The ambulance arrived outside Stanley Mason’s house. They quickly placed Perry Shoreman’s body on a stretcher and proceeded to Holy Cross Hospital. He was bleeding profusely from the chest. And neck. Sheila got the call from Stanley’s wife, Vivian, and rushed to the hospital with her four children. On the way she thought about all the hard times she’d had with Perry since she met him in high school.
He always was a bunch of trouble. She couldn’t understand how she’d been so stupid as to hook up with him in the first place. Sheila was smart in school and had aspirations. She made good grades and was well liked by teachers and students. She was a cheerleader at Roosevelt High. She was about five feet eight, and wore her hair in a becoming style. Her family didn’t have much money, but Sheila was always presentable and looked nice.
Perry was on the track team at school. Skinny but kind of fine, he charmed Sheila into dating him. Even though he was fine, she really didn’t want to go with him because he played hooky and didn’t keep up with his work. He was always soliciting people to turn over their homework to him so he could copy it, and he cheated on tests. He shot craps with the older guys. When he did show up for school, he was usually late.
Perry liked Sheila, so he wouldn’t leave her alone. He kept pestering her to give him a chance and to help him out with his work. He told her he’d straighten up. A few months into her junior year, Sheila started seeing him on a regular basis. They became a couple. He did a little better in school with Sheila’s coaching.
A couple of months later Perry started to pressure her, but she kept saying no. Eventually after a few hot necking sessions and all that grinding he liked to do when her folks were at work, she gave up the crown jewels one afternoon when they were supposed to be studying.
Sheila was pregnant with Derek before the end of the school year and had him in October of what would have been her senior year. She never got a chance to return to school. On her eighteenth birthday in May of the next year, Perry and Sheila married. She was pregnant at the time with Dalton, who was born in December. After that came Margie and then Gregory, now almost two years old. Now twenty-seven with four kids, Sheila lived in a run-down shack and had a husband who stayed in the streets, gambled, drank, and blew their money. She no longer weighed one hundred fourteen pounds, but had ballooned to two hundred fifty pounds. Her hair was a wiry mess. Sheila was disgusted with herself.
She got to the hospital and parked her beat-up Chevy. She left the kids in the car and rushed inside to ask the nurse at the reception area about Perry. They took her right back to him. He lay there with tubes in him everywhere while they worked to save his life. He wasn’t conscious. She stared at him for a moment as mixed emotions surged through her mind. First she was sorry for Perry, then she was scared for him, herself, and her kids. Would he live or die? If he did live, would he have learned a lesson or continue to be reckless and stupid for the rest of his life?
She pondered how they would make it and whether she could get a job. Who would help her out with the kids if she went to work? Gregory was two and was still in diapers. Every time she saw a nurse in a white uniform go by, she hated herself for being so hot in the ass and dumb back in high school. She hated Perry for robbing her of her dreams of being a nurse.
The doctor asked Sheila to leave the room. She did, and took a seat in the waiting room. She decided to get the kids out of the car in case they could see Perry. She got them settled down, bought cold drinks, and waited. She called Perry’s mother and father and told them what had happened to Perry. Now they too were waiting anxiously. Perry was in surgery.
At one fifteen the doctor arrived to tell them that Perry had died on the operating table. Mr. and Mrs. Shoreman sobbed, along with ten year-old Derek, but the other kids remained silent. Sheila didn’t say a word. She picked up Gregory, told the rest of the kids to follow her, and abruptly left the hospital. She never even asked about the body or the particulars of what had gone on in the operating room. She didn’t know if his heart had given out or if his lung was gone or if the anesthesia had killed him. After ten years Sheila simply did not give a damn and didn’t want to know all the details concerning what had prevented Perry from not making it home to his family another night.
At least she’d been smart enough to have a life insurance policy on him. It was only for three thousand dollars, but it was more than she’d had in a long time. He was her husband, so she did have to use part of it to bury him. She let his mother handle the arrangements because she herself was still mad as hell at Perry and hadn’t yet shed a tear. She gave the Shoremans five hundred dollars for funeral expenses. They could add more if they liked, but she was keeping the rest for herself and the kids. They were furious but accepted what she offered and tried to send Perry off decently to heaven or hell or wherever he was going.
Everyone from the neighborhood came to the funeral. Even though Lance shot Perry, Libby and her family came to offer their condolences. On that long pew up front sat Sheila and the kids, Mr. and Mrs. Shoreman, Perry’s sister, Eileen, and her husband, Teddy. Their three kids sat behind the Shoremans. It turned out to be a pretty nice funeral, and the neighbors sent beautiful flowers. After the funeral director finished and all the words were spoken, they opened the casket for the final viewing. The congregation filed by, silent and solemn faced. Then came Eileen and her bunch, the Shoremans, Perry’s kids, and, at the very end, came Sheila.
She went up to the casket alone and just stood there looking at Perry. Everyone figured she was about to break down and cry because she loved her husband and would miss him. Grief would finally hit her, and she was ready to let it all out. Everyone knows how wives act when they lose their husbands. Sheila hadn’t shown any emotion since Perry’s death. It had been a week, yet there was little or no response from Sheila. Many of us thought she had gone crazy or was in a trance or something.
