Her loneliness was evident to the other wives of 119th Street. If it were mere forlornness they sensed, Vivienne would have had no trouble making new friends. It was clear from the switch of her fanny that Mrs. Doyle was not just lonely, she was deprived. The keen women on this block would not dare invite such temptation into their homes. Parading a fox before easy prey was just a foolish thing to do. Vivienne was indeed a fox and it is common knowledge for those who have migrated from the back woods of the Deep South, that a hungry fox will devour anything in its path.
So with a hardworking husband and no available men in the neighborhood, Mrs. Doyle decided she would satisfy herself. The ring of the bell could only mean that her long awaited package had arrived. Fluttering toward the door in fervent anticipation she soon found herself face to face with the postman. “Delivery for Mrs. Doyle.” She signed, all smiles. One might have expected some tinge of shame, but Mrs. Doyle had been without for too long to suffer any guilt. Gratification was her goal and she saw no crime in securing a little pleasure for herself.
The details of her dildo are not necessary knowledge. However, as a matter of clarity, in 1964 flesh-like softies were not commonplace. What Mrs. Doyle unwrapped was a C-battery operated metal barrel manufactured by the one and only H. J. Ashe Company. She wasted no time cleaning and powering her newfound friend. Pausing only to name the silver machine Harry. With her imagination at work and Harry operating full speed, Mrs. Doyle rediscovered what the ancient Greeks donned orgasmos.
It was not too long before Vivienne grew bored with Harry. Each time the bell rang she would become the proud owner of a new adventure discreetly contained in a brown delivery box. But since metal has never been coined a girl’s best friend, her collection of trinkets soon cluttered the back closet, devoid of their initial amusement. Having to secure a man on the side was not new for her. However, the neighborhood was. So finding a partner she could trust to keep his zipper down and his flap shut was no easy task. The Colored postman provided plenty gossip whenever he rang, so her most accessible target would be too risky an endeavor to undertake. Vivienne decided that if the neighbors were not willing to come to her, she would pay them a long overdue visit.
Her first mark lived directly across the street. She learned the lady’s name was Mrs. Sue. So with Betty Crocker enthusiasm she baked Mrs. Sue a cake. She took what she called cherries jubilee over around six o’clock, the time when most husbands would be returning from work. Mrs. Sue accepted the offering and set out two plates, one for herself and the other for her visitor. Being no stranger to strong liquor freed Sue’s tongue from artificial courtesies. After indulging in her first bite, she said straightforward, “Don’t you ever bother yo’self with baking me another thing. Just bring yo’self darling and leave the cooking to those who can.” Sue’s crudeness brought on no hard feelings. Vivienne knew she couldn’t cook, clean or do much of anything else for that matter. She was a talentless tart on a mission for mischief.
While Sue carried on in conversation, Vivienne’s eyes wandered. Sue wore a wedding ring, “That’s a good sign,” thought Vivienne. “…means a husband is somewhere to be found.” The woman had young toddlers so Vivienne took the children as evidence of the man’s virility. She would attempt to extend their chat for as long as it took for Mrs. Sue’s Mr. Sue to walk through the door. Vivienne’s own husband would pull into the drive before there was any hint of this Mr. Sue. She bid her new friend farewell and hurried home to greet her hardworking better half.
“Was just across the street, hon.” She spoke gently.
“That’s good, the neighbors openin’ up to you and all. I told you, in time those other women would see what a treasure you are.”
She took his coat, handed him his nightclothes, pulled back his sheet covers, and massaged his stiff muscles until he was fast asleep. It was admiration she felt most for her husband. He was a man that could get things done, if not in the bedroom, certainly outside of it. He was a pioneer, a trailblazer, one-of-a-kind. There were a few noteworthy Negro accountants but Mr. Doyle was the first to hold down the forte at an illustrious White firm. The others were in business for themselves and probably made more money doing just that. However, their ramshackle offices lacked the prestige that made Tierney and Grace such a prize. The gleam and gloss associated with his position was just as rewarding for his wife’s esteem as the extra dollar he would bring home had he been his own boss. The most thrilling part of it all was lying back and listening to his tales from the trenches. He certainly made some White boys mad. “Just who does this nigger think he is?” Some of Doyle’s coworkers wouldn’t hesitate to comment aloud. “Stealing work from good, honest, people.” Doyle was her very own Joe Louis, a brown bomber, beating White folk at their own game.
