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Just One of Those Days





Just One of Those Days





It was one of those days that just made you glad to be alive--from the marrow in your bones to the extremes of your fingers and toes. The sun was shining, birds were singing, flowers were blooming, and the sky was a brilliant blue dotted with soft puffs of white clouds. If there existed a leaf large enough, Tilda would have stepped onto it and floated away on the summer breeze, far above the houses and trees and the red clay baseball field in the park beyond the clump of water oaks where the kids were yelling and the whap of bat against ball could be clearly heard blocks away.

Of course there was no such leaf and no time for floating, anyway. Tilda had things to do. Today, she was getting married.

Married. So why wasn't she in some Southern Belle state of euphoria? She'd been considering this very thing all day and, so far, had no answer. She had only dark shadows picking at her around the edges, grasping, waiting to swallow her up. Floating away seemed the perfect escape. And it puzzled her.

For sure she would never want for anything money could buy. The Bufords owned the hardware store, the drugstore, and two car dealerships. And every time one of their kids got married they were given a big old house and a job. More than that, there was no denying that Ray-Bob Buford was a catch. Every girl in Clayville thought so. First string defensive back on the football team, he was tall, and movie-star handsome. The problem was that he knew it. Tilda had broken every feminine heart in the county when their engagement was announced. So why wasn't she excited today of all days? Why was she feeling like those dark shadows were doors closing on her life? Did every girl feel this way on her wedding day?

She sighed. Time to turn her back to the cotton fields and walk back down the lane to the house and face the music.

Music! Now that was another thing. Ray-Bob was forever playing all that whiney country stuff on the radio. Tilda couldn't stand country music and he knew it. But he just laughed and said something about it being an acquired taste and she would come to love it after while. But she wouldn't. She wouldn't love it any more than she loved that big old pickup truck he was always coddling. Oh, some of it was okay, but she preferred something a bit more refined. Then she would laugh at herself because, truth to tell, she actually did like bluegrass, country music's first cousin, so to speak. She decided she was a complete mess as she walked back up the narrow, dusty lane to the house.

Letting the screen door slam behind her, Tilda headed toward the kitchen at the same time her brother, Cody, was coming out.

"I wouldn't go in there if I were you." He rolled his eyes at her as he passed.

"Why? What's she doing now?" Tilda could hear her mama's voice all the way into the middle of the living room. "She talkin' to herself?"

Cody laughed. "She's practicing telling the judge why she had to kill you."

"Oops. Well, I guess I better go on in and find out what's the matter."

Her mama was at the ironing board whomping the iron down, lifting it up, and whomping it down again. She was pressing her own mother's wedding gown so it would hang right when she pinned the hem up on Tilda to get the length just right. She looked up as Tilda came into the kitchen.

"Where on earth have you been, Tilly? Do you know what time it is? I've got all this sewing to do before we head out to the church tonight."

Her mother looked tired. It occurred to Tilda that she had looked tired her whole life. But today, the frownie furrows between her brows were especially pronounced. A rush of deep feeling for her mother suddenly washed over her. She reached out and hugged her.

"Sorry, Mama. I just needed some time...."

Her mother snatched the gown from the ironing board and handed it to Tilda. "Well, go on and try this on so we can get it hemmed up. You can't be walking down the aisle trippin' on the hem every step of the way."

Tilda took the gown and went into her room. Her sanctuary. Hers alone. Cody came in only when she allowed it. She had long ago decided she had the best little brother in the world though he was sixteen now and not so little any more. And her parents always respected her privacy and knocked before opening her door. This room was Tilda's private world and she was on the very edge of giving it up--or losing it.

She laid the dress across the bed and looked around the room. It had two old side-by-side double-hung windows that were currently open to the breeze. The lace curtains were alternately flowing slowly up into the room and then dipping back in slow, elegant swirls toward the window as the soft, spring breeze wafted and waned. The heady aroma of jasmine floated in with each lift of the lace. She had painted the walls a light blue two summers ago, glad to cover up the old, light-eating green it had been before.

Her vanity was old Hollywood-style and had a cushioned stool where she had sat nearly every morning of her life brushing her hair and choosing her favorite lipstick from among all the other little golden-capped soldiers lined up before the mirror. The drawer to the right held the hair ribbons she sometimes tied at the base of her ponytail on the days she wore her hair in that style. Beside the bed was a small bookcase filled with favorite books stacked this way and that, and across from the bed was the large, mirrored chifforobe where she kept her clothes. The house had been built before clothes closets were de rigueur and her daddy had built the chifforobe for her himself.

She looked at herself in the mirror and decided she looked worried. Stop it, Tilly! Just stop! She slipped off her jeans and shirt and put on the wedding gown. She deliberately didn't look at herself in the mirror once she had it on. She didn't know why. She grabbed the bottom of it up so she wouldn't step on it and made her way back to the kitchen where her mother was waiting.

