His One and Only, Part 4–Conclusion

His One and Only
By Edwina W illiams
(Serialized story–Part 4 of 4, the conclusion of this story.)

Having a broken ankle wasn’t exactly fun, but it did allow Addie an opportunity to look around her at the house she had clung to for six years since Jerry’s death.  It looked tired and dusty and she felt like she was looking at it for the first time in a long while.

Sitting on the porch swing, with its now-peeling paint, Addie swung gently to and fro as she thought back over the years since Jerry’s death.  All that time, she had worked for the house, but she had not enjoyed the house.  She had only enough energy to earn enough to keep paying the house’s bills.  There was no energy left for her.

Addie began to think about moving and the longer she thought of it, the more sensible it seemed. She began to read real estate listings. Eventually, she discovered Clover, a gated community of condos and duplexes which looked attractive and sensible.  The price was high; but she thought she could afford a one bedroom with computer alcove once her house was sold.

Jeff and Jenny went with her to view it as Addie’s foot still didn’t permit driving. As they toured the furnished display model, Addie imagined herself curled up on the comfortable sofa reading a thick book as she rested her throbbing foot on the comfortable hassock.

That afternoon she called a realtor and listed the house for sale.  It was time to turn the house into the money for a comfortable retirement as Jerry had envisioned; but she was not going to go to a stuffy community for the elderly.  People of all ages would be living in the community of Clover.  There was a swimming pool, a walking trail and even a bike path. She was moving away from her house but not to await growing old. She was ready at last to enjoy living once more.

The dismantling of her home wasn’t easy, particularly with her ankle, although no longer in a cast, still weak and unreliable. Jeff and Jenny helped a little, as did their two grown daughters. Jerry and his wife came home and stayed a whole week sorting the thirty-five year collection of “things.” That weekend they had a yard sale. That took care of a lot of small items, and Jerry arranged with a consignment auction house to haul away the furniture that would not be making the move to the new apartment in Clover.

After Jerry and his wife went back home again, Addie realized that most of her obligations to her old home had been fulfilled. In three days her apartment would be ready and a moving company would come and move all the carefully marked items that were to go with her.  Until then, she had only to wait and attempt to quell the feeling of disquiet at her impending move.

It was fall now and the shady front porch was as comfortable as it was full of nostalgia. Addie was sitting in her porch swing gently swaying to and fro.  It was Saturday evening, two days before she would be moving away for good.

When she noticed a small white car pulling into her drive, she thought it must be the new owners coming a day or two early to measure something or to show the house to a relative. She was quite surprised when a tall, slim. self-assured young womanwearing simple slacks and a crisp white blouse stepped from the car and walked directly toward her.

As she watched the young woman walk across the lawn, Addie had an unmistakable feeling of expectancy. Somehow she was sure something of note was about to happen; but quite sensibly, she shook off the feeling.  She had never seen this young woman before.

“Are you Mrs. Carter?” the young woman asked when she was close enough.

“Why yes, I’m Mrs. Carter.  Is there something I can do for you?”

“Do you mind if I sit down.”

“You can sit by me on the swing or there in the chair.”

Addie sank back onto the swing. The young woman took the chair.

“I’m Sara Lawson,” she said.  “Have you ever heard of me?”

“No, I can’t say that I have.” Addie answered.

“I was afraid not,” Sara said.  “That’s why I’m here. I heard your house had been sold and I was afraid I had waited too long to come see you. There’s something I need to tell you.

“When I was sixteen I was very wild. I skipped school, tried drugs and ran with older boys. One day I skipped school and was hanging out in the pool hall attached to Ryan’s bar downtown. The guy I was with got drunk and started saying I was flirting with a couple of guys who were playing pool. Mr. Carter came in to collect an insurance premium from Ryan. He knew me because my mom had a small policy and he’d seen me every month or so for most of my life.

“He hustled me out of there and gave me a ride home and he gave me this card.” Sara pulled a small wrinkled piece of limp cardboard from her pocket. It was one of Jerry’s business cards, the same style he had used all the years Addie had been his wife.

“He told me if I ever needed anything—day or night—to call him and he would come.”  Sara drew a deep breath as her eyes fell.

“One night I needed him and I called. It was the middle of the night and my boyfriend started beating me. I broke away and ran and ran and he came after me, chasing me with his car.  I was sure he would run me over and I was scared to death.  I finally got to the mini-mart and hid inside for a long time, scared to leave.  Then I called Mr. Carter.

“He was there in twenty minutes and came inside and walked me out. On the way to my house, he told me there was a better way to live and that I deserved a better life than I was headed for.

“I don’t know whether I would have changed or not, but the next morning I heard about Mr. Carter getting killed less than half a mile from our house. I was heartbroken. I felt like I killed him. I knew he died because I called him to come out and save me from something that was all my own fault.

“Well, Mrs. Carter, I did change; and I finished high school and college and I’m working on my master’s.  I’m going to make a career as a school counselor and do my best to save kids who are making the same mistakes I made.”

“Over the years, I always wondered if you knew why Mr. Carter was out that night, and I wanted to tell you why and to tell you how sorry I am that I called to ask him for help and he never got back home to you.”

A great weight fell off Addie and she felt tears running down her cheeks as she stood to meet the girl half way between the swing and the chair.

“It wasn’t your fault, young woman,” she said as she wrapped her arms around her visitor and gave her a hug. “Jerry was like that. I believe he would have gone to help you even if he had known what would happen.  He’d be so proud of you.”

Ten minutes later, after promising to keep in touch, Sara returned to her car and drove away with a parting wave; but Addie continued to swing back and forth until long after dusk.

The last regrets at leaving the house where she had been Jerry’s wife slid away. For the first time in nearly seven years, there was peace in Addie’s heart. Jerry had done nothing wrong. At the time of his death, he had still been the good man she married. In her mind she could almost hear him saying, “Addie, you should have known you were my one and only girl.”

It was with that thought in mind that Addie smiled as she walked through her hall, past the boxes ready to be taken to her new home. She knew the objects packed in those boxes would bring memories of Jerry,but those memories would no longer be painful now that her heart was free of questions and doubts.

The End

(All 4 parts of this story have now been posted.  If you missed any of the story, check in the category shown below and read all the installments.  Thank you for being a reader.–Edwina Williams)

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His One and Only, Part 3

His One and Only
By Edwina W illiams
(Serialized story–Part 3 of 4)

 Part 4 will be posted Sept. 7, 2012

Addie’s house was paid for but it was old and drafty and the upkeep was enormous. In spite of the fact that Jerry had always handled their financial affairs, she realized right away that her now-limited income would make it difficult for her to keep it up; but in the beginning, she was too numb to take any action.  Then   Jenny drug her to a meeting for the recently bereaved where she heard a speaker talk about the five most common mistakes people make following the loss of  a spouse. The one she identified with most closely was, “Making changes too quickly.”  Surely it would not be wise to leave her home until her grief had begun to dissipate a little and she could think more clearly.

So she stayed on in the house.  For a while she lived off the meager savings Jerry had managed to put aside and payments due him for insurance policies recently written. Then of course, Jerry had carried more than adequate life insurance, not unusual for a man who sold insurance for a living.  After his final expenses were paid, just as Jerry had intended, there was a large sum left over.

It was after she began to dip into that sum of money that Addie began to worry.  She knew that Jerry had planned for the money to be a nest egg to augment her income with the interest. She doubted Jerry would want to see her use the money for day to day living expenses; and if she continued to use funds at her current rate, her nest egg would be flatter than Humpty Dumpty in a short while.

Addie knew that Jerry had planned for them to sell the house and move to a senior citizen’s community where lawn work would be included in the package and meals would be available in a dining hall for the disabled….but he had planned that for later on.  She was too young for that community right now.

