As soon as I turned the corner on Oak Street going toward home, I could see Jesse had already heard the news. Our street was lined on both sides with these tall stately oaks. It looked like a movie set for a movie made back in the Fifties. Our house, which was built by the man who designed Concord back in 1900, was at the very end of the street in the center of a cul-de-sac. I could see her standing out on the veranda, and she was obvious she did not look happy. Small town women are like the CIA, they know everybody's business. I suspect the only reason that the Agency don't recruit more of 'em is they are not known for keeping secrets either, soon as they hear something juicy they consider it their sacred duty in life to make sure ever body else in town knows it.
My wife Jessie can scream like a ten year old girl. Good thing she's pretty. People seem to tolerate shit like that more if the person doing it is reasonably good looking. I remember back in grade school there was this big, red-haired freckle face girl with shoulders like a linebacker named Luella Douglas who ever body thought was crazy. They all teased her relentlessly. Later, she earned two PhDs and went on to lecture on Philosophy at Berkeley. At the same time, there was this skinny, good-looking kid named Billy Prescott who was one crazy sumbitch. It was obvious Billy was going to look like an Adonis when he growed up. He'd tear the wings off of birds and shit, but people treated him normal in comparison to how they treated poor Luella. Billy Prescott used to trail after her on her way home and shout stuff like, "Luella Douglas has a face like a frog, red on the head like the dick on a dog!" One day, she had enough of it, and hauled off and knocked him out cold in the hallway at school. I mean to tell you people treated her different after that. Funny thing was, was she seemed to become more attractive after she dropped Billy. I don't know if it was the confidence she felt or just that people looked at her different. Billy, on the other hand, dropped out of school because he couldn't take the teasing. He later lost his front teeth to the crack pipe, went without bathing, and became a sneak thief. Then, after his second wife left him, he ran a hose out his tailpipe into the cab of his truck and went to sleep for good. I don't know what it means, or even if it means anything; it just a memory that popped in my head when I was thinking about how to tolerate Jesse's screaming at me.
You could take my wife, put her in pair of cut-offs and cowboy boots, and drop her down on Rodeo Drive and no one there could tell the difference between her and any of them other models, millionaire's girl friends and wives, and movie-star wannabes. That is except for one thing, the beauty of them women, if described using just one word, would have to be the word, vacuous. I've thought about it a lot and don't know how else you could describe someone who's willing to pay a hundred times more for something, just to able to say that they paid a hundred times more for something. Them women look awful nice, but they don't seem none too bright, or even all that happy, for that matter, running around wearing all them sequins and jewels.
I don't think Jessie would do something like that even if she had the money. Outwardly, she had the same kind of looks as them ladies, flawless skin, perfect teeth, beautiful auburn hair and these luminous violet eyes, but if I had to choose one word to describe her looks, I would have to say she had a curious beauty. I guess might even say suspicious, or uncertain, but I think that look of self-doubt that pops up ever now and then, only comes from her always having to deal with her daddy issues. Her daddy Pepper Jack Reed was the craziest sumbitch this town ever seen, and her older brother Dealie Reed, well let's just say Dealie didn't fall far from the tree. Ever since I've known her she's wanted to know things, you know, like how things worked and shit and , on top of that, she's always unsure about how she looks? Her beauty could be overwhelming at times, I wouldn't even be ashamed to use the word transcendent to describe it; there were times, when just looking at her as she slept, helped me understand that despite of all the bullshit associated with being alive on this weird little planet, there was something right and good about it all. But when she was bubbling over excited about something at the dinner table, describing something she had learned about a movie, or a book, well, she could force a smile out of a flat rock.
Right now, though, she was standing right in front of me, poking me in the chest with her index finger, madder than hell, and screaming like a ten year old girl.
"Damn it to hell, Owen Leon Davis! What did I tell you would happen if I ever caught you talking to my brother Dealie?"
"Don't you go trying to 'Now Babe' me, Lee! What did I tell you?"
"You said you'd cut my testicles off with a rusty saw blade and feed 'em to the neighbor's dog."
"You'd divorce me and marry Tubby Rollins and drive around town with the top down, so ever one could see what I made you up and do."
"You'd wait till I was asleep one night, pry my mouth open with crowbar, and cut out my tongue with that same rusty saw blade that you cut my testicles off with and staple it, my tongue that is, to my forehead with a carpet staple."
