The Writers Voice
Days of Our Years
Part 1 - This Morning
If it had not been for the impending marriage, Barney would have preferred a new car, or at the very least a respectable used one like the 1958 silver Oldsmobile Roadster with the hydramatic transmission he saw only yesterday over at Lemmon's lot. It was $475, a good buy, but it was out of the question at the moment -- he had responsibilities now, the wedding was only a month away and the engagement ring was still unpaid for. Then there was the furniture to buy and the apartment had to be painted.
In spite of his financial problems, Barney was so deeply in love with Sheila he would wake up in a cold sweat two or three times a night thinking of her. At work he would find himself staring into space and talking to her in his father's haberdashery.
His father would ask him, "Are you all right Barney?"
Barney would sigh and smile vaguely into the distance and his father would shake his head in sympathy mixed with a touch of envy. He too could remember a time, not too many years ago, when he was single -- he would often catch himself dreaming of the present Mrs. Trammel. "How quickly it passed," he would mutter quietly to himself -- quietly enough so Mrs. Trammel could not hear. Then, in a louder voice, so that all three of them could hear, he would comment, "It will be a blessing to both of us when you're married, Barney."
It would be pushing it to say with any degree of confidence that Sheila felt as strongly about Barney as he did about her. Very few women reveal their emotions as openly as men do. Like a dog, a man will lick its master's hand whether its master is kind to it or not, while a woman, like a cat, will often give short shrift to hers regardless of his kindnesses. Sheila was acutely aware of her effect on Barney, and she parceled out her charms as though they were made of gold. The technique increased Barney's desire to an alarming degree; he was frequently tongue-tied and clumsy in her presence.
Ever the romantic, Barney had fallen in love unconditionally and as sloppily and clumsily as a puppy in a pet shop window. After a date or two Sheila moved his marital classification from 'possible' to 'likely,' (one step below 'probable').
Sheila was an out of town girl, a career girl -- a shorthand stenographer on the staff of the State Senator from McCibben County. When she first arrived she planned to move in with two other women on his staff, then she noticed the abundance of eligible young men in town. Quite by accident she met Barney at his father's haberdashery and checked him off as a possible -- but far from a probable, all the while keeping him at arm's length -- a practice she learned from her mother. Sharing a lease with the ladies on the Senator's office staff was put on the back burner and instead she chose the respectable boarding house for ladies run by the rock-ribbed Imogene Landlock. The house was highly recommended by the Senator and Parson Peavey, the Minister of the Presbyterian Church.
Barney called at Mrs. Landlock's boarding
house for young ladies every Sunday. The parlor was available for entertaining
male visitors during the weekend daylight hours. However, Mrs. Landlock would
burst in unannounced at unspecified intervals to see that things were not
getting out of hand. The boarding house had an impeccable reputation for
safeguarding the chastity and virtue of the young ladies who boarded there, and
their comings and goings, (as well as their doings) were under constant watch.
Sitting in the parlor with Sheila on Sunday
afternoons in the company of two or three other couples was torture for Barney.
There were no sofas. She would sit in one anti-macassar covered easy chair and
he would sit in another. From this remote and almost clinical distance he would
stare at her lovingly and try to make conversation. If it was quiet too long,
Mrs. Landlock would launch herself into the room saying, "Oh! Sorry to interrupt
-- I thought you folks had left."
Sheila would have preferred a movie and an early dinner at Finnegan's Cafe. There, she could have worn her new gray tweed suit and even smoked a cigarette in the ebony and gold cigarette holder that took her fancy at the novelty shop near her place of employment. A bicycle meant slacks and a sweater, and for nourishment, a frankfurter with a coke at the hot dog stand. In addition, she would have to keep Barney under control all afternoon while sitting on a musty blanket spread out over the pigeon droppings in Cherry Hill Park.
Barney was well aware that Sheila would not be enthusiastic about sharing Sunday afternoon on a tandem bicycle. It is not a ladylike means of locomotion, therefore he was thoughtful to find a lambswool seat cover to protect that part of her anatomy that had been giving him so many sleepless nights of late. He would ride the rear seat, and do the lion's share of pedaling. This would give Sheila the choice of the route through the park and give her an unobstructed view of the scenery.
He showed up at Mrs. Landlock's boarding house early looking very respectable in his Bermuda shorts showing his legs only from his knobby knees down, and his bright green sport shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the bulge of his biceps. He also wore a smart safari hat with colorful fishing flies embedded in the crown. Mrs. Landlock answered the door and looked him over critically -- she could find nothing disgraceful in his appearance, ludicrous perhaps; which, on the face of it might be something she should write to Sheila's parents about. Furthermore, the tandem bicycle had beaver tails on the handlebars. She made a mental note to include that bit of information in the letter as well.
"Bicycle riding on a Sunday! Really Mr. Trammel, you can't expect a lady of breeding to pedal around town on a bicycle .... particularly on a Sunday afternoon!"
"But it's healthful, Mrs. Landlock. There are hundreds of folks pedaling through the park. Wholesome families out for the afternoon -- far better than sitting in a stuffy parlor .... no offense ma'am."
"Well! she retorted, "you'd never catch me on one of those things, and I dare say when Miss Troxel's parents hear of it, they will not be pleased!"
Sheila appeared in the doorway behind her dressed in white linen slacks and a pink sweater. She wore a broad brimmed straw hat tied securely under her chin.
"We shan't be long, Mrs. Landlock. I think perhaps the fresh air will be good for me." She looked sternly at Barney. "I'll be back long before dinner, I promise." She smiled grimly, "I'll probably be famished."
"It will be mutton, my dear."
"I certainly wouldn't want to miss that, Mrs. Landlock."
Mrs. Landlock stood with her meaty arms folded across her chest as the two mounted up and pushed off. They gathered enough speed to lift their feet and grope awkwardly for the pedals -- then, after a quick fleeting wave of her hand, Sheila grasped the handle bars in a grip of iron and the tandem picked up speed.
"Comfortable?" Barney asked.
Barney was not at the helm, his only assignment was to pump steadily and offer advice, therefore his attention was riveted on Sheila's backside. Her sweater had ridden up an inch or two leaving a band of creamy yet well toned flesh almost at the end of his nose. The curve of her lumbar vertebrae oscillated gently before him, and there was a delectable quarter inch of blue silk underpants visible just above the belt line of her slacks. He was extremely uncomfortable.
"I'm not sure this was a good idea, Sheila."
"It was your idea. You wanted an afternoon in the park, I didn't -- I wanted to see the new Paul Newman movie. What's the matter with you anyway?"
"Would you mind if I rode up front, Sheila? I'll put the cushion on the back seat." They stopped on the bicycle path just inside the park entrance and Barney made the exchange, Sheila all the while shaking her head and tapping her foot impatiently as he moved the cushion from the front seat to the back.
It wasn't until they mounted up again and got underway that Sheila realized what bothered Barney. It hadn't occurred to her before, but she realized she gained another powerful weapon in her arsenal. The simplicity of men! She watched with calm appraisal the inch or two of his muscular back as he pumped the pedals in front of her -- it was hairy, like the back of an animal. Yes -- Barney was far from perfect, but she was sure she could make a decent husband out of him. Her mother had told her long ago -- "...no man is a natural born husband dear, they've got to be made."
They spent the afternoon wisely. Sheila kept Barney's attention riveted on the wedding and her plans for a modest reception, his frequent suggestions that they investigate the nature trails in the woods were countered with prudence and promises. "You'll be so glad we waited, Barney. I will be all the woman you can handle -- but it will be so much sweeter .... etcetera .... etcetera."
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