This Side of Tomorrow - Part Three
As Ray grips the steering wheel, his white knuckles catch the light of an oncoming car. He’s had a lot of time to think on the drive. Deep down he knows his feelings haven’t changed and they never will. It’s the way he was raised, like his father before him. We all know the difference between right and wrong. Livy refers to it as the Social Compact. Ray calls it simple common sense.
“Potatoes, potawtoes,” he murmurs to himself.
Entering the town of Wilson, he hangs a left at the four way stop. Coming to the corner he recognizes the white gabled home instantly. It’s a large house. It looks pleasant enough from the road, but up close you can tell it’s seen better days. The trim needs paint and the eaves trough dangles precariously over the garden path. Jim Knox passed away just over two years ago, leaving his wife with a mortgage, no savings and a son who’s never worked a day in his life.
He parks the truck on the road instead of pulling into the driveway. No sense in disturbing Alice, it’s already after ten. He’s got no beef with her anyhow. It’s Stewie who needs waking up at this point in time. Stewie - suddenly the name strikes him as odd. For a man of twenty one, it sounds an awful lot like something you'd call a five-year old. Ray shakes his head in disgust.
Walking up the long driveway, he glances at the second floor window. His mind suddenly forms the image of Stewie outside Ruth’s bedroom, throwing rocks to rouse her late at night. He picks up a stone and lobs it up at the glass. Missing, he hits the tin window box. A plonk sounds echoes down the quiet street.
Ray is suddenly lit up from behind as a truck pulls into the driveway. He turns, using his hand to shadow his eyes from the blast of brightness.
Ruth slams the truck door shut and runs up the driveway.
“What are you doing here?”
Ray drops the rock he was holding in his other hand. Sighing, he waits for her to walk up closer to him. No need to broadcast their family business to the whole of Wilson, for crying out loud.
“I came to set things right.”
“You’re as bad as Mama!”
“Hey, you could have done a lot worse.”
Ruth shrugs, conceding.
“What about you?”
“I thought about what Aunt Livy said. I should tell him”
She juts her chin out suddenly, a defensive move she picked up from her father.
“And what he does with this information is his business.”
Ray stuffs his hands in his pockets.
“He does the right thing or it becomes my business.”
Ruth rolls her eyes at her uncle. Picking up a rock, she approaches the house and swings her pitching arm back. It’s not the first time she’s done this. Lamp light illuminates Stewie’s outline in the upstairs window.
“Ruth? Is that you?”
Ray scoffs loudly.
“Who else is it going to be, Stewie?”
Stewie’s confused now. “Mr. Singelton? What the…?”
Ruth turns to Ray desperately, her eyes begging him.
“Uncle Ray, please.”
Ray tugs on his suspenders and turns his back to the house. Just then, another vehicle approaches, lights blaring. Ray recognizes the truck. It’s Hank’s small hauler. As Ray walks up to greet him, Hank veers slightly, running over his foot.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Ray shouts out, folding over in half.
Hank shuts of the engine and leaps from the truck.
“Oh Ray, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there. Are you all right?”
As Ray tries to walk, he loses his balance. Toppling over, he dings his face on the edge of Hank’s open door. His nose gushes blood. He slumps over and sits on the ground, groaning. Ray squats beside him, awkwardly.
“Cad I get a clod?”
Ray grabs a piece of cloth from Martha’s sewing basket in the middle of the front seat.
Stewie comes out the front door. Ruth is standing on the front porch, waiting for him. He gives her a long hug and short kiss. They sit down beside each other on the top step, obvlivious to what's going on in the yard.
“Why are you here?” Hank’s eyebrows are raised.
After mopping his nose a bit, Ray leans his head back, pinching the bridge.
“The same reason you are, I suspect. To make sure it’s put right.”
Hank nods his head. “Thanks.” Ray lets a small growl escape his throat. Hank swings Ray’s arm up and over his shoulder.
“With that foot, I’ll drive you home. We can come back for the beet box tomorrow.”
Ray’s not fighting it. He holds his flattened foot out to the front as Hank boosts him up into the truck. Ray can’t help but wonder if three vehicles may be the most action this driveway’s seen in awhile.
“Should you tell her we’re going?”
The two men look up at the porch. The young couple’s deep in the middle of it now. They’re sitting so close their foreheads are almost touching. This was going to take awhile.
“I doubt she’d even hear me, Ray.”
Ray nods his head as they drive off.
Livy sits on the porch. Seeing a set of lights curl its way up the road, she stands and runs down their front path. Hank pulls the truck up as close as possible. Running around, he helps Ray out the passenger side door. Livy runs over to them. Ray's shirt is covered in blood.
