WHATEVER HAPPENED TO NO-NECK WILLY?
A Mistake to Love
When she looked back on her life, Mabel always blamed her misfortune on that figure shaping girdle, that push-up bra, and those red high heels. She still didn’t blame that little leather skirt with the slit up the side. She loved that skirt and still had it in the back of her closet, a memento of days gone by when she could actually wear it. She’d fancied herself a huntress that night and had used foundation garments, clothes, and makeup like weapons.
God, she was a bad shot.
Her catch that night, William Lyle, had been a weightlifter… a sexy, wild, and wanton weightlifter, who, as it turned out, was just passing through. Just like the handsome stranger, gone were Mabel’s thoughts of freedom, parties, and college. They were replaced with a baby bed, diapers, and a nine-to-five at the local bank. Mabel replayed the night regularly. Penance, she supposed.
She’d begun that night by lying to her strict, devout parents. Her newly eighteen-year-old self had smiled with excitement standing in front of the dance hall and pushing open the old-time swinging saloon doors with a flair. It’d made her feel all the more a woman of experience as she stood at the door surveying her hunting ground.
The bar was long and paralleled the wall to her right. A country band was playing on the stage at the far end of the smoke-filled dance hall. The sawdust-covered dance floor was already full of blue jean clad men wearing fancy western shirts and women dressed in anything from strangler wranglers and halter tops to full length frilly western skirts.
It’d only taken half a glance around the room to spot him, tall and broad-shouldered with a smiling face that she watched erupt into a deep laugh. He was in mid-twirl with a woman she didn’t even look at.
Mabel’s eyes hadn’t left him from the moment she walked into the dance hall, even before those saloon doors had settled their swing. She’d ignored the fact that he was dancing with someone else as her vision tunneled in on him.
Very few people were sitting at the bar. One of them was arguing with the frustrated bartender who was refusing to serve her. She was a big-haired bleached blonde with a thick layer of makeup and a wide swath of blue eye shadow, her eyes mere slits in her sagging face. She’d been here for a while. She barely managed to stay on her stool, teetering in spite of hugging the bar with both arms.
“Never,” Mabel vowed, “will I become that woman.” The vision, however, remained with her and gave her pause as to her own plans and her own reasons for being here. She shook her head and dispelled the doubt she was beginning to feel. She wasn’t that woman. She was young and just looking for a little fun, love, adventure… and freedom.
She climbed up on a barstool, and the bartender, who rolled his eyes and shook his head at the big-haired blonde, turned and walked toward her. “What can I get you, Miss?”
It was the first moment she realized she hadn’t thought of everything. She’d lied to her parents, borrowed their car with a promise to be home from her friend’s house by midnight, and had driven sixty miles south for the sake of anonymity.
Although this was also a backwater, one-horse Colorado town, it wasn’t her backwater one-horse town. After all her careful planning, now she didn’t even know what to order. Doubt resurfaced as she thought of her parents; they would simply die if they knew she even took a drink, let alone had come to a bar to do it.
“A beer,” she finally answered, because she couldn’t think of anything else.
“Tap?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said, not knowing what it meant and trying not to care. She’d be even freer when she found a job and could move away from home. She was through with the confinement of living with her parents. They were so controlling and much too religious for her young and freethinking mind.
Even mid-dance, William Lyle hadn’t missed the entrance of the young thing in the little leather skirt and red high heels. When the dance ended, he thanked his partner and headed to the bar.
“Well, how-do, little lady. Can I buy you that beer?” He took full advantage of the opportunity to zero in on all the details of what he now thought of as his next conquest.
He loved her red hair and wondered how long it was. She had it pinned up on top of her head in a mass of curls. Her heart-shaped face made her appear young. He liked his women young. It made him feel older and more manly.
The innocence in her big green eyes drug him deeper into his fantasy of being a man of the world, a man in control. Her mouth was full and looked as unused as the smooth skin of her face.
His eyes moved down her long slender neck as he made his private plans for later in the night. She was young and had a long, lean body. She was only slightly curved but that was okay with him. He liked the packaging; he liked the face; he liked the game.