The sun rose, bringing with it a new day. Doyle drove off to fulfill his accounting duties while his wife devised a plan to get back over to Sue’s. Seven days had been spent at Sue’s place without Vivienne ever catching sight of Mr. Sue. She had come to realize that either this husband worked harder than her own or had already established for himself company outside the home. She would have to stake her claim elsewhere.
She made her way over toward a new neighbor. The lady had been fanning herself peacefully on the porch. When the woman figured out that Vivienne was headed her way, she closed the fan, hurried in doors, and promptly lowered her window shades. “She ain’t the only biddy on the block.” Vivienne said to herself. She knocked on another door. This wife was plain and frail, but perceptive nonetheless. The plain one quickly sized up her visitor, who was walking hips and cleavage. “I ain’t buying.” The plain lady said swiftly before slamming the door in Vivienne’s face. As Vivienne peered down the row of houses before her, any wife who had been porch sitting, leaf raking, or garden tending, in spilt second time, abandoned her post. Their eyes had already followed her footsteps. They felt their house might be next and they didn’t want to take any chances. For Mrs. Doyle, this was going to be harder than she thought.
Sunday came and so did the gong of church bells. Mr. and Mrs. Doyle had not yet decided which temple would be their new home. So on this day they did as the Good Book commanded and rested. It wasn’t long before a knock roused the couple from slumber. It was Mr. Doyle who answered. A course and rugged voice greeted him.
“I was noticin’ yeh yard sir.”
Mr. Doyle attempted to defend his neglect of home. “Yes, well they got me working almost seven days. The wife hate to see me even think about doin’ mo work. Even if it is in our own yard.”
The man answered back. “Got an easy ‘nough solution for yeh friend. I works over at the Chase factory plenty myself, but me and a partner took up handlin’ the yardwork for mens in yo position. I kin tend to yeh garden at a nice neighborly rate. Paint houses too. But ya’ll gots another year ‘fo dat work is required.” He tipped his hat to Doyle. “Name is Saul Straughter.”
Mr. Doyle shook his neighbor’s hand. “Benjamin. Benjamin Doyle.”
Saul went on. “I keep my own ‘quipment, so you’se nevah have to worry ‘bout dat.”
“Sound’s good. I’d just want to have a look over the figures.”
“Understood. We’s jus five do’s down when yeh gots yeh mind made up.”
In the kitchen, Vivienne positioned herself to get a good look at Mr. Straughter. His course manner of speaking betrayed his fine manner of dressing. Sunday morning looked good on him. His Stetson shoes tapped as he spoke and they were spit shined to a perfect polish. Saul Straughter was not one to meet anybody eye to eye, but oh, to catch his gaze for just one moment would be one moment to remember.
Vivienne didn’t want to appear too eager, but she couldn’t help but beg her husband to hire the lawnmower man. The following week would bring Mr. Five Doors Down alone to her doorstep. The seduction of Saul Straughter proved to be Vivienne’s easiest accomplishment since moving to the neighborhood. The devoted husband and father, Mr. Straughter, not only enjoyed the company of other women, he also understood just how to make his company enjoyable as well. Mrs. Doyle didn’t grow tired of Saul as she had with her closet trinkets. What she did grow was a belly swelling with Straughter’s seed.
The crafty Mrs. Doyle wasted no time devising a plan. Monday morning Mr. Doyle’s alarm clock failed to ring. By the time he woke from rest, his wife had already notified the office of his illness. Slinking into her white satin nightie and dousing herself with her best perfume, she served her husband breakfast in bed – burnt toast and all. Mr. Doyle was not moved. He quickly phoned in to work, offered an apology for his delay, and scurried away.
That evening Mrs. Doyle tried yet again. She gave the electric company the night off. Her home flickered with the orange essence of complete candlelight. Oil and water found themselves entangled in the steam bath prepared for Mr. Doyle. He accepted the back rub, enjoyed her tender touch, but would not himself rise to the occasion. He seldom traveled along her pleasure path. Tonight would be no exception.
Come morning, Vivienne confronted her husband. “What am I to do if you don’t want me no mo’.”
“I want you plenty honey. That’s why I go out to work every day. I want to keep you without a want in this world.”
“What I want, a job can’t give me, but my husband can”
“Can’t be late,” he mumbled. And that was the last of that conversation.
