The water tower
Now that she’d made it to the top of the water tower, Lorene had a problem. Should she jump feet first or execute a swan dive like that tanned movie star, Esther Williams? Figuring high winds blowing from the western plains might fill her skirt and send her careening eastward, she chose the dive of the swan. Drifting aimlessly wasn’t her agenda. True, people disappeared every which way, but this exit method was intended to be straight down. Pausing to study the sides of the big tank emblazoned with Old Glory, she noticed the stars and stripes were chipped and worn.
We noted the tower’s condition decades ago. It’s on our Future Fixes list.
Teetering on tall ladders, scaling the sides of gnarled oaks and navigating steep stairs up to the swimming pool’s diving board — these were challenges she met and conquered. Dangling from a stuck Ferris wheel, driving over concrete bridges spanning mighty rivers, and taking a copter tour above a deep canyon were thrills that sent her blood racing. To strengthen her legs for the water tower climb (the climb of her life) she endured multiple squats, fooling even her husband Everett, the Reverend Carpenter, who naturally assumed she was enduring squats for his gratification. Scrubbing, polishing, waxing, buffing, ironing and Hoovering the parsonage kept the rest of her 50-year-old body in prime condition.
We give extra points for good health but wonder why our Good Health Book is a bit slim.
The parsonage was spotless. The Methodist Association owned it and everything in it except for a few items of a very personal nature, items Lorene could call her own. At one time, her very Reverend husband had been one of them, but she’d scratched him off her short list because frankly, it wasn’t his job to keep her happy. His days were filled with rounds of sick calls, baptisms and dealing with the newly dead. For the past decade, he’d been oddly preoccupied with what he called his “ultimate sermon,” an endless rant he began shaping shortly after Lorene showed him an image of Andy Warhol’s “Last Supper.”
And so it was that she erased Everett from her mind and flung herself forward, arms extended, head held high, toes pointed just so. It wasn’t exactly a perfect Esther Williams’ moment, but there was time enough to adjust her trajectory.
In the distance, the church steeple, the four-square Methodist parsonage and Butch’s Drugstore resembled buildings from a Monopoly game. At ground level (she’d be there soon enough) the river lacked curves, but up there its snaky shape wound across The Valley near the community pool, mirroring a bluebird blue sky.
Our lives are filled with nothing, therefore earthly observations are welcome. On a good day, we can smell the chlorine from the swimming pool.
What a day for a dive. She sucked in the wind as if her life depended on it, letting it ruffle her hair and flatten her features. The clock on the Union Bank whooshed into view, a reminder that Everett was likely making a cheese sandwich and wondering why she wasn’t at home dusting and scrubbing. He’d find no note.
Much research had gone into this moment. She’d found a truck driver’s website, some guy named Mike who drives an 18-wheeler, and while speeding on interstates also takes photos of water towers from his moving rig. Lorene was astounded at the sheer variety: towers resembling giant peaches, huge eggs, whopping watermelons, slim spaceships and flying saucers. Others were as stately as churches and as bulbous as mushrooms and mosques. There stood steel towers embellished with gold paint, Smiley faces, Sesame Street characters, red, white and blue stripes, coffee cups, catsup bottles, silly hats, and even twin towers labeled “hot” and “cold.” Some had been converted into penthouses and condos, and at 120 feet, they towered above the 110-foot perch Lorene had flung herself from mere seconds ago.
We’ve seen it all: water towers, movies, bungee jumping. Name it. We’re cynics.
She hoped her landing would be pain-free, perhaps a quick snap of her neck — a snap like the one she heard when she wrung the necks of chickens that were destined for Sunday church dinners. Today was Saturday, a true escape day, with no duties except to finish this duty. She’d always hated chickens, except of course, for the one she raised as a pet shortly after (secretly) baptizing it “Henny Penny” with a few drops of Everett’s precious holy water. The chick grew fat and sassy, a regular egg machine destined to grace a churchly feast. On the Sunday when Henny was finally brought to the table, all featherless and fried, Lorene declined to eat. Instead, she saved Henny’s feet and tucked them under the never-worn red thong in her dresser drawer, along with her Jerry Lee Lewis CDs and an autographed photograph of Dolly Parton smiling from a hot pink Cadillac rag top.
Before her climb, Lorene wrote Fox Brothers Funeral Home to (graciously) inform them that her final wishes were simple: Everett was NOT to attend the funeral, nor was he to preside over graveside services and worst of all, he was forbidden anywhere near her Union Cemetery plot. It was likely the town’s old boy network would ignore her womanly instructions, but that said, the letter was in the mail with a Forever Stamp firmly affixed. Only a month had passed since she was coerced by the old boy town board that suggested she costume herself as a pink satin pig and strut in the sweltering heat at the annual Pork Parade. The fools owed her some slack for that considerable sacrifice.
We agree that the town fathers are fools. It has been so noted in our files marked “Town Fathers: Fools.” In order to not discriminate, we also have files on Presidential Fools, Fools who are Generals, and one labeled General Fools. When we get electricity up here, it will be easier to track everything.
Looking south in an effort to avoid the approaching terrain, she squinted to focus on the farm where her twin sister, Lorelle, lived. A jealous type and envious of anyone who got ahead in the world (or in her way), Lorelle drove her twin nuts with reminders that the Bible was the key to everything. Her bitching fell on deaf ears, for Lorene had never, ever swallowed the evangelical concept of pearly gates and streets of gold, and most certainly never swallowed whole the tales of flaming fires and twisted beasts of unspeakable horror.
Her beliefs were somewhere in another place, an in-between void of nothingness. It was nigh impossible to imagine being both stone dead and yet aware of nothingness. She’d soon know the answer to that puzzle.
For a Saturday, it sure was quiet down below, except for the few folks shouting and running up the hill toward the tower. The rising wind from the west was beginning to give her fits. Her route was starting to shift toward a peaked roof, though perhaps landing on a roof would be preferable to hitting the rock-hard ground. Wails from the town siren rattled her bones, just like they did every day at noon. By now, Everett was brushing cheese crumbs from his mouth, and the tune from his transistor radio (is that “Blue Moon?”) rose to her ears. Her choice would have been anything by Jerry Lee, but this was no time to be picky.
Jerry Lee just left our building. We declined further comment.
Last year, well she guessed it was her best-ever thanks to a chap she’d met in Omaha. She’d driven there to secretly buy a red thong , something nice from Valentino’s Unmentionables where, it turned out, he was the keeper of heaps of panties and bras. The thought of actually buying a thong, let alone a red one, set her cheeks burning. But together they found one that fit, and you know … one thing led to another, and they ended up slow dancing in the tiny dressing room.
But that was it. Until today, she’d always walked the straight and narrow. No more.
An American History professor’s bearded face drifted by. When she was 18 and newly enrolled at the University, he singled her out to ask if she believed everything she read. Her answer was yes, for back then, in her pre-Everett days, she really did believe in the truth of written words. Now, she was certain that writers of fiction are perhaps the real truth tellers.
Perhaps. That’s a tough call. We need specifics.
A gold lamé shoe smacked her head before moving on to join needles and pins, heaps of unread books, Post-it notes, limp condoms and masses of political hype churning the atmosphere where blogs competed for space with wandering prayers, photos from too many wars, shrieks from difficult birthings, a dog-eared Bill of Rights and an “Al Gore for President” sticker. Her sight lines were obliterated when a large plastic bag stamped Walmart attached itself to her face. Another wrapped around her left leg.
What time was it? Is it? She couldn’t see the clock on the Union Bank. Her Timex was missing. Out of nowhere came the boogie beat of a piano played by a tall, thin redhead.
She’s ours now.