Fiction: Starting Over

A fiction story. Third of three installments.

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Josh developed a habit of coming to the supper table early. Supper was the highlight of his day. He would sip iced tea and watch Lacey cook. Lacey had him drinking tea, at least at supper time, as a healthy substitute for RC Cola. Their conversations were pleasant, unless she started harping about buying a washing machine or building a bathroom. If their talk became too serious, Josh would go out on the porch and watch the grass.

One warm afternoon while Lacey was busy in the cabin, she decided to cool off with one of Josh’s RC Colas. She went out on the porch and sat down beside Josh. After a couple gulps of soda, she straightened up, pulled her chin tight to her chest and locked her lips tight. Her face reddened, her eyes bulged, and she belched.

Josh was looking out at the grass and hadn’t witnessed her desperate plight, but he didn’t miss a beat as he said, “Cleanses your innards, don’t it?”

Lacey pressed her hand to her chest and said, “Whooo.”

She glanced sheepishly at Josh, who was grinning broadly. So what if he was losing the war, he thought. He could still win a battle now and then.

 

 

One autumn afternoon, Josh sat on the porch watching the grass ripple in waves of straw reflections in the wind as he hummed Saint Louis Blues. Suddenly, his chest expanded as though he had received a blow from inside his body. His eyes widened, and he reached for his left arm, then he slumped into a snoozing position.

From inside the cabin, Lacey called out to her grandfather that supper was ready. When Josh didn’t answer or appear at the table, she came to the front door. Thinking he was sleeping, she was undecided about disturbing him. When she touched his hand, it slid off the chair arm and swung lifeless like a clock pendulum. His hat toppled off his head, and his gray face and open mouth alarmed Lacey.

“Granddaddy!”

When Josh did not respond, Lacey knew she needed help. Josh’s crumpled position looked terribly cramped, so she attempted to pull him from the chair. She managed to turn the chair over, and Josh flowed out on the floor like rolled-up carpet. Her next thought was that she had to get help. The nearest house was Opal’s, but she might not be home from work yet. Maybe she could get into Opal’s house someway and use her phone.

It would take too much time to run to Opal’s house. Lacey thought of the truck, but she had never driven a vehicle. She had, however, watched Josh start and drive the truck many times. She decided to give it a try. Josh always left the key in the truck.

She ran out and started it, and the truck made its usual growling startup sounds. Lacey stepped on the gas, and the truck roared angrily like a disturbed lion. When she pulled it into gear, the truck jerked forward like it suddenly understood it had a part to play in this emergency. The ancient Ford fishtailed down the dirt driveway, and the spinning wheels generated a monstrous swirl of dust behind them.

Lacey got to Opal’s house and was looking for something to break a window when she noticed Opal’s green Chevy coming down the road. It seemed to Lacey like it took forever to explain to Opal what had happened, and for Opal to call for help. Lacey shuddered to think death might once again make her an orphan. The vision of Josh lying on the porch crushed the life out of her, and she began to cry.

Once in Opal’s car, Lacey wanted to tell her to drive faster. She was sure she would have made better time in the truck. When they got to the cabin, the last thing Lacey expected to see was Josh sitting like always in his chair. She jumped out of Opal’s Chevy and ran up to the porch.

“Where’ve you been?” Josh asked. “The one time I get to feelin’ bad, and you ain’t here. Just walked off as if you didn’t have a care in the world.”

 

 

When Dr. Kendall came into the room, Josh said, “There’s nothing wrong with me, Doc. I’m only here because my granddaughter’s been nagging me to see a doctor.”

“Well, why is it that your granddaughter thinks you should see me?”

“It’s nothing,” Josh said. “Lacey gets excited. I sorta dozed off one day and fell out of my chair. She thought I’d passed out or somethin’.”

Dr. Kendall read the chart the nurse had filled out.

“You’re 78. Retired?”

“Yep.”

“What did you do before you retired?”

“Raised horses for dude ranches. I gave it all up when Sophie died.”

“Was Sophie your wife?”

“Dessie Mae was my wife. Sophie was the best horse I ever had. She’s buried out back of the barn.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know.”

“That’s all right. Dessie Mae’s gone, too – twenty-three years come the 16th of May.”

“Do you live alone?”

“Nah,” Josh said. “My granddaughter, Lacey, lives with me.”

Dr. Kendall spent the next few minutes listening, feeling and thumping on Josh as doctors are prone to do.

“Who’s your regular doctor?”

