Gloryjean the Butterbean QueenBy Cappy Hall Rearick“He was her man, but he was doing her wrong.” ~ from the song Frankie and Johnny.It was a summer without a drop of rain in Bull Snort, Georgia, even though every afternoon about two o’clock the sky turned muddy and the humidity climbed high as a Georgia pine. If you were to look outside, you’d see a cloud looking ten months pregnant, it’s water ready to break. You might be lulled into thinking that the summer drought was about to end, finally. You might put off going out until after the storm you wrongly figured was about to happen. Only thing was, the rain never came. By four o’clock, the sun would be shining down hot as hell, and the humidity would have gotten even worse. For the rest of the day you would have to walk like a duck so your thighs wouldn’t stick together every time you took a step. Ordinary noises would become so exaggerated that it was as though the ground itself was getting hard of hearing, too withered and dry to soak up any more sound. Stagnant noises hung in the air, bouncing off walls and eardrums alike. People in town were heard to say, “Trifling weather makes people act like fools. Won’t be too long before somebody does something seriously stupid.” And they were right.Gloryjean Pinckney didn’t sleep much because of the awful heat and humidity, coupled with the fact that her husband came home shitfaced at three a.m. from his Tuesday night poker game. She gasped for breath the next morning due to the death of The A/C died sometime during the night after the temperature hit a hundred-plus degrees. The next morning she got up and drank iced coffee, got herself dressed and did what any real woman in dire straits would do: she went shoe shopping. While trying on rubber flip flops designed to look like espadrilles, she overheard two women gossiping in the next aisle over. What she heard so stunned her that she bolted out of the store leaving shoes strewn from one end to the other and raced over to Tommie Kay Mooney’s house, Gloryjean’s best friend. “Damn it all to hell and back!” She leaned against the frame of Tommie Kay’s kitchen door and wailed. “How am I supposed to deal with stuff like this, Tommie Kay? I’m not equipped. I should just lay right down and die. Just lay right down.” “Get your skinny butt on in here and sit down before you break the door frame you’re leaning on,” Tommie Kay ordered edging her own chair closer to the table. “If you’re going to die, I’d rather you do it on the kitchen floor.” She grabbed a stick of Juicy Fruit from an opened pack and used it to bookmark the romance novel she had been reading. “Get a grip, Gloryjean and for God sake quit that carrying on. Sit your ass down and tell me what the hell’s got you acting so fool.” Gloryjean sagged into a chair, put both elbows on the Formica table, laced her pudgy fingers together like a zipper and made a fist that looked like it was determined to keep her chin from dropping off the end of her face. By and by, she blew her nose, honking like a goose. “You’re my best friend, Tommie Kay, and you didn’t warn me about what was going on. That’s what best friends do, you know. They tell you things so you don’t have to hear it while you’re trying on sandels.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, girl.” Tommie Kay spoke in the direct way she had of saying everything. “So hush with that nonsense and tell me what’s going on so I can justify having to quit reading my book right when it was getting steamy.” She sat back, folded her skinny arms and cocked her brittle head of hair that she dyed Copper Penny Red every three weeks whether it needed it or not. Studying Gloryjean closely, she squinted her eyes and pressed her lips into a pencil-thin line. “Whatever it is, Gloryjean, my guess is it’s got something to do with that pissant husband of yours. What’s Boopa up to now?” Gloryjean’s eyes filled with tears, her voice when it came, sounded pretty much like that of a petulant child. “He’s banging the baton twirling teacher. The one what taught Sallyjean how to set her batons on fire last year.” She inhaled a deep, ragged breath. “The one that thinks she’s Miss Friggin’ Dixie!” The faded t-shirt Gloryjean wore crept up over the waistband of her size sixteen jeans, exposing a dimpled belly, which closely matched her splotchy complexion, the skin of a woman who had cried all of the Maybelline off her puffy eyes. Hers was the face of a woman tethered to the title of Mrs. Boopa Pinckney, IV. This once lovely vision of grace and femininity sighed heavily, blew her nose and honked again. Tommie Kay eyed her friend. “You talking ‘bout that piece of trash what trained Sallyjean when she was competing for Miss Butterbean? Haw! I told you there wasn’t nothing to her.” Gloryjean nodded. “That’s the one. I can still see her chewing a wad of bubble gum big as a apple. And she wouldn’t quit tossing that baton long enough for me to pay her what I owed her. Now I’m glad I didn’t.” Gloryjean’s long toes extended and crimped over the edge of the rubber thong sandals she wore. When she crossed her legs, her foot began a rapid