A Right Good Choice
“There goes Pete the Greek with that woman,” Estherlene Baumgarten said, looking through the diner’s big picture window onto Main Street in downtown Goose Pimple Junction. “She’s all dressed up like she’s goin’ to Wal-Mart or somethin’.”
“He’s been seein’ her for some time now, don’t you know?” Junebug fixed the pins that held a bun to the top of her head.
“Doesn’t he know she and Homer Wensley ate supper without sayin’ grace?”
“Well, not only him…” Junebug had heard Tallulah’s morals were questionable, but she was trying to be delicate. “Once she had Homer’s kid, he moved on, and she moved on and on and on.”
Clive and Earl came into the diner, in the midst of another one of their lively discussions, and took their regular seats at the bar. The two older men whiled away many hours arguing over anything and everything on those red vinyl stools, but when all was said and done, either one of them would take a bullet for the other--and most of the residents of Goose Pimple Junction as well.
“Did not,” Earl said around the toothpick in his mouth.
“She absodamnlutely did.” Clive turned to Junebug as if to signal the discussion closed, but Earl wasn’t quite ready.
“Junie, old Clive here expects me to believe Carla Sue—may she rest in peace—once found Tallulah Bogarde and Patrick in…uh…in flagrante delicto.”
“In fragrant what?” Junebug put her hands on her hips and raised her right eyebrow.
“Not fragrant.” Earl rolled his eyes and let out an impatient sigh. “You know…in amorous congress.”
Junebug stared at him, her eyes narrowed slightly, and a confused look on her face. She looked at Estherlene. “You know what this fool is talkin’ about?”
“Junebug,” Estherlene said as if she were talking to a child, “Rumor has it she found them.” She waggled her head. “You know. Bread and butter fashion.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Sure she did. I was just tellin’ Estherlene here that woman has sweet talked—and Lord knows what else—just about any man on two legs.” She looked through the open window into the kitchen at her husband, Slick. “Except for Slick. He knows I won’t tolerate none of that.”
“You’re all the woman I need, Junebug,” Slick called through the window. “You’re the cheese to macaroni.”
“And you’re the milk to my cookie. Now get back to work. Table three’s waitin’, sugar.”
Clive looked amused. “Is that how Patrick got his nickname?”
Louetta Stafford and Tess Tremaine walked in just then. “What nickname? Who y’all talkin’ about?” Louetta asked.
“Moon Dobbins,” Junebug said, pouring coffee into a cup.
“I call people by their given name. I don’t stand for all that foolishness,” Earl mumbled.
“Everybody calls Patrick ‘Moon’,” Louetta said, sliding onto a counter stool. “Didn’t you know that? I thought everybody knew that. Is what how he got his nickname?”
Estherlene, who was known for her big mouth and extensive knowledge of the goings on in the community, answered her. “His wife found Tallulah and Moon in convivial society.”
“And y’all think that’s how he got his nickname? I always thought it was on account of the cheeks on his face.” Junebug put a cup of coffee in front of each man.
“Junebug!” Tess clamped her hand over her mouth in mock surprise.
“Now Junie, don’t be ugly,” Clive cautioned. “Gimmee a piece of that buttermilk pie, will ya, Junie?”
“Sure.” She nodded in Earl’s direction. “Whatta you want, Earl?”
“I’ll make it easy on you. Make it the same.”
“You always do everything I do.” Clive slapped his hand down on the counter. “Why’nt you grow a brain and think for yourself?”
“Then what would I need you for?” Earl winked at Junebug, and she went off to get their order.
Estherlene spoke up, addressing Louetta and Tess. “You know she’s carryin’ on with Pete the Greek now, don’tcha? That’s what got us started on the subject. We seen them walkin’ up yonder.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Clive grumped. “As my mother would say, we none have the promise of tomorrow so enjoy today. Can’t fault old Pete for doin’ that. He’s a widower, you know.”
