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Velma and Louie

by Carole Bellacera

Get that smug look off your face.  I know what you're thinking.  Well, I'll tell you right now, this ain't no "Thelma and Louise" story.  Leastways not with the same ending.  I'm here to tell you about it, so it's mighty clear we didn't drive off no cliff into the Grand Canyon.  Blame foolishness, if you ask me.  That ending.  Didn't ring true, and I said so to Louie when we watched that ignorant thing on his VCR in the Happy Valley Home for Retired Citizens.  'Course you couldn't tell him that.  By the time those two dim-witted females drove their car into the next world, Louie was so randy from the love scene, he couldn't keep his blessed hands off me.  'Course,  I was hotter than a July firecracker myself from eyeing that purty Brad Pitt.  Lawsy...if I were about forty years younger...hmmm...mmm!

Well, back to the matters at hand.  My name is Velma Huddleston.  I'm seventy-three years old and up until last August, I lived at the Happy Valley Home for Retired Citizens in Charleston, West Virginia.  That's where I met Louie.  He lived across the hall, and I met him one day down by the mailboxes.  We got to talking and he told me about his grandson who had made it big in a rock group called Hairy Armpits or Harry Krishna or some such nonsense.  Against his mama's wishes, Louie added with a big toothy smile.

"She thought he was trotting down to hell on a fast horse in a porcupine saddle,"  he told me in what I was to learn was his unique way of telling a story.  That Louie!  He has more sayings than a dog has fleas.

Anyhow, as he was going on about his rock-star grandson, I listened politely, thinking as how that hardly was something to brag about, but you could tell he was proud as pie when he talked about that youngun, and who was I to burst his bubble about it?  It's not as if I have a lot to brag about in my family.  My only son, Jarvis, has never been able to hold down a job because he suffers from that Roulette's Syndrome, or whatever its called, and he never fails to cuss up a storm during the worst possible moments--like funerals and weddings.  And then there's the yips.  Lord a my!  Sounds like one of them little dogs who look more like big rats than canines.  'Course he's gotten better  since he started taking the drugs for it.  Drugs don't always help though, not when he's riled up about something.  Which is more often than not.  He got that from his daddy.  Anyways, Jarvis even found a woman who'd put up with his ailment, (course, you can imagine how taken aback she was when he said "marry me, Loretta ugly bitch I love you (yip) like crazy.")  Loretta was one of them Bible thumpers who thought she was put on this earth to personally rescue the downtrodden, and I guess that's what she thought Jarvis was because she married him lickety-split and spit out three younguns right in a row.   Each and every one of them, God bless 'em, as dull as bad-year molasses.

But I'm gettin' off the subject.  I'm allowed to.  I'm seventy-three years old. Now, Louie.  He's seventy-five, cute as a button, and I love him.  Ain't that a lark?  seventy-three years old and in love like a school girl.  Who would've thought it?  But I guess I was due, 'cause I'd never been in love before.  Not even with Skank, my husband of fifteen years.  That low account mean sumbitch.  Back before he caught the black lung disease in the coal mine where he worked, he used to beat me black and blue for looking at him crooked.  Something I apparently did more often than not back in the early days of our marriage.  I was fourteen when I married Lowell "Skank" Huddleston.  And I was fifteen when I gave birth to Jarvis.  Ain't that funny?  I'm only fifteen years older than my boy.  Why, if they hadn't torn down the Happy Valley Home for Retired Citizens, he could've moved in here with me, but that wouldn't have happened, because I wouldn't have had him.  Law!  Much as I love him--'cause after all, he's my own flesh and blood--that boy would drive me crazy if I allowed it.  Louie don't like him at all.  Says he was born tired and raised lazy, and I guess maybe I should take offense at that observation, but hell, I'll just blame it on Skank.  He did the raising, not me.  His rules were law, I'll tell you that.  But when Jarvis turned fourteen, and the raising was pretty much done, Skank up and died, and I'll tell you right now, I didn't shed a tear.  No sir, and I'm not a bit ashamed to admit it.

