Chapter 6 -- A Morning Visit
Bright and early Tuesday morning, Dr. Cloudee walked down Leach Street in the company of his wife. He assumed correctly that if he called on Juanita Jones early enough, Willina Hipp would not yet be with her, to lend assistance in the gentle fray that must ensue. Dr. Cloudee preferred to carry the advantage when meeting his worthy opponent. The April sun shone brilliantly on his white hair as he led his wife toward the college. He led her by the hand, and Mrs. Cloudee unsuccessfully tried to hum “We’re Marching to Zion.” She lacked adequate wind for her vocal energies, sailing along as she did at the end of her husband’s arm. Emilia Greeter nearly choked on her toast as she noted their entrance onto the college grounds. She knew immediately where they were going.
“Round One commences!” she shouted to Dr. Greeter, as he shaved his chin.
Dr. Cloudee’s energetic ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ on the door of mourning was anticipated by Miss Jones, however. And let this be a lesson to you, astute readers, that one must never assume that one has taken one’s enemy unawares. Juanita Jones anticipated this visit for several days. In fact, her secret weapon even now is moving boldly toward the door. It grasps the knob with friendly fervor, and opens the portal upon the unsuspecting man. In the morning light, at first James Cloudee believes that his eyes deceive him. Standing in the doorway is Juanita Jones – the Juanita Jones of yesteryear! She is thin, beautiful. Her thick golden hair tumbles ‘round her shoulders. Her thin arms and shapely legs are brown and youthful. She wears sneakers and gym shorts, and a jump rope dangles over her shoulder. He gawks in stunned speechlessness, his mouth sagging. But the woman does not hesitate. She opens the screen door, steps toward him, smiles sweetly and picks up his limp hand, clasping it in both of hers.
“James Cloudee. It’s so wonderful to see you again.”
His wife pecks at his elbow with her fingers. “See! I told you she was jumping rope!”
He turns absently toward his wife but back again to the young face immediately. She squeezes his arm, twinkles her eye, brushes past him, and walks away.
“Must dash!” she says. And she’s gone. A vision of his past. The first romance of his youthful heart. The very image of all he longed to remember and forget.
“Who was that?” he mumbled.
“That,” said a deep voice from inside the house, “is my niece.” Dr. Cloudee did not jump; his feet remained solidly on terra firma. His heart, however, leapt in terror in his bosom. That – that was most certainly the voice of the aged Juanita Jones.
Mrs. Cloudee giggled.
“Juanita,” he rejoined.
The speaker approached the screen door and opened it wide for their admittance. Her ample hand grasped its edge and her plump fingers, resplendent each with a large ring, curved around the door. Dr. Cloudee noticed the deep purple nail polish.
“Come in,” she said.
“…to my parlor, said the spider to the fly,” finished Lily Cloudee, in her mind.
As the Cloudees walked down the hallway, signs of Miss Jones’s occupation were on all sides. Dr. Jones’s familiar walking sticks and smoking pipes were removed forever from their accustomed places. His well-worn lounging sofa had been whisked already to a pile of refuse in the back yard, as had his slouchy coat and floppy hat. From the kitchen wafted, not the smell of warmed Chef-Boyardee ravioli and black coffee, but the stringent nasal attack of bleach. In fact, nearly all vestiges of the old man’s presence in his home were gone. His tattered map of the world, hung proudly in the hall and stuck through with push-pins for all the countries from which his students had come; his full set of Zane Greys lining the den wall; his collection of macramé owls which had adorned the living room; his John Wayne movies, Tony Bennett albums, Gilligan’s Island episodes and Fish and Field magazines – all banished! All abhorred! But most tragically, old Bowzer, his Bassett Hound, was tied to the back gate, and his smelly bed and slobbery toys had been removed by the trashmen already that morning. The Cloudees could hear Bowzer moaning pitifully as they stepped into the living room.
Juanita Jones began. “I’m sorry I can’t visit long, friends. I have so much yet to do. Jerry did leave such a mess.”
“What changes you’ve made already!” Lily Cloudee noted, glancing around. The curtains were half-removed from the living room windows. “How have you had time?”
“Efficiency, dear Lily! And I have Jonny’s help.”
“Jonny?” Dr. Cloudee inquired.
“Jonquil Jones. My niece, whom you met at the door.”
“Jonquil?” both Cloudees asked simultaneously.
“My sister-in-law had a penchant for yellow flowers.” Juanita placed her hands behind her back, stood squarely before her guests and heaved out her large bosom. Her many chins rippled ominously. “James, Lily. What can I do for you?”
Dr. Cloudee’s ministerial manner took over for him at this point, and he began: “Miss Jones….”
“Miss Jones! Come now, Jimmy! We’re too much old friends for that!” And her dark eyes twinkled in the fatty rolls of her cheeks.
Dr. Cloudee closed his eyes, raised his eyebrows, and continued with an angelic demeanor on his cupidic face. “We are deeply grieved by your family’s loss, indeed by the loss to our whole community. And we’ve come to offer our condolences and ask if there is anything we can do to assist you in the midst of your sorrow.”
“Hogwash,” the lady returned, as she walked to a window, stepped up on a groaning stool, and yanked at a mildewed curtain. “You came to see how thoroughly I’d moved in, and to scout out the territory.” She turned to them. “Well, now you see. But Jimmy, I won’t trouble you – I promise you. You’ll be in your big church, and I’ll be down at Moriah with the SNARK folk. You tend to Leach Street, and I’ll tend to the college. Can’t we agree on a truce?”
“A truce?” he asked. “I don’t know what you mean. What battle has been joined? You’re here for your brother’s funeral. That’s no time for disagreement.”
Juanita bundled the decayed curtains in a wad and dropped them into a corner. “My point exactly. Why disagree?” She smiled in a grimacing way. She approached him, her hand extended. Instinctively, Dr. Cloudee reached out to shake, but a deeper instinct warned him this was a mistake. Still, he did the social thing, felt the squeeze of her fingers, the discomfort of her rings, the cold and clammy palm. “I’ll see you and Lily at the funeral.”
James Cloudee turned toward his wife, but she was not there.
“I think she drifted away into the yard,” Juanita said, over her shoulder. She had already regained her stool.
He was left with no choice but to wander outside in search of Lily. Juanita had staked her claim, established her post, declared a cease-fire indefinitely, and secured his hand-shake on the matter. He was unsure how she’d done it.
In the backyard, Lily sat beside the gate with Bowzer in her lap. He was licking her chin. And as her clear blue eyes looked up at Dr. Cloudee, he realized he was about to lose yet another battle to his wife. The three of them – man, wife, and dog – marched down the lane and out of the college gate.
“Round One goes to Miss Jones!” Mrs. Greeter announced to her husband.