Olivia

An excerpt from the contemporary romance Olivia by Don MIller

I had the odd thought as we drove down Edessa’s tree lined streets.  This was the first time I had enjoyed the company of a woman in five years.  A real estate agent, she was attempting to sell a parcel of Florida landscape sitting on a quiet river for more money than I wanted to spend.  A very attractive redhead in her late twenties or early-thirties, her good looks would be an asset in her line of work I mused.  She had a glowing, coppery complexion with more than a dash of cinnamon tinted freckles to go with her large, brown eyes and dark red hair.  Smartly and professionally dressed in a dark blue pants suit and white shirt, the jacket did little to hide impressive attributes.  Tall, with a firm handshake and a husky voice, I startled myself as it dawned upon me I was evaluating her as a potential partner.  My evaluation garnered her an A plus.

She didn’t realize I had died a little over five years ago and only been recently resurrected.  I still walked the earth, I inhaled the sea air, bodily processes continued but I had been dead none the less.  I had been dead until the dreams began.

Olivia came to me in my dreams.  The original dream was codeine fueled after coming down with walking pneumonia this past winter.  She sat on the foot of my bed…our bed, all blond and bright.  She was the Olivia I had met and fallen in love with my freshman year in college and married three years later.  She wore the same bell bottoms and calico peasant’s blouse as when we first met.  Olivia smiled her sky-blue eyes twinkling.

“You’re looking a bit rough Big Boy.”  I was tall, she was not.  She was petite and slender.  I was built like the outside linebacker I had once been.  She was blond and pale, I was dark on top of dark with hair going gray since I found myself on the wrong side of thirty-five.

“You need a haircut.  You look like a hippy.   Jethro, you must begin to start to live again.  You’ve lost too much weight.  Shouldn’t you back off your running at least until you get rid of that damn cough?”

“Nag much?  Some people drink or do drugs to avoid the pain.  I run.  I’m alive ‘Lovey’ but I do need a haircut.”

“Jethro…you walk, you talk, you even breathe… but you are not alive.  You have all the money from the settlement and from selling the place squirreled away.  It’s not blood money you know.  You let the house and land go too cheaply.  You could have held out for more.  Just to rid yourself of memories you can’t get rid of.  Memories you don’t want to let go of.  You could retire and move to another state.  You’ve got twenty-five years in.  Your dream was to be on the water and to write.  Why don’t you move?  They are not making any more shoreline.  There are plenty of teaching jobs in other states.  You could coach…or not.  And Sweetie, you don’t need to be spending all of your time alone…especially in the bedroom.”

I smiled.  Olivia was the progressive one in our union…especially in the bedroom, inventing new and wonderful ways to…she noticed my reaction and smiled.

“See, you still think about it.  You should date.  I’m dead and that’s not going to change.  You are still a young man.”

“I’m forty-six and I’m not sure how young that is.”

Olivia may be downloaded on Kindle at https://goo.gl/yc6FyC

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A POWERFUL HANKERIN’

Just say the word DIET and it triggers a Pavlovian response of Biblical proportions. I don’t really have to be on a diet when the word diet is used to trigger the response… a stupid comment, I’ve been on an eleven-year diet. On April 8, 2006, the day before my birthday, I stepped on my scales and they lied! My mind said, “There was no way I weigh in at two hundred and thirty-two pounds”, and then my mind realized I was leaning forward so I could see the scales. I was leaning forward to see over my belly. On April 9, 2006, I received a birthday present, a heart attack. A heart attack will get your attention.

I had battled my weight most of my life but now I was in a full-fledged war. Six months later I weighed one hundred and sixty-two pounds…and looked like a refugee from a famine. I immediately ate myself up to a healthier looking one hundred seventy-two. That’s the last time I was unconcerned about my weight…until just before Thanksgiving of this year when I decided not to worry about it until the first of the year. I weighed one hundred and eighty-five by January 1st. I had to think of that word again. Slobber, slobber, drool, drool.

The word causes me to feel hungry, 24/7/365. Before a meal, after a meal, in the dark hours of the night. The word “diet” gives me powerful hankerins’ for just about anything. Presently my hankerins’ is seafood. Not a McFish Sandwich kind of seafood, real live coastal seafood. The very thought takes me on a mental trip reminiscent of a storm-tossed sailboat without its rudder. You know you’re going somewhere, it’s going to be a wild ride and the outcome may include crashing against rocks.

