And the Band Played On

Eddie had never been one for gardening.

At the end of his shift at the mill, all he wanted was a couple of cold ones while he sat in front of the TV, watching the ballgame. Rosie, his wife, had other ideas. She was always after him to dig up the backyard so they could put in a rose garden.

After ten years of marriage, Eddie was pretty good at tuning Rosie’s nagging out. He’d just grunt, take a swig of beer, and promise he’d get to it tomorrow; but somehow tomorrow never seemed to come.

So, knowing Eddie, it was with some surprise that Paula, his sister, viewed his handiwork the afternoon she stopped by to say hello.

“What’s this?” she asked, watching Eddie as he dumped shovelfuls of earth onto a growing pile behind him.

“I’m finally doing it,” he said, his cheeks smudged with dirt and sweat. Breathing heavily, he put the spade aside. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. “Rosie has been on my back forever to put a garden in for her. While she’s away, I thought I’d take care of it. I’m going to surprise her when she gets back.”

“Rosie’s away? Where did she go?” This was news to Paula, who’d just had lunch with Rosie the week before.

“She’s out on the West Coast, visiting her sister.”

Paula’s brow wrinkled. “Funny, she didn’t say anything to me about visiting Helen.”

“It came up suddenly. Helen wasn’t feeling well so Rosie took a plane out yesterday. She’s going to help out with the kids while Helen’s laid up.”

Paula nodded as her brother picked up the spade and resumed his work. Absentmindedly, he began to hum a tune their father had often sung when he was in his cups.

Casey would waltz with a strawberry blonde
And the band played on.
He’d glide ‘cross the floor with the girl he adored,
And the band played on…

He’d married the girl
With the strawberry curl
And the band played on.

Hearing the song and remembering their father, Paula smiled. “Eddie, putting in a garden is awfully hot work, especially in the noonday sun. How about I go inside the house and make us both a glass of iced tea?”

Eddie stopped shoveling and looked at her. “No… I don’t think you want to do that.”

“Why ever not?”

“It stinks in there… see,” he said, pointing to the house’s open windows, “I’ve got the windows wide open to air it out.”

She shook her head. “Since when are you so delicate?”

“No, seriously, it smells. I think a skunk got under the porch floorboards – the stink is all over the house.”

“You should call someone in to take care of that… you might never get the smell out on your own.” She reached into her pocket for her cell phone, but he stopped her.

“I’ll take care of it. No need for you to worry. Look, I’ve got to get back to work, Paula. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

Stung, his sister shrugged. “It’s your house,” she said.

Eddie watched her get into her car and drive away. He then turned back to his shoveling, humming while he worked.

Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde
And the band played on
He married the girl with the strawberry curl
And the band played on…

* * * * *

Later that night, Paula sat on her front porch, waiting for the day’s heat to subside. That’s the problem with living in the south, she thought. It’s always so damned hot.

Sipping iced tea, her thoughts drifted lazily to her brother. No longer annoyed, she was thinking how nice it was that he was finally putting in the garden Rosie had always wanted. It gave Paula hope that the frequent fights between the two were over.

Rosie was more than just Paula’s sister-in-law; she was her best friend. The week before, over lunch, Rosie had dissolved in tears, worried that Eddie was involved with another woman.

Paula remembered her laughter when Rosie confided her fears. Her brother? She told Rosie that she doubted Eddie had the energy to walk from his easy chair to the refrigerator, let alone carry on an affair. Eddie’s biggest claim to fame was an ability to sit for hours in front of the TV, chugging back beer after beer.

Thinking about the conversation, Paula frowned. Like their dad, Eddie liked his beer; but unlike their father, he wasn’t a nice drunk. Where their dad had been full of life and song when loaded, Eddie became morose and short-tempered. He was happiest when left alone to watch his ballgame and knock back a few.

He hardly seemed the type to have an affair.

But Rosie had been adamant. “Something’s not right, Paula. I’ve gotten calls from his foreman at the mill. Eddie’s been calling in sick… Paula, where is he going during the day if he’s not at work?”

“Well, did you ask him about it?”

