#52weeks52stories – Week 27
Word prompt – cold medicine
Word count – 2777
“I said I’m not going, and that’s the end of it, old woman.”
Willie Crawford plunked down in his worn recliner and crossed his arms across his chest.
“Call me old woman one more time. I dare you.”
Wanda Crawford stood with arms akimbo glaring down at him.
He waved her off. “Oh, Wanda you know what I mean. We’ve been married forty-seven years. I’m old too.
“You got that right.”
He smirked at her and picked up the television remote.
“Don’t you dare turn that on.”
“I mean it. We’re old, not dead yet, Willie. What’s wrong with driving down to town for a nice lunch and a quick shopping trip?”
“I hate shopping.”
“But you love to eat.”
Willie dropped the remote onto the coffee table. “Why do we have to go anywhere? We have everything we need right here at home.”
“You know what I have, Willie? I have your laundry to do, your meals to cook, and the back of your head to stare at while you watch yet another movie marathon of westerns.”
“Oh, what a horrible life you have, Wanda. Shame on me.”
“Don’t be an ass, Willie. Not that you can help yourself.”
She stomped off into the kitchen and Willie knew he’d crossed a line. He followed her to make things right… without having to leave the house.
“Honey, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to get on your bad side, honest.”
Wanda didn’t respond. She stood at the kitchen counter, her back to him.
“Come on, baby, don’t ignore me. I just don’t see anything wrong with enjoying retirement doing the things I like.”
She turned her head toward him.
“Doing the things you like? That wasn’t the plan, remember? Twenty years ago, we said when the kids were all on their own, we’d sell this place, buy a small bungalow and garden a little. Maybe travel and see some of this country.” She looked away. “We both retired four years ago and we’re still here in the hot-as-blazes Nevada desert… thirty minutes from the nearest decent town and four hours away from our children. And for what? So you can sit in that chair I should have thrown out a decade ago and watch yet another retrospective on how the west was won.”
“It’s called, ‘The Old West: They Wore White Hats: The Good Guys.’”
Wanda picked up a pen and scribbled on her notepad. “Today. Tomorrow it will be, “The Old West: Bad Guys: Guns, Guns, Guns.” What’s next? “The Old West: When Men Were Men, Women Were Few, and the Cattle Were Nervous?”
“Now isn’t that a fine way for my wife to talk?”
Wanda clutched at her chest, feigning shock. “You do know that I’m your wife. At least I know your brain still works. Mostly.” She continued writing.
Willie let the jibe pass while trying to look over her shoulder. “What are you writing?”
“It’s called a shopping list.”
“Look, Wanda. I apologized, but I’m not going into town.”
She tore the sheet from the pad and grabbed her handbag from the kitchen table.
“No, you’re not. I’m going alone.”
“Aww, c’mon, honey. You know I don’t like you traveling these roads alone.”
“Then come with me.”
Wanda strode past him to the door leading to the garage. “No, Willie. It’s not. See you later.”
He bristled. Why was she so stubborn? She was probably standing in the garage waiting for him to come running. Well, he wasn’t going to. She couldn’t trick…
Willie was startled from his thoughts when he heard the Suburban’s engine roar to life.
Dammit! She was leaving!
He raced through the side door just as Wanda put the SUV in reverse.
“Wanda Jean! Wanda Jean!”
She lowered the passenger door window. “What?”
“You always have to have things your way, don’t you?”
“Willie, the last time I got my way was 1994 when we painted the house blue instead of that puke pea-soup green you wanted. See you in a couple of hours.”
She eased the truck out of the garage and backed down the driveway.
Frustrated, Willie ran after her, approaching the truck on the driver side.
She stopped again, this time lowering her window.
“Why do you keep yelling my name?”
“I want you to stop this.” He held out his hands. “Look, I’m not calling you old, but you’re too old to travel these old dusty roads alone.”
“Maybe I am, Willie. But I’m also too young to sit at home day after day waiting for death.”
“We’re fortunate, Willie. We have our health and our right minds—well, I have my mind—and the means to live comfortably.”
“And we’re comfortable here, right?”
“You are, Willie Crawford. But some days… most days, I feel like I die a little. Just like this town.”
“Oh, stop getting all dramatic, Wanda Jean.”
“Willie, why won’t you ever admit it? Thirty years ago, Hemming was something else. A real family community. But things change. All the kids grew up, moved away for college and better jobs. And they never came back, Willie.”
“All the kids left, but parents… grandparents—we’re still here.”
“Not the smart ones. They followed their kids or moved to retirement communities with more amenities than dusty pastures and rusted out tractors.”
“This would be paradise to some folks, Wanda.”
“We should have left after we retired.”