back and forth motion. It was as though her outrage had somehow disengaged itself from her brain in order to travel at breakneck speed down her leg to settle in her foot and claim Squatter’s Rights. The beat of rubber smick-smacking on the heel of her bare foot sent a clear signal of righteous indignation throughout Tommie Kay’s little kitchen. “Shoot!” Tommie Kay sniffed. “Sallyjean would have won Miss Butterbean if you had let her do that tap dance routine I wanted to show her. Baton twirling is passé, Gloryjean.” She closed her eyes, pensive. “I heard tell that baton twirling teacher went to Atlanta where one of them plastic surgeons put silicone implants in her boobs. Size forty! Thank you very much.” “Seriously?” “As a brain transplant. Boopa’s a fool for big boobs. Always has been. Didn’t I tell you to go get yourself some silicone shots when you started sagging so bad after Sallyjean was born? You shoulda listened to me, Gloryjean.” She shook her head. “I can’t understand why anybody would want to jump Boopa Pinckney’s sorry bones. I hate to badmouth him, Sweetie, but truth is truth and you’re gonna have to own up to that fact one of these days.” Gloryjean’s automatic defense of her husband kicked in. “You don’t like him, Tommie Kay, and you never did. I remember when we was in high school and he was voted Most Handsome and everybody in the senior class thought he was the spitting image of Robert Redford. And then you demanded a recount. Well, maybe you don’t think he’s sexy but there’s a full-grown majorette out there who begs to differ.” “Bullshit, Gloryjean.” Tommie Kay sucked a raucous snort through her nose, marched her scrawny self over to the fridge and fished around near the back until she found two Lite Buds. People called her wiry, a justified description. It was impossible for her to sit still, as though she had been fitted with a small motor inside her that putt-putt-putted whether she remembered to cut it on or not. Gloryjean took a swig of the beer her friend put in front of her and sighed. “A baton twirler. Would it have killed him to pick a grown woman with some class?” She shook her head. “A teeny-bopper named Cindy who makes a living twirling batons. Jesus hold my hand and help me walk.” “Nothing that man does surprises me,” said Tommie Kay. Gloryjean stared at the dead space in front of her while a triple X movie projected in her mind. The stars were Boopa and Miss Cindy, bumping and grinding to the beat of a Souza March, white boots and tassels flying every which away. When she confided her vision to Tommie Kay she knew immediately that she shouldn’t have when her friend keeled over laughing. “It’s not one bit funny, Tommie Kay. If Woody was making a fool of himself all over town, I’d sympathize with you. You need to stop laughing and help me figure out what to do.” So pitiful, Tommie Kay thought, eyeballing Gloryjean, the 1980 Miss Butterbean Queen, as she sniffed and honked. A person would have to be blind not to see what thirty years of hogging down pizza and barbecue had done to her best friend. She cleared her throat and said, “Gloryjean, why don’t you just kill him and get it over with.” She said it as though she were reading a hint from a Heloise book. “No listen up and I’ll tell you how you do it: load a gun with enough bullets to shoot him as many times as you feel like it. Just blow the sonofabitch to kingdom come.” She sat back and crossed her arms. “Problem solved.” Gloryjean stared hard across the table at Tommie Kay. “Thank you, Sarah Palin. Since you’re my best friend in the entire world, I should have expected you to tell me exactly how to handle the situation.” She paused. “Kill him?” She snapped her fingers, “just like that?” “Well, hell yeah, just like that. Way he’s carrying on, you got a right to shoot his ass clean off.” Gloryjean raised both hands, palms out. “Whoa! Let’s be absolutely clear. You want me to shoot my own husband — to kill him— and you want me to believe that you are serious?” “Damn straight I’m serious. Man, I’d kill him so fast.” “Well, maybe you would, but I wouldn’t. I don’t go around killing things, Tommie Kay, and you know it.” “Oh yeah? How about a cockroach?” “Even cockroaches have a necessary place in the ecosystem.” Frustrated, Tommie Kay shook her head. “Get over yourself, Gloryjean. That silly husband of yours is banging a baton twirler. Good God, girl. Screw the ecosystem. You gotta get revenge.” “Tommie Kay, since you’re so all-fired hipped on getting me on the America’s Most Wanted show, why don’t you tell me how I’m supposed to shoot the man I been married to for the past thirty-five years when I can’t even buy a can of roach spray. This ain’t one of your hot romance books, so I’d appreciate it if you’d quit telling me to get over myself, long enough for you to get over your own self.” Tommie Kay had begun to pace around the small kitchen floor, her eyes darting, her brain shifting from one thought to the other quick as heat lightning All the while, Gloryjean sat at the table fumbling in her pocketbook for a dry Kleenex. Suddenly Tommie Kay sat back down in a flurry, leaving