“If she keeps all that grief locked up in her, she’ll go crazy for sure,” Grandma kept saying.
Sheila was still livid with Perry for all of this shit. The next thing we knew, Sheila suddenly started to choke Perry and smack him in the face, right there in the casket.
“You miserable low-life son of a bitch, you were always a pain in the ass. Always a problem. Your ass should be dead because you weren’t worth anything alive. I ought to shoot you again right here,” she shouted.
Friends ran up to stop her, but they couldn’t pull her off. Sheila had him by the neck, dragging him out of the casket. His body fell on the floor and so did Sheila. Several people pulled Sheila’s fat ass down the aisle, and others got Perry back into the casket. Mrs. Shoreman passed out. Sheila was kicking and hollering that she wasn’t finished with Perry. She announced that she intended to dig him up after he was buried and finish beating the shit out of him. By then no one was paying much attention to what she was saying, because both Perry’s shoes were missing from his feet, lost in the scuffle, and relatives and neighbors were searching for them. That funeral was something else!
After a month, the Shoremans were still irate at Sheila for attempting to kill their son all over again. Sheila didn’t care what they thought. That no-good bastard had ruined her dreams and had almost cost them their home. She despised him for dying and not being around for his children and being a rotten example of a father. She’d hated it when thugs, people she had nothing to do with, knocked on the door, asked for him, and left messages that they wanted the money he owed them. He truly did ruin her life, and she felt stupid for ever bothering with him.
Since his death all she did was sit around feeling sorry for herself, eating uncontrollably and gaining weight. She was so filled with hatred and fury that she consulted a psychiatrist for anger management and was placed on tranquilizers. Her cousin Terri stopped by late one afternoon, and there was Sheila on the couch, staring into space with tears streaming down her face, a bottle of tranquilizers in her hand. Terri held and rocked her, and they both cried.
“Sheila, what can I do, what can we do for you?” Terri said. “You’ve got friends. Let us help. We’re all worried sick about you.” Sheila didn’t answer. Finally Terri thought about what a fighter Sheila had always been. She felt sorry for her favorite cousin. Sheila needed to release something in order to get well, so Terri changed her tune from begging and pleading with Sheila. She stood up and yelled at her.
“Listen, bitch, we been hanging for a long time together through thick and thin, goddamn it! You better get yourself together and fight to stay alive! Now get your ass up! You’ve been talking about cursing that bastard Perry out and tonight you’ll get your chance. Get your shit on and let’s go. I’ll make a couple of phone calls while you get ready. The first one will be to Pam Resnick to come babysit and the second will be to Wesley to round up his crew. We’ll go to the fucking cemetery and dig his dead ass up! If that’s what it takes to get you to come around, to come back, to get some closure, then that’s what we’re going to do!”
Sheila tried to say she could not, would not go. It didn’t matter, and she didn’t care.
“Bitch, I’ve known you since you were bald-headed and cockeyed,” Terri replied. “You’ve never backed away from anything in your whole damn life. Let’s go!”
Sheila wouldn’t budge, so Terri shook her and pleaded, “Please, please, come with me.” Terri was crying with frustration. At last Sheila obediently went to get ready. Pam Resnick showed up in a hurry, but they waited an hour and a half for Wesley and four of his friends.
“You owe me money and favors up the kazoo. I need a big one tonight. It will sound crazy, but we have to do this,” Terri said when Wesley walked in the door.
“Do what?” asked Wesley.
“We have to go out to the cemetery and dig up Sheila’s husband.” Wesley looked petrified at first, and then he laughed.
“Your mind has gone, Terri, and so has your cousin’s. You expect me to go out there and tell my boys this? You gotta be joking. What are the two of you on? Give me a hit of that shit.”
“I’m serious, Wesley. Please,” Terri pleaded.
“What the hell are we going to do with him once we dig him up—bring him back here? You guys getting back together or something?” He looked at Sheila. “Oh, no, Terri, I’m not carting his dead ass around. I don’t owe you that much money. We’ll all go to jail tonight.”
“We ain’t taking him anywhere. We’re just going to fuck him up.”
“He’s already fucked up,” said Wesley. “Shit, the man is dead. By the way, didn’t your cousin fuck him up enough at the funeral? Shit, how many ass whippings does he have to take? Damn, the man already got shot, didn’t survive the hospital, died, got his ass beaten at his own funeral, and now we got to dig him up and kick his ass again? I feel sorry for the poor guy. Jesus Christ, you two are hard on a brother. Remind me not to ever marry either one of you.”
“Oh, shut up, Wesley,” said Sheila, who had entered the room dressed to go. “We aren’t going to jail. Let’s just hurry and get it done before I change my mind.”
Wesley stood still for a minute, shaking his head and laughing, then went out to his car. They didn’t know if he’d come back or not, but in a few minutes he returned.
“How many shovels do you have?” he asked.
Terri, Sheila, and the three guys left with two shovels and gathered three more from the neighbors. They stopped to buy five decks of cards. On the way to the cemetery, Sheila announced that she wanted to stop at the hospital.