“Sure,” she said, smiling and wishing she could at least sound a little more sophisticated.
He sat on the stool on her left and bought himself a beer as well. His eyes embraced her; they caught hers and held them. “I’m William Lyle. What’s your name?”
“Mabel.” She still hadn’t thought of anything sophisticated to say.
He turned in his seat to face her, bringing his muscled left arm to rest on the bar between them, his hand close to but not touching hers, and his right arm on the back of her chair. “That’s a dynamite outfit.”
“Thank you.” Even though she’d practiced in front of the mirror, none of her prepared lines came to mind. She hadn’t expected to be nervous, and resisted the urge to tug at her skirt.
William stood, his left arm still resting on the bar while the other encircled her shoulders, “Would you like to dance?”
William could tell she was a novice. Not that he cared; he just knew he’d have to take it slow and easy with her. She wasn’t much younger than he was, but he knew she’d be putty in his more experienced, all grown up, 20-year-old hands.
“Sure,” she answered. His voice was deep and smooth and she wanted to hear it again. The dance was the Cotton Eyed Joe; a line dance would be safe enough, she thought. But she hadn’t thought far enough ahead to side step the slow one that followed.
William pulled her to him, gently molding her body against his. His arms wrapped around her, one held her back firmly so that her breasts were against his chest, the other was dangerously close to causing her panic as it crept lower and lower down her back.
As his thighs moved against hers and her body began to respond to his, she knew she was out of her league, that he was too fast and too experienced for her. She knew she should stop… but she didn’t.
Three drinks later, they were seated at a table. William’s arm was around her shoulders, his eyes were smoldering, and his free hand was caressing her thigh. He used that deep voice of his to wonderful advantage. “You’re such a beautiful and sexy woman. I’m a lucky man just to be dancing with you tonight.”
Before the evening had really begun, she was comfortable in his company and seduced by his dancing and overt, concentrated attention.
“No, thank you, William. I’m already tipsy,” she giggled.
“Maybe we should go outside, take a walk and get some fresh air,” he offered.
“That sounds nice,” she agreed readily, weaving as she stood to walk out of the dance hall.
They followed a trail a short way into the woods that surrounded the bar. William steadied her with his arm around her waist. The air was clear and cool and smelled of pinion pine.
She smiled, thinking that this was exactly what she’d been looking for, romance with a warm, friendly, strong, handsome man.
William interrupted her thoughts when he pulled her around to face him. His kiss came quickly, at first lightly, barely touching her lips and then daring to press further, communicating his need, his question, his intention.
“I can’t believe how lucky I am to find a woman like you,” he crooned. “You are so beautiful, so sexy… so much a woman.”
He picked her up like she didn’t weigh an ounce, pressed her body between his and the smooth trunk of an Aspen tree and kissed her again. His lips moved to her neck and his hand moved to pull her skirt up and over her bottom. Her legs, freed from the skirt, wrapped around his waist as she felt desire for the first time in her over-protected life.
If it hadn’t been for that figure-shaping girdle, he would’ve taken her right there under that tree. And she’d have been very happy about it.
William continued to profess his attraction to her, made her feel like the woman she sought to be. “Come with me, Mabel. Let me show you how a man should make a woman feel. I could be with you forever, my beautiful woman.”
She couldn’t believe she’d found a fairy tale romance her first night out. By the time she walked into his motel room, all thoughts of curfews, parents, rules, and promises had long since disappeared.
Mabel woke the next morning and found herself alone. Her fairy tale romance had disappeared. William Lyle was gone. His suitcase was gone. His pickup was gone. He’d left nothing, not even a note or a “Thank you, Ma’am, for the slam bam.”
She’d never felt so cheap, cheated, used, or alone. This wasn’t how she envisioned her first romantic interlude, nor had she planned to get knocked up her first night out.
She could still hear her mother lament about her own mother’s life of too many men and too much booze. Mabel’s mother was ashamed ofher floozy mother and vowed not to live her life that way. Nor would she allow her daughter to.
Mabel’s father had been raised in a strict Baptist family, and that was the thing that had first drawn her mother to her father. He could give her the pure, clean, God-fearing life she craved.
