(Read Luke 18:1-8.)
Harold Cruse had never angle-parked in his life. So, he left his battered pickup—the exterior of the driver’s side door had numerous coats of tobacco juice—across three parking spaces in front of the Dairy Bar. No one said anything except, “Howdy, Harold,” as he rode his three-hundred-and-fifty pounds into the establishment.
Inside, Fred Coppedge and Donny Engle were sitting at a table. Harold bought a Coke and sat down with the two men. Fred and Donny knew what Harold was there for.
“ ! I finally caught up with you two.”
“Howdy, Harold,” Donny said.
“All right, now what are ya’ll gonna do about that fence?”
“Well, Harold, it looks like to me that no one can prove whose cattle tore it down,” Fred began.
“You better believe I can prove it. I got Black Angus, and there ain’t no Black Angus hairs on that fence.”
“Well, is there any Hereford hairs? I didn’t see anything, except twenty of your steers on our land,” Donny shot back.
“Yeah, well, you better watch what you’re trying to say. Cause I aim to call Sidney over at the law office if you two don’t get that fence fixed soon. Sidney said I ain’t got a thing to worry about.”
Fred and Donny stared at the table. It always ended this way with Harold. You just did what Harold wanted. That’s all there was to it. The two of them had rehearsed what they would say. But they knew Harold would threaten legal action. They knew they would never win.
Harold threw some of the ice in his Coke cup back on his tongue and leaned back in his chair. Fred and Donny picked up their cups and left. “See ya, Harold,” Donny said.
Harold told Tammy, the girl behind the counter, to bring him a chocolate sundae. Tammy went around the counter and brought the sundae out to him. He was about to flirt with her when he saw the face in the front window.
“Oh, !” Harold groused and did not even notice his sundae. Tammy glanced over her shoulder. Standing out front was Anna Norton. She did not look like a patron of the Dairy Bar. Gray hair was parted straight down the middle and gathered in the back. The green cotton dress was simple and modest. The strap of an ancient purse was slung over her shoulder. She had cupped both hands around her face and leaned against the window. Her wide blue eyes caught sight of Harold’s mountainous figure.
Once she recognized Harold, Anna instantly did a left-face, marched to the door, pulled it open, and strode straight to Harold.
Harold had been sitting with his chair-arm parallel to the table, his right arm resting on the table, his legs splayed across the floor. When he saw Anna, he made a violent turn of the chair to the right so that he faced the table. One leg of the chair dragged with a screech through the concrete floor, scratching the floor and bending the leg. Harold leaned on both elbows, cradling the chocolate sundae between enormous hands, his sweaty, dirty hat forming an awning over his face.
Anna positioned herself resolutely before his table, opposite his chair. “Mr. Cruse, I need to speak to you.”
“Yes, Anna.” Harold’s voice was tired.
“Well, I think you know quite well what it is that I am here for. I have spoken to you no less than once a week for the last six months. But, I shall speak again. I need an easement across Tom Brock’s land so that my nephew can build his house on that quarter of a section which I would dearly love to give to him. He is a fine young man and is willing to farm the land as his uncle—my beloved husband—did. But, as you very well know, Mr. Brock refuses to give him an easement. And you and I both know that your land is right there behind mine. If I gave you an easement, then you could force him to give you an easement on to the county road.”
Harold sat through this discourse staring at his chocolate sundae. He was really wanting to eat it. But, to eat a chocolate sundae while Anna was speaking to him—well, he just did not want to live with her reaction to that. (“Harold Cruse, are you listening to me? You at least owe me the courtesy of listening to me. I shepherded you through twelfth-grade English, you know.”)
But Harold was not in a hurry to jump on Tom Brock. Brock was easy. He knew that he could scare him into an easement. He had shoved Tom’s brother into selling a bunch of cattle when the market got shaky two years ago. But Tom Brock had gained some power down at the courthouse. Harold could use Tom someday. Why push him for this little old woman?
“I’ll see if I can do anything.” Harold did not move. Anna said nothing. She turned and walked out. Harold could finally get to his chocolate sundae.
