May 04, 2015

A Life Preserver
by Niles Reddick (short, PG-13)
Cover image.
Image credit: Sand Pilarski. More info.

Niles Reddick's novel "Lead Me Home" was a national finalist for a ForeWord Award, a finalist in the Georgia Author of the Year award in the fiction category, and a nominee for an IPPY award. He works for the University of Memphis at Lambuth in Jackson, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife Michelle, two children, Audrey and Nicholas.

~~~

Louise crouched on the bathroom floor with the phone in her hand. She felt dizzy, sick to her stomach, and could feel her heart beat in her head. She hoped she'd taken her medication because she didn't remember and was worried about another stroke.

"Miss Louise, you there? Miss Louise, YOU ALL RIGHT?"

"I'm here. Can you send someone to help me get him up?"

"Get who up?"

"Fred, my husband. He's drunk and slipped out of the chair. I can't get him up."

"You know he's drunk?"

"Yeah, he came home that way after fishing with Jesus."

"Jesus?"

"Well, I call him Jesus; his real name is Jésûs."

"And he drove home?"

"Yeah."

"I can dispatch the deputies to help you, Miss Louise."

"Tell them not to shoot him."

"Why would they shoot him?"

"He's got his guns and they're loaded."

"Did he try to shoot you?"

"He wouldn't shoot me. He just out of his mind drunk -- catawampus."

"Miss Louise, did he hurt you?"

"No, he just put the gun to my head, kept calling me his first wife's name, calling me a bitch. He does that sometimes, if he's drunk, but he don't mean nothing by it. I came into the bathroom where he couldn't hear me call."

"Miss, Louise, now you listen to me. Don't you go in there. I've got deputies on the way. Can you lock that door?"

"Ain't no need. He can't get up."

"It'd make me feel better if you locked it."

"Okay." Louise reached up and turned the lock.

"Are your doors open to your house?"

"Front door's shut, but it's not locked. Lock's busted. I told Fred to fix it, but he said ain't nobody coming in our house unless they want to meet their maker."

"Now, Louise, you stay on the line and I'll be right back."

While the 911 operator was dispatching deputies and warning them to go in armed, Louise thought about her mama and daddy. Her mama had died of cancer in her eighties about ten years before and her daddy had died at least twenty-five years before. He'd helped her move out the first two times she got divorced, but there wasn't anyone now to help her. Her son had his own life in another state. Louise whimpered and wondered if maybe she'd be better off if he did shoot her, she could go on to the light and see her parents, her aunts and uncles, and grandparents. His shooting her would just speed up her departure a bit. She thought about Fred, so drunk he didn't know his own name let alone hers, and how she really didn't love him any more, but it's all she had. They were like two people on a sinking ship, holding on to the life preservers waiting for a rescue that wasn't coming.

"Ms. Louise, you still there?"

"I'm holding on."

"What's all that racket I hear?"

"He's in there, hollering."

"What's he saying? He gettin' up?"

"No, he can't. He's got cancer. Eat up with it. He won't live much longer. I really ought to go see about him."

"No ma'am. You stay put."

"I hear sirens in the distance."

"They're coming. They'll be right there."

"Okay." Louise heard the sirens turn off and knew they were outside in her yard, and she could see bits of blue and red lights through the yellow daisy curtains she'd bought at the dollar store to match the shower curtain. "They're here," she said.

"You just stay on the line. They know you're in the bathroom."

Louise could hear them coming in. "Mr. Moore, put down your weapons!"

"Fuck you!" said Fred. "I'll fuckin' kill you mother fuckers. I ain't scared."

The two officers kicked the door so hard, the hollow door busted. Fred was laying on his side, a pistol pointing at the wall. The officers were on him in seconds, kicking the loaded pistol from his hand and pushing the shotgun across the linoleum.

"Kill me, you mother fuckers. You bunch of pussies." They slapped cuffs on him, lifted him to the vinyl recliner and noticed he'd wet himself.

"Miss Louise?"

Louise thanked the dispatcher and turned off the phone and went to the living room. "Fred, you all right?"

"Who the fuck're you, bitch? Kill that bitch. She's broke in to my house."

"Come on Fred," the officer said. "You're under arrest." He read him his Miranda rights, Louise was crying, and Fred kept screaming, "You can't arrest me, motherfuckers. I ain't done nothing."

"Fred, Fred," Louise called as they took him to the vehicle, but he was too busy still cursing the deputies to hear and still too drunk to know Louise. Of course, it made the front page of the paper, and Louise didn't have money to post bail, so Fred stayed in jail for a month until the judge let him go, provided family or friends kept his weapons, and with the understanding that Fred stop drinking and go to counseling. He'd forgiven Louise for calling the law to him. Fred knew that Louise was as much his life preserver and she was his and they held each other close, not because they were in love, but because they didn't want to be alone.

Near the end, he became more comfortable, thanks to morphine. Louise sold the place once Fred was planted and moved into an assisted living community near her son, where she smoked on the screened-in porch, played Bingo with her new women friends, and got picked up by her son's family once a week on Sunday after church to eat the buffet at the Western Sizzlin. Louise loved the chocolate fountain and took a long nap once she was back at Shady Pines because of her high blood sugar. Once in a while, she thought of Fred, but like old TV shows like Gilligan's Island, she couldn't figure out what her interest had been.


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Article © Niles Reddick. All rights reserved.


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