All the Way Home
Darlene’s hip hurt, at least where her hip had been before she’d had her operation. She hadn’t seen Lyle since their sister Armada’s funeral. There’d been that incident when Armada’s eldest girl, Barb, had to call the sheriff’s department on him for getting into Coy’s liquor cabinet. They’d found him sitting right there at the kitchen table with an old half-empty bottle of banana liqueur Coy and Armada’d brought back from their trip to Mexico.
She pulled up behind Lyle’s truck next to the carport. The paint was weather-worn from the simulated shutters and the cheap wood had started to curl. She touched it without even thinking about it and rang the buzzer. Melba’s old blue Hydrangea which hadn’t bloomed since she’d passed on stood up out of the white brick planter defiant like a skeleton of bones.
“Lyle?” She called out his name loud like a question and tried to peek inside the dirty window screen. “I’m here.” All the other homes on the block had been bought up for starters. Lyle’s house was the last one on the street still inhabited by its second owner.
She knocked on the door. “Lyle.”
She heard somebody fumbling with the doorknob on the other side. “Keep your britches on for a minute.”
The front door swung wide to reveal an old man, the hair on his head turned white and fine as when he’d been a toddler. His flannel shirt looked uncomfortable in this morning’s bright humidity. It was mis-buttoned and she could see long damp chest hair.
It was hot and the air stagnant in the front room. “They done turned off the juice again,” he said, stepping by to let Darlene enter.
She was going to say something when she saw a negro woman leaned up against the hall entryway. “Hey, there. You got the money?” she asked. She was wearing shorts, what they used to call hot pants back in the 70’s.
Lyle started to laugh. “Oh, that’s Vonnell. She needs to get herself paid.”
Darleen was confused. “Paid?”
Vonnell cut her a look. “Yeah, paid. I been here since last night. He says he ain’t got no cash around.” She looked over at Lyle with twist on her mouth.
Darleen felt sick to her stomach. She couldn’t tell if it was from the smell, the heat, the realization or all of them put together. “I need to use the bathroom,” she said.
She held onto the side rail Lyle had put in when Melba had first gotten sick. It was the last renovation he’d done and that was over ten years back. A dirty once-white duckbill basket full of old magazines sat next to the toilet. Curled up and yellow with titles like True Men, Man’s Life and For Men Only peeked back at her. She looked the other way, not wanting to think about that.
“You alright in there?” Lyle’s voice broke the calm.
They were standing in the doorway to Valerie’s room. It was painted Sherwin-Williams orchid and still had that Cinderella bedroom suite Melba had paid for on time. Val had dropped out of her freshman year and run off to Houston where somebody had said she was working as a stripper.
Vonnell held out the open purple sparkly patent leather purse on her arm. “I need to get going. You got that fifty?”
Lyle turned sharp. “Fifty? You’d said it was twenty.”
Vonnell’s voice was short. “That was for a Q.V.”
Lyle tried to put his arm around Vonnell like he was romancing a date, but she stepped aside. “You know when I get to loving….”
Her face went puffy. “And for the blue pill, too.”
Lyle rubbed his crotch. “Don’t get me going again, gal.”
Darleen didn’t want to hear all this. She just wanted to leave. She was due to leave for Oklahoma bingo with her church group this afternoon and didn’t want to be doing this.
“I’m wore out and needing to go.” She turned back to Darleen. “You need to pay up so’s I can get out of here.”
Darleen had the two twenties and a ten she’d withdrawn at the ATM for her bingo trip. Her side began to throb where the new prosthetic joined her femur bone. “Here,” she said, handing the cash to Vonnell.
Vonnell counted it to be sure while eyeballing Darleen. She stuffed the money down into her her purse and turned back to Lyle. “You need to take me on back to town. Now.”
Lyle grinned, exposing the space where his broken partial resided. Two of the fake teeth had long since broken off leaving mismatched pink plastic against whitened gum. The cobalt fittings had turned black. “Best give her another twenty, then,” he said to Darleen. He kept his eyes trained on Vonnell’s breasts, low hanging and full like ripe fruit peering out of the polyester glitter tube top. Long shining stretch marks like scar tissue ran vertically across her breasts.
Vonnell pulled up the top, the tip of a long metallic teal fake fingernail catching in the fiber. “You not getting no more a this.”
Lyle said, “Whatever blows your skirt.” He was smiling, but there was no joke left in his voice. Darleen had seen him turn mean on the drink back when Melba was still alive.
Vonnell looked right at Darleen. “You need to take me.”
Darleen didn’t want to. She just wanted to leave. She couldn’t help but wonder what their parents, Vernon and Till would think about all this business. She and Lyle had come from simple beginnings of which religion and church were the form of all entertainment. It was probably best that they were dead and gone from this world.
Vonnell pushed past her and moved toward the front door. A waft of heavy cologne permeated the still air and Darleen wanted to vomit. Over the picture window was featured a wreath of woven plastic and roses that Melba had picked up from one of her garage sales. It was covered in old dust and cobwebs and there was a dead horsefly caught in its snare.
“You coming or not?” she said over her shoulder.
Darleen could hear the doves cooing in the early outside morning like they all had something to say. They got into Darleen’s car and she put the key into the ignition. She almost jumped out of her skin when she looked up to see Lyle peering into the driver’s winder, his hands around his eyes like make shift binoculars.
“Ya’ll be safe now,” he said with a wide smile. Darleen didn’t have anything to say and backed her car over the crunching driveway gravel.