Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ghosts, Toilet Paper, and The Preacher’s Car

            Halloween.  All hallows eve.  Don’t matter how you say it, it’s a night for teenagers to act stupid.”  Shale allowed the cruiser to coast through the subdivision. 
            “Not any more so than any other night.”  Gage watched a group of kids dressed in their costumes approach another door.  “It’s a night for kids to get candy and have fun.”
            “And a night for mischief and pranks. That’s why I call this night TP patrol.”  Shale turned out of the subdivision.
            “TP patrol?”  Gage was use to the older deputy’s cynicism.  Twenty years with the department had a way of stealing one’s compassion.
            “Toilet Paper Patrol.  At least we weren’t assigned to the Happy Hooker’s Bait and Tackle shop.”  Shale stopped behind a van unloading eager ghosts and goblins.
            Gage watched a faded gray truck pass.  He thought for a moment he recognized it as his wife’s.  Baxley had not mention going out for the evening.  He was sure she had plans to stay home and hand out candy to the neighborhood trick-or-treaters.
            “That was a deputy car we just passed.  You think it was Gage?” Cissa popped another handful of candy corn in her mouth and chase it with a swig of diet cola.
            “I didn’t get a look at the tag on the front of the car. I think he’s on the other side of the county tonight.  Either way you know we can’t buy our TP at the Happy Hooker. The sheriff always has a car parked there on Halloween.”  Baxley continued down the darken road that led to Vienna. 
            “I hope the dollar store is still open.  If not, we’re gonna have to go to Americus. When’s operation pumpkin patrol over?”  Cissa checked the clock on the dashboard.
            “ Gage said eleven.”  Baxley turned onto the main highway. “I thought about buying some and storing it at the house.  But..”
            “Gage would have known something for sure.  Considering you never have any TP at your house.”  Cissa dug into the bottom of the bag for the remnants of candy.  “I always know when coming to your place to bring my own. Anyway, I didn’t think you’d have the guts to roll the preacher’s house.  Especially with your momma being the head of the Southern Butterflies.  And there’s your  grandma getting arrested this year for stealing Tootsie Harper’s flowers. ”
            “I always have paper at my house. And what momma don’t know won’t cause me grief. That whole thing with Grandma was a misunderstanding.”  Baxley pulled into the parking lot of the dollar store.  “Looks like we made it in the nic of time.
             “I think we should park here and walk to the parsonage.”  Baxley pulled the truck into the First Baptist Church’s parking lot.
            “Wait.  There’s some car lights coming.  Duck down.”  Cissa was already slumping in her seat.  She felt more like a sixteen year old instead of thirty.
            “Shit.  I think it’s a deputy’s car. I hope they don’t stop and run the plates.”  Baxley tried to control the giggle that escaped her.  She and Cissa had been best friends long before they were potty trained.
            “I think it’s gone.”  Baxley slid out of the truck.  She stuffed her pony tail under the stocking cat. She’d worn her camouflage hunting pants with a black turtle neck.  Reaching in the front pocket, she pulled out some of Gage’s hunting war paint and smeared the greasy contents onto her face.   
            “What are you doin’ over there.  This isn’t any time to worry about make-up” Cissa whispered across the bed of the truck.
            “Did you bring any dark clothing with you?” Baxley gently shut the truck door, hoping no one noticed the interior light.  She scanned the darken street to see if anyone peered through windows.
            “You look like you gonna rob a bank.” Cissa stood holding the shopping bags.
            “Reach in the truck.  Gage’s black jacket is behind the seat.  That white shirt of yours is shining like a full moon.”  Baxley grabbed the bags from Cissa and put them on the ground.  “Here smear some of this on your face, too.  I’m gonna open the packages and put the rolls in my duffle bag.  That way no one can hear the plastic.”
            “I wonder if Gage realizes the criminal mind he married.”  The jacket swallowed Cissa. Long sleeves hung past her finger tips.  “My face is gonna be broke out for weeks from this crap.”
            “Stop whining and come on.  I just saw the light in Reverend McCurkle’s study go out.”  Baxley started to walk toward the parsonage’s front yard.  Sounds of an approaching car stopped her.  “Get in the ditch.  A car’s coming.”
