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Little Luca Sunday

Posted 9 June 2009, 10.47 pm by Alexander

Little Luca is maybe just a few hundred in population, a quaint small town sat in the middle of nowhere. It could be the 1950s, or maybe not much has changed since then. It's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone, for better and worse, and gossip spreads like wildfire. Jerry Henderson runs the town's only gas station and is married to the local schoolteacher, a tall and attractive woman named Molly. Jerry is a tall, rangy, practical man of few words, unless you count grunts from under a car hood every once in a while. Despite being in their mid-thirties they have no children, which has only recently become a talking point in the coffee shops and hair salon in town.

It's Sunday morning. Jerry wakes and upon opening his eyes, jumps out of bed, breathing heavily. "Who the hell are you?" he shouts at the dark-haired woman lying in his bed. The woman looks confused, "What on earth do you mean Jerry?". "You're not my wife!" Jerry continues, becoming red-faced, totally bewildered and angry at this intruder in his house. The woman starts to look scared, gathering the bedclothes around her. "Jerry, you're scaring me, come back to bed! What on earth is wrong with you?".

Jerry grabs some clothes and runs from the house, tripping on his trouser leg as he hurriedly dresses all the way down his driveway and into his pickup truck.

On the way into town, driving erratically, Jerry mops his sweat-soaked brow with his shirt sleeve, he's frantic. He's on his way to visit his best friend, to try and make some sense of this situation. Maybe he's still dreaming?

Jerry's best friend is the local newspaper reporter and editor. A bald, slight man with a cocky smile and small round glasses. Jerry bursts through the door of his untidy newsroom.

"Trevor, you have to help me, there's a strange woman in my bed."
"Lucky you! You sly old dog..." chides Trevor.
"No, you don't understand, that woman - I've never seen her before!" Jerry looms over Trevor's desk, almost menacingly. Trevor drops the wisecracks.
"Well, what did she look like?"
"Ahh god I don't know, dark hair, brown eyes, I guess".

Trevor starts to laugh, thinking he's now in on the joke. "Oh I see Jerry, you and Molly trying a little role play?"
"What? God man this is serious! You know full well Molly has been missing for nearly three weeks. If this is one of your stupid games it's sick." Trevor's grin once again disappears.
"Jerry, what the hell. I saw Molly yesterday at the store, that's Molly in your bed. Now do you want to tell me what this is about? Have you two fallen out again?"

Jerry looks about to explode. "You know full well Molly is a blonde, and this wasn't her."

The journalist just scratches his head and looks at Jerry, nonplussed. "Jerry, I don't know what to say - could Molly have dyed her hair as a surprise maybe?"
"No! I know my wife's face and this wasn't her. This is useless. Come with me back to the house, you'll see!".
"OK Jerry, nothing much newsworthy here today anyway."

Jerry and Trevor drive back to Jerry's house in silence. Trevor is looking noticeably uneasy, Jerry increasingly manic. As they pull up at the house, Molly greets them warmly.

"Hi fellas! Jerry where did you get to?"
"Molly! Looking lovely as always!" Trevor chirps. Jerry double takes from Trevor to Molly. "You know this woman? This isn't Molly! I haven't seen Molly since she disappeared, and neither have you goddamnit!"
"Jerry, look - if you two are having a fight I'd rather not get in the middle of it. Take me back to town, there's a good man?"

"I don't know what's going on here but I'm damn well going to find out!". With this he storms back to his truck and peels out in a cloud of dust.

The Sheriff of Little Luca is a slightly portly man with a small moustache and enormous hands - Colm by name. He's policed this small town all his professional life, with little more to do than round up drunks or get between the occasional domestic. His office is small, neat, but everything is old and worn. His door bursts open, it's Jerry, his shirt soaked with sweat.

