Easier Said Than Done
by RC Cooper
On the way back Roscoe kept repeating, "How could you not see Him? He was right there -- in front of us. How could you not see Him?"
"I didn't see nothing," she said calmly. "There wasn't nothing to see."
"Right in front of us! I touched his robe --I felt cloth!"
"Wasn't nothing to see, Roscoe."
God knows Brandy had wanted to see: she'd never desired anything so much in her whole life. In fact, it seemed the only hope left to her, that the Lord would return and take her with Him, that by asking Him into her life she would erase her sins and find, in His kind and all-forgiving presence, the happiness that always seemed to pass her by. Fussing a wisp of blond hair, she sighed, but softly enough that Roscoe wouldn't notice: it wouldn't be fair, she felt, to pile her disappointment on top of his.
The Volkswagen bug meandered the back roads, its eyes yellowing a path. Hissing through Roscoe's inch-open window, a cool wind supplanted his words; though she could not clearly see his thin face, Brandy could feel it falling into despair.
She said, "Sometimes a person wants something so bad their mind makes it happen." She was thinking of when Billy left her, and how for a long time she saw him everywhere.
"He was there." Roscoe was stubborn. "I didn't make it up. I wasn't lying."
"I ain't calling you a liar, Roscoe." She wanted to touch his hand, reassure him, but she didn't know him well enough and besides, he might misunderstand, like men always do. "I meant you wanted to see Him so bad your imagination made it happen."
"He was there," insisted Roscoe, but his voice wavered. "It wasn't my imagination."
Brandy wondered what would happen back at the Sunset Motel. Would Roscoe just up and drive away? Drive off into the black night, maybe without even saying goodbye? Leave her alone with the drudgery and the dust? Should she offer to put him up, with Floyd being down to Mexico for the week? But then what if Roscoe took advantage? Or did she want him to take advantage, so that she could hold him there and ease the ache of her heart? Asking herself these questions, Brandy herself was touched by despair. If there was one thing she had learned in life, it was this: things never work out. Especially with men. Sometimes things start out okay, but sooner or later they always go downhill; they just do. She didn't know why. In spite of all her sinning, she felt deep in her heart that she was a good person, a kind person, ready to assist anyone in distress. But men always took advantage. It seemed like it was their nature, they couldn't help it. Sometimes she wondered why God had made them that way.
The little bug bumped from dirt onto asphalt, sped off down the smooth highway; a semi blasted by, blinding them, swatting them, smarting their ears; after it passed, the inside of the car seemed darker. Brandy tried to make out Roscoe's face but all she could see in the dim dashlight was a pale smudge, a ghost. She tried to smell him but couldn't, probably because of the faint background stink of scorched oil. She always thought you could tell about a man by his odor though she had to admit that she'd often been fooled.
She said, "We'll be there soon."
Roscoe said nothing, a silence that disturbed Brandy for she felt it might signify a lack of interest: she visioned him stopped at the motel, engine running, impatiently waiting for her to get out so he could escape into the night. She knew how her heart would hurt; she could feel it already. Should she go ahead and invite him now? He seemed like a nice man, a God-loving man. Could she trust him? Or was she blowing dust in her own eyes, pretending to fret about trust when she was really worried that he might be so God-loving that he would ignore her, not man-see her as a lonely and passionate woman? In a confusion-quelling tactic, she pinched herself hard on the forearm.
She said, "There's the sign."
White fangs struck at them, and though she couldn't read the sudden words she knew them by heart: "SEE THE THREE-FANGED RATTLER! EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD!" Floyd was proud of his signs, hand-painted by his halfbreed daughter Jill; Brandy didn't share his enthusiasm and apparently, judging by their scarcity at the motel, neither did the tourists.
She felt her pulse pick up because they were almost there. Then they were there, spinning rocks and dirt against the metal pan of the little VW. Just as she had imagined, Roscoe squeaked to a stop before the dark office and left the engine running; but instead of spurning her he flashed starlit eyes: "I'm sorry. I'm very sorry that you didn't see Him. I promised you something wonderful and never delivered. I apologize from the bottom of my soul." His voice sounded heavy, as though enriched with tears.
"It's all right," she said. "I never get my hopes too high. That way I ain't disappointed so bad."
They sat silent for a moment, purblind strangers, with the engine running. She could smell the stirred dust. Did he want her to pop the door and get out? Or was he hoping...? Her pulse accelerated to crazy speed as, fussing an unseen wisp of hair, she said, "I'm sure you're wore out, Roscoe, after all the excitement and all. You're welcome to stay the night."
For a moment, staring at her in the dark, he said nothing.
"That's a kind offer. But I never kept my promise."
"Unit 1 is all made up."
"I never kept my promise to you."
"It's no trouble, Roscoe."
She could feel him thinking, making up his mind. Holding her breath, she fiddled a loose strand of hair, curled it tight as a spring. After a spell of silence that seemed to last forever, Roscoe switched off the lights, cut the engine.
