Kenny Luzader Will Outlive Us All
by Leslie Teel
Leslie Teel grew up in Huntington, West Virginia. She currently lives, works, and writes in Watertown, Massachusetts. Her fiction appeared in the February 2011 issue of Blue Lake Review.
"On a day like today you really do wonder about your own life." Becky collapsed into one of Kay's kitchen chairs and removed the Saran Wrap from the plate of butterscotch haystacks a neighbor had left. "And God knows mine's been such a waste." She bit a haystack in half and broke into a wail. "Oh, Kay-kay, why did this have to happen to you? We all just loved Nick so."
Kay took a deep breath and gripped the handle of the coffee carafe. If her sister said "Kay-kay" one more time in that little baby voice that had been annoying when she was three and was now positively grotesque, Kay was going to smash something, maybe several things, starting with the glass carafe. She and Nick had accidentally broken several of them over the years so she knew from experience that they shattered in a way that would be quite satisfying.
Maybe she'd better take another Xanax before the crowd from the funeral home arrived.
"Well, look at this. You stuffing your face and making Kay do all the work." Della, who had walked down the drive to pick up Kay's mail, breezed through the kitchen door and whisked the plate of haystacks away from Becky. "You shouldn't be picking at those. Remember your blood sugar. I'll make us some sandwiches. We should have a little something before they all get here. Kay, honey, you sit down this minute."
Kay had stopped, scoop poised over coffee filter, to stare out the kitchen window at the bird feeder Nick had built only last year. She had complained that they didn't need another bird feeder. She wanted him to make her a sewing table to replace the one she had given their granddaughter in a fit of sentimental generosity.
"I'm all right. I'm just getting the coffee going." She was careful not to spill any water lest Della come rushing over. When Della's husband, Red, died Della wouldn't let anyone help her do a thing. She wrote the obituary herself and wouldn't touch any of the food the neighbors brought over. Instead, she'd spent the entire night before the funeral baking a ham and rolling out dough for noodles, which Kay wasn't allowed to cut even though Della always made the noodles too thick and she knew it. Kay could just imagine Della going on about how Kay was so addled with grief she couldn't even manage coffee. Then Becky would back her up and when Kay argued that no one could do anything good enough for Della, Becky would turn around and say, "Yup, Kay's right, Miss Fussy," and Della would accuse them of siding against her because she was the oldest. Becky would start crying that they had been picking on her for sixty-two years and Kay would chain smoke ten cigarettes just to piss them both off. And now there was no Nick to shrug and ask her why she paid attention to The Biddy and The Shrew, as he called them. To make her laugh by suggesting they tell her sisters they were going into the Witness Protection Program and could never contact them again.
"You know what Kenny Luzader said to me today?" Becky had called her husband Kenny Luzader since the day they met, thirty-five years ago. He was a gangly, lethargic man who sat quietly in the corner at family gatherings, every now and then clearing his throat and telling no one about the latest farming gadgets he'd read about in Corn and Soybean Digest. He could always be found snipping away at his nails and saving the clippings in his pocket because—well, no one had ever figured out why. He had small, pale blue eyes and a habit of staring absent-mindedly at people until they grew uncomfortable. Kay's daughter and granddaughter had both declared him creepy around the time they turned thirteen and Kay had always been glad he and Becky had never had children, especially daughters. He was probably too lazy to be dangerous, but who'd want those creepy eyes staring at you while you were growing up?
"He told me to hurry up and get dressed so I could help him clean out that fool shed of his. ‘Help' meaning I was to do all the work while he sat polishing his precious tractor. Well, I looked at him and said, ‘Kenny Luzader, my brother-in-law's funeral is today so if you don't mind I—'"
Della whirled on Becky, tomato in one hand, knife in the other. "Do we have to hear you go on about Kenny Luzader? Kay just buried her husband."
"I know that. That's what's so awful. That's what I'm trying to say. Nick was a good man. Red was a good man. And they're both gone. Me? I married the only man that would have me and I'm stuck for God knows how long." She sighed. "If only I'd been pretty or smart, like you two."
This plaint usually hit its guilt mark with Kay, who had been voted Prettiest Girl in high school and made the Honor Society twice. Della hadn't been pretty, more like handsome, even as a girl, but she had been the president of four clubs and Salutatorian at her graduation. Becky had double chins by the age of fifteen and had been held back twice in school with reading problems that turned out, years later, to be dyslexia. It really wasn't fair that she had been stuck with Kenny Luzader.
But Kay had woken up this morning a widow with gray and purple bags under her eyes. She wasn't in the mood to feel sorry for Becky. She thought of Nick rubbing two fingers together, playing the World's Tiniest Violin at Becky and Della's endless complaints.
"Cheer up," Nick had told Becky one time. "Maybe he'll drop dead before you."