Gazing at her sister-in-law with troubled eyes, Rosie bit her lip and shook her head. “No…”

“For Pete’s sake, why not? He’s probably got an explanation.” And, hopefully, not one involving a barstool…

“No, you don’t understand! He’s different, Paula. Something’s not right,” Rosie repeated.

Remembering the conversation, Paula sighed and took another sip of the cold tea. Perhaps it was good that Rosie went to visit her sister. It would give her and Eddie a break, a chance to work things out. Like the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Maybe it was already working.

After all, Eddie was finally digging Rosie’s garden.

* * * **

Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde
And the band played on
He married the girl with the strawberry curl
And the band played on.

Paula could hear Eddie humming as she approached the front walk to her brother’s house and went around to the backyard.

“You sure hum loudly,” she teased. “I heard you as soon as I came up the walkway.”

“Was I humming?” he asked, surprised. “I didn’t realize…”

Looking around the yard, Paula grinned. “This looks great, Eddie! Rosie is going to be so pleased!”

“Do you think so?” he asked, tilting his head, giving her an odd look.

“Of course, you big goon! She’ll love it!”

It was beautiful. Several deep-red rose bushes were already in the ground, and there were several more sitting in buckets, ready to take their place next to the others. Near the bushes was a large mound of fresh soil and mulch. Paula inhaled deeply, liking the rich, clean smell of it.

“Trust me, when you get this finished, Rosie is going to love it,” she repeated.

“I hope so.”

The scent of fertile soil and pine needle mulch reminded Paula of something. “Hey, how is the house?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The smell,” she said. “Did you get rid of it?” Bending down to the rich soil, she scooped up a handful, letting the moist dirt fall loosely between her fingers.

“Don’t,” he said, frowning.

He grabbed her elbow, helping her stand. “You’re going to get filthy if you play around with that stuff.”

She was about to protest that a little dirt never hurt anybody when she noticed the look on his face.

“So… does the house still smell?” She looked toward the old place, noticing the closed windows.

“No, it’s fine now… airing it out the other day did the trick,” he replied, watching her.

Something in his expression confused Paula and for a moment she felt disoriented. “When did you say Rosie was coming home?”

“I didn’t,” he said, continuing to look at her closely.

“Well, don’t you know?”

“No, I don’t. I guess she’ll come home when Helen is feeling better.”

Paula hesitated before continuing. “I guess it gets lonely with her gone, huh?”

“Yeah, you might say that…but it’s a funny thing, sis… sometimes, it’s like she’s never left. I feel her presence everywhere.” He smiled, looking at the hole where the bushes would go.

Paula couldn’t explain why she felt a sudden chill or why she flinched when her brother reached out for her.

“Easy now,” he said. “What’s wrong? You look like you’re about to keel over. You okay? Want to come inside the house, have a cool drink? The smell really is gone now.”

“I can’t,” she said nervously, starting to back away. “I’m on my way into town to get some groceries. I just stopped by to say hello.”

“Suit yourself,” he said.

Paula watched him turn and pick up a bucket containing a rose bush. He stood there, as if considering just where to place it. Coming to a decision, he reached for the shovel and went to work.

Leaving him to it, she slowly walked away. Eddie was humming that song once again, but this time the tune sounded off kilter. Certainly not the way their father would have sung it.

In spite of the day’s heat, Paula shivered and picked up her pace, anxious to leave the yard.

* * * **

After that visit, Paula stayed away from her brother’s house for several days. There had been something alien in his eyes on her last visit, a darkness that had disturbed her, something she’d never seen before, and she began to wonder daily when Rosie was coming home.

A week later she had her answer when her cellphone began to chirp.

“Paula! I’m back!” her sister-in-law announced in a light, gay voice. “Eddie and I were wondering if you’d like to come by for dinner this evening.”

Taking a deep breath, Paula almost collapsed into the chair at her kitchen table. “Oh, Rosie, I’ve been so worried about you. Are you okay?”

“Of course, I’m okay, silly! What were you so worried about?”

“You left so suddenly…”

“I know. I’m sorry about that, but my sister was sick and having a time of it with her kids. I pitched in for a few days. Why didn’t you call me?”

Why, in deed? wondered Paula.  Maybe because I was worried there’d be no answer…

“Paula? Are you still there?”

