Henry’s Last Will and TestamentAug 15th, 2007 | By mhenderson | Category: Student 2007
By Mandi Henderson
The old man was bent and gnarled from years of hard work. His hands were callused, long and lean. In his youth his hands once had so many uses. Now he could hardly button his shirt. Today seemed to be worse than other days, though. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t seem to steady them. As he tied his shoes, the shaking was so relentless he found himself as frustrated as a small child just learning how to tie his shoes.
The frustration soon flooded his body with anger. He could feel his neck and head grow warm. He found himself feeling a strange sensation, one he hadn’t felt since the death of his youngest daughter, Shelly. His throat tightened up into intense pain and red-hot tears boiled in his eyes. He brought his hand up to his face and felt the wet tears streaming down. “Oh god,” he thought, “It’s finally happened. I’m going crazy just like the old man did.”
It was never Henry’s way to cry. It was never the way of any man, as far as Henry was concerned. There was only one answer as to why a man who had lived through three world wars, fought in “the big one,” and taken a bullet through his thigh without shedding a single tear could be crying now. He had to be crazy. Through his blurred vision he reached for the phone. Dialing the number came easier for him today than it had ever been. He didn’t even have to look for the yellow scrap of paper the number was written on. Today the number came to mind, traveled through his body and out to his finger tip.
The phone rang once, twice, then half a third ring, when he heard her voice on the other line. “…Hello?” said Mary, half laughing. He could hear voices of other aging women in the background. He could just imagine her sitting there with her Marlboro Light 100 resting daintily between her soft, white fingers. Her nails would be painted dollar store red. Her hair would be set in large curls. He imagined it fell in waves over her shoulders, rolling down her back. Her trademark dirty blonde hair still held its color. He thought, since she had company, she probably had on large dream-catcher earrings and was wearing blue eye shadow and red lipstick. Thinking of her brought a slight smile to his face and calmed him.
“Hello!” Mary called into the phone. The way she said it jolted him, and all of the fondness he was just feeling turned into a kind of defensive, vulnerable and foolish feeling. “Mary, it’s me…Henry,” he replied.
“Henry Croxley? What do you want? You mean you’re not dead yet, you old sonofab***h?” Mary always had a way with her mouth that both repulsed Henry and enticed him. It’s what had attracted him to her in the first place. That and a combination of her blonde waves and her twenty years younger pneumatic figure had won him over, despite the fact that he had a wife and five children.
Something about her brutally honest yet borderline trashy personality was a welcome relief to his monotonous life. His wife, a big-hearted, big-boned Blackfeet woman, had become unbearably predictable and, to Henry, somewhat unattractive. But she was a good mother to his children, who were a source of tremendous pride for Henry. A fact that always made him feel guilty for leaving her, mostly when he was drunk.
“Now listen here, Mary, or should I say Jezebel? I just called to let you know that, well, I know I’m going nuts… and I’m going to kill myself. But I don’t know why I called an old drunk like you anyways.” Click. Before Henry even comprehended what he’d just done, he took a deep breath that cleared his mind for a brief second. Then he burst into laughter. He laughed so hard his stomach was strained and there were tears in his eyes.
Then he thought more seriously of the conversation. “I wonder what the hell she thought of that?” Henry said to himself. He laughed a little again and sighed. He thought then he really was crazy. Why did he call Mary? “Well, I guess I better get it over with then, since I said I was gonna do the f**kin thing.” Henry cursed himself. He always did what he said he was going to do. Or at least he always said he always did what he said he was going to do.
Suicide, Henry thought, is a hell of a way to go, seeing as how he had already lived to be 81 years old. He thought of all he’d been through. How much he loved his four older brothers, his kind soft-bodied mother, and his father who was a bootlegger. He thought about how he and his brothers had always had new shoes. He saw his youth: big smiles, flushed cheeks, and the frosty breath blown from his nostrils when he and his brother Eli were wrestling outside of the barn. He could feel the cold, hard ground beneath his feet and smell the dirt still.