Well, maybe floozy skipped a generation.
Mabel didn’t know William Lyle well enough to hate him. She even thought fondly of him from time to time. Other times, she wasn’t as generous, relegating his memory to the brick shithouse side of things. He was, after all, built of bricks, body and mind, and he was definitely a shit.
Twenty-two years older and wiser, Mabel smiled at the memory. She’d won in the end; she had a son she loved. With a better perspective, she’d have changed some things… especially that name thing. She always pretended that Willy was short for William. The truth was, she was feeling a little put out the night little Willy was born when the idea struck her like a labor pain. Willy wasn’t short for William; it was how the absent William Lyle had referred to his… well, you know, his… little willy.
Mabel laughed and reasoned that it wasn’t such a bad body part to name. After all, a guy shouldn’t want a stranger making his decisions for him for the rest of his life.
Mabel’s resigned and regretful sigh at the memory was as telling as any confession she could make—to herself or anyone else. All that had happened was just a fact of a very distant past. And William Lyle, God bless him, she loved the boy he’d left her with. From the first moment she’d held her newborn son, all was forgiven, as her new little one became her world.
How her little Willy turned out, how his life turned out—well, it could have been her fault—maybe, maybe not. She didn’t know but she took responsibility anyway. He was her mistake.
She rued the day Willy had started hanging out with those Caleb boys. It was the first time she’d laid the law down about with whom he could and could not associate. She’d laid the law down, and he had trampled it into the dust. She knew then that she was in for a few tough teenage-boy years. But tough didn’t even come close to describing those years.
All through school, Willy had made good grades but only because she always made him do his homework. If it’d been up to Willy, he’d have never cracked a book. Oh, he was smart enough; there was never a question about that. He’d just rather play ball, go fishing, ride his bike, hang out at the feed store… anything but do school work.
She hadn’t objected when Willy took up weightlifting at sixteen. But, before long, he looked remarkably like his father. That was when the other kids, half in jest and half in admiration, gave him the name No-Neck. With all the muscles in his back, his shoulders, and his chest, it was hard to see his neck. Willy loved it. He had respect; he had a job; he had girls; and best of all, he had a car. He was finally the dude.
He was the dude until that afternoon out at the Holley place. Mabel figured he’d somehow gotten caught up in the vendetta between the Caleb and Holley boys.
She’d had a bad feeling the night Willy’s fate had been sealed. That next morning, she saw that he hadn’t slept in his bed, but that certainly wasn’t a first. When she hadn’t found him by late morning, she’d finally called the sheriff.
They found him. His car had gone off a cliff out by the Holley place. He was alive, but barely.
The Sheriff had some questions about whether it was an accident or not. He voiced his suspicion that maybe Willy had driven over that cliff on purpose. Was he depressed? Was he upset about something? Was he in some kind of trouble? Was there a reason he’d want to kill himself? How was he doing in school? Who were his friends? Were you getting along with him? Did he do drugs? Do you do drugs? Why was he mixed up in the trouble between the Caleb and Holley families? What was his relationship with Sandra Holley?
Mabel didn’t have enough answers, but she had a lot more guilt. Maybe she’d missed the signs of suicide, depression, or drugs. Was it her fault? Had she destroyed her child’s life? What had she done? Where had she gone wrong?
One thing she did know was that Sandra Holley was a good girl who hadn’t deserved to be used as an object of revenge against her brothers. They’d thought Willy a coward, said he was attacking Sandra and then ran away. She knew better. He must have felt sick about what he’d done, and poor little Sandra deserved none of it.
Mabel never got to hear the story from Willy himself; the plunge over the cliff had taken everything but his life. And Willy had been trapped in that coma for five long years now.
Each and every day, Mabel’s parents went to the nursing home and talked to him. They talked about how much they and God loved him, and how they knew he was a good boy who would never hurt a living creature. They told him how he was meant to love this life, to love and care about others just like they loved and cared about him. He was their little angel put on Earth to be the best person he could possibly be.
They also told him, time and again, that they knew he had a mission in this life, and that it was not yet fulfilled. He had to come back to them.
