A Song for Enid Pound
Frank stuck his hand out the window as he drove and let the wind move it. It looked like a fish swimming against a strong current. The stillness of the town reminded him of that movie The Omega Man, of Charlton Heston, the last man on earth—or so he thought. This early, everything downtown was closed up except Sunrise Diner and the Jiffy, two places that did not draw huge crowds anyway; Confederate Park, in the center of downtown, looked like a cemetery. Frank stopped at the Jiffy and bought a twelve-pack of Busch.
He liked the peace and quiet of the mornings, and Saturday morning was usually the quietest and most peaceful of all. Most folks were still sleeping off hangovers, or just taking their time, savoring the long morning.
As he drove and drank, his mind drifted back to Ben, who he’d run into early Friday morning. Frank had brought Ben on as deputy two years before his own retirement, at his wife’s recommendation. A good boy, Delores had said. He just needed something to care about. (Ben was some degree of cousin to Delores.) Frank hired him without question, mostly because Delores was, by then, already quite sick, and Frank’s anguish and guilt and helplessness had turned him into a pure devotee to his dying wife, something he had failed to be when she was well. Frank’s life for those six months had a singular purpose: do whatever Delores asked of him. Ben became a direct beneficiary of this single-mindedness. And sure as shit, she’d been right; he’d become a passionate and dedicated officer of the law. He just never did quit being an asshole.
The first case Ben had mentioned involved an old drunk named Kermit, who they both knew, and he’d told Frank the story for amusement. Kermit had robbed Bub’s liquor store, armed with only his hand in a brown bag, and made out with almost three hundred dollars. He took the money to the IGA three blocks over and bought two bottles of Night Train and drank himself into a stupor, passing out around back. When he woke, he walked back over to Bub’s and tried to buy some Black & Milds and a bottle of Wild Irish Rose, completely oblivious to his earlier illicit transaction. But no one wanted to press charges, not the cashier or the store owner. “When he ain’t making poor decisions he’s one of my best customers,” said Bub.
“This ain’t no goddamned Mayberry,” said Ben. “Folks is got to be held accountable. Ain’t that right, Mr. Frank?”
Frank said he reckoned. When he was sheriff he’d always been more concerned with the weight of a punishment, and whether or not it outweighed the crime. Fairness, in his eyes, was most important, and he’d considered himself a fair person.
“One more thing,” said Ben. He propped his arm up on the door of Frank’s pickup. “Could you keep an eye peeled for Enid Pound?” Turned out she’d reported her husband, Walter, missing a few days earlier and Ben wanted to talk to her. A charred body had been found in an old orange grove in Durdin, a biker town two counties south of Sahwoklee, and there was reason to believe it was Walter, but they needed Enid to take a look to know for sure.
“Don’t expect me to go hunting for her,” said Frank.
“No, sir,” said Ben. He stepped away from the truck and cast the line of a phantom fishing rod. “Been a while since we got our lines wet.”
Eventually, and against his better judgment, Frank ended up in front of the old house on Avenue G, the place where Frank and Delores had spent the bulk of their married life together. One of the front windows had a softball-sized hole in it now, and a few loose shingles hung down over the edge of the roof. The grass in the front yard was the color of bad hay and the only green was the five or six dense clumps of chickweed and clover here and there.
The tall, far-reaching oak that twisted out from the center of the yard, dormant now for winter but still hung with gray-blue Spanish moss, was in dire need of trimming. Delores’ once impressive knockout roses, which ran along the face of the house on either side of the front porch, had died out finally in the last hard freeze and now looked like bramble. It was hard on Frank, seeing the place like this, everything dead or dying. But he came anyway, because if he tried hard he could see her.
