Howard sat shivering in a lawn chair beneath the giant oak that grew in the yard. The wind sent maple leaves cart-wheeling down the lonely dirt road that passed in front of the house he and Daddy Sheriff—and now Lilly Jean Jacobs—shared. Yellow locust leaves clung to the patrol car and Lilly Jean’s rusted Chevette, both parked outside of the garage that each year leaned a little bit more to the left.
The rain had drawn the worms from the dirt. They lay curled up and swollen upon the brick walk that led from the garage to the house. Pearls of rain pooled in the cupped hands of the clovers and dotted the grass like crystals.
“Howie.” Lilly Jean propped open the screen door and held it open with her foot. “Game’s on.”
He nodded. No doubt Daddy Sheriff scared his new wife, what with his yelling at the TV.
“I made you some nachos. Come inside out of that rain.” There was a look of pleading in Lilly Jean’s eyes. Lilly Jean, Howard knew, didn’t want his company so much as she needed it. She needed a buffer between Daddy Sheriff and herself; a barrier to prevent their talking or arguing or acknowledging the width of the chasm that divided them. “Please, Howie?” She stepped out of the house and onto the back porch. “I could put on a pot of coffee. Decaf if you like.” She went down the sidewalk, the swollen maple seed pods popping beneath her feet, and sat in the chair beside his.
The clouds were thick and black and oppressive. The wind picked up and foretold of the snow that would soon blanket the ground.
“I don’t understand what all the fuss is about a stupid football game anyhow. I got myself better things to do than sit there massaging your father’s smelly feet while he hollers at the television.”
A flock of starlings took off in unison and whirled around the tops of the trees before settling again.
“Daddy Sheriff says you use to play.”
As did his father.
“Told me you was pretty good, once upon a time.”
Any boy would be good whose father had beat football into him; who’d driven his own dreams into his son until the son didn’t know his own mind. Howard remembered Daddy Sheriff waking him at six o’clock in the morning to run practice drills; remembered his father screaming from the sidelines of the flag football games while all the other parents looked on, wide-eyed; remembered the first time his father had hit him after he’d dropped a pass.
“Coulda’ got yourself into college and hightailed it out of here.”
Howard shook his head. No.
“That’s what he said, Daddy Sheriff.” Lilly Jean laughed and nudged Howard. She cleared her throat. Combed her hair with her fingers. Stared straight ahead. “Never be ashamed of your abilities, Howard.”
“Lilly Jean!” Daddy Sheriff’s voice came from the house.
“Lord, how I hate that game. No, that’s not quite right. I hate watching your father watch it. He’s possessed by the game, consumed by it. Every yard run, every pass completed, every tackle, every touchdown, every sack, Daddy Sheriff laughs and cries and jumps up and down like they’re his own personal successes. Didja’ ever watch him lean when a ball is thrown? Like by the leaning, he could control where that ball landed?”
A car approached. The driver slowed and waved. Jonathan. One of the few who wouldn’t be watching the game afternoon.
“And you know what I hate most, Howie? That stupid yellow towel. What do you call that thing?”
Howard returned the wave and Jonathan continued on his way.
“Terrible towel.” She snapped her fingers. “That’s it. Terrible is right.” She shuddered. “He puts that thing on my television set; the TV I bought with my own two cents. He takes my Precious Moments figures right off the top and spreads that yellow rug out in their place like it’s some shrine to the Steelers. Then, all of a sudden, just when I’m nodding off to sleep, he’ll yell and leap up from the couch and dance all around the living room waving that towel in celebration.”
Howard glanced at his watch.
“Who knows what-all he’s spilled on it throughout all them years he’s had it. Smells like shit, it does.” Lilly Jean leaned towards Howard; she lowered her voice. “You know he sleeps with that thing.”
The rain fell heavier. Howard drew his coat about himself more tightly.
“If it wasn’t for that towel, I’d be OK.” Lilly Jean shook her head. “No, that ain’t it. Truth is, Howard, that even if your daddy was to get rid of that old yellow blanket, I’d still hate him.” She narrowed her eyes. “Truth is, I can’t stand your father.”
“Lilly Jean?” Daddy Sheriff again.
“What’s the point, anyway? It’s just a stupid game.” Lilly Jean glanced at the house. “I know a town needs something to believe in, Howie. Hell, yes. I get that.” She looked around the yard, gestured at the sagging garage, the paint peeling from the house, the Mustang that had been up on blocks so long it seemed to be a permanent part of the yard. “A place this hopeless needs something to believe in. But football ain’t fulfillin’ my hopes. And I suspect it ain’t fulfilling yours neither.”
She stood. “I guess I'd best get in there. You know if them Steelers lose, he’s going to be in a awful mood, Howie. No telling what he’ll do.” She turned towards the house; walked up the sidewalk and went inside.
Howard stood too.
He opened up the door, wiped the maple seeds from his feet and entered the living room.
“What do you want, Dumbass?” Lilly Jean said, when she saw Howard standing there. “Finally occur to you to come in out of that weather?” She sighed deeply. “I suppose you want some coffee now.” And she turned and went into the kitchen.
Howard sat on the couch next to Daddy Sheriff.
And from the kitchen, Lilly Jean caught Howard’s eye and winked.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week,Kay challenged me with "Write about an obsessive fan. You must include an outside perspective." I challenged RLW with "That was the day no one bothered to make her tea."
Labels: Fiction, Fiction Indie Ink