"Oh, Tilda!" Her mother poured a ton of love into those two words. "Jump up here on the chair so I can pin up the hem."

Tilda obediently stepped up onto the chair and tried to be still as her mother began measuring and pinning.

"Hey everybody!" Tilda heard her older sister come in, slamming the screen door behind her. Seemed like no one could ever come in or go out of the McDaniels' house without slamming the screen door. In the living room, her sister continued at full volume, "I just came from the church! Cody was over there with the florist and the flowers look wonderful! Where is everybody?"

"In the kitchen, Janie!" Tilda's mother shouted toward the living room without taking her eyes off her work in progress.

"Hey mama! Hey Tilly! Wow! You look beautiful!" Janie was all smiles as she hiked her baby up on her hip and adjusted his little blue cap. His nose was running and vanilla wafer crumbs were smeared all over his mouth and cheeks.

Tilda tried her best not to see him, but it was impossible. "For heaven's sake, Janie! Wipe Jerry's nose!"

Janie laughed. "You just wait till you have yours, Tilly! You will think they hung the moon!" Janie coochie-cooed at the baby as she sat him down in the old yellow high chair that had lived in this very kitchen since she, herself, had been a little thing.

Tilda rolled her eyes. It was suddenly difficult to breathe and she began to seriously fidget.

"Be still, Tilly! I can't measure straight with you dancin' around."

"I need to take a break, Mama."

"Tilly! I have to get this done!"

"I won't be long. I promise. I just need a break, that's all." Tilda stepped down from the chair and shed the gown on the way to her room, careful not to disturb any of the pins her mother had placed. Back in her shirt and jeans, she went out the back door and headed toward the fence that separated the yard from a small section of the cotton. She just needed to get away. She needed to breathe again.

She was about halfway across the yard when her cell phone rang.

"Hey. This is Tilda."

She listened intently for a couple of minutes, frowning, as the person on the other end spoke to her.

"Let me get this straight, Peggy. You--supposedly my best friend--are calling me now, just before my weddin', to tell me you saw Ray-Bob kissin' Justine Bennett? Isn't she the one with the skinny legs and the big gazongas? The town floozy? And you somehow thought this was gon' make me happy? Uh huh. You thought I should know. Right. Well, thank you very much. Now I know. I have to go." She clicked off, closed her eyes, balled her fists and emitted a silent scream. Things were definitely getting darker and darker, those creeping, fingered shadows ever closer.

She was headed toward the back gate when she noticed one of the big, barn-like garage doors was partially open and decided to investigate. It creaked as she pulled it open wider. Even with the door open it was dim inside because the garage was one of those old structures that had been built as an after-thought about fifteen yards behind the house and it had not a single window in it. Dust motes sparkled in the sun's rays that shone into the dark cavern through the open door.

Someone stepped out from the shadows at the rear. Someone she instantly recognized.

"Daddy?" she called. "What are you doin' out here?"

Tilda's daddy was the one who hung the moon for her. Always had been. Always would be.

"I wasn't much needed in the house. And I don't like all the commotion," he said. His voice was deep and soft. Comforting. It had always wrapped Tilda like a protective, downy blanket.

"I know. I had to get out, too." She looked at him seriously for a minute and said, "Daddy? I don't think I can do this."

"Do what?"

"Marry Ray-Bob and have a house full of snotty-nosed little kids while he goes off in his pickup truck with all his buddies to shoot some poor, defenseless animals for fun. And you know that's exactly what will happen. I just don't think I'm cut out for changin' diapers and mopping floors and havin' every woman in town chasin' my husband--and half of 'em catchin' him. I just don't think I can do this. I feel like I'm suffocatin' inside. I can't breathe. But it's too late now!"

"Well," her daddy began, "You're not married yet, are you? So it's not too late."

"But Mama's in the kitchen hemmin' the weddin' gown and Cody's already gone to the florist and all the flowers have been delivered to the church and Janie's in the kitchen tellin' me how much I'm just gonna love bein' a mama and... and... I just had to get out of there, Daddy!"

Tilda's daddy put his arm around her and gave her a hug.

"You listen to me, Tilly. You don't have to do a thing in this world that you don't want to do. Gettin' married is a big deal. It's a big step. It changes your life. And you and nobody else has to do it just because other people do it, or just because other people expect you to do it, or even because the flowers have already been delivered to the church."

Tilda didn't say anything so he kept talking. "You know, I've heard it said that we often think we don't know what we want, but we really do. They say all you have to do is toss a coin. Heads, you get one thing. Tails, you get the other thing. How you feel about which side turns up reveals what you really wanted even if you thought you didn't know. If we flip a coin and it comes up marry Ray-Bob, how do you feel about that answer?"