“Oh my God, Ray, you’re hurt?”
Panic stricken, she puts his free arm over her shoulder and helps Hank to get him in the house. They plop him down as gently as possible into the brown leather chair.
“He’s a real sport, this guy - always there when you need him.” Hank winks at Ray.
Livy fusses over her husband. Her voice is two octaves higher than normal.
“Well, well my goodness, I mean what happened? You had a fight? Was there a fight?”
Hank bids them both good night. Livy’s too worried to notice. She runs into the kitchen, grabbing a chunk of ice from the icebox and wrapping it in a tea towel. She applies it gently to Ray’s face, picking up his hand and pressing it there so he’ll support it himself. Stepping back her foot grazes his.
“OW, oh.” Ray groans.
“Your foot? You hurt your foot too?
Bending down, she rolls up his pant leg. She peels off his sock gingerly and rests his foot down on his heel, frowning at what she sees.
She stands up, putting her two hands on either side of his face. A purple half moon is making its way across his left cheek, right under the eye. It’s going to be a real shiner.
“I’m okay. I’ll be okay.”
She continues holdings his face. He wraps his hands around her middle, letting them slide down over her backside. His hands stop there.
“Ray, what happened? Where’s Stewie?”
“Still sitting on his front porch, taking with Ruthie, I’m guessing.”
“Ruth was there? Was she hurt?”
“No, of course not. Livy, she’s fine.”
“Raymond Singleton, for the love of all that is good, tell me what happened.”
Ray starts to chuckle, stopping himself as the pain in his nose brings stream of tears to his eyes.
“We all showed up around the same time. It was dark. I had a little run in with Hank’s truck is all. They were talking it out when we left. ”
Livy stands back. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
She helps him up the stairs to the bathroom. She sits him on the commode, and runs a facecloth under cold water. Laying it slightly over Ray’s nose, he pulls the soiled piece of cloth Hank gave him away from underneath.
“Do you think it’s broken? Should we call the doctor?”
“No, it’s just a bad blow. I’ll have to sleep sitting up tonight.”
He rinses the facecloth with one hand as Livy runs downstairs. She grabs the cushions off the chesterfield and jogs back up again. Pulling back the bedcovers, she props the cushions up at the head of the bed. She fetches a clean sheet from the closet and drapes it over the mountain of padding.
Returning to the bathroom, she helps Ray up. They stumble towards the bed. She’s calmer now.
“What about your foot?”
“Hank ran over it.”
Livy rolls her eyes, stifling a laugh.
“Must have been some night.”
Ray laughs too, his eyes welling up again. “Ug, oh, ow.”
“Shhhh. Tell me tomorrow. I want to hear the whole thing tomorrow.”
Lifting Ray’s feet for him, she props him back. His eyes close as soon his head hits the pillows. Kissing him on the mouth, she shuts out the light.
Ray sits at the table, his foot propped up on the blue hassock from the living room.
“Ray, you are not going to run a combine with that foot. I can’t even get a bedroom slipper over it. Look how it’s swelled since last night.”
“I’ve had worse.” Ray answers nonchalantly.
“Okay, I’ve seen worse.” Ray laughs, sheepishly.
Livy laughs, shaking her head. Finishing up the breakfast dishes, she glances out the window. Dark grey cloud rolls by, low and heavy.
“It’s going to rain anyway. “
Ray sighs, beckoning her to come to him. She puts down the dishcloth and goes over. He puts his arms around her waist and pulls her onto his lap. She slings her arms around his neck.
“Livy, the work doesn’t just do itself.”
Livy lowers her eyes. “I know. I just hate the though of you out there in pain all day.”
Ray kisses her. Pulling back he holds her face in his hands. His eyes dart around, checking out all her features as if for the first time again.
“Can we at least give Hank a call - see what he says? He might not even want to work today.”
Ray smacks her on the backside.
“Yes, that we can do. He’s got to take me back to Wilson anyway for the truck.”
Livy picks up the telephone, putting her ear to the receiver.
“Uh, hello?” Ruth’s voice on the other end of the phone booms out at her.
“Oh that’s so funny, it didn’t even ring. I was just going to call over there.”
“Aunt Livy? I have something to tell you. I’M GETTING MARRIED.”
“Ruth! That’s wonderful. What good news!”
Livy covers the received with her hand and whispers the news to Ray. Ruth’s voice rambles on excitedly on the other end of the line as Livy listens, nodding her head. Ray grins.
Livy sips on her noon-time coffee as Ray munches a sandwich. Outside its pouring so hard the raindrops are bouncing off the ground and making their way back up to the sky. Thunder roars loudly in the not-so-far-off distance.
