Kathy G Writes

harnessing the power of words

Matching Recliners

Kathy Gustafsson - February 15, 2021

My name is Gertrude Isabelle Walker. Besides my DNA, the name Walker was the only other thing my daddy gave me. Momma got pregnant at sixteen, and daddy skipped town not long after he found out. Granny and Pops weren’t too happy about me either. My grandparents reminded me daily how I had ruined my momma’s potential for a great life. Momma reminded me daily how I had ruined my grandparent’s lives by giving them another mouth to feed. On my eighth birthday, I let them all know I hadn’t asked to be born and maybe somebody else was to blame. The room when silent for a second and then momma slapped me across the face. The bruise kept me home from school for a week.

School wasn’t easy for me either. My mere presence annoyed my elementary school teachers. In middle and high school, I did my best to blend into the background and go unnoticed by the teachers. The other kids were a different story. They took every opportunity to remind me of my differences. My daddy didn’t want me. My momma was a dime-store clerk. Pops had the smallest farm in town. And I was the ugly nothin’ that came from it all.   

When high school ended, I thought life could truly start.  I would move away from this awful place, become anything I wanted to be and see the world. Granny and Momma laughed till they cried when I told them. They informed me no such thing would be happening. Momma said to take any job I could get and hold onto any man who would have me.

Mr. Little hired me as a waitress at the diner, working six days a week. I excelled at my job, but everyone still called me “Gert”, spittin’ out my name like a curse word. Pops died a year after my high school graduation. We sold the farm to cover the open mortgages, and it left us with nothing. Granny, Momma and I moved into a small rental house. Granny had to get a job; Mr. Hendricks took her on as the assistant manager at the Coin-Op Laundry. “We’re all career women now”, she and momma would joke.

Two years later, Granny died. She had been sick with the flu for a couple weeks, until one morning, she didn’t get up. Momma went into Granny’s room to ask a question and started to scream. After the funeral, Momma just stopped.  Then she died a year to the day after Granny. I’m not sure if it was from a broken heart or if she didn’t know what else to do. I guess I should have been sad, but I felt freedom and relief wash over me.

Ten years went by in a flash. Mr. Little promoted me to head waitress, and let me pick out the new uniforms when he remodeled the diner. I didn’t have any friends and gave up on any thoughts of love. My life wasn’t happy, but I had learned to get by.

Then, on a Saturday afternoon, Billy Witt walked into the diner and changed everything.

He came in with a few of the boys I had been in school with. Mark, David and Todd ordered their usual and then I turned to Billy. He was Mark’s cousin and moved to town to work on his uncle’s farm. Billy asked where cute girls like me hang out on a Saturday night. He said the nickname “Gert” didn’t fit me, asked my full name. Said he’d call me Bella, from my middle name and it meant beautiful in Italian. The boys stared at Billy like yams were growing out of his ears. I felt the heat rise from my neck to my face and ran away from the table.

No one had spoken to me like a normal person in years.  And no one had ever called me beautiful. I figured he was making fun of me and prayed he’d go away and never come back.

But Billy did come back.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner, whether the boys were with him or not. What did I do with my time off? Why was a cute girl like me still single? What was wrong with the men in this town not to have scooped me up? And even when I asked him not to, he called me Bella, reminding me it meant beautiful.   

Billy’s persistence wore down my defenses. The sweetness of his words clung to my heart. Then I would think of Momma and Granny, and fear would set in. Momma miserable her whole life because one man left. And I made Granny’s life miserable just being born. I wanted things to go back to normal, work at the diner and go home. Not get in anyone’s way and not have anyone notice me.

A month after his first lunch, Billy came in fidgety and nervous. When I brought his dessert, he asked me to sit and join him. Billy asked if he could take me on a picnic. He asked if I would consider spending some time with him. Then he asked if I would only ever think of him with kind thoughts. Tears welled in my eyes, my throat ran dry, I squeaked out a yes and his face lit up with a smile.

After that picnic, we were inseparable. Billy still came in for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. He took me to the movies, introduced me to NASCAR and the rodeo. He would bring me flowers every Saturday night. At 36, happiness entered my life.

Ten years flew by, and Billy chose another Saturday to change my life.

We settled into our recliners to watch the NASCAR races. We chatted through the first half of the race, until Billy’s head rested on his shoulder. I giggled to myself about getting older and watched the rest of the race in silence.

When the race switched over to the evening news, I got up to make dinner. I yelled from the kitchen, and asked if tacos were OK. He didn’t answer. I walked over to his chair and nudged his shoulder. Cool skin met my fingers. I faced him and realized he wasn’t breathing. He sat, eyes closed.  He had left me. 

A switch flipped inside of me.  Why would Billy leave me?  Would happiness only give me 10 years? This was all a big mistake; I just needed to wait for him to come back. So, I made tacos and sat down next to him to eat. I talked about the end of the race, and our upcoming trip to Vegas. I reminded him about Mark’s birthday party next weekend. On and on I talked and chatted, but Billy didn’t speak back to me.

Monday morning I called Billy’s uncle to let him know he’d caught a bug and wouldn’t be into work. I went in for my regular shift at the diner. When I got home, Billy sat waiting for me. I talked about my day and filled him in on the gossip around town. I made dinner and turned on the evening news. Billy wasn’t speaking, but at least he was here.

We went on like this for the rest of the week. Saturday morning came and I called Mark to let him know we wouldn’t make it to his party. I told Billy we had to make a decision about our situation. I weighed and talked through the options, and asked Billy what he was thinking. He sat there, not saying a single word. In the end, I knew what needed to be done.

Pounding on the front door echoed throughout the house. Mark kept screaming “Gert!  Billy!” over and over again. Todd asked Mark if he was sure they were home. Frustrated, Mark broke the window next to the front door. Glass shattered into the entry and the smell of death met them both. Mark’s knees buckled. Todd called 911.

When Todd and Mark entered the house, they saw Gert and Billy, sitting side by side in their recliners. A note lay in Gert’s lap. I couldn’t live without him - Bella

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