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I took a nap, and when I woke up, the dog that had been sleeping on my chest had become a husband.

I said, “Get off, you’re heavy.”

And while he sheepishly slunk to the floor, I asked him what he thought he was doing, being a husband when all I wanted was a dog. He kissed my foot and said that I needed a husband.

This is something that many have tried to tell me in the past, and I was not up for hearing about it. Not on a Saturday afternoon, when I had to fully wake up from my nap, make some coffee, and putz around for a few hours before meeting Sammie for drinks down at Calico’s, so we could watch all the cowboys wearing their finest, most colorful shirts and tightest jeans. Which last part seemed like something to which a husband might take offense.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not a wife, so you’d better change back now.”

“Could you be a wife for a little bit? Try it out?” His eyes were still brown and far too reminiscent of a cocker spaniel’s.

I sighed. “Could I try it out tomorrow?”

“All day tomorrow?” he asked, wiggling.

“Just until after church.”

He thought about this, and I could tell he wanted to say yes. Instead, he sat back on his haunches and said, “Until Monday morning. Sunday morning to Monday morning.”

I considered. It was possible I’d have a hangover, and there was church, but afterwards was nothing except another nap and dinner and then Sunday night t.v. I didn’t see why I couldn’t have a husband around for that, so I agreed.

He raced to the other side of the room and back and was an ecstatic cocker spaniel again, and I patted his head and got up to make some coffee and didn’t give any more thought to having a husband.

*

I came home at half-past two, holding my boots under my arms while I attempted to unlock the door. I cursed when the key missed; nobody around here ever got their house broken into, so why did I always lock my door?

Unlocking the front door proved to be a larger undertaking than I could handle. I went around back and jimmied opened the kitchen window, which involved less finesse and besides, there was already a piece of scrap wood under one edge. Boots flung inside, I bellied over the windowsill and knocked over the two-step ladder.

No matter how drunk I get, I will not go to sleep with my make-up on. In the bathroom, I turned the water on and scrubbed most of it off with a facecloth and some Pond’s, the same stuff my mother had used and that we used in high school to get off all the thick stage make-up after we’d finished putting on a terrible but terribly earnest production of The Crucible. When I was done scrubbing, the facecloth looked suspiciously similar to the ones at the end of those play nights.

My jeans had to be jimmied off, and there was no scrap wood to help. I fell on the bed and viciously kicked free.

Lying there, huffing for breath and totally exhausted, I decided I didn’t care so much about my top, and I closed my eyes. The dog jumped up on the bed, and we fell asleep.

*

The roar of heathen, twenty-year-old engine woke me at nine-thirty. Good as any alarm. Jackson next door works Sundays at the cigarette shop, and he swears the on-the-way-to and after-church crowd buys more than any other group of people. I’m not quite sure what he does while everybody is actually in church, but the Presbyterians get a pretty late start on Sundays, so maybe they’re the in-between-the-rest-of-us crowd. I rubbed my face over my pillow, but stopped mid-groan when I heard the thump of other feet on the floor.

“Can I get you something?”

On occasion, I should probably admit, I like to have a beer. On Saturday nights, it’s more like six or eight. And sometimes, I don’t eat as well as I should. Maybe that all contributes to seeing things, which I do from time to time. It’s a family trait. My grandmother used to see things. We don’t say hallucinate. We see things.

Right now, I was seeing a husband.

Also, it could be an overactive imagination. Or possibly the peyote.

“Um…”

“We’ve got orange juice.”

“Orange…?”

“Juice. Okay, I’ll be right back.” He darted away, but was back a second later. “You’re not gonna leave, right?”

“Um…”

He was gone again. The husband.

I sat up fast; a mistake, since whatever had been left to ferment in my stomach sloshed half up my esophagus, not to mention the sudden headache. Putting my bare feet on the carpet, I listened. If I heard nothing, it could all be put down to seeing things. Hell, maybe it was just a dream that hadn’t properly closed the door on itself yet. I gritted my teeth and willed my brain to activate, to stop dreaming or –

The refrigerator door slammed shut, and someone was coming back. In a hurry. Probably with juice.

I might’ve brought someone home with me from Calico’s. It’s not my policy to do that; they tend to want to stay, but since I can’t even keep the cactus in the yard from dying, and the dog is only still around because –

“Here you are. Orange juice.”

There was orange juice in my coffee mug, being handed to me by someone earnest enough to get a supporting role in The Crucible.

I wondered what I should say. “I usually have coffee first thing in the morning; the oj’s just for the vodka.” “Were you serious about all that, yesterday?” Or maybe, “Do you need to go out?”

He shifted from foot to foot. “I don’t know how to make the coffee. Are you – are you upset? With me?”