Anyhow, back to Louie.  He used to be a truck driver.  Drove one of them big old rigs from Charleston to Lexington, Kentucky and down to Knoxville on occasion.  He married a hometown girl who, according to him, looked like sixty miles of bad road, but who he loved in spite of, and they ended up having a couple of twin girls, and I'll get to them in a minute 'cos Genovidene and Geneva are a big part of our story.  Anyways, he settled down in Charleston when he wasn't on the road, and lived that life until his homely wife died and Geneva, the daughter that stayed in town (the other moved to Richmond), got him an apartment at Happy Valley.  And it was right after he moved in that I met him and we fell in love.

I'll set the record straight right now, seeing as how you're probably wondering about the sex-thing.  Right off the bat--I didn't waste no time in spoonin' with Louie.  At seventy-three years, you don't have that much time to waste.  And I'll put another thing to rest right now while I'm at it.  Sex is just as good at seventy-three as it is at twenty-three.  Maybe not as athletic, you understand, but just as good.  There ain't no swinging off the chandeliers and dixie-doodling the bedsprings until Sealy-Posturepedic has sent you a Hotline number for emergency service.  But it's still pretty damn good.

Like I told you already, Louie is just as cute as can be with his twinkling blue eyes and apple-red cheeks and that thatch of silver white hair that stands up like a horsehair brush no matter what you do with it.  But looks ain't why I love him, and it ain't the sex either.  He makes me feel young again.  And he makes me laugh.

It was a day in early August that our life fell apart.  I'd taken the rollers out of my white hair and painted my face up with the cosmetics this young girl downstairs in the office kept me supplied with.  They didn't make me look like that Cindy Crawford, but only a pair of sharp eyes could tell the difference between me and Rupaul.  (Don't get your undies in a wad, Blondie, I'm just fooling with ya.)

Anyhow, I walked across the hall to meet Louie to go to breakfast down in the dining hall like we always did, and I gave his door a tap and walked in like I always do, and slap the dog and spit in the fire, there was Geneva and Genovidene, looking like Marilyn Monroe imitators, dressed to the nines and wearing faces as long as a slow walk on a wet day.

I looked at Louie, and blamed if he wasn't looking just as sour.  "Who licked the red off your candy cane?"  I asked, hoping if I used one of his sayings, he'd grin at me at me and say,  "Well, hell, Velma, it ain't nothing.  Why, Genovidene here, broke a fingernail this mornin' as she was opening her Slim-Fast box."  But deep inside, I knew he weren't gonna say that.  Something was wrong.  And I knew it was gonna affect both of us--and affect us in a way we weren't gonna be over the moon about.

Well, Genovidene (she's the one with the skinnier face--that's how I can tell them apart), pursed her perfectly outlined red lips and said,  "Well now, Velma, don't over react, but..."

"...Happy Valley has gone bankrupt and you all are gonna be turned out," Geneva   finished the sentence for her.

That was something I was still trying to get used to--the way those two twin girls finish each other's sentences.  Not a seam showed, not a pause, not a breath.  Nothing.  It was like they shared a brain even though they were separated by two bodies.  Damn eerie, I tell you that.  Gives me the creeps.

"...and the fact is, hon, Papa is gonna come live with me in Richmond for six months out of the year, and then he'll come back..."

"...to my house for the rest of the year, and that way, you'll get to see him..."

"...just as often as you want while he's here in Charleston."   Genovidene finished with a bright smile as if she was a female Ed McMahan who'd just told me I'd won the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes.

I stared at Louie and he stared at me.  And then our talking in unison began.  Okay, maybe it was more like screaming in unison.  Well, as we ranted and raved and protested and I cried and Louie cussed, twin looks of stubbornness came on those cheap floozies' faces, and Louie finally turned to me, squeezed my hand and said,  "It ain't no use, Velma.  Talking to them two is like a rubber-nosed woodpecker trapped in a petrified forest.  We ain't gonna get nowhere."