            “But the grass is wet.”  Cissa protested.
            “Do you wanna explain what the church’s Choir Director and Nursery Teacher is doing on the side of the road?”  Baxley pushed Cissa toward the ditch.  “Hurry it’s about to come around the curve.
            “I swear.  I shouldn’t of let you talk me into this.”  A blade of grass tickled Cissa nose.  The car passed in time to muffle the explosion that Cissa had tried to control. 
            “You need to live a little. Where’s the girl that took any dare, could out shoot any boy in the county, and drank MD 20/20 straight from the bottle?” 
            “She became the mother of two girls, branch manager at the local bank, and wife to the town’s only attorney.” Cissa tried to not see herself through her friend’s eye.  Even she had to admit she found herself boring and longed for the carefree days of her youth.  Maybe that was the reason Baxley’s invitation was enticing. The girls were with friends.  Mumford was out of town. The only thing she had going for the night was watching reruns, surfing the internet, and trying to ignore how alone she felt.
            “Maybe tonight is a chance to revisit the ghost of your youth.  Come on.  Let’s have some fun.”  Baxley grabbed the duffle bag.  She was five steps ahead of Cissa.
            “What made you decide after all these years to roll someone’s yard on Halloween?”  Cissa caught up with Baxley. The two women stood on the sidewalk and stared at the yard.  A street lamp illuminated one side of the house, casting shadows across the lawn. They could make out the silhouette of a tall oak and the familiar sedan parked under it.
            “Guess I’m kinda like you. Tired of being this responsible adult all the time.”  Baxley sat the duffle bag on the ground. “You know my parent’s kept a tight leash on me.  I always hated hearing everyone talk about their Halloween escapades.  Who got hosed for trying to steal a pumpkin?  Which house everyone TP’d.  Then there were the egg fights. I wanted to be a part of that.  So, I guess tonight is my one night to rebel.”
            “You sure this has nothing to do with you turning thirty in two days?”  Cissa grabbed a roll of toilet paper and launched it in the air. The white roll sailed through the naked branches of the tree before plummeting back down to earth.
            “I think you’re suppose to do it like this.”  Baxley pulled a long tail from her roll before launching it. Both women watched with their heads tilted backwards.  Up…up…up, the roll climbed with its long tail streaming behind it before making its descent.
            “Maybe, it has something to do with the over and under thing.  Did you pull the tail from the bottom or the top?”  Cissa studied her roll, trying both ways.
            “I really don’t think it matters.  How is it two grown women can’t figure out how to roll a tree?”  Baxley pulled twice the amount of paper, creating a longer tail and re-launched.  This time she aimed for the center of the tree. Spindly branches grabbed at the tail, taking fragments.  Little patches of white hung from their tips.  One branch speared the center of the roll.  “I think I just lost my roll.” 
            “That takes talent.”  Cissa giggle at the sight of the roll of tissue supported by a tree branch.  “Maybe a squirrel will appreciate it in the morning.”
            “Doubt seriously squirrels care about the comforts of TP during their morning constitutionals.”  Baxley reached into the duffle bag for another roll.  “Maybe, I should have watched some online videos on how to roll a yard.”
            “You seriously think there are videos for this?”  Cissa wiped her nose that had become numb.
            “There’s videos for everything on the internet.”  Baxley studied the tree and tried to fight the feeling of disappointment and frustration. She knew the window of time was closing.
            “I say we call it a night.  We tried.”  Cissa shoved the tissue in the coat’s pocket.  It was one thing to roll the preacher’s yard but to litter was an unforgiveable sin.
            The sound of a lone acorn falling through the branches and landing on the top of the car parked beneath the tree brought a new idea to Baxley.  Everyone rolls a yard, but what about a car.  “Let’s roll the car.”
            “Have you lost your mind?”  Cissa looked at the car and saw potential.
            “Yeah, you get on one side and I’ll get on the other.  We can toss the roll to each other over the car and then roll it under on the ground.”
            The cruiser slowed past the parsonage and looked at the lone streamer of tissue waving in the night from the tree and the roll of tissue stuck on a branch. Kids. He thought.  Maybe the sound of his car spooked them.  Reverend McCurkle’s yard had always been a coveted target on Halloween.   
