Frankie’s eyes opened the same way they did every morning: slowly and without recognition of the last thing he did or said the night before. His yellowed eyes were always surprised to see what he was wearing. Sometimes it was his undershirt and boxer shorts, sometimes the same pair of jeans he had worn the past two days, but it was most shocking when they awoke to discover he had nothing on at all. This particular morning Frankie woke up to greet the day in his pants, shirt and even the cap he had on when he had finally passed out the night before. After he knew he was awake, he stayed still in bed for a while so he could get his thoughts together. He remembered Dorothy telling him he needed to slow it down a bit at which time he thinks he filled his whiskey glass all the way up to the brim just because she was nagging him about his alcohol consumption, again. He was a grown man for God’s sake and he didn’t need his old lady putting restrictions on him. That nagging she did, it would be the death of him that was for sure.
He turned his head to see the bedside table. His cigarettes were on right by a tall empty glass with greasy fingerprints all over the sides. It’s a wonder it hadn’t slipped right through his fingers. That chicken Dorothy fried up last night could have caused somebody to have a heart attack just trying to pick it up. He remembered asking her if she was trying to kill him with this very one meal. Loaded with grease by God! It slid all over his plate and even leaked over on toward his mashed potatoes. Real ones, not those fake flakes. Frankie insisted Dorothy always make them from scratch. Sure it was probably a little more work for her, but there was just something about eating dried flakes mixed with milk and water that turned his stomach upside down. But that white gravy she made with the drippings from the chicken was almost like desert poured over the potatoes. Frankie drug his roll all around and up through them then lapped it all up like a starving dog. At least she could make good white cream gravy. He’d give her that. After 37 years of marriage, the nagging old hag could cook up the best damn gravy he’d ever had.
The thought of the gravy made his stomach growl and he hoped maybe there was a little left over for his eggs this morning. Oh, and biscuits sure would be good too. After he got up, he’d tell Dorothy he wanted his breakfast and quick, as in now. She could pop some of those canned biscuits in the oven. Since he was so hungry he wouldn’t make her do them from scratch this time.
Frankie touched his face. Apparently he’d missed a couple of days of shaving because it felt pretty rough. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d shaved. He decided after that good big breakfast, he’d do a little trimming on himself.
Frankie finally raised himself up, slid over to the side, then put his feet into the house shoes he kept by the bed. He shuffled on into the bathroom and looked out the window at the other mobile homes while he went pee. Dorothy’s house was right behind his and odds were that’s where she was this morning. Given the fact Frankie still had all his clothes on, he had probably gotten a little messed up last night and when he did that, Dorothy always slept in her fancy house. And hell, that was fine with him. At least when she was over there she wasn’t saying things like “Frankie this” and “Frankie that” and “Frankie no!” Grown men didn’t need it, didn’t want, they would rather live without it.
His stomach growled again.
“Hell, I’ll just walk over there and get her,” he mumbled as he shuffled back out of the bathroom not bothering to flush. Dorothy could take care of the toilet later. After he got outside the dew that made the grass wet also made his slippers and toes wet after only a few feet into the 30 foot trek over to Dorothy’s.
“Damn dew!” Frankie started trying to avoid the really wet parts as he tippy toed over.
After he finally got there, he pulled at the door. Locked and no he didn’t have a damn key.
He banged on the door.
“Dorothy? Hey Dorothy, I’m hungry and need some breakfast, you in there?” He kept banging.
Then he heard the phone ringing back at his trailer.
“Oh, hellfire, that damn phone!” Frankie spryly made it back over to his place, ran in and grabbed the handset. He looked down at his wet shoes and the mess they had made on the floor getting over there.
“There better be some kind of damn emergency on the other end of this phone, HELLO!”
“Frankie, what’s the matter? You sound winded!”
“Dorothy, where in the hell are you calling me from? I am needing me some damn breakfast and I was over at your trailer banging on the door when I heard the phone ring over here so I had to run back. I got my shoes all wet from that dew on the grass and you’re not even there!”
“Frankie, it’s Wednesday and I always help Cristy with the kids on Wednesday mornings so she can get her Weight Watchers meeting in before work. I just dropped them off at school and I’m headed back home right now. Did I hear you say something about an emergency when you picked up?”
