Monday, January 2, 2012

The Day John Wayne Walked Into the Living Room

Sandra and Harry were the perfect couple people always said.

They did everything together, but in the 39th year of marriage, they began drifting apart. On the outside they seemed the same. A bit more gray brushed Harry’s hair and Sandra was a little plumper. Maybe Sandra’s eyes, blue as the water off the shore of the island of Aruba where they’d spent their honeymoon, didn’t have the spark or shine they once had. Occasionally restlessness roamed Harry’s face, and his eyes pleaded like a reluctant racehorse being led into the gate by his trainer. Only good friends could catch these subtle changes.

Little things started keeping them apart. On TV Harry loved hockey and the Western channel. Sandra lived for romance and teen-age sitcoms. Harry’s obsession with westerns crept into their life until the sights and sounds of westerns on TV filled their home – 24/7. Sandra tried to watch them with Harry in an effort to capture the magic they had once had, but the relentless black and white monotony and the tedious music accompanying them caused her eyes to droop and she’d be asleep in a minute. Harry would turn to share the latest exploit of his favorite character and find her snoring softly.

One evening Sandra sat on their blue and white striped sofa and prepared to share Harry’s enthusiasm for westerns. His eyes glittered like the first time he had seen Sandra when he talked about his favorite subject. Sandra wanted to see those glittering eyes again, so she tried to keep her eyes open. They shut anyway. She heard the sound of the TV. Harry began describing the events on the screen, but Sandra couldn’t hear him. She had drifted off on the music of the opening titles.

In a few minutes, though, Sandra awoke still sitting on her blue and white striped sofa. Startled, she looked toward the door. It swayed open as if by force and behind the door standing in the deepening twilight against the varied pastels of the setting sun was John Wayne decked out in his boots and spurs all 6’4” of him lurching toward her with his cowboy hat set rakishly at an angle above his familiar rugged face. Too startled to move, Sandra stared at him as he entered her living room. She turned to tell Harry, thinking this was the oddest and yet, most amazing thing that had ever happened to her, but he had disappeared. She was alone. Strangely, the TV was off.

“Hello Pilgrim, I mean hello little lady,” John Wayne said as he entered tipping his hat when he realized it was a woman to whom he was speaking. Sandra stared at him without recognition. Then gradually her eyes widened and her mouth formed an O.

“Oh my God, it’s you. Oh, my God, Harry, Harry, come quick. It’s,it’s, oh my God, it’s John Wayne. Harry where are you?”

Where could Harry have gone? Sandra called his name, but he didn’t answer.

“Harry, where are you? You’ll never believe who just came into our house. Come on get out here. You’re going to be so sorry you missed him.” Sandra was starting to sound desperate, because she didn’t know where Harry could be. He always answered when she called him. “Harry, this isn’t funny. One minute you’re on the sofa watching your western and the next minute I wake up and you’re gone leaving no note, no message. Harry answer me. HARRY, ANSWER ME!!!” Sandra’s voice became a high-pitched shriek. Harry hadn’t answered her at all. John Wayne was in her living room and Harry couldn’t share this moment.  But she had very little time to think about this. She had to find Harry.

Sandra started walking around her house. She shouted upstairs, no Harry. Walking upstairs, she found her bedroom empty. She walked outside, maybe he was talking to the neighbors, no Harry. She went back into her own living room and John Wayne was still there, now sitting on her blue and white striped sofa twiddling his hat between his hands like she’d seen him do so many times on film. She took a deep breath and walked over to the sofa. She must be dreaming. This couldn’t be real. She held out her hands moving them until they barely touched John Wayne. She poked his arm with her index finger.

Immediately Sandra’s hand was slapped away as if it were an insect on his arm.

“What are you doing? I’ve drawn on men for less than that.” John Wayne looked like he was going to draw one of the guns in his holster.

Shaking and with a red face Sandra said, “ I’m so sorry, Mr. Wayne. I was checking to see if you are real. I thought this might be a dream. But I’m forgetting my manners. Welcome to my house, Mr. Wayne.”

“It’s a pleasure to be here ma’am. “ He took her hand and smiled. “No harm done.”

Sandra flushed with pleasure.

“You live here all alone? A good-looking woman like you? I’m surprised.” John Wayne continued smiling and lurched off the sofa.

“Not exactly. I am married to Harry, but he’s not here now. I’m sure he’ll be back soon. Did you know you’re his favorite actor? He loves watching westerns and he’s always reciting things you did in your movies. “ Sandra couldn’t sit and she started pacing up and down in front of him. “Harry’s going to be so mad that he missed you. That is if he doesn’t get back here in time.”

“Well young lady I’m not even sure why I’m here.” John Wayne looked around with a puzzled expression on his weathered face.

Sandra thought back to what she knew about John Wayne and realized he had died years ago. Was she dead too? Maybe that’s why Harry wasn’t there. She was dead. She was in heaven. But this was her house. Why would she still be in her house? Also, she was suddenly very hungry. Did dead people eat? This was getting too odd.