wide black marks on the vinyl floor as she and the chair scraped up close to the table. Her face was set, her frame of mind determined. “Gloryjean, I really think you ought to kill him. He’s no better than a carbuncle on the ass of a rattlesnake and it’s high time you put the qui-ee-tus on that tacky, two-timing sonofabitch.” Gloryjean blew her nose with a raggedy Kleenex. “Help me Jesus.” “Instead of looking at me like that, Gloryjean Pinckney, you need to be looking at your own self. How come you ain’t throwing stuff and yelling your head off instead of sitting there squawling? Get mad, girl. I’d kill him if it was me.” “You would not and you know it, so hush up. Tommie Kay said, “With just a little bit of planning, you could scare him into a heart attack and stop his clock for good! Nobody would ever think it was you.” “Scare him? What would you have me do? Hide in the majorette’s closet, jump out at the optimum moment and yell BOO? Give me a freaking break.” Tommie Kay was getting fed up with her friend’s helplessness. “I don’t care how you do it, just kill him.” She hissed out the words as she dragged her chair back from the table. “I gotta pee.” She flounced out of the kitchen and wasn’t gone ten seconds when the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth hit Gloryjean like three red sevens on a slot machine. Ding! Ding! Ding! She brushed away the doleful tears collecting under her lower lashes. Sitting alone at the chipped Formica table in Tommie Kay’s kitchen, the feelings she had ignored for too long spilled out. The neglected forefront of her brain commanded her to acknowledge once and for all that Boopa Pinckney had shamed not only himself by banging the baton twirler, but his entire family as well. Snatches of forgotten birthdays burst into her memory bin: anniversaries she spent watching car races on television instead of being wined and dined. All those hunting trips Boopa took and returned home with no venison for her to put in the freezer. Gloryjean sipped her warm beer and thought about these things while the clock above the refrigerator ticked too loudly, it’s battery about to die. It was just after his last hunting trip that he came home and made an appointment with that woman beauty operator to style his hair. After that, didn’t he spend four hundred dollars on new clothes instead of waiting till Christmas and Father’s Day like he normally did? He even bought himself black bikini underwear. She remembered how he’d posed in front of the den fireplace, flexing his muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger and preening while he modeled those damned black bikinis for her. That picture was what pulled it all together for Gloryjean. It was the final straw that caused her to snap like a pole bean. Seeing him in her mind’s eye standing there half-naked and acting so silly made her cringe. She shook her head trying to clear the unwanted pictures away and that is when she “saw” the gun that always hung over the mantle in the den. When Tommie Kay returned from the bathroom, Gloryjean was not there. She had left a prophetic note behind for her friend, however. It read, “Gone hunting.” Tommie Kay grinned real big and said aloud, “It’s high time she took my advice!” ***Gloryjean Pinckney was charged with Attempted Murder and quickly brought to trial. Boopa’s fancy hairstyle and the jive-ass clothes he wore to court every day tickled just about everybody in town, but it was his banging a baton twirler that they couldn’t stop talking about. And the majorette did not escape the gossip, either. They picked her clean as a spring chicken. Every day for a week, the local newspaper put the trial on the front-page and once they even interviewed Tommie Kay Mooney. “Oh, for god’s sake,” she stated in her matter-of-fact way. “Gloryjean was just a little upset, that’s all. I been knowing her all my life and she’s got a heart of a freakin’ nun. Can’t kill a roach. Why, she don’t even pull alfalfa sprouts out the carton because somebody told her that they was alive until they get digested. Or ingested. I forget which. Gloryjean said she wasn’t going to be responsible for aborting those sprouts.“I told her to quit going to that health food store she thinks hung the moon, but she didn’t listen. She just swore off sprouts, and that was that. Gloryjean never takes my advice. But she’s got a good heart.” Tommie Kay paused long enough to take a big sip of bottled water. “Everybody gets testy during the Dog Days. Don’t you know that? So Gloryjean went a little bit too far. Big deal! Boopa Pinckney ought to be thanking the Lord he taught her how to shoot straight. If she’d aimed at his head instead of where she did? He’d be dead as day-old dandruff and sporting a shroud instead of a truss. Listen here … none of this would have happened if Boopa hadn’t been such a fool for big boobs.” During court that same day, Gloryjean got a chance to testify. “I never meant to kill Boopa. I only wanted to scare him.” She had hoped to work up an appropriate tear as she made her statement, but at the last minute she remembered Tommie Kay telling her to scare