“With you? No,” I said, and took a gulp of juice to reassure him. “No, not at all.”

“Oh, good.” He smiled, hands in his pockets. His clothes were all brown, from his boots and corduroys to his shirt and vest.

“Well.”

“So, don’t we have to go somewhere?”

“Go somewhere?”

“On this day, every week, you go somewhere. In your good pants and shoes.”

“Church.”

“Church. Church.” He seemed to be trying out the word. “Okay. Let’s go to church.”

“It’s not… I don’t think…”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Well, I’m not positive, but I kinda think you might be an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, or something like that.”

That sort of statement might make most higher-functioning individuals upset in some way, but he just nodded.

“Oh. Well, all we can do is meet him and see what he says.”

“I… That’s not the way it works…” But he was already taking the mug and dragging me by the hand from the bed towards the bathroom.

The light hurt my eyes, and I stood there rubbing them while he got the water going. When I peered out between my fingers, he had the curtain open, smiling.

“Um, maybe you should wait outside the door.”

“But I don’t usually.”

“Yeah, but I’ve got to pee and then, you know…”

“You’ve watched me while I pee.”

“Yeah, but you were… not the way you are now and… Okay, just go wait outside. Don’t you want some breakfast or something? Aren’t you hungry?”

“Hungry?” He distinctly perked up at this, and as soon as he trotted off down the hall, I shut the door. No lock, but whatever. I really needed to pee. And shower. And I probably had fifteen minutes or so before we needed to leave.

The water was actually hot enough when I got in. Nice and steamy. Point for the husband.

He wasn’t there when I pulled on my black poly-blend pants and flat black shoes, so I dropped the towel and put my bra on with one foot braced against the door. I was still buttoning my red and white print blouse when I found him in the kitchen.

No doubt about it: he was a husband. No other creature on earth but a teenage boy could make such a mess. And in the middle of what appeared to be a pantry explosion was my former dog. He looked up, hand in the box of Fruity Pebbles.

“These are great! And so are these! And these!”

“Fantastic. Glad you like everything. But now I’ve got to go to church--”

“I can’t wait to go to church,” he said earnestly. He was killing me. It’s hard not to give something to somebody who looks like that. So hopeful. And pudgy, given that it was that same expression that I couldn’t say no to when I was eating pork chops for dinner, or having a bowl of ice cream.

So five minutes later, we were in my Altima, and he was trying very hard not to hang his entire head out the window, I could tell. Instead, he put his nose close to the window, sometimes turning back around to smile at me. He thought the seat belt was restricting, but he stopped squirming when I explained that it’s important in case we get into an accident, so that his face won’t get planted in the windshield.

“How come you never made me wear it before?”

I didn’t have an answer to that, so I shrugged, and he went back to secretly sniffing out the window and pretending that he wasn’t really tasting the wind.

“Now look,” I said as we pulled into the parking lot, bumping over the ruts. “You aren’t to talk to anyone, got it?”

“But I like people.”

“Yes, but I really don’t, and besides, I don’t want to have to explain who you are.”

He nodded. “I can see that. You could tell them I’m your cousin from out of town.”

“I could, but what if they ask where you’re from?”

This stumped him, so he agreed to not say anything to anyone, and it wasn’t until he’s broken that agreement five minutes later and was talking to Mrs. Kipfer and actually shaking her hand that I realized his fingers were lightly stained pink and yellow and green. Fruity Pebbles, maybe some chocolate there on a thumb. When he leaned back over to me, just as Pastor Mike started talking up front, I whispered and pointed it out. He licked it off and thanked me.

I think Mrs. Kipfer was about to tell me what a nice young man I have, but she saw the enthusiasm with which he was licking his hands clean and put her purse on the other side of her wide hips. As if hand-lickers were also notorious purse-snatchers. I tried hard to be appalled by his behavior, but I didn’t care for Mrs. Kipfer much at all, so I just picked up my song book and stood up to sing along with everybody else.

We got through church without much trouble, even though everybody noticed us, and he forgot to be human and avoid other people’s gazes when it was clear they were trying to act as if they weren’t really looking at him. The trouble is, all that smiling and yes, even a wave once to a kid who openly stared over the back of his pew, made everyone think we’re approachable.

If I ever have a real husband, I thought, he’s going to be just as miserable as I am when in the presence of other folks. No one will ever want to approach us.

I tried to hurry us out the side door, but Belinda, Pastor Mike’s wife, beat back the crowd to get to us first.

“Joanie! You brought someone to church.” She said this to me, but her huge blue eyes were trained on the person next to me, who was already beaming with excitement. “And who is this?”

“Cousin,” I said.

“Husband!” he said.

Faces swiveled, and before the muttering began, I said, “Haha. Old joke. Between us cousins.”

