by Robert Boucheron
This morning I was feeding Trip Junior in that adorable highchair we got at the Lockharts’ yard sale, which was a steal even if it has a few dark stains like bruises on an arm, but Edwina Lockhart said her youngest outgrew it and they wouldn’t be having any more, not if she could help it, she was just glad it was going to a good home, when Trip sailed into the kitchen, shirt tail flapping over his cute little butt. He grabbed the car keys from on top of the jumbo side-by-side refrigerator we got at the scratch-and-dent outlet, except you’d never know it.
‘No time for breakfast, honeybuns.’ He saw a box of donuts on the table and stuffed one in his mouth.
‘It would be nice if once in a while you asked before you went off all day in the car and left me here with the baby and no way to get to the store.’
‘Gotta make hay while the sun shines,’ he said with his mouth full. ‘Provide for Mrs. Huckle and all the little huckleberries.’
Trip wet-kissed me right in front of the baby, which woke me up more than I already was, but before I could get a word out, the screen door slammed behind him, so I licked the donut sugar from my lips, put a little more mashed banana on that darling silver spoon they gave me at the baby shower at the Holy Stone Temple and steered it toward Trip Junior, who was ready for solid food long before the experts say. He wolfed it down and opened wide for more like a baby bird in a nest.
‘So cute!’ I said to Mama, who isn’t always the most sympathetic listener, but at least she takes my calls. ‘If Trip stayed a minute longer he would have seen. Not that I’m complaining, like about fixing things around the house, because what good would that do?’
‘Look on the sunny side, Joncey.’
‘Though I did point out that this is his home too.’
‘And don’t nag, because it goes in one ear and out the other.’
‘Which is clearly the case with Trip. I suggested that he clean the dead leaves out of the gutters or repair the leaky toilet, which would be a snap seeing as how he’s a plumber.’
‘Now, Mama, the state is so balled up in red tape that they haven’t issued the certificate yet, but he completed the vocational training, and he worked a few months for Superior Drain, your full-service bath outfitter. Trip has a working knowledge of plumbing.’
‘You know what they say, Joncey, the cobbler’s children have no shoes.’
I had to think about that one for a minute, which gave Mama the mistaken idea I was done talking.
‘I need to get going, daughter. Have a blessed day!’
Trip probably picked up Spotswood Mays again, his buddy from way back, though what he sees in that overage juvenile delinquent is beyond me, because if Spotswood ever put in a decent day’s work in his life, I’d be floored. They’re probably waltzing all over the countryside in our car, which we bargained for at Appalachian Motors, the friendly used car lot, where Spotswood is a cousin of Haley Garnett, the manager.
‘Still driving that heap of scrap metal held together with baling wire?’ Haley said. ‘Let me fix you up with this white Ford Focus that has only 20,000 miles on it. Looks brand new! Why it’s here is because the previous owner got tired of washing it all the time.’
‘What about that little ding in the trunk?’ Trip said.
‘That little ding? It might mean the car was rear-ended and had some body work done, but that wouldn’t hardly affect the engine, now, would it?’
‘The price is right,’ Trip said. ‘We’ll buy it.’
Of course, he’s the one driving. Meanwhile, I’m stuck here with the baby, who is the spitting image of Trip, as anyone with eyes in her head can see, such as Suellen Carter. She dropped in after breakfast to pick up a batch of fulfilled orders for her online business, which is one-of-a-kind knitted garments using hypoallergenic yarn in a rainbow of colors, and she looked from the baby to our wedding photo, which I matted and framed in a practically new frame I found at the Twice Is Nice Thrift Shop.
‘So, Joncey, did you adopt?’
‘Certainly not. I can show you the stretch marks.’
‘That wasn’t what I meant.’
‘Then what did you . . . Oh, Suellen, that is so mean! Not to mention highly unlikely. Like I told Trip while we were dating, he was my one and only, though it took a little nudge to get him to the point. True, the baby was born less than nine months after the wedding, but I absolutely did not trick anyone into marriage because I was pregnant. The doctor said he might be a month or two premature, seeing he had a low birth weight. Trip was pleased as punch in the maternity ward, like he would split his mouth. Once we all got home, he helped with chores and changed diapers, and to all intents and purposes family life suited him to a T. Then he got tired from being up at all hours, but wasn’t I in the same boat? Fortunately, the baby started feeding on a regular schedule, and he gained weight, and I had plenty of milk. Trip made a dirty-old-man look, because he’s definitely into that part of a person’s body. Enough milk for twins, he said. The wedding was thirteen months ago, and now the baby is five and half months, which if you do the math works out like I said.’
‘If you say so, Joncey. Here is the batch of orders that came in last week. Since your internet access is limited out here in the sticks, I printed the online form where the customer fills in her exact measurements.’
I looked at the paper. ‘What kind of woman fits into that shape?’
‘I know, but custom fit is what we’re all about. Here’s your check for the week before, the orders I’m picking up.’
‘Thank you, Suellen.’
‘Are we all squared away on the business side of things?’
‘Fair and square.’
‘So, did Trip ever find a job?’
‘Actually, he works by contract, so his hours vary.’
‘My Hodge comes home for dinner every night at five o’clock on the dot. I have to run. Call me if you have any questions.’
It’s a good thing Suellen left at that point, because I was beginning to get slightly annoyed. As soon as she was out the door, I called Mama.
‘She couldn’t resist that parting shot.’
‘It was a tease. Let it go, Joncey. Let it roll off your back like water off a duck.’
