Guardian Angels – CROSSIN(G)ENRES
Stories of Life and Death in the Heartland: Volume 3 of Prairie Death Tales
by Courtland Wade*
Dee Dee Scotland was perky, freckled and irrepressible, a freshman at Jesse Chisholm University. Technically, she said, she was a virgin: back in middle school, a boy had climbed on top of her at a party and “poked around on her” until she said “Yuck, Larry, get off of me!”
A notice in her dorm said the first chapter of The National Organization For Women in Northwest Oklahoma had opened in Dine City. She remembered her father ranting about “women’s libbers” who “burned their bras.” She thought it might be fun to attend a meeting, so she stuffed an old bra and some matches in her purse just in case, and went.
Most of the women were middle-aged. The Equal Rights Amendment was still marginally viable; volunteers to distribute leaflets were needed. Across the room sat a slim woman with dark hair. Every time Dee Dee looked her way, the woman was staring at her, and Dee Dee blushed.
Her name was Rita, she was 30, divorced and worked as a loan officer in a bank. After they’d finished hanging door brochures for the ERA, Rita said, “I need a drink.”
When Dee Dee said “Me, too!” Rita laughed. “Honey, are you even old enough to drink?” Not wanting to appear unsophisticated, Dee Dee ordered a daiquiri. Rita invited her over. Dee Dee had to study, she said, but the next week she accepted.
They sat on the sofa. Dee Dee made a face when she tasted the margaritas Rita had made. “You don’t have to drink it if you don’t want to,” Rita said. What Dee Dee wanted, suddenly and with overwhelming urgency, was to kiss Rita, and impulsively, that’s exactly what she did. Describing a kiss as “electric” may be a cliché but it would be hard to call the jolt that shot down Dee Dee’s spine and moistly tickled her vagina as anything else.
Later, when she asked Rita whether she believed in love at first sight, Rita played an old Beatles song for her. “Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time,” John Lennon sang.
Rita found an apartment, a duplex in a row of identical condos; it had two bedrooms, small ones, but two bathrooms. One of the bedrooms was Dee Dee’s study; they slept in the other. Both of them fancied lingerie, and both howled with laughter at the crotchless panties Rita brought home. Neither could cook worth a damn, so they ate takeout and on weekends made a hilarious game of their failed attempts at gourmet cuisine. One evening Rita came home to find dirty dishes in the sink. “What happens to naughty little girls?” she demanded, adding an occasional new spice to already blissful lovemaking.
At first they saw little of the guy next door. One day he had hobbled out with his cane, pushing a ratty lawn chair and chain-smoking. When Dee Dee saw his coffee can ashtray full, she emptied and filled it with sand.
One hot day, she took a break from studying and stepped out. “Hey,” she said, “Want some lemonade?”
“A beer would be better,” the man said.
Dee Dee laughed. He gave her some money. “Get me a carton of Salem Lites, too, wouldja?”
His name was Jim Kastelhoff. His third wife had recently divorced him, and he had Multiple Sclerosis. Eventually he gave up the lawn chair and came out front in his wheelchair.
They got his groceries for him: cigarettes, beer and frozen dinners. Once a week they went over and aired out his smelly abode and tidied things up. Once he asked them “You two are lezzies, aren’t you?”
Rita stared, Dee Dee laughed. “Goddam waste,” he said, shaking his head. But he was smiling.
Jim rarely had visitors. He had a brother nearby who took care of him, he said, but they never saw him. A young woman appeared briefly. She was his youngest daughter by his first marriage, he said. She needed an abortion. He’d written her a check and after an hour or so, she left.
Dee Dee saw him crying one day. It was his birthday. He had not received a single call or card, not from his two daughters, his adopted son by his 3rd marriage, nor his ex-wives, not from anybody. Rita brought home a cake, and he washed down a few bites with beer.
Eventually, Jim couldn’t get out of bed by himself. He gave Rita a key, and the two of them went over every morning to get him in his wheelchair. It took both of them. He’d put on weight and his legs were swollen, dead, heavy as iron. After that he could manage by himself until bedtime.
A neurologist in Oklahoma City agreed to see him. Rita drove him down, got his chair out, wheeled him in. The medical news was not good. On the way home, for some reason, they began discussing religion.
Jim didn’t believe in God, he said. Or Jesus. Or anything supernatural. But he believed in Guardian Angels, because he had once been in a traffic accident so horrific that how he’d survived without a scratch had to have been the work of his own, personal angel.
The U-Haul backed up to Jim’s door turned out to be his son-in-Iaw’s. He was going to live with his first wife, oldest daughter and her husband in Virginia, and he would call “the girls,” as he called them, as soon as he got settled.
There was one call, abruptly cut off. When Rita called back, some woman said “Jim’s not well. He isn’t allowed to talk on the phone anymore.”
A brief obit appeared in the Dine city paper. It didn’t say how or when Jim had died, or anything about a funeral or a burial. Dee Dee called the number they had, but no one answered.
Two weeks later an announcement of a memorial service for him was published. Rita and Dee Dee went.
A few of Jim’s aunts and uncles were there, a couple of guys he had worked with. Jim’s brother gave a little speech, then walked around, shaking hands.
He got to Rita and Dee Dee. “You lived next door to him, right? Say, you know Jim had a valuable coin collection. Any idea what happened to it? He wanted me to have it.”
Rita stared at him.
“You son of a bitch,” she said, slowly. “You sorry, sorry, son of a bitch “