"Not good, Daddy."

"Are you sure about this, Tilly?"

Tilda wiped away the tears that had sprung from a depth that surprised her. She was quiet for a moment then said, "I'm sure, Daddy. I really don't want to do this."

"Give me your phone." He reached out his hand and she dug the phone from her pocket and handed it to him. He searched through the list of names and pressed the call button.

"Henry? This is Frank McDaniels. Yes, I'm fine, thanks. We've got us a situation here. We're not goin' to be needin' those flowers so you can go back to the church and get them. Yes. Yes. No. Sorry to put you to the trouble, but it's decided. Thanks." He pushed another button to end the call.

Tilda took a deep breath. Those menacing dark shadows were beginning to recede ever so slowly. Her daddy pushed another button.

"Reverend? Frank McDaniels. We've had a change of plans here. There's not goin' to be a weddin' tonight so I'd appreciate it if you would call Miz Wilkins and tell her not to plan on playin' the organ. No. No. It's final. Yes, I know. And I thank you. But she's made up her mind."

He ended the call and returned the phone to Tilda. Then he laughed. "Once Miz Wilkins is told, everybody in town will know within the next twenty minutes. So you better be ready, Til. The wind is just beginnin' to kick up."

"I love you, Daddy."

"I love you, too, Tilly. You best go tell your mama before she hears it from Miz Wilkins."

Tilda's mama cried. Her sister was dumbstruck. And Cody, who had just gotten home from the church, gave her a high-five and the biggest hug he'd ever given anybody.

It wasn't thirty minutes later that a dust cloud of red Georgia clay was churning up behind his pickup as Ray-Bob barreled down the lane and turned into the driveway at Tilda's house, nearly running over her mama's azaleas. He leapt from the truck and ran inside, slamming the screen door behind him.

"Tilly! Tilly!"

"What, Ray? I'm right here." Ray-Bob had run right past her sitting quietly on the sofa in the corner of the living room.

"What the hell's--beg pardon, Miz McDaniels--what the heck's goin' on with you? I have to hear that the weddin's off through the Clayville grapevine? Have you lost your mind?"

"No. On the contrary, Ray. I think I've found it."

"Found what? What are you talkin' about?"

"My mind. I've found my mind, not lost it. And I've decided that I'm just not ready for all this, Ray. I'm not ready to get married and all the changes that will make to my life. I'm sorry that this revelation came so late in the game, but better now than after the deed is done, I think. For both of us."

"Oh great. I'm gonna be the laughingstock of this town!"

Tilda laughed for the first time all day. "Is that all? Is that all you're worried about? Well, don't be. Every cheerleader in town will be out celebratin' tonight. Ray-Bob Buford is back in circulation! Maybe you will even be consoled by Justine Bennett." That last actually hit home. He winced.

"That's it, then?"

"Yes."

"Can I have my ring back?" He held out his hand.

"Actually, I thought I would just sell it and take a nice vacation to Mexico."

The sarcasm seemed totally lost on Ray-Bob so she added, "Of course you can have it back!"

Tilda slipped the ring off her finger and handed it to him. "I'm real sorry, Ray. But this really is for the best."

Ray-Bob just stared at her and then turned away. He nodded at Tilda's mother and said, "Miz McDaniels." Then he poked the ring down into his pants pocket, slammed the screen door on his way out of the house, got into his pickup and drove away.

For the first time in days Tilda breathed. Really breathed. Then she exhaled all the dark shadows away.

"Why, Tilly?" Her mother was sad-eyed and concerned.

"Oh, Mama, don't worry. Grandma's gown will still be beautiful if and when I ever do find the right person. But it's not Ray-Bob Buford. And it's not today. I just came to my senses a bit late, that's all. I guess I was just havin' one of those days, Mama."

In the privacy of her room, Tilda whirled around as though waltzing. Then she stopped, stood at the window, and breathed in the heavy scent of the jasmine. The sky was still brilliant blue. The clouds were still soft puffs of cotton. The birds were singing just for her. She plopped down on her bed, fluffed the pillows, and reached for a favorite book.

Cody stuck his head in her door without knocking for the first time ever and, grinning ear-to-ear, said, "Tilly, you're gonna be famous! The only girl in Clayville that Ray-Bob Buford couldn't get!"

She laughed and threw her book at him as he dodged and shut the door.

Yep, she was having one of those days. Just one of those lucky, lucky days.




RLM Cooper






RLM Cooper is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville whose short stories have been published internationally by various online magazines, reviews, and print anthologies. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. For links to her other work, please visit her blog: rlmcooper.com

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