Mabel wasn’t so sure she believed in the whole mission thing her parents talked about, but if they did, that was okay with her. Now she understood with profound clarity why her parents had been so protective of her as a child. Once again, she’d been a fool.
What a wry twist of fate it seemed to be that she and her parents moved to Denver to be near Willy in the care home where he finally landed. She’d thought about moving to Denver for many years, because the man-market seemed better, and maybe, just maybe, she’d find a father for Willy.
She chuckled aloud when she thought about fate’s next twist. Out of the tragedy had come one ray of light. Mabel finally met Mr. Right. Two years into Willy’s silent journey, Mabel and Mr. Right, one Henry Winchell, tied the knot. Henry was a physical therapist at the nursing facility where Willy slept.
Henry Winchell was from El Paso, Texas. He was four years older than Mabel, and had been a medic in the Army. He’d been an on-the-ground, in-the-action participant in America’s oldest war—the war on terrorism. Terrorism, as defined by the movers and shakers in high politics, encompassed many people, many countries, many nightmares, and many regrets… regrets that shaped him into the man he was… lonely and searching for significance.
When he returned to America, he’d already decided to dedicate his life to helping others. He went to college at the University of Texas at El Paso, and then focused all of his attention on his internship as a physical therapist.
Although not a confirmed bachelor, Henry had just never found the right girl. Most women he’d had relationships with were too flighty and superficial… too young for him. He’d seen so much pain, suffering, and tragedy that he just couldn’t abide a fanciful life.
Yet, through the years, he’d also seen enough miracles to know that doctors didn’t have all the answers and that there was a higher power, guardian angels, or whatever people wanted to call them, that affected some people’s lives, guiding and watching over them.
Even today, he couldn’t talk about his military experiences, but they played a part in his attraction to Mabel. It had started during Willy’s stay at the hospital and continued to grow through the first year Willy was in the nursing home. Then Henry and Mabel began to date.
Falling in love had been easy. Mabel had the caring and commitment he was looking for in a woman. Before her, he hadn’t even realized what it was he sought. She told him all about her life, her mistakes, and her guilt.
One mistake had determined the course of her life. The impact of emotion he felt for her fueled a reaction of compassion and admiration for a woman who was paying for that single mistake with a love and commitment he’d never seen before. Yes, he admired this woman, so small of stature and bearing such great burdens.
Mabel learned what real love was all about. Henry was willing and eager to marry her, taking on her burdens as his own, and firmly believing that the miracle of Willy’s full recovery could happen. They married in Willy’s room, accompanied by Mabel’s parents, Dr. Grearson, and Nan Cline, Willy’s primary care nurse.
Theirs was a story of love long sought, born of respect, desire, and need. Their first night together had them re-thinking the meaning of the word virgin. It really had nothing to do with the act of sex and had everything to do with the fulfillment of sex, the finding of a soul mate. They were home.
With Henry, Mabel had found that long-desired, most-evasive chemistry between a man and a woman. Mabel finally had her man, and she hadn’t even needed that silly little leather skirt to get him.
One year later, Mabel and Henry were blessed with a daughter, Paula. Mabel quit her job at the bank and fell effortlessly into active motherhood, balancing her time between Willy and Paula with a renewed spirit.
Today, she sat—as she did every morning—at the bedside of her son, looking out over the lawn of the nursing home.
Willy’s life hadn’t turned out like she’d imagined either, and it tortured her to watch her son waste away. She wanted there to be a purpose to their lives. What purpose was served with Willy spending his life in a coma? She asked herself that question every single day.
Her thoughts turned serious as she recalled the trip they’d made to El Paso, Texas to meet Henry’s family. It was the first time Mabel had ever been away from Willy.
She was sure the unsettled feel of that trip was due to that fact alone. She tried not to dwell on the encounter with the old Native American woman down near the Tigua village the night before she and Henry had returned to Denver.
The old woman had dared to walk right up to her and plant in her mind the words that would haunt her for who knew how long: “Your child is in a struggle between good and evil. Follow the miracle. Everything is connected, and the circle will finally close. Remember me. My name is Sakani Nambe.”
Now, what on Earth did that mean? She dismissed it from her mind… over and over again.