Ray had to pull over and calm himself. He was gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white. He had just flown over the bridge by the dugout and almost slid the beetbox into the ditch. He was shaking. He couldn't tell if it was from the near accident or what had just happened with Livy. Livy, he felt sick thinking about her. He was out of control and felt like he was trying to out run his rage. He had to get out of the house and away from Livy because he wasn't sure what he would say or do. He had always prided himself on being slow to anger and level headed but he couldn't think straight. He looked in the rear view mirror and hated what he saw. He had tears in his eyes. Part of him wanted to go back to Livy. He didn't want to leave her crying but he couldn't let her see him like this. Not like this. He was having a hard time breathing. As cold as it was, he lowered the window and let the cold wind hit him in the face. The cold shocked him into slowing his breathing.
He had just done two things he had never thought possible. He kicked Franklin, not hard he kept telling himself, and he had lost control of his emotions in front of someone, not someone, the one, Livy. Ray was a man of this time and his upbringing. You didn't show emotion. Only low men abused their families. His father had never raised his voice in his entire life that Ray knew of. In front of Livy he had yelled and dragged Franklin out of the house. He saw the shock on her face. He saw he scared and repulsed her. Then he couldn't stop himself, talking about his mama's rule, barely able to control him himself. Inside himself, he was yelling it at Livy, but it wasn't his mama's rule he wanted to yell. "No, no, I didn't actually yell," Ray thought, but there was no mistaking his tone.
Admonishing Livy for something that she couldn't have known. Most of the farms had work dogs that were also pets and most let them in the house. It was just a peculiarity, as his father called it, of his mama's. Ray remembered how many times he asked to bring a dog in when he was younger. Then after his mother past away, he did it out of respect. Why did he do that! He was so angry about the letter. The Letter! Ray couldn't stop his thoughts.
Livy had no respect for him.
How could she write another man while married to him? And then hide it?
Didn't he show her from the beginning...show her that he didn't take this marriage as a sham? Didn't he tell her, tell her when she asked that he knew he could love the baby?
Another man's baby! Why did she ask if she didn't mean it?
Didn't he give her a home and treat her well when her own father sent her away?
Did he complain when she couldn't even cook?
Didn't he give her everything he could?
He dug the swimming hole because she liked swimming!
He said "children" to her! All the time, she was taking him for a fool!He said "children" to her, his mind taunted. "She never intended,...never wanted...wouldn't consider...having his children." Ray felt sick.
He got out of the beetbox just in time to throw-up on the side of the road in the new snow. There was little on his stomach, so he had dry heaves with bile. He wiped his coat across his mouth and tasted the bitterness. It matched his heart.He got back in the beetbox and closed the door. Ray saw Franklin's face as Ray kicked him. The confusion and hurt. Franklin, his companion through the loss of Daniel, through so many, many dark days. Ray sobbed out loud. Tears fell and for a few minutes he felt so lost. The blackness of his past, of all his losses, enveloped Ray. After a quarter of an hour, Ray became aware of his surroundings again. He looked at his face in the rear view mirror and saw someone that no one loved. He wiped his eyes and nose and started the beetbox. He drove to Martha and Hanks.
He hoped that Hank would be outside waiting so Ray didn't have to see Martha. Ray drove around to the kitchen door. Hank wasn't there. He waited hoping Hank heard the beetbox. After a moment, Hank opened the door and waved to Ray to come in. Hank's face changed to concern as the look of Ray registered. He went to the door of the beet box and opened the door. Hank took stock of Ray and Ray looked away.
"Come in." Hank said.
"No, let's just go," Ray answered.
"We've got nowhere to go with you lookin' like that. Come on, do as I say, it's cold out here." Hank gently took Ray's arm and led him, pulled him out of the truck.
They walked in and Martha looked up with a smile for her brother. Her faced registered shock with she saw him and she told the kids, who were in the other room, to go upstairs.
Ray sat down at the kitchen table. Martha saw the mess on Ray's coat and asked what it was.
"I threw up."
Martha and Hank were behind Ray and Ray didn't turn around as he answered. Martha put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Baby." She turned around and looked at Hank and Hank gave her a motion that indicated she should leave. She nodded, but turned to Ray and said softly, "Baby, have you eaten anything?"