He watched as they went about the small daily things that, on good days, they had quietly relished. Frank saw himself crouched down in front of the lawn mower, priming the engine, and he saw Delores on tiptoes, arched across one of her rose bushes, clippers in hand, reaching for a stray branch. Now Delores walked over to a young calico, named Fritz, who often wandered onto their property, and coaxed it toward her with a cupped hand. He saw them both at twilight, sitting on the porch steps, surveying the results of their labor and care, he with the rare beer in hand and she with a tall glass of sun tea, front door open behind them, and Tammy Wynette, Delores’ favorite, on the record player, whining beautifully about her no-good man. A moment like this could be a whole afternoon for Frank.
Finally, a terse yowl pierced the bubble of his recollection.
He looked up the road and saw Enid Pound picking herself up off the road and climbing back onto her pathetic-looking beach cruiser bicycle. Well I’ll be damned, thought Frank. This is a providential development. Enid touched her knee and winced, looked down at it. She squinted in Frank’s direction and shrugged, as if to say, “So what?” She got poised to pedal away and Frank held up his beer, like a tease, and took a slow sip of it. Enid saw and pedaled toward him.
Still seated on the saddle of her bike, she propped her forearm on the door of Frank’s truck. Frank didn’t give her time to ask. He handed her a beer.
She put her feet down on the ground, straddling the top tube of the bike, cracked the tab on the beer and took a thirsty drink of it.
“You’re welcome,” said Frank.
Enid licked her lips and examined the can.
“You don’t go in for the high-dollar shit, do you?”
Enid, mantis-thin and wiry, looked much older than her thirty-five years. She had a small, sharp face, and her mouth, devoid of teeth, collapsed in on itself, like a turtle’s. Her complexion was sun worn, and despite the lingering coolness in the air, she wore only a stained white tank top and very short cut-off jeans with an uncountable number of white strings dangling off the ends. Thin pink flip-flops cradled her filthy, narrow feet. At the ball of her shoulder a blurry red rose hovered over the name “Walter” in India ink.
Frank drank from his lukewarm beer. “What you up to, besides falling off that contraption you got there?” He wanted to see if she knew anything about Walter. If she did, she’d say so. She was not one to miss out on an opportunity for some pity or charity.
“Headed over to Fuzzy’s. Walter ain’t been home for days. Figure he might be there. Good place to start looking anyhow. Not that I really give a rat’s ass where he is.” She glanced westward, in the direction of Fuzzy’s, as if she could see it from where she stood, then looked back at Frank. She drained the beer can of its contents and chucked it into the bed of Frank’s truck. “Fucker owes me fifty dollars.”
“I’d rather not say.” She smiled at Frank. “But I’ll tell you if you give me another one of them cheap-ass beers.”
Frank reached over and got her one.
She cracked the tab and took a long drink of it.
“Well,” said Frank.
“They getting warm, ain’t they?”
“You know what they say, beggars can’t be choosers.”
“You spot me till I find him?”
“Spot you what?”
“The fifty. Wunst I find him I’ll pay you back.” She winked at Frank.
“You never did tell me why he owes you in the first place.”
“We did veer off track, didn’t we?” Enid drained the last bit of beer and chucked the can in the back of Frank’s trunk. It kissed a few of the other empties on impact.
“It seems that way.”
“Let’s just say he lost a bet, and leave it at that.”
“That beer was worth more of an explanation than that.”
“No it wasn’t.”
Frank looked over her sorry bike. It had an unintentional camouflage of about six different colors of paint on it: probably an indication of how far removed the bike was from its original and only legitimate owner. In the rare small areas where there was no paint at all, red-brown rust had set in. The seat was scuffed to the stuffing on both sides. The handlebars had no grips of any kind and the tires were bald. He knew that if he gave her any money he’d never see it again.
“Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you a ride,” said Frank. “Step away from the door and I’ll throw that hunk a shit in the back.”
Fuzzy’s Bar was nothing more than a skirtless doublewide trailer with a wide front deck made of pressure-treated lumber. Frank had often thought that in the event of a category two or higher hurricane the deck would be the only thing left standing. It was late morning and the sun, now in full blaze, had brought the temperature up into the mid-seventies.
