Stationary on the driveway, Hattie killed the gentle purr of the electric motor housed under the bonnet of the newly converted and refurbished red Pontiac, 1969 GTO. Seconds before, she’d seen Wyatt watering the flower borders of the front yard outside his house. Despite attempts to avoid eye contact, it had happened. She watched as the old man retreated to an outside tap located underneath the kitchen window, turning off the supply with several twists of the squeaky brass handle.
As Hattie unloaded grocery bags from the trunk of the car, she saw him strutting down the paved driveway in her direction. Although still early springtime, the weekend’s weather had been fine and she felt the warmth of the sunshine on her skin. She noted how Wyatt appeared unaffected by the climate, wearing his stetson, sheep skin jacket, threaded jeans and dusty old boots, same as always. He’s coming over to talk to me, she thought, is he really going to ask again?
It wouldn’t be for the second time, nor third or fourth. Hattie had lost count of how many times Wyatt had asked her the same question, after learning of her breakup with Ed three months ago. Initially, she assumed he’d been joking … a little insensitively so, perhaps.
“Miss Hattie, what a beautiful day.” Wyatt tapped a curved finger under the rim of his hat. “I see you’ve been getting in provisions for your ma and pa, just like last week. They must give thanks for your help around the house, with you living back at home.”
“That’s most kind for you to say, Wyatt.” She said, lifting the bags up and out, placing them together on the ground against her legs. “Of course, it’s me who’s grateful to them, here in my moment of need.” She looked towards the house and thought fondly of the two people inside.
“I’m rightly sure you are Hattie, rightly sure you are.”
With the lid of the trunk slammed shut, she bent down to pick up several of the bags. She sensed an admiring gaze, scanning her body as he might do, she thought, a favoured horse. Judging the weight of the groceries, the chance of an early escape from the conversation beckoned. “Well Wyatt, I’ll let you get on with the watering of those lovely flowers of yours.”
“Hattie,” he interrupted, slipping his hat off, holding it against his chest, “I wanted to ask, have you given further consideration to my recent proposal? After this day, understand, I won’t be asking again.” Extracting a polka dot patterned handkerchief, Wyatt wiped away glistening beads of sweat from his balding head, before returning it to his jean’s pocket.
“Just how old are you?”
“I turned sixty-six in April.”
“Okay, do you know how old I am?”
“Well, I recall the celebration of your eighteenth with a lively and well-attended party. Let me see, that was … eight years ago, which makes you … twenty-five, no wait, twenty-six years old by my reckoning.”
Hattie stood looking at Wyatt, waiting to see if an expression registering comprehension might suddenly materialise. It didn’t. His features remained placid and unchanged.
“Wyatt, that’s a forty-year age gap.”
“That’s right Hattie, I can do the math. It changes nothing. I remain a widower, with no children, no known surviving relatives and no debts. With the situation as it stands, when I go, the proceeds of my estate are headed off to some sure as hell lucky pet rescue home.” Wyatt chuckled to himself, reached inside his jacket and withdrew a packet of cigarettes. “Unless, you’ve reconsidered, Hattie? After all, when your folks pass, whatever inheritance becomes available, you know that’s going to be split several ways between you, your brothers and your sisters. Ain’t that right?” Tearing off the foil from the top of the packet, Wyatt flicked at the underside with his thumb, a single cigarette appeared, which he offered to Hattie.
“Okay, let’s get this straight Wyatt.” She said, taking the cigarette. “Essentially, what you’re proposing amounts to a marriage of convenience.”
“That’s right Hattie, I make no bones about it.” He threw a shiny metal lighter upwards into the air, which Hattie caught, used and threw back. “I’ve been alone a long time, I have few additional needs outside of companionship. Those needs I have, I am confident you can fulfil. Meanwhile, it can’t go unnoticed, I’m no longer a man in the peak of physical health. I am not going to be around forever, sure as eggs is eggs.”
For a moment, Hattie stared blankly at the groceries returned to the ground next to the side of the car. She blew a plume of bluish grey smoke out through her lips, dropped the cigarette and crushed it under the toe of her sneaker on the kerbstone. “There’ll be a prenuptial then?” She said, asking her first ever question regarding the proposition.
Wyatt reached into his sheepskin jacket a second time and quick enough located an unsealed envelope, containing a folded document. “Naturally so, legal and binding, providing mutual protection. Divorce, and you will receive a settlement.” He handed her the somewhat creased envelope. “Although generous, it’ll not be enough to support financial independence beyond a handful of years. Let’s just say it will serve as a token of my appreciation for your sacrifice, prepared as you were to give the marriage a try. Alternatively, God damn,” momentarily irritated he brushed a fly off his nose, “see me through and you get everything, the property, investments, my savings and the like. No debt, no mortgage even. You’ll be set for the rest of your life Hattie.”
“During the meanwhile, I’ll be cooking for you, cleaning for you, darning your socks and satisfying your wont between the bed sheets I don’t doubt!” Hattie’s anger unleashed unexpectedly, her eyes narrowed into a piercing stare. Wyatt, nonchalant, shook his head, slowly raised his hands signalling surrender, his stetson held in one hand.
“Miss Hattie, instead of getting all flustered, why not read the contract? Everything’s there, check through the details. Lend me half your attention if you will and I’ll summarise.” As Hattie unfolded the papers, Wyatt continued. “You will have the area formerly serving as two bedrooms, today converted into one, which includes an ensuite. Think of the accommodation as a studio apartment set-up, your own private quarters. Of course, the rest of the house and gardens are available to you also, on top of which we’ll share a holiday cabin located upstate in the woods.” Wyatt’s statement matched the plain wording of the contract, drafted by a local, prominent and respected lawyer’s firm. “I have my own room and a study. We share the cooking, straight down the middle. Mrs Jackson will come to visit each Wednesday, same as she’s always done, taking care of all the cleaning and washing. The groceries, you’ll have noticed, are delivered. Which leaves sex, because there ain’t no mistaking, that is, a thing.”
“I was wondering when we’d get to that.” Hattie located the heading, midway down the second page of the paperwork, ‘The Sexual Relationship’.
“I ain’t no monster, I don’t have unusual needs nor wild fantasies, nothing that will turn you off or gross you out. No,” Wyatt appealed earnestly to Hattie, “I’m a simple man, who – due to the sale of a significantly sized and lucky plot of Texan land – finds himself in an enviable position. I live a life free from worry. However, for the last ten years, I’ve been living life alone. Besides your companionship, what you read under that heading, that’s all I’ll be wanting, with regularity as specified. But, not against your will Hattie. You understand?” Hattie’s gaze rested upon her name printed in italics at the bottom of the page, followed by a dotted line and a space underneath for a witness’ signature.
©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by picture)
With special thanks to the Covid-19 Lockdown