"That's very kind of you. Especially considering I never kept -- "
After that she felt good: a woman tending her man. She cooked up some hamburgers, squeezing on mustard and stuffing the buns with fresh lettuce and tomatoes, pickles and onions, and loaded a sidesalad with ranch dressing. She almost offered him a Bud but then remembered, and instead brewed coffee, which always seems to smell better when you have company. She liked gazing into Roscoe's eyes. They were so blue and innocent, maybe like Adam's before Eve ruined everything. There was something about him, something that made him special. A few of her men had been God-fearing, at least they claimed so, but that was not the same thing as loving Jesus; you could fear God and still have a mean streak, but if you truly loved Jesus how could you ever be mean? And Roscoe seemed so honest in his love for the Lord. So sincere. Sitting across from him in booth four, Brandy felt suddenly shy, him watching her eat and her afraid of being improper, squirting mustard on her fingers or globbing her cheek with dressing. A couple of times, catching a spill just in time, she gave off a little grin of embarrassment. She was nervously happy.
During the meal and after, between smiles, she sized up her companion. His face was long and pale, with too much forehead and too much chin, like the man in the moon. His brown hair was thinning and his ears stuck out, not too bad but definitely noticeable, and he was skinny as a snake. He wore a tan cowboy shirt with a turquoise bolo, dimestore jeans four inches too short, and scuffed brown boots with rundown heels. He wasn't a good-looking man. Not by a longshot. But Brandy knew from the sting of experience than no woman in her right mind chased after good-looking men: they would live off you, cheat on you, abuse you, and, when they found somebody better or just got sick of you, they'd throw you in the dirt. Good-looking men were as bad as superpretty women. It was true what a jilted girlfriend once told her, "A nine or a ten will always end up treating you like a zero."
During the meal Roscoe didn't say much; afterward, in her small parlor with the space heater sputtering, Brandy tossed him some bait:
"I done a lot of sinning, Roscoe, a lot of sinning in my life. I'm real ashamed."
The sidetable lamps, fashioned from ironwood, printed overlapping circles on the ranchhouse sofa; Roscoe's face was like the moon, with the dark side toward her and the bright side away. His far hand rested on a knee and his near hand lay palmup, with fingers curled. The poor man looked so thin, like he needed mothering. He maintained an uneasy silence. Surely, thought Brandy, sinning should spark his interest; she repeated: "I done a lot of sinning, Roscoe, a lot."
"I've done my share, too," he said in a faraway voice. "More than my share."
After this reluctant admission he fell silent again, reminding her that talking, like cooking and cleaning, was woman's work. She said:
"Seems like I'm always in danger of sinning. Right here at the motel, I'm in danger. No, it ain't the tourists, if that's what you're thinking. They do make a pass sometimes, but it ain't the tourists. It's Floyd. He give me this job so he expects favors. It's real uncomfortable with him hanging around. It seems like he's always hungering, always circling, like a starving coyote. He got a wife and kids, so it ain't right. It's against God. I have to fight him off."
Brandy didn't want to admit that her success rate with Floyd was well under a hundred percent, that in fact he had his way with her once or twice a week. Justifying those abrupt events, she always said to herself, "What can I do? A girl has to have a job and a place to stay."
"Why don't you quit?" asked Roscoe softly. "There's no law saying you have to work at the Sunset Motel."
"Easier said than done, Roscoe."
"There are other jobs."
Yes, she responded inside her head, but it's always the same. Men just can't seem to help taking advantage --
"What I need is a knight in shining armor to throw me over his saddle and carry me away from all this." Her laughter, louder than intended, made her squirm. She felt the need for a beer.
Roscoe didn't laugh but he did perk up. Leaning toward her, teeth shining in the lamplight, he spoke with sudden heat: "You need Jesus. We all do. We're all sinners and we need Jesus to save us. There's no other way."
"Amen," she said soberly, but she was in no mood for listening to preachments. Tonight she preferred quiet talk, gentle, like a man and woman after a day's work; like a husband and wife. But she took what she could get: "I committed the worst sin of all, Roscoe, the very worst."
"There's no other way," Roscoe repeated, burrowing into his own mind. Then, after a pause: "I can't believe you didn't see Him. I can't believe it!"
"Roscoe, I took a human life."
This shined his eyes, tightened his mouth. Had she gone too far?
"You took a life?"
"I did," she said, hiding her face. "I murdered." She smelled mustard on her fingers, and traces of ranch dressing; attempting to cry, she felt like a fake. "My unborn child. My little boy. I murdered my little boy." As usual, the words aroused the very feelings she had been faking, teased up real tears; soon she was sobbing. "I killed my little boy. I'm a murderer. How can I get to heaven if I killed my little boy? I'm so bad God can't never forgive me. I'm so bad, Roscoe. I'm so bad..."