Junebug said, “My mama used to say a reputation is better ‘n great wealth.”
“That’s Proverbs,” Estherlene corrected.
“Nuh uh,” Clive said. “It’s Ecclesiastes.”
“It’s both, y’all. To one degree or another.” Louetta asked for coffee and then said, “Y’all know the story about Marie and Louie Goodson, don’tcha?”
“Aw, gwon and tell that one, Louetta, it’s a goodun,” Junebug snickered. “I know Tess hasn’t heard that’un.”
“Oh, tell it, Lou, tell it,” Tess begged.
Louetta folded her hands on the countertop and began. “Well, old Louie was a Tomcat, bless his heart, and he liked to imbibe a little too much, too. This was back when they lived just up the road a piece from Humdinger’s Bar.”
“That place is still in bidness, although mostly miscreants hang out there now,” Estherlene put in.
Earl said, “I remember Marie. She was a tiny little woman who perpetually talked to herself and her head shook constantly. A lot of the time she had no idea whether anyone was around or listening, she just shook and talked, shook and talked.”
“Folks said her condition was caused from carryin’ and deliverin’ those twins, at her minute, frail size,” Junebug shook her head, remembering the woman. “The babies had pressed on her spinal cord and that had created her malady.”
“Freddie and Eddie,” Clive interjected.
“You’re kidding,” Tess said. “They named their twins Freddie and Eddie?”
“Yes, they did. Anyway,” Louetta took the conversation back, “she annoyed the ever lovin’ heck out of Louie, who generally stayed outside in his basement when he wasn’t working. Although they had a dirt unfinished basement, Louie had all the tools and lighting and skill necessary to build pretty darn good cabinets. And let me tell you, in his spare time, he made a lot of cabinets. I still have some up at the house. He did beautiful work.”
“Get to the point, Lou,” Clive grumped.
“Well,” she shot him a look, “one Easter Sunday, Louie decided to go up to Humdinger’s.”
“Weren’t they closed on Easter Sunday?” Tess asked.
“Technically, they were. But nobody much cared, and old Charlie stayed open unofficially. Always said he couldn’t help it if he forgot to lock the door and someone came in.” Lou took a sip of coffee and continued. “So Marie spent all day cookin’ up Easter dinner, and the kids came over, and dinner was ready, and Louie still wasn’t home.”
“Nothin’ like a woman scorned,” Earl said, his face in his hands.
“So Marie told everyone to grab a dish, and she packed up the silverware and the tablecloth and the china and napkins, and she put on her Easter bonnet and marched them all down the road to Humdinger’s.”
“She did not!” Tess said.
“Oh yes, she did. She flung open that door and stepped inside—some say to get her bearings on account of comin’ into a dark room from the bright sunlight, but Marie always had a touch of the dramatic, and I think she was making a grand entrance.”
“Prolly,” Junebug agreed.
“Anyway, once she got her bearings, and everyone in the bar knew she’d arrived, she marched the family to the middle of the room and instructed them to push tables together.”
“Was Louie in the bar?” Tess wanted to know.
“Sure, sure he was. He was sittin’ up at the bar, right smack dab next to Tallulah Bogarde, in front of God and everyone.”
“And now, in front of Marie,” Earl smirked.
“In broad daylight?” Tess’s voice went up an octave or two.
“In broad daylight.” Lou stretched out the word broad. “So she set the table just as pretty as you please—she even brought the bowl of waxed fruit for the centerpiece. They arranged the food on the table all nice like, and then with her head held high, she stood up straight, smoothed down her skirt, and she called across the bar. ‘Louis. Would you care to join us for Easter dinner?’”
“And did he?” Tess asked.
“You better believe it.” Estherlene snickered.
“Yes,” Louetta said, “but that was the last meal he ate with the family. Marie threw his butt out that very night. Folks say the incident embarrassed him so much, he left town the next day. I wonder what he’s doin’ now?”
“May be dead.”