A white and brown pit-bull sat on its haunches next to the right corner of the deck, chained to a post. It perked up as Frank pulled his truck into the parking lot.
One other vehicle was in the lot, a white F-150 with tinted windows that Frank knew belonged to Roof Maguire, one of the bartenders. Frank got out and unloaded Enid’s bike. As he got close to the deck, the dog started prancing and wagging its nub of a tail. He leaned the bike against the deck, and the dog gave a clipped bark. Enid grabbed a metal bowl that was turned over in the mud. The dog watched eagerly, licking its muzzle, as she filled the bowl with water from a nearby spigot. It watched her walk the bowl back and began lapping at the fresh water before she even had a chance to set the bowl down.
“Surprised the damn thing ain’t dead yet. Don’t nobody look after it.” She shook her head at the dog and walked up the wooden steps.
“Guess I’ll go in and have one with you,” said Frank. “Ain’t in a hurry to rush off nowheres.”
Enid made a beeline for the restroom and Frank walked straight to the bar. Roof Maguire—tall, lean, and dark-haired—had tended bar at Fuzzy’s for nearly twenty years. Fuzzy Waid, the owner, had never in all that time found a reason to fire him, and Roof had never found a reason to quit. Roof’s mother, a full-blooded Creek from southwest Alabama, had been knifed to death in a bar on the outskirts of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, many years ago. Frank remembered it well because the man who’d been convicted of killing her was from a small town in Sahwoklee County, his county, with the improbable name of Antarctica. Roof was probably not a bad sort, thought Frank, but he was quiet and solitary and, consequently, hard to get a fix on.
“What you doing here this time of day, Sheriff?” said Roof in his peculiar half-Indian drawl.
“Throat’s a little scratchy.”
Roof nodded his head toward the ladies room. “What about your present company? You slumming it or something?”
“Be nice, Roof.”
Frank walked carefully across the barroom to a table in the corner.
Enid came out of the ladies’ room and scanned the area. She saw Frank and walked toward the table.
“First one’s on me,” said Frank. Enid cleared her throat and sat down.
Frank looked around, taking in details, an old cop’s habit. The place had a cave-like quality, and smelled of stale beer and old cigarette smoke. It was, Frank thought, what a bar ought to be: a dark, forgiving respite from the harsh brightness of the outside world.
“Guess Walter ain’t here,” said Enid.
“Nope.” Frank took a swig of beer.
“Guess he could be just about anywhere.” She glanced toward the front door as if at any second he might walk in, and then looked down at her beer. She turned her brown, too-old face toward the desperate blink and flicker of the jukebox on the other side of the bar. “Why don’t you play us a song, Sheriff?”
“Ain’t really in the mood for music.” Frank motioned toward Roof. When Roof looked up, Frank held up two fingers. Roof nodded. Now that Delores was gone, Frank did not listen to music. Every bit of music in the old house, every CD, tape and record, had been Delores’. She’d loved old country, especially the ladies, singing about how hard it was to be a woman, how hard it was to love their two-timing men. He didn’t even listen to music when he was driving around anymore; only talk radio, if anything, and you couldn’t really call what he did listening. Instead, he liked to ride with the windows down if it was not too hot or too cold and listen to the sounds outside. Getting rid of all that music was one of the hardest things he did after she died.
Frank drank from his glass and then held it out in front of his face, examining it like some oddity he’d just come across. “Never realized. They got some tee-niny drinking glasses here.”
Enid put down her nearly-empty glass and flopped against the back of her chair. She glared at Frank. She didn’t speak. Roof walked up and sat two glasses down and grabbed the empty ones.
“Roof,” said Frank, “how come these here glasses are so small?”
“They’re not small, sheriff. You’ve just got really big hands.” Roof walked off.
