By Niles Reddick
I ran into my former Uncle Arthur at the grocery store after my aunt divorced him when he punched her the second time. The first time was because she hauled cats to the river and left them. Their house had been infested with fleas and my aunt had bites on her feet and legs. He beat her and made her go back to the river and retrieve the cats.
My mother said she couldn’t leave him because she didn’t know what she’d do, how she’d make ends meet all alone. The second time he punched her in the eye because she was doing a load of laundry and using city water. She didn’t like going outside and hauling in his buckets of rainwater to fill the washer. She thought it was nasty because mosquitoes bred in it, cats drank out of it, and a pollen film covered the water. She didn’t care about the water bill from the city, but he did.
I rounded the end of the frozen foods into the fruits and vegetables and there was Arthur. “How’s it going?” he asked.
“Heard your aunt was dating a mechanic now.”
“I don’t know. Too busy to keep up with everyone in the family.”
Arthur laughed. “You need a coupon for that chicken?”
“Sure, if you’ve got an extra.”
“I only come here every other Wednesday when the friars are buy one, get one free. I’ll cook one and freeze one. No sense paying full price when you don’t have to. Just takes a few minutes to find the sale in the paper. Don’t even take the paper. Get it free from work.”
“Good idea. I’m all for saving money.”
“Your aunt wasn’t. Just wanted to spend it.” He looked away, and I didn’t think there was anything to see among the cantaloupes.
“But you hit her because she took the flea infested cats off and because she wouldn’t use that nasty rainwater.”
He continued to stare at the cantaloupes. “She didn’t like coupons either. Too lazy to look for a coupon.”
“Money ain’t everything.”
“Didn’t say it was.” He looked back at me, his eyes glassy.
“I appreciate the coupon. Need to save all I can.”
“Good luck,” he said and walked off pushing his cart with a wobbly, spinning wheel.
I never saw Arthur again. I read about his death in the newspaper. I’d heard he took stuff from people’s trash piles by the road and hauled it back to his house. I’d also heard he wrote out his bills to businesses and didn’t put stamps on the envelopes because if he put the return addresses as the business addresses, it would get returned to them anyway. I also heard the city had to pay to put the stray cats to sleep because there were too many for the shelter.
Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has appeared in thirteen anthologies and in over 300 publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, and New Reader Magazine. See his website http://nilesreddick.com/ and follow him on Twitter @niles_reddick and Instagram @nilesreddickmemphisedu