I knew she was gonna scream that word "AND" again. She was kind of predictable in that way and pretty fed up with her brother Dealie at the time, and it was a fairly long litany of punishments that she had come up with, and I been forced to memorize them all and repeat them back to her on more than one occasion, but right before she said the word, she looked down and discovered, to my complete and utter embarrassment, that I was getting more than little bit turned on by screaming at me.
I guess I should explain. You see, pretty as my wife is when she's sleeping, she is so much freaking hotter when she's angry. I don't believe there's ever been anyone hotter in the whole damn universe than Jesse Reed Davis when she's angry.
She had looked down at the same crotch area that she was just threatening to mutilate with a rusty saw blade and saw that all them threats were doing was turning me on. The look on her face instantly went from one of rage and fury to one of stunned disbelief, "Leon Davis, do you actually mean to tell me that you are standing there getting sexually excited while I'm screaming at your dumb ass?"
My own facial expression went from being completely contrite to one of abject embarrassment. "I surely wish I could say no, Honey. I know how stupid and shallow this makes me look, but, I just can't help it. Damn it Jesse, when you are sleeping, I look at you and think, you're the prettiest girl in the whole state of California, and that's saying something because its a big ass state, one of the biggest, but Babe, when you're angry and screaming and shit, in my eyes, you become the sexiest woman in the entire universe. It's got something to do with your nostrils flaring. I'm not sure what."
It took a second for the words to sink in, but when they did, they worked, and they calmed the storm a bit. She was trying her damn best to stay mad at me, and couldn't, but she was also equally determined not to let me off the hook so easily.
"Sexier than Marylyn Monroe?"
"Shit, she would have been the First Lady of these here United States if she was half as sexy as you. President Kennedy would have kicked his old lady to the curb. Hell, if she'd been sexy as you President Kennedy would probably still be alive."
Now I'll admit, I'm not all that bright. My daddy used to call me dumbass when he called me at all, but I could sure come up with pretty good complement when I needed one. I know that most women would have thought what I said was pretty damn cheesy and wouldn't give me the time of day if I addressed them words to them, but I didn't come up with complements for them, I had carefully crafted 'em for Jesse. My wife wasn't dumb either; she was actually one of the brighter people I knew, but I knew she had some serious daddy issues too. And I swear, I never took advantage of this knowledge unless I knew it was for her own good. She needed, for her own sake, to get over her anger at the only brother she had.
I also had enough of getting scolded and worked up a little courage when I saw that dimple she was trying to hide appear on her left cheek. Our two girls were on the other side of the lawn playing with a water hose and were just starting to look over at us like they were worried about their daddy. "I get the picture, Jessie. You're mad at Dealie! But I ain't saying another damn thing until you let me explain myself."
She didn't say nothing, just stood there tapping her foot and giving me that look that said whatever gave out of mouth right then had better be freakin good.
"I didn't have a chance, Jesse. Dealie came out of Deuce's Store fore I even knew he was in there. I was just pumping gas and minding my own business."
"You could have walked away without talking to him."
"Bullshit I could! Dealie been my best friend my whole damn life! How'm gonna turn my back on him? Hell, let me remind you, your brother saved my life more'n once."
She called my bluff on that one. Remember, I said she was suspicious. She had caught something in my voice that didn't ring true, "Remind me, Lee. How exactly did he save your life?"
Actually, I had saved him from drowning once, so I just reversed the facts, crossed my fingers and hoped she didn't remember the details, "He pulled me out of Dawson's Reservoir that time when I fell in passed out drunk. Remember?"
She eyed me some before nodding, "Okay, that's one. What other time?"
I hate to reveal how shrewdly calculating I can be so early in the story, especially when it involves my dealings with the woman I love more than life itself, but I aimed this one like a matador in a bullring, "You don't remember? Now, that breaks my heart, Jesse," I feigned like I was staggered, "He introduced me to the most beautiful girl in Concord. My entire life changed at that moment; it pivoted, I mean did a complete 180. You got to admit before I met you, I was a worthless little sumbitch, and suddenly I found a purpose." Jesse started to laugh but caught herself before she did. Then she took off one of the pink flip-flops she was wearing and tossed it at me.
"You're still a worthless idiot, Lee!" She acted like she was still angry, but her tone had changed, "He burned down my Mama's house, Lee. Burned it down with her wedding dress and all her jewelry. Burned up the tea set that my great, great, great, grandma Irene Lewis brought over from Ireland. All our family pictures and all our mementos were in that house. Everything my Mama owned was in that house, the house that your friend Dealie burnt to the ground without so much a thought about what it would do to me."