“Oh.” Belinda didn’t look completely convinced, and I knew that an hour from now, the talk in the rec room would be all, “Did you see that slut Joanie’s got a husband? Probably never divorced him, and she’s been sleeping with anything with a belt buckle and a mustache all this time. What a shame. I wonder if he knows.”

To minimize further damage to my already-battered reputation, I pulled him by the hand.

Belinda grabbed his other hand in her red-tipped claws. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

No! Don’t say it!

Before I could think of a suitable, normal name, he said:

“Bailey.”

“Bailey. That’s nice. First or last?”

“Um, both?”

I groaned and forced a smile. “He’s in a band. You know how rockers are with names. Cher. Madonna.”

“Bailey,” said Belinda, and there was a chorus of “Bailey”s behind her.

Yanking hard on his hand, I led us through the door. “Yeah, I keep telling him that it’s kinda soft for a rock star, but you know these kids. Come, Bailey.” And dragging my idiotically smiling, waving husband away, I headed for the car.

*

Despite thinking that it was probably a good idea if we just went home and waited this thing out until tomorrow morning, I’m a creature of habit, and my habit is to stop by Tobacco Depot after church and buy a Pepsi from Jackson. I pulled up right outside the window, telling Bailey to stay in the car, I’ll be right back. Stay. He whined about coming in, but I told him I’d only be a minute, and I rolled down the window a few inches for him.

“Hey, Joanie.” Jackson was sitting on a stool behind the counter, the paper open and folded to a Sudoku he was working on. Sunday’s is the hardest one of the week, and it’s the only one he does.

“Hey, Jackson.” I grabbed a Pepsi from the small cooler at the back and came up front to lean on the counter. “How’s business today?”

He made a face, black mustache pulling down. “Not bad, not bad. Who ya got in your car?”

I took a swig of Pepsi, and we both looked out at Bailey, smiling through the windshield. “My cousin. He’s in a band.”

“Oh yeah? I was in a band once.”

“Were you? What kind of band?”

“Oh, you know. The kind that bangs on shit in somebody’s mom’s garage for an hour and then smokes some weed and goes to a party at somebody else’s house.” He nodded. “We were gonna be big.” He filled in another number on the grid.

Outside, Bailey put his chin on the dash and looked sad.

“What’d you play?”

“Drums.” The pen tapped softly on the counter. “Still got ‘em, if you want to hear.”

“I’m more into guitar.”

“Yeah.” He sighed. “All the chicks are.”

People started coming in, and I had to move over a bit from time to time as Jackson put the cartons or packs on the counter, knowing what they wanted before they said, “Good morning, Jackson,” or “Hey, Jackson, what’s going on?” The cash register dinged, the buzzer announced with complete boredom whenever someone went in or out, and “Free Ride” played quietly on a radio on a shelf overhead. When it settled down again, I leaned on the counter and peered at his grid. Four more numbers filled in in-between customers.

“How do you do that?”

“You ask me every Sunday, Joanie. Why don’t you do it yourself?” He turned the paper towards me, but I pushed it back. I eyed Bailey, who’d given up trying to get my attention and was now watching the people pull up, get out, come in, and walk out again, their fingers already pulling a stick from a pack.

“You know,” he said, staring down at the grid, “drumming is a good way to get your aggression out.”

I looked at him, or rather, at the top of his head, black hair pulled back into a ponytail. “Do I seem like I need to get some aggression out?”

“Everybody does, sometimes.” He wrote in a 5. “You could come over sometime. You don’t need to know how to drum or anything.”

“Just bang on shit?” I winked and took another swallow of Pepsi. “Maybe we could be in a band.”

“Yeah… You’ll have to sing, though. I can’t sing for shit,” he said quietly.

I wondered at that. He’s got a real nice, low voice; the kind of voice that probably sounds really nice in a girl’s ear in the dark, in the middle of the night.

The yellow cap on the Pepsi bottle spun on and off, on and off, until I accidentally spun it right off onto the floor.

“Why doesn’t he come in? Your cousin.”

I bent down to retrieve the cap, hoping that my underwear didn’t show over the waistband of my pants. “Oh, he’s, uh, morally opposed to tobacco.”

“One of them anti-tobacco extremists, huh? Wants to ban smoking in public places, that kind of thing?”

“Oh, yeah. You don’t want to get him on the subject of smoking. ‘Cancer sticks,’ all that.” I tucked hair behind my ear and noticed how he’d trimmed his mustache above his lip so that it followed the pale pink line almost perfectly. I didn’t even realize I was staring until my eyes floated idly up and met his, dark brown and with a kind of intensity that made me definitely think there’s a time when a pair of drumsticks could come in handy.

I lost the cap to my Pepsi again.

“Joanie, you come by--”

A car door slammed, punctuating the tension, and we both started to speak, unnaturally fast.

