Benny Drops a D
Benny sat sweating in the apartment. Liz was in the kitchen, he could hear her opening cans of something. He couldn’t take this heat. The water cooler was useless against it. John had air con in one of his rooms. That’s what they needed. He thought about going to look at them down at Sears last weekend, but then she started in on the money. Of course she was right. With a kid on the way it didn’t make sense to be buying anything they didn’t need, but Jesus, was it hot.
It was a bad summer. That’s what he had decided. It was sure the hottest one he could remember since they moved to Dallas. It didn’t get this hot back home, but of course it was wetter, so you sweated more. But still, this was a bad summer. The Cards were losing. They just didn’t seem to have it anymore. Really, every since Dizzy they just weren’t the same. Of course, he had a special feeling about Dizzy. He still had his autograph from when he was a kid. He really was something.
No, with the Cards loosing, the Reds in Korea, and those lunatics in Congress, the whole damn place seemed to be going to hell. You had to wonder about bringing a kid into a world like this. You just had to wonder. But, still, he was on his way, there was no doubt about that. Liz was getting big as a house, and that was why she was getting so crazy. Pregnancy just did that. She was always going on about the future, acting like the world was going to end. And then, in the middle of all this, William drops this name thing on them. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about without thinking about changing their name.
Liz came out of the kitchen. She had some beans and tortillas on a plate in one hand, and cold can of Schlitz in the other. That looked good.
“Well, it’s not much, but it will keep us from starving.”
“No, it looks good.”
She laid the plate down and headed back through the swinging door into the kitchen. The food looked good, but it was so damn hot all he could think about was that cold beer. He pulled the small round table towards the water cooler. At least they would have a bit of cool air while they ate. She came out with a second plate and a glass of cold water. She wasn’t drinking beer while she was pregnant. They weren’t taking any chances this time.
As they ate the slow clink, clink, clink of the water cooler fan turning kept a steady rhythm. Liz was red in the face from the heat and the extra thirty pounds she was lugging around. Maybe there was something else. She always got red in the face when she was upset.
“B, have you thought any more about it?”
“About what, babe?”
“You know, about William’s telegram?”
“Oh no, haven’t really thought about it. I guess I should, huh?”
“Yes, yes it’s important. If we have to contact a lawyer, that will cost something.”
“Well, it’s his idea, he should cover the cost.”
“No, he shouldn’t. It’s up to you. Do you want to do it, or not?”
He stopped eating, got up, and stood in front of the cooler. That was the problem, wasn’t it? He just didn’t know what he wanted. It was his name, for Christ’s sake. Why would he change his name?
“What do you think?”
”Ben, he’s not my brother.”
“No, but it’s your name too, you know.”
“It is now, sure, but it’s only been three years. And it’s not a big change. It’s just dropping the d”.
“Yeah, I know, but what’s he want to do it for, anyway? And why does it matter?”
“You know why. It’s the German sound. Nobody wants to sound like they have a German name. And William’s in business.”
He just looked at her. And what was he in? Sure, he hadn’t married into a business like William, but he wasn’t exactly digging ditches either. But, he knew what she meant. William was in a different world now. He’d always been a go getter, and he was still the same. He had married Sue because of what she could give him, not for who she was. Or maybe not, maybe he loved her in some way, but it wasn’t the same as him and Liz. He knew that.
“You know what I mean. It’s the East coast.”
“It’s probably her family, if you want to know the truth about it. They don’t want anybody thinking their daughter married a Jew.”
“You’re not a Jew.”
“I know. That’s why it’s crazy. We’re just like anybody else, so what difference does it make?”
“Ben, you know it does. It’s a first impression. And these days you can’t be too careful. If you want to get somewhere, you do these things. That’s what it takes.”
He sat back down and had a drink of beer. He couldn’t eat. It was too damn hot. He needed to get out. He took a bite of his tortilla and another drink.
“Liz, I’m going out for a walk or something. It’s too hot in this house. Do you want me to bring you something?”
She raised her eyebrow, and pulled her mouth tight like she did when she was mad. Not super mad, just a bit mad. But he had to get out of this heat. He had to think about the whole thing. It was his name, and it was going to be his kid’s name too. Did he want to change it before the baby came? It was a big deal.
“No” she said, “I’ll just stay here.”
He headed down Cedar Springs towards the airport. He didn’t know why, he just felt like seeing some of the old guys. Not that they would remember him, but you never knew. After a few blocks he passed a tavern and thought about stopping in for a beer. It was so hot, but no, that was not what he needed. He needed to clear some things up, and beer just made things murky, at least he had learned that much. He did stop at the small five and dime at the corner of Cedar Springs and Lemmon. If he was going to walk in this heat and least he was getting a cold drink. There was a little colored girl behind the counter. She looked like she couldn’t be more than ten or eleven, but, she had to be.
“Hi there, aren’t you a bit young to be minding the store?”
“My Daddy just went out. This is his place.”
“Oh really, well, isn’t that something. I guess I’ll have a Coke.”
She turned around to the cooler full of pop and pulled out a bottle. Lifting the bottle opener that was hanging behind the counter from a piece of twine, she carefully opened the bottle and handed it to him.
“That will be ten cents.”
He took a long drink of the Coke and felt the cool sensation flow through his chest and bubble up into his nose. It was like diving into a cold lake.
