Sam tired of window shopping quickly. There wasn't much to look at in the quaint mall in the sleepy town, but it was the best the area had to offer. He'd lived here for more than a year, "imported in", as the locals called it, as a computer tech for a resort hotel. Laura, his wife, had settled in nicely, loving the small-town feel. They had made friends, enjoyed the few great restaurants, and, should the itch get unbearable, could drive the 60 miles to the nearest big city for the symphony or occasional concert.
He spotted a bench, occupied only on one end by an older man, who seemed intent on working on his pocket watch. Sam shuffled over and dropped to the opposite end, stretching out his khaki-clad legs in front of him. He crossed his ankles, looked at his watch, jingled the change in his pocket, uncrossed his ankles, crossed them again.
"Yessir. Kilt him, I did."
Sam froze mid-jingle. "Pardon me?",he queried, almost afraid to ask the old man to repeat himself.
"That ground hog in my garden. He was tearin'' up my stuff, so I kilt him. He won't be back." The man spoke in the way of old-timers, as if one had been privilege to to his thoughts, starting in the middle of a conversation, sometimes working their way back.
Sam visibly relaxed. "Well, that's for sure", he replied.
"You gotta garden?"
"No sir. We live in town, not much room for a garden." Sam had learned the response was the right one. The local folk didn't expect town-dwellers to have gardens.
The old man nodded knowingly. "Been farmin' my whole life. Still got a garden. You ever move out to the country, you look me up. Folk'll tell you I got the best garden around these days.Name's Ray." The old man stuck his hand out in Sam's direction. Sam had no choice but to scoot closer to accept the introduction.
"Sam". Ray's calloused grip was firm, the hand of a man still accustomed to work. Sam looked into the weathered face. The lines around his eyes bespoke not just the years, but life and laughter.
"I even got a flower garden", Ray winked. "My wife, she loves those flowers. Some of 'ems not just for lookin' good, though. You know marigolds'll keep bugs away from your vegetables? Don't like the smell.
Can't say as I blame 'em.", Ray cackled.
Sam couldn't help but laugh. "Is that right?"
"Even planted some rose bushes. Temperamental dang things. But you oughta see my Jeanie's face when I pick one, bring it to her." Ray's face softened when he spoke of his wife. "You married, Sam?"
"Yes, sir. Five years." Even now, Sam was surprised that Laura loved him, put up with his long work hours and sometimes impatient demeanor.
"My Jeanie 'n me been married over 50 years. She's a peach, that gal is."
Sam smiled. Ray was obviously still smitten with his "gal".
"She's dress shoppin', wants to get all gussied-up for our grandson's wedding. I told her,'Now, woman, I ain't buyin' no new suit.'. Got a perfectly good suit, navy blue. Wear it to church on Easter and Christmas, that's all. Rest of the time I reckon Jesus don't care what I wear to church. A man only needs one good suit. Easter, Christmas, weddin's, and to be buried in, the way I see it."
Sam wondered what Ray would think of the closet full of suits he had at home.
"Know what she told me? They ain't havin' no church weddin', gonna get married right down by the river. All us men gotta wear blue jeans, white shirt, and matchin' ties. Purple. No, not purple - "lilac". Ain't that somethin'?" Ray laughed out loud. "Well, least I didn't have to go rent no monkey suit. What about you, Sam. How 'bout your weddin'?"
Sam squirmed a little. "Monkey suit", he answered sheepishly, "mint green tie."
Ray cackled even louder, drawing a few grins from passing shoppers. "We gotta keep them little gals happy, now don't we, Son." Ray wiped his eyes. "Mint green. If that don't beat all."
"You got the look of a man waitin' for somebody, Sam." Ray raised his shaggy eyebrows in question."That wife of yours?", he asked with a sly grin.
"Yeah, Laura's getting highlights in her hair at the...beauty shop." Sam had started to say "salon", but said "beauty shop" instead, thinking Ray would appreciate it.
Ray nodded. "Highlights? You mean them blonde streaks?" He nodded again. "Don't go in much for them beauty shop streaks. I like what Mother Nature and the good Lord give 'em. Yessir, sunshine and the Lord do the best job. But, now, females are different, you know." It was a statement, not a question.
Sam smiled. "You don't have to tell me, Ray." He shook his head, thinking of how excited Laura had gotten at the prospect of a new hair style.
"Thing is, though, Son, is you gotta make 'em happy. Let 'em have them blonde streaks. Don't even blink when they want lilac or mint green ties at their weddin'. You pick 'em a flower, tell her how purty she looks, tell her how good she smells. You'll see."
Sam glanced at his watch.
"You got somewhere to be, Sam?", Ray asked.
"No, just a ballgame."
Sam shook his head. "On tv."
"You got money on it?"
Sam laughed. "No sir, just watching."
"Son, you sit on a bumblebee, it'll sting you on the ass every time."
"What....?"Sam looked puzzled.
"Just let it be, son. Quit lookin' at your watch. Don't make her feel like she's puttin' you out by bein' here with her. You got yourself into this marriage, for better or worse. Don't start somethin'. Just let it be. Right now, ain't nothin' more important than waitin' for your gal to get her hair done."
Sam threw back his head a laughed, Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Laura scanning the mall, a nervous, hurried look about her. He smiled and got to his feet. He put out his hand to the old man. "Ray, it's been a pleasure passing time with you."
Ray shook his hand, holding it tight for just a minute, as his glance followed Sam's to the rushing Laura.
"Sam, I'm sure this ole bench'll be watin' here for us again."
"You can count on it" Sam replied, as he turned to greet his wife.
Sam met her with a smile. She seemed surprised at his relaxed attitude. He pulled her into his arms, and her eyes opened wide, and she looked genuinely happy. Sam kissed her lightly.
"You smell great"
Bio: Tess Woodzell
I live in rural Virginia with my husband, am mother/stepmother to 6, grandmother of 8(yikes!). I don't remember a time when I didn't live with all of the many characters and situations in my head.