And as we stared at each other in resigned silence, we heard the commotion out in the hall.

"Mama, open up, (yip) it's me, Jarvis (yip) fucking hell.  And the bitch (yip) Loretta.  We have (yip) to talk, Mama shit-face.   (Yip) got some bad goddamn it (yip) news."

I turned around and opened Louie's door.  There he was, my son, Jarvis, and his saintly butter-couldn't-melt-in-her-mouth wife, Loretta.  I looked at them and frowned.

"You didn't take your medicine today, did you, son?"

***

"So, what are we gonna do, Louie?"

I askt him that later that evening when that pack of squalling brats hi-tailed it home.  For an hour, Jarvis and Loretta reasoned with me, if you can call it reasoning when fifty percent of the words spewing out of that boy's mouth was pure unadulterated filth.  I swan!  Lord knows he can't help it, but la, it wears on my patience; I made him take his pills but they didn't kick in until about forty minutes later and by the time that happened, I'd already told them there ain't no way on God's green earth I was gonna come and live with a man who barks like a dog and cusses like a sailor and a woman who prays to the Almighty every night that she'll have a smooth and satisfying morning dump.

Louie looked at me, and damned if I didn't see his blue eyes twinkle.  "Don't you worry, Velma.  Nothing's gonna tear us apart.  Not your younguns, and not mine.  Them girls ain't too big for me to paint their back porches red, I'll tell you that.  Now, I'm gonna go get on the phone and see what I can do about this calamity."  He stood up and stared at me thoughtfully.  "Velma, tell me something.  Is there anything you've never done that you always wanted to do, but never got the chance?"

I thought about that a moment, and then I looked up at him and said,  "Well, Louie.  I've never seen the ocean.  Not once in my life.  I believe I'd fancy that."

He nodded, gave me a whopping kiss on the lips and walked to my door.  "You just give me a couple of days, and don't worry your pretty little white head about a thing.  Louie's gonna take care of everything."

And no matter how I tried, I couldn't get a thing out of him in the next few days about what he was up to.

***

Well, to cut a long story short, that's how Louie and I found ourselves on the road in a little red Corvette, traveling through the Blue Ridge Mountains toward Virginia Beach.   Oh, our britches were riding high, I'll tell you that.  It was Louie's grandson, you know.  Gareth.  The one in the rock band.  Turns out that when he first wanted to head off to California to join in that rock band, and his mother raised a ruckus--Geneva did that on occasion, I understood, although I'd never actually witnessed it--Louie, who thought a man oughta do what a man wants to do with his life, gave the boy $500 in cash to get him started out there.  And once that rock band began to make money, well, that boy--who just proves my theory that miracles do happen and some children grow up to be fine specimens of the human race no matter who spawned 'em--paid his grandfather back many times over, but he still felt like he owed a great debt to 'his favorite old man.'  And as soon as Louie called him, within twenty-four hours, that red Corvette showed up at the Happy Valley Home tied with a big old yaller ribbon and a note that said,  "Go for it, Gramps!"

And we did.  Louie, being an ex-truck driver, loved to burn the rubber, and there was hardly any traffic on old I-64, and let me tell you, he gave that car a work-out.  We crossed Sandstone Mountain and stopped at its foot where a dinky little gas station perched on the banks of the New River looking like at any moment it might take a swan dive right into it.  Louie gassed up the Corvette and went inside to pay while I got out to stretch my bones and made an acquaintance with a cute little Border collie who wandered up and sniffed at me as if I was hiding an old steak bone in my skirt.  Louie was inside for an awful long time, and I was beginning to think he'd grown tired of my company and had sneaked out the back to hi-tail it back to Charleston.  'Cept there was no back to the place--just the river.  Couldn't get far that way, not unlest he'd turned into a fish or a muskrat.

But then he come strolling out, a big shit-eating grin on his face and carrying a handful of bright colored papers.  "Not the friendliest folks in the world,"  he said as he flopped down in the driver's seat.  "Looked at me like I was sent for and couldn't go and then went and wasn't wanted.  But looky what I found."