Enid picked up her fresh beer and took a small sip and set it back on the table. She reached into the top of her shirt and pulled out a crumpled pack of no-name cigarettes. She dug one out and then fished her finger around in the cellophane wrapper until she brought out a nearly empty book of matches. She paused. “Let me ask you something.”
“Shoot,” said Frank.
“The fuck you doing here with me, Sheriff? This must be rock-fucking-bottom for you.” Her voice was harried sounding, like it had had to fight its way up and out of some deep, craggy place inside her.
Well, thought Frank, she might be sorry, but she ain’t stupid.
“Just bored, I guess,” he said, trying to keep a casual tone. “By the way, ain’t sheriff no more. Wish everybody’d quit calling me that.”
“Might help if you stopped acting like one.” She lit the cigarette and took a long, hard drag of it, an act that seemed to enlist the whole bottom third of her small face.
“No, you’re right.” He took a sip of his beer. “Change is hard, I guess.” He took another sip and continued his slanted line of inquiry. “Speaking a change, what you still doing with that Walter, anyhow? Bet you could have left him a hundred different times for a hundred different reasons.”
“Hell, Frank! I don’t know.” She held out her hands, palms up, in an oddly girlish display of sarcasm. “Who else is there?”
“All right, settle down,” said Frank. He didn’t want to scare her off.
After a while Enid got a buzzed, dreamy look about her and stared off in the direction of the jukebox again. “You sure you don’t want to play us a song, Frank? I’d like to hear something sad.”
“I ain’t playing no goddamn music,” he said flatly.
She sighed and waved a hand at Frank. She looked over at the jukebox and watched the lights dance for a moment. She chuckled, like she’d thought of something mildly humorous, and turned to Frank. “I do hate him, though… I really do. I slam hate the look of him,” she said, a dim look on her face. “Hates me, too. Might say we was made to hate each other. Might say we love to hate each other.” She chuckled again and brought the cigarette to her lips. She exhaled. “Maybe it’s just outta habit. You start doing something, and it’s easy enough, so you just keep doing it. It don’t have to be right. It’s just got to be easy.”
“Sounds like a real fairytale you got there, Enid.” Frank leaned back and crossed his legs. “Easy is something, I guess.” He had a hard time imagining anything being “easy” in relation to Walter Pound. Enid herself didn’t look like she’d had an easy go of anything in life. “That’s a real nice philosophy you got there, Enid, but it don’t tell you where Walter is right now, does it?” Frank watched Roof walk up to the entrance, open the door, stick his head out into the sunlight, and retreat back inside. As he walked back behind the bar, he muttered something that sounded like, “Stupid dog.”
Enid put her full attention on Frank’s eyes, stared right into them. “You know something you ain’t telling me, Frank? They got Walter locked up or something?” She put her cigarette out in the ashtray.
“What you asking me for? Done told you I ain’t sheriff no more.” Frank didn’t want to say anything about what Ben had told him. He didn’t think it was his place to, not anymore. After all, he was just Frank now. Not Sheriff. Not husband. Just Frank. Just nobody.
“Hell, who the fuck cares,” she said. She crossed her legs and looked around the room. Her elbows were on the table now and her shoulders curved forward. The front of her tank top hung down, allowing Frank, if he’d wanted one, an easy glimpse of the limp, sagging things within. He thought about Enid in relation to Delores. They were like two separate species almost. He took a moment to let his mind drift in vague thoughts of this nature. The sheer variety of humanity, he thought.
Enid leaned in toward the middle of the table. “I got a idea, Sheriff.”
“What’s that?” said Frank, pulling his mind back into the moment.
“It’s just since you ain’t sheriff no more—like you said.” She looked flirtatiously at Frank. “Why don’t you let me take you in the back and tighten you up?” She licked her loose, wrinkled top lip. “I’ll even give you a discount.”
Good God, thought Frank. What a woman. He considered all the times he’d taken her in for prostitution or solicitation. And here she was, no idea where her husband was, and not skipping a goddamn beat.