"No" Ray answered with no emotion or expression. He was exhausted from his episode with Livy, Franklin and in the beetbox.
Martha looked at the brother she helped deliver into the world and she gently ran her hand over his hair. Ray closed his eyes. Hank gently guided her out of the room.
Hank turned to the cupboard and got out a cup. He poured a cup of coffee and gave it to Ray. Ray realized he was cold and took a sip.
"You lose everything on your stomach Ray?"
Hank took a sandwich he had made for Ray to eat later at the beet factory out of a paper bag and put it on one of the dishes Martha had just finished washing and drying. When Ray was sixteen, Hank got him a job with the beet factory where Hank worked. Hank had started working there in high school to earn enough money to put a down payment on this farm for he and Martha. Ray had needed to make extra money for Danny and himself the first year his father and mother passed away. Hank got in the habit then of making Ray a sandwich because Ray always fed Danny first and sometimes didn't have much for himself. You could bet if there wasn't much, Ray made sure Danny got the best part of it.
Hank sat down and put the plate in front of Ray. Hank knew Ray hated to eat alone; Ray had spent too much time alone. Hank also knew the look in Ray's eyes. Hank was distressed to see it again; but Ray was a man now, and Hank had to treat him like one. No doubt it had to do with Ray's bride.
Ray looked at the sandwich and then at Hank. It seemed like more strength than Ray had to pick it up, but the coffee was starting to hurt his stomach so he took a bite. Once food hit his palate, his hunger kicked in and he ate the sandwich quickly.
Ray finished, got up and put his plate in the sink. He looked out the window at the snow coming down and wondered about Livy. He turned back to Hank.
"Thanks, I'm sorry if I gave a scare" Ray said apologetically.
"You're family, ain't nothin' to apologize for."
Ray folded his arms across his chest and put his chin down, "I guess I thought everything would be easier,...than it was..is"
"Ray there's nothing easy bout two strangers learning to live together."
"I guess I should have married someone I knew first."
Hank looked out the kitchen door and saw that Martha had gone upstairs. "Why, you think that would have been easier?"
Ray looked up.
"Ray, cause you love somebody doesn't mean you don't fight with them, disagree with them or help you understand them any better. My grandma always said that you don't know anybody until you summered and wintered with them first. You know how much I love your sister, don't you?"
"Well there were times in those first years I would have gladly brought her back."
Ray looked shocked and then he saw a smile on Hank's lips. For the first time since getting that letter from their mailbox, Ray smiled. Hank had always made Ray feel better.
"Marriage ain't easy, no matter how you slice it. People are goin to disappoint you, anger you, and baffle you no matter how much you love them. And when you put people up on a pedestal, you're just askin' them to fall." Hank said.
"Ray, I love you, you've always been special to me; I feel like I helped raise you, so I hate seeing you hurt." Ray looked away because that made him emotional.
"But you've always had high standards, for yourself and others. That's good to a point, but human beings can't always live up to that."
"In marriage, you've got to be set to forgive a lot...and once you do, you gotta let it go cause if you don’t it's gonna fester and eat at the foundation of your marriage like termites."
"I don't know what she did...or you did, but ten to one, it don't matter against one fact." Hank waited.
Ray was listening. Hank's advice had gotten him through so much.
"Against what fact?" Ray asked.
"If you care about her, if you want your marriage more than you want to be right," Hank said. Hank got up and walked over to Ray. "Marriage is compromise."
Ray started to speak. "Ray, don't tell me cause you'll regret it later. Just consider my words. It's the best advise I've ever given, and I give great advise." Hank reached up and nudged Ray.
"Everything's always better in the morning. Let's go to the beet factory and work off all this anguish." Hank said with a wink.
"Maybe I should go back and talk to her."
"She'll be there in the morning and I think you need a night to think about your words. Another thing you'll learn about marriage, sometimes letting a problem cool is a good thing. Course women just want to talk it to death. "
Ray chuckled and went to wash up and clean his coat. He had a long night ahead of him. He was grateful for Hanks words; and Hank was right, Ray still had a lot to think about. Ray would have plenty of time for that at the factory. It was routine, boring work.
While Ray was gone, Hank made Ray another sandwich for later. "Old habits die hard," Hank thought as he smiled to himself. Hank then went upstairs to tell Martha not to worry.
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