He came to see Meredith every afternoon. For the last four years Martin had rested here, siting on the same bench each day visiting with his wife. Most days he brought his lunch and a newspaper. He always sat in the same spot on what he thought of as his side of the bench leaving room for Meredith just like he had in their bed at night. He looked forward to these visits. He knew that people in town liked to talk about him and he’d seen the occasional tourist over the years snap a picture or two in his direction. He didn’t really mind the rumors he knew were out there about him or the pictures that strangers carried home to file away after passing them around the office the way people do after returning from a vacation.
Martin hadn’t known what to think when Meredith had first died and the police kept bringing him in to ask ” just a few more questions.” It was a line he got used to hearing when they would open the car door offering him an invitation to ride down to the station with a look that told him he’d better not refuse. Roberta down at the Handy Pantry was the one who had made him aware of the rumors going around the small town after Meredith’s body had been found. She’d told him one day after he noticed two big haired older ladies talking none too softly about him while he was waiting in line to check out. He could only hear bits of what they were saying, but it was enough to realize that they thought he had something to do Meredith’s death.
When he reached the cash register, Roberta had leaned over and whispered to him, ” I know what you’re going through.” For a minute he had no idea what she was talking about until he remembered that she’d had a thing with that man Obediah who everybody had said poisoned his mother. The police never could prove anything, but people talked just the same and the suspicious minds worked against the possibility of Roberta and Obediah ever having a real relationship. Roberta, if he remembered the rumors correctly had not been able to get past the possibility that maybe Obediah had killed off his mother for her. She’d spent enough time on the church pew down at Bethany Baptist to know that murder was a sin and she wanted a man she could trust.
Part of what Roberta had liked about seeing Obediah come through her checkout line was the way he always tried to take home something special to please his mother. After Obediah’s mother had died and Roberta had told him there was no way she was ever going to be his ” little love Bertie,” Martin had read in the paper how they’d found Obediah lying in bed with an empty bottle of his mother’s sleeping pills and a plastic bag over his head with Handy Pantry printed on the side. He didn’t leave a note, but the whole town understood his message and Roberta was forced to take a few days off from her position as head cashier because everybody in town wanted to stop by the Handy Pantry to see just what was so special that would make a man kill his mother and then himself. Of course, people forgot that Obediah was never charged with his mother’s death. It didn’t matter to the folks in Hattiesburg. The story was just too good to leave alone.
Martin had been buying a newspaper and a cold drink there everyday for as long as he could remember and after they’d buried Meredith and he’d gone back to work he saw no reason to alter that. He’d bring his sandwich from home and after picking up the local paper and Nehi Grape drink, he’d head for Hill View Place of Rest to read to his wife. When his wife was still alive, he would sometimes meet her on this bench in the cemetery on the hill. They used to joke with each other that they were a bit like the Victorians who used the cemeteries like parks picnicking among the dead on weekends and special occasions. On rainy days or times when she couldn’t get away from her job down at the Golden Gate Funeral Home, he meet her down in the basement break room across from where they kept the bodies cool while they worked on them. He had to say he preferred lunching with the dead below ground rather than above and in the next room. Working with dead folks had never bothered Meredith who would talk to them while she fixed their hair and makeup undoing all the traces that dying left on their faces. He could hear her sometimes when he was coming by for lunch talking and talking just like she was having a real conversation.
He thought about that and smiled thinking how Meredith would appreciate that he still talked to her. He’d found a nice spot up on the hill near this very bench they’d sat on so many times before. The cemetery had given him a good price on the two plots he’d bought because not many people wanted to hike up the hill to visit the few graves that dotted the steep incline. Martin didn’t mind the climb and he often thought about how they’d joked about how getting their heart rate up once a day like this would make them live longer. He didn’t like to think about how much longer climbing this hill everyday was going to add to his life. He missed Meredith in so many ways and it felt like his life was just about killing time until he could join her in the empty plot waiting for him.
Taking a bite of his sandwich, he opened the paper just as he always did and began reading to Meredith as if she were still there sitting on the bench. Taking in the headlines he thought about how shocked she’d be to see the new President calling a puffed up ill mannered rap star who’d behaved badly the night before, a jackass. Martin liked President Obama and even though the White House press had said he’d been quoted off the record, he appreciated having a president in place who didn’t make excuses for people like that Kanye fellow who’d shocked everybody at the music video awards when he’d jumped on stage and interrupted that cute little songbird Taylor Swift. He’d seen it on the news that morning and still couldn’t believe it. I mean what was this world coming too when people stopped following basic rules of civility.
He wished Meredith was sitting next to him so they could talk about things like this. So much had happened in the four years since she’d died and he felt like he was more of an observer now as he went through his day noting things he’d share with her later. He picked up his grape drink and took a long sip before turning the page to the local news and began to read aloud in a lively voice that felt a bit forced. After reading a couple of sentences, he felt the emptiness of his actions and his words just sounded like a collection of sounds, meaningless without Meredith there to respond. What was he doing he thought to himself, she can’t hear me. Sighing loudly, he turned to the empty place on the bench beside him and said, ” Do you mind if we just sit quietly for a few minutes?”
Thanks to David Engel for the topic suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST. David also has a story of his own this week so head over here to take a look. I also want to thank MrsDoF for her topic sentences and Judy Harper joined me again in writing a story for TMAST. Her story can be found on her blog here. Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs. Thanks for reading and commenting and please consider writing along with me next week.
Additionally, I want to thank each of you who leave a comment especially on TMAST days. These little stories are fun to write and are the seeds I hope for the bigger stories and real work I imagine for my writing future.
It’s a short story. It’s a commentary on current events. It’s another saga in the Hattiesburg soap opera.
It’s great. I could use a Nehi Grape today.
Love this! “Hearing” Martin’s thoughts, the cemetery lunches (they REALLY are great places – especially for musing), the town gossip – really drew me in and got me wondering how Martin’s future days will play out.
I loved how you picked up from your last story and brought it forward, added more to the story. Now we need to know what happened to Meredith. Thanks for your comment! This is so much fun. I do so look forward to Tuesday.
I enjoyed that story Elizabeth. You’re a lovely writer!
Wonderful and rich. Touching. It makes me want to know more. You should make this a longer story. 😉
Lol, Handy Pantry! These are magical, thank you for sharing!
I enjoyed reading this, Elizabeth. Especially like your voice — very articulate, with what seems to me a Southern flavour in some of the details and observations and word choices. Loved the ending re ‘do you mind if we just sit quietly’ – Cheers and keep writing!