Sara J’s seafood platter in Garden City, the Captain’s House oyster and artichoke stew at Myrtle Beach, Calabash shrimp anywhere in Calabash, North Carolina. Crabs at Hudson’s on Hilton Head, a brunch involving oysters and Bloody Marys at Shem Creek, shrimp and grits at the River Room in Georgetown along with anything fried at Aunny’s. I am racked with sorrow as I remember Oliver’s Lodge at Merrill’s Inlet will never serve me again because it’s now a private residence. Would they be upset if I just showed up at their door?

As my mental sailboat eased its meandering path with sleep, I found myself dreaming of an old college friend and a roadtrip to his Charleston home during a long college weekend. Bob Lemaster was better known as Renegade during his college days. He earned his nickname honestly with his dark Native-American appearance. Bob reminded me of the now socially unacceptable cartoon character “Injun Joe” in looks and a renegade in actions. Like most of us he matured, found the woman of his dreams, settling down to a normal life…and dropped Renegade for his given name, Bob. This trip occurred during his Renegade days.

The dream took me on a short drive down a long dirt road somewhere on Folly’s Island. Palmetto and scrub pine trees lining the road flew past the windows of Bob’s car like pickets on a fence. Once we arrived, I wondered about the hurry we had been in. Our destination was an old fishing shack or wreck of a house, take your pick, and for the life of me I can’t remember its name. I remember a small, sagging, wrap-around front porch and white paint so old it had grayed into a patina of sorts. I didn’t look for a health department grade and in the early Seventies it may not have been required…I doubt the fish shack would have been serving food had the health department gotten involved.

What the old shack did have was ambience. The wreck sat on a low hill close enough to the ocean for the sound of rollers crashing, the briny smell of the ocean and the touch of salt air, all to reach us and beguile our senses. An almost full moon rising above the horizon only added to the enchantment.

Seating was outside under patched funeral home canopies, on roughhewn picnic tables featuring a large hole in the center. There were no utensils or plates, just newspapers to cover the table and a roll of cheap paper towels. Menu choices were simple. Boiled shrimp, raw or smoked oysters and…well that was it. A short and stocky man with a swarthy complexion brought our choices of food to the table in large aluminum boiler pots and unceremoniously dumped them onto the newspaper covered table. “Bon appe’tit y’all.” Condiments included cocktail and tarter sauces in squirt bottles, a bottle of hot sauce, lemon wedges along with salt and pepper. Beverages choices were sweet tea or PBRs. Shrimp and oyster shells went through the hole in the table and into the trashcan underneath while our conversation drifted quietly with the breeze.

Simple food from the sea…and drinks from grain and hops. Quality seafood smells and taste like the sea and doesn’t have to be battered, seasoned or fried to be great, something the memory of this trip from long ago reminded me of. It also reminded me of a friend from long ago who is no longer with us.

Bob and I, along with several other college friends kept in touch until the early Eighties when a negative change in my marital and job status, along with the depths of clinical depression, made me reassess my life. I made a bad decision to cut people out of my life because they reminded me of the bad times they had no part in. Since Bob’s death I have reconnected with the old crew, Joe, Tim, and before his death, Tom. Bob’s passing persuaded me to reconnect, I’m just sorry I didn’t come to my realization before he died.

Bob, until the day I die, I will remember the no-named shanty, the food we ate and the stories we told. I’m sorry a powerful hankerin’ didn’t occur before you left us.

Just so you know, I weighed one seventy-three this morning and the severe diet is now over although the battle will never end. I think I’m going to get a couple of pounds of shrimp, boil them up in beer and Old Bay before serving them on my picnic table. Probably not going to drink PBRs. The sea and salt air won’t be felt but I can always pretend. Maybe Linda Gail will join me for a dance and I can tell her about one memorable night, an old friend and my powerful hankerin’.

POSTSCRIPT

It turns out my old buddy had us all buffaloed and despite his nickname and appearance, was not of Native American. It’s okay. I am imagining his deep laugh in the rainstorm thundering outside as I write this. Anyway, it’s my story and I’m going to stick to it. Thanks Bob.

Uniquely Southern, uniquely insightful, books by Don Miller can be bought or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf #ASMSG #IARTG #IAN