“I guess I’d have to say Dr. Burns.”

“Burns? Can’t place him,” the doctor said. “The only Burns I know is a dentist who used to be in Choteau?”

“That’s right,” Josh said, then opened his mouth and pointed, while adding, “Dr. Burns pulled this’n, this’n and this’n.”

“Who is your medical doctor?”

“Oh, I reckon that’d have to be Dr. Finer. He was in this same office.”

“If you mean Dr. Finley, he died twenty-five years ago,” the doctor said. “That’s when I moved to Bynum.”

“That’s about right. A horse threw me, and I sprung my ankle. Didn’t really need a doctor, but Dessie Mae just wouldn’t let up on me.”

“You can get dressed, then the nurse will show you to my office.”

“Did I thump out all right, Doc?”

“Did your granddaughter come with you today?” the doctor asked.

“Sure did,” Josh replied. “She’s out yonder in the visterbule.”

“Good. I’ll have the nurse bring her to my office.”

 

 

When Dr. Kendall came into his office after the exam, he saw Josh but not Lacey. When he walked around the chair, he was surprised to see Lacey. He had expected to find a grown woman, but Lacey was a child.

“Are you Miss Lacey?”

“Yes, Miss Lacey Mae Peterson.”

Dr. Kendall shook Lacey’s hand and said, “Very glad to meet you. Tell me, why did you think your granddaddy should see me?”

“Well, I found him on the porch, and I thought he was dead, and I couldn’t lift him, and I had to turn the chair over to stretch him on the floor, and I drove the truck down to Opal’s, and when Opal and me got back, Granddaddy was sitting in his chair like nothing had happened, but I knew something bad had happened.”

“I was dozing, that’s all.”

“And, Miss Lacey, you can drive a truck?” Dr. Kendall asked.

“I’m a fast learner,” Lacey beamed.

“That’s amazing,” the doctor said. “Your grandfather is pretty healthy for his age. He most likely had a mini-stroke, or what we call a TIA. At his age, he could have another TIA tomorrow, or he might live the rest of his life without ever having another one. Bring him back to see me if he has another one.”

“What can we do to keep him from having another one?” Lacey asked.

“Does he smoke?”

“No, doc, I chew tall grass,” Josh said, speaking for himself.

“You eat grass?”

“Naw, I spit it out.” Josh pulled several twigs of grass out of his shirt pocket and handed it to the doctor. “It’s my invention to stop smokin’, and it really works. You ought to tell your patients about it.”

Dr. Kendall took the piece of grass and smelled it, then smiled and said, “Thanks. I just might recommend this. You should get some exercise, too. If you could walk two miles every day, that would be good.”

“Whoa, Doc,” Josh said. “You gotta watch what you say in front of Lacey.”

“I’ll walk with you, Granddaddy.”

Josh groaned as Dr. Kendall wrote something on a prescription pad and handed the sheet to Lacey.

“If he has any more problems, nag him to come see me again.”

Josh and Lacey got up to leave, and Dr. Kendall said, “I’m very glad to meet you, Mr. Marsh, and you, too, Miss Lacey Mae Peterson.”

Josh touched the brim of his hat with his index finger, and Lacey dipped her head and smiled sweetly. From his office door, Dr. Kendall watched Josh and Lacey walking down the hallway. One tall, one short – both extremely amazing.

They left the doctor’s office and went to the drugstore. When Lacey handed the prescription to Paul Crowder, the druggist and owner of the drugstore, he told them that there was no prescription. The doctor had simply written, Have your grandfather take one aspirin every day.

 

 

Lacey heard Josh talking to a man on the porch one morning, and when she looked out the window toward the driveway, she saw a bright red pickup. A sign on its door said Luther Adkins, Contractor. The word “bathroom” immediately popped into Lacey’s head. She was very curious, but Josh and the man were now walking around the house. She ran from window to window to see what they were doing. They stepped off distances and often waved their arms. At last, they entered the back door.

“Luther, this is my granddaughter, Lacey,” Josh said. “She’s the one pesterin’ me about a bathroom. I’ve told her and told her we can’t afford it.” Josh looked at Lacey. “Opal told Luther about you wantin’ a bathroom, so he’s come out here to study on it.”

“Glad to meet you, Mr. Adkins,” Lacey said, her heart pounding hard enough to crack her ribs.

Luther surveyed the house and measured the rooms, then said, “It doesn’t make sense to build a bathroom in the cabin. It isn’t big enough. I suggest you add a small wing on the southwest corner for the bathroom.”

