The Short and Tragic Story of Margaret and Ralph


Margaret hardly noticed anymore, when Ralph would stop listening.  She just droned on and on spinning the same tales from her ancient and mostly fabricated past.  He’d heard them all before, after all.  They were generally remembrances of when she had been young; when she had been pretty.  Most of the elements of the way Margaret Bankston, now fifty-three years old, dressed were in some way desperately seeking to hold onto, or more appropriately find that which was long lost to her in the way of her physical appearance.  The bras she bought at Wal-Mart were so padded and perky they could stand on their own and although they were getting harder and harder to find, she still bought extra-hold control top panty-hose hoping beyond all hope to smooth the thick cottage cheese thighs and derriere into something that resembled the firm and sinewy curves of her girlhood.  None of it really mattered anyway.  Ralph hadn’t noticed her thighs in years and truth be told would be hard pressed to be able to tell you one thing she had said all night.

 Margaret and Ralph were headed to see her sister in Las Vegas for Christmas.  It would probably be the last time they ever spent Christmas with her.  Two years earlier Betty Bankston, Margaret’s older sister had had a radical mastectomy.  This time the cancer had almost consumed the other breast before the doctors had even detected it.  It was too late and there was nothing really that could be done.  She had been very faithful in her self examinations and in going to the Las Vegas Women’s Clinic for every scheduled check-up.  Therefore, this last diagnosis had felt more like a breach of contract or a betrayal of trust than anything else and the enormity of all had basically left her virtually unwilling to say or do anything.  She was content now to sit in her trailer, smoke Winston 100’s and wait for the cancer to take her.  Margaret had encouraged her to fight it.  “You’ve already beat in once, Sugar.  You can do it again!  You know I’ve always said I’d go before you.”  Betty had no interest in even discussing the prospect of facing chemo, radiation or surgery again and simply said, “Sis, I’m just too tired.”  The situation with Betty had been the only thing to draw Ralph out of his Walter Mitty existence in as long as Margaret could remember.  He never said much of anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary but he had apparently given some thought to his sister-in-law’s dilemma and apparently agreed with her that since she had done exactly as she was told by the doctors, she should be guaranteed to live.  All he said was, “If I was Betty I’d own that clinic.”  The sentiment was there but the point was moot.  Las Vegas Women’s Clinic, like most free clinics was thousands of dollars in debt.

As Ralph drove and Margaret yammered on, the cold desert night slid by outside the windows of their 93 Silverado.  Other than food, that truck was the last purchase that Ralph had ever made and probably would ever make.  As she talked, Margaret’s eyes would, every couple of seconds glance down for no reason at her knitting bag that she held always on her lap when they drove.  This was odd since trying to knit while the vehicle was moving always made her car sick so she never did.  Still, the bag, made from a scratchy carpet fabric with a harvest colored pattern sat obediently in on her lap.  Perhaps it was there for warmth, there was never any warmth in Margaret’s lap anymore.  She never questioned it.  Ralph never noticed.  She just offered up the same details to the same story that she had told a thousand times as Ralph considered each of the billboards as they approached Sin City wishing like hell that the scantily glad go-go dancer plastered ten feet high on the advertisement was across the front seat from him instead of his oh-so-verbose partner of thirty years.  On and on and on she went.  His marriage wouldn’t be so painful to him if she would just ever shut up.  He couldn’t remember how he’d ended up in this marriage and for that matter didn’t even know how exactly he got sucked into this trip.  Betty had all but begged them not to come.  “I’m just not much feeling up to the whole holiday things this year.”  Margaret, as usual ignored the hint.  She ignored all hints.  “Oh you will, Bette…as soon as we’re there.  We’ll get you in the spirit.  You know how Ralph loves the holidays…or he used to when the kids were around.” 

Margaret’s eyes darted again to the knitting back and then back to the road.  It was as if he couldn’t drive without her helping to watch the road.  As she clucked, Ralph counted the white painted “torpedoes” that fired down the middle of the highway always just missing the front bumper until another billboard beauty drew his attention away and he’d have to start the count back at “one.”  “Do my stories bore you?”  The questioned almost sounded like a shout and took Ralph unawares.  The usual routine was…she tells the same stories over and over with painfully descriptive details and he ignores her.  This unexpected and provocative question was totally not part of the norm.  Theirs was an unspoken agreement that had seemed to work for years now and she was clearly trying to mess that up.  “Huh?  Oh.  No.  ‘S’alright.”  She paused for a second or two before going back to the 1972 cheerleader tryouts when she’d fallen short of making the line-up.  Just then Ralph made a critical mistake.  Ralph made a really awful mistake.  Ralph made the last mistake of his life.  Just when Margaret was describing how she and the other cheerleading squad hopefuls would crumple the individual strips of plastic that made up the pom-poms by taking a small handful and rubbing them back at forth between their palms and how this gave the pom-pom its desired fullness, Ralph allowed an small and subtle escape of air that essentially was like unto an oral version of rolled eyes as he reached up with his right hand and ever so slightly increased the volume on the radio.  With a single motion Margaret reached into the knitting bag, withdrew one of the knitting needles from the ball of pumpkin orange yarn and inserted it into Ralph’s jugular. 

Had the truck hit anything other than the world’s largest thermometer, the news would probably have remained local.  The peculiar placement of the knitting needle added just the extra component of morbidity that rated tabloid attention.  “Hell of a thing.”  Said one paramedic to another as he pulled the sheet over Ralph’s face, “The wife musta been knitting at the time.” 

A hundred and fifty miles away, Betty Bankston was about to receive a shock as she slowly eased into her recliner, reached first for a Winston and then for the remote and turned on the evening news.  She would work hard not to be relieved they weren’t coming.

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