“That’s real tempting, Enid,” he finally said. “But I’m gonna pass.”
“When’s the last time you was with a woman, Frank?” She put her hand on his. “Delores been gone a good long while now…” She started caressing his hand.
He didn’t like the way “Delores” sounded coming off of Enid’s limp, disfigured lips. He slowly removed his hand from under hers.
She sighed and started for another cigarette. Just then the room brightened up and the front-door hinges screamed. In the doorway stood a paunchy, stooped man in his early sixties. Enid and Frank took the time to watch him walk to the bar and take a seat.
She turned back to Frank and stuck the bent cigarette between her lips and lit it. “Ain’t Walter,” said Enid. She slowly tapped her fingertips against the table.
“Say he was locked up, Enid. Say something terrible had happened to Walter. Wouldn’t say you looked too damn worried one way or the other.” Frank was curious for himself now. He wanted to understand her attitude. He wanted to know how a person could be so unaffected in the face of something like this. She had no idea where he was or what kind of condition he was in.
She took a drag of the cigarette and exhaled to the side. “Guess I can go about being worried without making a big fuss, Sheriff. It’s all those years of practice paying off.” She coughed and something rattled inside her. She looked intently at Frank. “You sure you don’t need to tell me something?”
Frank shook his head and looked at his beer. “Naw.”
Enid seemed to lose interest in her talk with Frank. She looked over her shoulder at the man at the bar. She put her smoke out and stood up. “This here’s run its course, ain’t it, Mr. Frank?”
“I guess it has,” said Frank.
Without saying another word to Frank, Enid turned and walked up to the man at the bar and sat down next to him.
Frank wasn’t sure why he didn’t tell Enid about what Ben had said, about the body, probably Walter’s, waiting to be identified. Maybe he sympathized with her in some way. He figured that when she did find out, if the body was Walter’s, she’d be sad—a little—and then she’d move on. She wouldn’t dwell on it. She wouldn’t let his death stop her from living her life, as meager a life as it was. Frank reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He unfolded it and stood it up on the table so that the picture of Delores was facing him. She was standing in the yard of the house on Avenue G, shoeless, her hands on her hips and her head cocked to the side, a big, beautiful smile on her face. A picture of her happy and healthy—before infidelity and sickness had mauled them out of her. He sat and drank and looked at her for a while. Delores, three years gone now, and he still had no idea how to go about the living of his life.
He saw Enid get up and walk halfway to the bathroom. She stopped and glanced back at her companion at the bar before turning and walking the rest of the way to the bathroom. The man got up and followed her.
Son of a bitch, thought Frank.
“You gonna let that go on in here?” Frank shouted at Roof.
“Let what?” said Roof. “I ain’t seen nothing.” Roof smiled and stuck his hand in his pocket.
After about fifteen minutes, the man reappeared and took up his seat at the bar. Shortly after, Enid came out and walked over to the jukebox. She looked at Frank and put a dollar bill in the slot on the jukebox and picked her songs. While she was selecting her last song, the first one came on. It was Willie Nelson singing, “Hello Walls.”
Enid walked backward a few steps, looking at Frank, winked, then turned around and headed back to her spot next to the paunchy old man, where a drink waited for her. She did not sit down. She stood and rocked back and forth to the music.
Frank looked down at Delores with that teasing, sexy smile on her face. He decided he’d slowly finish his beer and leave, but after Willie finished up the next song that came on was Tammy Wynette singing, “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” a song that Frank knew he could not sit through.
He drained his beer, put his wallet back in his pocket, slowly stood up and walked to the other side of the small table and picked up the chair Enid had sat in. He carried it across the room and held it up over his head and brought the seat of it down on top of the jukebox. Glass shattered and flew. The lights on the jukebox blinked erratically. He swung the chair down onto the jukebox two more times until, finally, Tammy purred, “…daddy said goodbye,” and the whole thing slurred to a stop.