Vivienne was troubled. The baby was quickening inside her. Her husband would not indulge her. And she felt lonelier than ever before. She had always been taken care of. Being her proud daddy’s little girl, she acquired in her youth any and everything a Colored child could want. Curly haired dolls and straight ones too, lollipops or sugar drops, Vivienne need only ask. She flew the coop at age sixteen and landed in the arms of a generous bootlegger. Liquor licenses were not readily available to Negroes so they brewed their own and made plenty money too. When the cops caught up with her moonshine man, Vivienne moved on to safer terrain. She married the straight-laced Doyle in a simple church wearing a simple dress of his choosing. Her old ways would do her no good now. She would have to try something new. She would leave her adored Doyle and set out to work herself. He would have nothing to do with her anyway once the unfaithful act was uncovered. So she might as well throw the first blow and kiss her good Doyle goodbye.
She thought it wise to secure employment before bidding her farewell. So with the help of her only friend, Mrs. Sue, she scoured the papers answering the call for secretaries, house help, nursing aides. Her good looks got her into plenty doors but her lack of skill made her exit just as quick. She couldn’t type, she couldn’t sew, she couldn’t clean, so she had to go. Out of luck and out of time, there was only one thing left to do. She would have to tell Saul. He would have to leave his wife and take care of her. There was no other way.
She knocked on the door.
The woman who answered was delighted to see her. “Chile’ I been dying to get over and introduce myself. But the church and the children keeps me so busy.”
Pure panic had brought Vivienne to this woman’s house. She had not thought about having to confront Saul’s wife. But once she saw her, she could not help but be moved.
Everything Mrs. Sue mentioned about this wife was the honest truth. “That woman is an angel on earth.” Sue would say, “Heaven just ought to make it easier on her and give her dem wings right now. Flying would help her move a whole lot faster than dem bad feets she got.”
Straughter’s wife was named Lily, then renamed Sweet Lily on account of her nature. Sweet Lily’s sheer smile could lull the most ill at ease person into perfect peace.
The jittery Mrs. Doyle was offered the most comfortable chair in the Straughter living room. Then Sweet Lily lavished her new neighbor with the good things her home and heart could offer. Lily’s iced tea was known to cool the devil out of any derelict and Vivienne’s glass did not go unfilled. From Lily’s kitchen came the softest of breads and a pretty wild assortment at that. She explained that the women of Good Shepard Church were preparing for their annual “Bread Alone” mission. The faithful would walk the streets offering loaves and shelter to those unfortunate ones without a home.
Then Sweet Lily sat herself and commenced to bragging. She didn’t like to boast but she just couldn’t help herself. Heaven would just have to forgive her this one minor infraction. Sweet Lily went on and on about her son Samson who had dreams of doctoring the body, her boy Dizzy who could put any housewife to shame with one sweep of his broom, finally her conversation turned to Saul. “My husband is a machinist, but he don’t hardly need no machine. He got hands uh steel. Every week he comin’ home wit a new ornament he done fashioned for me out of some kind uh metal or ‘nother. And if you could have seen him along with dem other men, laying brick by brick, the foundation of our church – I gots to tell you that nobody but the Lord was prouder of Saul than myself. And he just love his kids to little ole pieces, every last one of ‘em. I don’t know what any of us would do without ‘em.”
Pretty soon Mrs. Doyle was all tears. Sweet Lily had no idea what she could have said to upset her guest so. But she stroked Vivienne’s arm and drew the woman closer to rest on her bosom as if she were comforting her own child.
Saul had come home in time to witness his wife’s arms wrapped around his mistress.
Vivienne, at first sight of Saul, wiped her eyes dry and excused herself from their company. Before she could get both feet out the door, Sweet Lily spoke. “If you ever need anything. Anything, you hear me, just stop on by.” With that Vivienne closed the door behind her and started the death march home.
“Something’s eatin’ that chile alive.” Lily said to Saul as she watched Vivienne drudge away. Saul would not dare ask what this something was. Since he was generally a man of few words, he got by without adding any more to the conversation.
The days closed in on Mrs. Doyle. Time was not kind to her. The moment came for Mrs. Doyle to think the unthinkable. She would abort her baby. After confiding in Mrs. Sue, the woman agreed to accompany her on that dreadful day. But when Mrs. Doyle arrived ready and mournful, her good neighbor was stretched out on the couch inebriated to the point of immobility. Mrs. Doyle had been alone for way too long to suffer this last indignity by herself. She recalled the gentle smile and warm caress of Sweet Lily. She was reminded of Lily’s last words, “Anything, you hear me, just stop on by.” With a humility foreign to her character, Vivienne asked Sweet Lily’s vow of discretion and the presence of her company on back-alley business.
Sweet Lily was permitted by the attending clinician to hold Vivienne’s hand throughout this ordeal. As the infant’s life slipped out of Vivienne’s grasp, her lover’s wife did not for a moment let a single finger escape her grip.