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John Longbottom

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Over The Top

Lunch or dinner was for the most part eaten in silence. Lynn seemed understandably preoccupied and Charlie, quite frankly, was glad of the peace after this morning’s shenanigans. 

Lynn finally broke the silence. “Charlie, I’m sorry…”

Before she could go any further, Charlie said, kindly, “You don’t have to say a word.”

“Thank you, but I have to. For me,” said Lynn.

“Before you do, let me just say this. You can stay here as long as you like. You ain’t intruding. Me and Wilbur like having you around. I learned, at the diner, you don’t like being told what to do, but I have to tell you what I see. You look tired, you act tired. You’re worn out and you need to rest a while. Sometimes, when you’re all shook up like that, the best place to be is either with complete strangers, like on a vacation, or with family. The way I see it, here with me and Wilbur, you’ve got the best of both worlds; we’re strangers and family all rolled into one and this is a great vacation spot. That’s it, I’ve said my piece.” Charlie sat back in his chair and folded his arms.

Lynn was close to tears again as she managed to whisper a shaky, “Thank you.” Then she added, “Uncle Charlie.”

Charlie raised his eyebrows at that but said nothing more. After a lengthy pause, Lynn said brightly, “Well, if I’m staying, I need to pick up a few things.” Charlie told her there was a Wal-Mart in the next town, about thirty minutes away. Lynn made a face at the mention of Wal-Mart but shrugged it off as a when-in-Rome situation. She left to do her shopping and, with Wilbur by his side, Charlie attended to a few chores he’d neglected to do over the event-filled weekend.

It was late afternoon by the time Lynn returned from her shopping trip. Wilbur’s barking had woken Charlie up who’d fallen asleep in an old rocking chair out in the barn. The chair had been Ellie’s, one of the few things she’d brought with her when they got married. After she’d passed on, he couldn’t bear to part with it but looking at the chair, alone and empty on the porch every night made him sad, so he’d put it out of sight in the barn. It had been out there ever since. Charlie had started fixing it up, then eventually lost interest until today when he began sanding it again. Originally, he was going to donate it to the church for one of their yard sales but today he had the idea to fix it up for Lynn to sit in on the porch. He thought she’d like that, it being a family heirloom of sorts.

Lynn was all bright and cheerful as she unloaded bag after bag from the car. It’s amazing what a shopping trip will do for a woman, thought Charlie as he helped her with the bags. He teased her by saying, “My, my, my, I thought you were only staying for a little while, not moving in.”

This caused Lynn to abruptly stop what she was doing. She felt the shock of his words in her face. She looked at Charlie quickly, but he was quietly laughing, and she realized he was only joking. Lynn was not used to being teased like that, then she realized it was probably what old grand uncles might do, just like the Hollywood grandpas she’d seen in the movies. 

She’d bought enough groceries to feed a whole bunk house full of farm hands, or so it looked to Charlie. “You didn’t have to do that,” he said.

“Yes, I did,” replied Lynn. “I don’t mind a free room, but I’ll pay for my board. Besides, it’ll keep you out of the diner. I know that Trixie’s got the hots for you.” She could swear Charlie was blushing as he quickly turned away. “And these are for Wilbur.” She held up two large bags of doggie treats. “Let’s see if he likes them.”

Outside, Lynn called out for Wilbur, and he came running and tail-wagging up to her. “Sit,” she commanded, which he did. “Give me your paw.” Again, he obeyed then she gave him a treat which he devoured with relish, licking his chops for every last taste. Then he sat down again and put his paw out. “Oh, pushing your luck, I see,” said Lynn, then from her pocket she pulled out a dog biscuit shaped like a bone. Wilbur sniffed it, took it, and slunk off to enjoy it alone.

Charlie was watching this with a mixture of pride and joy. This must be what it feels like to be a grandfather, he thought with a whiff of sadness for what he had missed by not having grandkids. He shook it off and walked back inside with Lynn, who was starting to look younger as her face relaxed.

She disappeared upstairs with the personal items that she’d bought while Charlie checked out all the groceries. Fifteen minutes later she came bouncing back down the stairs “Ta-ra,” she said, pirouetting in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, her arms flung wide. It took Charlie a minute or two to figure out what she was doing. It was the post-shopping fashion show.