And he tossed those colored slips of paper in my lap.  Brochures!  I looked at one and then another, and then another, and then I looked at him and said,  "So?"  He was grinning at me like I was a hot fudge sundae and he was an Eskimo tasting his first sample of  ice cream.

"We're a gonna go river-rafting, Velma!"

***

Well, as you can see, I'm still here.  But I liked to died that afternoon.  We took what they call the Class I white water trip.  Mild rapids, they say.  Mild, my ass!  When we hit the first one, my stomach went down low, and my feet came up, and my eyes went crossed, and I swear to the dear Lord, when that cold water slapped me in the face, my heart stopped for a good ten seconds.  But don't you know, Louie loved it.  He laughed and squealed and his apple cheeks got even redder, and come to think of it, I found myself laughing right along with him once my stomach settled back in the place where it's supposed to be.  That four-hour trip went like wild-fire, and before we knew it, the guide had dumped us off on the banks and a van drove us back upstream where we'd parked the Corvette.

I swan, we were like too worn-out kids when we got back in that car and headed off for the nearest motel.  Tired, but as happy as an evangelist holding out the offering plate in a roomful of holy-roller millionaires.  Before he started the car, Louie turned to me, grabbed my hand, looked deep into my eyes and said,  "Thanks, Velma.  Riding those river rapids was my dream.  Something I'd never done but always wanted to.  I thank you for sharing it with me.  Let's go get a good nights sleep, and tomorrow, we're gonna go after your dream."  Then he grinned, and his eyes twinkled.  "'Course if you got a hankering to do something other than sleep right away, I have a few ideas of how we can pass the time."

"I got a hankering,"  I said, feeling my face turning blood-awful red.  You'd think that after seventy-three years on this earth, a soul would quit blushing at the mention of sex, wouldn't you?  Anyhow, we went off to the nearest motel and did our business.

We got up before the sun rose the next morning  and got on the road because Louie had a dream that the blonde floozies were after us.  I didn't say nothing but I'd been feeling the same thing--only I was thinking about Jarvis and Goody-Two-Shoes Loretta.  It'd be just like them to sic the police on us.  I could hear Jarvis plain as day, standing in a police station in Charleston and yipping and cussing and whining about his senile old mother who's taken off with a wild geezer whose intentions were damn-flat dishonorable.

Anyhow, we got on I-64 and drove like bats out of hell toward the Virginia state line.  We crossed it long about 6:30 in the morning, and cheered and howled like a couple of beer-guzzling teenagers who'd won the homecoming game in a blow-out.  And even then, we didn't stop.  We kept driving through the rolling green hills of Virginia until we reached Staunton (pronounced Stanton, Louie told me, because them townsfolk didn't aim to pronounce it anyways like the damn British who named the town back before the War of Independence.  You see what I mean about Louie--he knows the damndest things!)   We stopped at Cracker Barrel restaurant for biscuits and sawmill gravy which weren't as good as mine, I told him, but it'd do.  He grinned and said I'd have to make him some when we got a place of our own.  His words sent a queer feeling rippling in the pit of my stomach.  It was the first mention of what we were gonna do once I saw the ocean.  Neither one of us had thought past that.  And we didn't want to.  Not now.  So, we put the future out of our minds and headed east towards Richmond, and farther on, Virginia Beach.

It took us two hours to reach Richmond, and then another forty minutes before we got to Hampton.  Well, I won't deny it, I was jumping in my seat as if a bunch of fire‑ants had crawled into my girdle when the Corvette broke out of the Fort Monroe tunnel into the bright sunlight and I saw that blue stretch of ocean on our left. 

Lordy, lordy, it was a sight to see!  Stretching all the way to the horizon.  Why, out there somewheres was Ireland and England, and Paree, France, and all those other excitin' places I'd had a hankering to visit when I was a youngun.  Well, I knew I weren't gonna get there now, but leastways, I was lookin' at the ocean, and I'd pretty much given up on ever doing that.  But that was before I took up with Louie.  Shoot the moon and goose the cow!  That man had opened up doors for me!