“What’s the matter, you sick?” Terri said.
“I have to pick up something, I’ll only be a minute.”
“What, another dead body—did somebody else make you mad?” Wesley sarcastically asked.
Sheila came out twenty minutes later carrying a bag. At the cemetery they all dug until they got to the casket. They cranked it open, and Sheila took a long look at her dead husband. He stank like shit. She started telling him off.
“You got the nerve to be laying there all dressed up, you sack of shit. You still owe me for the clothes you’re wearing. I should have been able to dress up, too, but I never got the chance to wear what I wanted to wear. I have it with me now though, goddamn it.”
Sheila pulled a nurse’s cap and a lab coat out of the bag and put them on. She cursed him out and cried for forty-five minutes. She hauled him out of the casket, kicked him a couple of times, smacked him around, and left him on the ground. She took out the five decks of cards, opened each pack, and spread them all over him—one deck for each of the kids and one for her. Then they left.
When Mr. and Mrs. Shoreman heard about it, they tried to file charges against Sheila, but they couldn’t prove she had anything to do with it. After that night Sheila was fine and seemed ready to move on. She wasn’t bitter anymore and decided to lose weight, get some help with the kids, go back to school, fix up her place, and be the finest nurse and mother in the world.
First, she had to find a babysitter. Gregory was almost two, and Margie was nearly five and would be attending kindergarten in the fall. She made inquiries and found that a woman by the name of Lenora Bush, who was about fifty-two, was looking for a housekeeping job. She also needed a place to stay. Since her husband had passed away, she was having a hard time making ends meet and was lonely. Sheila heard about her from Beverly Resnick, who was married to Bernard (Buzzy) Resnick, Lance’s brother.
They had known each other for a long time and attended the same church. Beverly was a good, reliable person. Sheila trusted her judgment, so she set up an appointment for Mrs. Bush to meet with her.
Using some of the money from Perry’s life insurance settlement, Sheila had fixed the place up nicely. The money helped to buy new carpet, beds for the kids, and new curtains. She also purchased a badly needed stove and refrigerator. Sheila was still on the County Assistance Program, but she did get an extra check from Perry’s Social Security benefits. Thank God he had worked legitimately part of his life.
Sheila had all her plans in order. She was a smart girl and, with the seven hundred dollars left over, she planned to get herself through school and earn her degree as a registered nurse at last.
Mrs. Bush was due on Wednesday afternoon at two thirty. Sheila wanted her to come by a little before Dalton and Derek got home so they would have a quiet time to talk. She had put Margie and Gregory down for a nap. That way they had peace and quiet, and the woman would not be scared off with brats running all over the place.
Lenora Bush was a pretty, slender woman who in no way looked her age. She was dressed nicely in a light blue-and-white striped cotton dress, sheer stockings that made her legs look lovely, and navy blue shoes. Her hair was dark reddish brown and worn in a bun. “How did she keep so slender?” Sheila wondered. She had white gloves in her hand and carried a navy handbag with a gold clasp. Very classy. She had never had any children of her own but had taken care of kids almost all her life. Sheila liked her.
Sheila missed having her own parents around. They had moved to New Orleans seven years ago when Sheila’s grandmother fell ill. Sheila was an only child now because her younger brother had died of pneumonia when he was eleven. Sheila described her situation to Mrs. Bush, showed her around the house, including the redecorated spare bedroom, and explained what her goals were. She was still on the diet she had started the day after she left the cemetery. She had lost nearly forty-three pounds but still had a way to go. It all was extremely important to her.
“Do you think you’d like to come to stay with us? I mean will you?” she asked Mrs. Bush. Sheila could only pay forty dollars a week, but would take care of all the bills and also feed Mrs. Bush. She told her that whatever money of her own she had coming in she could keep.
“Please help me get myself together. I do intend to get ahead, and I’ll take care of you for the rest of your life.”
Mrs. Bush looked into Sheila’s eyes and saw she could trust her. She wanted to help.
They had chatted for about fifteen minutes when Derek and Dalton came in from school. They were polite kids and sat right down to talk with Mrs. Bush. Sheila went up to get Gregory and Margie to introduce them to “Auntie Len,” as Lenora told everyone to call her. She could start next week, as soon as she got packed up.
Everything worked out fine. Sheila started taking adult education courses at the local college to earn her high school diploma. She worked hard at it and, in another six months, would be eligible to start nursing school. The kids adored Auntie Len, and she loved them back. Lenora knew how to keep them in line, too. Sheila was steadily losing weight on a steamed vegetable and fish diet and wouldn’t even think about anything fattening. She was actually starting to look good. She exercised like a maniac and had a sharp new hairstyle.
Sheila loved having long talks with Lenora, and they became close friends. Lenora had taken over all the cooking as well as all the housework. She went out only on Sunday nights to play bingo.
A fur store in town needed a part-time accounts receivable clerk, and Sheila got the job. She worked five days a week from two o’clock until closing at six. Then she went home to help Auntie Len feed the kids and clean up the kitchen. She hustled to get their school clothes ready before heading to the gym until the place closed at ten o’clock. And that was where she met Leonard.