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by Meta Livingston Jones

"Honey, I need help right here!  Now!"

Gary's frustration showed on his face. His cheeks were beet red and  veins bulged blue and angry on the sides of his sunburned neck.  His  body was twisted in some strange contortion as he attempted to keep a small odd shaped piece of cardboard from sliding off of the hole in his dingy picture window.  It was impossible for him to hold the paper in place and tape it at the same time. But Jenny already knew that.  Still she left him there to get it done.  Here he was trying to do something responsible and she was God knows where, doing God knows what, while a hoard of nasty yellow jackets were invading his home.

"I'm coming," Jenny shouted from the back bedroom, "I got to change the sheets 'fore your mama and Cyrus come"

It took several more minutes for Jenny to make her way to the living room where Gary's back was aching and his arms shaking trying to keep the hole covered.  Jenny bounced happily across the battered hardwood, kicking the fringe of the now threadbare rug they had gotten for their wedding. 

"Whew!  Making that big ol' bed is hard work.  I'm through now though--you want me to hold or tape?"

"Mama and Cyrus won't be here 'til Sunday, Jenny. Today's Thursday, why in the hell couldn't you come in here when I called you.  I told you these damn bees was trying to take over.  Them damn sheets could wait 'til we got through.  Anyway, ain't nobody slept on that bed since Mama and Cyrus was here before."

"Aw, Gary, why you always got to be so cranky?  I was just trying to spruce the place up a little.  Those sheets I just put on there smell like a fresh spring day.  Your mama's gonna love 'em.  Shoot Cyrus might even get romantic after he breathes in some of that freshness."

Gary looked at his wife as hard as he ever had, silently praying to the Lord to take away the bad feelings that seemed to be creeping more and more into his thoughts.  He loved Jenny--had never loved nobody else--but lately everything she said and did seemed to pinch a nerve. 

Maybe it was himself he was mad at.  After all, he hadn't made a decent dollar since the Marico Poultry laid him off.  His cousin gave him a few days work, here and there, but it wasn't enough to keep food on the table and the lights on.  Jenny's little money had been keeping them above water, but now, with her losing her job, they just about used all the money they had just so they could eat. 

Things were taking a toll on Jenny, too.  She tried to act like nothing was wrong, joking and things, but it still showed.  They hadn't made love in two or three months.  In the five years they'd been married they had never gone longer than a couple of days.  Now, either she had her visitor, her head hurt, or they were both just mad.  Maybe that's what was wrong with him.  He was just horny and flusterated. 

"Sugar bear, " Jenny said as she placed the final piece of tape on the window.  Let's make some sandwiches and tea and go sit on our rock out in the swamp and tell each other stories like we used to.  Remember that one about..."

"I don't want to hear no damn stories, Jenny.  Hell, we ain't got two dimes to rub together and you're talking bout some damn stories.  Looka here, we got to fix a window with some damn scotch tape and you talking bout picnics and shit."

Gary threw the tape on the floor and stomped off towards the kitchen. He didn't know where that came from. Was that him talking? Hell, he had just pissed on the perfect opportunity to get laid.  What was his problem?  She was just trying to lighten the mood.  To be nice and he threw the money thing on her.  It wasn't her fault they didn't have shit.  But he wasn't going back to apologize either. For what?  So she could give him the cold shoulder.  Tell him what an ass he was.  Whatever had gotten into Jenny was gone now.  The only story she wanted to tell him now was to kiss her ass.

Jenny watched him walk down the hall, her blue eyes wide with concern.  She stood there for a long while, hands on hips shaking her head in disbelief.  She wasn't mad at Gary.  She understood things were hard for him.  He was a man and he wanted to take care of her.  The thing was, he wasn't taking care of her.  Not mentally, not physically, not financially.  He had been nothing but a dreamer in high school.  Now, even the dreams were gone.  Maybe she still loved him, she wasn't sure, but the one thing she was sure of--she didn't know how much longer she could stay with him.  

The sound of tires crushing over the dry dirt and rocks in the driveway shook Jenny from her thoughts.  She pushed the curtain back slightly and peeked out.  At first she didn't see anything but the willows dancing in the slight breeze coming from the swamp and a row of crows sitting patiently atop the clothesline on the side of the house.

"Sugar expecting somebody?" Jenny asked loudly.  

No answer. 

She peeped through the curtains again. This time she saw the front end of a huge black SUV slowly moving towards her front door.  Nobody she knew had a truck that big.  Not around Opaloosas.  Not near the swamp.  It couldn't be Gary's mama and Cyrus.  Their truck was as old as hers and Gary's and Cyrus was too cheap to rent anything so nice.  Jenny didn't know who it was, but whoever it was was driving the finest vehicle she had ever seen up close. 

Jenny ran to the kitchen, side-stepping the beat-up orange rug and sliding partway down the hall on her yellowed white crew socks.  She rounded the corner into the kitchen with the excitement of a five year old and was stopped dead in her tracks by the look on her husband's face.

"Gary, you alright?"  

