Original Short Story: "Robby by the River"
Riverbank in Springtime
Marietta Marries Cloyd
Marietta Grace Spauling’s mother was the world to her. She told her mother everything she did, thought, and felt. Her mother was sometimes helpful, sometimes not so much.
Marietta, after a childhood of questioning herself and everything she did because her father and sister always did so, married a man, Cloyd Parkins, from the neighborhood who turned out be a wife-beater and bully. Sister Lolly had drooled over the handsomeness of the Cloyd and had encouraged Marietta to marry him. So Marietta married him three days after she graduated from college with her teaching major in German and Spanish.
But about a month after the marriage, Marietta started showing up at her parent’s home with bruises on her arms and face. To her sister and father, Marietta complained that she had become so clumsy, falling down the steps to the apartment, and bumping in to doors.
To her mother, Marietta confided that Cloyd was the reason for the bruises. Her mother’s advice was always “grin and bear it, but don’t let him kill you.”
Teaching and Nazism
After fall arrived, Marietta started a new position as a teacher at the high school in a small town, about 30 miles south of the town where she lived. On the one hand, Marietta was happy to be married. She loved Cloyd despite his unusual outbursts of anger, and she felt buoyed up by the fact that she was "Mrs. Parkins” and not “Miss Spauling.”
But as time wore on, Marietta became less enthralled with being Mrs. Parkins, and more discontent with bruises both physical and mental. Cloyd would accuse Marietta of being a member of a gang that was robbing local businesses and leaving Swastika signs on windows. Marietta taught the German language, and Cloyd thought all Germans were Nazis.
Robby by the River
As part of Marietta’s duties as teacher, she had to take tickets at the football games for the school. She thought it was a waste of a teacher’s time, but she wanted to comply with all expectations for employment at the school.
One night after taking those tickets, Marietta was walking to her car, when a student from her German 1 class approached her. It was Ricky Evans; he told her that his brother, Robby was in trouble and needed someone to help him.
Marietta followed Ricky to river where Robby was sitting with a revolver in his hand. On seeing Ricky and Mrs. Parkins, Robby screamed, “Leave me alone. Go away!” Marietta was terrified; she approached Robby carefully and touched his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“What do you care?” snapped Robby.
“I do care! I care so much!" said Marietta. “I care for Ricky. He loves you. Don’t you know what would happen to him if you do this?”
“What do you mean?” Robby asked.
“It would destroy his life! Do you want to do that to your brother?” replied Marietta.
“What about my life? I have no life. Cassie hate me, I hate me, everybody hates me,” said Robby.
“Nobody hates you, Robby!” said Marietta. From this point on she was winging it, she would say anything, do anything to keep this young boy from putting a bullet in his brain.
Marietta sat down beside Robby and began to spill out all the bad things that had happened to her in her life. As she did it, she drew closer and closer to Robby as she spoke. She held his hand, she moved the gun away from him. She motioned for Ricky to take the gun and leave.
She spoke softly and lovingly to Robby, who sobbed that his girlfriend had dumped him, said he was not yet the man she could love, and doubted that he ever would be. Robby said this rejection had shown him that he should die, he could not live knowing that the most perfect girl in town had dumped him.
After listening patiently to these plaintiff sobs, Marietta felt the need to show this young boy that he was lovable and desirable and that he had to go on living. Caught up in the rush of caring that quickly turned to passion, Marietta and Robby began to engage in sexual passion with a vengeance. He, perhaps, to show Cassie that he was desirable, and the same for Marietta whom Cloyd had long abandoned for many others.
Replaced Then Rehired
Marietta finished the school year with two major events: she found out she was pregnant and that her contract with the school system would not be renewed. The son of the principal of the high school had just graduated and so the school board decided to give Marietta's job to the son.
Four years later, Marietta, with her daughter in tow, finds herself teaching again at that same school from which she had been dismissed.
In the process of divorcing Cloyd and with her daughter safely attending day care, Marietta would sometimes leisurely shop at the local supermarket before making the 30 mile trip home.
One such day, Marietta needed some bread and eggs and wanted to check the prices of broccoli and onions that had seemed to be skyrocketing at the Kroger in her town. Pushing her cart through the narrow aisles of the store, she nearly collided with a stock boy. Offering her apologies, and moving on, she hears, “Mrs. Parkins? Is that you?”
Turning around, she sees a handsome young lad, and not recognizing him at
first she stares and responds, “ Yes, I’m Marietta Parkins. I don’t think I know you.”
“I'm Rob Evans. I was never your student but my brother Ricky was. Several years ago. Do you remember him?”
“Oh, yes! I do remember. And I remember you.” Suddenly the whole river scene came rushing back to her as she looked at this young man’s face closely. “How are you?”
“I'm doing ok,” he moved closer to Marietta, and they began to speak in hushed tones. “I've thought about that night at the river every day since it happened. Why did you quit teaching here? Was it because of me?”
