Better Halves

Cousin Shelley

"There. Nothing to it." He turned the light on, off, on again.

Brozzie stood, thick arms crossed over her chest, watching him and frowning. It hadn't taken Sam long to replace the fixture in the barn, but she hadn't asked him to do it in the first place, and was none too happy about him insisting. He seemed to think it was a fire hazard, not to mention a danger to her and anyone else who might pass by it. Or grab hold of it like a fool.

She'd even threatened him with the shotgun and told him he was trespassing, but he'd pushed it aside and said, "Shoot me and I can't leave. You'll just have to look at me that much longer. Now where's the shut off?"

She mumbled something about not having to look at him if she fed his body to her dogs, but finally gave in and let him fix the damned thing. Which he'd managed to do with no problems at all. She followed him outside. "What you want fer it?"

"Brozzie. . . " Sam smirked as he put his tools in the back of the truck. "The only thing I want is for your place not to burn to the ground." Before he drove off, he added, "That would only make you meaner."

Since then he'd stopped by regularly, claiming someone had called about a disturbance of some kind and naturally he thought of her shotgun, her dogs, her bad temper. She knew why he really came, though, because sometimes he'd notice something that might need fixing, and he just so happened to have the thing and the time to take care of it. Now he was replacing a rotten porch step he said was going to cause someone to break a leg. Sam was a good bloke, even though he wore that uniform. Her Otis had always liked him.

In many ways, Sam reminded her of Otis when he was younger, rest his soul. Same soft-spoken, slow way of talking, but quick eyes taking everything in. He just didn't always feel the need to ramble on about it all like most folks did. Same scrawny bottom, too. No matter how much she'd fed Otis, and she'd fed him plenty, he stayed lean and wiry like Sam. Folks like them always looked hungry, to her way of thinking.

And Sam looked even hungrier now, since the little bint packed up and moved out. He'd never mentioned her, and though Brozzie wasn't exactly friendly with most of the people around, she heard plenty of talk. She'd heard it when Sam married her, about how his new bride tried to convince him he should find a better line of work (a better paying line of work, Brozzie figured she meant). Most of the women in town carried on about how good he was to her, and how most'd kill for a man to treat them the way he did, like she was a right goddess or something.

Brozzie'd also heard Sam wanted to started a family, but she wouldn't have any of it. Probably the thought of looking down one day and not being able to count all of her ribs'd send her into a screaming fit. Yet he'd kept her on a pedestal no matter what she did to him. Or what she did with other uptown men when he wasn't lookin'.

After seven years she'd finally left him and took up with some business-type she'd been seein' on the sly for months. She'd wanted herself a pressed and buttoned-down slickster, a fancy-talker with greased-back hair. Brozzie shook her head at the thought. Some fella working in a suit with a silk tie and taking lunch in a fancy little shop where they bring you your dinner a piece a time instead of all at once, like normal people. Wouldn't do to have a man who sweats and rolls up his sleeves and wears boots and ain't afraid of a little dirt.

Brozzie figured Sam was too good for her, anyway. The shame of it was, she could look in Sam's eyes and tell he didn't think so. Ah, well, he'd get over her. He was a fine looker, rugged and solid with an honest face. Shouldn't take him long to find someone who'd appreciate a real man, with a sunburned neck and strong forearms and calloused hands. That is, if he wasn't too busy feeling sorry for himself to notice. Damn it, anyway, he should've known better than to get involved with the little chippie in the first place.

Sam opened the truck door and said what he always said before he left. "Well, Brozzie, you know, if you have any problems, pick up the phone. And behave."

"I cook too much."

Sam stopped, one hand on the open truck door. "Pardon?"

"I still cook too much, just for me. Got stew and rolls." Brozzie turned and headed toward the house, giving him no time to protest. "And fresh tea," she barked back over her shoulder. She was in the house before she heard the truck door close. She waited to hear the engine, but the porch creaked instead.

Sam fidgeted in the doorway, holding his hat. He smiled in that way of his that reminded her of Otis. It was a smile that said he knew an expression would do just as well as a buncha words.

"Well, come on! Wipe your feet and wash your hands," she bellowed, as if he would dare to skip either of those things. "Ain't got all day."

The water came on in the other room. She turned and looked at Sam's hat hanging on the back of a dining room chair and suddenly missed Otis more than she had in a while, and wondered just how stupid a Sheila'd have to be to let this one get away. Brozzie sighed, and decided the leftovers would go home with Sam, even the leftovers in the freezer. And in a few days, maybe, she'd make a batch of biscuits.

June, 2005