He walked into Open Pantry one day after Rose had worked her way from cashier to assistant manager. He asked for an application, and she tossed one across to him, but she knew she wouldn’t hire him. He was dirty. Needed a shave with a dark stubble and a mustache dripping down the corners of his mouth, down his face to the chin. He was quiet and narrow with shabby clothes and thick glasses. The man looked disheveled, and she disliked him the moment she saw him.
When she came to work the next day, he was behind the counter. By the end of the shift, he had her laughing. By the end of the week, they were walking across the street from the store to sit on his stoop and talk after work. He was a friend, and though he was ugly and measly, she enjoyed the attention he gave her and the conversation. They talked a lot about Char, what it had been like to be married to him. They talked a lot about her family and Wrath and Ball. My aunt and grandparents. Rose talked a lot and Mumble listened.
He started coming to the house in the early mornings when her shift changed, and he would bring a box full of donuts. She had a 5,000-piece puzzle on the table, which she covered with a tablecloth when she served her family meals, and the two of them would work that puzzle and talk. Mumble was great to talk to, and Rose did not see that his affections were growing for her because she felt nothing for him beyond friendship.
I would be up, peeking out the door of my bedroom in the basement apartment, watching them talk and work their puzzle. When she went to the bathroom, he would sneak me a donut, and she would pretend not to notice that one was missing.
About a month into their friendship, he showed her the ring and asked her the question.
She declined, told him she had no attraction to him, and that she would have to say goodbye to their friendship. He slunk off into the building they sat in front of, and she cursed her luck for losing the only person she could talk to.
Because she had lost Bramble. By the end of this, we will see why. Her family had begun to make fun of her for not being able to keep a husband. They would lose respect for her for not being able to control her daughter and she would become the butt of all their jokes. They called her a prude. They called her a whore. They called her all sorts of other things, and she took it all on the chin. Because what was Rose supposed to do? She had no husband. She had no friends. Now that Mumble was gone, she had no one to talk to, and always as a constant, she had Char hanging over her shoulder picking at her to come back to his smoldering arms where she could have a family. And she would have learned her lesson.
His line was that no man wanted her. No real man would sign on to raise another man’s kids, and she had no option but to come back to him. He stood in simmering heat, cajoling her to come home, and she stared, her eyes watering in the up draft, unwilling to go back to a man who had cheated on her.
Grandpa came to the house in October carrying a green dress. It was lacy and beautiful and flared out like a tea cup at the waist. It was elaborate, and Less loved it the moment she saw it. Rose bought her the rubber mask of a witch, and Less had the costume she needed for the parade.
She was in kindergarten, and every year the elementary school had a parade that started at the school and ended God knows where. Less was so excited. She wore her dress and beamed. She twirled in a circle and hugged Grandpa. And all the while, Rose steamed.
She had already begun to hate her daughter, even though she knew exactly why Less was being a problem. She had begun to spread a smear campaign through the family that would end with no one caring about Less in the least. But for now, Grandpa was happy to see his granddaughter in her green dress, but he looked at me peering from the corner, and he pointed.
“He needs a Halloween costume, too. What is he going to wear?”
“We don’t trick or treat. He is not going to be in the parade, so we don’t need a costume for him,” Rose said.
“Well, the boy still needs a costume. Have that no good father of his buy him one.”
“I’m not sure that Char will if I ask—”
“You tell that man to buy his son a Halloween costume or I will break my boot off in his ass.” Grandpa pointed at Rose. “You got me?”
“Yeah, Daddy, I’ll tell him.”
“Tell him about the boot,” Grandpa said, pointing at his foot. “Cause I have always hated that bastard and it would be my joy to break him in half.”
And don’t think he couldn’t have done it, either. Grandpa was an old country boy from West Virginia. He was bold and big, and unwavering in his love of his grandchildren, and if Grandpa said Char was going to buy me a costume, then I would be wearing one during this parade.
Now it’s the morning of the parade and Char shows up at the apartment.
“God this place is a dump,” he said. “You don’t have to live in squalor, you know. Just apologize to me for leaving, and pack this place up, and I will let you move back home. I’ll even help you move. But I have to say, raising my kids in this hole is unacceptable.”
But Rose would never do that. She was adamantly against infidelity of any sort, and she saw it as one of three reasons God would let a married woman get a divorce. Murder was one of the others, with the last lost to my memory. I guess I could ask Informer. He remembers everything, but it serves the purpose of the story for this part to be vague and nebulous. Nowhere in the Bible does it talk about reasons to get divorced. Nowhere is it mentioned how and why a person can break the union God has made. But Rose had three reasons that were acceptable to God. And infidelity was one of them.
Let’s put a pin in that. We will get back to that.