“I’ve got a lot to do today, and--”

“-- every Sunday, and I been meaning to tell you something--”

“It’s just that, you know, my cousin--”

“I think you’re real pretty, Joanie.”

I didn’t need a car door to punctuate this conversation anymore; we stopped – stopped talking, stopped breathing. Full stop. I stared at the top of his head again; what I could see of his face--the bridge of his nose, the tops of his ears--was red. He was drilling a hole through the newspaper page with his pen, white-knuckled fingers slowly twisting and driving the point through the paper.

Outside, I heard a familiar voice. Frowning, I turned.

Bailey. Standing on the sidewalk. Talking to complete strangers.

Hugging them.

I left the Pepsi on the counter and raced outside.

“What do you think you’re doing?” said an understandably irate man, shoving Bailey away.

“Bailey! Get back in the car,” I said, pushing him to the still-open door. “I’m very sorry,” I said over my shoulder. “My cousin is a little…”

“I don’t care what he is; he can’t go around just grabbing people like that.” His wife asked him if he had his wallet, and he patted himself down. “I could press charges, you know.”

“Hey, Hector.” Jackson stood in the doorway to his shop. “Why don’t you come in and have a pack on me, all right?”

“Did you see what happened?” asked Hector, still patting himself down even though his wallet was in one hand. I bit my tongue trying not to say anything about someone touching themselves in public.

“Aw, I saw you getting a hug, that’s all. It’s nice to see some love in this world. Hey, hey, in fact,” said Jackson, reaching out both arms, “why don’t you come here and I’ll hug you?”

The two men made a pantomime of hugging-and-not-wanting-to-be-hugged, and Hector’s wife laughed, and I got behind the wheel of the Altima and, despite thinking that quietly slipping out of the parking lot would be a good idea, I hit the gas and squealed out.

After a solid five minutes of silence, Bailey said, “He wouldn’t shake my hand. Like they did in church. So I thought...”

I glared through the windshield.

“I was just being friendly.”

I yanked the car onto the shoulder and slammed on the brakes. “You,” I said, turning to face him, “don’t understand. You can’t just go around being… being friendly to people.”

“But I--”

“And didn’t I tell you to stay in the car?”

“But you were gone a long time!”

“Ten minutes, if that.”

“It felt like a long time,” he whispered, and I swear I thought he was going to cry. “I was lonely.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ.” I put my head on the steering wheel and took a deep breath.

“I thought husbands were supposed to stay with their wives.”

“You’re not my husband!”

“I am today.” He crossed his arms and pushed back, hard, against the seat. “You’re not being a good wife.”

“I’m not--”

“You won’t let me talk to anyone, you won’t let me go where I want to go, and you…” He stared at me accusingly. “You’re not friendly at all.”

“Oh, I’m friendly. In the right circumstances.” I put the car back into gear. “As for the rest, well, sometimes, that’s what it’s like, being a husband.”

“I don’t think it is.” He dropped his arms. “Why do you think I’m here?”

“Is this some sort of existential crisis? Because I gotta tell ya, you’re a dog, and you’re here to bark when someone comes to the door and stuff like that.”

“I don’t know what zen-stencil means, but this isn’t about my dog-self.”

“Your dog-self?”

“This is about you. I wouldn’t be here like this if you didn’t…” He struggled with the words. “I’m here because you need me.”

I gripped the steering wheel so hard that I knew there’d be grooves in the fleshy underside of my hand when I let go. I struggled with the words. My entire adult life had been about independence, taking care of myself. I didn’t need anyone. I certainly didn’t need this, a pseudo-husband in brown corduroy pants and brown shirt who licked cereal bits from his hands in church. And hugged random strangers. And if anyone needed anything, it was Bailey. Attention, food, mostly attention.

If this was what real husbands were like, I’d just pass on the whole marriage thing, thank you very much.

“Maybe,” I said calmly as I pulled into my driveway, “you’re here because you need something.”

He shrugged. “I don’t think so. Hey, can you teach me how to drive?”

“That is not a good idea.” The car door slammed behind me, but when I didn’t hear a second slam, I turned around. He was sliding into the driver’s seat, practically crackling with electric excitement.

“Out!” I yanked open the door, grabbing him by the shirt collar. “Out, out, out!”

He slunk away, pouting. “Jeez, it’s not like I got into the garbage or anything.”

*

There were pork chops in the freezer, for which I was thankful, as a trip to the grocery store with Bailey would’ve been an experience, to say the least. Between the hugging and the free food samples given out on Sunday afternoon, I imagined we would’ve been the talk of the town by the time we managed to check out – if we weren’t already. Belinda wasn’t only the pastor’s wife, she was also the surest conduit from something you wanted to keep quiet to town gossip.