             Tollie turned into the church’s parking lot and stopped behind the lone vehicle. “Dispatch run MNC4589.”  He opened his cruiser’s door and stepped out to investigate the truck.  The long sleek handle of his trusty flashlight in hand he steadied the beam of light into the cab of the truck.  Empty.  He turned his attention to the bed of the truck. Wads of empty toilet paper wrappers and bags marked with the dollar store’s logo were strewn across the bed.
            “That’s Baxley’s plates.”  Gage looked at his watch. It was almost midnight. He turned the channel on his mobile radio to the private channel.  “Tollie you out with Baxley?”
            “No, Gage just the truck.  It’s parked in the church’s lot.”  Tollie felt the hood of the truck. “It’s been here a while the hood is cold.”
            “She must of’v had something to do at the church tonight.”  Gage searched his memory trying to think if Baxley had mention any meeting at the church or with that women’s group she went to.
            “No one else is around.”  Tollie pulled on the door handle.  “Both doors are locked.  Everything looks fine.  I’m going back to main channel.”
            “Thanks. Tollie.”
            “Hit the ground.  That’s a sheriff’s car coming.”  Baxley was already pressing her body close to the ground and next to the car.
            “I think it pulled into the parking lot at the church.”  Cissa was already imagining the phone call to her husband.  “Mumford, I’m in jail. Can you come and get me.”  Her husband could make her feel like a child at times and tolerated her friendship with Baxley.
            “Crap, he’s gonna run my plates.”  Baxley knew her gig was up and that her husband would soon know she was not at home.
            “What if he sees all the empty toilet paper wrappers?  You forgot to put them in the truck.”  Cissa’ tried to ignore the ache in her left knee from hitting the pavement so hard.
            “I heard a door shut.  Can you crawl to the front of the car?”  Baxley anticipated the deputy to make another pass, slower than the last one.
            “Yes, why?”
            “Because he’s coming this way and is shinning his spot light.”  Baxley’s instincts were on target.
            Seconds ticked by like hours.  Both women watched the beacon on the side of the patrol car cast its light on the front of the parsonage, the shrubs, through the back windshield of the car that provided them refuge, and finally on the lone streamer of paper still captured in the tree accompanies with a single roll of paper.
            Neither woman moved.  The sound of the fading engine of the patrol car had long passed.  Deep in the pit of Baxley’s soul a giggle began to form.  She tried to stifle it.  But, it refused to be silenced.  Like a lone bubble making its way to the surface, a single giggle escaped.
            “It’s not funny.”  Cissa tried to sound stern in her admonishment.
            Baxley released another giggle.
            “Do you know how close we just came to getting arrested?”  Cissa put her hand over her mouth to keep Baxley from seeing the grin.
            Baxley unable to control the episodic giggles became racked with hysterical laughter.  Tears formed and spilled.  “We are pitiful.  Two grown women that can’t even roll a yard.”
            Cissa infected with the contagious laughter.  “At least we speared one roll on a tree branch.”
            “I guess that will have to be our accomplishment.”  Baxley wiped her eyes. “Can you imagine the scuttle that is going to cause?  Everyone will wonder how a roll of toilet paper got stuck in the tree.”
            “Are you quitting?  Because I’ve never know you to quit.”  Cissa grabbed her roll of paper.
            “You were right earlier. We’re adults. You’re the choir director. A branch manager at the bank. Mumford already has a strong dislike for me.”  Baxley stood.  “I’m a deputy’s wife.  My mom is the president of the SB’s.  We need to quit while we still have our dignity.”
            Cissa stared at Baxley.  Everything her best friend said was correct.  They were responsible, mature adult.  Other parents’ trusted them with their children.  Standing here in that moment was something no one would expect from either of them.  Cissa pulled paper from the roll until is pooled on the ground around her feet.  She reared back with the roll in her hand and launched it over the top of the car.
            “What are you doing?” 
            “Rolling the preacher’s car.”  Cissa was already walking to the rear of the car to retrieve the roll.  “You gonna catch it when I roll it to you from under the car?”
            Baxley smiled and gave the roll in her hand a gentle squeeze.  “Yeah, but catch mine first.”
             “Pinky swear, we go to our graves never telling anyone about tonight.”  Cissa held up her pinky.
