Eddy doesn’t answer. He doesn’t say a word. Eddy knows what is going to happen next and it doesn’t matter if he speaks or not. It wouldn’t matter if he were the world’s greatest orator and philosopher since Forrest Gump. This blowhard is out to impress upon the world that he’s important and hell-bent on doing it as physically as possible to anyone who can’t get out of the way fast enough.
“Hey asshole, I’m talking to YOU! You ooglin’ Brenda?”
Eddy finishes his water with lime and lays another buck on the bar as a goodnight tip to Brenda. He knows she is going to have to put up with this stupid drunk until his buddies convince him to leave or until he’s pissed off one of Brenda’s regulars and started a brawl. Eddy ignores all the hollering and heads for the door next to the hand-painted picture window he and Brenda designed and built themselves. Everyone always knew there was something strong between Brenda and Eddy; had been since high school. The two just never got around to figuring out what that something was. When they woke up in separate beds twenty years later, they were just good friends. Too good to go any farther.
The chair does a slooww-moootioned somersault through the air, the little strings Brenda had tied the cushions on with tickling Eddy’s ear gently as it passes.
KKKKRRRRAAAACCKKKKK!!!!! TINkle tinkle tinkle
Glass showers Timmy and his girl in the first booth and the chair falls onto the spot where Nancy has just gotten up.
Eddy freezes, listening. That’s easy, because Alice’s Bar and Grille has suddenly gotten very quiet. No one says a thing. This asshole doesn’t know Eddy, but the rest of Chesterville does. Eddy was a bona fide hero. More than once. In grade school he saved an old lady from burning up in a fire by rolling her up in a blanket, dousing it with water and dragging her out the front door. All 72 pounds of him. Ten years later, he crawled out of a hole in a faraway jungle and told the second Looie, “That little Cong son of a bitch ain’t gonna do no more harm.” Eddy went home from Nam after that with his twin brother in a box. They didn’t make him go back. Called him a surviving son. The last of three. And now…
The clump, crunch, crunch of Asshole’s footsteps time his approach so perfectly Eddy could do this in his
BAMMMM MMMM MMMMM MMMMM MMMMM
The sound wave hits Eddy’s back, reverberating through the entire building. The explosive sound comes from the same place as the chair, the same place Asshole had been hollering from. It’s like a wave of water, but it is sound—big sound—and while Eddy is hearing it he’s ducking, moving sideways, diving behind the counter and in the same s-l-o-w- m-o-t-i-o-n drawing his Smith and Wesson .38 Police Special, leveling it at the source of the chair and the sound and the Asshole. But Asshole isn’t there. What is there is a blood-drenched, rough-hewn hole in the wall where Brenda has just double-barrel-invited Asshole to leave her establishment.
* * *
Sheriff Waters tells Brenda to go home and get some rest; he’ll get her statement the next day, no hurry. He takes the security camera tapes and Asshole’s Saturday Night Special and Brenda’s sawed-off twelve-gauge and tells Eddy he’ll see him in the morning.
Eddy stands there for what feels like hours after the county Fire and Rescue ambulance has left with the two halves of Asshole in black body bags. Seems like a lot of other folk are in shock too, talking quietly with each other and looking at Brenda or Eddy or Timmy’s girl, who keeps babbling, “I thought we were going to die,” over and over. But Eddy just stands there and watches.
Brenda sits half-on, half-off the last stool at the far end of the counter. She looks absent-minded as she plugs the jukebox back in. Eddy wonders if it had gotten unplugged accidentally? Did the sheriff’s deputies unplug it when they came roaring in to secure the bar? Brenda gets up and walks over to Eddy, asks if he’s OK.
“What?” he says in an exaggerated way, forming a funnel for his right ear with his right hand. The ringing in his ears has started to subside. Brenda laughs at Eddy’s attempt at humor.
“Thought I was going to lose you for a minute there,” she manages to get out smoothly before the gasp gives her away, then she is sobbing in his arms. Deep shudders go through her as she squeezes Eddy so tight he thinks he might faint. He can’t talk. He knows everyone is watching and he knows there aren’t any words. There are never any words for this. Eddy knows there are never, ever, any words that can take away the kind of pain Brenda is feeling right now. Right now this Midwest Christian farmer’s daughter hates herself and is filled with self-doubt and there are no words right now. There is no way to casually console someone who has just detached a person’s upper from that same person’s lower. Not exactly clean in half, but definitely in half. “Hold me.”
Eddy remembers when he was a kid, how he used to daydream of holding Brenda this way. “It’s OK, baby,” he stammers. He wonders where that came from as he holds her closer, realizing how much he likes it. He’s never talked to her like this. Like a girlfriend. “It’s over now.”
She kisses him a for long time, right there in the bar, right there on the lips, right there in front of God and Chesterville and everybody. The whole place cheers. She tells him she never wants to let him out of her sight, says she loves him. And Eddy just stands there.
Now, Eddy isn’t dumb. He knows what is happening. He knows from experience that emotions run rampant at times like these. In the back of his mind the shadow of a thought: He could probably get lucky tonight with all that has happened. That makes him feel ashamed and good at the same time and he doesn’t like that. ”Hey, calm down, I’m OK and you’re OK and the sheriff already said you aren’t in any trouble. We need to relax here; everything’s going to be all right.” He realizes he’s just kissed Brenda’s forehead. And realizes he loves her.
He loves her. Wow, he loves her! How did he not know that? She was there and he is there and Asshole’s middle was everywhere and he loves her. “Let me take you to your Mom’s, OK?”
They drive in complete silence. No radio. No talking. Even the tires seem reluctant to make so much as a whisper. An eighteen-wheeler heading the other direction returns Eddy’s blinking headlight signal that the trucker is headed for a bluelight special up ahead. The truck’s brake lights flash a couple times in Eddy’s rearview. He fleetingly wonders about who’s going to have to clean Asshole off the barroom wall and floor.
Mrs. T is on the front porch when Eddy pulls the cruiser into the drive. “Oh, my baby!”
“She’s OK, Mrs. Tyler, she saved my life.” Eddy hears himself say it and realizes what he’s said and starts to shake. A small tremor begins in his left shoulder and quickly engulfs his entire body with shakes that roll over him and then subside and then cover him again. He suddenly feels scared and weak and small and frail. He looks at Brenda, then feels better. The two hundred twenty-something pounds of Force Recon Marine looks at Brenda’s one hundred two pounds, feels safe. Smiles.
Brenda is acting anxious, dropping her cigarettes or lighter or purse and moving from her Mom to Eddy to her Chihuahua sitting unusually quiet beside the chair Brenda keeps bouncing in and out of nervously. Then Brenda looks at Eddy and suddenly stops…and smiles. She just stands still and smiles back at Eddy.
They do that for the next few hours, staring and smiling. Friends come over. The news is full of the shooting. Most everyone has all the information way wrong, some thinking Ed had been shot or that several people were dead as the stories get retold time after time until the sun finally comes up. All the while, Brenda and Eddy just staring and smiling at each other, but now they are holding hands, too.
Brenda and Eddy kept on holding hands, holding on to what they hadn’t been able to see right in front of their faces all that time: each other. They married within a week and went to Disneyworld on their honeymoon, financed by the reward money Brenda collected for ole jail-breaker Asshole. Now they run Alice’s together.
Eddy tends the bar. Brenda is the bouncer.
She never has a problem.
Jon David Marsh is a native of Kentucky. An adventurous man, he relishes “the many moves Karma, Murphy and life have perpetrated on me.” Regarding his writing, he says, “Words were always special to me with the way they spark the mental images that form the communication the wordsmith is trying to forge.”