“Mr. Wayne, I hate to bring this up, but aren’t you dead? “ John Wayne didn’t blink an eyelash.

“You’re right about that, little lady. I’ve known for quite some time.”

“So am I dead too?” Sandra waited holding her breath for the answer.

“Naw, you’re not dead. Actually this isn’t even happening. That’s why Harry isn’t here.”

Sandra’s eyes widened. “But what are you doing here? I mean I’ve always liked you. Never can forget that scene in that movie you did. What was the name? Can’t remember it, when you took the reins of your horse in your teeth and rode with a rifle and your six gun blasting the bad guys.”

“’True Grit’, one of my favorites.” John Wayne sat back against the cushions with his arms out and a faraway expression in his eyes.

The room started spinning like she was being whirled in a mixer and suddenly Sandra was standing at the doorway in a flannel nightgown watching herself speaking to John Wayne.

I’m dreaming. She said to herself. That’s why I’m in two places at once. I’ll wake up and bam, this whole scene will be gone. The Sandra at the door watched the first Sandra and the discussion.

“Like I told you before, my husband is a big fan of yours.” The first Sandra was getting into the whole discussion. Her face was flushed and her words were coming quickly. “You know when my little girl was an infant, Harry put her between his shoulder and the crook of his elbow. She was so small she fit perfectly. He told her she needed to be tough like you. He looked into her eyes and said, ‘Be like John Wayne and you won’t go wrong in life.’”

Sandra had tears in her eyes when she remembered how long ago that was. Harry had all his hair then. Her daughter was married now and had her own little girl. Unfortunately, she had never liked westerns either.

“Well, little lady,” John Wayne began.

 Sandra interrupted, “Call me Sandra. I feel like I know you.”

“Well, Sandy, “ John Wayne looked at her with a question in his eyes. “ Can I call you that?”

Sandra nodded her head. She hated the nickname, but this was John Wayne. Who could say no to him?

Sandra felt a force emanating from John Wayne as powerful as an electric current. Somehow that current surged into her and she realized it made her feel alive like when she was a young girl and saw her crush in the hallway at school - a quick zap of electricity that changed her day and left her smiling.

A sudden epiphany clutched her. She knew why John Wayne had come here. His purpose unfolded itself like her fans that hung all over the house, spreading wide and revealing its true nature.

Sandra leaped off the blue and white striped sofa and came back with two glasses of iced tea for both of them.  The second Sandra at the door watched as John Wayne gulped his down in one swallow.

“Mr. Wayne,” John Wayne interrupted, “Call me John.”

“Mr. Wa…John, could you answer a question for me?”

John Wayne put his glass down and leaned toward Sandra, “Sure if I can.”

“What’s so great about westerns?” Sandra took a sip from her glass and leaned back to hear the answer.

John Wayne leaped off the sofa and started pacing the room lurching back and forth muttering to himself. “What’s so great about Westerns?” over and over.

The second Sandra standing at the door listened closely. 

The first Sandra nervous that she’d upset something major looked alarmed. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“No.” John Wayne came up to her and sat on the coffee table facing her. “It’ll be my pleasure to answer you. Hard, though to put into words.” John Wayne continued, “A western is a fight between good and bad. Bad guys hurt good, weaker ones, so you start to care about the poor victims. But the good guys fight back and sometimes get others to help them. No matter how strong the bad guys are the good guys always win.” John Wayne stopped and beamed at Sandra.

A light came on in the first Sandra’s eyes, and she started bumping up and down on the sofa. “I get it. The good guy always wins no matter the odds. It’s the winning that he likes.”

The Sandra at the door jumped up and down too. She’d found out why Harry liked westerns and couldn’t wait to tell him herself.

Meanwhile, the first Sandra hugged John Wayne, but as soon as she did she realized her arms were empty. He’d vanished. So did the first Sandra and her living room, and she found herself in bed in her flannel nightgown.  Not daring to open her eyes she moved her hand over to Harry’s place. She felt the familiar bumps of his sleeping face and breathed a sigh of relief. It was only a dream!

Harry had fallen asleep with the TV on and a ‘30s black and white western was on the tube. A guy in a white hat was being chased by three guys with guns, and he was turning around in his saddle and shooting back at them.

Sandra smiled and closed her eyes. She’d tell Harry the story in the morning. But right now she couldn’t sleep. Who was the guy? Why were they chasing him? She opened her eyes.

If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor - available from MuseItUp Publishing, Amazon, Kindle, Nook.

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gail roughton branan said...

Barbara, that was wonderful! Ginger I must have missed the announcement somewhere, thanks for posting on the loop. I come to this blog just to look at the picture, actually.

Karen Cote said...

How fun! What a great way to start the New Year. Thanks you two. This was entertaining and refreshing. Hugs and love you both.

Lisabet Sarai said...

I love this, Ginger! Funny and beautiful and true. Just like you!