There was a strong, almost-autumn wind. It upset the grand-kids’ play tent in the backyard, caused the crimson maple to wave furiously. There was a smell that was whipped up in the air. A warm, rich smell.
It made Lucille want to smoke on the deck.
She’d always thought that fall was the perfect season for smokers. Not too hot, not too cold. There was something comfortable about it. The smell of the leaves wilting on the ground, the slight chill in the air, the crisp sounds all around. Somewhere between her chest and her guts longed for just one cigarette. The urge was so strong.
But her only pack was over 6 years old. Hidden away in one of the decorative cookie jars atop the ledge in her kitchen. No one would care and no one would know if she had just one. The problem was, she didn’t know how terribly stale they might be after 6 years. And she’d have to climb on a chair to the counter-top and stand on her tippy toes to reach the cookie jar. It just didn’t seem worth it.
After she was dead and her kids were cleaning out the house, they’d find that old pack. Then, and only then, would they know her secret. She’d smoked for 40 some years without a single soul knowing. Well, except for the guy at the gas station outside of town. Not even Edgar knew. After 53 years of marriage and the man never knew.
Well, not 53 years of “wedding-in-a-church” marriage. More like “lived-together-so-long” it might as well be called a marriage. Everyone they knew just assumed they were married. Their parents had thought they’d eloped. Their kids never questioned it.
Somewhere around their 41st year together, they started going to church.
“Eddie, I think we need to be married,” she’d said to him after a Sunday evening service. The few kids that still lived at home were all in bed, yet she whispered anyway. “Don’t you think it’s the right thing to do?”
“Well, I guess so.” He’d looked at her like she had a second nose.
“But how? We can’t let the children know that we lived in sin.”
“Do they really have to know?”
“How else will we get married?”
Edgar had thought. Walked out of the room. Returned with something.
“Lu, I love you.” He got down on his knee. “Marry me.”
He slipped a key ring on her finger.
“Um, Edgar. How?”
“Right now.” He had bowed his head. “Lord, God. Uh. Can Lucille and me be married in Your Eyes? Can it work that way? Sorry for living with her out of wed-lock for so long. Amen.”
“Is that it?”
“I guess so.” His eyes had beamed into hers. “Hey, honey, could you help me up?”
“Goodness, you’re old!”
And that was it. Their long awaited wedding. In their bedroom among the unmade bed and overflowing hamper.
After all, where in the Holy Bible did it command a white dress and big, sugary cake? Lucille wouldn’t have felt right wearing white anyway. After giving birth to seven kids she was clearly no virgin. She could have gone for the cake, though.
“Sorry, wife. Can’t have a cake. No thanks to the diabetes for that,” Edgar had said. “How about some sugar free jello?”
“Sounds just fine, dear,” she’d said back.
“Just the two of us,” he had toasted, raising his dish of jello. “To many more years.”
Just the two of them. Lucille had felt a twinge of guilt at that. Even 12 years later, looking out the sliding door at the wind, she’d felt the guilt. It had been just the two of them. For so many years.
But not always. There was that one time. The time she’d failed him. But that was so long ago. In the late 1960’s. And that other man was dead. Killed in Viet Nam. And Edgar had never known.
She’d kept it from him to protect him. That way she bore the whole weight of the pain. But there were moments when she was sure he’d figure it all out. Justice, their oldest daughter, looked a whole lot like that other man. His green eyes, his strawberry colored hair. And not a lick like Edgar.
But Edgar had never said a word about it.
She couldn’t believe she’d let him go to his grave without telling him the truth. It upset her stomach. Brought her to tears. She had to put a hand on the glass of the door. Grief overcame her, putting her off balance.
A flash of lightning lit up the backyard. It was going to storm. It would be a big one.
Lucille hoped that it would all blow over before the morning. A soggy funeral would be miserable.