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Life In The Trenches


Cindy Sorburn

Barry Coleman watched Nancy, his wife of two years, stalk into the kitchen, jerk open the refrigerator door, and slam the door shut. She pointed a shaking finger at Barry.

"You should just see those boys. Where is he? Two hours late!"

She tore open a pack of cigarettes. For the past half hour she would take three puffs, squash the butt in the ash tray, and stalk out into the living room to stare down the street.

If the situation had not been so tense, Barry would have laughed. Instead he sat quietly in the kitchen, waiting.

"Do you now see what I put up with for 10 years. I should have divorced him long before that."

Seeing her light up another cigarette, Barry remembered seeing her for the first time three short years ago. She had been hired into the local glass factory and on her first day she nearly ran him over as she ran back to her grinder.

"Whoa!" Barry said as he steered her away at arm's length. Her expressive brown eyes and wide smile hit upon him immediately. A short, heavy hipped woman, she curled her straight brown hair at the ends that turned up just above her shoulders. As she walked away, she turned toward him and he found his stare met hers.

After a few dates, Barry, 42 years young, knew she was the one for him. After a quick, "Will you marry me?" he suddenly had a family that included her two boys - Craig, 14, and Dewey, 8.

"You think this whole business is funny, don't you?"

Barry's attention was shocked back to the present. Her anger was directed at him; he did not like to be yelled at.

A car door slammed. Nancy shot into the living room and Barry raised his short, stocky frame to follow.

"Was that your father?"

"No mom," Dewey said, his voice high pitched in a whine. "It was Mr. Casey. He had his golf clubs."

From 10 feet away, Barry could hear her teeth grinding, another annoying habit she had. She shook her head and bolted past him, back to the kitchen and another cigarette, a scowl on her lips. Her low voice grumbled in ever raising tones.

"Why can't HE ever GET here on TIME!"

Barry did not follow her; instead he stayed in the living room with the two boys. Eight-year old Dewey, probably 30 pounds overweight, had presented himself two hours earlier wearing a red sports jacket, white shirt with bow tie, navy slacks, and a grand canyon grin stretching from dimple to dimple.

"We're going to see John Wayne!"

He lifted his arm and in a half-pendulum motion competed a smooth swing.

"Then, we're goin' bowlin'."

Barry messed up Dewey's hair and the fat boy's round face turned up at him, his moist brown eyes shining.

"Just you wait, Dad," he said. "I'll beat last week's 120."

"I bet you a quarter you won't. Last week was a fluke."

Nancy walked heavily into the room, catching the tail-end of their conversation.

"You betting him again. You shouldn't be doing that."

Barry shrugged and winked at Dewey, who skipped off to the family room.  

Craig, wearing a rustic cowboy shirt and matching brown slacks, passed him to enter the living room.

"Get out of my way, dip."

He turned to his Mom. "Don't worry about Dad," he said, a smug smirk on his lips. "He's always on the go doing something."

He put the emphasis on Dad and the effect was not lost on Barry. He and Dewey had always gotten along while Craig made it clear he resented a "new Dad."

Barry had met the boys for the first time two years ago. At that time he was in the naval reserve and he wore his uniform. Perspiration streamed down Barry's face on that hot, humid afternoon. He walked over to Craig who was sitting beneath a large elm tree that shaded most of the front yard. The long legged, square-jawed boy, dressed in heavy camouflage hunting pants, stared at Barry and did not say a word.

"You must be Craig," Barry said, sticking his right hand down for a handshake.

"You must be Barry."

From the sound of his voice, Barry knew that his name did not bring any joy only hate.

"It's nice in the shade," Barry said. "It keeps you from getting hot in those pants."

"My DAD got these pants for me. For Christmas."

Barry stepped back from the boy's green-eyed glare, his hair soaked in sweat, his face flushed. He knew that the boy would never admit he was hot.

The boy then hopped to his feet, ran down the street, hurdled a neighbor's hedge, and disappeared.

Dejectedly, Barry knocked on the front door. When no one answered, he peered inside to see Dewey, a small, heavy-set boy, on the floor in the next room.

"He's ignoring me too. I don't need this," he thought, before knocking a little harder.

With baseball cards strewn across the floor, the fat boy was playing some kind of imaginary game as he pushed a card around bases to what appeared to be home plate. When he decided to hear Barry's knock, he walked heavily to the door. Upon eyeing his uniform, he opened the door hastily.

"You're Barry, the sailorman. Come on in."

"Well, this is better," Barry thought. "See my baseball card collection? I have the best one around. You're a sailor. Mom said so. Have you been on a submarine? What's it like being a sailor?"

Barry never did get a word in. He simply messed up Dewey's hair, and the boy just gazed up at him.

As the boys began their third hour of waiting, Craig stood at the front door, his arms folded across his chest, his legs planted firmly. If a steam roller had smashed through the small home, he would not have moved. Dewey, a few feet away looking out the front window, had not moved for 10 minutes. Small rivulets of tears were streaming down his pouchy cheeks.

Barry motioned for Nancy to follow him into the kitchen.

"It looks like the irresponsible jerk is not going to show up again," Nancy said.  "I hate to see these boys hurt."

"Why don't we do something? We don't have to sit here all afternoon," Barry said, wiping away tears that were on Nancy's face. "Let's go out for some ice cream."

Nancy's pretty eyes came alive. "That's a great idea!  Boys, boys! Barry's taking us out for ice cream."

Barry felt good as he followed her into the living room.

"I'm waiting for MY DAD."

"He's over two hours late."

"He'll be here."

Even Dewey added, "Yea, Mom. Dad'll come. I know he will."

"But Barry offered."

"Good, let him go by himself or with you."

Barry tried to tell himself that these boys weren't his, but he had been there for Dewey's first fight, Craig's first girl friend, Dewey's bed-wetting crisis, Craig's first home run. It had been a busy two years. One day Craig even asked Barry to play catch, an earth- shattering event. He had hoped Craig would at least accept him as a friend some day, not the enemy.

He had Dewey's affection from the very first, but now even he would rather wait for a no-good father than go out with him. If each had taken their hardest swings at his stomach, the pain would not have hurt more. He sat on the sofa, deciding to quit his own private pity party.

"Hey boys. What do ya say if we leave your Dad a note telling him where we are? He'll just pick you up at the ice cream shop."

Dewey turned immediately, a smile beaming. "Yeah!"

Craig sneered over his shoulder, turned on his heal, and went to his room to slam the door. The house shook.

"He's going to apologize. Now."  Before Barry could stop her, Nancy shot down the hallway.

Craig emerged from his room, a scowl on his lips, a jacket in hand. "I just had to get my jacket."

A car rumbled into the driveway followed by a loud horn blast. Craig ran to the window, Dewey a step behind. Both pressed their faces close to the window; another loud blast made both of them jump.

"C ya later," Craig called over his shoulder as he ran out of the front door.

Dewey stopped at the door and ran back to his mother, hugging her tightly. "Mom, I love you."

Another blast, more impatient than the first two, did not budge the boy. He turned and hugged Barry too.

"Thanks for offering the ice cream, Dad."

Nancy and Barry locked arms to watch Dewey climb into the back seat.

"Dewey," a low, stern voice said. "Don't put your feet on the seat. Your feet are probably muddy. Craig, don't touch the rear view mirror."

Nancy, tears in her eyes, turned away. Barry wrapped his arm around her tighter.

"Now, how about that ice cream?"

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