The Siege of Alesia
"You can bring whatever you want but I'm not going anywhere with you."
He stood there with a string of catfish in one hand and flowers in the other. "I caught these for you." He raised them in the air.
She crossed her arms. "I don't care if you did. I'm not going out with you."
He held up the flowers. "These was kinda expensive. Roses."
She sighed. "It's not proper to tell a woman how much you spent on her. She'll know. And I'm not going with you." She closed the door on him, standing there with his fish and flowers.
She peeked at him from behind a curtain. He stood on her steps and looked at the door for a long time. Finally he turned and went back to his truck. He put the fish in one of the two coolers he kept in the back. He put the flowers on the seat. He reached into the other cooler and got a beer. Opened it and took a good long swallow. Leaned up against the side of the truck. A look on his face, a man pondering something important. He lit a cigarette, finished it and the beer at the same time.
Finally he walked back and she ducked away. She heard him on the cinder blocks she used as steps. He knocked. She waited. She heard the clink of his lighter. She almost smiled; she did shake her head. She could picture him out there, smoking and pondering, waiting. About five minutes later he knocked again.
She opened the door and said nothing. Just one hand on one hip, the other ready to close the door.
"You need you some steps. Proper steps. These blocks is dangerous. They could fall over with you. See?" He rocked side to side on the bottom one.
"You sure do talk a lot." She closed the door.
She heard the engine when he he cranked up and heard him drive away. She went about putting away dishes and other things. She counted to see how many boxes she hadn't opened yet. She unpacked her nursing books and wondered when she'd get to study. She wasn't aware how much time had passed when she heard his truck. She walked over and waited by the door. He knocked, she opened.
He had a saw in one hand and an extension cord in the other. He held them up proudly.
"You bought me them?" She closed the door again.
He knocked. She opened.
"No," he said. "I'm gonna build you a porch."
"I'm still not going out with you." She took one end of the extension cord and went back inside. She bent to plug in the cord and called over her shoulder, "Stop watching my ass and close the door."
He worked until it was almost dark. He not only built her steps but he built a little porch. He secured it to the trailer. He cleaned up the mess so well you would never have known someone had been working there, not a particle of sawdust left. He knocked when he was finished. She opened the door and handed him the end of the extension cord. He stood there sweating and dirty and smiling and she rolled her eyes and closed the door.
The next morning he pulled into her yard as she was getting in her car to go to work. "Don't you have a job?" She cranked her car and drove away while he was answering.
When she got home that evening he was putting his tools away. She'd left the door open so he could have electricity and hoped she wouldn't regret it. She had two plastic bags of groceries and walked up the steps of her new porch. He had put up corrugated sheets of green fiberglass to keep the sun off of her. On one railing was a potted white star creeper. There were wind chimes hanging from the supports in each corner. In front of the door was a black rubber mat with the word WELCOME in raised black letters.
She went inside and set her bags on the counter. She came back out and he was standing at the foot of the steps.
"Sorry they ain't more plants. I run outta money."
"You never talk about how much money you're spending on a girl," she said as she closed the door.
The next morning she fully expected him to be there when she walked out but he wasn't.
She went to work. She figured he'd show up there. He usually showed up around noon for the buffet special. He always made it a point to say hey.
He didn't show up this day.
She went to class then went home. No sign of him when she pulled up. Until she walked up the steps of her porch and there were two wicker rockers sitting there. Between them was a glass topped table. On the table was a vase with a rose in it.
After she ate her supper she went outside and sat in one of the rockers and smoked while she studied a book on basic first aid. It was a pretty evening, a warm breeze blowing, the humidity not too high. It was nice. The rocker was comfortable and she fell asleep.
When she awoke her neck hurt. She got up and went to bed.
The next morning he wasn't there.
She went to work.
He didn't come in to eat the buffet special.
She went to class then back home.
There was a puppy on her porch. A long-eared beagle tied to one rail with a leash. There was a little red plastic bowl with food in it and a little blue bowl with water. Beside the bowls was a large bag of puppy chow and a box of puppy treats.
She looked around. The puppy thumped its tail on the porch floor and whined. She picked it up and held it in her lap for a long time.
Two weeks went by.
She didn't see him at all. Not at work or when she got home.
But there was a dark star creeper on the railing one evening and, once, a cooler with steaks in it.
One day she was wiping down the buffet and making note of what trays needed to be filled. One of the regulars was dipping fried okra onto his plate.
"Hey there, Daryl. Wait a minute and I'll have some more macaroni and cheese out here."
"I don't need none. I'm gonna get some of this meatloaf and I'll be good to go. You hear about Scotty?"
She kept wiping. "Nope. What about him?"
"He had a wreck this mornin. Out by your way, I think. You didn't hear nothin about it?"
She carefully pulled an empty pan from the steam table and headed for the kitchen. "Nope. Didn't hear a thing." She pushed through a door and told one of the other waitresses they needed more macaroni and cheese and chicken wings then told the manager she had to leave. She grabbed her purse and walked out the door without hitting the time clock.
She was pretty sure which hospital he'd be in. It took her twenty minutes to drive there. She asked which room he was in and they told her intensive care. She went upstairs and they said she could see him for just a few minutes.
She went in and one of his eyes was swollen shut. There was a bandage on his nose and lots of little cuts and scrapes on his face and arms, dried blood that had crusted. Tubes seemed to run in and out of him. He was hooked to a monitor that measured his heart rate and blood pressure.
She sat in the chair beside the bed. He stirred once but his eyes didn't open. Nurses came in and out and the doctor came and in and she spoke to him. The doctor said there was a slight swelling on the brain, but they thought his chances were good. It was a matter of time, wait and see, in God's hands.
His children came by at different times during the night. They offered to stay, but she sent them away.
He awoke the next morning.
He saw her and smiled and held out his hand. She took it. They sat quietly for a long while. The nurses came in and out. Finally the doctor came in and said they had to run more tests and they wheeled him out of the room. While she waited she called the children and told them he was awake.
They brought him back and she spoke to the doctor. She came back in and sat down. She told him the doctor said everything looked good.
"I'm knew you'd come," he said.
"Scotty, I don't love you anymore. You've got to stop this. I loved you, I did, but not anymore. A woman's heart can't take but so much."
"I've changed, honey. I know I've said that before but this time's different. I been seein a preacher and a psychologist and I know why I'm like I am. I really have changed, Alesia."
She stood and picked up her purse.
"It's too little too late, Scotty. I hope you find somebody nice someday." She stopped at the door and turned back and said "You should've been the kind of man that'd build me a porch a long time ago. You had it in you. You just never did."
Then she drove home and sat on her porch. She held her puppy in her lap and watched the sunset. The sun was a yellow and orange fireball and she watched it until it disappeared behind the trees.
David Lindsay is a writer living in Arkansas.