Little Plastic Bag
by Charles B. Pettis
It was Saturday morning, but not at all what Jake had imagined it would be. The rain had come early. On TV last night the man in the shiny brown suit, Franklin Denny, had shown the storms far to the north and west.
Seems like Franklin Denny rolls off the tongue a bit nicer than his real name, Ernest Xavier Wolshinski. He had started by telling his viewing audience — now just how many would be watching at two in the morning? — about floods in the valleys and snow pack in the mountains, the regular patter.
And he said with an almost joyous note in his voice that planting would soon begin across the county. The wooden pointer in his hand, the one with the little blue mark about halfway down from the worn rubber tip, looked more like a weapon than a prop, the way he flashed it and slashed it around.
The studio at the TV station was pretty small; everyone knew that. KHUR-TV had two big cameras that could move around to give the illusion of a larger space. So the set he was working in had to be tiny.
Franklin, né Ernest, wore a white shirt that was yellowing a little at the collar, and a burgundy striped tie. If it wasn’t the brown suit, he wore a gray one; same shirt and tie. They never showed his shoes; for all anybody knew he didn’t wear any. His hair, mostly store-bought, was perfect, too perfect. Rumor had it that Franklin had invested in a toupee — a wig, a rug — when the station signed him on for an extra two years. But every so often he’d put it on just a little too far to the right and cover up some of his left ear. That was the case last night.
“No rain this weekend,” he had said, while the weather map morphed into a screen showing predicted highs and lows for the next five days. “No rain this weekend.” And he’d been wrong, dead wrong.
Jake let the frilly beige drapery, torn and faded as it was, drop from his hand as he turned away from the front windows. The windows. They all needed cleaning, he thought. Yep, every last one of them needed a good scrubbing. You could hardly see out or in for all the dirt and grime. Things like that sort of sneak up on you, especially if you ignore them for too long. And how long had it been? A year? Two years? Three maybe? He couldn’t remember, didn’t want to remember.
He’d been living out here near Crow Lake for the better part of five years. Jake had moved to the old cabin just after Lynette died; he couldn’t stand the house in Huron. Too many memories. Too much of her still around. And his memory found its way back as it always did at times like this.
* * *
They’d bought that little two-bedroom for cash in 1969, three years to the day after his discharge from the Army. While he’d been away, first in Texas, then in Vietnam, Lynette kept working at the diner on Dakota Avenue, Freddie’s First Stop. She’d saved and saved plenty while Jake was off fighting for, well, something he wasn’t quite sure about. He had no place to spend what the Army paid, and all of it went home to his young wife.
With regular hours and overtime at Freddie’s and a bit of tutoring at the high school, she had managed to squirrel away almost ten thousand dollars. Of course, Lynette had moved back to her folks’ house on Cardinal Lane. They didn’t want her staying in that apartment all by herself. It took them a year to convince their daughter, but she made the move.
When Jake came home, most of their furniture, his and Lynette’s, was lined up neatly in the basement on Cardinal Lane. They lived with Will and Arnel Somerwell, Lynette’s folks, for a couple of months then went right back to their old apartment at the corner of Sixth and Nevada.
Toward the end of 1966, Jake got his old job back at the Chevrolet dealership in town, working in the parts department. He had hoped to be selling by this time, but the U.S. Army had put that on hold.
The next two years were pretty good to Lynette and Jake Frye. First, Lynette was asked to be the day manager at the diner; that meant a nice increase in her take-home pay. That was around Christmas of 1967. Then, just before Memorial Day in 1968, Mr. Ralston, the General Manager, called Jake into his office at the dealership and offered him the job he really wanted, sales. It would be used cars to start, but Jake about flew home that night with the news.
They started talking about having a family. There had been too little income before Jake went off to Nam, but now it looked like they were pretty well set. They started looking for a house, a home, where they could finally settle down and raise the family they had always wanted. By October 1969, they had the money to buy the house on Michigan Avenue.