“Well, now that you asked, the emergency is that I’m hungry Dorothy! A man’s got to have a breakfast in the morning and as it stands, I’ve got nothing but wet shoes and a dirty floor!”
“I can pick something up for you at the McDonalds on my way back.”
“I don’t want that fast food crap Dorothy, I want biscuits and gravy and eggs! That’s what men eat first thing in the morning – not that processed rubbery food shit they sell there at overpriced prices!”
Frankie stretched the phone cord over to the refrigerator, grabbed a beer then shut the door with his foot. He twisted the top off hoping to hell she wouldn’t hear it and start in on him again. He was a retired man damn it, he could drink what he wanted to drink thank you very much.
“I’m pulling in right now. I’m going to stop by my place real quick then I’ll be over to make you something.”
“I don’t want something Dorothy, I want,”
“I know Frankie, eggs, biscuits and gravy, but the biscuits are in my refrigerator. You could make things go faster by starting the oven for me.”
“I don’t know nothin’ about starting the damn oven, Dorothy, and I’m not going to learn about it now! I just know that’s woman’s work and I’m not no woman. I’m just a hungry man whose starting to get a little pissed off at the situation we’ve got here!”
“Okay, Frankie, don’t start the day like this. Please. In 30 minutes you’ll have food.”
“You sound like that Dominos Pizza ad – 30 minutes or less – and I prefer the less, thank you very much! I’m starving to death!”
Frankie hung up on her, swallowed half his beer while he looked out the window. He would slam the other half when he saw her walking over. So every Wednesday as long as Cristy was meeting with the fat club, he would have to endure starvation. If that worthless son-in-law of his would pull his weight, he could take the kids to school instead of Dorothy. But no, he had to be at that joke of a garage he said he owned first thing in the morning. Well, Frankie thought, I’ve got to eat first thing.
Dorothy parked in front of her place, as she had been doing more and more lately. She stayed over there more than with Frankie. Everything was nicely decorated too with little lacey curtains and glass breakables everywhere. She kept her nursing diploma right there in the living room for everybody to see. He guessed she wanted people to think she was smarter than him but that wasn’t the case at all. He knew who the real brains belonged to in the family and they resided in the man whose stomach was about to eat itself up if it didn’t get some breakfast.
Dorothy opened the door and started walking over. Frankie drank the other half of the beer then hid the bottle back in the refrigerator behind the other little brown soldiers.
“Hide him boys.”
They agreed to protect their own.
Dorothy opened the door to see Frankie propped up against the counter. The first thing she did was turn the oven onto 425 then got the baking pan out she liked to cook her biscuits in. She banged the can on the counter, sprayed the pan, then started lining them up.
“This is real easy Frankie. You could do this yourself on Wednesdays if you don’t want to wait for me to get back.”
She glanced at Frankie then back to her work.
“Really, now? So, since Bill can’t help with his own kids, I’m supposed to learn how to cook? I don’t think so Dorothy.”
“Frankie, you know Bill’s got to open the garage every morning before 7:00 so people can drop their cars off for repair. That’s how he supports his family and puts food on the table. And he really is doing good. He’s about to hire on another mechanic and everybody in town knows that his place is THE place to go if they have car trouble. Plus, I like taking the kids to school. I get to see their friends and talk to some of their mom’s. This morning, it was so cute, Katie ran down and then she said,”
Frankie grabbed Dorothy’s arm hard and pulled her over toward him.
“Don’t sass me woman. If I want to say Bill’s a freaking freak, well then I can! Hell, I can run outside yelling it to God and everybody! You don’t tell me he can’t help with his kids one morning a week! He could have that lazy friend of his unlock the damn garage! You’re too busy to be doing his stuff! Your job is to be here cooking up my breakfast in the morning time! It’s almost 9:00 and I’m still standing here being corrected by you Dorothy, and that ain’t right in no body’s book!”
Spit flew from his mouth onto Dorothy’s face. She closed her eyes then slowly opened them again.
She knew the song and dance.
“You’re right Frankie.”