“No. I had planned to stay here but they decided to let me go. Said I didn’t keep proper discipline in my classes. Other teachers told me that it was because they wanted to give my position to Principal Jackson's son and that they in general feared people who lived in a city bigger then this. There was nothing I could do. They didn't have laws against nepotism back then. Anyway, I’m back. I got my MA and I told them I felt more mature now and also I would be moving here after my divorce?”
“Wow, you’re getting divorce?” replied Robby.
“Yes, I’ve given this marriage way more time than it deserves,” said Marietta. “MaryAnn and I will be moving to town next month.”
“MaryAnn?” asked Robby.
“Yes, my daughter—probably the only good thing to come out my marriage,” said Marietta.
“Well, I’d like to meet her, if you don’t mind,” said Robby.
“That would be great. As soon as we’re settled, maybe we can arrange it,” said Marietta.
Saying good-bye to Robby, Marietta purchased her bread, eggs, compared the broccoli and onion prices and headed home.
On the way home, Marietta kept picturing Robby Evans’ face. Is that the same young man with whom she engaged in heated love-making all those years ago? Then it occurred to her—the thought that she had pushed out of her mind so many times: his eyes and MaryAnn’s eye are identical. Oh, they are blue, and Cloyd’s eye are blue, but they weren’t the same blue as Cloyd’s; they are the same blue as Robby’s. Cloyd’s are a turquoise, smooth blue. Robby’s and MaryAnn's both had a squiggly design in them and were a dark-sky blue.
Could MaryAnn be the daughter of Robby and not Cloyd? Marietta always knew that this was a possibility. After her birth, Cloyd seemed indifferent to MaryAnn telling Marietta, “You'll have to raise her. I don’t know shit about raising girls!”
These silly thoughts had become part of Marietta’s life. She would dismiss them and venture on. But now she was actually divorcing Cloyd, who had lost his job, and moved in with his parents. Marietta knew she had to divorce the whole family and somehow get MaryAnn aways from them. Cloyd had remarked to his gaggle of brothers that he would like to poke that little MaryAnn with his man-thing. Marietta had overheard that conversation and recoiled in disgust as the brothers responded, “Yeah, man, I can see that!”
So Marietta took MaryAnn and left the marriage. Cloyd didn’t seem even to notice. Marietta got herself an apartment and started living in the real world.
VW Squareback, circa 1971
This Robby Evans Thing
Marietta was shopping again after school at the grocery store where Robby worked. She sees him stocking shelves, decides to ignore him and continue shopping. After she checks out, placing her groceries in her car, she hears behind her a familiar voice, “Hello, Mrs. Parkins!”
“Oh, hello, Robby!” says Marietta.
“How's it going?” responds Robby, collecting grocery carts.
“Not bad, and you?” says Marietta.
“I love your VW square back. I have a VW too, but it’s just a Beetle,” says Robby.
“No! I had a Beetle once. For about one day! I couldn’t learn to shift gears. This monster is an automatic. I used to want to drive a Beetle so bad but couldn’t drive a stick,” says Marietta.
“Oh, wow! I love my stick. It’s not that hard. Do you still want to learn to drive a stick?” asks Robby.
“Yes, I’d love to. I’d forgotten about it, but yes, I’d really love to learn to drive a manual transmission. I’ve always felt so silly not being able to drive a stick,” says Marietta.
“I’d be happy to teach you, with my Beetle, it’s a four speed, and it’s got a great clutch—some clutches are tricky, but this one is so smooth,” says Robby.
VW Beetle, circa 1966
Learning to Drive a Stick
Marietta was enthralled with the notion of learning to drive a manual transmission automobile. Her sister had been able to drive one because she had learned on her boyfriend's car, and her father had shamed Marietta relentlessly for not being able to acquire that skill. She remembered how her father always said, “other girls can shift gears, why can’t you?” She didn’t know why, she just couldn’t and felt like a dummy because of it.
Now here was this handsome, young knight in shining armor coming to her rescue, offering to teach her to drive a stick.
The lessons on stick driving began the next weekend. On Robby’s day off, Robby and Marietta met in the parking lot of the grocery store. There was traffic but not so much as on the road and so they could practice. Robby taught Marietta how to take off in first gear. She was amazed that it was not so difficult as she had thought. Her father had told her to push in on the gas and let off the clutch, but her effort had alway resulted in the car dying.
Robby showed her that there is a particular point at which the clutch pedal and the gas pedal meet; it’s called the friction point, and it is different for each vehicle. Once Marietta could distinguish the “friction point,” she was off and running.
But learning anything takes time, and Marietta asked Robby if he could continue the lessons to make sure she had learned correctly—after all, she had no stick shift to practice on, and he did. She invited Robby to her apartment, and they would seek out empty parking lots for Marietta to practice.