“Here you go. I bet you’d like to climb into that cooler sometimes.”
“What’s you name then?”
“I’m Latia Rainwater.”
“Well, Latia Rainwater, thank you for this Coca Cola, and you have a good day.”
On his way out he noticed the name on the door. Sure enough, it did say Rainwater’s. He must have walked by that place a thousand times and he had never even noticed that. He continued down Lemon towards the airport. He could just see it now, the blue, pink and white squares of the terminal building backing the white larger than life lettering, LOVE FIELD. He always thought about the day he met Liz when he saw those letters, and how it had struck him all at once. There he was, falling in love at a place called Love. It was funny how things worked like that.
And then he started thinking about that little girl again. How she had said her name with such pride, and said “this is my Daddy’s store”, like it was the grandest place in the world. Well, why not? It was all a matter of how you looked at things. The most ordinary place in the world could be a grand palace if you thought about it that way.
As he got closer to the airport he started to feel funny about being there. It was a long time since he left the airlines. The war had been over, what, almost eight years now, and he had a new life. He and Liz had moved on, and now there was a kid on the way. But some how, part of his was still back in those days. He could remember the guys coming through on their way to California, or maybe over to Alabama. The looks on their faces, scared but ready to do the right thing. He’d jus missed the war. Blood pressure was just a bit too high, they said. Maybe that was just as well. He had to wonder what he would have done when it came right down to it. Could he really have shot another man? Just looked down the gun barrel and let him have it? Now he’d never know. It was all over, but, somehow, it wasn’t. Some of those same guys were over in Korea right now, doing the same damn thing.
He walked up to the American Airlines area, and sure enough, there was old Cotton, just like the old days, standing there, ready to grab the bags. Of course Cotton would remember him.
“Mista Benny, how long has it been?”
Benny grabbed his hand.
“Hello Cotton, how are you? And remember, you can call me Jack.”
Cotton exploded with laughter. “Ha, yes sir, call you Jack. That still gets me. I’m just the same, just the same. Nothing much changes here.”
“You still got that place over by the lake?”
“Yes sir, I’m still there. Me and Lucinda, but Sherri has moved out, got her own place now. You know, she’s married.”
“No, I didn’t know that. How old is she now?”
“Just turned 19. Married a real nice boy.”
“Well, that’s all right then, isn’t it? What about Pete, he still here?”
“Naw, Pete had hiself a heart attack, ‘bout six months ago, so he had to, uh, retire, you know.”
“Oh really, now, that’s too bad. And Willy?”
“Oh yeah, Willy’s still here. Nothing much gonna stop him.”
“Still gambling and chasing women?”
“You know Willy. And what about you? How’s that gal of yours?”
“Liz is great. She’s pregnant now.”
“Oh really, now isn’t that something. Hm, hope that works out.”
“Yeah, we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
“You catchin a plane, Ben?”
“No, just out for a stroll. Thought I’d drop by and see how you fellas were getting along.”
“Well ain’t that something? Hm, hm, must have been what, five, six years since you left the place. Say, you got a smoke?”
Benny pulled out a pack of Camels, handed him one, and pulled out his lighter. They both lit up, and Cotton leaned over the luggage cart, his big deep set eyes opening wider as he breathed in.
“Ah, now that’s a good smoke. Say, Ben, you remember ole…” he stopped as a plane went roaring over their heads “like I was saying. You remember Jacob?”
“Jacob, Jacob, no, I can’t say that I do.”
“Oh that’s right, you just call him bigun.”
“Oh right, bigun. Sure, I remember him.”
“Well, he went and got hiself kilt.”
“Yes sir, someone stuck him real good, and just left him to bleed to death.”
“Now that’s a shame. Hm, so his name was Jacob, I don’t think I ever knew that.”
“Yep, that’s right, Jacob Freeman.”
“Really, that’s funny Cotton, almost like my name.”
“Oh, is you a Freeman too?”
“I’m about to be. My brother want’s us to change our name to Freeman. I was born a Freedman, with a d, but he wants to drop the d.”
“Well that’s not much. Just a d.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
They stood there smoking for a while. Benny was thinking about the old days. How he would come out from the terminal after working a ten or twelve hour shift and smoke with Cotton and the boys. Sometimes some of them would have been drinking, and would tease him about Liz. Making little jokes, suggesting things, and that would bake him feel funny. Like he should say something to defend her honor, but not wanting to cause trouble. That was the thing, he just didn’t want any trouble. And Cotton was right, what difference did it really make? It was just one letter. Hell, look at Cotton. He probably didn’t even know where his family came from. Come to think of it, what was
Cotton’s family name? He didn’t even know. He had always just been Cotton, which probably wasn’t even his proper name either. What did any of it matter, when you came right down to it. It was just a name, and if William wanted to change it, well, why not.
He said good-bye to Cotton, promised to let him know when the baby came, and headed back home. On his way past the five and dime he looked over and thought he should stop calling it the five and dime and start calling it Rainwater’s. That’s what it was, after all.
When he got back home Liz was already asleep. He went to the cooler and got a beer. He figured it was OK now. He decided he was just going to just sit there for a while, let the water cooler do it’s job, and wait until everything got just a bit fuzzy.