "I'm gonna give those Krazy Klippers a whirl."
"Good," Charlie says and then stops in his tracks.
They see Bud at the same time. He is at the drive thru window. The top is down on the new car.
"Got a bad desire," Bruce Springsteen wails from the car radio, "I'm on Fire." The young girl next to Bud is laughing up into his face.
Charlie leads Delphine to a window booth. They watch Bud drive away, one arm wrapped around the steering wheel of the new car and one arm around the young girl.
Back home, Delphine calls Rainelle to ask about joining the coupon club. Rainelle will not let her get a word in edgewise. She has been to Charleston. To J. C. Penney's. Bud is letting her redo their bedroom. In shades of blue.
Copyrighted 2012 by Barbara A. Whittington