He released some of the pressure on her arm. She felt the bruises already coloring the loose skin on her arm. The ones from last month had just finally faded away enough so she could wear sleeveless shirts again but now she’d have to cover up for awhile longer, lest people talk.
“That’s right. I am right, always remember that Dorothy. And because of your sass, I’m going to have me a beer while I wait for my late breakfast and I don’t want to hear any lip from you about it. If you hadn’t gotten me all worked up like this I wouldn’t be so thirsty. But now, I am very, very thirsty Dorothy, so freaking thirsty I can’t believe it.”
Frankie reached in, grabbed one of the soldiers on the front line, downed half of it right in front of her, then turned around and went out to the front porch where he had a folding chair propped up against the side of the trailer. He sat his beer down, unfolded the aluminum, green and white striped rotting throne, picked his bottle back up then sat down. His porch faced the road in front of the neighborhood where the cars drove by entirely too fast. Frankie thought the damn cops ought to be out there doing something about it but they were too busy harassing innocent people for drinking and discussing their personal marital business in their own homes. Frankie didn’t know which trailer had taken it upon themselves to keep calling the cops out to his place but he was just about sick of it. A man and woman ought to be able to hash things out without the po-po showing up threatening to arrest people, specifically him. It had been a couple of months since the last incident and Frankie hoped it would be a few years more before they decided to pay him another visit.
There went another car. The speed limit was 45 but that red Ford Mustang was going at least 60 mph. Going to kill somebody, that’s exactly what was going to happen, all because the cops couldn’t fit it into their busy schedule to protect law abiding citizens. Probably off eating donuts and drinking coffee or whatever it was they did during the day.
The wind was blowing the big tree in the yard enough to muffle the sniffles he could hear from inside. She was crying again. He hadn’t really meant to grab her so hard but the woman was going to have to learn to keep her mouth shut. Hell, she was old enough to know better by now! How much teaching she was going to need, he did not know. Somebody with a framed diploma right on their living room wall ought to finally be able to get it. Don’t sass. Period. End of story.
Dorothy walked up to the screen door.
“Frankie, it’s ready.”
“Good. I was about to waste away out here.”
Frankie walked in, grabbed another beer, then sat down at the table. There was only one plate set out.
“Ain’t you going to eat too?”
Frankie had already filled his mouth with scrambled eggs and a few pieces fell back down onto the plate. He would scoop those up later with his biscuit.
“I don’t think I’m very hungry.”
“You don’t think you’re hungry? You either know you’re hungry or you know you’re not, so which is it?”
“I know I’m not. Just put your plate in the sink and I’ll get to it later.”
“I don’t want no dirty dishes sitting in the sink until you feel like wandering over here to clean up. Sit down Dorothy, keep me company while I eat, then you can wash the dishes before you leave again.”
Dorothy sighed as she pulled out one of the kitchen chairs. The metal scraped along the vinyl floor while Frankie kept chewing. He had just stuck an entire biscuit dripping with gravy inside his mouth and a little bit dripped down his chin. Dorothy wanted to wipe it off but knew to try to ignore it. Frankie wouldn’t want her wiping on his face. She watched him chew even though she didn’t want to. It must have been a week since he’d last shaved and the whiskers were growing into a beard. The white hair on his face was dirty because it had probably been a week since he’d showered too. He smelt like old sweat and alcohol.
Frankie felt her staring at him.
“What are you looking at?”
Dorothy snapped out of her stare as well as her sneer.
“Nothing,” pause, “honey.”
“Well, nothing my ass, you were looking at me! And you kind of had an ugly look on your face while you were doing it. Am I not looking good enough for you this morning dear lady?”
“You look fine. I was just thinking about something else. I’m sorry, Frankie, I didn’t mean to have an ugly look on my face.”
“Well you did, and it was uglier than usual. Now, how was my baby Cristy this morning?”
