Next Time Call First

by Branigan Grace


You coulda phoned me, you know, before you drove all the way here.

I ain’t surprised I guess. They never call first — not the last two social workers we had and not you neither. Now you’ll have to wait till Vicky-Lynn comes back with Auggie. They could take an hour and it’s startin’ to snow.

Okay, come on in then. Take some coffee — it’s on the stove. Sorry the kitchen’s a pig sty. Here — have this chair; that one’s ready to fall apart. You prob’ly want to keep your coat on; I gotta keep the oil turned down till they deliver Thursday.

I’m surprised you even found us your first time tryin’, way out here and all. Most people get lost on the back roads and end up back in Fryeburg center.

You got a nice face, Miss. Helen, is it? I’m Tonya. You’re a young one, ain’t ya? The first social worker was Mike. What a jerk. He left for a job at the statehouse in Augusta. And that last one — what’s-her-name - Marie? Took off without a goodbye, even. Skipped town with her boyfriend, prob’ly. Can’t say as I blame her. What’s to do in Fryeburg anyway?

What? Oh, we’re doin’ good. You have to talk louder — my hearing ain’t so good. Never was the same since my concussion last August. They told you all about that, I can imagine. That was the last time Auggie lost his temper at me, though, I swear. He’s totally off the booze now, goes to AA and everything. It ain’t easy for him, supportin’ a teen-age step-daughter and all.

And Vicky-Lynn, why she’s totally turned around since I started home schoolin’ her. You’ll see when you meet her. Got talent too, she does. Loves to paint and do art, stuff like that.

What complaints? Who would say that about us? It was that nosey witch down the road, Myrtle Benner, who said somethin’, weren’t it? That hag always has her nose up someone else’s business. No, I won’t calm down! Our family ain’t none of her goddamn concern!

It’s not like we never argue. If you’re married you fight sometimes, that’s normal, ain’t it? and I know she’s had her problems, but Vicky-Lynn is fine, I’m tellin’ you. Always turns in her schoolwork regular. Look, see? Here’s her home-school folder. Look how good she done on her last science test. Wish I’da been that smart when I was sixteen. And Auggie, he’s been workin’ overtime at the transfer station, tryin’ to save enough to buy us a nice little piece of property over to North Conway. Since he stopped drinkin’ he’s been a decent husband to me, and a good step-father to Vicky-Lynn.

Myrtle’s just jealous, always sniffin’ after Auggie. No wonder she don’t have a man of her own. She’d have mine in a minute if she could get him. He wouldn’t have no time for her anyways, workin’ late and all. Even if he wanted her — which he don’t!

Sorry you’re cold. They could be a while still. Want more coffee? Look, I know what we can do. I can show you Vicky-Lynn’s drawin’s while we’re waitin’. C’mon, it’s just out back. Her paintin’ shed, that is. Put your hat on, now.

* * *

The leaves are some pretty against the snow like that. It never snowed before when there was color on the trees. Maine’s that way, the snow, the colors, the changin’. Pretty as can be. It looks right nice against your brown hair, too. The snow, I mean.

Wait till you see the studio that Vicky-Lynn fixed up out of our old shed. She’s some talented. It’s been rough, but things are changin’. Things are lots better now.

It’s just a little further down this trail. Careful now, careful. Watch them ruts.

Oh, stop here. Gotta show you somethin’ before it gets dark.

Over here. Look close, before the light goes. I carved these names myself with Auggie’s stone-carvin’ tools. It was some hard to move these boulders with a hand-truck. They’re small but wicked heavy. Took me most of a day.

It was the closest thing I could get for headstones.

I did Auggie first. I got home early, heard ’em laughin’. When I opened the bedroom door and saw Auggie and her tryin’ to cover up, I just lost it. Do you know what that does to a woman? To see her husband with another woman like that? It tears your guts apart. There was nothin’ else I could do. I just grabbed the stove poker and had at him.

And as for Vicky-Lynn, well, she’s my flesh and blood, my baby. Didn’t want to do nothin’ to her, but she wouldn’t shut up. Just kept screamin’ and hollerin’, coverin’ up with the sheet, lookin’ at me with those eyes. Like it was my fault.

Good thing Miss Myrtle wasn’t around that day.

But some good’s come out of it all. I’m learnin’ a lot from that home-school course I signed up for under Vicky-Lynn’s name. Good thing they send the answer books too.

That third boulder? Oh, that was for that nice little social worker, Marie. The one they thought skipped town? She just got a little too curious.

Her car’s at the bottom of the quarry.

Look. I started another hole for Myrtle. But it looks like you got first dibs on it.

Don’t cry now, darlin’. I’ll be quick about it — you won’t feel a thing. Not a soul out here to hear you anyway.

Sorry honey, but I told ya. You shoulda called first.


Copyright © 2006 by Branigan Grace

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