This story was inspired by the George Jones son “He stopped loving her today” to my mind; the greatest love song ever written.
A COUNTRY MUSIC LIFE
“What is she doing here; has she not brought enough disgrace on this house”.
The undertaker had just left, and the neighbours were filing in to pay their
respects when Jacqui caught sight of that bitch, walking up the drive as if she
owned it. Had she no shame, showing up here, after the holy show she had created fifteen years ago. Fifteen long years, sniggers, sometimes, not even behind his back. Watching the whole town making fun of him; every time he came by.
Every time THAT song was played on the radio or on the juke box in Mackie’s
cafe, there was great hilarity, and it was no accident it just happened to play
each time one of us passed by. This rotten town will just love this, Jacqui was certain of that.
That cursed talent show fifteen years ago had changed our family forever. That bitch had always dreamed of fame as a singer and the minute the posters went up she was hell bent on winning it. When she heard that Jesse Morant was to be a judge and that part of the prize was to record a song with him, well that was it, she would have cut off a leg to win it, never mind a family. The rehearsals were endless, nothing was done in the house, and we lived on takeaways for a month as she practiced for her big chance. She spent every evening perfecting her act and every morning sewing spangles on her costume. He was supportive, he would have given her the moon if he could have, he thought she deserved a chance to realise her dream.
Of course, none of us really thought she would win, well maybe he did, he always thought she was special, far too good for him, that was what he used to tell us all the time. When Jesse Morant drove in on the day of the contest the town went wild, after all, he was the number one country music singer in the country, and never a day went by that he wasn’t on the air on one or other of the local radio stations. The local talent was good, Jack Lyons was especially good with a stirring rendition of the Elvis Presley song “In the ghetto” but from the moment she started to sing nobody had any doubt that she would be the winner, the chemistry between her and Jesse Morant was obvious. That was the moment we knew she was lost to us, everything else after that was only a formality.
Her feet hardly touched the floor at home when she collected her stuff after the show. She left that very night and there is no one in this town who doesn’t believe she spent that night with the singer. Whether she did or not, that was the last time any of us saw her in the flesh. Oh! We read all about her doings, every kiss and cuddle they shared was shown in the local rags and even once or twice in the national press. After all it was big news; she was Jesse Morant’s new singing partner. The promised record was made and it became an instant hit all over the world, she thought her star had finally risen.
For eight weeks the song was number one in three countries, we couldn’t leave the house, the press had us besieged, it seemed she was the flavour of the month, every one all over the world wanted to know all about her, every time we turned on the television, there she was, smiling out at us, hanging onto the arm of her new man. We watched him, watching her, at first with pride, he always knew she could have made it if she hadn’t given it all up for him, then slowly, the doubt set in, she didn’t write every week, then she didn’t write every month, he was slowly dying inside, and there wasn’t a thing we could do about it.
The country waited for a second record, there was talk of Jesse writing a song himself especially for her, then he talked about commissioning Jack power the renowned song writer to write a song for them, but as the months passed and nothing happened, the press lost interest and they were dropped from the front page, at last we had some peace. His face haunted us, every time the postman passed our house he seemed to age another ecade. We watched as he wrote letter after letter to her, walking down to town himself, probably thought we wouldn’t post them for him. He ignored all the snide remarks,
all the sly whistling of the song he had come to hate.
When the first hints of trouble in the new relationship started to appear in the newspapers we thought he would be pleased, thought he would gloat, but no, he was worried for her,
broken-hearted on her behalf. We couldn’t figure him out, was he for real, every day he scoured the papers looking for news of her doings. He even wrote to Jesse asking him to look out for her. After another few months there were pictures of her falling out of bars,
then stories of her bumming drinks off strange men. She was sliding into the gutter, slowly but surely. He was worrying about her day and night, walking the floor, he spent a fortune on phone calls, trying to track her down, she had been thrown out of her hotel two months ago, and no one knew where she was now, the only times she was seen now was in the cheap bars, she had been barred from all the classy joints for bumming drinks. He was getting more desperate as the days passed, worrying where she was staying, what she was eating, had she money for bus fare if she needed to return here.
