Now that Daddy Sheriff had taken off to go hunting,
he’d grown accustomed to the silences of the house.
He liked the quiet, after a day of noise at the farm and the diner.
But Lilly Jean had a way of letting the entire world know when she was entering a room.
Lilly Jean Jacobs’s goal in life, Howard suspected, was to get noticed.
Howard closed the book, keeping his thumb inside to mark his place. He showed Lilly Jean the cover.
“Steven Hawking? You understand that?”
Howard grinned. Nodded.
“You’re shittin’ me.”
He shook his head.
“I ain’t never seen you read that stuff when you’re daddy’s around.”
Howard shrugged. His father didn’t approve. Never had.
Lilly Jean plopped down on the couch beside Howard. “You know what your daddy told me about you?”
Howard nodded. Of course he knew. It was the same story Daddy Sheriff had been telling for years: Football injury. Likely concussion. Never the same again. Had to drop out of school. Not even a GED to his name. Goddamn waste of a life.
“You ain’t as stupid as your daddy makes you out to be.”
Howard shook his head. No. He wasn’t stupid. He’d had a full college scholarship lined up. But against Daddy Sheriff’s wishes, Howard had wanted to study astronomy. He sighed now, remembering the conversation they’d had nearly twenty years ago: ”What in God’s name will you do with that major? No, Howard,” his father had said. “You’re going to Ohio State on a football scholarship. You need to play ball.”
“But he doesn’t like ball,” his mother’d protested.
“Course he does. Boy’s been playing football since he was four.”
His mother had been right of course: Howard had never liked football. When he was reading or studying or setting up his telescope in the back yard, Daddy Sheriff would mock him. “Think you so smart, don’t you?” And then he’d get the football from the garage and force Howard into a game of catch.
“You like reading that?”
illy Jean shuddered.
“Give me a romance novel any day, Howard and I’ll be jest fine.”
ince his father’d left, Lilly Jean had stopped fussing with herself so much.
She pulled her hair back in a ponytail.
She stopped wearing all that perfume.
And she no longer slathered her face with all that makeup.
She looked…Howard felt himself blush…more attractive without makeup.
He didn’t understand why his father liked Lilly Jean all painted over.
Lilly Jean picked up the remote. She pointed it at the television. “Mind if I?”
Lilly Jean clicked on the news.
Howard returned to his book.
Again he turned his attention to Lilly Jean.
“Who is Henry Ware?”
Howard shrugged. Some romance writer?
“Henry Ware,” Lilly Jean insisted. “From Chicago.”
Lilly Jean obviously expected him to know the name. In the background, the television reporter gave the weather for tomorrow. A snowstorm was headed their way. Several inches were expected. He made a mental note to head to the Fowler place earlier than usual.
You telling me you never before heard that name, Howard?”
Howard stared at Lilly Jean. He felt stupid and dull. He shook his head.
“Henry Ware is Ellie’s father, Howard.”
Howard stared. He shook his head. Daddy Sheriff was up to his usual bullshit.
“You telling me your daddy made that up?”
“Well, then, Howard, if you know Henry Ware isn’t Ellie’s daddy, you know who is. Am I right?”
Howard dropped his eyes. Damn that Lilly Jean. Sneaker than a snake in the grass.
“Who is it, Howard?”
“You can play the dumb boy with your daddy, Howard, but you can’t play dumb with me.”
He wasn’t playing dumb with his daddy. Daddy Sheriff knew exactly what Howard was up to.
“Can’t fool me, Howard. I got me a sense about these types of things. I always figured you had more upstairs than you let on. You know something. I can feel it.”
Howard opened his book. Tried to focus, but the words swam before his eyes. In the background, the news droned on and on. House fire. Hit and run accident. Uprisings in distant lands.
“It’s for the child, Howard. The child needs love.”
The child had more love than most people around here, Howard thought. She was surrounded in love. Why was Lilly Jean so focused on finding Ellie’s daddy?
He set down his book.
Looked at Lilly Jean.
“If there were dreams for sale, what would you buy?”
The woman was talking nonsense now.
“Thomas Lovell Beddoes. English writer. 1803–1849.”
eah, I’m not so stupid, either, Howard.
I actually studied literature in college.”
“Surprising, I know.
A lot of men don’t like smart women.
It’s easier to play the game.”
“I was lying when I said I liked romance.”
Lilly Jean switched off the television.
“I guess you and me, we both got a secret now, don’t we?
But you didn’t answer my question.
I guess you never will.
I’m too late for dreams.
But Ellie’s not, Howard.
You can help me, or you can stand in my way, but I am gonna’ find Ellie’s daddy and haul his ass here to Medford myself, if I have to.
A girl needs to know who her people are, don’t you think?”
Lilly Jean wasn't
going to find Ellie’s father.
I can help you, Howard.
I can help you talk again.”
Lilly Jean’s eyes were animated.
“I can help you get your GED.
Hell, I can help you get into college, if that’s what you’re looking to do.
Think of it, Howard.”
Lilly Jean looked at the ceiling.
“Think of all them stars out there in the sky, just waiting for you to notice them.
They’re waiting for you to find ‘em, Howard.
Just like Ellie’s waiting to find her father.”
Howard stood and left the room. Lilly Jean had a point, he had to give her that. Ellie deserved to know who her father. But Howard wasn’t the one to help her find him.
It was too late for Howard to go to college. It was too late for Howard to finish high school. It was too late for Ellie to find her father. And it was, most certainly, too late for Howard to speak.
He should have spoken up years ago.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Tara Roberts challenged me with ""If there were dreams to sell, what would you buy?" - Thomas Lovell Beddoes" and I challenged trencher with "“Everywhere we went, when school was not in session, the children were at the barns, helping with the work, watching, listening, learning to farm in the best way it is learned. Wilbur told us that his eleven-year-old son had cultivated twenty-three acres of corn last year with a team and a riding cultivator.” --Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table"
Labels: Fiction Indie Ink