A long observer of lovers’ quarrels, the oakwood grandfather clock overlooked the table where the man and the woman were opposite not only in their positions at the ends of the wooden table but in their countenance. The man’s eyes, pulled into a cutting look, were set on the woman’s downturned ones; the man’s nostrils flared as hers concave with each sniffle; and the man’s mouth was curled into a grimace while hers fell into a frown. Not looking up from her fingers which she twiddled in her lap, the woman broke the silence,
“I ain’t speaking my mind to cause no problems, I’m just speaking from the heart. That’s all, Benny. Benny, baby, I don’t ask much from you. And I do everything you ask. Make sure of it. When you gone, I cook and I clean and think about when you coming home. I love you, Benny. I love you with all I got. Love you even with what I don’t. Love you more than I even love myself so all I want is to feel, just feel, baby, like you feel like I do.”
“Dammit, Lola,” Jabin slammed his calloused palms against the tabletop, rattling it, and pushed back from it to his feet, “How many times I got to tell you I’m trying? You don’t think I got it hard enough?”
Lola nodded, her tense body flinching as she listened to her husband gripe.
He spaced his speech with the slams of his fist against the table, “Hauling ass? Every. Single. Day? Working long hours? Every. Single. Day?” He inhaled deeply and exhaled with a shudder of unbridled frustration, “I’m barely earning money. Definitely not no respect. All I want is peace when I get home and I can’t get it! Only place I can get it and I can’t have it! You won’t let me have it, Dolores, and I ain’t asking you for shit else!”
“Benny, you know I just want to make you happy and--”
“And what, Dolores? What else you got to say? I ain’t asking shit from you! I do everything I got to do to keep our heads above water, and we still gasping for air. I do it all so you don’t got to and you still asking and begging, begging and asking. What else you want to say to me, woman? I just got to know.”
“Love! Dammit, Jabin!” Dolores shot from her seat and slammed her hands against the table. The vase of wilting yellow carnations that Jabin had brought home that evening tipped over and the water spilled across and off the table,
“I mean, shit, ain’t that what I said? Couldn’t have been more clear than I been, Jabin! You need me to spell it out for you? L-O-V-E! Ain’t but one way to put it. I love you so much it hurts me. It hurt so bad that you can’t just love me. You don’t even got to love me, Benny, just pretend! That’s all I’m asking. Can’t you pretend you love me? ‘Cause I spend all my time, all my energy, feels like I’ll spend the rest of my life thinking on how I could get you to.”
Jabin’s breath caught in his throat as he finally saw his wife. His eyes had been on her from the moment she placed the plate of his favorite dinner before him the instant he sat at the table. She had sat across from him, twiddling her thumbs, and spoke quietly, as she tended to do, and asked,
“Benny, how come you don’t love me no more?”
He had been looking at Dolores the whole time, yet, only just saw her at that moment. Saw her rub her throbbing palms against the flared yellow dress he remembered she had been wearing the day of their first date. Saw her switch from foot to foot in the brown leather clogs he told her he liked. Saw her beaded plaits skim the exposed brown of her shoulders and curtain the face that, if not for the makeup sheared away by her tears, the tears he caused, he could have mistaken her for the woman that he had loved so long ago.
Between clenched teeth, Jabin spit, “I told Sam I’d meet him at the club.”
He turned from his wife and moved towards the door. With soft steps and sniffles, Dolores trailed closely behind. He grabbed his coat and hat from the rack and paused at the threshold of their home with a sigh and falling shoulders. Without turning to face her, he spoke,
“I’ll see you later, Lola.”
And stepped out.
Her near silent confession carried in the wind of his steps, “ I love you, Benny. Always have, always will.”
She closed the door behind him.
Jabin stood outside the door for a moment, listening to his wife thud against the bouquets of red and yellow amaranthus patterning the walls, chosen during a time where if she liked it, he loved it because he loved her. He heard the soft whimpers she allowed him to hear grow into bawling and gasping and sputtering breaths. He walked from the home, leaving her broken heart behind; he had his own heart’s desires to follow. Lightning lit the sky and, moments later, the ground shook. Jabin hoisted up the legs of his trousers and began his trek through sliding red Earth and down the path between the honey locusts into the pitch black night, ignoring how the pain he caused played and replayed in his ears.
The Blues was not unlike the homes of its patrons: a weathered wooden structure, whitewashed by the region’s constant precipitation and raised on cinder blocks so it would not be washed away in storms like that which Jabin trudged through. It was a place of regular gathering rivaled only by the church at the town’s center. Jabin stood at the entrance under a wooden canopy lit by a single buzzing bulb encircled by nails piecing together darker wooden planks that stopped rain from pouring down. He knocked three times and was let in the squeaky door by the burly watchman.