“That’ll cost a heap,” Josh said.

“But it sure would be nice, Granddaddy,” Lacey replied.

“Of course, you have to have a septic field, too,” Luther said. “Let me figure for a few minutes, and I can give you a rough estimate. Then if you’re still interested, I’ll go to the office and figure an exact price.”

After twenty minutes, Luther came back in and said, “I estimate everything complete will be in the neighborhood of thirty-two thousand.”

“Whooooeee,” Josh exclaimed. “I ain’t got that kind of money.”

Lacey bit down hard on her lip to keep from crying.

“I’ve done sat down with Charlie Standsel at the bank, and we went over everything I’ve got,” Josh said. “Charlie said I could afford to spend about fifteen thousand. I don’t get enough from Social Security to make payments on a loan.”

Lacey wondered when Josh had gone to the bank. It must have been while she was at the Laundromat. She tried to think of something she could do to make her dream come true. It would take a lot more than selling chocolate chip and oatmeal-raisin cookies to build a bathroom.

“I was glad to come out,” Luther said. “If you ever see your way clear to build the bathroom, give me a call.”

Lacey and Josh stood on the porch with long faces and watched Luther’s pickup kick up a cloud of dust as he drove away.

“I’m sorry, Lacey,” Josh said. “I thought fifteen thousand would be aplenty. If I’d known it wasn’t enough, I’d never have let Luther come out. It’s just worked you up for nothin’.”

“It wasn’t Opal who talked to Luther,” Lacey said. “It was you wasn’t it, Granddaddy?”

“Well, yeah, I guess it was.”

“Thank you for trying,” she said. “We’ll find a way to get us that bathroom, you’ll see.”

“Won’t neither.”

 

 

That night, Lacey knelt by her bed and prayed, “Lord, we got the biggest problem ever. Granddaddy tried to get us a bathroom, but he just can’t afford it. Maybe we don’t need bathrooms in heaven so You just haven’t given it much thought, but we need them something awful down here. Let’s You and me get our heads together and see if we can’t come up with some miracle. I know this is a big order, and it may take You awhile to think of something. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to think of something, too. I’ll check back later, Lord. Amen.”

Lacey always fell asleep as soon as she hit the bed, but that night she lay awake trying to think of some way to finance a bathroom. She came up with only one idea – they could sell part of the ranch. No, she remembered Josh saying he would never sell one square foot of it. Actually, she was desperate for a bathroom, but she wasn’t sure she could enjoy a bathroom if they had to sell land to get it, so she decided not to mention her idea to Josh.

Finally, she drifted into a fitful sleep. She dreamed she was searching the living room. Perhaps she was looking for the bathroom, or maybe she was looking for money to build a bathroom. Fog swirled around her, and only the items in front of her were in focus. The area in which Luther suggested building the bathroom came into view, complete with a door. When she tried to turn the doorknob, however, her hand closed around nothing. She floated around the living room, searching, leafing through books, peeking into boxes and looking behind pictures.

When Lacey woke the next morning, she didn’t get up immediately, as was her habit. Last night’s dream fascinated her. The door to the bathroom was so clear in her dream, but, of course, it didn’t actually exist. She went around the room in her mind. The desk? Why wasn’t the desk in her dream? The discrepancy was puzzling. She jumped out of bed and ran into the living room. She rolled open the desk, and just like before, every cubbyhole was full. Then she noticed the large envelope under the typewriter.

 

 

Sitting in the truck outside the Laundromat, Lacey handed Josh the homemade cookies for him to give to Opal, then she gathered up the basket of dirty clothes.

Lacey put her clothes in a washing machine and intended to do the laundry before seeing about other things. This morning, however, there was no one else in the Laundromat, so she made a snap decision. She removed the brown envelope she’d found in the desk from the basket and headed for the Bynum Rancher’s Bank.

Meanwhile, Josh sat in a booth at Opal’s with a cup of coffee. Cedric asked, with a big grin, if he’d filed for bankruptcy yet. Actually, Josh knew he and Lacey were getting along well now, but his ranting and raving about Lacey’s spending had become more entertainment than serious.

Opal suspected the picture Josh painted wasn’t as dark as he made it out to be, and she couldn’t help but laugh at times. Cedric liked to prod Josh to keep him going, and, of course, Josh didn’t want to disappoint his audience.