Willie didn’t want to have the moving argument again. He wanted his wife to park the truck so they could both go back inside.
“We’re salt of the earth people, Wanda. This is where we belong.”
“You say we when you mean you.” She glared at her husband. “It’s not always about you, Willie Crawford.”
Removing her foot from the brake, Wanda continued down the driveway. Willie walked alongside the truck until she backed into the road.
A part of Willie Crawford knew his wife was right, yet he still couldn’t reconcile with selling the home he spent his life working for and moving away. Willie didn’t handle change well.
Wanda put the vehicle in drive.
“Since you’re determined to go, stay out of Shuyster’s. Cal Beeman’s always flirting with you.”
Wanda scoffed. “He’s just a nice man. No one wants me. I’m an old woman, remember?”
The words stung Willie’s ears. He was such a fool sometimes.
“Yeah, but you’re my old woman.” He spirits rose when he saw the corners of her mouth twitch.
“And would you bring back some of those oyster crackers I like? And some of that bottled lemonade?”
Willie’s mouth hung open as the smile that had been forming on Wanda’s lips turned into an evil sneer.
“But I will bring back some Spam.”
She floored the SUV and left him standing there in a cloud of dust and sand.
Willie hated Spam. He’d had more than his fill during his military days and vowed never to eat it again.
However, he knew when Spam appeared at the dinner table Wanda Crawford was fed up.
Willie walked up the driveway, glancing down Kess Road, knowing the cloud of dust was his wife.
He went straight to the kitchen and made two turkey sandwiches. He added two bananas and a bottle of beer to his meal.
Willie knew he had to fill his stomach because he had no doubt Spam was on Wanda’s shopping list.
Jolted awake, Willie sat up straight, scrubbing his hand down his face.
“That you, Wanda?”
Getting no response, Willie stood and stretched, and headed for the kitchen to see how much Spam Wanda brought home. He’d just reached the doorway of the darkened kitchen when the front doorbell chimed.
Willie glanced into the kitchen once more before answering the door.
“That better not be Wanda playing guest again.”
He yanked open the door, but it wasn’t Wanda. Sheriff Chet Austin filled the doorway. Willie noticed Chet’s deputy, Harris Nelson standing next to the squad car in his driveway.
“Hey, Chet. What brings you to my door? I’ve been home all day and have broken no laws.”
The pained expression on the lawman’s face made Willie’s chuckle die in his throat.
“No, Willie. It’s Wanda—“
“Wanda? What did she do? You know what? She left here speeding—mad at me. Did you pull her over? Oh, God, please tell me she didn’t have an accident—“
The sheriff was abrupt. “Willie, there’s been a shooting. You need to come with us.”
“Shooting? What does a shooting have to do with me? Where’s Wanda? I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going—“
“It’s Wanda, Willie.”
Willie Crawford slumped against the door-frame. The sheriff reached out to hold him up, but Willie steadied himself.
“C-Chet… where? Where, Chet? What happened and where’s my wife?”
“At the strip mall in town. Some meth-head smashed a case in Dollar General, shoved a shelf full of cold medicines in a bag and ran out the store. The assistant manager ran after him. He yells at the guy to stop and the fool pulls out a handgun and shoots behind him. A bullet struck the assistant manager in the head. He died instantly. From what witnesses said, Wanda was climbing up into her truck. A bullet hit her in the chest.”
Willie locked his elbows, bracing himself against the door. “Where’s my wife, Chet? Is… she… “
“No, Willie, Wanda’s still with us, but it isn’t good. You have to come with us now.”
Sheriff Austin pulled up next to Wanda’s Suburban in the strip mall parking lot.
“This isn’t a good idea, Willie. You should have waited at the hospital for the victim’s advocate. You shouldn’t be alone right now.”
Staring straight ahead, Willie’s voice was flat, void of emotion. “I’m not the victim, Chet. W-Wanda… was. I can’t leave her truck sitting here like this. She wouldn’t like it. She wouldn’t like it one bit. You said the crime scene investigation was done so I’m taking it home.”
The grieving man reached for the door handle.
“Then stay with me a while, Willie. At least until some of your kids get here. We can get a bite to eat and talk. Or not talk.”
Willie sagged deep in the seat. “I thank you for your kindness, Chet. I appreciate it. But you have a job to do and nothing will bring Wanda back.” His voice broke on the last word. Willie bit into his lower lip, steeling himself. “Pasadena’s less than five hours away. Junior’s always driving like he was on fire. Now, with his mama… well, I’m sure they’re past the halfway mark.”
He opened the door and stepped out before the sheriff could respond. When he reached back inside to grab the bag containing his wife’s personal belonging, Chet grabbed his arm.