They each read their own section of the Denver Times newspaper. It took Ray awhile to get into it as crop reports and weather takes a backseat to the goings on in the capital. It wasn’t until a six part series called “Soldiers – Life In Peace Time” caught his interest that he was willing to give this newspaper a shot. Now it was a part of their routine, although usually they read in the evenings as he would be long gone by now.
Livy’s getting her way. No one’s going anywhere today.
Ray’s right eyebrow goes up slightly as he tips the top corner of his paper down, glancing over at her. She reads intently, brushing the same curl off her face three times. Her eyes freeze suddenly as she senses she’s being watched. She looks up. Her cheeks flush slightly as she smiles back at him.
The door opens and Danny bursts in wearing an oilskin coat and his Dad’s hat. The hat is too large, bobbling on his head and almost covering his eyes.
“Everyone’s fed.” Danny’s looking satisfied with himself. He gets to be the man of the house on this fine Saturday morning. Livy and Ray can barely contain themselves; their son’s genuine lust for life is one of their greatest joys.
“How about a sandwich?” Livy asks, helping him remove the coat and hanging it on the hook.
“Yah. Yes, thank you.” Livy cuts him two slices of bread and removes the bowl of egg salad from the icebox. She pours him a glass of milk and brings his plate to him at the table, across from his father.
“Supper’s getting bigger. She was up walking around last night.”
Ray nods his head. “Better double her feed come Monday.”
Danny nods back.
Their peaceful lull is interrupted by the sound of a vehicle outside. Livy’s a little disappointed. After Danny started school she had trouble re-adjusting to the quiet of being in the house alone. It’s a real treat for her to spend the day with just her boys.
She goes to the front door. Hank pulls up in his truck. Chester comes up behind him, driving the beet box. Chester gets out, running to the porch, holding his hat down against the wind and rain. He hands Livy the keys.
“Dad figured Uncle Ray’s in no shape to drive.”
Livy waves at Hank in the truck, shouting over the tumultuous weather.
“I hear congratulations are in order!”
Hank gives her the thumbs up, a huge grin on his face. Chester gets in the passenger side.
“Tell Martha I’ll call her tonight.”
Hank nods. Livy waves frantically as they pull out, waving back.
Entering the house she takes a stab at the fire with the brass poker. Throwing on another log, she walks back to the kitchen. She hangs the truck keys on the hook.
“Chester and Hank just dropped off the beet box.”
“Great.” Ray answers, his eyes still focused on the paper.
Danny sits at the table, looking up at her in anticipation. The Scrabble board has been unpacked and is all set up, ready to go. Livy shakes her head, laughing.
“Yessss.” Danny answers, already arranging his tiles.
Martha hands Livy a mug of tea. The weather hasn’t let up yet and anything warm will really hit the spot right now. Ruth sits at the dining room table with paper and a pencil in her hand. A sewing pattern book is spread open for all to see.
“You could always just wear my dress, you know?” Martha winks at Livy, knowing what Ruth’s reaction will be.
“MAMA, please - your dress has leg-of-mutton sleeves. That’s just….” She continues flipping through the pages of the pattern book, distracted.
“Ruth, have you got a certain style in mind?” Livy asks.
“Sort of - there are two I really like.”
Livy gets up and walks towards the table. Ruth shows her what she has marked. Livy puts her hand on the book and stands over Ruth. Turning to address Martha also, she smiles.
“Your Uncle Ray and I would like to make your dress a gift from us. If you find the style you like, I’ll tell Abby. She’s going to find it in the City.”
Ruth gasps in total awe.
“My goodness, that’s very generous Livy. Ruth, what a lucky girl you are.”
Martha wears a slight frown but her smile indicates it’s nothing beyond concern for a possibly over-indulged daughter.
Ruth gets up, throwing her arms around Livy.
“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Six years ago I gave you my wedding dress, so it seems fitting now that I be a part of finding the one you wear on your special day.”
Ruth raises her eyebrows. “The lilacs? That was your wedding dress?”
“It sure was. And it made me happy every time I saw you in it.”
Of course styles are changing, skirts becoming fuller now. But the dress still hangs in Ruth’s closet, neatly pressed and clean.
Martha starts turning the pages of the pattern book.
“Well, you’d better get a move on picking. If we’re waiting for a package to come from Denver and then a fitting I’m sure, that means we have to set the date for at least three weeks from now -”
Ruth’s face radiates joy and excitement. She claps her hands together.
“- and we all know a baby can’t stay a secret for that long.”
Livy takes a second cupcake off the plate. Looking down at the floor, she smiles to herself.