            Baxley put the truck in park and crooked her pinky around Cissa.  “Promise.  Best of friends through thick and thin.”
            “So you planning on bringing your squash casserole to the Sunday night social.”  Cissa removed Gage’s coat and reached for her purse.
            “Yep.  Am I picking you up Thursday for the SB’s meeting?”
            “Yeah.  You better get if you gonna beat Gage home.”  Cissa opened the truck door. “And start thinking of why this truck was at the church tonight.”
            “We had a meeting with the Holy Ghost.”  Baxley laughed.
             Gage cut through town and drove past the church.  Baxley’s truck was gone.  He almost ran off the road when he spotted Reverend McCurkle’s car.  It sat looking like a mummy.   Not an inch of the car was uncovered by toilet paper.  On top was huge white bow and trails of toilet paper ribbons draping off all sides. The streamer of paper in the tree caught his attention. Was that a roll of toilet paper stuck on a branch?  
            Shale was right. Halloween was a night for teenagers to act stupid. He reached for his radio and went to private channel. “Tollie, you up?”
            “Yeah, Gage.”
            “When’s the last time you check Reverend McCurkle’s house?”
            “Right before I ended my shift.”
            “You still out?”
            “Yeah, why?”
            “You might want to check it again.  Looks like some kids got his car.  Damn thing looks like a mummy.  They even put a bow on top of it.”
            “Be there in a less than five.”  Tollie’s five minutes turned into two.  He pulled his cruiser up next to Gage’s and stared at the scene before him. “I’m never gonna live this down.”
            “Yep.  And I’ve got pictures to show everyone.  Already posted them on my Facebook page.  Look, it already got forty-three likes and there’s some comment about you.”
            “I forsee a lot of barking dog calls in your future.”
            Gage studied the tree.  “Wonder what made them decide not to roll the tree.”
            “Who can tell the reasoning of teenagers?”  Tollie shook his head.  “Guess I better clean it up before the Reverend sees it in the morning.”
            “I’ll help.”  Gage felt the hard object before hearing the crunch.  At first he’d thought it was an acorn.  In the low lighting he caught a glimmer.  Reaching down, Gage picked up the mangled earring next to the front driver’s side tire.  He studied it for a moment and then placed it in his pants pocket.
Gage parked his patrol car in its usual spot next to Baxley’s truck and gathered some trash from the passenger side.  He touched the hood of the truck and was surprised to feel it semi-warm.  A glance in the back of the truck did not reveal anything to confirm his suspicions.
Gage opened the garbage can to toss the handful of trash but studied the contents.  There were at least twenty empty toilet paper rolls on top of the mountain of plastic wrappers and shopping bags.  He tossed his trash and closed the lid.  Baxley had some explaining to do.
The interior of the house was quiet and peaceful.  Everything was clean and in its place.  He walked into the bedroom and studied his wife’s sleeping form.  She always slept on her right side.  Percy, her tabby, lifted his head, curled his tongue with a wide yawn, exposing long white canines, before squinting his eyes at Gage. 
Gage stepped over to Baxley’s side of the bead and gently scratched the cat between the ears.  He leaned over and brushed wayward strands from Baxley’s face.  A faint trace of black grease was in the hairline around her ear.  The ear that had been home to the earring in his pocket.  He’d recognized it from the pair he’d given her for Christmas.
Baxley stirred and looked up at Gage.  “You’re home.  How was your night?”
“Usual.  You know how Halloween is.  Teenagers and their pranks.  You do anything exciting?” 
 “No. Just hung out.”
“At the church?”
“Cissa and I went for a meeting.”  Baxley had practice her response to Gage’s inquisitiveness.
“Did ya’ll have a good one?”
“One what?”
“ Yeah.  It was inspirational.”  Baxley let out a fake yawn. “You coming to bed?”
“In a few.”  Gage kissed Baxley on the forehead. “Go back to sleep.  See you in the morning.”
Baxley thought about the morning. She’d resume being the dependable and responsible adult everyone expected of her.  In two days, she would bid farewell to her twenties and welcome a new decade of her life.  But, for a few liberating hours on the night of all hollow’s eve, she and her best friend revisited the ghosts of their youth.