“Very nice,” he said graciously.

“If I’m staying a while, I thought I’d better fit in,” said Lynn. “So, I bought these jeans, which fit really well considering how cheap they were, and this checked shirt and these boots.” She thrust out her left leg to show a shiny new cowboy boot, which wouldn’t last a day out in the mud of the farm yard or walking down by the river.

Charlie simply smiled and said, “I like ‘em.” 

“I bought some more stuff, some tees and sweats just to knock around in. Now, I bought you some stuff as well. I bought you some more bourbon and us some more ciggies. I didn’t get you anything special ‘cos I don’t know what you like, yet. But the big thing is, I bought a router.”

Charley’s face was blank. What’s a router? It sounded, to him, like a piece of farm equipment, one with wheels as tall as a truck. Oh, I know, it’s a tool for making fancy edges on wood. But I ain’t a carpenter, he thought.

“Ta da,” cried Lynn, holding up a small box with a picture of an even smaller black box on it. “Welcome to the twenty-first century and welcome to Wi-Fi,” said Lynn triumphantly. “I know, it’s more for me than you, but I can’t do without it. I’ll set it up and everything. And by the way, you need to get rid of that pc of yours, it’s prehistoric. They’ve got a great sale going on right now. We should go look.”

Although Charlie was happy to see Lynn so happy, he was concerned and very much overwhelmed. His new relative, his new guest, was taking over his house with food and clothes and electronic gizmos. His simple life was becoming complicated, and he was having difficulty adjusting to all these sudden changes. He knew change was natural, but it wasn’t easy. Farmers lived by natural change, the changing of the seasons, the changes of the weather, the changes of the crops. Without thinking about it, Charlie accepted these natural laws. But in his own house, where simplicity ruled and without being asked? This was a little too much. He thought perhaps he’d made a mistake by telling her she could stay as long as she liked. Maybe he had rushed into it before thinking it over. Ellie always said he rushed into things. 

“I just like things calm and even. I can’t take much more of this excitement. I’m seventy-seven,dammit, and I’ve earned my peace and quiet.” Charlie didn’t realize it, but he’d been muttering to himself out loud.

Lynn heard the “Dammit,” and asked, “What’s wrong?” With a worried look on her face.

“Oh, nothing,” said Charlie. “I just remembered, I forgot to turn something off in the barn. I’ll just go and turn it off.” He left hurriedly before Lynn could get a good look at his face. He was always a bad liar; Ellie had told him more than once. 

Lynn shrugged, went upstairs, changed into some sweats, came back down and started out for a brisk walk towards the river. Wilbur, now knowing where the treats lay, caught up and trotted along beside her. 

“I’ve got some thinking to do, Wilbur,” she said. Wilbur ignored her. “I’ve got to tone it down a little. Uncle Charlie’s old and set in his ways, plus he’s used to living alone.” For some reason Wilbur looked at her right then. “Alone with you, of course, Wilbur. I suppose I can be a bit OTT at times. I’ll try, but he’s got to try too. Whaddya think, Wilbur baby?” By this time, Wilbur had realized there were no more treats coming his way, so he turned back towards the house. 

Back in the barn, Charlie was having a one-sided conversation with himself. He didn’t have Wilbur as a sounding board, but he was used to talking to himself. “She makes me think too much. I’m getting a headache from all this thinking. She comes into my life, brings the FBI with her and then takes off with my dog.” Just then Wilbur with his usual impeccable sense of canine timing wandered into the barn and got himself a drink of water. “There you are then you turncoat.” Wilbur stopped drinking and turned to look at Charlie, as if to say, “Whaddya mean, ‘turncoat,’ I’m back, aren’t I?” As if understanding the look, Charlie laughed ruefully, bent down, patted Wilbur on the head and headed back to the house.

Lynn cooked spaghetti for dinner. “The one dish I can cook,” she had said. She chatted away, mainly talking about the people she’d seen at Wal-Mart. “…I mean, they just stand there in the middle of the aisle, talking away, totally oblivious to people trying to get by.” Charlie just nodded and kept on chewing. Things were calming down and returning to normal.

Over coffee Lynn dropped another bombshell.

© John Longbottom 2021


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