“Where is his costume?” Rose snapped. She could not look Char in the eye, knowing what he was saying about the way she was living was fact.
“You know that no real man will ever want you, don’t you?” He laughed. I remember how cruel that laugh was. “You are used up. I have already tasted that body and done my will on it. Every man is going to see you as used goods. Seconds to a meal that they will demand. You are worthless to any real man but me. Just concede and come back. I’ll even let you sleep in my bed.”
“Costume, where is it? Daddy says—”
“I know what your dad said.” He paled slightly. “I have his fucking costume right here.”
“That is a shit-colored bathrobe. How is that a costume?”
“It’s only Jesse. I am not buying him a store-bought costume when he is only going to wear it for an afternoon. Here kid, put it on.” He tossed the robe at me and I pulled it on.
“Go put on a beige shirt, for God’s sake, you look like an idiot.”
I ran to obey. I looked at my costume and still had no idea what I was looking at, but I wanted it to be cool. I wanted it to be cool so badly. “What am I, Daddy?”
“Where is your vacuum?” Char asked Rose.
“Well,” he gestured at the closet, “get the fucking thing.”
“Fuck you, Char.”
“Yeah, yeah, get the vacuum.”
She pulled it out and he grabbed the handle. It was a hollow tube that fit into another hollow tube that fit into the head of the vacuum. He took one of the hollow tubes that was about four feet long and handed it to me. “There.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to be?” Rose asked.
“He is Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Char said. “No gray hair. No old face. I could have used my mime paint to make him look old, but like I said, it is a waste to make him a costume anyway, so he gets this. He can pretend to be Luke Skywalker if he wants to.” Char looked at me and sighed. “Yeah, fuck it. He is Luke Skywalker.”
“What do I do with the–” I waved the tube around.
“That is your lightsaber.”
“What is a lightsaber?” Rose said.
“Haven’t you two seen Star Wars?”
I shook my head. Rose shook hers.
“This is why you need to come live with me. You’re an idiot for not knowing who Luke Skywalker is, kid.”
“Hey Char, back off!” Rose said.
“Or what? You gonna shoot me with your fucking rifle?” He scoffed. “I ought to take it with me when I go.”
She stepped up to him and stabbed a thin finger in his face. “You try to take my gun and I will shove it up your ass and pull the trigger.”
He walked away. “When does this parade start anyway? I have shit to do today.”
“We ought to get to the school. It is supposed to start at noon. It’s a quarter to,” Rose said.
We walked and I slashed my vacuum tube side-to-side. Since my pool cue had broken, I longed for a sword. I still long for a sword, though I have one on my mantle. I have spent a life in Dungeons and Dragons. I have spent a life in fantasy looking for my broken sword. And now the tube was supposed to be a sword of some kind. Holding it only made me long for my pool cue.
We got to the school and stood on the sidewalk, when Rose looked to her left and saw Mumble. He was crouched on his ankles, leaning against the fence, smoking a cigarette. Legend says he was crying.
Rose excused herself, and this is what I was told happened.
“Hey Mumble, what are you doing here?” Rose asked.
“I don’t want to get in your way,” he said. “What is Jesse supposed to be?”
“Some space thing, I don’t know. Char is such an asshole.”
“Well, whatever it is, tell him I said it looks great.”
“Yeah, I will,” she said, staring at him. “Hey what are you doing here?” She bent to look at him. “Are you crying?”
He wiped his nose and took a drag off his cigarette. “Look, I know you said you didn’t want to see me anymore, and I am not trying to get in the way of your day. I just wanted to see the kids in their costumes. Then I will get out of here.”
She stood beside him while he smoked in silence. She knew she would never be attracted to him. She also knew that without Bramble, love didn’t really matter anyway.
She told him to come by that night, and though he did not bring the ring, she told him she would marry him. He wanted her. Char had her convinced no real man ever would. He loved her kids. No man was supposed to be able to do that either. He was a worker. She had seen him at Open Pantry and he took his job seriously. She didn’t love him, and he kind of repelled her, but he was better than Char, and she was pretty sure she could get him to do anything she asked him to.
They married in the Lutheran Church in Benders territory. It was a beautiful ceremony. She was radiant, but Rose has always been the prettiest girl in the room until she stands next to Bekah. I was the Ring Bearer, and Less, the Flower Girl.
Mumble was weak, and my uncles knew it upon looking at him. Grandpa took him out to the back porch and had a five-minute conversation with the man. Mumble never talked about it other than to say that Grandpa scared the living shit out of him and that Mumble would never hurt Rose.
She had a man to help her raise her kids. She was with him for 19 years. Long enough for Grasp to turn eighteen. When he became a man, she didn’t need Mumble anymore and she left him for Honed.
But you know that story.