Every time she spoke these words, and she'd spoken them many times, all the squeezed emotions of her entire life rushed out; it seemed you never could get rid of deep feelings once and for all, no matter how often or how hard you cried, they were like water in one of those springfed wells that keeps refilling as you empty it. As she sobbed, as the feelings rose and released, she ached for the consolation of a gentle hand, a male touch, the soft miracle of a kiss. Keeping his distance, Roscoe offered only words:
"Give yourself to Jesus. He will forgive you. The Lord Jesus will save you from yourself. Hallelujah! Say hallelujah."
Brandy rummaged the endtable for a kleenex; finding none, she rose, hiding her wrecked face.
From the kitchen she called, "Hallelujah," while dabbing her eyes, which felt puffy and red. Oh Lord, she said to herself, for no reason she could think of. Oh Lord. Aloud: "Would it make you real mad if I drank a Bud?"
A shivery moment of silence.
Then a surprise: "Bring me one too."
After the second beer Roscoe made his own confession. Brandy had been detailing the murder of her child, and how afterward she almost bled to death, when he suddenly said, "I'm a murderer too."
Brandy closed her mouth.
"It's true, Brandy. I killed a man."
"I committed the worst sin against the Lord."
To soften his guilt, she smiled; she was glad to see his armor melting, to feel the beer loosening him up. His eyes reminded her of trapped starlight.
She said, "It must have been a accident."
"No accident, Brandy." Swigging his Bud, he made little popping sounds; lamplight slid along the lowering bottle and she could hear the liquid fizzing like a tiny space heater. "No accident. Murder plain and simple."
"Murder, Brandy. The number one sin. Before I found the Lord I was a heller, there wasn't a thing I wouldn't do. And I had a terrible temper."
"I can't hardly believe it, Roscoe. Knowing you now, I mean."
"I found the Lord, Brandy."
His eyes were glittering, whether from excitement or the slant of lamplight she couldn't tell. The beer was making her body float; blowing at a loose wisp of hair, she said, "When did you find Jesus?"
The P word grabbed her breath. Billy had been in prison, and Karl, and Jake, well, she wasn't sure about Jake, he never admitted it, but... Men who had been in prison scared her because from blueblack experience she'd learned that once a man went bad, really bad, he stayed bad: not many nice guys came out of prison. But she had never met a man like Roscoe, so passionate for Jesus.
"I'm glad you got saved." She wasn't sure what else to say.
"I asked the Lord to forgive me. I asked a lot of times before he answered. Then one day, in my cell, he came to me, and Brandy -- the light! Bright as the sun! And He spoke to me, directly to me: 'Son, I forgive you.' What words to hear! What words! Oh hallelujah!"
"I knew then that I had been called to do the Lord's work. I knew then that I had been called to travel the country, north, south, east and west, to get out His WORD. Hallelujah!"
"Hallelujah." She was feeling stirred up, tingly from his excitement. His eyes were shining like tiny stars. "So you traveled the country -- wait! How could you, when you was in prison?"
Roscoe's face took on a wounded expression; she couldn't make out what it meant.
She didn't understand. "Left, Roscoe?"
"I did. I escaped. To do the Lord's work."
"You mean - "
"Eleven years ago. They aren't looking for me anymore. They forgot all about me."
Drinking beer with a fugitive! She placed a hand over her hurting heart. Lord. Oh Lord. Why did such things always happen to her? Why was she so unlucky with men? Gradually, by suckling her Bud and gazing into Roscoe's starlit eyes, she calmed herself down. Well, what if he was a fugitive? So what? She'd been with worse. Karl had killed an old man for five dollars, and Jed, why Jed had taken advantage of the little Wilson girl, who couldn't have been over six years old. Brandy'd been with worse. Sooner or later when you drank with a man, you always found out what he was. Or in the case of Roscoe, you found out what he had been.
She said, "It must have been hurtful in prison. I mean, no women or nothing."
"It was until I found Jesus."
Was he closer on the sofa -- sneaking up on her? Or was it her own doing, was she sidling a little closer to him every time she returned from the kitchen? She couldn't be sure. What she did know was that the two of them had almost wiped out a twelvepack.
"You want to know what was really rough?" he said in a gluey voice. "It wasn't prison. What was really rough, was earlier this evening. What was really rough, was you not seeing Him. I wanted to see Him so bad, and I did -- I saw Him. And I wanted you to see Him too. But you didn't. You said you didn't see Him. Yet He was standing right there, in front of us. So close. I touched His robe -- I felt cloth. He was real. It couldn't have been my imagination, it couldn't."
As he spoke his head bent and his skinny chest caved; his voice dribbled tears.
Brandy said, "I'm so sorry I didn't see nothing, Roscoe. I really and truly am. Maybe if I'd of wore my glasses..."
But it didn't help; he made a whimpery noise like someone who wants to cry but doesn't know how. A baby, she thought, needing his mother. A precious little boy-baby, with a terrible need for his mother. Brandy's heart swelled; a sweet warmth flowed.
"Come to Mama," she said.
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