So Addie got a job.  It was the first she had in over twenty five years and it was the most physical in nature of any employment she had ever had. She was moving and twisting, climbing and shifting, lifting and arranging all day long as she kept up the displays in the small-appliance area of a discount department store.

The pay wasn’t great but during her five years on the job, she had no need of an entertainment budget because she was far too tired to need to be entertained. The frozen meals she began to buy for herself were less expensive than cooking and she was able to get by pretty well.

But she was so tired after a long day at work that most evenings she was just too tired to stay up past the early evening hours; so she would go to bed and then wake in the early morning hours. In those wee hours, her thoughts always turned to Jerry.

Occasionally she even woke to the recurring nightmare of a ringing phone and knocking on the door.  Once awake, she would lie in her bed until daylight arrived. The question of why Jerry had gone out that fateful night long after they had gone to bed together was never far from her mind.

“Maybe I was snoring,” she thought, “and Jerry went out for a drive because I was keeping him awake.

“Maybe he was hungry and went out for ice cream or something.”  That thought made Addie smile in the darkness. As if he would find ice cream out on Cooper’s ridge at any time even if it had not been the middle of the night!

“What had he been doing?” There weren’t many houses out that way. One was a huge estate owned by city people, a couple were ordinary middle class homes, and there was a small clump of tiny 1950’s development pre-fab houses that were now nearly dilapidated.

The only person Addie knew who lived on the ridge was Cora Anderson, the “lady from the card shop,” but Jerry had known everyone.  He could have been coming or going from any house on the ridge.

Jerry had always driven faster than he should, his mind on other things as he flew down the road. She had feared an accident for years but never expected the feared event to happen in the middle of the night while she slept on, unaware of her husband’s absence.

Addie never stopped warring with herself over what might have happened that night.  If anyone else knew, they never came forward and told her. There didn’t seem to be any rational explanation for his sudden excursion the night of his death unless she accepted that he had been having an affair. Yet she found it hard to believe that as well.  She had always felt so secure with Jerry who had often asked as he entered the door, “How’s my one and only girl?”

Once Addie ran across one of the nice young policemen who had come to bring her the bad news. She asked him whether he had any theories about the cause of the accident. His reply made sense.

“It was probably caused by a deer, Ma-am. I reckon Mr. Carter came across one standing right there in the middle of the road and braked so hard that he lost control.  If so, the animal got away safe.  We never saw a sign of anything in the road.”

“That would be Jerry,” Addie said. “He wouldn’t hurt a flea if he could help it.”

She thanked the officer and went on her way, neither having spoken of the other issue involved—why Jerry was out driving at all at that time of the night.

So Addie went on waking up from her nightmares and enduring sleepless nights and long sessions of wondering for a while longer—until she had an accident at work.

 

She had already worked seven hours of her eight hour shift that summer day. It was a day when the air-conditioning in the cavernous building where she worked was far out-distanced by the scorching intensity of the outdoor heat. She was uncomfortable and tired and she had answered questions for a browsing customer several times over the past half hour. Finally the customer seemed to make a decision; she requested the red electric mixer, visible on a high shelf.  At eye level within arm’s reach there were white mixers, silver ones, black ones, even one in a beautiful deep blue shade; but of course only the red one would do.

Addie went up a ladder to bring down the mixer. She had descended only one rung, when the customer spoke.

“I think that’s the box up there too.  Could you bring it down?  I want to give it for a gift and I can’t wrap it up without the box.

Addie suppressed her sigh and turned her head back upward. The box was just out of reach.   She went back up the rung and managed to grasp the box without falling. She knew she could not carry both things down together so she turned to drop the empty box at the foot of the ladder. She then laboriously lowered herself rung by rung until she reached the floor—where her foot landed squarely on the box she had dropped.  As her ankle turned, she heard it snap and she fell to the floor pulling the ladder over on top of her. She lost her grip as she fell and the heavy red mixer hit the floor with a crash.

Several co-workers rushed from other parts of the store to see what had happened.  After they lifted the ladder off and helped her to sit up, the customer was nowhere to be found.