Josh didn’t mention that he had contacted Luther about adding a bathroom. His story for public consumption was that Lacey was “wearing him to a frazzle” with her campaign for him to buy a modern washing machine and dryer.

“Isn’t that Lacey going into the bank?” Opal asked, looking out the window, pointing across the street.

Josh jumped up, knocking over his cup of coffee, and said, “By doggies! I better get over there fast. She’s figured out some way to get my money. She’ll be the ruination of me yet.”

Lacey was sitting at Charlie Standsel’s desk when Josh walked in. The large brown envelope lay on Standsel’s blue blotter pad.

“What are you doing here, Lacey?” Josh asked his granddaughter, clearly confused and worried.

Charlie was holding the bank book that had been Josh’s brother, Earl’s, and he looked up and said, “Hi, Josh. I just met your granddaughter. She’s quite a little lady.”

“Thank you, Mr. Standsel,” Lacey said, then turned to her grandfather and added, “I asked Mr. Standsel if Uncle Earl’s money was still available.”

“I told you that was fifteen years ago,” Josh retorted.

“Actually Josh, the money might still be in the First National Bank in Great Falls,” Charlie said.

“Yeah?”

“I can find out real quick for you,” Charlie said, picking up the phone. “Just give me a minute. You might as well pull up a chair, Josh.”

A moment later, Charlie hung up the phone and said, “It’s still there, and the balance is $1,298.34. You didn’t give them your address, so they didn’t know how to contact you.”

Lacey jumped out of her seat and said, “Granddaddy, that’s enough money to buy a washing machine.”

Josh settled back in his seat and said, “Well, I’ll be …”

Lacey pulled a green engraved stock certificate out of the envelope and asked Charlie, “What about this? Is this any good?”

She handed it to him, and his eyes grew very large.

“Why haven’t you checked on this, Josh?” Charlie asked.

“What is it?” Josh asked. “I didn’t even know it was there.”

Charlie got up and said, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Josh pulled a piece of grass out of his pocket, as Lacey said, “You shouldn’t do that in here.”

“Shucks, I gotta do somethin’.”

“Well, it isn’t dignified.”

Josh put the grass back in his shirt pocket and grumbled, “I never wanted to be dignified anyway.”

Charlie came back with a strange, silly grin on his face. In a way he looked pleased, and in another way he looked like he was about to cry.

“This certificate for 100 shares of John Deere was purchased in 1939,” Charlie said, his voice cracking. “My preliminary search indicates that, with dividends and stock splits, it’s now worth more than a million dollars – $1,346,533.44 to be exact.”

Josh was wide-eyed stunned, Lacey stared at nothing with a surprised smile spreading wide across her face, and Charlie stared at Lacey. They all sat there without saying a word for a full minute.

Charlie was the first to recover from his state of shock.

“The certificate is in the names of Earl Moses Marsh and Joshua Ezekiel Marsh,” he said. “Your brother made you a joint owner, Josh, so you can cash in some of it right away if you need it.”

A moment later, Lacey shook her head in disbelief, then said excitedly, “The hardware store next door sells washing machines and dryers, don’t they, Mr. Standsel?”

If Lacey had actually grasped just how much money they had discovered, she might have first asked for a new house to put the washing machine and dryer in. The magnitude of more than a million dollars would take time to soak in, though, like hot syrup on pancakes.

“Yes, Lacey,” Charlie replied. “They carry all brands of all appliances.”

“Great. Let’s go, Granddaddy,” Lacey said. “We’ll go over and see what they have.”

Josh sat silent, still in shock.

“I’ll have the money in Earl’s account transferred into your granddaddy’s account right away,” Charlie told Lacey.

“Thank you, Mr. Standsel.”

“Just call me Charlie, Lacey.”

Josh finally looked at Lacey, because she was pulling on his arm. He staggered in a daze as he followed Lacey out of the bank.

Opal had kept a close watch on the bank from her restaurant. She would have given anything to hear Lacey and Josh in the bank.

“Look, Cedric, Josh is following Lacey out of the bank. They’re heading to the hardware store. I’ll bet Lacey wrangled a washing machine out of Josh.”

“Sure as shootin’. Look how Josh’s tail’s draggin’,” Cedric said. “I feel kinda sorry for old Josh, don’t you?”

“Yeah, sorta,” Opal said.

Lacey reached back and took hold of Josh’s hand when he drifted toward the curb.

“You know what, Granddaddy? You could use a new truck.”

“Oh, no,” Josh mumbled. “Don’t you go startin’ on my truck.”