She was quickly working her way back into a rage. She had inadvertently let it slip that she wasn't so mad about the belongings though; revealing that she was angry because he did what he had done without any regard for her feelings. I decided to gamble and knew I had to bend the truth a little. I had no other choice. "Not thinking of you? He's really sorry, Jesse. He told me to make sure you understood how sorry he is, but he just couldn't handle the idea of big-assed Belinda Barlow sleeping in your mama's bed."
"Belinda Barlow sleeping in my Mama's bed? What the hell are you talking about?"
It was bending the truth a little because I didn't know for sure, I was assuming a lot, but I was still 90% certain. I did know for a fact that old man Barlow already had a well-to-do girlfriend over in Hartford while Jesse's mama was dying in the hospital, and I'd seen his nasty looking daughter Belinda carrying several boxes of household items from the back of loaded pick-up into the backdoor of Lu's house after Lu's funeral.
"Yeah, Dealie said he'd heard that Barlow was going to give your mama's house to Belinda, and she was going to move in with her husband and them six crazy ass kids."
"All them wild-assed kids she had by that lunatic Larry LaValle? My mama's house?"
"Well, technically, Jess, it was Barlow's house after Lu passed away. But this new lady friend he has owns a nice spread outside of Hartford, so I believe he was going let Belinda and her kids stay in your mama's house. Dealie said he went blind crazy when he heard that, and he knew what it would do to you, so he decided that there was no way in hell he could let that gross, filthy ass Belinda and that sleezy Larry LaValle sleep in his mama's bed. Not to mention all them crazy kids going through Lu's jewelry and stuff."
They say that the way into a man's heart is through his belly. Could be true, I don't doubt it, but the quickest way into a woman's head is the mention of another woman. If Jesse thought for a moment Belinda Barlow, the grossest, filthiest female in the whole county was going to be sleeping in her mama's bed with someone as nasty and disgusting as Larry LaValle, she would have burned down the house down herself. Might even been a rusty saw blade involved too. I could tell that she had lost all her anger about me and Dealie talking and was pondering on the ramifications of what I'd told her.
"That house was rightly ours. It was my granddaddy's house. Mama was born in that house."
"No argument from me. Never could understand what Lu was doing with Barlow."
That observation added a twist to whatever Jesse was thinking.
"She was lonely, Lee. She told me she was lonely after Daddy died."
"I understand that, Hon, but to go from Pepper Jack to Jake Barlow, that's more than a little leap. That's one of them quantum type leaps. No body in this town could undertstand it. It'd be like you going from me, the handsomest man in the Tri-County area, to take up with Fuzzy Brown, a man who ain't took a bath since he fell in the river chasing a runaway pig."
And just like that, I was out of the woods. Jesse started laughing and couldn't stop, and I tell you, if she was sexy when she was angry, and transcendent while sleeping, she was way too lovely for any man made words to ever describe her when she laughed. I just stood there grinning and let her laugh. After a while, she stopped and walked over to where I was and kissed me on the cheek. Then she took my hand, lifted it to her lips and kissed it too.
"I guess, he'll want to see Rowdy," she thought out loud while I was pushing a loose strand of lustrous brown hair over her right ear.
"I expect so, Jess. He's his daddy after all."
When we were walking back toward the house, the phone rang inside. Jess signaled for our five-year-old Mattie to go answer. Mattie came back out and told Jess that it was for her, so Jess let go my hand and hurried to see what it was about.
I was thinking to myself what I needed to tell Dealie to set our stories straight. I was happy that I hadn't had to outright lie too badly. I knew that Dealie hadn't been thinking about Jesse when he burned down that house, he was way too impulsive to ever think like that, but it all boiled down to the same thing. Jesse would have lost her shit had she known about Barlow's plan to give her mama's house to his daughter. I didn't figure I was too far off on that. And she came pretty damn close to telling me to go deal with him myself when he wouldn't give back her mama's jewelry. In fact, we were discussing our legal options on the matter when we heard the fire engines heading toward Lu's place. I was mulling all this over when she suddenly popped her head out the front door holding the phone in her hand. There was a weird expression on her face."
"Lee, Jake Barlow's dead. They're looking for Dealie!"