He thought of his children: Of Henry Jr. who was a doctor and lived in Missoula, of Marietta who was a nurse at the IHS, his youngest son Eli who was a 3-time state champion basketball player in high school. He thought of how Eli had become, to some, a disappointment, but Henry held a soft spot in his heart for his son, and often favored him. He thought about leaving Eli all of his land. It’d be a nice start, seeing as how Eli would be getting out of pre-release in the spring. Maybe Eli could get a home built out past Star School. Then Henry thought of how he didn’t have a will and how he was still married to that old drunk Mary.
“I better make up some kinda will before I die,” Henry told himself. He retrieved a yellow notepad and a pen from the cupboard beside his refrigerator and returned to his kitchen table.
To my youngest son, Eli, I leave … as Henry began to write, he was interrupted by the telephone. He was annoyed but answered anyway. It wasn’t often his phone rang these days. “Hello?”
“What the f**k did you call me for then, you old drug addict!” It was Mary. “G*******t, Henry, you’re not going crazy, you’ve always been crazy, you old fool! You’re an 81-year-old man, but you don’t look a day over…71, and if you quit snorting those pain pills, you’ll live to be a hundred. Anyways, that’s not the point… point is you got no reason to be trying to kill yourself; I think you’re just depressed.
You know I just graduated from the community college with a degree in psychology. So take it from me. I’m still your wife. Why don’t you just call up one of your kids or Bernadette. You know old Buck died last winter, and I know you never did quit your first wife, Henry. And I heard about you sneakin’ in her window two years after you two was divorced, and you and me were shacked up. So don’t you be callin’ here tryna make me feel bad for you, old man.”
Henry was shocked. For once he just wanted to listen to her. The line was quiet. “You still there? Or you dead already?” Mary inquired after a substantial pause.
“I’m here,” replied Henry. “You know I always knew you knew about me and Bernadette. I never really tried to hide it from you.”
“You old bastard. You’ll never change.”
“Mary, truth is I don’t know why I called you. I guess it’s cause you’re my wife. And I guess I just don’t think anyone’s home on Saturday but you. My kids are all busy, you know, and my grandkids are all in sports. ‘Cept for Sadie, who’s in debate or something. That’s beside the point anyway. I was just making out a will.”
“You know damn well you can’t be serious, Henry,” replied Mary, a little bit worried now. “Please don’t be talking like this…maybe you are going crazy. You know what? I’m just gonna call your girl Kim. She’s a teacher, she’s got Saturdays off, doesn’t she?” The softness in her voice made him want to love Mary again, but he didn’t want her to call his daughter and worry her.
He suddenly had another vision of Mary and all of that blonde hair, which provoked a new thought. Maybe he should have sex with his wife again before he died. He wondered if he still had it. He wondered if Mary was too mad at him now, or worse, thought he was too old. But Henry was always good at sweet talking women. He had sweet-talked Mary into the bed of his pickup truck that he used as the Fish and Game Warden the first week he met her.
He looked down at his hand. He thought about how weathered it was, all of the shots fired with it, all of the women it had loved, the nails he had pounded, and the diapers he’d changed. Now Henry struggled to sign his name. His once accurate, gentle and strong fingers had become unsteady, wrinkled and useless. But he could probably still handle that old drunk Mary.
So he decided he’d coax her over to his new handicap accessible home out at Flat Iron.
Mandi Henderson graduated from the Blackfeet Community College (BCC) in Browning, MT in 2007 with a two-year degree in general studies. She plans to continue her education at the University of Montana, Missoula. She is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet tribe and has lived on the Blackfeet Reservation her entire life.
Henderson indicates BCC has helped prepare her academically and has allowed her to realize a unique world view. She has also discovered an interest in the written word, specifically fiction. Henderson’s poem, “Dreams Wrapped in a Pendleton Blanket” was published in the Tribal College Journal, Vol. 17, N.1.