A sea of brightly attired Black bodies swayed to the blaring sounds of trumpets and Jabin waded through in search of an empty table but was stopped by bare arms that wrapped themselves just below his navel and pulled him close to the body they were attached to.
“Hey baby, I was sure I wasn’t seeing you until next week.”
Jabin loosened the arms from around his waist so he could turn around to the woman. He took hold of the woman’s hands in his own,
“Begonia, baby, how you doing?” kissing the woman on a heavily rouged cheek.
“You know how it is, Jabin. I’m glad to see you, you know I am performing tonight. Singing that piece I told you about last time I seen you.”
“Boo, baby, I’ll never get enough of you. Go on, get yourself ready. I’ll be here if you need me. Hopefully you’ll be needing me more a little later on. ”
Begonia gripped Jabin’s face and lowered it to hers and left the red mark of her love on his cheek then another where his jaw met his ear and pulled his collar from his neck to place one where his neck met his shoulder,
“You know I will.”
He sent her on her way with a pat on her backside. Begonia put an extra swing in her hips as she sashayed away, knowing the man watched.
“Now you know you doing wrong by that girl you got at home, Ben,” a man spoke from behind him, causing Jabin to lose Begonia’s switching hips among the other dancing bodies.
“Don’t start this shit, Sam. You know I feel bad. Left her crying at home, it hurt my heart to hear. Got me all broken up.”
“Can’t hurt too bad if you here. Still messing around with that woman knowing you got one, a good one, at home. One who’ll do anything, give up everything for you. What else you giving her but sorrows?”
With a dry laugh, Jabin put his hand on Samuel’s shoulder, “If I ain’t know better, I’d think you pushing up on my woman, Sammy boy.”
Samuel removed the man’s hand from his shoulder and let it drop to his side,
“God himself knows she deserve some good but he got ways of dealing with those who do wrong by them who only got good in they hearts. Don’t let that macho shit write a check your ass can’t cash. Lord knows you don’t got shit to give.”
“Try getting one of your own before telling me how to deal with my two. Never got no complaints before. To God, Samuel.”
“Or wherever you going, Jabin”
The two men departed, Samuel to return to his own home and Jabin to the empty table closest to the stage where the Master of Ceremonies now stood.
“Hold on now, y’all. I said holdonholdonhold-on. Now, I know we all grooving but we gone bring back a club favorite. Show some love for our girl, Boo. Come on up here now, girl.”
The crowd applauded and cheered for the woman who hitched the ruby red skirt of her dress in matching gloves to ascend the splintering wooden steps that led to the stage. She searched the crowd and caught the eyes of Jabin,
“How y’all feeling?”
The audience hooted and applauded in response.
“It’s a pleasure to see y’all again and a privilege to perform. So, I’m doing something new for y’all tonight and I need y’all to be nice about it. This one goes out to all y’all in love or those trying to be.”
With chuckles sprinkled throughout the crowd, Begonia nodded to the bass player and he began to play,
Ooh, baby, baby, let me count the ways
That I’m loving you, baby, when you looking that way
Standing hand in hand, your skin on my skin
Baby, baby, baby, baby, Let’s do it all again.
I wanna be closer, baby, closer than we ever been
I wanna be so close to you, baby, that I’m living in your skin
We standing hand in hand, your skin all on my skin
Baby, baby, baby, baby, let’s do it all again.
I said, standing hand in hand
Your skin in my skin, baby, baby, baby, baby
Without and within
Hand in hand, I said your skin on my skin
Baby I won’t get enough of your love until I’m living in your skin
She placed a kiss on her palm and threw it into the cheering crowd. As she stepped down from the stage, she was met with Jabin’s extended hand to help lead her down.
“Boo, boo, it feels so good to get next to you,” Jabin spoke, pulling Begonia from the last step and into his open arms,
“Remember asking you how you got stuck with the nickname ‘Boo’ when we met. Surely ain’t nothing frightening about you except how my heart beats for you, baby. Been a lot of places, seen a whole lot of things, and don’t nothing look as good as you, my baby.”
“Oh my Benny Wenny, you always know what to say,” Begonia began as the man placed kisses from her gloved knuckles to her bare shoulder, “I was trying to wait until the rain let up but I can’t no little storm stop what I want to show you, baby.”
“We don’t got to go nowhere far, baby, let’s head out back and get in your car.”
The couple squealed like school children as they zigzagged through the crowd, all of whom looked at them with reproach. They giggled and squealed as they slipped through the earth, taking shelter under the man’s coat.
