* Courting *
Jacob Butterfield and Gloria Ricci
Gloria Ricci worked the necktie counter at Bink’s in
She was twenty-nine and living at home.
Jacob Butterfield, working construction on a new
He liked the way Gloria’s fingers skipped and paused over the ties, as though she were doing something artistic, something greater than picking out a necktie. She wore a silver charm bracelet on her right wrist. With a single round charm, it seemed to move as one with her hand, glinting in cased lighting, illuminating the ties.
He liked her eyes, the way they widened when she made her choice and carefully lifted the accoutrement from its glass case before slipping the counter key into her pocket. He liked her mouth, naturally pink after her lunch break, and her blonde hair, “Northern Italian”, she said, how two strands, which she tucked and re-tucked behind her diamond-studded ears, fell across her eyes. The diamonds were a gift from her deceased paternal grandfather, rumored to have had Mafia connections.
For Jacob, Gloria selected pinstripe, navy, gray, brown and black. He was not a colorful man, but steadfast and deep. His eyes, more gray than blue, like rocks. She was drawn to him. He said things no other man—like her twelve prior suitors dismissed and married now, whose wives she passed in the supermarket—would dare to say. On their first date, Jacob leaned across the booth, taking her hands in his, putting her pale fingers, nearly translucent next to his, to his lips. “I fucking love you,” he said.
“Stop it.” She looked to see if anyone had heard.
“I fucking love you.”
“You’re crazy. You don’t know me.”
“Sure I do.”
“I bought seven ties from you. I spent more time with you than with my own mother.”
She laughed nervously, pulling her hands away, sipping her Coke. “But I’m older than you are.”
Thin-lipped with an angular jaw and short black hair, all six-feet of Jacob’s muscular frame was sun-drenched from working outdoors. He said, “Age is a number. I don’t believe in bullshitting and wasting time. I’m a man who knows what he wants, and I want you. I knew when I saw you. If you want me, I’m here.” He thumped his chest like Tarzan. “Just don’t mess with me.”
In imitation of him, Gloria thumped her chest. “I don’t mess with people. I help people.” She thought about her ties. Meeting new people from all walks-of-life—each with a burden and joy. She had the ability to make a stranger smile. Sometimes she imagined herself older, a spinster, with age spots and blue veined hands, her long fingers traveling over the neckties. Would she still have the gift to help people? Twenty or thirty years from now with no children and no home of her own, would she still be happy? She didn’t know.
Jacob leaned across the booth. “I can help you, Gloria.” His hands were in loose fists.
“How can you help me?” She flushed.
“Live a little.”
“I live.” She lived at Bink’s. She had her customers. Home was a different story. Her bedroom, once her nursery, was painted pink. A room for a little girl and not a woman almost thirty, with a crucifix hanging above her bed and a Bible, a confirmation gift, in her bedside-table drawer. Fifteen years ago, right after she was moon-kissed, she used white house paint to render a full moon on her bedroom wall.
“I will not have a devil worshipper under this roof,” her mother had said, down on her knees, scrubbing Gloria’s moon from the wall.
“God created the moon!”
An hour later, her mother was sweating and talking to herself: “What in the world?” “I don’t understand this!” She put her cleaning products away. No amount of scrubbing, not cleanser or Clorox would erase the painted moon.
Later that night, Gloria’s dad painted over it with the same white house paint, but a thin orange halo appeared distinguishing the moon from the other paint. He explained to Gloria’s mother, “It’s because the wall was originally pink. That’s all.” Next, he tried pink paint. When the moon shone even brighter, he used black. Within a day, the whiteness of the moon bled through. He had no explanation.
“We have to move.” Gloria’s mother said.
“We’re not moving!” Gloria’s dad slid her dresser in front of the painted moon. “That takes care of it.”
Gloria’s mother said, “I worry for her soul.”
Gloria’s dad said, “No one knows what happened, and no one ever will.”
The next day, her mother tried to take Gloria’s charm bracelet away, but when the chain felt hot on her fingertips, she dropped it and ran from their house down the street to
Nightly, Gloria heard her mother lamenting over her only child’s lost soul.
