By James Lineberger

Featured Image: Sun by Sam Warren

On the hayride night
our senior year in high school
we lay side by side
holding hands under the stars
trying to figure out how we could remain together
because back then
to a couple of cotton mill kids in the 50’s
what else did our first-time kisses and hugs mean
except true love
but after graduation she made a sudden decision to attend
the Richmond Professional Institute in Virginia
and learn commercial art
to get prepared to paint advertising pictures
for newspapers and magazines she said maybe even like
a cover for The Saturday Evening Post
and how was I to manage
a long distance relationship across the state line
when I didn’t even have a car which
I tried to tell myself was the problem but the real difficulty
was Jenny seemed like
some kind of pioneer woman to me
and already out of reach
a person who knew exactly what she wanted and wouldn’t
let anything or anyone stand in her way
while all I could come up with was maybe I would join
the army and get to see
the world myself someday – Hollywood or Africa maybe even what we did
to Hiroshima – some place
for sure a whole lot further off than Richmond
little knowing I would really not get past
Lloyd’s Grill right here where we grew up
when I “lucked out” Lloyd called it and got hired
as the breakfast cook after Crip Jenkins
fell over with a stroke
but I have to say I never quite got adjusted
to sausage and eggs as a career even when Lloyd promised me
if I kept up the good work and really applied myself
I might one day get to be his assistant manager with every other Sunday off
still some people might allow
I was living in the past
my thoughts never far from Jenny and what
our life together might have been
but Ola Mae Green who was a beautician at Deena’s Hair Salon and kept up
with everything about everybody Ola Mae told me
that after Richmond Jenny moved way off to Minnesota
and was doing drawings
for a department store catalogue
in Minneapolis
but that was all the news for maybe a year or so
until next thing glory be
there was Jenny’s bridal notice in the paper
where she had married this doctor
named Conrad McClellan the Third
a guy from our own class in high school who everybody used to call Lard
the kinda person that always sat on the back row
and stuttered when he got called on but lo and behold where did he end up doctoring
but the Hennepin County Hospital in Mineapolis
and like out of some fairy tale he saw Jenny on the street one day
and took her out to a French restaurant and not three months later whoosh
they got married can you believe it somebody
she hardly ever spoke to in school
but then Jenny’s daddy died suddenly when he was out helping a neighbor
harvest his oats and somehow fell off
and got chewed up in the blades of the combine
which meant of course there would be no funeral
just a memorial service
for the immediate family and when Jenny and Lard
flew down here in his Cessna airplane
they didn’t stop by at Lloyd’s or anywhere else far as I know
just arranged the cremation and buried the urn
and fare thee well
so nobody got to see Jenny that time especially me
but whether from grief or who can say what goes on in a woman’s mind
it didn’t take long
before Jenny had talked Lard into moving back here to West Jefferson
and lordy all the changes that happened then
you would not believe
especially that old mill village house where Jenny grew up
after Lard had it put on wheels and trucked out to the countryside
where he added on six new rooms
and a whole upstairs with a master bedroom
plus a swimming pool and riding horses and most wonderful of all
this big studio for Jenny to do her painting
and she no sooner got settled in than people started begging for
wedding portraits and pictures of old-timey bankers and mill owners and bowls of fruit
and everybody’s babies and grandbabies
until time and again I was on the verge of calling her up myself
to inquire how much would it cost
to do a picture of somebody like me
who actually fixed her breakfast one morning
but did she act like she recognized me
and not Marlene Furr either who was her waitress and only
a year ahead of us in school
yet how can a person predict all the wrong turns and vagaries
in his life which is what I wanted to say
oh Jenny! Jenny!
and give my vow right there in Lloyd’s
that you were always the only person I ever truly loved
and how I never stopped wishing
I had followed you to Minneapolis and got
right up in Lard McClellan’s face and told him to fuck off didn’t he remember
you were my woman
and like that
but it wasn’t until after I retired and started
talking back to the televison that I finally worked up the courage
to dial her number and it rang and rang and rang
until at last this squeaky little old lady answered
saying Jenny was not in just now but if I could leave a –
and I hung up right there
thinking no no no
when it dawned on me then what my own voice
must sound like this this toothless geezer with an oxygen bottle and a walker
and wearing a apnea mask to sleep in
so no smooching at night okay
and speaking of the physical aspects the thing is I probably
look more and more like Lard
instead of the person that kissed you on the hayride
and swore he would never end up
a linthead like his daddy
but what was the use of trying to explain anything to anybody now
especially you Jenny
and truly I was so relieved you couldn’t see me or hear me
not then not two months later
when I sent that anniversary card I made myself with some crayons
not y’all’s anniversary Jenny but ours
just us two at the hayride and the big cornsilk yellow moon so big
it was filling the sky behind us and I can’t help how
my moon ended up a kind of uneven circle
like by a child that couldn’t color between the lines
which I never could draw worth a damn but it came from my heart Jenny
and you knew the artist was me didn’t you
even if I didn’t sign my name for fear of embarrassing you
but maybe someday way off in the sky we can talk and you can tell me
if you managed to hide the card somewhere or burned it
in your big fireplace
cause when Lard came home and found you
slumped over dead at your easel
there was never any question raised about our anniversary
or anything else out of the normal
except the official verdict was a ruptured annarism
but what I believe is you just made up your mind that now was the time
to drift off to your heavenly sleep
and at the funeral
even Lard a rich and successful doctor
broke down like any one of God’s other poor creatures
trying to understand
the mystery of the way things really are
when he stood up with the tears running down his face
and said how thankful he was that his Jenny
was able to depart this earthly abode doing the thing she
luh luh loved the most
and he held it up proudly
for us all to see
just a plain white canvas with a scrawly
Crayola moon

James Lineberger is a playwright and retired screenwriter. In the distant past, he did the screen adaptation for the Timothy Hutton/George C. Scott film, TAPS. His rock opera, THE SURVIVAL OF SAINT JOAN, developed with the Atlanta band, Smoke Rise, was produced off-Broadway, and the original concert recording was released as a Paramount album. Lineberger’s poetry has appeared in Exquisite Corpse; Hanging Loose; Boulevard; The Cortland Review; UCity Review; Rat’s Ass Review; Pembroke Magazine; Quarter After Eight; Main Street Rag; DMQ; B O D Y; and New Ohio Review, where he was awarded the 2017 poetry prize, judged by Rosanna Warren.

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