The Half & Half




The Half & Half



Earl’s Half & Half was located at the border between Louisiana and Arkansas. The liquor half was in the state of Louisiana, and the grocery half, in Arkansas. Customers joked that you could go from one state to another in less time than it took to sign your name. But five years ago, Earl had come down with a rare blood disease. Rae-Ann stood by his side and watched him die.

We’d mailed her condolence cards that she’d arranged on the fireplace mantel, brought by baskets of fruit, and a book of daily prayers. I brought her a kitten to keep her company.  She’d named it Whiskers, an orange and white tabby that liked to hide behind the kitchen curtains and attack her feet every time she walked by.  “You scamp,” she’d pick him up by the fur of his neck and scratch the white fur on his belly. “What am I going to do with you?”  She always did the same thing—gave him a hug and placed him on the kitchen floor.

The older girl was in Atlanta. She told Rae-Ann that she had an extra room. “Just think about it, Mom. Please. You can move in.” Rae-Ann didn’t think it was a good idea.

Each morning she felt her way through the darkness, colder in the winter months especially after an ice storm, slipped on her work shoes before throwing on the light. A few people relieved her around lunch and after the first mill shift in the evening, the same people who had worked for Earl, like Janice who was getting close to retirement age and wanting to spend more time with her husband who’d been diagnosed with diabetes. Confidentially, Janice had told Rae-Ann that the doctor said her husband had to stop drinking a pint every day, and if he didn’t, he’d probably end up with a liver problem in addition to everything else that was wrong with him.  Rae-Ann told me because I was her best friend.

People trusted Rae-Ann. She knew about the pastor’s wife, Eudora Franklin, and for some reason, Eudora had blurted out how she had become pregnant with their fifth child, and never told her husband. He was pastor of The Living River. “You have to understand, it’s not like I wanted to do that,” and bit her lower lip. 

Earl had never liked Dwayne McCullor who came into the store every Friday to load up on several cases for the weekend.  It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like him, said Rae-Ann, but Earl had confided, “He’s not put together right.  Can’t put my finger on it.” 

Jeff Corkle’s dad was getting milk and orange juice from the freezer and talking about car parts. His friend was having problems with his starter and wanted to know where to get it fixed. A small TV on the counter was tuned to the Weather Channel with news of a cold front moving in by afternoon.

He looked like any one of the mill workers, broad shouldered, wearing a windbreaker and a Razor Backs cap. But his eyes were strange. Rae-Ann watched him as he walked down Aisle 3 and head back her way. A stream of morning sunlight shone on cellophane packages of whole wheat bread. He picked up a can of Vienna sausage with a pop-up aluminum top and placed it inside his shopping basket. “That’s it. Except for this.” He handed her his thermos, battered from years of use. “Fill ‘er up. I drink this stuff by the gallon.” She turned on the spigot of the coffee pot. “And a pack of Marlboros.” 

 

Rae-Ann rang up his bill at the cash register. Then he opened his wallet. It was a few minutes before eight o’clock in the morning. Rae-Ann looked at the TV screen above the cash register.  The broadcaster was still talking about weather—some artic plunge. 

 “Ever try one of these?” Rae-Ann pointed to a pack of tobacco-less cigarettes. His eyes started spinning in his head. “You feeling okay?” she asked. “You feeling okay?”

He rested his beer on the counter, his eyes crazy in his head. “He screwed me.”

Rae-Ann swept his change into his palm. She didn’t know what else to say. “Thanks, Dwayne. Have a good day,” which is when it happened.  Dwayne took out a pistol and started shooting. Everywhere. We’re not sure that he meant to hit Rae-Ann, but he did. A few people were hurt, but no one else got killed.

Her daughters asked me if I wanted to take home a few of her begonias. They were in bloom with heavy pink blossoms. The girls found a small cardboard box from amongst her things and told me to pick out whichever ones I wanted. Whiskers jumped into my lap. I said, “I don’t suspect that you’ll be wanting to take the cat?”

They looked at each other. “No, ma’am.” 

 
Lenore Weiss
 
 

Lenore Weiss is a recent MFA graduate from San Francisco State University where she also served as a teaching assistant. Winner of the Clark-Gross Award (Paul La Farge) and the Robert Browning Dramatic Monologue contest, her poetry has been published in many journals including Into the Void, Eunoia Review, WovenTales, Midwood Press, Maple Leaf Review, Kindred, San Francisco Peace and Hope, Cactus Heart, Ghost Town, Poetica, Carbon Culture, BlinkInk, The Portland Review, La Más Tequila Review, Digital Americana, The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Nimrod International Journal, Copper Nickel, The Reform Jewish Quarterly, Feminist Studies in Religion, and Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal. Her books include Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island (West End Press, 2012) Two Places (Kelsay Books, 2014) and The Golem (Hadassa Word Press, 2017).  Her blog resides at www.lenoreweiss.com.

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