Boopa to death. That’s when a big smile spread like Parkay all across her face. Somebody in the back of the courtroom yelled out, “You go, girl,” while a bunch of other women applauded. The Judge was not amused. After only a short deliberation, the foreman of the jury returned with a scowl on his own face to announce that he had a statement to read. “Your Honor, as spokesman for the jury, I have been hereby appointed to announce that we have heard enough. There is no way we’re going to get involved in this thing between Gloryjean, Boopa and the Majorette. Lord knows how, but they’re going to have to work it themselves. We don’t find Gloryjean Pinckney guilty of one thing other than putting up with Boopa’s carrying on for too long. Two of the jurors said we ought to give Gloryjean a medal.” He lowered his voice to almost a whisper. “The other thing is, we need to get on out of here so we can make it to the Georgia/Florida football game in time for the kickoff.” Judge Parker put a scowl on his face. The women jurors grinned despite the fact that their thighs were uncomfortably stuck together from the awful humidity and no A/C in the courtroom. The Judge banged his gavel and announced, “The foreman has stated the jury’s conclusion.” Looking toward the jury box, he asked, “Am I to understand that everybody is in agreement?” A vigorous bunch of UGA fans nodded in unison. “Then I declare this mess to be a mistrial. Now get out of my courtroom!” Somebody said later that the Judge, a 1950 UGA graduate, was due at a tailgating party and that his wife, a former Georgia Bulldog cheerleader, told him he better be home early or he could hitch hike to Athens. He was in chambers unzipping his robe when a clap of thunder jolted the courthouse. It was so forceful that all the lights throughout the building flickered and died. One of those pregnant summer clouds broke water with a rainstorm that poured out of the sky like a huge broken faucet. By the end of the weekend, UGA had scored a victory over Florida which gave them bragging rights for an entire year and Gloryjean had returned home, no longer a jailbird. Headlines the next day in the Bull Snort County Times read: “Gloryjean Sprung!! Hung Jury Was a Low Blow For Boopa.” If things had worked out just fine in the end; if the streetcar had broke, the monkey had choked and they’d all gone to heaven on a billy goat, then this saga would be over and done with. But that’s not what happened. Tommie Kay, hands on her hips, stood over her friend and hollered. “I can’t believe you took that sonofabitch back after what he did, Gloryjean.” The two women were once more seated in the Mooney’s small kitchen. Gloryjean was once again blowing her nose and honking like a goose. Boopa had behaved himself for almost three months. He and Gloryjean even had sex once or twice, although that had petered out by the middle of October. Today, as she sat in Tommie Kay’s kitchen crying her eyes out, she was feeling more confused than ever. “Gloryjean, I’m your best friend and I don’t want you to ever accuse me again of not telling you what you need to hear. I saw that sorry Boopa Pinckney with my own eyes down at Wal-Mart flirting with Ivy Lee Johnson, that heavy-set gal what works in the jewelry department. The one that’s been divorced so many times the state won’t give her another marriage license. The next day, just ask me if I didn’t see the two of them riding out of town in Boopa’s gas guzzling Humvee, laughing and carrying on like a couple of love birds.” Gloryjean was busy wringing her hands and crying like a colicky baby. “I followed them, Gloryjean. And that’s all you need to know. Now kill the sonofabitch and do it right this time.” Tommie Kay screwed up her face and pursed her lips together. It made her look like a lizard. “Oh, Shoot! You ain’t even listening to me. You never do. I don’t know why I waste my breath.” “I do listen to you! It was you told me to shoot him three months ago and I did. Look where that got me! A solid week in jail and the whole town laughing at me.” Tommie Kay shook her head. “Nuh uh. I told you to kill him. And if you hadda, you’d be off somewhere right now spending his insurance money instead of sitting here squawling.” “Yeah, easy for you to say.” Gloryjean wiped her runny nose. Tommie Kay eyed her best friend and the word pitiful once again came to her mind. She reached over, gently took Gloryjean’s hand and looked into her eyes with rare tenderness. “Listen to me, Glory and listen good. There’s people in this world what loves to act like sorry pieces of shit. Then there’s them what seems to love being unhappy. A lot of times they get together, even though they don’t have but maybe one thing in common. They’re like, oh I don’t know, honey, like salt and pepper, I reckon.” Gloryjean Pinckney looked deeply into her best friend’s eyes; saw behind her bossy attitude and big mouth exterior. She glimpsed, for only a moment, a softer side to her friend. “Okay, Dr. Phil, while you’re being so honest, tell me this: Which one do you think I am? Salt or pepper?”
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