I also had frozen vegetables, two pints of ice cream, and a bottle of wine, so really, there wasn’t any need for us to leave the house for the rest of the night.

He sat in front of the microwave, watching the chops go round and round, defrosting, his head moving slightly. When we finally got to frying them, I gave him the spatula with the express instructions not to move them around too much. I like a crispy brown edge on my chops. I put the vegetables in a pot with some water, poured some wine for myself and water for Bailey, and sat at the kitchen table. It was nice to have someone else doing the cooking, even if I had to watch and make sure it was done right. If I were going to have a husband – a real husband – someday, he’d have to be able to cook, or at least be amenable to taking direction.

Ho there. What was I thinking? The last time I’d thought about a wedding, I had a white towel wrapped around my skinny, flat-chested body and another on my head as a faux veil, and I’d taken one look in the mirror and decided that white wasn’t my color. Soon after, I’d taken to wearing black from head to toe. Although I traded in my teenage fashion sense for a less strict uniform of tight jeans and colorful shirt when I was twenty, I’d held firmly to the concept of living life without a ring on my finger.

Which did not mean a life without male companionship. In small, frenetic doses. And generally, as I got older, only on Friday and Saturday nights, as my single, working girl self generally got in bed by ten. With a mystery novel and DJ Mark on 89.7, playing underground rock from my college years. I liked my routine, just as much as I liked playing the party girl on the weekends, drinking beers and shooting tequila and shaking off a week’s worth of stress to the forgettable twanging of whatever country star was trying to pass for a rocker this year. If all that drinking and dancing led to a brief but fun few hours with a cowboy in a pick-up truck on some dusty, moon-bright road, that was even better.

Of course, having a husband meant sex on tap, essentially. Any night, not just weekends, especially if I’d run out of books to read.

I glanced at Bailey’s rear end, slightly plump beneath the brown corduroys. A jolting thought occurred about what all this husband business might properly entail, and I chugged the rest of my wine.

Bailey looked up from giving the pork chops an appreciative sniff.

“Don’t you think, as a husband, you should be mowing my lawn or fixing the cracks in the patio?” I said, moving my thoughts to the most mundane aspects of the position. “I mean, after dinner, of course.”

Bailey knit luxurious, thick brown brows. “Husbands can cook, wives can mow the lawn.” He cocked his head. “Do you hear that?”

I paused. Distant, not as loud as the roar of Jackson’s truck, came a rhythmic beat. I snapped up the window I’d crawled through the previous night and listened.

“What is that?”

“I’m not sure. I think… I think it’s Jackson. Playing the drums.”

“Drums,” said Bailey. He deepened the word to a growl. “Drums. Drums.”

I felt it too, an answering beat that began in my stomach and ended in my feet. Drums. Drums.

I looked down. Bailey’s hands were over mine on the sill. Snatching them away, I said, “Hey, husband, you’re burning dinner.”

While he scurried to flip the chops out of the pan and turn off the burners, I listened at the open window. It did sound like he was working on some anger issues. The thumps were hard, deliberate; a smashing meant to be less like music, more like a statement. I felt an uneasy recognition, and I pushed it away.

“Come on,” I said. “Put the food in a pan and let’s go over.”

Bailey dumped everything together into a baking dish, and I got the forks and covered the dish with foil. I grabbed the bottle of wine and some napkins, and we headed over.

The space between our houses is a no-man’s land of dust and dirt and scrub grass. The closer Bailey and I got, the louder Jackson’s drumming sounded. I timed my steps to match the beat. Every step grew into a stamp. By the time we got to his garage, it felt like we were storming the place.

“Pork chops!” shouted Bailey, holding up the dish. Jackson faltered for a moment, regained the beat with a nod to us, and worked up to a crescendo of crashing, using every drum around him, even the cymbals, as he sped faster and faster towards some climax I couldn’t even imagine. I stopped breathing, my heart rat-a-tat-tatting in my chest, just a moment behind him, unable to see where it would go, where it would end. His hair, free of its usual ponytail, flung around him. I couldn’t see his face. A stick broke, and he threw it away and stood, hitting a drum with the remaining stick.

In the middle of a stroke, he stopped. The stick was poised, inches from the skin.

He looked up. “Hey.”

“Hey,” we said. Bailey put the dish on a wooden cabinet with no door and a plywood top, ripped off the foil and started to eat.

Jackson came around the kit and walked over. Sweat gleamed lightly on his face as he pulled back his hair and tied it. I held up the wine.

“Thanks, but I got beer.” He took a cold one out of an ancient, rust-flecked fridge, tossed it to Bailey and took another for himself. Realizing I had no glass, I shrugged, screwed off the top, and took a swig of wine.

