Lewis (part three)
There had been a time when Ray, bringing a space heater of Mary Anne’s that he’d thought Mrs. Lewis might use more, had got no answer to his knock. He had taken a little stroll. He had meant to try pounding the kitchen door. But you get curious, passing by an old-time privy, wondering what it looks like inside…
She was at his back, saying, “Ray, what you want?”
It had been normal after that, her thanking him. Him showing her what the buttons did.
“At least the power’s on.” Tamera’s voice was coming from the kitchen. “I’m gonna boil some water. Lindy, get in here! I got a chore for you.”
Joshua’s spouse came into the living room, holding a dust mop. Ray hadn’t meant to stand wandering like that, ruminating. He put his hand on the tortoiseshell knob.
“You folks come down the hill if you need anything.”
By Christmastime, the side of the camper trailer blocked the outhouse mostly from sight. Ray had seen his neighbor carry up a number of things from the Spaulding barn—bricks and lumber, three windows…all broken, but enough good glass to fix up a whole one. Joshua always, after that first day, coming and going. The van came and went, Tamera and the kids, into town and back. Ray, bringing his ladder, helped with one or two jobs. They had fit a pipe to the chimney for a new woodstove; after the first deep freeze, Ray had knocked wasps’ nests from under the eaves, while Joshua put up gutters.
They had allowed him to look in on Mrs. Lewis.
Tamera had her sitting up in a chair, and when the bedroom door swung back, she was slumped there, asleep. But she lifted her head, and gave Ray a black-eyed stare.
Less to eat turkey and more for the new satellite dish, Ray joined the family at Thanksgiving, not seeing her this time. The bedroom door was closed. If nobody got to use that room, it made for a snug house. Out here was a sleeper-sofa pushed opposite the old sofa, shelves with toys and kids’ books, an ironing board, a beanbag chair, the TV and the new woodstove.
Ray had the impression, from the pride and delight Lindy and Eric took in folding out and repacking the sleeper, that it was their own bed.
“How’s the old lady?” he bent down to whisper.
That brought giggles.
Today he would spend the twenty-five dollars Tamera had given him for the Sam’s Club card, his daughter’s gift. Worth fifty…but what did he have to buy himself for fifty dollars? He rode to town in the van, these days, when Tamera did her shopping. He had bought stockings, prefilled with candy and crayons, and a couple jigsaw puzzles they had at the grocery store, for the kids. They had a lot of stuff at the grocery Ray hadn’t expected. Tee shirts and socks, Christian books, decorations, toasters, pots and pans. Everything he was used to buying was at the crossroads gas station he could ride his bike to.
The postman had asked, handing Ray a red envelope sealed with a foil sticker: “Old Mrs. Lewis got renters?”
Ray lied, a little. He wasn’t sure why. “Relatives. She’s still living up there, but they’re taking care of her.”
It was dusk, and they were getting ready to drive into town, up and down the hills, to look at the Christmas lights. Ray had been sent out back with the keys. Tamera was hunting coats; Joshua, his wallet. The van sat chugging, almost failing, coming steady again, heater going full blast. There was a moment, and the white winter sun hadn’t vanished. Ray shuffled up to the privy door. A fly was buzzing here, even in the cold. The crack was a little wider.
Nothing to stop him pushing it open.
But something did. Some sense that he would not be wiser, for knowing more about his new neighbors than was good.
He went back, and got in the death seat, next to the driver’s.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)