“I don’t know why she thinks she needs to lose weight. I think she looks fine just like she is! I bet that retarded husband of hers is making her starve herself. You know? And that ain’t right! Cristy has always been a big girl and he knew that when they married. Now he’s a wanting to go off and change her. I don’t see where he’s getting off telling her to lose weight when he’s a loser and always will be. And I don’t think they have ‘loser meetings’ for him to go to even if he had the desire to straighten up. And bless her heart working in the basement of the court house. The basement Dorothy! My baby walks down those steps everyday to a windowless tax office because Bill can’t make enough money to support the family. That’s probably why she’s gotten even fatter – it’s because she’s depressed! She’s sad she married a loser who sends her to the dungeon everyday! Hell, I can understand that. Her and those other girls having to steal other people’s hard earned money on behalf of the government just to make ends meet at their own taxable households, hell that would make any body fat. I bet that sweet little thing just sits in the dark break room and eats and eats feeling so bad about how she earns her paycheck. And she probably thinks about Jay and Katie and how she wishes she could be home when they get out of school. God knows I wish she was at home so they could get off the bus at her house instead of here. Those kids are so damn loud!”
“They’re just excited to be out of school.”
“Excited? They act like wild animals. Their father should be more of a disciplinarian. That’s what needs to happen with that. I bet he don’t even know the problem much less the solution! He’s too busy talking to the grease monkeys he’s got working for him to be a father or decent husband.”
“Bill’s business really is growing.”
“It won’t last, I swear it! He may have a few extra jobs going right now, but as soon as people figure out he don’t know a carburetor from a gas tank, word will get around town and then there goes his reputation. It’ll happen, I’m telling you that right now. And I’m just going to sit back and watch the show Dorothy. Of course I’ll help poor Cristy out, catch her when she falls, but I won’t do a damn thing for Bill other than kick him when he’s down.”
Frankie sopped up the last bit of gravy with his 6th biscuit, swallowed the last of his beer, leaned back rubbing his stomach, and burped. He looked very satisfied despite the demise he had just envisioned for his one and only child.
“Frankie, I really do enjoy taking the kids on Wednesdays to school. If I have you something made that you can just put in the microwave, could I keep doing it?”
Frankie looked down at his plate again, picked up his fork and moved it around on the empty plate. He looked at it wishing it would tell him what to say. But nothing came. The damn plate said nothing.
“Okay Dorothy. We can do this for a while, but if it gets to be too much of a hassle, I’m going to put a stop to it, you hear me?”
Dorothy smiled for the first time since she’d been home.
“Thank you Frankie. I’ll make sure you’ve got something good to eat. Katie and Jay are growing up so fast I want to see them all I can and meet their friends and teachers. I think it’s good for all of us.”
Dorothy hopped up, washed Frankie’s plate off with dish soap then put it on the draining rack. She wiped her hands on the dish towel buttoned to the cabinet drawer handle and turned around to find Frankie standing right behind her. He leaned in close to her. She was afraid her clothes were going to smell like him now. She would have to change as soon as she got back to her trailer.
Frankie put his arms around her, and let them roam down toward her bottom. He rubbed around and around and around. Dorothy stood there hoping it would be over soon so she could get out into the clean air. He had started drinking early today and was already in a bad mood. She didn’t want to hang around much.
“How about me and you go back to my room? It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten down and dirty. What do you say Dorothy?”
He looked at her face, forgave her for being bad earlier, as he leaned down for a big kiss.
Dorothy felt sick when he put his mouth on hers. His dry, chapped lips scratched her and his face made red marks on her cheek when he rubbed it against her. His breath smelt like weeks of rotting food.
“I, um Frankie, I can’t right now.”
She could feel him getting excited against her leg.
“You can’t, why?” He kissed her ear.
“I’ve got a doctor’s appointment for my cholesterol. Dr. Bates will charge me whether I go or not and I really need to get my prescription changed. I’m sorry.”
Dorothy put her hands on his chest and patted him.
“I’m supposed to be there in 10 minutes.”
“Okay, okay, but when you get back maybe we could take a nap or something, you know like we used to? I’m feeling all happy from that breakfast you finally made me.”
“We’ll see Frankie, but right now, I’ve got to run.”
“I’ll be waitin’ right here for ya darlin’! I ain’t going nowhere but here!”
Dorothy walked out of the house, into the fresh air, and thanked God for planting the lie that saved her this time in her head. Miracles happen in mysterious ways. And that’s the God’s honest truth.