“Robby, I don’t know how I’ll ever thank you for teaching me to drive a stick,” said Marietta about two months after the lessons commenced. “I think I can do it!” Marietta said after her latest lesson.
“Well, ma’am, I'm just glad I could give you something in return for what you gave me—my life,” Robby answered.
“Oh, Robby! Do you think often of that night?” asked Marietta, and not waiting for an answer, continued, “I do and I don’t know what I feel about it. On the one hand, I’m so glad if I helped, yet I lost my job at your school. And now finding you again, I’m not sure still how I feel. Grateful, but somehow bedazzled.”
“I know! I know! It’s all so Star-Wars-like. I was supposed to marry Cassie Wilcox, according to my folks and then when she dumped me like a piece of trash. I thought my life was over. And then that night happened and I couldn’t believe a grand lady, a teacher like you could have sex with me—a fucking loser—a goddam nobody. And since then I’ve felt like I was supposed to keep on living, but until now, being with you again, I’ve had no idea why.”
A Question of Marriage
Robby and Marietta sat for a few moments taking in what they had just said. Then suddenly, Robby blurted out, “Will you marry me?”
Brought back from her reverie that had taken her somewhere far away, Marietta says, “What did you say?”
“I said, ‘Will you marry me?’" Robby repeated his question.
And Marietta responds, “Oh, my, Robby, with every fiber of my being I want to say yes, yes! But please let me have a little time to think about this. We have grown so close during these driving lessons, and I feel that I know you better than I’ve ever known anyone, but to be fair to us both, I need a little time, before I answer that question.” She took Robby’s face in her hands, looked into his eyes, and kissed him with a passion she didn’t know she had, then asked, “Just a little time, ok?”
Robby felt relief instead of disappointment because he knew Marietta was taking the question seriously. He assured her, “Of course, take all the time you need. But let me tell you, I love you with all my heart and with all my life. You gave me my life and whatever your answer is, I’ll always love you and be grateful to you.” They kissed again and the angels sang sealing their bond.
But He's so Young!
Marietta’s reluctance to say yes to Robby meant one thing: she had get her mother’s thoughts on the subject. Marietta’s mother had met Robby a couple times. While they were practicing her driving lessons, Marietta had driven with Robby in his car to visit Marietta’s mother. They even took the mother to the mall shopping.
Marietta knew that her father and sister would never approve of her relationship with a man nearly a decade her junior, so she didn’t even consider getting their input. However, her mother was very different. Even though her mother had recently succumbed to some of the conventional views of the father and sister, she still had moments of clarity. After all, the mother had experienced an event in her life that most people would consider loony: her father, after his death, had appeared to her and assured her that life does not end with death.
Every time her mother recounted that event, Marietta's father and sister would roll their eyes and screech out some profane laced rejoinder, but Marietta and her mother would just smile at each and other, content that there is much more to life than what two doubting Thomases can imagine.
So Marietta approached her mother with a bit of wariness: “Mommy, I have something to tell you.”
“What is it?” replied her mother.
“You remember Robby, who has been teaching me to drive a manual transition?” Marietta asked.
“Oh, yeah. But why didn’t you get your daddy to teach you that? Or Lolly, she knows how to drive that kind of car. I never understood that but he seemed like a nice young man. Why are you asking me this?” said her mother.
“Well, Robby has asked me to marry him,” Marietta blurted out.
“What? But he’s so young! Why would you want to marry a man that young? When I looked at his face, I felt like he could be my son!”
“So? I’m your daughter! Why would I not marry someone who could be your son's age? That just means he is the right age group to satisfy your expectations! Yet, you recoil in disbelief?” said Marietta.
“Huh? Why are you thinking about getting married again? Right now, young lady, you are a divorcee. That’s pretty disgraceful in itself. You know your aunt and uncle are disinheriting you because of that. You won’t see penny from their fortune after they die. It will all go to your sister. Did you know that? And now you keep on bringing shame on yourself and this family. I don’t understand you, Marietta Grace. I don’t understand you at all. If you keep on with your wicked ways, it’s going to kill me dead . . . dead, don’t you hear me?” Marietta’s mother exclaimed, and Marietta finally understood where she stood in her family. Basically, she was shunned, a nonentity, and now she knew what she had to do.
A Life-Saving Secret
Several years after their marriage, Robby and Marietta suffered MaryAnn's being stricken with an illness that required a blood transfusion. The doctors first tested Marietta, then Cloyd, his brothers, and Cloyd’s parents. None were a match. Then Marietta suggested they test Robby’s and it was a match.
MaryAnn, who had always suspected, urged on by Marietta’s family, that her mother had abandoned her father and his family simply to take up with younger man, finally understood that Robby was both her adoptive father and her biological father—in fact her real father on all counts.
Although MaryAnn continued to bask in the glories of adolescent uncertainties and teenage self-pity, her life was spared because her mother had the temerity to confess to the adulterous tryst that resulted in MaryAnn’s birth.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes