The rusty corrugated shed door slid heavily as Sturgis pushed it to the side on its rails. The tired man reached inside and pulled out his favorite bucket. Turning it over, he sat down. “Man, that feels so good,” he sighed to himself. Perhaps his wood cutting days were about over. A long afternoon of firewood splitting was all he could manage any more. Tomorrow he would pay the neighbor boys to come over and load it up. They could take it to town so he wouldn’t have to.
His back ached as he bent to rest his elbows on his knees. “Never a dime to spare.” He knew it hadn’t always been that way. Sturgis’ shoulders slumped as he clasped his fingers together and swung them slowly between his knees.
He bent both feet and lifted the heels of his worn brown boots off the ground, studying their dust filled creases. Where his foot met his toes the lines looked more like frowns than smiles. “I better take that money to buy myself a new pair of boots,” he mused to himself. “Nobody’s gonna to do it for me.”
A small sound in the shed caught his attention and he turned to see a swallow dive up into the rafters, sending showers of dust sprinkling down on the old tarps that covered the carousel. He thought of April. That quick smiled, spirited woman, always tossing her sandy hair back. She had been there for him when he needed her most, at first all hospital business except for that bubble gum snapping.
After his semi tractor had rolled on a twisted stretch of icy road that long ago November morning it had been April that had put the spunk back into his life because she always had plenty to spare. Never since then had he been the same man, and he knew it. But April used her favorite word ‘dashing’ to drag him back into the world and put him squarely on his feet.
“Hey!” she’d responded the day he told her about the money he had in his hands because it was useless to his dead father. “I know what we can do with it!” she had told him. “Let’s buy a dashing Merry-Go-Round! I saw a used one for sale in a magazine I was reading in the break room. We can fix it up and paint it, make it run smooth like a clock. Then we can have fun, every day! You know how to drive a semi. Let’s find one and go get it!”
Damn if that wasn’t exactly what they did. “Always chasing tail, me and those chipped worn out ponies,” he muttered as he thought about what he couldn’t sell no matter how much he needed a new pair of boots. “Enough of this!” Sturgis stood as the sun cut behind a distant hill. Hands on his hips, he arched backward in a painful stretch, tossed the white plastic bucket back into the shed and slid the door shut.
Sturgis always looked for her first after his hand left the cool of the metal knob, after the familiar kick to the bottom of the sticking trailer door let him inside. No longer did he find her standing at the stove stirring a kettle with stomach tempting steam, filled with some kind of soup or thick stew.
No longer was she lying on her stomach on that olive green sofa, cushion stuffed under her chin, weaving her feet lazily through the air as she devoured another romance novel. He couldn’t even smell her anymore. Not the scent of her perfume. Not the scent of the latest colored dish soap she kept in a special fancy dispenser beside her scrubbed kitchen sink. He couldn’t hear the sound of her bubble gum snapping, either. Never mind it had so often frayed his nerves as thin as the sound of a song played too long on a scratched 45 record.
Sturgis leaned heavily against the wall as he toed off his boots. They tumbled onto the now dirty $2 woven rug by the door. He didn’t bend to stand them up. “No white sneakers in a row here for my boots to rub mud on. I don’t have to worry, so why bother?” He left his boots lying sideways where they fell, wriggled his toes in his mismatched stockings and headed down the narrow paneled hallway toward the bathroom.
“Dirt’s growing in here, too,” he growled as he reached for the soap bar on the edge of the grimy sink. “Not even the soap is clean! What does she do? Wash the two of them together!” He scrubbed the dirt and pine pitch off his hands, reached for the hand towel and found it missing. Looking down, he saw it had fallen into the yellow plastic waste basket rimmed with daisies April kept next to the counter. She hadn’t emptied it before she had gone.
“Gone for how long?” Sturgis wondered to himself as he reached for the towel. “Oh hell!” He dried his hands and gave the sink a hard swipe with the towel. “Oh HELL!” he snapped, louder, as he grabbed the soap bar, wrapped it in the towel and tried to wipe it clean between both of his hands.
“Well, damn it!” The towel stuck to the bar of wet soap. Rather than picking the two of them apart, Sturgis pitched them both together toward the shower curtain where they fell to the floor. He stalked out the door just as the telephone rang, so he turned to the left and entered the bedroom. He stepped on the blankets hanging half on the floor as he stared at the ringing telephone on the white bedside night stand before picking it up. Maybe if he stared hard enough it would answer itself.
“Hi there honey,” Sturgis spoke after her greeting. “I miss you. The house is a mess. When are you coming home? How’s your daddy feeling?”
“I can’t come home for awhile, Sturg. Momma needs me. Daddy died around noon today.”
Sturgis sucked his lower lip between his teeth and bit down hard enough to keep the words he most wanted to say from spouting out. All April heard him say instead was, “I understand, darling. You just do what you gotta do. Tell your momma and your sister they’re lucky to have you.”
A few more words passed between them, heavy like stones sinking in water. When they finished Sturgis carefully settled the telephone back in its charger and sat down heavily on April’s side of the bed.
“God damn rotten BASTARD of a father.” His voice bellowed into the empty bedroom air. “What was WRONG with you that you could EVER touch your daughters? Now you’re gone, damn you! Drank yourself to death and left me here with all the broken pieces while someone slides you underground like the worm that you are. I hope you love it down there because I can sure tell you nobody up here is gonna miss you!”
The longer Sturgis sat there the more he realized that he could smell April, after all. But it wasn’t her perfume. He searched in the night stand drawer and found the small blue cloth bag April kept her sassafras tree root in because it reminded her of home. As he picked it up and pressed it under his nose, smelling it deeply, he suddenly knew what he had to do.
It would be both simple and still the hardest thing of all. He changed his heart, his mind and his attitude. After all, the woman he loved could finally be all his now.
He put the little bag into his front jean pocket, walked into the bathroom, stepped past the toilet, bent down for the towel and didn’t even feel the sharp pain in his back. He pried the soap loose from the towel and placed it carefully on the edge of the sink. On his way back down the hallway he dropped the dirty towel into the laundry hamper where he knew it belonged.
By the time he reached the living room he realized that he was actually feeling much better. He moved to the sofa, gave April’s cushion a pat, and knew she could hear him when he told her, “Don’t you worry about a thing, sunshine! Your daddy’s gone. Your daddy is finally gone.”
Linda Lloyd Danielson