Paula laughed softly. “Yes, I’m still here. Dinner, you said? That’s okay with Eddie?”

“Sure. And, Paula, wait until you see what Eddie did while I was gone! He put in a garden – a rose garden! It’s beautiful.”

Rosie’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Guess I was wrong about Eddie being involved with another woman. Since I’ve gotten home, he’s been acting the way he did when we were first married. Dancing me around the kitchen, singing that old song your dad used to sing.” She laughed softly. “Things are nice again, Paula. Please come to dinner, okay?”

* * * * *

And he married the girl with the strawberry curl
And the band played on…

“For the love of God, Eddie – will you stop with that old song? It gets tiresome after a while.”

Eddie looked up from the steaks he was grilling and grinned at Paula. “I wasn’t humming.”

“No,” she agreed. “This time you were whistling.”

He laughed. “Sorry, sis. Half the time, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. For the past two weeks, that tune has been stuck inside my head. Just can’t shake it loose.”

“Well, try, would you?”

“So, Paula, what do you think of all this?” asked her sister-in-law as she walked toward the rose garden and the new patio beside it. She approached Eddie, kissed his cheek, and then placed a pitcher of iced tea on the glass-topped surface of the wicker table. “Not only a rose garden, but this dear man built me a patio! Isn’t he the best?” Leaning forward, she gave him another kiss.

Paula watched her brother smile and return his attention to the steaks.

“It’s really nice, Eddie,” she admitted. “When you decide to do something, you do it right.”

“Indeed I do,” he muttered softly under his breath. He looked up for a moment and gazed at the roses.

“Are the steaks almost done?” asked Rosie.

“Yep, they’re ready to go.” He removed the steaks from the grill and they sat down to eat. The scent of roses mingled with the late afternoon air. The fragrance was strong and sweet, and they ate in comfortable silence. The sunlight cast fleeting beams of light on the roses’ deep red petals.

“This is nice,” said Rosie.

Paula agreed. For the first time in days, she felt herself relaxing.

“Paula, did you hear about Ruby Westcott?”

She glanced at her sister-in-law. “Who is Ruby Westcott?”

“Don’t you remember? She’s the girl who works the front desk at the mill.” Rosie laughed at the blank expression on Paula’s face. “You know who I mean… she stopped by the house one day when you were here for dinner. She brought some paperwork for Eddie.”

Paula tried to remember, but couldn’t.

“A tall redhead, gorgeous figure, long curly hair?”

“Right.” Now Paula remembered. That hair and body were hard to forget.

“Remember the bracelets she had on? She must have been wearing at least ten of those silver bangle things on her wrists. Sounded like Santa Claus with every movement she made.”

“Rosie, can you grab some ice for the tea?” her husband asked. “This has all melted.”

“In a minute,” she said, turning her attention back to Paula. “Seems Ruby’s missing! It was on the news. Her husband said she hasn’t been home in days. The neighbors told a TV reporter that he and Ruby were always arguing and throwing things about. The neighbor heard him accuse her of having an affair. You can bet something’s not right there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t behind her disappearance. Apparently, he’s been questioned and hasn’t an alibi. It she doesn’t turn up soon, I don’t think things will look too good for him.”

“Rosie, could we get some ice, please?” Eddie repeated.

“Ice? Oh, yes, right.” She got out of her chair and hurried inside the house.

Paula sat quietly, her appetite gone. Something in the rose garden caught her attention… something silvery, shining in the dirt…

She started to rise, but Eddie put his hand on hers, forcing her back into the chair.

“Don’t,” he said.

Paula looked at him. When had her brother become a stranger?

“She was pregnant,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want any goddam kids – and I didn’t want her. It was just a passing thing, Paula.”

Paula said nothing. She turned her gaze toward the blood red roses.

“You’re not going to say anything to Rosie, are you? Please don’t – I’ve learned my lesson. You don’t want to hurt her, do you? This would really hurt her, Paula; it would absolutely kill her.”

Kill her?

Paula felt a wild, terrible urge to laugh, but she didn’t. She knew that if she started, she wouldn’t be able to stop.

Instead, Paula rolled her hands into fists and continued to stare at the roses. Without being aware of it, she began to hum softly.

And he buried the girl
With the strawberry curl.