"Nah," she said. "My luck, he'll outlive us all."
"Not if you do something to help it along."
And he began cutting out old Foxfire magazine articles on poisonous herbs and slipping them into Becky's purse. It was too morbid for Kay but Becky was tickled. It was the only joke Nick had had with one of Kay's sisters.
She put her fist to her mouth and choked back a sob.
"Isn't that coffee ready? Or do you want me to do it?"
"You leave her alone," Becky snapped, on Kay's side for the moment since Kay hadn't spoken sharply to her.
"It's about ready," Kay said, reaching for her everyday Melmac cups on the shelf above the coffee maker.
"Oh, not those!" Della opened the china cabinet with a loud rattle. "Let's use the nice ones you got from Aunt Cora."
Kay felt silly because of course with people coming over she'd want to use the good dishes. On the other hand, who would notice? Not her daughter or granddaughter or nieces or nephews. Maybe some of the church people. And Della, of course. She turned on the water to rinse the dusty china and thought of spindly Aunt Cora, ancient when they were kids and yet living long enough to come to Della's wedding. Kay had always been fond of old people and one of the most depressing things about getting old yourself was that they were all gone.
"No, you sit down." Della took a cup and pushed her out of the way.
Kay sighed and picked up her pocketbook. "I think I'll just go out on the porch for a minute. It's so nice out."
"That's right, honey, you go have yourself a little smoke."
"Why Della, you're not encouraging Kay! After cigarettes killed both your husbands!"
Kay slipped out the back door and sat on the wooden porch swing Nick and his nephew had built. She lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, the nicotine mingling with the Xanax to provide a brief, pleasant lightheadedness. She wished it would dull her brain so she could stop seeing Nick's twisted face as he clutched his chest and stumbled against the stove. His eyes, always so strong and sardonic, blank with fear and confusion. The endless minutes in the ambulance on the way to Pleasant Valley Hospital and how she kept thinking, "Oh, Nick would hate this, being on a stretcher and the oxygen and these strangers fussing over him," and then realizing it was Nick lying there. The only time she'd ever seen him so helpless was on their honeymoon at Virginia Beach where they'd fallen asleep on the sand and were stricken with sun poisoning. But even then he was the one who had to take charge and call the doctor because she had fainted as soon as they hobbled into their motel room.
She held her head up and closed her eyes to let the sunlight seep through the lids. The sun could kill you. Cigarettes killed you. Why not right now? If only she could see Nick in the white light, waiting for her with Mother and Daddy and Granny Beale. She could just slip away right here and not have to go back in that kitchen and face the rest of her life alone with the biddy and the shrew.
The screen door squeaked open and Becky leaned out, eating a banana. "Bossypants wants to know if you want her to thaw out some of those rolls or if the Heiner's is okay."
"Oh for heaven's sake," Kay said. "The bread is fine. Those rolls take an hour to thaw."
Della yelled from the kitchen. "I told you I could bring over some rolls but you said you had some."
"She said the bread is fine!" Becky yelled back.
"Well, I hope we have enough! I'll get these out just in case."
They heard Della open and close the freezer and mumble something about no one ever listening to her. Becky mimicked Della by flapping her banana peel at Kay and silently mouthing orders. Kay made an exasperated face and stuck her tongue out at the window.
"I saw that!" Della said and Becky giggled.
"Are you-all coming in or am I going to have to serve you a picnic?"
Kay and Becky returned to the kitchen, where Della had transformed the kitchen table into a cold buffet with cut celery, bean salad, sweet pickles, and a variety of small sandwiches that included Kay's favorite, Della's homemade pimento cheese spread.
"Why, I didn't know you made some of this. I thought it gave you gas."
"It does, so don't let me eat any. But I know you like it so much."
"Nick did too and I never could get it right." Kay's eyes filled with tears as the three sat down.
Becky popped a pickle into her mouth and licked her fingers. "Whatever's left of the spread I'll take home to Kenny Luzader. He hates it but he'll eat whatever I put down ‘cause he's incapable of feeding himself."
"Becky, if I have to hear one more word about that no account husband of yours . . ." Della groaned.
Kay reached into her purse and took out her pack of Winstons. She slid them over to Becky.
"You take these home to Kenny Luzader. Tell him if he smokes a carton a day for a year he'll win a ten thousand dollar shopping spree at John Deere. He's so dumb he'll believe it and then we can have his funeral and be done with him."
Becky blinked at the pack and then grinned at Kay. "Why you ornery thing. You sound like Nick."
Kay took a large bite of pimento cheese. The thought struck her that if she had married someone like Kenny Luzader she wouldn't be in such incredible pain right now. She sat back and closed her eyes so she could imagine Nick, standing in the doorway, playing the World's Tiniest Violin.
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