Dark blue with wine coloured spots, the tie was an apt reflector of its wearer. Joe Hapgood was born and raised in Lincoln County. His parents owned the local hardware store. Joe had no affinity for hardware; he claimed that the sight of all those hinges unhinged him. Unlike his sister Delia Joe had no aptitude for business. His ambition was to be whatever there was little opportunity for him to become in Lincoln County.
None-the-less, for the sake of his parents who were good people, and later for the sake of his sister, Delia, who was a bright and helpful businesswoman, the community accorded Joe a certain tolerance. This tolerance did not extend to outright friendship: Joe used every opportunity to monologue his woes.
You had only to spend five minutes in Joe’s company to realise how truly fortunate you were – even though you were on your way to the emergency room after hammering your thumbnail instead of the intended nail and blood was pulsing through a hastily applied bandage. ‘Dark blue’ Joe was always worse off than anyone who ever breathed. Five minutes spent in Joe’s company was usually considered to be four minutes too long. Joe became accustomed to short conversations, the other party calling back over his shoulder, “I’ll pray for you, Joe!”
Joe might have been the most prayed for member of the community. He was also the most assiduously avoided.
Perhaps it was for this reason that the wine coloured spots developed. On wet days and cold nights the fireside in the local tavern was warm, dry and comfortable. Here, too, he could often buttonhole someone who was winding down with a drink and the evening paper before heading home. Joe didn’t drink ales and he had no liking for spirits. He drank only a cheap wine.
With one thing and another before Joe turned forty years of age he was more often found in the tavern than anywhere else. Whatever the weather he sat in the corner near the fireside with a glass of wine at his elbow. To do him credit, he did not gulp the wine down. He sat and sipped, sat and sipped; occasionally exchanging a few words with another patron. When the tavern closed he left quietly and walked slowly and steadily to the small flat that he called home.
Delia visited him irregularly. Her visits were short and manifestly unsatisfying. Usually the slammed car door and squealing tyres indicated her impatience, but now and then she was seen to sit for a time with her head cradled in her arms, resting on the steering wheel, and her face was wet with tears when she finally drove away.
On one occasion Joe followed her to the car. He was shouting and waving an open bottle, apparently unaware that the contents were spattering him.
“Leave me be,” he called again, “I don’t want you and I don’t want your charity! I don’t want your prayers and I don’t want your church. Just leave me to live my own life my own way!”
He shattered the bottle on the car roof before going back indoors.
The following day Joe did not go to the tavern. After several days when he was not seen two of the tavern regulars went to see Delia, accompanying her back to Joe’s flat. The door was not locked. They knocked, waited, entered.
Joe was slumped at the table; an open Bible and a blood-smeared notepad beside him. The neck of the broken bottle lay on the floor. The old dark blue tie with the wine coloured spots had been pulled from his neck and hastily wound around his bleeding hand and wrist. It was saturated with congealed blood.
Delia picked up the notepad. Her eyes blurred reading the hasty, unfinished scrawl: “Sorry Delly, I didn’t mean ...” Their Mother’s Bible was opened at Luke chapter 18; a bloody fingerprint indicated the thirteenth verse.
The Coroner’s verdict was ‘accidental death,’ he remarked on the need of the lonely in times of illness and times like this.
The hearse was trailed by every car in town. For once no-one was in a hurry to get away from Joe. There was a heavy quietness; a still sadness. Tears dimmed the sight of rose petals falling into the grave. As they turned away one man spoke the thought of many hearts, “We said we would but we forgot to pray.”
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