“I’m so sorry, Willie. Wanda was a nice lady. Please know we’re taking that lil punk into Vegas tomorrow. He’ll be arraigned for double murder with special circumstances. He’ll never see the light of day again.”
“He’s some kid strung out on meth who tried to steal the stuff to make more. Harris told me the kid still doesn’t understand he killed two people today. If he sits in jail for two lifetimes, he’ll never know what he’s taken from me and that young man’s family.”
Willie grabbed the bag and shut the door, not looking back at his old classmate. He dug around in the bag until his hand felt the small Magic 8 ball keyring. He stared at the keyring then shook his head, refusing to allow memories to crowd his mind.
Pressing the door fob, Willie approached the driver-side door and froze.
Parking lot lights illuminated the area enough for Willie to see what remained of the sheriff department’s investigation.
Arrows and distance markers were etched into the pavement. Willie’s broken heart pounded in his chest when he realized the dark circles outlined in chalk was blood.
He gripped the door handle, yanked the door open wide and threw himself up into his wife’s truck. Slamming the door, Willie leaned his head against the steering wheel to calm his rapid breathing. But Wanda’s presence overwhelmed him.
The scent of her favorite white citrus body crème filled the vehicle. The purple seat covers and floor mats reminded him of her near-obsession with the color.
He touched the small cube hanging from the rearview mirror. It was filled with photos of the two of them from last year’s harvest festival.
Wanda hated harvest festival. She didn’t see the point since no one had harvested anything but dust in fifteen years.
But Willie loved the festival, and she went because of him.
She was always doing something for him.
Willie’s jaws tightened as he clenched his fists and punched the steering wheel over and over.
“Why did you have to go out, Wanda? Why couldn’t you stay with me?” Perspiration trickled down his temples. He raised his head and covered his face with his hands. “Oh, God, Wanda. Why couldn’t you stay with me?”
The lump in his throat made swallowing difficult. As bile churned in his stomach seeking an exit, sharp, stabbing pains filled his chest. Now drenched in sweat, Willie knew he was having a heart attack. He leaned back in the seat and waited for death to take him.
But it wasn’t a heart attack and death never came for Willie Crawford, and he was grateful. As his body worked to calm itself, Willie remembered his children racing from California to be with him. To say goodbye to their mother. He wouldn’t want them to have to deal with so much death.
He started the truck and went home.
After the garage door closed, Willie sat in the Suburban feeling every one of his seventy years.
He glanced at the side door, knowing he could not prolong this, and opened the truck door. Willie grabbed the bag holding Wanda’s things from the passenger seat and for the first time noticed Wanda’s hand-sewn canvas shopping bag on the floor.
He turned away, planning to leave it in the truck and couldn’t.
Reaching over, Willie grabbed the canvas bag, slid his arm the looped handles and allowed it to slide up in arm.
His gait was unsteady. His wife’s bags coupled with the emotional weight of grief and fatigue caused Willie to lumber all the way to the kitchen table.
Dropping everything on the kitchen table, Willie Crawford leaned on the table with both hands to steady himself and catch his breath.
He raised his head and listened. The stillness of his home made Willie uncomfortable and for the first time in thirty-two years, he hated the house. This was the last place he wanted to be.
The sharp stabbing pains returned to his chest and Willie fell into the chair next to him. He raked a hand through his thick gray hair, pulling it on the ends.
“Why was I so stubborn? I knew she wanted to move. Why was I so determined to stay?”
“It’s not always about you, Willie Crawford.”
The words rang in his ears even though Wanda said them hours before.
Guilt and shame bore down on Willie and he leaned on both elbows on the table. Wanda was unhappy… because of him. She left home upset… because of him.
His eyes brimmed with tears and Willie swiped them away with his hand. He didn’t deserve to cry. Had he been a good husband, he would have taken Wanda to lunch. It would have been a long lunch with his wife teasing him for having two desserts.
She would never have been in the strip mall parking lot.
Willie didn’t know how he’d go on… how he would live with himself. She was the love of his life. Had he told her that recently? Did Wanda know how much he loved her?
He looked at the bags on the table. They shouldn’t be here without Wanda. He shouldn’t be here without Wanda.
Willie reached out, his fingers stroking the canvas shopping bag.
Wanda hated plastic shopping bags and made canvas bags for quick, small trips to the store.
He pulled the bag to him as melancholy and humor struck him at the same time.
Spam. Wanda was true to her word.
He popped the snap and reached into the bag to remove the offensive mystery meat.
But it wasn’t Spam.
Guttural moans began deep in Willie’s chest and filled the kitchen. His hands shook as he removed the bag’s contents—a package of oyster crackers and two bottles of lemonade.
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