Marlon Rutledge paused from his game of solitaire. He looked up at the bustle of the church bazaar. The gymnasium was teeming with craft stands and throngs of elderly and their young. The stand Marlon sat behind was selling his son’s woodcarvings.
The basketball court had been transformed into a money-making venture. The hoops were cranked up against the ceiling. The volleyball nets locked away in the maintenance closet.
Craft stands pushed tight against each other around the perimeter of the gym. Baked goods from the women of the church lined the center.
The late afternoon sun dissipated through wire protected windows. The florescent lights, embedded in the ceiling, gleamed over the proceedings.
Marlon looked back down at the cards and decided to cheat at solitaire. He flipped three cards face up. He still wasn’t winning.
Pastor Simmons and a man that Marlon didn’t recognize approached him. “Marlon, how are you doing this afternoon?” Pastor Simmons asked.
“Fine, just waiting for Johnny to get back.” Marlon gathered up the cards and slid them into the box. He dropped it into his coat pocket.
Pastor Simmons tapped the other man on the shoulder. “Marlon, I want you to meet a fellow pastor. This is James Blackmore.”
Pastor Blackmore extended his hand to Marlon. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Marlon shook the pastor’s hand without standing. The lawn chair creaked as he leaned forward. An elderly woman waved at Pastor Simmons as she passed by. Simmons smiled at her, then turned back to them.
“I have to see what Mrs. White wants. James here wants to get one of these.” Pastor Simmons picked up a burnt wood plaque and then put it down before walking away. “I’ll be right back.”
“How’s the bazaar been treating you?” Marlon asked Pastor Blackmore.
“It’s great. I’ve just been strolling around looking at the stands. This is some nice wood-burning you have here.”
Marlon reached for his glasses and put them on. “They aren’t mine. My son does them. I’m just covering the table while he’s gone. If you want one done special, you’ll have to wait till he gets back.”
Pastor Blackmore looked over the displayed burnings. Most featured various expressions or Bible verses. There was a small cardboard notice advertising that any sign could be made. “Yeah, I think I will wait. I’ve been considering a few verses that I might want. I don’t see any of those here, though.”
“Where’s your church at?” Marlon asked.
“It’s the Lutheran Church over in Homewood. It’s about an hour from here. I went to seminary with Pastor Simmons at Gettysburg. We’ve been trying to put together a bazaar-like this in Homewood. It would be a fantastic way to raise money. I decided to come up and see all the activities. I hear you have an outdoor bazaar during the summer?”
“Yeah, that one is a lot bigger. It’s back behind here at the fireman’s field.”
Pastor Blackmore looked back down at the wood burnings. “One of these will look really nice in my office.”
Marlon reached down to the floor to find his cane. “My son should be back anytime now. It’s been hard for him. I’ve been trying to do my part.” Marlon looked at his watch. “Johnny said he had to run out to the quarry. I thought he would be back by now. He works there. Used to work at the mill until his wife died. He’s been juggling work and taking care of his son ever since.”
“I’m so very sorry to hear that.”
“I didn’t like her much. She wasn’t like my wife. We’ve been married for forty-eight years now.”
Blackmore was taken back by the coldness of his response. There seemed to be little love from this man towards his dead daughter-in-law. He awkwardly tried to segue to comment about Marlon’s marriage. “That’s a long time, congratulations. Marriages and families don’t seem to stay together very long anymore.”
“That’s the problem with the world today. Not like when I was a kid. Times have changed.” Marlon looked at his watch again. “I hope he gets back soon. I hadn’t planned on leaving my wife alone this long.”
“Is she not well?”
“Her joints ache when it gets cold. She needs some help getting around the house. She’s not as independent as she’d like to be.”
Pastor Blackmore looked down at his own wrinkled hands. “I suppose I’m not too many years away from that myself.”
Marlon seemed to ignore Blackmore and continued on. “I have a lot of pains from working so many years at the factory.”
Johnny Rutledge stepped from the astir throng and hurried over to his stand. He slipped behind the table and greeted his father and the pastor. “I’m sorry it took so long. George just wouldn’t leave the mall when I wanted him to. I had to call his phone just to get him out to the truck. Then, I had to run him home because he didn’t want to come out here.” Johnny pulled a slab of wood from a metal tray.
“I’ve been talking with your father about getting one of these for my office,” Pastor Blackmore said.
Marlon lifted his cane and used it to stand. “I will leave you two to talk business. I need to get going. I don’t like driving when it gets dark out. I have a hard time seeing at night.”
Johnny helped his father around the table. “I’ll give you a call later.”
“That will be fine. Don’t make it too late. I’ll be going to bed soon.” With that, Marlon slowly walked through the crowd.
“You have a wonderful father,” Pastor Blackmore said.
Johnny’s cell phone rang. He excused himself and answered.
After a short conversation, he ended the call. “Sorry about that. It was my wife. She’s been worried about George. He’s going through this phase. He’s been listening to the worst music you could possibly imagine and dressing all in black. It’s been very hard on her.”
Pastor Blackmore looked confused. “Your wife? Have you remarried?”
“Remarried? No, what would make you ask that?”
“Oh, I thought your father said that she…” Blackmore trailed off, searching for the words.
Marlon unlocked the front door and stepped inside. He turned on the living room light and locked the deadbolt behind him. The phone began to ring. Marlon ignored it and crept up the stairs.
Marlon entered the darkened bedroom. The door creaked as he pushed. He took off his coat and laid it on the bed along with the cane. He pulled the chain on the bedside lamp. The low-wattage bulb flickered to life, barely illuminating the room. Marlon fished the deck of cards out of his coat pocket. He left the coat stretched out on the comforter. Marlon sat on the edge of the bed. There was a small television tray pushed up against it. He put the deck of cards down on the metal tray. He sat in the empty room and played solitaire.
Kevin Reigle is the Bowling Coach at the University of the Cumberlands. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication and was on the editorial committee for the Pikeville Literary Review.