Marry in haste, repent in leisure. ~Southern Proverb
Lenny drove to his neighborhood bar with the windows wide open and Johnny Cash blaring on the radio, but he was oblivious to both. He was thinking about the phone conversation he’d just had with his ten-year-old daughter Carrie. It made him crazy the way her mother’s family called her “Butterbean.” What kind of a name was that for a child? But today he was crazy for a whole new reason. Jealousy and anger tore through him faster than small-town gossip. His daughter had spilled everything, and just when he thought he’d finally gotten a break, she said, “Mama kinda had a boyfriend but not anymore.” And: “Mama was kidnapped, but she’s back now.”
He pulled into the parking lot of the bar thinking, Boyfriend? We literally aren’t even divorced yet and she had a boyfriend? He pounded his fist against the steering wheel. He knew she’d been cheating on him. And now she’d done it right in front of their daughter. No doubt about it, he was going to have to do something about this Martha Maye situation.
Pulling into a primo spot at the front door, he looked up at the old rusty sign that had been over the entrance for years: TEETOTALERS AIN’T WELCOME HERE. He winced at the loud screech announcing his car door opening, followed by the same screech when he slammed it shut. He glanced around the parking lot and saw the same cars that were there every night. His feet crunched on the gravel as he walked, and he remembered waking up three months earlier and slowly realizing his wife and daughter weren’t there.
The familiar bacon and coffee smells were gone. Cartoons weren’t blaring on the TV. His wife’s clothes were missing, along with his daughter’s, her teddy bear, and her dolls. The bookshelves were dotted with bare spots where Martha Maye’s favorite knickknacks and paddywhacks had been. And then he saw the note on the kitchen table that said she was divorcing him and that he shouldn’t try to find them. The realization that she’d left him in the middle of the night and taken their daughter seared through him like a red-hot poker.
Pretty stealthy for a woman who could literally be outwitted by a jar of marshmallow fluff. If she thinks she can literally run out on me and then humiliate me by going out with some scumbag before we’re even divorced, she has another think coming. I’ll show her. I’ll put on the charm and win her back.
Country music blasted as he opened the door, turned his head, and spit in disgust. She literally can’t be let her out by herself. Just look where it got her: kidnapped and almost killed.
His daughter had told him they’d been staying at his mother-in-law’s house. He should have figured. He’d always known Louetta to be a meddlesome old biddy. She lied to me when I called looking for my wife and daughter. She aided and abetted a woman leaving her husband. She allowed nefarious suitors to court my wife. Both of them must have literally stopped to think and forgotten how to start again.
And then there was his no-account, good-for-nothing brother who, upon learning of the impending divorce, wanted to know if Lenny would mind if he dated Martha Maye. Boy, I’m gonna slap you so hard, when you quit rolling your clothes’ll literally be outta style. My baby brother and my wife. Yeah. Over my dead body. How could he even ask such a thing? Both of them were nothing but a bunch of backstabbing traitors.
He hitched up his jeans under his overflowing beer belly, swaggered into the bar, and ordered a Colt 45. The jukebox was playing, “I Want a Beer as Cold as My Ex-Wife’s Heart,” and he thought that was pretty darn perfect for his life at the moment.
Looking around the room, he spotted a hot blonde giving him the eye. He sucked in his gut—a move that didn’t yield the desired result—and looked back, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. She brazenly smiled back at him.
How dare Martha Maye leave me? I can literally get any woman I want. And two on Saturday.
A football star in high school, homecoming king, and voted best looking his senior year, Lenny was used to women coming onto him, not leaving him. He put the bottle to his lips and downed half of it.
That woman was literally lucky to have me. Sure, I’ve put on a little weight, but only in the gut. I practically have to fight women off with a stick. Looking around the room again, he saw female eyes on him from several tables in the room. Yessirree, sir, I still got it.
Lenny started to lift his bottle to his mouth again but halted midway when two men sat down heavily on barstools on either side of him; they looked capable of eating their young. Both men were muscular and tough. One was as tall as a telephone pole. One was as short as a gnat’s tail. The taller man had black eyes under bushy eyebrows, and the other man wore aviator sunglasses on a flat, wide nose. He pushed the glasses to the top of his head to give Lenny his best glare.
“We’ve been looking all over Hell and half of Georgia for you, boy.” Eyebrows scooted his stool in close, crowding Lenny.
“Shoot.” Lenny’s hand automatically moved to his ankle holster, checking for his knife. “That don’t surprise me none. You literally couldn’t find oil with a dipstick.”
“Solly says he’s had about enough of you,” Eyebrows said.
“Yeah,” Mr. Gnat joined in, “he’s had about enough of you.”
Lenny snorted. “You can tell Solly to blow it out his butt,” Lenny said boldly, more boldly than he felt. He shelled a peanut, popped it in his mouth, and threw the shell into Mr. Gnat’s face.
“Solly says not to let you off the hook this time.”
“Yeah, not to let you off the hook.” Mr. Gnat’s left eye twitched.
“What’s with Mr. Echo over here?” Lenny pointed his thumb at the short man.
The telephone pole ignored him and said, “Solly says you’ve screwed him over for the last time.”
“Yeah, the last time.”
“I didn’t screw him over the first time.” Lenny drained his bottle. He felt like his mouth was full of cotton. “Solly wouldn’t tell the truth to save his life from dying.” Lenny tried to stand up, but the men had him penned in.
“You can’t talk about Solly that way.”
“Yeah, not that way,” Mr. Gnat echoed.
Eyebrows looked behind Lenny to his friend. “This boy has the mental agility of a soap dish, Joey.”
“Yeah, a soap dish.”
Lenny leaned in real close to Joey, who said, “Whatta you think you’re doing?”
“Just wondered if I got close enough if I could literally hear the ocean.”
“Boy, what you need is an education,” Eyebrows said.
“Yeah, an edj-ee-cation.” Gnat strung the word out.
The men grabbed Lenny’s arms, lifting him off his stool. The song on the jukebox had ended, and Lenny heard the crunch of peanut shells as the men propelled him toward the door.
“Boys, y’all best not be messing with me,” Lenny snapped, trying to break free.
“That’s mighty big talk for a punk like you.” They stepped aside as someone came through the door, and then they threw Lenny through it. He landed on the ground but sprang right back to his feet, his dukes up, ready to fight.
Eyebrows was fast. He knocked Lenny to the ground again with a left hook. Joey followed up with two kicks to the ribs.
Lenny pulled himself into a ball, both to protect himself from further harm and to have better access to his ankle holster. But Joey saw the knife and kicked it away as Lenny drew it from his pants leg.
The men both grabbed Lenny by an arm again, pulling him upright, and Eyebrows punched him in the gut, causing him to double over. They double-teamed him and left him on the ground bloody and beaten, as cars whizzed past on the road in front of the bar.
Right before Lenny passed out, he thought: Tomorrow I’ll pack up and head for Goose Pimple Junction to reclaim what’s rightfully mine. I’ll literally be a devoted husband and father and get my family back. I ain’t gonna let that woman leave me. Nobody leaves Lenny Applewhite.