Friday, November 20, 2015

June, Two

“GOOD GOD, Sarah Jane. Get your nose out of your damned Bible and watch where you’re going!” Sarah Jane had not, in fact, been reading her Bible, but couldn’t decide whether she felt insulted that June had spoken to her so sharply, or guilty for not reading her Bible while walking down the sidewalk.

“Hello, Miss June,” Sarah Jane enunciated “miss” like it was an affront that any woman over 30 should have never married. “I suppose you’re out shopping for your famous Thanksgiving feast.”

“I am,” replied June, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Of course, the Reverend and I will be serving our usual meal to the less fortunates in town on Thanksgiving Day.”

June’s eyes rolled up so far in her head she swore she could see her brains. She knew two things about Sarah Jane and the Right Reverend Spurgeon Swicegood: One, they both had terrible taste as they were married to each other and two, after serving a modest meal of Stove Top Stuffing, dry as ass turkey slices, and stale rolls to the “less fortunate”, those two jokers high tailed it up to the country club dining room where they ate like pigs and drank two bottles of pinot grigio. June’s niece, who was a waitress at the country club, saw Sarah Jane throw up in her wine glass one Thanksgiving and then blame it on ‘suspect cranberry sauce’. In her wine glass!

“Too bad you ain’t invited to my house,” June mumbled and pounded down the sidewalk. Ten paces away, she felt especially evil and called over her shoulder, “Watch out for the cranberry sauce!”

June’s house was situated on a corner lot, where the business end of town met the living end of town. It was a neat house, built with care in the 1937 by her father’s own hand. June kept the lawn mowed and planted pansies in spring, petunias in summer, and mums in the fall. She painted the clapboard siding every seven years and replaced the roof every twelve, whether it needed it or not. She had a solid heating and air man, a reliable plumber, an honest electrician, and a handyman who would fill in when the others couldn’t. She was a firm believer in the importance of regularly scheduled maintenance, and kept marble covered composition books filled with notes on the upkeep of the house. Only once, when faced with a sudden termite infestation, had she panicked. Since then, she employed a man known around town as Leon the Bug Guy. Leon chain smoked Camel cigarettes and carried an arsenal of chemicals in the back of his lime green pick up truck. She hadn’t had a problem with bugs since.

Across the street to the left was the drug store, and June could sit on her porch and watch the teenage boys share a single cigarette like it was gold. On Tuesday afternoons, she’d watch Lucy Harper pick up her birth control pills wearing a ridiculous sunhat and movie star sunglasses, like everyone in town didn’t know it was her. Directly in front of June’s house sat a blessedly empty lot. A few years ago, a group of folks had tried to start a community garden, but no one wanted to tend the plants they’d planted. June did her part to keep it up, but before long it became overgrown and forgotten, squash and tomatoes dripping from vines and rotting on the ground. It made June boiling mad for a solid three months, until the frost hit and leaves fell and covered it all.

Behind her house was a fallow field that stretched almost further than you could see, until it gave way to scrubby pines that leaned into one another in the sandy soil. To the right lived her one true neighbor and source of great consternation, Joanna Peterson. Joanna lived with her six dogs, four cats, the occasional boyfriend, and her 16 year old daughter, a perpetually sullen, raven haired girl called Blue. While Joanna never missed an opportunity to speak to June (“Juney!” she’d call from her ramshackle porch, “Isn’t this just a magnificent morning?”), Blue had only spoken once. It had been late at night the summer before, and June had woken with a start, drenched in sweat. She walked out into the back yard in a futile attempt to escape the furnace inside of her and seen Blue and a group of half a dozen teenagers huddled in a circle, passing a small object around. She watched them put it to their mouths and saw the glowing ember and realized with a shock that they were smoking marijuana.
Blue looked up and saw her standing there. The girl’s face registered surprise, then shame and embarrassment. She half smiled and raised her hand as if to wave, and that’s when the boy standing next to her noticed June. “Hey Blue, should we ask your friend to the party?” The group laughed and Blue’s face turned hard. Her wave turned into fist from which she extended one pale, middle finger. “Screw you, old lady!” she yelled, and they erupted into cheers. For perhaps the first time in her life, June had nothing to say. After she went inside, she laid in bed for a good long while, staring at the ceiling and wondering if she had been that angry when she was a teenager.

She felt certain she had.

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