“Baby, get in first,” the shivering woman demanded, “I’m about to show you the ride of your life.”
Jabin leapt into the car’s backseat. He pulled his shirt from his pants and loosened his belt buckle. The woman kept her sultry cat eyes on his in the darkness of the vehicle as she crawled in on top of his panting body, closing the door behind her. She took hold of his face and placed kisses on his forehead and down between his eyes, on the apples of his cheeks and on his nose before placing her own nose on his.
“You want to know why they call me Boo, Benny baby?”
He quickly nodded his head, body shaking with the desire in the woman’s touch.
“I’m what they call a Boo Hag around these parts,” the woman’s nails grew to talons and began to pinch his face, drawing blood from the sides of his face, “You see, Benny, a boo hag got to eat. Thought I took your breath away before, baby, just wait until I’m through with you.”
The woman violently shook. The skin of her scalp bloodlessly split in the middle. The flesh rolled down her face then shoulders then arms to reveal the red of her muscles and tendons. One hand kept hold on his face as she pulled the other from the costume of flesh and then the other arm. Though he clawed at her dainty wrists, he could not remove them from his face. Again, both hands held his face tightly. She placed one kiss on his lips and a final one on the tip of his nose before engulfing it between her oozing lips and inhaling deeply.
The man grabbed at her wrists then moved his hands to her torso, attempting to thrust his thumbs into her sides but it was futile but he could not remove the breath-sucking woman from his face. As his vision dimmed and his strength waned, he felt Begonia grab the flesh of his head and begin to pull at the skin,
“Already forgot my song, baby? I told you, I won’t get enough until I’m living in your skin.”
Patrons exiting the club were able to see the shaking car finally stop and they scoffed, murmuring about the man’s abundance of dames but lack of decorum, none the wiser of his doom.
Three mornings had come and gone before Dolores searched through her missing husband’s possessions and in the pocket of a pair of worn pants thrown to the side, rather than with the other laundry, she found his address book and searched through to find the number of the man she knew he saw last. She gave Samuel a call.
“But Sam, I don’t know what I'm gone do,” she began, shuddering with her cries, “I love him. This not no little friend or boyfriend, this my husband, Sam. Married him cause I love him, Sam. I know he ain’t just up and leave like that. Not without saying goodbye. So I gotta find him. He could be hurt.”
Samuel took Dolores’s hands between his own, “Listen Lola, you can’t keep no man who don’t want to be kept. Can’t stay couped in this house, making a home for a man who don’t want to be housed, hoping he shows you the same love you got for him. He already showed you he don’t got it to give. Matter fact, last I seen him…”
“Oh good God almighty, what is that!” Dolores shrieked, nearly jumping into his lap.
Emerging from the path between the rows of the honey locust and caked in red earth, a man stripped of his clothing and skin approached the pair seated on the stoop.
“No need to holler, girl. It’s just me, Lola. It’s me, your baby, Benny. Your Benny Wenny. I’m back.”
The fear in her eyes melted to show the unwavering care she has always held for him. She pushed herself up from her chair and approached what remained of her husband and let her trembling hands hover over the exposed red muscle of his face.
“Heavens, Benny, what happened to you? Where you been?”
“I’ll tell you where that trifling negro been, running around with that singing girl, that’s where he been! She did this to you? Boo took you on a ride, Ben?”
Placing his hands on her sides, Jabin spoke to his wife,
“Don’t listen to him, Lola. He don’t care about us. Don’t care about what we got. Now, I know I ain’t been the best man. Definitely not the best husband. I want to be better and got to be. For you. I just hope you’ll stay with me to see it through.”
“Jabin. Benny, baby,” Dolores began, letting her hands finally settle on his face, “You never been no good. Not to me. Not to too much of nobody. When I seen you last , I told you I loved you. I did and do. Told you I loved you more than I even love myself. And it's all still true. I gave you ten years of me at my best and you ain’t spare but some days in between. Now you come crawling back when you ain’t got nothing else, not even the skin on your sorry back. You want me to love you like I been loving you and unlike you been loving me, even when I asked you, begged you. I can’t do it no more. I don’t got it in me to. I knew about that girl. Knew about her all along. Prided myself on knowing you knew where home was and would always come home but this home ain’t where your heart is. It’s where your clothes and shoes at, where a nice warm meal and my warm arms always at but never your heart. You been breaking my heart, I can’t do it too. You my first, probably my last. I know I ain’t been your last but this surely will be the last you see of me.”
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This story is fantastic. The dutiful Lola, the hints at the Boo Hag's intent during her big song and Sam's final warning to Benny before the bloody reveal were all splendidly executed. You had me hooked from start to finish!