Along with assorted odd tools and street signs, there were lawn chairs hanging on the walls of the garage. He took a few down and we ate in a tight circle, the cabinet between us. By the end, as we gnawed on the bones, the tension had gone completely out of him. His shoulders relaxed, and he smiled and joked with a confused Bailey about cigarettes.

The sun went down across the street, turning the run-down modular that belonged to the reclusive Mr. Keyes purple. A couple of kids rode their bikes, tearing by as they sat up off the seats, their shadows long and fast. The wine bottle, finally empty as the sky turned black, got a sparkler, and Bailey jumped off his chair and barked at it. Jackson had polished off a half-dozen beers and just laughed at him, to my relief. I took my shoes off and tucked my feet under me. Jackson went inside and came back with a blanket that he tossed on my lap and a pouch.

“Watch,” he said to Bailey. And as he held flimsy paper between his fingers, he sprinkled in tobacco. Bailey sniffed the pouch, and I asked for a sniff, too. He held it under my nose, and I breathed deep the scent that I most associated with Jackson: pure, unfiltered tobacco. It was like standing in the smoke shop, only in the yellow light of the single bulb hanging over us in Jackson’s garage, it seemed more intimate. He showed Bailey how to put in a filter, and then he rolled. With quick, sure movements, he conjured a cigarette into in his hand.

“Go on,” he said. Bailey hesitated, and Jackson, misreading his uncertainty, said, “Hey, have you ever tried one? A good one?” When Bailey shook his head no, he said, “Then you should try it. Find out what it is you’re so dead-set against.”

He showed Bailey how to hold it next, then he lit it for him, instructing him as Bailey inhaled, choked, and bravely pressed on. A minute later, Bailey was taking peaceful puffs, a smile spreading over his face.

“This is awful! But also, I like it.”

I covered my mouth with my hand and laughed quietly. Jackson laughed too, rolling another for himself. He didn’t ask me if I wanted it, sitting down next to me and lighting it. He lifted his chin to blow out the smoke, and I watched the smoke pour upwards. The angle of his nose was like mine, dipping a little too low. He scratched at the tiny silver hoop in his ear, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. I smiled, then glanced away.

“So are you going to try the drums or what, Joanie?”

“What? Me? I don’t know anything about playing the drums.”

“Neither do I.”

“Sure you do. I just watched you. You’re… you’re great.”

“Never took a lesson in my life.”

“No?”

“Nope. Just started hitting them.” He stood. “Come on. Try it. Maybe you’ll like it.”

He touched my back as I got up, a little push towards the drums. Barefoot on the cold and gritty cement, I walked over, feeling less sure by the second.

“I don’t think so, Jackson. I mean, I can’t even keep the beat when I’m listening to the radio in the car.”

Firm fingers settled me down on the chair. “Then make your own beat. Do whatever you like.”

There was a box with more sticks, and he handed me two. I gave a drum a light rap. Then another.

“Come on, Joanie. Hit it.” He watched as I gave the top of one drum a nice crack. A couple more smacks. The sticks felt weird in my hand. I wanted to tap them together, so I did before trying out a few fast taps. I quickly lost the rhythm, faltered and stopped.

Jackson got behind me, bending over so he could hold both my hands. “Now hit it.”

We did. A little harder. He squeezed my hands. “More, Joanie.” Beer breath wafted over my face, and it wasn’t half-bad.

He let go as I began to take off, hitting drums at random and gradually getting into it. It made no sense to me; unlike Jackson’s playing, mine sounded like Ode to a Construction Site. Still, he and Bailey were nodding their heads, smoking down the last of their hand-rolled cigarettes. Bailey smoked his too far and dropped it, singeing his fingers. I was totally, totally enjoying myself.

All at once, the light came on over the door across the street. I stopped, and in the well of silence, a door whined open and Mr. Keyes shouted, “Knock that racket off! I’m trying to watch CSI!”

Jackson gave an amiable wave. “Hey, Paul. Thanks for the peppers. They were good. Real hot.”

Mr. Keyes started to say something, then shook his arm at us with admirable grumpiness and went back inside. The door slowly whined closed.

“You talk to him?” I said.

“Yeah, sure. He grows some nice poblanos and habaneros on his back porch. Sometimes he’s got tomatoes. They’re like, this big.” He made a circle with his hands. “You should talk to him. Go over and say hi.”

“You should,” said Bailey, and to Jackson, “She only shakes hands in church. But it’s okay to be friendly everywhere.”

“It sure is.”

“Hey, I’m friendly when the situation calls for it.”

Jackson had meandered over to the “rolling station,” as I thought of it, and he concentrated on sealing the tobacco pouch with deliberateness. “Like Saturday nights at Calico’s?”

