Continued from last week's story 'Men Only Want One Thing'
As the pickup rounded a curve in the Farm to Market road, one lonely blinking light came into view, signaling me that I had arrived in Sunup, Texas. Dusk settled across the sleepy little community as I drove down Main Street. A half dozen antiquated street lights flickered to life, casting an eerie glow upon vacant store fronts that likely had not seen a customer since the Great Depression. As Leslie the mail lady had instructed, I turned right on the last road on Main, following it to the very end. Beneath a solitary street light sat a single wide mobile home that I could tell even in the dim light had seen better times. An old wooden porch wobbled beneath me as I knocked on the door. I could hear foot steps from inside and directly the front door opened. A wide eyed chubby lad, perhaps six or so, peered at me through a torn screen before abruptly slamming the door. I again heard footsteps and then a voice.
"Mom, there's an old man standing on our porch!"
"Well good lord Pudgy, let the man in. And he's not an old man, he's my friend!"
More footsteps and the door opened again, Leslie smiling as she unlatched the screen.
"Oh, you found it! Come in!"
As I stepped into the dimly lit living room, Leslie began introducing her family.
You've met Pudgy. This is my twelve-year-old daughter, Samantha. My twenty two-year-old daughter Angel, and trust me, she ain't no angel. This is her husband Rob and my two grandbabies. They're two and six months. Come on into the kitchen. I'm making hamburger soup."
I worked my way through the maze of feet crammed into the small area, following Leslie who seemed adept at maneuvering in tiny spaces.
"Here, taste this. I am not much of a cook, but I do make a pretty good hamburger soup."
I allowed her to place the spoon inside my mouth. It tasted just like it looked...clumps of hamburger floating in hot water. With a heaping dose of garlic salt, some chili powder, a dash of paprika, and a whole onion...it might have been edible.
"Oh, wow! That's really good!" I obligingly replied.
"Here's a bowl. Get you some. Y'all come eat! Do you know anything about Bearded Dragons?" she continued as a herd of people surrounded me with empty bowls and spoons.
I glanced at her as she hovered over an aquarium sitting beside a Mr. Coffee on the counter.
"Well, all I know about reptiles and rodents is they don't belong in the house," I commented as the fat kid shoved me away from the pot of soup. I glimpsed through the glass at a six-inch lizard laying on his back. Definitely, on his last leg, I decided.
"I'd say you should probably throw him outside before you go to bed tonight. Safe bet he'll not make it through the night."
Pudgy let out a wail, "My pet dragon is going to die!"
"Shut your freakin' mouth! I just got the babies to sleep!" screamed Angel.
"Find you a place on the couch, Rusty. I'll start a movie. Hope you like chick flicks."
The front door opened and a scruffy man perhaps in his mid-thirties stepped into the furor as everyone scrambled to secure a seat with their bowl of soup.
"Hi, Donald." Leslie unenthusiastically muttered, "I made hamburger soup if you want some."
"Hell no! Got any beer?"
Leslie rolled her eyes and the man turned and stepped back outside, "Brought my own just in case."
As the chick flick began, I found myself sandwiched between Donald and Pudgy, my elbows drawn into my ribs as I tried unsuccessfully several times to hit my mouth with a table spoon. Donald slurped his beer while Pudgy picked his nose, wiping boogers on my freshly starched Wranglers. I glanced over at Angel and Rob cuddled on a worn love seat, Rob caressing his wife's boob as she polished off the last bite of her soup. Leslie sat in a rocking chair across the room, a mere five feet from me. Samatha trotted in from the kitchen, planting herself directly in front of me.
"I play clarinet in band. Were you ever in band? Eww! Pudgy's wiping boogers on your pants!"
I heard a bowl land sharply on the floor and suddenly Leslie hovered above me. With the grace of a lioness, she hefted the fat kid into mid-air, swatting him soundly on his rear several times. He emitted a howl which resulted in more howls from some room down a narrow hall.
"See what you freakin' did now, Mom! You woke the babies up!" Angel leaped from her spot and stomped down the hall. Pudgy continued to howl and Donald belched and reached for his fifth beer. And things just went down hill from there.
Just as soon as the credits began to roll across the small screen, I stood and glanced at my watch.
"Oh goodness. It's getting late. I should head home."
Leslie glanced at a clock on her wall. "It's barely ten. We have another movie to watch and I thought we might play a card game afterward."
"Oh no, it's quite a ways home."
"Fifteen minutes..." she squinted her eyes as she followed me outside.
"Well, you have quite a family, Leslie," I mentioned as I unlocked my pickup.
"What's important is that we are a family in every sense of the word. We are very close."
I nodded and forced the question that had been on my mind all evening.
"So, who is Donald?"
"He's my ex. The daddy to Pudgy and Samantha. He's trying to straighten his life up. Got caught up with drugs. Ran off with a meth whore for a couple of months. God only knows why. She didn't have a single tooth in her head."
Her eyes focused on me as I stood in silence, the street light casting a yellow glow across her face. She dropped her head and stared at her hands.
"I'm not really dating material, am I, Rusty?"
I let out a deep sigh and with hesitation replied, "No, not really. But I bet you are one hell of a good mama. You don't need anyone getting in the way of that."
I opened the door of my truck. Her hand fell gently on my arm, guiding me to turn around and face her.
Tears streamed down her face as she whispered, "Kiss me goodbye?"
Whenever I think of Leslie the mail lady, it is of that last moment I ever saw her in my rear view mirror, standing in the middle of that dark street, a dim streetlight casting its frail light on her as she sobbed, her shoulders quaking, her face buried in her hands. I think about her often, really...