THE HONEYMOON by Cheryl McGuire
Two Moose Camp, Alaska,1990.
No sooner had Gomer’s first wife died than he attended another funeral. After stepping to the casket to observe the manicured body of the deceased, Gomer sat down in the front row of the chapel to wait for the service to begin. Beatrice, the old man’s daughter, stepped in front of him and bent forward to view her father’s corpse. Gomer sat forward and took notice. He liked what he saw.
People milled about the reception hall, eating and chatting. Gomer piled a plate with food, hunted the old man’s daughter, and bee lined it to her side. He offered the plate of cheese, salami, and potato salad. She accepted.
Not a man to suffer much inconvenience, Gomer had found himself lost and lonely in his king-sized bed since his wife’s death. He had needs but was not inclined toward a hussy. Two months was long enough to mourn any woman, so, anxious to embark on a second marriage, he introduced himself to Beatrice. A man on fire, Gomer courted Beatrice with an intense and meticulous focus. To Gomer, Beatrice looked as if she could accommodate most anything—she liked to cook and hunt and seemed willing to do everything but chew leather. What a wonderful bride she would make.
Throughout Gomer’s racing courtship, friends and family smiled and cheered him on, failing to mention the trickier details of Gomer’s bride-to-be. They were happy as bugs at a bake sale (as Bagger Vance liked to say) to unload her. And Gomer seemed just the man to take her on.
“I’m partial to tomboys,” he told a friend, and planned a moose hunting trip for their honeymoon. After the wedding reception ended, the newlyweds heaved sleeping bags, food supplies, guns, and a tent onto their backs and crossed Funny River Road by foot towards their campsite. Cowboy Roy, heading out and wrangling two horses laden with moose kill, passed them on the trail as they headed in. Roy left a canvas tarp strung between two trees marking the spot for the bride and groom.
Gomer and Beatrice unloaded their cargo beneath the tarp and by the light of a single lantern pitched a pup tent on hard scrabble earth. It had been a long day. With little ado, they hit the hay, making quick work of lovemaking, even if it did hold a tinge more romantic flavor than normal. Soon, both were snoring.
A wild sound woke Beatrice, who grabbed her rifle. She peered into the darkness of the pup tent and strained to identify the savage wail. Gomer’s burly snore filled the tent and obscured the pandemonium. Beatrice chopped Gomer in the ribs with the butt of her gun. “Sssshhh,” she said. “There’s something out there.” Gomer told her not to worry and rolled over, but Beatrice remained restless and slept with one eye cocked toward the door flap, the rifle across her chest. Gomer slumbered securely in the folds of his wife’s robust body, content to pass all responsibility of safety on to her.
When morning arrived, everyone safe and sound and the food stores intact, Beatrice leapt from the tent invigorated. Exhilarated by the fresh air and the crisp morning dew, the newly married Beatrice pounded her chest and yodeled. She was a sturdy outdoor girl of Viking and Russian stock, a hint of Mongolian blood mixed in. Inside the tent, still wrapped in his sleeping bag, Gomer (a petite man as men go) stretched the full length of his body and smiled a self-congratulatory grin. Always the strategist aimed at his own pleasure, Gomer recognized the great windfall in his new bride. His life had taken on a distinct sense of ease.
Indeed, the first year of marriage was all that Gomer had wished. His hefty bride was a ball of productivity. She did the cooking, the washing up, the housekeeping. She wash-boarded and beat the laundry and hung it on lines to dry. She hunted and skinned supper and set out a garden. She put up canned fruits and vegetables. She did the financial books and hauled in firewood to keep the cabin fires burning. Gomer’s life was good.
Then, after the year had passed, strange new signs appeared, and things soured. A family member mentioned to Gomer in passing that on occasions in the past his wife had had violent meltdowns and had to be institutionalized. Gomer frowned.
Then one morning, as Gomer sat in the sunlight of a bay window, sipping black coffee and reading the news at breakfast, Beatrice charged through her bedroom door with an inhuman howl, a pair of sewing shears raised above her head. She slashed at Gomer with a fierce aim and a rabid look in her eye, but he escaped unscathed. Gomer leaped from his breakfast, threw his china cup into the air. Black coffee rained down upon his starched white shirt. The squad car arrived with two huge men from the local mental hospital. It took some doing, but they laced Gomer’s bride into a straightjacket and chucked her into the backseat of the police car. Her past mental history required extreme measures this time, so they flew her north to a larger, more sophisticated sanatorium—half hoosegow, half hospital.
For weeks, Gomer flopped around loose in his king-sized bed. He was miserable. Stubble appeared on his face. Dishes piled up. The fires dimmed. What was he to do? He needed his bride by his side but wasn’t quite sure who his bride really was. He stared out the window looking for answers in the frozen tundra. Time passed but answers failed to surface.
The day arrived. The hour had come to fetch his bride home. Gomer shaved, cleaned house, and loaded his car. All he knew—all he’d been able to determine for the past many months—was that he needed Beatrice in his bed. He needed her in the house. He knew his life, perhaps his very survival, banked on his wife’s well-built shoulders.
Gomer turned the ignition to warm his car. He closed and locked his cabin door. The day was icy and gray. Mixed with the frost was a chilly trace of hope. He climbed into his bruised Ford Pinto. Vapor roiled from the tailpipes as he chugged toward his bride and his uncertain future.