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A Simple Man


Loyal Wray

Billy Thomas knew he wasn't anybody special. No one had ever told him he was. If anyone had, he would have figured they were making fun of him. Finishing High School had been hard for Billy, but it seemed important to his parents, so he had
studied hard and had graduated.

The Army had been his next goal. He had to take the test three times over the next six months. He passed the third time and had served four years. He would have re-enlisted again, but his company commander had called him into his office and told him he had no chance of ever being promoted beyond his current rank of pfc...

Billy knew his father and uncle had pulled strings to get him the job as an apprentice butcher at the local Von's store. Billy was grateful and worked hard. He had saved nearly ten thousand dollars during his time in the service. Living at home with his parents, he saved another ten thousand during the next four years.

Now twenty seven years old, Billy had enough seniority with Von's to feel some security at his job. He hadn't had much of a social life. He had dated a few young women and had even gone steady with one for almost a year. She had met someone else and had married the man within the month. Billy had accepted that as a part of life. She had been a nice person. Billy was happy for her.

This past year had been the happiest of his life. He had met Patty a year ago today. She had started work in the bakery department. He had walked her home her first night after work. Patty was smart. She had been to college for two years and knew, it seemed to Billy, nearly everything a person could want to know.

After the third date, he had asked her to marry him. He continued to ask her after every date from that time on. Three months after they met, she accepted and two weeks later, they were married. Billy had used his savings as a down payment on a house that was everything he had ever imagined. It had three bedrooms. One for him and Patty and one each for the son and daughter Billy had been dreaming about for as long as he could remember.

There was a big back yard. He spent every weekend planting flowers for the daughter to enjoy when she got here. He planted dichondra grass and spent hours on his knees pulling the weeds that kept trying to take over. The grass was terribly important. It would cushion the falls his children were sure to have. He and his son would be playing ball on this grass. Billy wanted it to be perfect.

Patty seemed to be happy too. She treated him nicer than even his parents had. She learned his favorite meals and taught him to like new ones. With the money they both made, she had bought furniture Billy could only think of as elegant. And all the beautiful linens and curtains and everything else that made a house into a home.

There were some things that Billy felt bad about though. Sometimes, she wanted to talk about things he didn't understand. Things like books she had read. And people in magazines and the newspaper they had delivered every morning. Billy tried to read the books. But, they were hard reading. And they made him sleepy after a few minutes. He didn't get sleepy on purpose. He tried to explain that to Patty. He just couldn't help it.

Another thing Billy felt bad about was the dancing. Patty loved to dance and tried to teach him. It seemed like he just had two left feet like she said. He would try to move his feet the way she showed him. He would keep trying until she would give up. He never gave up though. He had recently been thinking of going to a dance class and maybe surprising her. Maybe asking her to go to a dance in town and surprising her by actually being able to dance like everyone else. It was one of his favorite daydreams.

There was one thing that Billy was especially happy about. About a month ago, Patty had made a new friend. Cindy was Patty's age and they had a lot in common. They talked about books and other things all the time. Sometimes, Cindy came over to their house. Usually though, Patty went over to Cindy's apartment. A lot of times, he would be asleep in front of the T.V. when Patty got home. She always woke him with a kiss and a hug. Billy knew he was the luckiest man in the world.

One Saturday, Billy just didn't feel like working in the yard. He felt like taking a walk. As he left his front walk, he looked back and thought, 'This is MY house. This is MY street I am walking down.' It had never taken much to make Billy feel happy. But, now... today he felt he was about to explode with happiness.

He walked aimlessly for awhile. Just enjoying the day. Billy liked walking. He had liked marching in the Army. He had been good at marching. He saw some kids playing jump rope. He stopped to watch. God, he loved children. He walked on and
realized that he was only a few blocks from Cindy's apartment. He decided to surprise Patty. She had said she would be helping Cindy sew curtains all afternoon.

He started to knock, but saw the door wasn't all the way closed. He had heard the music as soon as he entered the apartment building courtyard. When he pushed the door open, it was so loud that it made his ears hurt. There were maybe ten people in the living room. All but one couple were dancing. The one couple was on the couch. The girl didn't have a top on. The man had his hands on her. Billy was embarrassed. He looked away. He wondered where Patty was.

He knew he should leave. But, nobody was paying any attention to him and he wanted to talk to Cindy. He wanted to ask her where Patty was. He walked through the living room and down the short hallway. He stopped at the bedroom door. It was closed so he knocked. When nobody answered, he opened it and looked in.

Patty didn't have any clothes on. Neither did the man. Billy tried to swallow. For some reason, he couldn't swallow. He closed the door. He walked back through the living room and out into the courtyard. His eyes were burning. His chest hurt. It was hard to breathe. Back on the sidewalk, he just kept putting one foot in front of the other. The same way he had when he had to go on a long march in the Army.

He walked past the children. They were still playing jump rope. It was hard to see their faces now. His eyes were all wet and it was like looking through a car windshield when it was raining. The children's faces were all blurred. He turned toward the lake. He loved going to the lake. He would sit there and feed the ducks and pretend that he and his daughter and his son were all feeding them together.

As he neared the lake, he wondered... Would it have made a difference if he had learned to dance? Maybe, if he had learned to not get sleepy when he read? When he reached the water's edge, he didn't even pause. When the water lapped at
his chin, he started swimming. He never had been a good swimmer.

His last thoughts were of the children. He would have been a good father. He knew he would have been good at that...............

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