The supervisor took Addie to the hospital, scolding her all the way for her carelessness and bemoaning the fact that a long-series of accident free days had ended on her watch.

(Remember to come back after Sept. 7, 2012 to read Part 4, the final installment of this story.)

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His One and Only, Part 2

His One and Only
By Edwina W illiams
(Serialized story–Part 2 of 4)

 Part 3 will be posted Sept. 5, 2012

As she forced herself into a sitting position, her sister-in-law peeked in from the dining room door.

“Just stay right there Addie,” she said.  “I’ve made coffee and Jeff went out and got some doughnuts.  I’ll bring you a tray.”

Addie obediently stayed where she was. When Jenny brought the tray and set it on the coffee table in front of her, she gratefully sipped the coffee.  As for the doughnut, without realizing it, she pulled it apart into smaller and smaller pieces without eating any of them. Before long, there was nothing but a pile of crumbs on the saucer next to her coffee cup.

While she sipped the coffee, Jenny told her what had been done while she slept.

“Jeff called Jerry, Jr. and he’ll be here this evening. We called the funeral home—you did want the same one we used for your mother didn’t you?

“After you get dressed, you can come into the guest room where I laid out some clothes to take with us when we go to make the arrangements this afternoon. I think they’ll be fine, but you should decide.

“We also have an appointment later on at the florist’s to choose a casket piece and a nice spray.”

On and on she went, telling about the neighbors who had already run in with cakes and cold-cuts and the fact that the accident was the lead story on the local news.

After a few minutes, Addie stopped listening. All she could hear was her own voice in her head repeating over and over.  “Now I’m a widow.  Now I’m a widow.”

With heavy limbs, Addie finally went upstairs to bathe and dress. For the rest of the day she allowed Jenny and Jeff to lead her from place to place and from duty to duty as one by one the details for burying Jerry were decided upon.  Burying Jerry…No, No, No.  How could she stand it?

            At the funeral home the next evening Addie sat in a side chair near where Jerry, Jr. and his wife Tricia stood shaking hands. The people who stopped by her chair and took her hand or bent to hug her swirled around her as nameless shadows.  She simply could not focus.

The crowd for Jerry was huge.  He was well-known in the community because of his work that had kept him out and about for the past thirty years. He was also respected and well-liked and most of the visitors were there to honor him; but in spite of being slightly out of sync with what was going on around her, Addie sensed the gossiping going on in the small clumps of people here and there around the huge room where Jerry had been laid out.

When the evening finally ended, Jerry, Jr. came to her and leaned over to speak in her ear.  “Tricia will wait here with you, Mom.  I’ll bring the car to the front door and then we’ll get you home.”

“Wait, JJ,” she said, laying her hand on his sleeve as she spoke.

“What are people saying about this?”

“Ah, mom…..” Jerry began.

“I have a right to know Jeremy.” Addie told him firmly.

“Well Mother, they seem to think that Dad was having an affair with the lady from the card shop. She lives way up there on the ridge where he was and a couple of weeks ago several people saw them having lunch together.”

“Do you think that’s what happened, Son?”

“I don’t know, Mom; and I reckon it doesn’t really matter.  He’s gone now so there’s no use torturing ourselves over what he might have been doing that night.”

Addie nodded slowly and then her head rose nobly to a higher mark than it had reached at any other time during the day.

And so with pride on her side, Addie faced her neighbors, friends and fellow townspeople. Pride carried her through the funeral and through the next several years; but it gnawed on her that she didn’t know what errand had caused Jerry’s death; and she didn’t know if he died as an honorable man or as a cheating spouse. She didn’t even know whether he had been coming back or on his way to somewhere when the accident happened.

The car had gone over the ridge off the north side of the road. The accident report concluded he was most likely traveling west before he skidded and spun out of control, but that didn’t indicate if he was coming or going. Ridge Road ran east-west between two well-travelled north-south roads. The distance to or from town was about the same whichever road one happened to be on before turning onto Ridge Road.