“What about Claude Tally? I heard he had a brush with Tallulah once.”
“If there's one rat you can see, there's gonna be fifty you can't.” Junebug refilled everyone’s cup of coffee.
“Well, now that we’ve slandered half of Goose Pimple Junction, who’s gonna talk to Pete the Greek?” Clive asked.
“Will you just call the man Pete?” Earl mumbled.
“Why do y’all call him Pete the Greek?” Tess asked, looking from face to face.
Everyone looked at her like she had two heads, but Louetta spoke up.
“First of all, I’m right proud of you, Tessie, you’re talkin’ more like a southerner everyday. Second, we call him Pete the Greek because he’s from Greece, darlin’.”
“Why’s anybody gotta talk to him? It’s his private bidness,” Earl grumped.
“But he’s new in town,” Clive said. “He retired down here from upstate who-knows-where. He might not know about her checkered past. And what if he finds out about it when it’s too late? I think somebody oughtta tell him.”
“You shouldenoughtta get involved.” Earl jabbed his finger at his friend.
Clive jabbed his finger back at Earl. “The man’s got a right to know he’s carryin’ on with a loose woman.”
The opportunity to talk to Pete presented itself a few weeks later, right after his and Tallulah’s engagement was announced. Pete came into the diner and sat down next to Earl and Clive. Earl, knowing what Clive intended to do, and wanting no part of it, politely excused himself, threw some bills on the counter, and left the diner.
“That Earl.” Clive slowly shook his head. “I’ve known him since dirt was new. He’s good people.”
“I expect he is,” Pete the Greek said in his thick accent.
“Hire yew doin’, Pete?”
“Clive, if I was doing any better, I’d be twins.”
Junebug arrived and Pete ordered coffee and a burger. Before she went to put in the order, she said, “I hear congratulations are in order. You gonna go and getcherself hitched?”
“Looks a like, Ms. Junebug. I got a tired of waiting on Slick to keel over, so what choice did I a have?” He gestured to Slick with a big smile on his face.
Clive’s ears perked up at the unknowing lead-in Pete had just given him. “Seems like a fine man of your caliber has a lot of choices.”
“I think, as the locals around here say, I’ve made a right good choice.”
“Well, now, how long have you been on the market, Pete? Didn’t your wife just die not long ago? What’s the rush?”
“No rush. I just found a da woman I want to spend a da rest of my life with, and dat’s what we’re going to do.”
“How much do you really know about Tallulah?”
Junebug set down Pete’s burger and coffee in front of him and retreated to tend to a table in the back.
“I know all I need to know, Clive.” Pete picked up the hamburger and took a bite.
“Are ya sure? You know, some women tell enough lies to ice a weddin’ cake.”
Pickle came through the door, wearing a t-shirt that said, “I spill things.” And sure enough, there was a big red stain on the left side of his shirt.
“How do, Pickle? You come in to get some more food on your shirt?”
Pickle stopped next to Clive, looking confused. “Uh…no sir. I came in to meet Charlotte.”
Clive clapped him on the back. “Well then get on, son.” He turned back to Pete and hitched his thumb at Pickle’s retreating back. “That kid’s got clue deficit disorder.” Then in a nonchalant way that was so nonchalant it was obvious, he said, “You know anyone like that?”
Pete looked him in the eye and smiled. “I suppose I do, Clive.”
Clive worked on Pete for a little longer, getting nowhere. Pete was either too dense, or too stubborn. Clive decided it was time to be blunt.
“Pete, I like you.”
“I lika you too, Clive.”
“And I want what’s best for you.”
“Thank you,” he said hesitantly.
“But I don’t think Tallulah is it.”
Finally, Clive flatly said, "Pete, you have to know that she’s slept with half of the men in Goose Pimple Junction!"
Pete was silent for a moment, showing no emotion on his face. He took a bite of his hamburger, chewed and swallowed. Then he replied, "Goose Pimple Junction, she no big a da town."