"Let's go on into the town and park the car,"  Louie said.  "We'll walk down to the beach and let you get those pretty little toes wet.  It don't count unless you actually step into the ocean.  Can't say you been there."

Just as I opened my mouth to agree, I saw the police car coming at us.  And something inside me crawled.  I don't know how I knew it, but somehow, I did.   Trouble, with a capital T had found us.  I saw the policeman give us the eagle eye as he passed.  And even afterward, I sensed him looking in his rearview mirror, memorizing our license plate, I guess.   And sure as shittin, that old revolving light came on, and he started to do a U-turn right in the middle of the road.

"Louie...."  I said, my hand grabbing onto the dashboard.  "I don't think we're gonna make it to the ocean."

But Louie had seen him, too.  His jaw tightened, and his blue eyes grew chilly as a outdoor faucet in the Minnesota winter.  "Oh, yes, we are, Velma.  Yes, we are."

And before I could say rappin' Jack, Louie sash-shayed that Corvette into the next street leading to the beach, even though there was a big old mean-looking sign that said: Residents Only.  His foot crunched down on that accelerator, and I swear to God, we were flying at fifty mph down that little street toward one of those crissy-crossed road blocks aimed to stop folks from driving on the sand, I guess.

"Watch out!"  I yelled.

Louie slammed on the brakes, and I was right glad I had my seatbelt on good and tight, 'cause although my head is about as hard as they come, I don't think it stood a chance against a Corvette's windshield.  He brought the car to a stop just inches away from that blockade.  Before I could even fuss at Louie for his recklessness, he threw open his door and yelled,  "Come on, Velma!  Let's go see the ocean!"

I scrambled out of the car and hurried as fast I could to catch up with Louie.  For a seventy-five year-old, that man could move!  From back on the street, I heard the siren.  Good God!  What in blazes did they think we'd done?  I knew my mind wasn't as sharp as it used to be, but I didn't recollect murdering anybody or stealing the national treasure from Fort Knox.  Then it hit me.  Jarvis.  He'd told 'em I was a raving maniac.  Senile.  Suicidal.  Didn't know if I was coming or going.  And those two blonde bimbos.  They'd probably told the police the same thing.  After all, how many senior citizens take off from an old folk's home driving a red Corvette through the mountains, stopping on the way to white-water raft, (because of course, by now, they knew about that, too.)  We're old.  We ain't supposed to enjoy things like that.  Well, I got news for all you yuppie baby boomers and snippy glamour-girls and boys who think your shit don't stink because you're young and beautiful--I like to enjoy life, too.  I like riding in a red Corvette and white-water rafting and being in love and putting my old gnarled feet...yeah, the same feet that Louie thinks is so purty...puttin' them in the ocean for the first time.  And I'm damn well gonna do it.

I reached the sand, and took a great big breath of the fresh salty sea air.  Lordy, it smelt good!  With a wild laugh, I kicked off my shoes.  "Hold your horses, Louie!"  I called.  "If I'm a gonna jump in the ocean, I'm gonna take these stockings off." 

Louie paused and looked back, the breeze from the ocean pushing his bristly white hair forward.  "Well, hurry up your buns then.  We ain't got much time."

I rolled the stockings off, jumping back and forth from one leg to the other.  I felt sprightly, I tell you that.  Like that old ocean had taken ten years off my age.  I flung the stockings down into the sand and took off toward Louie.  When I caught up with him, I grabbed his hand and yelled,  "Come on!  Let's go for it!"

We reached the cool wet sand and waited for the first wave to roll in.  When it did, it caught me about ankle-high and I squealed as the cold water squeegeed between my toes.  Louie yelped and splashed forward, heading for the deeper waves. 

"Wait for me!"  I called.

He grinned and dipped his hand into the water and splashed me.  I squealed like a stuck pig.  "You awnry devil!"  And I splashed him back.  It was during our horse-play when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the police car pull up next to the Corvette. 

