Fiction by Beth Gilstrap
Novella had a tooth extraction and thought she’d be fine to drive herself home, but the gas was more palpable than she expected. It wore off enough to make the throbbing in her right cheek crawl down into her neck. Her hands felt dead. She plopped one on top of the other in an effort to convince herself she was okay, she would be okay, it was in her head, these corpse hands. She tasted coconut of all things. Flavored nitrous. She’d lied to the dentist about having a ride so she cocked her rearview mirror and told herself off a minute before she got out of the car and started walking her ass home in ninety-degree heat.
By the time she got to the roundabout, she’d sweated through her dress. She cursed herself again for not dressing comfortably. For thinking Dr. Lansing had noticed her that way. She pulled her stockings and heels off. A truck load of teenagers sped past, yelling at her to get out of the way, grandma, so she found a copse of trees half a mile down the road so she could rest a minute before walking the rest of the way home.
But there were more teenagers there. This time, a couple going at it good on an afghan blanket. Shirts lifted. Pants undone. Novella couldn’t make sense of it. The heat. The pain spread to her shoulder and she found herself saying “Y’all ought to be ashamed. Messing around in broad day where a body could just walk up on you.” They barely looked up, but a harmony in the form of get lost, lady reached her nonetheless. God, it was hot. Neck sweat hot. Perverts, perverts all over, she thought.
She threw her shoes at them like she would if she caught the neighborhood dogs humping in her yard, but she held on to her stockings. They were good stockings. Expensive. A splurge.
I best get home and rest there, she thought. Best, to get home. Let someone know I made it. Ruth would look for her, if nothing else. They had a deal. They checked up on each other at least once a day. Ruth would see the Cadillac wasn’t in the drive. The dark house. Absence.
But Novella didn’t have to tell Ruth she made it. About that time, Dr. Lansing pulled up next to her. He didn’t stop completely. The car rolled as she kept on walking.
“Novella, honey? You okay? I thought you had a ride home.”
“I can take care of my own self,” she said, wiping her forehead with her stockings.
“I don’t doubt it,” he said. “But hon, you’ve had nitrous and an extraction. It seems like an unnecessary risk, a woman your age out in this heat, given the circumstances.”
“A woman my age?”
“You know what I mean. Let me drive you,” he said. “Think of the air-conditioning.”
Maybe she was wrong about the good doctor. Maybe this was that. He finally pulled over and stopped the car in front of her, blocking her way.
“Please,” he said. “I wouldn’t feel right leaving you.
“I’m just fine,” she said, but her tone came out wrong. The day was showing itself and she leaned against the car for a minute damn near burning herself on the hood. “It is awful muggy.”
Dr. Lansing helped her into the car. He pointed all the vents toward her and asked again if she was okay. Her color didn’t look right. Where were her shoes? Had something happened?
“Extraction,” she said.
“Well, yes, of course. But—“
“I live up on Barberry Lane. Ruth and I have a deal.”
He looked at her funny, like she was them perverts under the trees. But then he put on an old gospel station and she closed her eyes, mouthing the words and absorbing all that good air. When he pulled in her drive, she woke as he hit the curb. “Home sweet home,” he said.
Novella saw the blinds move over at Ruth’s. She touched Dr. Lansing’s face and when she withdrew her hand, she held it to her nose for a good long bit. “Cedar,” she said. “You smell like my cedar chest.”
“It’s time to go in now, Novella. Do you have your keys?”
She shrugged her shoulders and closed her eyes again.
“Come on, now,” he said. “My wife is expecting me.”
“Perverts,” she said. “Perverts, all.”
Then, poor Dr. Lansing grew alarmed and all but carried her to her porch, where he deposited her on a plastic-covered loveseat. As he left, he hit the curb again.
Ruth came out with a cup of ice water in one hand and her key to Novella’s place in another. “Wake up and drink this. Little sips,” she said. Novella dribbled some, but did as she was told. “Let’s get you to bed, love. Let’s get you to bed.”