They do yardwork together on Wednesdays, like today. Joan rakes up pine straw, stuffs it into black string-tie garbage bags. Henry brings over a gardening kit that Joan never uses. Today, he's lining bricks around the small garden in the back, two rows of bricks set diagonally. It's February and they're going to burn the garden (it's only ten yards squared) to prepare the ground for spring tilling and seeding. She'll plant tomatoes and summer squash in a month or so.
It's warm out, warmer than anybody expected it to be. Henry has a sweater tied around his waist. Joan is in a sports bra, her brown hair tied back. When she bends over, gets her back into it, he notices her visible panty line. He looks away, works harder, moves faster, splits a fingernail against a brick. He yelps, falls back and she runs over to help. One half of the nail has been pushed into the quick and his thumb starts to bleed. She helps him to the kitchen, holds his hand underneath the running faucet.
"Once," Joan tells him, sitting at the small dining table, wrapping his finger in gauze. "I took a night class for Religion. A girl, one day— we were in the middle of class— fell over and her head hit the corner of the table she was sitting at. There was a quick spew of her blood, just for a second. Someone called an ambulance."
The gauze is from a first-aid kit kept in Kelly's model train room. Joan doesn't know why her husband needs a first-aid kit in a model train room. She has never asked.
"We crowded around at her, gawking at her skirt being up. She just jerked, her eyes gone foggy. There was some more blood, but at her lip. I was next to her, saw her go down, saw her laying there, twitching, but I couldn't move. I hate to think about how I couldn't even pull her skirt down for her."
Henry doesn't ask about Joan's husband. He figures what's between them is their business. He wonders how she can stay with someone who spends his free hours painting miniatures.
"I remember her being wheeled away," she continues, "She didn't want to go to the hospital; she said that it happened regularly and it was no big deal. There was a wedding later that day. Even the blood had stopped pretty soon. It was in her hair now. The ambulance guys, once they're called, they were legally obligated to pick her up. I remember she said," and for this, Joan stands up. "'I'm the fucking maid of honor!'"
Joan goes to the refrigerator, breaks ice and pours two glasses of tea. She stops to put her hand on the counter, closes her eyes. "Funny."
She's made a picnic for them, cucumber sandwiches and salt and vinegar potato chips. They sit on the outside deck; he on a bench— she on the porch swing. He's barefoot, she has pom-pom socks. He mumbles approval for the sandwich, gives a bandaged thumbs up. "Cucumbers," he says, raises his tea to her.
"Here," she says. "Do this. Take a chip, then," she drags a corner of a chip over her lips like lipstick. "Now lick."
He does, then screws up his face. "Oh that's godawful."
She laughs at him. "There's gloves for when we go back outside."
She asks for him to do his Uri Gellar trick; she never gets tired of it. He doesn't either.
The backdoor to her bedroom is open and the fan whick-whicks above them. The curtains billow from the fan; Henry and Joan lie on the bed. A tabby cat sticks its head through the door then leaves.
"What's the date," Henry asks, rolling over. "Truck payment is due."
"Ah, I get paid the 15th."
Joan reaches towards the bedside table for her half-bag of chips. When she leans into her pillow, her breasts sag slightly to her sides. "Is it enough?"
"Yeah. I swear this happens every month."
"It does happen every month. How much do you need?"
"250. I get paid the 15th; you don't have to worry."
"I never do. I don't mind. I'll take it out of my shopping allowance."
Henry swivels around on the bed, lets his feet hang off.
Joan pulls herself to him. "This is what we have, Henry."
Joan in a happy, floppy hat sits on a gallon bucket, another next to her and her gloved hands around the roots of an azalea bush they're transplanting. "What does he want?" she asks Henry. "What can I do for him that I am now not? He comes home from work and he either goes to sleep or to the kitchen to watch TV. He doesn't want to do anything with me anymore. I say we can go see a movie or there's some music in Hattiesburg, but . . ."
Henry pulls another small bush from its pot and washes the roots in a small tub.
Finished, Joan flips her bucket over, places her spade and hand rake inside, then walks to a spigot at the base of the house. She wipes her hands on her apron. "I've been running a low grade temp all day. I hope it's not as bad as what Kelly says is going around the firm."
Henry packs dirt around the base of his bush. "I don't get sick," he says.
Joan tips the bucket under the spigot and turns the faucet on. Water pours into the bucket. It roars against the plastic. "Once," she says. "Leonard Floyd, you know, he drove past the house on his bush-hog, stopped me when I was mowing the yard. I say hi and he says hi and I ask him if he'd like some water. He tells me he'd rather have some company; that Ilene's so busy and he's so lonely. Could I give him some company? And I tell him I'm flattered, but I'm a married woman and he wipes his forehead with his handkerchief, waves and drives on."
She stops the water, fishes the tools from the bucket and wipes them against her apron, pulling back long brown streaks. She pours the water out. "I didn't because of Kelly. But I can't tell him something like that. How can I tell him something like that? I just wish he would . . .
"I guess Leonard just came too early." She takes off her hat and leans against her house.
Henry smiles at her. "Lucky me, then."
"I'd leave with you today, if I thought that would do me some good."
"Tell you something, Joannie." Henry points with his spade. "Sayin' and doin' is chocolate and concrete."
"Oh, I know," she says. "I know."
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