I didn’t reply. For one, it was none of his business when or where I chose to be “friendly.” And second – well, it kind of made me feel weird to think of Jackson knowing my weekend agenda. Like, did he hear my car pull in before Sunday’s first light, the same way I heard his truck only hours later as he left for work?

“So what do you think of my playing?” I said, to change the subject and the general atmosphere, which had, in the space of a few seconds, altered dramatically. “Think I’ve got a career in a rock band?”

He sat down in a lawn chair, facing me, and stared hard. A cigarette burned its last in one hand. At last, he shook his head. “No, I don’t think you do.”

I hunched over a bit, the drumsticks between my knees. “But you still think I’m pretty?”

He nodded. “Yep.”

In the door of the garage, a sparkler in each hand, Bailey lifted his arms to the night and shouted, “Rock and roll!” The “roll” trailed off into a soft howl, which a coyote somewhere out in the desert returned with a yip. He cocked his head, turned at last to look at me, and I waved at him.

“Go on,” I said. “Get.”

Jackson said nothing as Bailey dropped the sparklers and took off at a vigorous trot, disappearing behind Mr. Keyes’s trailer, and that was the last I saw of the husband.

*

I must be getting old. When I woke up the next morning – late for work – there was a man in my bed, and an exhausted spaniel curled up outside the front door. This was not a state of affairs I’d have tolerated in years past. I put the dog inside, and when I left, Jackson was making them both scrambled eggs.

He didn’t bring me orange juice; he didn’t ask what we were going to do today. My shower was not running at the perfect temperature. And it turns out that Jackson is not especially friendly at eight a.m.

And I don’t expect that he’ll be sitting next to me at church next Sunday – a godsend, really, when you consider all the looks I’ll be getting. First a bizarre cousin claiming to be my husband, next a tobacco-selling heathen with an earring.

But all things considered, it’s not a bad place to be in. “Free Ride” came on the radio, and I rolled down the window and sniffed the air. By the time I got to work, I almost, kind of, a little bit, had the beat.
First published at The Corner Club Press (now defunct). 

Wow, a DD! Thank you to the suggester, to everyone who gives this one a chance and reads it (it's a bit long, I know), and to DA itself. I love this community. 
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Daily Deviation

Given 2014-12-14
The Husband by rsbohn is flat-out good storytelling.  It grabs you from the beginning and holds you til the end with it's humor and realistic conversations. ( Suggested by xlntwtch and Featured by inknalcohol )
:iconsirendrake:
SirenDrake Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2016
Very creative.  Fun.  Touching.  Well written.
Reply
:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2016
Thank you very much!
Reply
:iconsirendrake:
SirenDrake Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2016
Thank you for sharing.
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:iconhopeburnsblue:
hopeburnsblue Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2015  Professional Writer
This made me laugh so much! Love it! Congrats on the DD!
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2015
Thanks so much!
Reply
:iconstarlightcomet:
StarlightComet Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
This is fantastic! 
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2014
Thank you! And for the fave as well! :)
Reply
:iconthemaideninblack:
TheMaidenInBlack Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2014
PS: This will be featured on theWrittenRevolution 's profile, to hopefully give it some more exposure.
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:iconthemaideninblack:
TheMaidenInBlack Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2014
This is such an amazing story. :O Congratulations on the DD! :heart:
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2014
Thanks! 

And it's great that it will be featured as well. Thank you much for that. 
Reply
:iconthemaideninblack:
TheMaidenInBlack Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2014
:heart: it is our pleasure. This was really beautiful.
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:iconakrasiel:
akrasiel Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014   General Artist
I absolutely loved this from start to finish. This may be my favourite piece of prose fiction I've ever read on dA. Unique concept, engaging style, and relatable characters. Awesome work, and congrats on the very well-deserved DD. :clap:
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014
Thank you so much, for this welcome comment and for the fave :)
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:iconbondgirl59:
bondgirl59 Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
That was great! I used to write all the time, but haven't for quite a while now...I feel inspired to start again...Thank you!
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014
I certainly, whole-heartedly, positively encourage you to sit in front of a blank page today and see what happens :)
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:iconauthorzoo:
AuthorZoo Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2014  Professional Artist
Awesome! Humorous but a little bit sad too. You have a great writing voice and its a style I imagine being the writing for an indie film at canns or something!
Reply
:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014
Now that is extraordinary praise! Thank you!
Reply
:iconauthorzoo:
AuthorZoo Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014  Professional Artist
Lol! Anytime, it's worth passing on those little thoughts, they can make big ones grow
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:iconlittlelines:
littlelines Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014  Professional Photographer
I love this story!!!  Really great :)  You have great characters and a lovely plot; I'd like to see another story with these same characters.

