by Gary Clifton
“Aw, Harve, it’s been thirty-five years. All the old gang will be there. Y’all never come back one time.”
“I dunno, Willie, it’s a long drive and my schedule—”
“Two hundred and fifty miles, Harve, four hours.”
Harvey Taylor had been a star running back for the Marvel Gap Whupkats in far northeastern Texas. After three years in the Marines, he’d landed a job with a Houston-based oil exploration firm.
He filtered upward into a management position, retiring a year earlier. With his wife, Rose, he’d moved to a fishing cabin on a small private lake northeast of Houston. The address was actually forty miles closer to Marvel Gap than the old classmate calling realized. By choice, Harvey and Rose lived in the peaceful calm of piney woods with no TV, radio, or newspaper.
A certain sense of obligation jogged him. “Oh, hell, Willie, we’ll drive up.”
“Great, Harve, a week from this Saturday at the high school gym, seven sharp. Twenty bucks a couple. Luis Barbosa runs the local barbecue restaurant. He’s catering.”
* * *
When Harvey and Rose rolled up to the gym, he initially wondered who the glut of plump, graying women, and paunchy, balding men might be. Soon, he recognized they were his old classmates.
They finally worked their way into the gymnasium amidst rows of fold-up tables. Willie was standing atop a draped table, speaking into a microphone. Behind him, Beezy Tyson, grossly obese and barely recognizable, was sweating over tables piled with metal trays and containers. Beezy had been the left tackle for the Whupkats. Luis Barbosa was nowhere in sight. Harvey assumed Beezy worked for Luis.
Harvey and Rose found seats near where Willie was greeting the class. Several people seated at the table stood and greeted. Beezy, soaked in perspiration and slinging barbeque, was only a few feet away.
Beezy’s eyes rolled back into his head. He fell over backwards behind Willie’s raised table like a giant walrus on concrete. No one else seemed to have seen the move. Harvey walked around and knelt over Beezy’s limp form.
“Beezy... Hey, Beezy.” Beezy’s eyes were fully dilated. Harvey felt for a carotid pulse. There was none.
Harvey had seen dead men in the Marines and on oil rigs. Beezy was in trouble. Harvey called 911 on his cellular and began CPR. He was genuinely surprised when an EMT crew appeared within minutes.
Harvey watched as they first tried defibrillation. That failing, they inserted a resuscitation tube in Beezy’s mouth and pumped his lung to simulate breathing. Finally, the local funeral home crew showed up with a gurney and, with the help of EMT’s and Harvey, loaded Beezy on. Behind them, the reunion went on. Harvey assumed Beezy was expendable in Marvel Gap.
When the funeral crew started for the front door, Harvey patted Beezy’s leg and said, “Damn, I hadn’t seen old Beezy in thirty-five years.”
At that instant, two distraught women hurried in. Willie whispered, “Oh-oh.”
Both women shrieked at volume. Eyeing Beezy on the cart, the older of the two screamed, “Beezy, you fat bastard, you’re not my husband!”
The hearse crew hit a door stopper while trying to exit. Probably because Beezy weighed around three hundred pounds, the stretcher overturned, dumping Beezy onto the gym floor.
To the stunned horror of the crowd, Beezy sat upright and said, “Harvey Taylor, you idiot, I wish they hadn’t invited your ass. Now I ain’t gonna get paid for this gig or the one I had scheduled next week.”
At Beezy’s resurrection, both women and several others in the crowd fled.
The EMT’s and a handful of revelers who hadn’t run for it managed to get Beezy back onto the ambulance gurney.
Deciding he’d seen all the Marvel Gap action necessary, Harvey quietly found Rose and drove all the way back to their retirement cabin. When he walked in at 3:00 a.m., his cellular rang. It was Willie.
“Harve, where the hell did y’all go?”
“Dog, you missed it.”
Harvey, of a mind that he’d just watched all three rings of Barnum and Bailey, asked, “Say what?”
“Harve, Luis Barbosa was supposed to cater the reunion. Instead, he snuck down to the Dollar Inn with ol’ Marilyn Smith. You remember her. He called Beezy, who runs a place down in Texarkana, to sub for him at the reunion.”
“Willie, I don’t exactly follow—”
“You remember them two cryin’ women that showed up? They was Luis Barbosa’s wife and daughter. Some fool had looked up the name of the caterer, saw Luis’s name, and called his wife to announce he’d dropped dead in the gym. Wadn’t so, Harve.”
“Nobody told Luis his wife and daughter had showed up at the reunion. He come home around one a.m., drunk, and the wife confronted him. ’Course, Luis lied like a plucked turkey and said he’d catered the reunion, then got drunk with ‘them old farts’.”
“You said I missed something, Willie?”
“Well, by grab, it wadn’t the first time ol’ Luis had wandered astray, and Mama didn’t like it much. She give him two in the chest with a .357. She’s in the county jail, Luis is deader ’n hell up to Barney Cozad’s funeralizin’ parlor, and Beezy, who had been dead, then wadn’t, is down to Texarkana in intensive care, tryin’ not to get dead again.”
“Good grief, Willie!”
“Harve, we was hopin’ this little dust-up won’t keep you and the missus from comin’ back up next year. You’re nominated to head the committee to hire next year’s caterer. Ain’t no way nothing’ could go wrong twice.”
“Well, Willie, call me.” Harvey rang off.
Harvey turned to Rose, who was already dozing on the sofa.
“Anything else go wrong, hon?” she asked drowsily.
“Naw, nothin’ at all. Rose, can I change my cellphone number online now, or do I have to wait till Monday?”
But Rose was now fast asleep.
Copyright © 2020 by Gary Clifton