Sitting in the courtroom, listening to Earl’s momma lie through her pearly white teeth, Morgan wished upon her momma’s grave that she had not thrown out that book. She wished she’d read it cover-to-cover. Wished for all things fried in deep fat that she had read it like her momma urged her to do, but when it arrived at her house that hot June day (by an Amazon drone for pity’s sake) Morgan had cut away the cardboard wrapper, took one look at the title and tossed it immediately into the recycle bin out back before Earl come home and found it.
Lonnie Sue had begged her daughter to read the book, told Morgan it would help her understand her no-count husband. Lonnie Sue had tried her level best to get along with Earl but every time things seemed to be perking up some, Earl would go off do another confounded thing that would reaffirm what Lonnie Sue had always believed: Earl didn’t give two-hoots about anybody else but Earl. That church marriage counselor him and Morgan seen even affirmed her assumptions. He gave Earl some test that said he had all the traits of a narcissist.
“Shit-fire, save matches,” Lonnie Sue said when Morgan told her about what the counselor surmised. “There’s a test for that? I’ve been telling you for years he’s sorry and don’t care about nobody or nothin’ except his very own hiney.”
The problem was Morgan never listened to her momma till after Lonnie Sue was dead and gone, then all that sage wisdom come raining down over Morgan like she was caught up in some tornado. And she kinda was caught up in a tornado of sorts.
“More like a shit-storm,” Morgan heard her momma’s voice from beyond the grave as she was sitting right there before Judge Black, who would be deciding who got custody of sweet little Mary Nell, Morgan and Earl’s baby girl.
Morgan had already put her hand on the Bible and sworn to all things holy that Earl hadn’t spent a single hour alone caring for their daughter since Mary Nell had been born six years earlier, but sure enough, Earl’s momma had put her hand on that very same Bible and was now telling the judge that Earl had too kept sweet little Mary Nell.
“Earl’s kept her the majority of the time since Morgan has a bit of a drinking problem,” she lied. Then – the gall! – that woman looked right over at Morgan and smiled.
Morgan would have come straight up out of her seat and grabbed her ex-mother-in-law by the throat and made her choke on her lying words had Johnny Cauldell, Morgan’s lawyer, not put his hand on her thigh and sternly uttered, “Don’t you dare!”
“Well, she don’t even believe in the Bible!” Morgan uttered back.
Morgan was madder than that day Paul Ryan said he would support Donald Trump because what choice did he have other than to support the will of the people? “What choice?” she had screamed at the car radio. “You could choose to have some integrity! You could denounce him as the idiot he is!” Morgan had yelled so loud that day that the construction worker in the pickup at the red light beside her had removed his sunglasses and asked if she needed him to call 911 for assistance. Morgan figured he thought maybe she had gone off her meds. If only fixing her problems were as easy as popping a pill or two.
Of course, if Lonnie Sue was alive she’d remind her daughter that denial never cured nothing.
“Don’t be dumb,” Lonnie Sue admonished Morgan over and over and over again.
That’s how come her to send Morgan that book to begin with. Lonnie Sue understood that Morgan was just doing her level best to hold a lousy marriage together; she didn’t fault her for that. There was Mary Nell to think about, after all, and that sweet child was only two-years old the first time Morgan suspected Earl was poking around town.
‘Course Earl swore he’d been faithful (cheaters always lie), that he loved only her. He was quick to qualify, though, that the her he loved was the her Morgan used to be, not the her she was now. What Lonnie Sue understood, but Morgan didn’t seem to grasp, was that Earl had the hots for Morgan back when she was the high school cheerleader who wore short skirts and belonged to another fella. That was the thing about Earl, he was by nature competitive. He was always wanting the thing he didn’t have and never happy with the thing he did have. His competitive spirit made him a miserable man in so many boring ways. Lonnie Sue simply could not for the life of her and all the Dilly Bars at Dairy Queen understand what in the world her heretofore smart and beautiful daughter saw in Earl. That name alone would have sent Lonnie Sue running for the back country.
“You ain’t the first woman and you won’t be the last to try and salvage a one-sided marriage,” Lonnie Sue said as she pulled out of the driveway, headed home, after trying unsuccessfully to get her daughter to see Earl for the conniving two-timing slut he was. “The only thing that’s gonna save this marriage is if that man has a Come-to-Jesus moment. That’s it. He needs to fall on his face and beg forgiveness for all the ways he done wronged you and Mary Nell.”
That was the last time Morgan seen her momma alive.
Lonnie Sue kilt over that very afternoon while driving home. She’d suffered a stroke and gone sideways on the roadway, straight across Farmer Johnson’s field out on Standing Boy Lane, and run smack up under Billy the Bull, an oversize bronze statue that had made Farmer Johnson a household name all over Mason County. Those low-hanging balls of Billy’s decapitated Lonnie Sue, but she was dead already so she never knew about her head, not that it really mattered on account of Lonnie Sue never did want an open casket.
‘Course Earl couldn’t help telling anybody who’d listen at Lonnie Sue’s eternal rest service about how his mother-in-law was always losing her head over one thing or another. If Lonnie Sue had overheard Earl, she would not have been surprised by his uncouth behavior. She would have said: What do you expect from a man whose idea of fun was to sit around watching You Tube videos of stupid human tricks?
Now, Morgan was sitting in Mason County Courthouse, clenching her jaw and slapping Johnny Cauldell’s hand off her thigh, where he’d grabbed her and never let go, and wishing for anything that she had listened to her momma.
If she had heeded the advice in that book her momma sent her, perhaps Morgan might not be feeling like she had been the brunt of one of Earl’s stupid human tricks.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).