The spoon worked methodically between bowl and mouth, shoveling the creamy mountain with its luxuriant mantle of black gold over into Harold’s mountain range of fat and muscle. Harold was bent over the tiny bowl, working from habit. But his mind was on Anna Norton. Anna had been the talk of the older kids when he was an underclassman: old “Santa Anna” led the charge on every senior’s attempt at sliding through his last year at Wisdom High. Harold just laughed at the self-designated clowns who could imitate to perfection her serious and prim manner. Then, he became a senior. Harold had charmed and cheated and slept his way through high school. But Santa Anna was on to him. The woman would never give him a break. She handed papers back to him for rewrites. She forced him to spend afternoons in tutorial sessions. She kept him in during the noon hour doing the research for his senior theme. He hated and feared the old biddy. The fear came from the fact that Anna would not hesitate to call his dad about his latest grade. Anna and Mack Cruse went back to high school days. So Harold sweated it out for nine months and finally went through the line and got a “dummy” diploma. That diploma would not be official until he had corrected all the errors on his senior theme.
The following Monday after graduation, Harold sat in a school desk he had outgrown three years before. Anna Norton sat at the teacher’s desk. The windows were open, allowing a slight stirring of air through the room. Harold wrote as neatly as his enormous right hand would allow, copying his theme, pausing at each red mark and trying to figure out what he had done wrong this time. And Anna would never tell him straight out. She would make him look up every spelling error in the dictionary, every grammar error in the Plain English Handbook. It was 4:30 that afternoon before he was finally done. Then, she and he went down to the Principal’s office. Anna put a “C” on his grade card. The Principal handed him his diploma, and Harold Cruse was done with school and Anna Norton forever.
Now she comes to bug him about Tom Brock. It was Senior English all over again. Harold scraped the bowl clean of ice cream and chocolate syrup. He shoved back from the table and felt the leg of the chair give way. He rescued himself from falling over backwards by thrusting forcefully with his feet. The chair clanged over onto its back. Harold did not look back as he made his way out to his pickup.
Exactly one week later, Harold sat down to watch a little TV. His shoes were off, his thinning brown hair was still wet from a shower. The living room of his house—kept spotless by a maid—showed strong evidence of his presence: clothes, towels, mail, and supper were strewn about. Harold felt good, even though his hand hurt a little. It had been a while since he had had a good fight, until that afternoon at the Dairy Bar. The kid had to learn a little lesson about messing with Harold Cruse. He now could watch TV until sleepiness came and then throw himself into bed. He popped a beer can open and took a sip. The phone rang.
“Mr. Cruse, this is Anna Norton.”
“Yes, Anna.” Harold tried to concentrate on the TV show.
“Mr. Cruse, it is not my belief that you have seen if you can do anything.”
“Those were your words: ‘I’ll see if I can do anything.’ That is what you told me last week when we spoke together at the Dairy Bar.”
“Oh, well, Anna, I’ve been awful busy.”
“Well, if you call rising at 9:00 AM and driving around town and brawling being busy, then you have a strange idea of business.”
“Now, Anna…OK, look. You have been on my case for six months. Look, I’m going to see Brock tonight and get this settled. Will that make you happy, Anna?”
“That would be most helpful. I shall call him tomorrow at 1:30 PM to see how you have fared. Thank you, Mr. Cruse.”
“All right, good night, Anna.”
Harold hung up. He drank down the beer in two swallows and crushed the can. He went to his bedroom and dressed hurriedly.
He drove along the gravel roads of the county—roads he had run up and down all of his life, to drive farm equipment, to haul cattle, to check on hired men, to hunt down other cruising party animals in the middle of the night. Tonight, he took the direct route to Brock’s house instinctually. He pulled into the midst of a complex of buildings—granaries, sheds, barns, and the fine brick ranch-style house. He didn’t bother to close the door of his pickup. In six strides he was on the porch and pounding on the door.
Brock swung open the door. “What the are you doing here, Harold?”
“You give Anna that easement.”
“What if I don’t?”
“Brock, don’t give me no lip. I’ll jerk you out of that robe and throw you over in that ditch. You take care of this tomorrow. I don’t want to hear about it no more.”
Tom was a little shaken. “Harold, you be careful. I’ll call the law.”
Harold didn’t bother to open the screen door. His hand went right through screen and grasped Tom’s robe. “I said you take care of it in the morning. I don’t want to hear about it no more.”
“OK! OK! Right! I’ll get my lawyer to draw something up. No need for that. Please, Harold, my wife’s inside.”
Harold had to jerk the screen loose from his hand as he withdrew it. His fingers, the back of his hand, his forearm were streaked with bloody scratches. He turned and took the six strides back to his pickup.
The next afternoon, Harold heard a message on his answering machine that Anna would give him an easement through her land now that Brock had given her the easement she needed for her nephew. Harold shrugged as he hung up the phone and stared absently at the scratches on his hand and arm: “Well, maybe that’s the end of Anna for a while.”