The house had sat empty for almost a year, and Lynette fell in love with it the first time she set foot in it. Jake wasn’t all that sure about the place: yellow tile in the bathroom, pea-green walls in the powder room, goldish shag carpet everywhere, dark wood cabinets in the kitchen, a couple of damp spots in the basement.
But there were pluses: six large rooms, a two-car, unattached garage, trees in the front and back yards, a nice front porch, a fireplace in the living room, plenty of space for a garden at the back of the lot. Lynette found a way to convince Jake — don’t they always! — and on December 15, 1969, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Frey became proud owners of 525 Michigan Avenue, Huron, South Dakota.
Sometimes life throws a curve or two at you. Sometimes it feels like it’s throwing the ball right at your head.
First, Lynette and Jake found out they would be unable to have children of their own, leastwise not the natural way. Jake had been sprayed with something in Vietnam and that had rendered him infertile. After the shock and disappointment faded away, they talked about adoption and spoke to a few people in the Family Services office downtown. They were still young — 30 and 29 — and at every turn they were assured they were good candidates for adoption. Then came the high, hard one.
Toward the middle of 1973 Lynette began feeling tired, punk, sort of “off.” Her doctor and good friend, Melissa Ratachek, advised her to take some time off, that it was probably stress from their family situation. Lynette asked for a two-week vacation from the diner. Freddie was none too happy, but agreed to her request.
On September 4, Jake, Lynette and her dad sat on the front porch of her parent’s home watching the setting sun turn the sky every shade of blue, pink and purple. They talked about what a fine summer it had been, how things were certainly booming in Huron, the return of high-school football. Crickets chirped in the grass near the steps. A trio of young boys pedaled their bikes as fast as they could along the sidewalk, hoping to be home before dark.
Jake called out to Tommy Ferris; his dad worked at the dealership. Tommy looked over his shoulder, waved and yelled, “Yo, Mr. Frye!” Will Somerwell almost busted a gut laughing as Tommy yanked his bike to the left to avoid the trunk of a big, old oak tree that sat between the sidewalk and the curb. The three of them — Will, Jake, Lynette — applauded Tommy’s quick reactions, and Tommy let out a war whoop.
Arnel, Lynette’s mother, came through the screen door with four cups of coffee, asking what was going on. Will started explaining while Lynette stood up and reached out with her right hand to hold the door for her mother. As she stood, Lynette began to weave unsteadily but, in the near-dark, the others didn’t notice. She dropped her hand to her side, looked at Jake and without a sound slumped to the porch floor. Sometimes life just plain sucks.
“Atrial fibrillation” sounds serious, and it is. “Irregular heartbeats can go unnoticed even with regular check-ups and physical exams.” So said Melissa Ratachek, M.D., Lynette’s doctor. Before September had given way to October, the stroke suffered by Lynette Frye had taken her life of 29 short years.
The memorial service at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church was held on Saturday, September 29. Family and friends gathered to remember her and to talk a little about her. The family took Lynette’s cremains to the mausoleum at Riverside Cemetery. Reverend Stergel, a close friend of the family, made all the arrangements and led the memorial service and the brief service at the mausoleum.
On Sunday, September 30 Jake called realtor Alan Dexter and told him he wanted to sell the house on Michigan Avenue. Jake agreed to the first offer he received, wanting to be rid of the place. He gave most of the furniture away to the Salvation Army.
When the house was sold, he walked into Bill Ralston’s office and told him he’d be taking some time off from the dealership; that he needed time to be alone. What little he kept from the house fit nicely into the U-Haul trailer along with his clothes, dishes, yard tools and a few other things. On October 28, 1973, Jake moved his belongings to the cabin near Crow Lake.
* * *
The rain sounded angry as it pounded on the metal roof. They were called “tin” but were really made of galvanized steel these days. Jake pulled the drapery away from the left side of the three front windows one more time, looked out through the still-dirty glass and sighed. No work to be done around the place today, he thought, but maybe I should clean those front windows.
Copyright © 2016 by Charles B. Pettis