“This is awful! But also, I like it.”  - so true! :P
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014
I don't know right now what other story they might have to tell, but I never say never :) 

Thank you so much!
Reply
:iconthe-lighted-soul:
The-Lighted-Soul Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
WOW
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014
Thanks :)
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:iconsmudgelab:
smudgelab Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Very talented writing. It definitely drew me in from the very beginning.
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
Thank you so much!
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:iconshadowisstillalive:
ShadowIsStillAlive Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Aww, nice story. I like Bailey.
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
He is such a loving creature. And probably more wise than me, LOL!
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:iconshadowisstillalive:
ShadowIsStillAlive Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
:)
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:iconthegalleryofeve:
TheGalleryOfEve Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Congratulations on your well-deserved DD!!! :iconflyingheartsplz::iconlainloveplz::iconflyingheartsplz: :clap::clap::clap:
I’m very happy for you!!! :iconloveloveplz: :tighthug:
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
Thanks!
Reply
:iconthegalleryofeve:
TheGalleryOfEve Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
:iconflyingheartsplz::iconsweethugplz::iconflyingheartsplz:
Reply
:icongryffgirl:
Gryffgirl Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014
A delightful read!  I love the main character/narrator.  You have a great flow of inner dialogue and the story held my interest from the beginning to end.  BTW, nothing here to warrant the censor bar--share it with everyone! Oh, and congratulations on your DD! :clap:
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
I was on the fence about the mature content warning. Every now and then, you get someone who takes offense to something. But I believe I will delete it :)

Thank you very much! 

My cat's name is Gryff, btw :) :) :)
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:icongryffgirl:
Gryffgirl Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
Great name for a cat! :icongryphonplz:
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:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Congrats on the DD, i really love the way it unfolds! :dalove:
Have a nice day! :love: by CookiemagiK
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
I hope your day is wonderful, lintu! Thank you!
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:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
My pleasure, thank you! Cuddling Practice by TheHugClub
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:iconeremitik:
Eremitik Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014
What a fun and enjoyable read. I didnt want it to end and found myself pleased and relieved each time I scrolled down to reveal more story.
I seldom see pieces here that are both well written and original, where I am drawn into the story so quickly.

I think I connected to Bailey the most, as he embodied the characteristics that I often wish I had. If I could fave this twice, I would.
Congratulations on the much deserved DD- this piece exemplifies the quality that should accompany each lit DD award.
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
Aww, Bailey is open-hearted and loving. I certainly wish I could be more like him. :)
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:iconjoeyliverwurst:
JoeyLiverwurst Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
As dismissive as the narrator was of him at times, glad to know she did not speak for you.  :D

Also, last night I had an itch between my fingers and thought of you.
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014
Ooh, better keep an eye on that... :o (Eek) 
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:iconjoeyliverwurst:
JoeyLiverwurst Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
So far, I haven't gouged out anybody's eyeballs.
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:iconeremitik:
Eremitik Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2014
He embraces life experiences with such eager openness that its hard not be inspired by him. Children are like that but unfortunately, we lose that eagerness too soon. 
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:iconayeaye12:
AyeAye12 Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Student Writer
Love this so much. Really great story, great message too. Incredibly deserving of a DD :clap:
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:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
Thank you!
Reply
:iconmouselemur:
Mouselemur Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
A very well-deserved DD :clap:
It was a tad longer than I'd expected, but they were right in saying the storyline grabbed me from the beginning. It's original, and the twist isn't entirely what I had in mind would happen when I started reading it, but all works really wel together. Amazing :D
Reply
:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
Thank you, and I'm glad you kept reading despite the length, dear Mouselemur!
Reply
:iconmouselemur:
Mouselemur Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
:hug:
Reply
:iconbluelioneyes:
BlueLionEyes Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I am literally speechless right now. This story was brilliant, I got sucked in right away and just kept on reading. I usually don't read prose here on dA, (I write prose but I read poetry), let alone a story as long as this one, but wow. This is probably the best piece of prose I have ever read on dA to date. :clap:

My words cannot express how much I loved this. :love:

Congrats on the DD, you definitely deserved it!~ :heart:
Reply
:iconrsbohn:
rsbohn Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2014
Poetry often escapes me. I feel as if I'm missing something that everyone else sees. So if you have an appreciation for it, that's great. It's funny that you write prose but read poetry :)

Thank you very much for your effusive commenting. It certainly made my day :) 
Reply
:iconbluelioneyes:
BlueLionEyes Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Some people can't quite relate poetry to their lives, which I feel needs to be there for them to like it. Most of the poetry I fave and read relates to my life in one way or another, or I draw inspiration from it for my prose. :D

I post a lot of poetry here on dA, but I feel more more accomplished and professional with my prose. I have journals and journals galore filled with stories :P

And you're most certainly welcome! It is nice to receive a comment that is longer than just 'I like it! :)' :giggle:
Reply
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