His eyes were red, his face puffy.  Jenny could see the tears rolling down his cheeks even though he tried to hide his face in his short-sleeved shirt.  She had never seen her man cry before, and though normally compassionate, for some reason she found herself at that moment resenting him more than she ever had.

"Gary...what is wrong with you?  Ain't nothing bad enough for you to be crying.  My God, we got a roof over our heads and some food in the frigerator.  What on earth are you crying about?  Anyway, whatever it is...stop it!  Somebody just drove up to our house and they gonna be knocking on our door in just a minute.  This is shameful.  I don't want nobody to see you carrying on like this."

Gary turned his head to the wall and wiped his face on his shirt sleeve.  "Who is it?"

"I don't know, but they pulled up in a real shiny car.  A big, black SUV.  I think it's one of those Navigators Kevin Malveaux's always going on about.  You know anybody with a car like that?"

Both their heads spun towards the front door when they heard the knock.

"Gary, you go.  It might be somebody from the IRS or something."

"We don't owe no IRS.  Hell, that's the only people we don't owe.  And they don't come to your house, anyway."

"I don't know.  I don't know who it is," Jenny said, shaking her head back and forth, "but you're the man...go find out who it is."

Gary got up slowly from his chair and rolled his eyes as he passed his wife.  He felt his jaw tighten as he walked by and said another silent prayer for God to take away the hatred that was building in his heart.

Gary tiptoed to the door and looked out of the small curtain over the even smaller window.  What he saw made his jaw drop and caused a slight movement in his groin.  Jenny tiptoed up beside him.  "Who is it?" she whispered.

He couldn't speak.  He looked again.  She was still there.

"It's a black gal", he said slowly.

"What?  A black woman?  What's a black woman doing here?"

Gary peered out once more--this time meeting the young lady's eyes.  The biggest, roundest, darkest eyes he had ever seen.

 "Open the door, Gary, and see what she wants,"  Jenny spewed.

Mechanically, Gary opened the door.  The woman was as tall as he was, with long slender legs, the color of honey, growing out of a pair of dark blue denim shorts.  Her yellow blouse was tied at the waist with only a little skin showing, but when she raised her arm to adjust her sunglasses a small strawberry shaped tattoo blinked at him from her taunt brown belly.

"Hi.  Are you Mr. Gary Mackey?"

Gary stared at her and said nothing.

"Yes he is.  And who are you?" Jenny asked, her hands cemented to her hips.

The woman propped the leather briefcase she was carrying on her knee, reached in and pulled out a folded piece of white paper.  "I was told to deliver this to you Mr. Mackey," she said, handing the paper to him.  "I'm Lana Marable, a para-legal with Robert Patton and Associates in Natchez." 

Gary's head was swimming.  He couldn't remember the last time he saw a woman so beautiful.  It had to be in the movies.  Jenny was cute and all, but she wasn't no movie star.  The woman in front of him was prettier than Marilyn Monroe and Angelina Jolie put together.  And she said his name like he was a movie star too.

"Gimme that," Jenny said snatching the paper from the woman's hand.  "What is this?  What do you want?"

The young lady smiled broadly.  "Again.  My name is Lana Marable.  I work for Robert Patton and Associates, a law firm in Natchez, Mississippi.  I was asked to deliver this form to Mr. Gary Mackey for his signature."  She cast a look of dismissal in Jenny's direction and smiled sweetly at Gary.

"It seems you've been named an heir to a Mrs. Roman Muestra's estate.  I don't have specific details, but I've been asked to get your signature and escort you to Natchez for the reading of the will."

"Who is MRS. Roman Moostro, Gary?" Jenny asked sardonically.

"Hell, I don't know.  Give me the paper Jenny.  Let me read it."  Gary looked hopefully at Lana.  "It is for me, right?  Is Jenny's name on it?"

"No sir.  You are the one named as an heir.  Your father's name was Daniel Holcomb, right?"

"That's what my momma said.  I never met the man myself.  He knocked ol' mom up and split.  For as I know, he was living up north somewhere.  My Antie Safran wrote and told me he had died a couple of years ago.  I didn't think no more about it.  I never knew anything about him anyway.  My mama said he was a no-good somana-bitch.  That's all I ever knew."

Lana smiled at Gary once more, showing the whitest set of teeth in the universe.  Gary felt his knees start to buckle and leaned a little harder against the sofa.

"We being real rude.  I'm sorry.  Please come in and have a seat," Gary said.  "Jenny, please get our guest some sweet tea."

Jenny stared hard at Gary and said,  "You get the damn tea.  I got things to do."

Jenny stormed down the hallway and Gary opened the door wide enough to usher the young lady into his humble household.  He pointed to the paisley chair in the corner of the living room. "That chair is the most comfortable seat in the house.  Please rest your feet, while I get you some tea."

Lana strolled seductively across the wooden floor and sat in the chair.  She crossed her long legs and scooted back to a comfortable position.  She delivered legal documents like this all the time and received a hundred different reactions.  Neither this guy or his wife seemed that excited.  Most people were jumping up and down, screaming in surprise or something, but they just acted mad.  At least the woman did.  The man just seemed to take it in stride.  Like it wasn't anything important.  Lana could tell that he didn't know who Roman Muestra was.  But wait till he found out.  I bet all that money would put a smile on his wife's sour puss.  Lana picked up a Reader's Digest, dated April 1980, and flipped the pages.