This blue-collar man who wanted her to “live a little” might be her destiny. After ten years at Bink’s necktie counter, a new life might emerge. Both terrified and curious, she tried to sense Jacob’s emotions and thoughts. This was, after all, her gift—to read people—but she couldn’t read him. She thought of a million questions to ask, asking none of them. What did she know about him? He liked Coke and fried chicken. He liked the drive-in movies and aftershave that smelled lemony—a scent she didn’t know. He liked her. He said his mother was long dead, and he didn’t know his father.
“Are you an orphan?” she asked.
“Did you grown up in an orphanage?”
“In a boxcar. I was always moving.” He lit a cigarette.
“Can I have one?” she asked. He passed her the pack of smokes.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“I don’t smoke at Bink’s.”
Jacob got up from the booth, sliding beside Gloria, his thigh against hers. Taking her right hand in his, he turned it palm-up. She shivered at his touch.
Tracing the circular scar on her wrist, he said, “What’s this? A burn?”
“Your bracelet only has one charm.”
“It’s an image of the moon.”
He kissed her wrist.
She shuddered while he held onto her hand. Feeling his energy passing through her, she pulled her wrist away. She wasn’t accustomed to being touched.
“Are you cold?”
“No.” He’d reduced her to monosyllables.
Jacob sipped from her straw. “I’m wearing a tie you picked.”
“I know my ties.” She admired it. “Does it make you happy?”
“As much as something like a noose can make a guy swoon.”
He kissed her neck. More shivers, the white hair on her arms and back standing up.
Is this my destiny?
Standing on the front porch, he tried to kiss her goodnight, but knowing her parents were watching from the living room window, she pushed him away. Even through the brick walls of the house, she could sense her mother’s hope: Please let her marry. Please let her have a normal life.
Like Gloria, her parents did not expect her to marry. They knew her fifteen year-old secret—why twelve suitors had been passed over. They knew why in addition to the gold cross she wore around her neck, she wore a silver likeness of the moon buttoned beneath her shirt cuff—the charm rubbed smooth by her thumb and forefinger, a perfect match to the scar on her inner right wrist. They were surprised, but hopeful at the prospect of Jacob Butterfield, southerner or not, Protestant or not, marrying their Gloria.
The first night that he sat with them eating roast beef and boiled potatoes, he confessed, “God has never been a part of my life. I didn’t have what you’d call a Christian upbringing, and I’ve got no interest now.”
“More potatoes?” Gloria’s mother asked. “You need to eat. You’re skin and bones.” She was overly anxious, her desperation almost palpable, scooping potatoes onto Jacob’s plate. “I made iced tea because I have friends from down south, and they say everyone drinks iced tea.”
“I doubt all people from below the
Jacob tucked his napkin into his shirt collar like a bib. Gloria’s mother, typically reproachful of such manners, commented, “It’s a shame about you being an orphan. It’s no wonder you don’t believe in our savior Jesus Christ. You will one day, especially if you spend time with Gloria.”
Gloria couldn’t help but smile at the irony of her mother’s statement. After all, she had the doomed soul. What good would she do Jacob Butterfield?
“It’s a real shame,” Jacob agreed, shooting Gloria a sympathetic look.
Gloria added, “Jacob was raised a hobo. He ate dog food.”
Jacob said, “It’s true.”
“How awful!” Gloria’s mother pointed her fork at Gloria’s dad. “Cut him another slice of roast, honey.”
“Sure,” he said, tossing his dinner napkin on the table. The roast was on the sideboard.
Gloria reached beneath the table and squeezed Jacob’s knee. Her parents were offering her up to an atheistic southerner with no manners. It was tremendously funny but sad. Her dad, having long ago been tamed by her mother, followed orders. She could remember when she and her dad were allies—before her sin, before he fell under her mother’s tyranny. He had to pick a side. It wasn’t Gloria’s side, not with what he called, “The voodoo, hocus-pocus goings-on,” and whispering so low, it was barely audible, “and the incest.” He tried defending her. “In some states, it’s legal for cousins to marry.”
“Stop it!” Gloria remembered her mother screaming. “Is it okay to worship the moon? Is it okay to sin?” Gloria’s mother screamed until Gloria’s dad stopped with excuses. He picked his side. Now it was Gloria’s turn to pick. She could stay here in