And the band played on…

© 2015 All Rights Reserved Kate Loveton, Odyssey of a Novice Writer

About Kate Loveton

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time... ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?
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33 Responses to ALPHABET SOUP STORIES: E is for Eddie

  1. noelleg44 says:

    PS Would you like a copy?

  2. noelleg44 says:

    Kate, where are you? I’m missing your stories!

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Noelle!

      I have taken a hiatus and been concentrating on reading. I found it increasingly hard to blog, read, write – and go to work each day! I hope to retire next year and pick up the writing again. It was wearing me out – not enough hours in the day.

      Hope you are well and that your books are doing well!

      • noelleg44 says:

        I figured you were taking a break, but I was afraid I wouldn’t hear from you again! So I will keep my eyes out for your return and thus am looking forward to your retirement, too! I just released my third book and am working on the fourth, along with a historical fiction attempt. Lots of writing in my future! Keep in touch: And good luck to the Ravens this season!

  3. Lucy says:

    I see you[re still into the macabre. Very good story. I’ve missed you. Lucy

  4. Michelle Rene Goodhew says:

    Amazing! I didn’t see that end coming. Great twist, you are a wonderful storyteller!

  5. Megan says:

    Oh my gosh! This was amazing! I didn’t see that ending coming. I loved the way you used the song. Very powerful.
    And while I’m here I’ll let you know that I tagged you in my “getting to know you” challenge. You are one blogger I would definitely want to get to know more. Here’s the link if you want to check it out
    I hope you have an awesome new year!

  6. Very skilfully laid out, tiny clues all along, that had me feeling pretty clever that I knew where this was going, yet the suspense making me need to find out for sure… and then throwing me for a huge loop at the end. Well done! Now, how do I get that song out of my head? 🙂

  7. Okay, my sweet, I’m about to rewatch “The Lion in Winter” for Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club. If you would kindly email me your conversation starter–no need to review the whole film. Just focus on an aspect of the film. Length: One or two paragraphs. And if you could share me your URL so I can link you. A photo would be a nice touch, but not necessary. If I could have this by October 10, I’d be obliged! 🙂

  8. Tidalwavelet says:

    I knew, I knew, I knew, he was hiding something!
    Very entertaining.

  9. Delicious! Loved every line, Kate!

  10. The suspense held me until the end. Wonderfully told!

  11. Adan Ramie says:

    The sense of something terribly wrong was so pervasive that you had me with ever chorus of the song. I loved it!

  12. macjam47 says:

    Great story. Wow! I didn’t expect that twist. Chilling.

  13. noelleg44 says:

    You took me down the rose-petaled path, Kate. I was sure it was Rosie who’d been murdered.
    Another winner!

  14. Love it, love it, love it! ❤ ❤ ❤

    You are the master when it comes to putting a compelling story together! I love the misdirection, whereby you lead the reader to believe that it was Rosie who had been 'done away with'. Paula was partially right in that Eddie had been up to something, but it isn't until right at the end that we realise just what he's done and to who.

    Bravo, Kate!

  15. jan says:

    I wasn’t expecting that twist! Bravo! Great read!

  16. Nice! When did her brother become a stranger? That’s perfect.

  17. gloria says:

    I certainly got misguided as well! A really good read….

  18. “E” is for excellent, which is what this story is. Nice job, Kate!

  19. A masterclass in misdirection, and a tale superbly told. Well done, Kate!

  20. Julia Lund says:

    Loved that I got it wrong … I was with Paula all the way. Very nicely done.

  21. Great story, with a great twist! I really enjoyed the read!

  22. Crafty one Kate. I’ll bet you took us all in

  23. WK Tucker says:

    Reblogged this on WK Tucker | Author and commented:
    A real zinger of a story from my good friend, Kate.
    After reading this, take a look around her blog; there’s more where this one came from.

  24. WK Tucker says:

    Love it, love it, love it!!! You got me, Kate; I didn’t see what was coming until a teeny bit before the end–though I thought I did. Marvelous, my friend.
    I gotta reblog this. 😀

  25. Deb says:

    Very good!! Loved the twist.

  26. macksmom55 says:

    This did not go at all in the direction I thought it was going. Very descriptive and gave me a chill!

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