"Gary why did you disrepect me in front of that colored woman? How dare you talk to me like I was nothing.  And why couldn't I read the paper first.  You're my husband!  And you damn better act like it or you won't be."

Gary grit his teeth.  It was getting harder and harder not to curse at her.  "God," he whispered with his back to Jenny, "please things get better."

"Jenny, I did not disrepect you.  You were the one being disrepectable.  That lady had not done one thing for you to act hateful to her.  I'm the one asked her in.  Least you could do was bring her some tea so I could find out what is going on.  The letter had my name on it and I want to know what it's about.  You would've got tea for anybody else.  She's company like anybody else would be.  I swear I don't understand you.  This could be something real good for us.  Get us outta this hole we been in.  Least you could do is try to be hospitable.  You sure ain't the girl I married no more."

Jenny threw one of her good cups across the room, smashing it against the cupboard.  She missed Gary by a mile, but she wasn't sure if she meant to or not.  She didn't care if it was money he was getting.  She was tired of Gary Mackay, Opaloosas, Louisiana and being buried in the hick swamps away from civilization.  And she was tired of using all of her savings to feed them.

"You damn right, I ain't the woman you married.  That woman starved to death 'cause her damn husband couldn't buy bread.  She's being stung to death by bugs 'cause her damn husband can't keep the shack he calls a house patched up.  Go on with that black witch if you want to and see what kinda shit somebody you don't even know left you.  You know damn well it wasn't your daddy.  Hell, he never even said hello to you, much less goodbye.  He didn't leave you nothing.  Ain't nobody in your family got nothing.  You aint got nothing and ain't going to have nothing. This is just damn ridiculous.  Whatever that woman's talking about ain't about nothing."

"But I tell you what, Gary Mackay, don't think if you do get something, half of it ain't mine.  Half of every damn thing you got belongs to me.  Remember that."  Jenny kicked a piece of the broken cup in Gary's direction and walked out the back door.  Gary watched as the screen door slammed behind her.

Gary stood there for a minute.  His mind muffled with Jenny's comments.  Forget her, he thought.  That woman in the front room was enough for him to think about for the time being.  That, and whatever she was talking about.  He took the pitcher from the refrigerator and poured it almost full of tea.  There wasn't much else in the refrigerator and for a minute, he felt the sting of Jenny's venom.  She's right to be upset, he thought, but now was not the time.

"Here you go," Gary said as he handed Lana the glass cradled in a paper towel.  "I'm gonna sit here and read this letter while you sip, and then you can tell me some more about what's going on."

Lana drank her tea.  It was sweet like she liked it.  Where she came from they just called it tea, but being in the South for a while she understood now that there was a difference.  Some people didn't drink it with sugar.  Go figure.  Her eyes canvassed the walls of what was once beautiful floral wallpaper.  Grey, pink and blue flowers could be discerned in between the peeling, cracking walls.  There was a mantle with pictures on it and Lana was tempted to get up and look.  She decided better about it when she heard the back door open and close again.  The wife was back in the house and there was no telling what she would drop, throw or break this time.  Whatever they were upset with each other about, whe wanted no part of it.  But this Mackay guy was cute.  In a rural redneck sort of way.  She always wondered what a romp would be like with a redneck.  Ummmm?

"Ok.  So it says that Gary Levi Mackay, has been named as a heir to the estate of Wilma Holcomb Dendara Muestra.  And that the reading of the will is being held Friday, August 14th at 2:00 in the law offices of Robert Patterson, Natchez, Mississippi."

"That is correct," Lana said softly.

"Well, damn, Friday is tommorrow."

"Yes sir, it is.  That's why I'm here to pick you up.  Our firm has been looking for you for months.  We've held up the reading of the will because of that.  There are some mad people out here because we postponed it.  So...if you would grab a few things...A nice shirt and slacks would be fine for the reading..we can go.  Your wife is welcome also if you'd like to come.  She won't be allowed in for the reading, but she is more than welcome to come on the trip.  We have room booked for you at the Reading and all of your expenses are being paid for through the estate."

"Who is Wilma watchamacallit?"

Lana giggled.  "Mrs. Roman Muestra is one of the wealthiest women in the Southern United States.  She inherited her wealth from her third husband, Roman, who inherited his wealth from numerous generations of Spanish royalty.  Until his death, he was considered his country's wealthiest shipping magnet.  He operated a fleet of cargo ships and transported most of the marble for import here in the states."

"So how am I an heir?"

"Your father was her first husband.  She never had any children of her own.  So you're it."

"I don't know her.  I never met the lady, just like I never met my daddy.  This is bee-zar.  What'd she leave me?  A pair of his dirty drawers?"  Gary laughed heartily at himself.  He could feel Jenny staring at his back and turned just in time to see her pop back into the kitchen.

"I don't have the details of the will.  I have no idea why or what she decided to leave you, but if you will just get a few things together, we'll be on our way to find out."