"There he is,"  I said, watching the policeman get out of his car.

Louie shook his wet head, sending droplets of sea water over me.  "Well, we can either stay here and let him come to us, or we can go see what he wants."

Before I could answer, another car pulled in after the police car.  And I saw two platinum-blond heads pop out.  "Well, shit a brick!"  I muttered.  "Looky who's here."

"And looky who else is here,"  Louie said.

I stared, bug-eyed, at Jarvis's shaggy grey head as he got out of the same car.  Loretta was right behind him.  Slowly, I turned and gave Louie the evil eye.  "Do you mind telling me how in a blue moon that carload of jack-asses got word of where we were?"

Shame-faced, Louie dropped his eyes away from me.  "Well, the only person I told where we were heading was Gareth...you know...my grandson out in L.A.  They must've got it out of him."  As I stared at him in sheer disbelief, he protested,  "Well, somebody had to know where we were!  What if we got into trouble?"

"You are trouble,"  I said.  But I could no more stay mad at him than I could spit in the wind.  He's just so damn cute!  "Oh, nevermind!  We'll just have to turn and face the music!"

"Papa!  Oh, my God!"  It was Geneva who screamed out, or was it Genovidene?  I couldn't tell from that distance.  Both were running pell-mell toward the water.

"Don't do it, Daddy!  It's not..."

"...worth it!  We'll work something out, we'll..."

"...find a way for you and Velma..."

"...to live together!"

"The girls are (yip) right, Mama!"  That was my Jarvis screaming now.  He was runnin' through the sand, Loretta right behind him.  "Bastard butt-head.  (Yip) committing suicide ain't the answer!"

"He's right, Mama,"  Loretta huffed.  "Our dear Lord won't forgive you if you take your own life.  Come on in.  We'll find a place for you and Louie to be together.  We promise!  Just don't kill yourselves."

Slowly, Louie and I looked at each other.  I saw that twinkle in his eyes, and it was as if I could read his mind.  It took all I could do to hold back a big old grin.  He grabbed my hand, and together, we turned and faced our family.

Louie's face took on the appearance of an old toothless bloodhound who'd just been given a big raw steak.  "We've made up our mind,"  he said mournfully.  "And there's not a thing you can do to stop us.  Just leave us alone and let us spend eternity together."

I nodded solemnly.  "That's what we want."

And we turned our backs on our children and hand in hand, took a step forward into the ocean.  Well, you shoulda heard the screams.  Sounded like a pack of alleycats who'd lapped up a saucerful of milk laced with Jim Beam.

"No!  Don't do it!"

"Please, Mama!"

 Louie and I looked at each other and grinned.  Then, wiping the smiles off our faces, we turned around.   Louie's face was as sober as a mortician's in a roomful of grieving relatives.  "We just want one thing understood.  If we can't be together..."

And then, the most amazing thing happened.  I finished his sentence for him.  "...we don't wanta live."

***

Well, as you can see, it all worked out.  Geneva and Genovidene and Jarvis and Loretta stuck to their promise.  We all went back to Charleston, the four of them in Geneva's car, and me and Louie in the red Corvette.  They rented us a little house on the banks of the Kanawha River (which, coincidently, turns into the New River a further piece on down near Beckley) not far from where Geneva lives.  We got ourselves hitched in September because Louie didn't want anyone to say I was a fallen woman, as if I cared a fig about what folks thought of me.  You don't care to enter no popularity contests after being around seventy-three years, I always say.  Anyhow, he made an honest woman of me, and I think that's sweet.  But that's Louie.  Sweet as a chocolate-covered cherry cordial in a bowl of butter-brickle ice cream.

Well, there you have it.  That's the story of "Velma and Louie."  Now, tell the truth.  Ain't that a lot better than that "Thelma & Louise" piece of fluff?

Oh, yeah.  Forgot to tell ya.  They let us keep the red Corvette.

 


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