‘I appreciate the knitting referrals, but she’s forever adding her two cents where it isn’t needed.’
‘Suellen knows how to push your buttons.’
‘I must admit it sounds attractive to have a man you can set the clock by. In that case, I would get the baby ready, and power through my housework and some knitting, and dash to the store for something tasty for dinner and set the table as pretty as a picture, with a vase of fresh-cut flowers, cloth napkins and silverware polished so bright it hurts your eyes to look at . . . but the car is always gone.’
‘Would you trade husbands with Suellen?’
‘Hodge Carter is a dull thud compared to Trip.’
‘There you go, then.’
‘But it would be nice to have some punctuality.’
‘Speaking of which, I need to get a move on. Bye, bye, daughter.’
We’re at the longest days of summer, when the sun stays up so late it’s easy enough to lose track of time, which must be what happened to Trip. It’s always some deal that involves a friend of a friend, a wire transfer from a bank, and a timely follow-up.
‘As far as the business model is concerned,’ he said, ‘it’s service-oriented to a select clientele who value their privacy, so I can’t go into a whole lot of detail.’
That is, assuming he’s on the road somewhere in the vicinity and not off on some wild goose chase with that knucklehead Spotswood, who has a raft of relatives in the area, due to a complex family history involving cousins marrying cousins, who whatever else may occupy their time are never too busy to produce another mouth to feed. And Trip can make friends with anyone, as I have witnessed on numerous occasions. He has a grin that shows every perfect tooth clear back to the wisdoms.
‘It’s a gift,’ he said. ‘which helps in the department of customer satisfaction.’
While he’s out there satisfying, I’m in here waiting. Like the time they supposedly rented a boat to cross Bluenose Lake to make a special delivery to a private hunting lodge that had no road access, and on the way back to the marina they got caught in a sudden storm that nearly capsized the boat, which wasn’t but a two-oared dingy with a lawnmower engine stuck on the stern, and Spotswood lay flat on the bottom and moaned the whole time, while Trip kept one hand on the rudder and bailed with the other hand, and they both got soaked to the skin, though they showed up at the house as dry as a bone close on to midnight after I gave up hope, and it didn’t rain a drop here.
After lunch while the baby napped I got in some knitting for Suellen, a full-size top with a bunchy neck that will not look flattering. Then Trip Junior ate a big dinner, which cleaned out the pantry, so a jaunt to the grocery store to stock up is definitely in the cards. And now he’s asleep again, because it’s his bedtime even though the sun hasn’t set.
It was one fine day. We got some fresh air on the patch of grass in front of the house, a bright spot here in the woods, where Trip wanted to get away from it all. He’s into self-reliance and sustainability, a lifestyle that’s off the grid, which includes our own well and a rain barrel for watering the garden and a woodstove. Sure enough, he chopped all that wood and stacked it for the winter, except the concept includes natural cooling for summer, which is where the trees come in.
A person might have preferred something closer to town, where you wouldn’t have to drive to do the least little thing. But the house was vacant and in good shape, since the previous owner had to sell before they ever moved in due to financial considerations, meaning they had to unload it. Mama was on board after she looked at the property, and she gave us a check for the down payment as a wedding present, so what could I say?
‘You were in such a hurry to get married, Joncey. And to that Trip Huckle! It’s a good thing your father had already passed, because he never would have approved.’
‘That’s all right, Mama. Trip turned out to be a wonderful husband . . . when he’s here.’
‘Fortunately, the life insurance policy paid out. I had enough to live on, so I felt I could part with the money, seeing as how you just had to tie the knot with someone.’
‘Mama, I don’t see why you say that. Papa would have liked Trip. Everybody does.’
‘It’s neither here nor there. What’s done is done.’
‘Then what is the problem?’
‘The problem is how do you know what he’s up to? Gone all day, day after day, no regular job, no way to track him.’
‘I am not a person who constantly calls her husband to check up on his whereabouts. He always brings home the bacon.’
‘So you say, but whose hog is it from? Trip is into some shady business.’
‘Oh, Mama, that is uncalled for! Trip is a free spirit. He’s like a natural wanderer who needs the great outdoors. He can’t be cooped up in an office or tied down to some routine job.’
‘Such as plumbing?’
‘Which pays well, I have to admit, and it would be nice if Trip got along better with Superior Drain, because it’s a dependable outfit, and he’s handy with a wrench.’
‘Before you were complaining, and now you’re defending him.’
‘I was not complaining! I was merely pointing out a few details that could be improved, such as use of the family automobile and regular hours. If Trip’s field of operations takes him out of calling range much of the time . . . Mama?’
We must have got cut off. Reception is spotty out here in the woods. I left her a message and we’ll get caught up later.
Anyway, it was one fine day. As soon as I drift off, Trip will undoubtedly roar up to the house in our car without his buddy Spotswood. Brakes will squeal, gravel will spit against the wall right under the window, and he will bellow along with the radio, which will blare at full volume tuned to his favorite station, your notch on the dial for Easy Country. He will slam through the door with his pants pockets stuffed with money, a bag of groceries in his arms topped by a bouquet, and the car keys dangling from his lips. The keys will drop to the floor with a crash as he shouts, regardless of whether anyone is asleep, including his own precious child . . .
Any minute now . . .
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Bellingham Review, Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, New Haven Review, Poydras Review. His one-act plays were performed in 2016 in Concord, North Carolina and Detroit, Michigan. Learn more at www.robertboucheron.com.