Josiah made his way up the walk with his arms full of grocery bags. He stepped up onto the porch, shifting the bags to free his hand, when the front door of the house opened.
“There you are!” Mary beamed at him.
“Here I am,” Josiah grinned at the elderly lady as he waited for her to move aside so he could come in.
“Dinner’s all ready for you,” Mary slowly followed her young friend to the kitchen.
“Smells great.” Josiah cast an appreciative look at the table. It was set with Mary’s best china, and covered with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, pinto beans, and biscuits.
“It’s your favorite.” Mary’s broad smile lit up the room. “To celebrate!”
“What are we celebrating?” Josiah asked as he put away the cold groceries. “That it’s Thursday?”
“No, Silly.” Mary swatted him on the shoulder. “I’ve had a good week!”
Josiah put away the last few groceries, and sat down in his usual spot at the table, resting his tattered cap on the seat of the chair beside him. He watched as Mary folded her age-spotted hands and bowed her head.
“Father,” Mary’s voice trembled with excitement as she prayed, “for the food we’re about to eat, we give thee thanks. For life and health and dear friends, we are forever grateful. Amen.”
“Amen,” Josiah echoed, as he picked up his fork. “You outdid yourself, Miss Mary.”
“Thank you.” Mary held her own fork, poised over her mashed potatoes, but didn’t take a bite.
Josiah was accustomed to this. Mary was always so excited to see him, she had a hard time eating. She either talked so much she didn’t have a chance to eat, or she just watched him like she hadn’t seen a soul in days. Unfortunately, he knew that was often true, with the exception of the mailman, whom Mary talked about as if he was family.
“Well,” Josiah prompted, “what’s the celebration for?”
“I have new neighbors!” Mary exclaimed. Excitement lit up her faded blue eyes. Josiah always thought her eyes were the exact shade of well-worn denim.
“Is that right?” He couldn’t help but smile. His friend’s joy was contagious.
Mary nodded, and finally managed to take a bite of her dinner.
“Who are they?” Josiah asked.
“I don’t know yet. A young woman and two little girls.”
“Not that I saw,” Mary answered. “I watched them through the window all afternoon.” She giggled self-consciously. “I hope they didn’t see me peeking at them through the curtains. They’ll think I’m a peeping Tom!”
Mary continued, “It’s the most interesting thing to happen since Tiny Luttrel threw her old, drunk husband out of the house last month.”
“Tell me what happened again,” Josiah prompted. He knew exactly what happened, but he got a kick out of listening to the old lady gossip.
“The whole neighborhood saw it . . . or at least heard it!” Mary’s eyes were wide with the telling. “She pushed him out the front door and stood there screaming at him.”
“What’d she say?”
“She said, ‘Don’t you think you can come in here smelling like some cheap w-h-o-r-e!” Mary paused and explained, “I spelled it, but she just outright screamed it out in front of God and everybody.” When Josiah nodded, she continued, “She said, ‘Don’t you think you can play me for a fool!’ Then she slammed the door in his face and went back inside.”
“Then what happened?”
“Larry just stood there on the stoop looking like he didn’t know what to do. After a minute, Tiny yanked up the upstairs window and started throwing his clothes out. He just stood there! Shirts and pants and under-drawers raining down on the old, bald-headed fool. When she ran out of clothes, she yelled, ‘And don’t come back!’”
“And then they got a divorce?” Josiah asked with a grin.
“Of course not,” Mary chuckled. “Tiny’s been breaking up with Larry every couple a’ months since the day they got married. It was a shotgun wedding, you know. The two of them never had a chance. Tiny loves fighting as much as Larry loves booze.”
“And you over here loving every minute of it!” Mary blushed, but couldn’t suppress the girlish smile Josiah found so amusing. He chuckled. To him, the funniest part of the story was that Mary’s neighbors were seventy-five years old, if they were a day.
“Eat your dinner,” Mary said, changing the subject.
“How’s your Mama and Daddy?” she asked.
“They’re good,” Josiah answered. “Daddy had to go to the doctor today. Blood pressure, I guess.”
“Uh, oh,” Mary frowned, “I hope he’s okay.”
“I’m sure he is.” Josiah smiled as he buttered his biscuit. “Mama thinks you’re my girlfriend.”
“What in the world?” Mary looked shocked and a bit pleased.
“She doesn’t know I spend all my Thursdays with you,” Josiah explained. “She thinks I’ve got a girlfriend.”
“Well, for goodness sakes,” Mary shook her head, “why don’t you just tell her you’re keeping an old lady company?”
“Because Mama would drive me crazy asking questions,” Josiah replied. “Besides,” one side of his mouth pulled up in a lazy grin, “it ain’t none of their business who I spend time with.”
“You’re just afraid you won’t get your treasures in Heaven for spending time with this old lady if you go bragging about your good deeds,” Mary teased.
Josiah laughed, “You’re not my good deed. You’re my source for the best gossip in town.”
Mary made a face at him.
“Besides, you and me both know Saint Peter ain’t gonna let the likes of me anywhere near the Pearly Gates.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Mary said.
“If they let me in, they’ll probably have a revolt,” Josiah joked. “Half the folks I’ve known would march right out of Heaven if they let me in.”
“They’d have to make it there themselves first,” Mary said with a wicked grin.
“Listen to you!” Josiah pointed a chicken leg at her. “They’re not going to let you in either!”
She giggled like a little girl, and Josiah couldn’t help but laugh along. His Thursdays with Mary were his favorite part of the week.
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.