IN THE IN BETWEEN TIME

10/28/2020 4:47:22 PM
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A Native New Yorker, born in Harlem and raised in The Bronx. I spent a great deal of time visiting, living in and working in Virginia. As a result, many of my short stories are in the vein of Zora Neale Hurston, with extensive use of southern black dialect.
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Leaving work at approximately 5:30 p.m., Irving Moore, a resident of Creston, Virginia, had driven the twenty-seven miles from Gainsville, where for the past six years he had worked as a dye mixer at American Bag Company, to Elk Run to look at some fishing equipment one of his co-workers told him a friend was interested in selling.

After making the transaction and returning to Creston, Irving stopped at a Roy Rogers fast food restaurant on Creston’s bypass highway for a hamburger and an order of French fries.  Arriving home, he sat the meal on the dining room table, washed his hands and went to the refrigerator for a beer.  As Irving ate, he smiled thinking how he had once teased his wife, Natalie, about eating “Trigger Burgers” from Roy Rogers. She’d said, “yuck! Dis betta not be no horsemeat!” and playfully smacked him on the shoulder. With their mouths full of hamburger, they exchanged a kiss and smiles.

Thirty-three year old Irving and thirty-one year old Natalie had been married for nearly ten years when she passed away from cancer four years ago. During the months following Natalie’s death, Irving’s disposition began to change dramatically.  Usually outgoing, friendly and humorous, he became more short-tempered and combative, with even the slightest infraction by someone causing him to become irritated and angry.  If the clerk at a store accidentally short-changed him or if someone cut him off in traffic, he wanted to fight them.  He started vigorous, and sometimes vicious, arguments over the most mundane and inconsequential things, such as football or how often grass needed to be mowed.  As a result, friends, even those he’d known since childhood, began to avoid him. 

Irving lived alone in the family home. One of his sisters, Audrey, her husband, Frank and their children lived approximately fifteen miles away in Falls Church. Two other sisters, Frances and Cassandra (Cassie) lived in New York City.  His younger, single brother, James, lived in Washington, D.C. and drove a bus for the city’s public transportation system. 

Audrey and Frank often invited him to Sunday dinners, but Irving always found an excuse not to go. For his part, James invited him to come “hang out” for weekends in D.C. He tried to tempt Irving with stories of attractive, single ladies looking for good men like him. As with Audrey’s and Frank’s invitations, however, Irving always offered excuses as to why he couldn’t make it.  On those occasions when either or both siblings visited him, Irving would go through the motions of being sociable, but they knew he wanted them to leave so he could be alone again. Although both still had some concern about their brother’s well-being, they could see that he was still eating properly, bathing and going to work. Each hoped that the passage of time would diminish his depression about Natalie’s death.

After clearing and wiping down the diningroom table, Irving went into the livingroom to turn on the television. He scanned through the channels until he found a James Bond movie that was already in progress. As he had seen it several times before, he didn’t mind catching it a little past midpoint. Eventually, however, he felt himself nodding off; he was occasionally awakened by the heavy instrumentals of James Bond’s signature theme song.

He went upstairs, changed into his pajamas, brushed his teeth, washed his face and went to bed. Now, Irving lay in bed with his eyes closed waiting for sleep to come.  He always dreaded these “in the in between time” moments - - in between sleep and being awake. It seemed that all the unhappy memories that he was able to put aside during the daylight hours, came for nocturnal visits.  He yawned. Usually his tears of fatigue were mixed with his tears of sadness.

Irving glanced at the clock on his night table; it was almost midnight.

His eyelids started to get heavy, but then, as he knew it would happen, Natalie came into his mind. He felt his body tense and his throat get dry and painful as he fought back tears.  Thinking about her and her death ached as if someone had kicked him in the tailbone.  But this kind of hurt, unlike the physical hurt, never went away. Instead, it was a constant companion, especially when he was alone. Alone with his thoughts. Alone in the dark. Alone in the “in between time.”

Unable to sleep at night, Irving also began taking long drives to nowhere in particular.  He’d stop in small towns he didn’t know, get something to eat, re-fill his gasoline tank, and then drive back home. Climbing in bed, he’d position pillows against his back and legs to create the physical and mental sensation of Natalie lying next to him.

He sometimes felt as if he were just going through the motions of being alive.

One evening, while sitting on his porch drinking beer and whiskey, he looked at a rosebush he’d planted for Natalie and felt the uncontrollable urge to tear it up by its roots. He leapt from the porch and grabbed the rosebush under his arm, and began rocking back and forth in an effort to remove it from the ground. With thorns and branches pricking and scratching his arms, hands and face, Irving began to cry. At that point, he decided to leave the rosebush where it was and went into the house.

Now, once again, unable to sleep, Irving, got out of bed, put on his clothes and decided to take a drive.  After driving along Highway 29 for about five miles, Irving turned onto Highway 211 and drove west towards Skyline Drive, a one hundred mile National Scenic Byway that traverses Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

Irving wondered if any the few drivers he passed on the various roads and highways were stuck in their own “in between time”.

On his way back to Creston, Irving decided to stop in at his favorite 7-Eleven convenience store for a pack of cigarettes before heading home. As he turned into the 7-Eleven’s parking lot, he could see through its large windows that the store only had one customer. Given the early morning hour, however, this wasn’t surprising. When he exited his pick-up truck, Irving saw two freight truck drivers standing outside on the store’s narrow walkway drinking coffee, smoking and talking. Irving and the truckers nodded greetings, and he entered the store.

He walked up to the counter where a 7-Eleven-smocked Dennis Marshall stood behind the counter.

“Hey. Dennis. How’s it goin’?” Irving knew the twenty-four year old Dennis and his family from Creston area; he had gone to high school with two of the young man's older brothers.

“S’okay,” replied Dennis. “Quiet as usual fo’ dis time uh night. Or should I say, ‘mornin’?.” He laughed.

Irving laughed, too.

“Gimme a pack uh Kent’s,” requested Irving.

Dennis handed the cigarettes to Irving.  As he was paying for the cigarettes, Irving saw a woman enter he didn’t recognize enter the store. She walked to the pastry section and picked up a blueberry coffee cake. She then made herself a large coffee.

Irving watched her as she approached the counter. She was a mocha-colored woman approximately the same age as he. She wore her hair in a short afro and despite a lack of make-up, irving thought she was very pretty. He moved aside to let her pay for her items. She smiled and Irving returned it even broader.

“How’s it goin’ tonight?” she asked Dennis.

“Good night so far, Miss Betty,” replied Dennis. “Jus’ a few truckers. No crazies. Knock wood.” Dennis banged his right hand’s knuckles on a wooden display case.

Dennis gave the woman her change. She smiled at Irving again and then exited the store. Irving continued staring in her direction.

“Earf ta Irvin’, Earf ta Irvin’. Come in, please,” said a laughing Dennis, who made the sound of radio static with his mouth, while covering it with his hands.

Irving turned towards him. “What?”

“You look like you got struck by lightnin’,” said a grinning Dennis.

"Ah ain't nevva seen her 'round hair befo’."

"Miss Betty jus' started comin’ in ‘bout two weeks or ago."

“Oh.”

“’She always comes in ‘bout de same time as you. Sometimes jus’ befo’. Sometimes jus’ afta.”

“She seems ta be a nice lady.”

“She is. Always pleasant. Jus’ moved downniss way from Merland.” Maryland was less than a hundred miles from Creston.

“Okay. Thanks,” said Irving. “Ah’d betta git my black ass home an’ git a few hours uh sleep befo’ Ah go ta work. Probably see ya tomorra.”

“Alright den,” replied Dennis. “If Ah see Miss Betty agin, Ah’ll put in a good word fo’ ya.”

Irving laughed and walked out the door.

A few days later, Irving saw Betty standing in line at the 7-Eleven in one of his “in between time” sojourns.

When he got to the cash register, Dennis began pointing at him. “Dis is de guy Ah was tellin’ you ‘bout, Miss Betty,” he said proudly. “’Memba he was in hair de uvver night.”

Irving blushed, as Betty turned towards him. He chuckled nervously.

“Behave Dennis,” said Betty “Don’t embarrass the man.”

Her comment only made Dennis grin wider.

“Hi,” said Irving. “Ah guess Dennis has too much time on his hains.”

Betty laughed. “I think so.”

“Anyway, it’s nice ta meetchu,” said Irving. “Ah guess Dennis already toleju ma name’s Irving.”

“Yep, he darn sure did,” said Betty. “You want to walk outside and drink our coffee? We can chat without our host here.” She glanced at Dennis who still had big grin on his face.

“Sure,” said Irving.

Out of the corner of his eye, Irving saw Dennis give him a “thumbs up” signal, as he and Betty headed toward the door.  

Once outside, Betty and Irving walked to where Betty’s car was parked and began chatting about an assortment of topics. During the course of their conversation, Irving explained to Betty that he was born, raised and lived in Creston. He also spoke about his job at the American Bag Company. Finally, he told her about Natalie.

For her part, Betty was a schoolteacher, who taught fourth grade in Manassas, where she also lived alone. Manassas was approximately twelve miles from Creston. She and her late husband, Albert, who had died of a heart attack three years ago, had relocated to Virginia from Maryland.

Finally, Irving got up the nerve to ask the question he’d been wondering about for the past hour. “Ah hope ya don’t thank Ah’m bein’ nosey, but whatchu doin’ out so late by yo’self?”

Betty laughed. “No, Irving. Not at all. When I have trouble sleeping, I go out for drives to clear my mind,” replied Betty.

Irving smiled. “Ah do de same daggone thang.”

“I’ve been feelin’ a bit down lately, so the principal at my school told me to take some time off. I think he’s a bit worried about me.”

“Yeah, Ah cain understand,” replied Irving. “Ma thoughts about different thangs has been keepin’ me awake on some nights, Ah don’t know how Ah make it to work sometimes.”

“Me either. The kids must think I’m a zombie when I space out in the classroom,” said Betty with a slight smile. Despite her smile, Irving could see a bit of sadness in her eyes.

“Well, Ah thank it’s time fo’ me ta hit de road,” said Irving. “Maybe catch a few hours o’ sleep befo’ Ah head ta work.”

“Yep,” replied Betty. “The sun’ll be coming up in another few hours.”

Irving began walking towards his truck. “Hope ta see you agin,” he shouted.

“Unfortunately, you probably will,” replied Betty, with a slight smile.

 

Over the following weeks, Irving and Betty continued to encounter each other during their mutual “in between times”. Although, Irving found that since meeting and talking with Betty, he was better able to sleep and relax at night, usually with thoughts of Betty on his mind. But, he still managed to go out in the wee morning hours to see if she were at the 7-Eleven.  He could always tell when she was there, because Dennis’ smile was brighter than the store’s neon lights.

Finally, on one occasion, Irving decided to make a suggestion.

“Insteada meetin’ hair at deese crazy hours, you wanna have dinner sometimes? Dere’s a nice place in Creston named Sibby’s an’ dey have some uvda best barbeque Ah ever ate.”

“I think I’ve heard about Sibby’s from some of the teachers at my school. They love it.”

“Okay, den, it’s a deal,” said Irving. “What about dis comin’ Saturday?”

“Saturday sounds good,” replied Betty. “How about seven o’ clock?”

“Dat works fo’ me”

“I think we should exchange telephone numbers just in case,” said Betty.”

“You’re right.”

Betty reached into her purse, took out a pen and a small notebook, wrote her telephone number on one sheet and handed it to him. He gave her his telephone number. She jotted it onto another sheet of paper and placed it into the purse.

Irving explained that Sibby’s was on Third Street just one street off of Creston’s Main Street.

“Okay. I know how to get to Main Street, so I’ll look for Third once I get up there.”

“Ah look forward to it,” said Irving.

Looking over Irving’s shoulder, a smiling Betty said, “Should we invite Dennis?”

When Irving turned, he could see a widely grinning Dennis looking at him and Betty through one of the 7-Eleven’s large windows.

Irving laughed and said, “Maybe nex’ time.”

Betty joined him in his laughter. “I’ll see ya on Saturday.” She stood on her toes and kissed him on the cheek.

They began walking towards their respective vehicles.

Once again, during the week, Irving found that he was better able to sleep through the night.

The following Saturday, as Irving headed out of his house to meet Betty, he passed by “Natalie’s Rosebush”. He stopped and stared at the rosebush for several minutes. Finally, he reached down, broke off one of the roses and placed it in the hole on the lapel of his blazer. He smiled and then headed off to meet Betty.

 

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