But Jerry must have been on his way to or from somewhere near where the accident happened. It was a narrow gravel road and he surely wouldn’t have turned on it in the middle of the night unless that was his destination. But why would he have gone there?

(Remember to come back after Sept. 5, 2012 to read Part 3 of this story.)

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His One and Only

His One and Only
By Edwina W illiams
(Serialized story–Part 1 of 4)

 Part 2 will be posted Sept. 3, 2012

            The pounding on the door was relentless and the sound finally roused Addie from her slumber.  She was alone in the bed.  Where was Jerry? Hadn’t she heard the phone ring earlier?  Did she dream that?

Well anyway, the knocking on the front door was real; but apparently Jerry had already gone downstairs to answer it, so she might as well go back to sleep.  If Jerry needed her, he’d come back to get her.

But the knocking went on and on. If Jerry went down to answer the door, why didn’t the knocking stop?

As Addie pulled on her worn cotton robe, her eyes fell on the clock on the table beside the bed.  3:22 a.m.

Whatever could anyone want at this hour?

At the head of the steps, she leaned over the railing to where she could see the front door. Jerry was not there and the pounding continued.  Addie’s heart began to thump in her chest. For twenty-nine years she had been under Jerry’s loving protection.  Why wasn’t he opening the door?

Hesitantly, with trembling knees, Addie went down the stairs.

In the hallway downstairs she turned on a small light and then crossed the hall to one of the windows that flanked the front door.  She pulled the curtain aside and peered out into the semi-darkness of her front porch.  A nearby street light reflected off a police car parked in front of her house, low beam lights making a pool of brightness in the sultry night.

The man on her porch raised his fist and knocked loudly on her door one more time. She couldn’t actually see him but his shadow indicated the straight stature of a police officer.

She slid the chain off the door and opened it a few inches as she simultaneously flipped the switch on the porch light. After his long knocking session, the police officer looked surprised that she had finally come to the door.

“Mrs. Carter, Ma-am?” He inquired.

“Yes?” Her voice quavered as she answered. Where was Jerry?  Something was very wrong.

“I’m Officer Johnson, Ma’am.  My partner here is Officer Lewis.  May we come in?

Addie pulled her robe a little tighter and opened the door a little wider as she nodded her head.

Once inside the hall, Officer Johnson glanced quickly around and then gestured toward a small chair near the stairway.

“Have a seat, Mrs. Carter.  We have some bad news for you.”

Addie sank into the chair and raised her eyes to the earnest young officers whose next words changed her whole life.

“No,” she said hoarsely.  “That’s impossible.  “Jerry’s upstairs in bed …..”  Her words trailed off. Jerry was not upstairs.  If he were there, she would not have answered the door.

“Are you sure, it’s him?” she inquired, hope still lingering.

“It’s Mr. Carter, Ma’am. My folks have had an insurance policy with him for the last twenty years.  I know him pretty well.  It’s him.”

“But how…..why…..?” The questions died on Addie’s lips.  Even if these young officers knew why Jerry was out driving in the middle of the night with her unaware he had even left their bed, she might not WANT to know. She fell silent as the world seemed to tilt around her.

Several minutes later, the earnest young voice of one of the police officers—the other one this time—finally penetrated her consciousness once again.

“We don’t want to leave you here all alone.  Isn’t there someone we can call?”

She gave them her brother’s name and in her altered state of mind, it seemed that Jeff and his wife Jenny magically appeared the next moment. She was still seated in the small chair and the officers were pacing restlessly in her hallway.

“Come along Addie,” Jenny said, taking her by the elbow and guiding her toward the sofa in the nearby living room.  “Jeff and I will take care of everything. I’m going to see if I can find one of your sleeping pills.  It will be better if you rest now.”

Obediently, Addie followed all instructions and soon fell into a fitful sleep. The sun was high when she woke up a few hours later with the cold alien thought at the forefront of her brain.  “Now I’m a widow.”

(Remember to come back after Sept. 3, 2012 to read Part 2 of this story.)

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