Long Hot Summer

...  time crept by. As slowly as a thousand of those hot and humid days in the Mississippi Delta. But summer had come to an end and school was well underway. My senior year. One late fall Saturday morning, I drove to Clarksdale, parked my father's car in front of the Woolworth store and ran inside, across the freshly oiled wood floors, through the aroma of chocolate and hot cashews from the candy bins, past the smells of cheap perfume from the counters of the old familiar five and dime. I was on a mission, protocol or not.

Beth was at the lunch counter in her red-checkered uniform. She was tall and thin; her dark hair lay in ringlets about her cap; and her eyes danced when she talked, the dimples in her cheeks deepening with every smile. She moved with precision, taking orders for burgers and fries and then preparing them with little effort. Without looking, she reached for the fountain spout and drew a Coke, took a long stride over, and sat the glass in front of me.

"Jane, you know he's in town, and he looks great. We all went out—"

The past few days had been unbearable, as I remembered it was just about time for Ray to come home on leave, but I didn't know this was the weekend. I was not exactly in the call group. I unleashed all my pent-up feelings on Beth, kept interrupting her, not knowing she had something to tell me.

"Beth, I have taken a chance with my sanity to hope for an opportunity to talk to Ray, much less to see him. Now you're telling me how great he looks and you all went out somewhere last night. And there's Peggy, right? Where is Peggy anyway? I thought she worked on Saturday. And, yes, I'm burning with jealousy. You've all seen him and until now I didn't even know he was home."

I looked down, fitfully wiping the clean counter with my napkin, then bending the straw. "Not that I care," I said taking a side-glance at Beth. I wished thoughts of Peggy didn't exhaust me so. I was totally out of character, and Beth knew it. She was silent for a moment, preparing herself to be interrupted again.

I had taken this about as long as I could. I didn't want to cry, but the tears started as I sipped the Coke. "I want to see Ray," I said.

"That might not be possible." She hem-hawed a bit; I kept interrupting, and finally she blurted it out: "Jane, listen to me. He's engaged to Peggy. He gave her a ring last night."

I was stunned. My head dropped and the Coke went flying. "I'm sorry, Beth. I've got to go." I stood to my feet and began picking up the glass pieces on the long counter that stretched from one end of the old five and dime diner to the other. I momentarily regained my composure, leaned over the counter, and started to speak. My words got louder, reverberating down the row of swiveling chairs and bouncing on every small town nosey ear in the Woolworth store.

Excerpts from House Not Made With Hands
published 2007
Jane Bennett Gaddy


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