“That man brought the log cabin all the way from Missouri, piece by piece, to rebuild the whole damn thing,” he told us, “right here in Arkansas.” The antique store where we shopped had ceiling struts with notched out places connecting beam to beam above our heads. The building was the real deal, and we looked up, gawking at its craftsmanship. Even the musty smell permeating the place lent to the authenticity.
“Do you know where it came from in Missouri?” He looked at me funny when I asked him. He exhaled to make a point, maybe perturbed at the interruption.
“Well, I don’t know. But, as I was saying, this guy had it rebuild here and used it as an antique store. Built this one and the station next door. His wife sold the antiques, but her stuff was too overpriced for people around here. Nobody would buy anything.”
We glanced over the bric-a-brac displayed on surrounding walls. The new proprietor’s wares encompassing these rooms were labeled “mid-century vintage” but hinted more at “old crap” instead. Dingy taffeta of a stained ivory wedding gown hung loosely on an androgynous mannequin next to my friend. Cracked Naugahyde covered the luggage pieces aligning the floor’s baseboard. The spout of an old Raggedy Ann and Andy watering can pointed me in the face, as I turned back to the storyteller. He seemed to revel in our rapt attention.
Our narrator rubbed the carefully-manicured Fu Manchu. Regardless of its resemblance to long, white Brillo pads on either side of the man’s face, he massaged the hair he must’ve spent considerable time working into its desired shape. All I could imagine was how scratchy it would feel, although I’d never deign to touch it. Maybe it was popular in that region.
“That ol’ fella got sick of not making any money. One day he finally taped his wife’s hands together and tied cement blocks around her. ‘Sgonna go down and throw her in the river.” He paused for dramatic effect and flipped his gaze between the two of us to gauge reaction. We gave each other the side eye when he quit looking.
My friend shook her head and said, “Must’ve gone off his nut.” The conclusion was obvious enough to us, perhaps not so much to him. He just shrugged, disappointed at our lack of bedazzlement, and continued.
“She didn’t fight back, nor nothin.’ She’s a little bitty thing.” He pursed his lips up and reclined his cane-back chair against the wall behind him. “Some other guy happened along and caught him in the act, though.” The raconteur pointed to his crotch, which gave me a jolt at what might come next, and weaved his fingers around in a figure-eight motion. “He tied those cinder blocks all around her waist. Six of ‘em! ‘Sgonna go down and throw her in the river.”
We gave quick nods, still gawking around the walls at such a strange assortment of objects, if not in bullshit disbelief. He went on. “So the fella called the law, and they came and hauled him away.” He circled his index finger around his lap again and used the short break in his diatribe to draw attention to the action. “‘Sgonna go down and throw her in the river!” We got it.
Both of us finally looked at him straight on and emphatically nodded our heads and up down. “That’s nuts,” I finally conceded. “I hope that dude does a long time.”
We left the building, and my friend whispered,” It must’ve been a slow day for business. I don’t know if he just wanted somebody to talk to or what.” She nudged me toward the car. “Come on. We need to get some gas.”
Once inside the convenience store, my friend proceeded to pay the cashier who looked so bored he could sleep standing up behind the counter. Maybe we were the only customers all day.
He yawned and pushed some register buttons. “Ya’ll come from shopping next door?” My friend handed him the money and replied, “Yeah. Odd place.”
“Huh. Surprised he’s open back up already. Just got outta the pen for tryin’ to kill his wife.” He shook his head. “Kinda funny, huh?”
We didn’t hear the last of what the guy said. We were already out the door and halfway to the car.
Image: Rebecca Matthews via Flicker