By this time she had been gone two years, her dreams of stardom had turned to dust, and Jesse Morant was probably travelling around judging talent shows looking for another one hit wonder. The song that she had thought was the start of her singing career was never played now, long forgotten by the fickle public. The only place it was popular now was in this town, and only because it could be used as a weapon of torture, not because anyone was particularly fond of it. She had written once eight months later, asking him to send money, bail money, most likely, and as usual she didn’t think to tell him where she was living, just a post office box number. Of course he sent the money, more than she
asked for. As the years passed, she wrote to him every couple of months, just enough to stop him worrying, not enough to satisfy his curiosity about her lifestyle.
Seven years ago, when he hadn’t heard from her for more than the couple or so months she usually wrote, he started to worry again, this time he decided to go looking for her in person. Looking back now, we think it was then he began to suspect he had only a few years to live, and wanted to see her again. He made the arrangements himself,
refusing all offers to accompany him. When he left we were all convinced he was on a fools errand, she hadn’t shown any inclination to see him for eight years, why would she see him now. He was away for a week, apparently he had found her, and wanted to spend some time with her. We thought it was a bad idea but as usual we were ignored. When he
came back, he never spoke of her again, but we knew he still wrote to her, although she never replied after that visit.
He seemed strangely content after that meeting with her, and the years passed uneventfully. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer and we were sure he’d be looking to see her again, but no, he forbade any of us to inform her of his condition. As the end
drew near he was in a lot of pain, the medication sometimes made him delirious, and he often thought she was back home, holding complete conversations with her sometimes. We found it unnerving, but the doctor advised us to ignore it, in his lucid moments he was still adamant that she was not to be told, which was fine with us.
Now, here she was, as bold as brass. Already, the curtains in the town are twitching, no doubt, shortly; a few unexpected mourners will turn up hoping for news of where she’s been, what she’s been doing. She stopped beside the rose bush they’d planted the first year they were married. Picking a rose bud, she tucked it behind her ear. She strode towards the house, swinging an oversized purse, the killer high heels she wore making grooves in the loose gravel. Coming to a stop in front of me she looked around at all the quickly averted heads. “Well Jacqui, lets not disappoint them, lets get this show on the road”
Speechless, I followed her into the house, all my pre-rehearsed speeches forgotten in the face of her confidence. She approached the neighbours, thanking them for coming, she asked them to kindly excuse us, as we had family business to discuss. As these were our genuine friends, they had no trouble honouring her request, and they filed out respectfully. Turning to my two brothers and myself, she eyed the three of us defiantly. “Ok! Let’s get everything out in the open before we start. Yes! I am a lousy mother. Yes! I was a lousy wife. But one thing is true, your father, my husband, was special. He let me pursue my misguided dreams, while he stayed home and did a damn good job of rearing
you three. Then he came looking for me, only to find I’d ended up behind bars. “Prison”
three voices in unison, our shocked faces made her pause. “Some little scumbag tried to steal my stash, that happens a lot when you live on the street, seven years I got, and the
fucker is walking around as good as new, I missed all his vital organs. Thank God, I used my maiden name to enter that cursed talent contest. Nobody associated Marybeth Jennings wannabe country music singer with Mary Collins homeless junkie. Well here I am now and thanks to your father, I’m sober and drug free, please God, forever.
I don’t know if we three can ever be reconciled, that’s not why I’m here. I’m here for one reason only, and that’s to bury a good and decent man with love and respect.” Turning on her heel, she left us standing there, staring after her disappearing back.
We accompanied her in the funeral car to the church, stood beside her throughout the service, followed her, as she followed our father’s coffin to the grave-side. She stood there in the spring sunshine, accepting condolences as if they were her due.
People were so mesmerised by her performance, most of them completely forgot that we were family too. Trying to deal with our grief, as well as her unexpected return, under the watchful eye of the town was hard. She seemed to have no trouble staring down the judgemental eyes of the townspeople, daring them to openly question her. We still resented, maybe even hated her, but she was our mother, and our Dad had loved her
dearly. John Collins was at peace now, he no longer had to walk the gauntlet of jeers and jibes dished out by the town-folk. Mary Collins was here now to take up the mantle, and the town would find her a completely different kettle of fish. As my brother Kit remarked; “the first person to make a snide comment about her would also be the last”. We looked forward to that.