"Colm. I'm reporting a burglar in my house. You've got to get there right away. I'm serious!"
Colm removes his hat, wipes the inside brim with his handkerchief and ponderously replaces it on his head. "Well, did you get a good look at 'em, Jerry?"
"Yes, it's a woman, she was in my bed when I woke up!" Jerry grips the back of the chair in front of the sheriff's desk so hard his knuckles whiten. An interminable pause.
"You had a burglar in your bed? What did Molly have to say about that?"
"Damnit Colm, Molly is still missing, you know this - I filed the report with you, we put up the posters around town together, on all the noticeboards, up here on the wall - " Jerry whirls round and points to a blank piece of wall. Something might have been pinned there once, but nothing was evident now. "Where is it? Where's the damn poster Colm?"
"Now calm yourself Jerry. I don't have the first clue what you're talking about. Molly is not missing to the best of my knowledge, I've never printed a poster or pinned one regarding a search for her whereabouts."

Jerry is speechless, fuming, with tears in his eyes, but won't be beaten. "This woman, in my bed, she had dark hair. Molly is a blonde, you know this. Come on Colm!"
"Jerry, what the hell. I may not be the busiest Sheriff in the US but I don't have time for any more of this bullshit. Get the hell out of my office. Your wife is brunette, she's perfectly well and no doubt at your home wondering where the hell you are. I suggest you return to her and have a lie down. Good day."

"No! Look, here..." Jerry pulls out his wallet, fishes out a small photograph and his face turns from triumph to despair as he stares at it. It's a picture of a smiling Jerry with a dark-haired woman, the same woman he woke up with this morning.

"Jerry," Colm starts, with a soothing tone. "I know you and Molly haven't been getting along, and I know you've had your troubles with money - damnit everyone in this town knows you're likely to lose that gas station your daddy gave you if times don't pick up, but please don't lose your mind as well. This is hard on Molly too. Don't forget..." but before he can finish, Jerry has whirled out of the office into the scorching heat, the picture clasped in his hand.

Jerry staggers down the street, to the sound of church bells. He accosts people as he comes across them - "Who is this woman? Do you know her?" jabbing his finger at the photograph from his wallet. Everyone has the same answer -

"Jerry, that's your wife. That's Molly."
"A darling picture! Molly is so pretty Jerry"
"Jerry, what's wrong? Is this some kind of joke?"
"You're a lucky man, Jerry Henderson!"

He ricochets across the street until his way is blocked by the town chapel. Looking up at it's tolling bells as if for salvation, he staggers up to the doors and flings them wide. The congregation is halfway through a hymn, which abruptly stops as the flock turns to see who has interrupted them.

"You people!" Jerry is exhausted, his voice hoarse. "You people, what's wrong with you?"

The crowd just stares.

"This woman - " Jerry raises the photograph to eye level and waves it in the faces of the townspeople as he progresses down the aisle "I have never seen her before, I don't know who she is and she is NOT my wife!!!"

The pastor raises his hand for calm. "Jerry, Molly grew up in Little Luca, I baptised her and I've watched her grow up. That's her."

"IT IS NOT!" Jerry screams "And I can prove it! I can prove I'm not going insane!" Jerry turns on his heel and starts out of the chapel. The parishioners, to a man, file out behind him in silence.

Jerry staggers, runs, falls and crawls through the chapel gardens and out into the countryside. With every step he takes, more townspeople join the growing herd following him at a respectful distance. Their faces are blank, almost solemn as they trail this man through the scrub, dust and broken roads on the outskirts of quiet Little Luca.

Eventually, his tears creating clean streaks down his dirt-stained face, Jerry drops to his knees. The crowd stops as one, the entire town stood silent behind him.

Jerry starts to dig in the dirt, with the weariness of an old dog. The crowd watches.

Sobbing, Jerry digs until first one strand, then two, then a mass of blonde hair peeks through the dirt. A female hand, with a wedding ring, emerges like a neglected sapling from the dusty earth.

"That's enough Jerry" comes a voice from behind him. It's Sheriff Colm.

"We knew you'd killed her, Jerry. We all knew. We just didn't know what you'd done with her. When she disappeared it wasn't hard to make some calls out of town and find out about the amendments to Molly's life insurance policy you'd made last month. I know you swore to your daddy that you'd keep that gas station running, and goddamnit you did all you could and you didn't want to lose it, but this wasn't the way."

Jerry just stares at Colm, his face a rictus of anguish.

"This wasn't the way."

The crowd, almost as one, drops it's head, and the townfolk of Little Luca slowly file back into town, back to their jobs and their homes and their children, leaving Jerry sobbing in the dirt with Molly.

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