Since Can’t Remember When ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The service ended and everybody stood up. Jewell Catlett took hold of her son’s arm; she would cling to him until they were in the car. She was always more dependent on him in the presence of other people. As for her son, he tried to smile, but he was, as usual, uncomfortable in the church crowd. He only wanted to be free of the press of people and go home.
Outside the church door, Jewell and her son both shook the reverend’s hand, as was the custom. The reverend held the son’s hand (his name was Bramley) longer than necessary.
“So glad to see you here today with your dear mother,” the reverend said sincerely.
“Thanks,” Bramley said, grimacing.
“Such a lovely sermon, reverend,” Jewell said. She beamed up at him as if she was looking at a top of a skyscraper. He was a good foot-and-a-half taller than she was.
“I hope it touched your heart,” the reverend.
“You may be sure of that,” Jewell said.
All the people inside the church were now outside on the little patch of lawn. They were talking and laughing and having a fine time, seemingly reluctant to leave. Jewell stopped to talk to a couple of her old friends, Madge Overstreet and Opal Peek. Bramley stood patiently for a minute-and-a-half and listened to them talk and then moved slightly away so that Jewell had no other choice but to go along, since she was hanging onto his arm.
“Why are you in such as damn hurry?” she hissed when she was away from her friends.
“Wasn’t the service long enough?” he asked. “I want to go home.”
“I like to visit with my friends that I don’t see very often.”
“You can call them on the phone any time.”
They were working their way through the crowd and were closer to the edge, getting nearer their car, when they encountered Verna Vermilion and her son Vincent. They were both inveterate talkers.
“Jewell Catlett!” Verna Vermilion shrieked. “I haven’t seen you since I can’t remember when! How the hell are you?”
“About as well as might be expected,” Jewell said. “I soldier on the best I can.”
They made a show of kissing each other on the cheek. Verna transferred some of her face powder to the side of Jewell’s head.
Verna took hold of Vincent’s arm and pulled him forward. “You remember my son Vincent, don’t you?”
“Of course I do!” Jewell said. “How are you, Vincent?”
Vincent took Jewell’s hand and kissed it. “Never better, darling!”
“You remember my son Bramley, of course!” Jewell said. “Bramley, come and say hello!”
Bramley had been hanging back, hoping to avoid being drawn into a discussion with the Vermilions. Smiling wanly, he shook Verna’s hand and then Vincent’s.
“Bramley and I go way back,” Vincent said. “When we were younger, we were very good friends!”
“That’s not the way I remember it,” Bramley said.
“I think we ought to rekindle our friendship,” Vincent said. “There are so few people like us in this town!”
“You know. Unmarried bachelors of a certain age living with their mothers.”
“It’s just a temporary arrangement for me,” Bramley said. “Living with my mother, I mean. And technically I’m not a bachelor because I used to be married.”
“Well, everybody makes mistakes,” Vincent said. “That’s why there’s such a thing as divorce. Hah-hah-hah!”
“It’s been grand having Bramley living at home again,” Jewell said. “He’s such a big help. He does all the shopping and he takes me for my doctor’s appointments. I gave up driving a few years ago. I just found it too nerve-wracking!”
Vincent took hold of Bramley’s arm above the elbow. “Do you remember that Fourth of July party at Mastodon Point all those years ago? It was such a wild time! You can’t have forgotten it! I don’t think I’ll forget it as long as I live!”
“I’ve never been to Mastodon Point,” Bramley said. “I think you have me confused with somebody else.”
“No, now, you can’t fool me, you little dickens! I know it was you! I wouldn’t forget a thing like that!”
“I’ve never been to a Fourth of July party at Mastodon Point in my life.”
“All right! All right! I promise never to mention it again if you’ll think about joining our Boys’ Club.”
“We have a discussion group that meets on alternating Fridays. We call it the Boys’ Club. No ladies allowed.”
“I don’t think so, Vincent.”
“We have a few drinks and a lot of laughs. Very informal. You can wear your swimsuit if you want because sometimes we meet at the pool. And we talk about books and all sorts of things we like. Haven’t you ever wanted to talk about a book you read or a movie you saw, and there just isn’t anybody to talk to about it?”
“Not really, Vincent.”
Jewell and Verna had been listening to this conversation with interest. Jewell said, “I think that sounds like a wonderful idea. I’m always telling Bramley he doesn’t get out enough. Doesn’t meet any new people.”
“We have some really interesting fellows in the group, Bramley. I think it would be just the kind of thing you’d like.”
“What makes you think I’d like what you like, Vincent? What makes you think I’m like you at all.”
“All right! No reason to get defensive! It’s just something I’d like you to think about. If you decide to join, you can call me any time.”
“I don’t have to think about it.”
“Vincent and I were just going to Pepe’s for lunch,” Verna said. “Why don’t the two of you come along? We’re make it a foursome.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea!” Jewell said.
“They have a delightful salmon salad with little slivers of lemon,” Vincent said.
“I don’t think so,” Bramley said.
“Oh, Bramley!” Jewell said. “Why not?”
“I have a pounding headache and I need to get out of the sun. I want only to go home.”
“Do you feel sick at all?”
“I feel very sick!”
Verna and Jewell exchanged a quick hug goodbye. “Call me sometime soon, dear!” Verna said. “We’ll plan a luncheon date!”
“Not without me!” Vincent said.
Bramley turned and, practically pulling Jewell along at his side, walked away. In Bramley’s haste, Jewell step into a tiny indentation in the ground and fell on her face, landing partly on the grass and partly on the sidewalk. Both her shoes flew off in different directions.
There was a gasp from those who saw her fall; several people ran forward to help her up. After they stood her upright, a couple of the ladies brushed the dead grass off her dress. They wanted to call an ambulance, but she insisted she was all right, despite her paleness and the blood running down her face.
“I only want my son to take me home,” she said pitifully.
Bramley put his arm around her waist and helped her to the car. As he was driving away, she turned to him and said, “You did that on purpose!”
“Did what on purpose?”
“Made me fall!”
“Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know. You tell me!”
“You’re being ridiculous, mother. I’m going to drive you to the emergency room. You took a hard fall. You need to see a doctor.”
“I don’t want to see a doctor. I only want this day to be over.”
“All right. I can’t make you see a doctor if you don’t want to.”
“Why were you so rude to those people?”
“Verna and her son Vincent.”
“I don’t think I was rude. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Why wouldn’t you admit that you and Vincent were good friends in your younger days and that you used to pal around together all the time? The two of you were practically inseparable.”
“That’s not true, mother. We were in the same class at school. We were acquaintances, that’s all. I never liked Vincent at all.”
When they got home, she went into her bedroom and closed the door. She didn’t come out for the rest of the day, not even to eat dinner. He went to her door to check on her at bedtime. He knew she was all right because he heard the subdued blat of her television.
He looked up Vincent’s number in the phone book. At ten-thirty, when the house was quiet as a tomb, a dog barking off in the distance somewhere, he went to the phone and called the number. When Vincent answered on the third ring, he hung up.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp