by Mary Eileen Ball
Jason and I went to the Waffle House to talk about getting divorced or not getting divorced, however you want to look at it.
“You want more syrup?” he offered, extending his arm to me so I got a real good glimpse of his sleeve tattoo. It was a black hound with fiery eyes and blood-spattered teeth. There was a pale blue glow around its entire body and the word ‘Baskervilles’ beneath.
But to answer his question…. “No! I don’t like that kind of syrup. Have you been paying no attention for the last three years?”
He looked hurt, but I was tired of it all. Tired of the lies. Tired of being broke. And tired of him paying no attention to anything.
“Cassandra,” he gulped to stifle a burp between shoveling in a stack of waffles. “I will always love you.”
“And just where were you on Wednesday?” I demanded. “Gemmy cried, ‘Daddy, Daddy’ over and over again standing at the screen door and balling up his little fists.” Jason used to be a doting father, but the last two months things had really gone downhill.
He looked guilty. He looked down. “I can’t tell ya,” he said.
“You can’t tell me?” I barely kept from raising my voice. I wasn’t going to let Gemmy be raised like I was. Unreturned phone calls. Most birthdays ignored, except the time I got a card in December. I was born in July.
“Cassandra,” he said. I heard a ding on my phone and picked it up quickly. Some text from my Holy Roller cousin, Linda. She was kooky, but kind. The one who had a dream I’d marry Jason before either of us had even known he’d existed.
Jason took my hand, so I didn’t have time to read. He went on. “It’s not what you think. There’s no one like you.”
“Who is she?” I sneered, my anger about to burst like a dam. “I want to know.”
“There ain’t nobody. See?” He pulled up the sleeve of his black tee shirt. There was a tattoo of a brown horse with my name and the words ‘True Love’ underneath. He knew I liked horses.
“Come with me,” he said.
Could I trust him? Ding! The phone again. I just looked at him. There were dark circles beneath his eyes. His upper lip had the faintest tremble.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”
In his truck we drove over low hills, past a trailer park, then a mechanic shop that looked like a gray shoe box. He turned onto Mars Road. I remembered the house we’d looked at 3 months ago.
“Close your eyes, please,” he begged.
I sighed, but I did it. After a minute, I felt the truck turning in.
“Open ‘em,” he said.
There was the tiny house, a two-bedroom, painted white. There were wind chimes hanging off the porch roof and low shrubs in the yard. But the first thing I saw was a big sign painted on what looked like a refrigerator box. CASSANDRA, it said, WELCOME HOME! A bouquet of roses in a black Newk tumbler was on the front steps of the porch.
“This is what I been doing,” he said, with his arm stretched out. “I’ve been working extra hours at the shop. For a surprise. I put a down payment on it. I ain’t been with no other woman. Wanna come inside?”
This was the house I’d wanted. We got out. I walked forward, but I thought of my mom years before. My aunt called to tell her that my dad’s girlfriend was pregnant. She fell to the floor crying, curled up in the fetal position. Later, there was too much beer, bitterness, bad men. Finally, cancer. Her anger flowed down to me. What would happen to Gemmy?
But could I trust Jason? The night before, I prayed. “God, if you’re there, send me a sign. Some sign of what I should do.” I actually knelt down on the kitchen floor, pushing a glass I’d broke out of the way. I was that desperate. I prayed.
Ding! I heard again.
Jason threw down his cap. Then calmed himself, pushing his hands forward while breathing deeply. “Just answer it,” he said. “Just do it, then we’ll go inside.”
Linda had texted all three times. “Had a dream last night of Jason,” the first text said. “He was by a river with lots of sand around it. Desert.” Then the second text said, “He was waiting for you to come.” Then lastly she said, “Something good is about the happen.”
I put the phone into my jeans’ pocket. “Okay,” I said, suddenly so tired, resigned. “Let’s go inside.”
“Can I carry you?” he asked.
He propped the front door open first with an old timey iron, then picked me up, and walked me in.
And there it was. On the front wall was a painting of a river surrounded by bone-colored sand. There were streams popping out of it with just a hint of grass beginning to grow on their banks. Beneath the painting the frame was inscribed with the words: ”Listen carefully, I am about to do a new thing.”
“The old lady who lived here before left it in the attic. I thought it was neat. It’s kind of like us. We’re in a rough place, but something new can come out of this.” Jason looked at me hopefully.
I began to cry. “Oh, help!” I said. “Help!” Something broke, and I sobbed.
“Cassandra.” He reached forward to hold me, and he was crying, too. “We’re gonna make it. We’re gonna make it. And Gemmy.”
We both cried. We cried and cried, then separated. He wiped his nose, and we looked at each other, and we hugged again.
“We’re gonna make it,” he said. “We are. Can you feel it?”
“Yes,” I said. And I could.
Mary Eileen Ball lives with her husband and young son in the Deep South. You can find her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/maryeileenball.