“With all of these husbands you had, why is it that you only have one child?” Tammy asked Grandma.
Grandma twiddled her thumbs. “I wondered that myself. I guess that’s just how life works out for some of us.” She hung her head and stared at her hands in her lap. “Miscarriages run in my family. I’ve had quite a few of them.”
I didn’t hear my own gasp. “Is this true?” I asked.
“I had three with Carl. Two in the months before we married, and the third one came after he died.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Winifred said.
I blinked several times to squelch approaching tears. “How did you cope?” I asked.
Grandma inhaled deeply and exhaled through her mouth, making a soft whistle. “Your Pawpaw was my longest marriage. Everything else was two, maybe three years on average? I guess, when you only have such a short time to show someone how much you love them—” Grandma raised her hand the way witnesses in court swore on the Bible, “and I did love all of my husbands, in my own little way, even Burt—” She licked her dry lips and plucked at the peeling skin. “I guess . . . once you realize that you’ll be their last memory leaving this world . . . you just want to make sure they never live to regret marrying you . . . and you just accept that you probably won’t have any children . . . or if you do . . . know they’ll grow up never knowing their father.” Grandma twirled the end of her sleeve around her finger as she rambled on.
“That’s so sad,” Tammy said.
Grandma shook her head. “No, my life is never sad. I’ve had sad moments, but also amazing ones.” Grandma raised her chin proudly. “A normal person will probably never find their soulmate. Or if they do, they’ll only have one, or the relationship won’t last their lifetime. Me, I’ve been married twenty-six times and have found my soulmate at least a fourth of those times. When you have someone who knows your soul like that—” Grandma beat her fist against her chest. “The way Carl knew me. And Andrew, Lindell—” She wave her hand in front of my face. “Your Paw . . . It won’t matter if you never have kids. All that matters is that you spend the rest of your life loving your soulmate as hard and as deeply as they love you.” Grandma closed her eyes and laid her head on the headrest of her chair, visibly spent from her speech.
I felt the urge to want to call Kyle. He texted me that morning asking about dinner. Drinks were nice, but let’s have a real date, his message said. I never answered. Agreeing to a quiet meal at an overpriced restaurant where the wait staff wore semiformal attire and frowned at anyone in jeans and flip flops was too much of a commitment to me. I didn’t want to jeopardize my job, or his. On top of that, I didn’t know what to expect from Kyle, what he expected from me. Past experiences had taught me that first date impressions often changed. He was a gentleman before, would he be one after? If the relationship soured, would I still feel comfortable flying with him?
However, Grandma’s speech reminded me of how important life and love was. What was the purpose of living if I spent my entire life avoiding the possibilities because of the “what ifs”? Grandma had married the same number of men as I had years. By the time she was my age, she had already been married eleven times, and her life had barely begun. Meanwhile, all I could account for was a date who stood me up the night of Junior prom and a goldfish that died after only three hours.
I took my cellphone from the front pocket of my purse and typed three letters: Y-E-S.
Kyle’s response was almost immediate. Pick you up at 8.
When I looked up from my phone, Grandma was smiling at me. “You’re turning red, Meg,” she said with a wink.
“Millie.” Jerry cleared his throat, leaned back in his chair to raise his leg and cross it over the other one. “You’ve talked about Andrew. You’ve talked about Carl, and about Meg’s grandpa. But I don’t think you ever told us what happened to your husband Lindell.”
“It’s hard talking about him sometimes,” Grandma said.
“Because of the way he died?” I asked.
“I just don’t understand how people can hate.” She turned to Frank. “Why?” she asked, and then again, “Why!”
Frank kept his face hidden behind the newspaper.
“We were all made in God’s image. Who cares if we’re different colors? Why? Tell me why!” She jumped from her chair and snatched the newspaper out of Frank’s hands, tearing it in half. “This black and white goes together.” She pointed, shoved the paper back in Frank’s face. “Why can’t we? Why?”
“Bah!” Frank said.
Grandma returned to her chair, again looking exhausted. She curled her legs under her, sitting on the side of her ankles, and hugged herself. “Lindell and I had been dating a year when we heard about the Supreme Court ruling. June 12, 1967. A day forever remembered as Loving Day. It had to be fate that their married name was Loving. It sounds crazy now, but back then, they put you in jail for what Mildred and Richard did. It shouldn’t be a crime to fall in love.
“Marrying Lindell was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The law was the law, but we still lived in the South. For the life of me, I don’t know why I didn’t try harder to convince him that we should move North, where it was safer. But he was a proud man, and he wasn’t gonna let a bunch of racist redneck fear mongers run him out of his own home.”
Frank’s cheeks were sunken, the corners of his mouth curved downward. His loose skin dragged down his face. To the ignorant watcher, he appeared asleep, but I knew he’d heard everything Grandma said, and was ashamed.
“They were disgusting. They wanted to see us do it. Fulfilling a suppressed fantasy, maybe? They watched from the window. We didn’t even know.”
“Who is they?” Thomas asked.
“Them! The men that killed Lindell! So many of them. It was like an army.” Grandma shut her eyes and rocked on her heels, reliving the horrifying events of that night. “They broke in the second we were done. All of them, trying to get into that one window. It was enough time for me to run. Lindell fought them off so I could get away. He didn’t care what happened to him, but if they caught me, they would do their worst.
“There was no point in calling the police. Lindell was a traitor and I was black. They wouldn’t come. Some of those mob men probably were cops. I ran to the closest neighbor’s barn. They only had chickens, so I climbed to the second level and hid in the hay. I didn’t move that whole night.
“The next day was Sunday. The Sabbath. Everyone was in church, praying and asking for forgiveness, while my whole world was crashing down. When I came home that morning, I found Lindell hanging from a tree in our backyard.”
“Oh my god!” Tammy gasped.
Jerry picked up a tissue box, snatched out a few sheets and handed them to Grandma. “You are a brave woman.”
“I couldn’t save him,” she sobbed. She blew her nose and balled the tissue in her fist.
“It wasn’t your job,” Jerry said.
“He protected his wife like he was supposed to,” Thomas added.
“His memory will live on in you, Grandma,” I said.
“Yes.” Drake nodded his head in a large gesture, nearly tipping himself over/
Grandma sniffed and rubbed her nose. “A few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.”
“Oh no,” Winifred whispered. “Did you have another miscarriage?”
“This one went full term.” She lifted herself off of her legs and stretched them out in front of her, staring down at her ankles. “April that next year, I had a girl. I named her in honor of her father.” She bit down on her bottom lip, looked up at me and quickly glanced away. “Linda.”
“No,” I said quietly, shaking my head, then screamed, “It’s not true!”
The other seniors were startled by my sudden outburst, but Grandma didn’t move a muscle, her entire body tense. She kept her eyes glued to her ankles. She understood why I was so upset. Linda was Mama’s name.
© 2016 Nortina Simmons
A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths
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