The nurse is very pretty, with a curly ponytail that spins above her head at the slightest movement. She has dimples and she smiles a lot, and nurse’s training has given her an ass that Jonah wills himself not to notice.
“Is this your regular job?” she asks him, as he arranges the meal brought in for Mr. Jeffries.
“Part-time,” he shrugs back. He’s in a polo shirt, a garment that either makes you look fat or chiseled. “All I can find, really. You know,” he smirks, “put my degree to work and all.”
She laughs. “No one ever ends up doing what they planned, I think. I was gonna be a singer.” She laughs again.
“I can tell,” he says, hearing her.
She’s tan enough he doesn’t see her blush. “Call if you need any help,” she tells the babysitter. “His daughter says she’ll be back in a couple hours.”
“I promise not to murder the man.”
“Well let’s not make promises we can’t keep.” A wink, and she’s gone.
Jonah pulls the tray closer to Mr. Jeffries, who pushes it back. “You sure you don’t want any?” Jonah asks. The beef stroganoff is fragrant with hopeless seasoning.
“There’s soup. Chicken and broccoli.” Jonah tips the bowl to show him. Jeffries tilts his head as high as the neck brace will let him. His eyebrows dart up in appraisal, looking like defensive porcupines. Finally he shakes his head.
“You want me to at least open your Dr. Pepper?”
Jeffries chuckles, an act reliant on silent jerks. “I hope you don’t earn your living in sales.”
Jonah nods. “You and I both, Mr. Jeffries.”
“I knew a guy in sales,” Jeffries says. “Back in Murfreesboro. Real good at his job. Brought home good money for the day.” He stares up at the blank television, nods. “Nice hair, too. You hardly see nice hair anymore.”
Jeffries reaches for a blanket near his chair. Jonah wheels the tray away, out of the way.
“You got pretty good hair,” Jeffries tells him. “Long.”
Jonah consciously touches his ponytail. “Oh, yeah. Had it like this since high school.” He grins.
“I used to keep mine pretty shaggy.” Jeffries settles into the blanket as Jonah draws it to his shoulders. “But back then men didn’t keep long hair. I guess mine got a bit too long for people’s taste.”
Jeffries nods, or maybe just has brief trouble keeping his head up. “Yup. Guy threw a bottle at me over it once.”
“Yup. You know, it just wasn’t how men wore it then.” He smiles. “My wife liked my hair long. That was before we dated, though. Time she told me, fellas were growing it out long as they like.”
“You too?” Jonah asks.
“No. No. I never did. Just let it get shaggy that one time”
“It was different back then, ya know. Weren’t like it is now.”
“True. Those were volatile times, it sounds like.”
Mr. Jeffries straightens, huffs a laugh. “I don’t know about that. Just different. Weren’t bad times. Met my wife.”
“That sure counts for something.”
“It sure does. Counts for a lot.” The fall left Mr. Jeffries’ face bruised and swollen. When he smiles his lips curl back off prominent canines. With his face so puffy looks like a cat with no whiskers when he smiles. The smile slips, though, after a minute.
“Weren’t easy, being married to me,” he mumbles, eyes closed. His head bobs. “Weren’t easy.”
He’s quiet a moment, then jerks up, blinking, waking back up.
“How’d you meet your wife, Mr. Jeffries?” Jonah asks. He’s fair-skinned, milky in the sunlight from the window. His blond hair shines like gold.
“We were at a bar.” He weakly throws his hands in the air, as if to say “What do ya want?” “I was trying to buy drinks for her sister and I spilled my beer on her.” They both laugh. “She let me clean her up, and then a few years later we met up again. I asked if I could spill another drink on her. She told me I didn’t need excuses to get at her. And, you know…eventually I did.” He winks. “That alright to say around you?”
Jonah shrugs and smiles. “Sure, Mr. Jeffries. You won’t get any judgment from me.”
“You’re a good kid,” Jeffries says. “You’re alright.”
“I appreciate that, sir.”
Jeffries smiles his cat-smile. “Yeah, we touched a lot for a while. Then I figured, you know, I wanted to marry her. And she kept me. Couldn’t have been easy.” He winks at Jonah again. “But she liked my hair a whole lot, so maybe that helped.”
Jonah smirks. “And you never grew it back for her.”
“No, no. Never did. Couldn’t, you know. Folks might find out.”
“Yeah,” Jonah nodded. “Long hair was kind of radical in those days, I guess.”
Jeffries raises his eyebrows and nods. His blanket falls to his lap as he shifts in place. Jonah pulls it back up for him.
“It was hard then. And…I wasn’t good to her. I loved her, though. I really did.” His eyes get watery, but he doesn’t actually cry. “She’s been dead now twenty years,” he says, more to himself than anyone.
“Me too.” Mr. Jeffries just looks at his feet, the poly-cotton blanket bunched around them. “I did love her, though. Just not like I shoulda. She should’ve had better.”
Jonah is tactful enough not to comment.
“It was different then, though. You couldn’t say anything. Not about that.”
“It’s hard to say how you feel,” Jonah sympathizes. “I’m sure she knew.”
“She did.” Jeffries nods. “Eventually she did. Stayed with me anyway, though.”
The quiet moment is a turning motor.
“You couldn’t say it out loud back then,” Jeffries says again. “Not like it is today. You couldn’t tell anyone. You just…had to feel something else. Something alright to say out loud.”
He looks over at Jonah, at caring muscle tempered by cooling generations.
“I loved her though. Not the way I shoulda but…eventually.”
He runs a hand over a head covered in patches of gristly gray hair.
“Man’s name was Tom.”
“Fella from Murfreesboro. The salesman.”
Jeffries nods. “He had nice hair too. Said he really liked mine. Back when I had it.”
He looks over at Jonah. “That alright to say around you?”
Jonah nods, and fixes his blanket. “Yeah, Mr. Jeffries. It’s no problem.”