stories from home
By Tom Salter
Four days after Bob Perryman's 42nd birthday, he finally
accepted the fact that he would never be on the cover of Time
magazine. He never really believed he would, but some small part
of him always thought that maybe, just maybe he would stumble on
a cure for AIDS, a plan for world peace or a formula for a really
effective zit cream.
He used to dream. The usual boyhood visions of being
an astronaut gave way to a desire to be a movie star, became a vision
of becoming the husband to the love of his life, and finally evolved
to his current goal of owning a 34-inch TV and a new bass boat.
"Got any more of those kerosene heaters Slim?"
Bob's friends call him Slim, a good-natured barb at his ever-expanding
"Sure do, and I sure wish you would buy one Sam.
You've been in here looking at the damn things twice a week for
the last month."
Sam was in banking. His Mercedes cost more than Bob
earned in a year.
"I just want it to keep the dogs warm. For what
you want for this thing, it should heat my whole house," said
Sam, tossing Bob his platinum card.
Most of his high school buddies have now become successful
businessmen with degrees from Ole Miss. Their perky wives driving
their 2.5 children in minivans to ball practice and ballet lessons.
Bob spends his time counting nails.
"See ya Sam. Tell Becky and the kids I said hey."
As the century turned, most of Bob's contemporaries
began joining the millions of middle-aged men trying to turn back
receding hairlines and salivating over young women with tantalizing
figures. They started pumping iron, buying sports cars and expanding
their circle of influence. Bobby, as his mother still calls him,
slipped into a reverse mid-life crisis, eating Twinkies, watching
the WWF on the Superstation, and expanding his waistline.
Unlike his friends, Bob has little interest in recapturing
his youth. For the most part, it wasn't worth remembering. He was
an only child. A sister was stillborn -- something that nearly cost
his mother her life and left her emotionally tattered. Bobby began
to think his mother blamed him for his sibling's death somehow,
although that made no sense to him. It just seemed it took the joy
out of her, and she never treated anyone the same, especially her
He does like to think about riding around with his
friends on Friday nights during his high school years. After looping
through the Dairy Queen parking lot a dozen times in the course
of an hour, boredom would dictate the 17-mile drive to the Alabama
line to a run down liquor store where the legal age to buy alcohol
was directly correlated to the amount of money you had with you.
Bob often thought they would sell a six-pack to a toddler if the
kid could produce $5 from his diaper.
His drug of choice on those trips was Boone's Farm
Strawberry Hill wine. The sweet sticky liquid felt good going down
and gave him a feeling of confidence and invincibility, followed
closely by nausea, vomiting and a headache, but the pain was worth
the pleasure. Many nights he found himself at the D.Q., sloshed
and sticking his tongue down the throat of some unknown and unattractive
girl from the next town over. Of course, in the moment, she was
Cheryl Teague, Farrah Fawcet and Lisa Johnson rolled into one.
Lisa Johnson was the prettiest girl in school. Actually,
in his eyes she was so much more than that. To Bob, she was the
most beautiful woman in the universe. Her dark brown hair flowed
over her shoulders framing her soft sweet face. She was not particularly
tall, or buxom, she was, in his eyes, perfect and he loved her.
Not the adolescent "boner at the blackboard" lust that
arose from a glimpse at the curve of her thigh peeking from under
the crimson and white cheerleader's uniform she wore on pep-rally
days, but real love. He loved her gentle nature, her inner beauty,
her grace, her intelligence -- which was far superior to his own
-- and her smile. Lisa had a great smile and an intoxicating laugh.
Nearly every day Bob would sit two tables away at lunch, pondering
the mystery meat on his plate that would be labeled chopped steak
one day and pork patty the next. Lisa's laughter would float across
the noisy cafetorium, and her smile would warm the cold confines
of Bob's lonely heart, though she was unaware of the effect she
had on him.
She was nice to Bob in the way you are nice to someone
who is visiting from out of town. God knows he tried to attract
her attention. Their sophomore year, he raked three neighbor's yards
to get the extra money to buy her candy and flowers for Valentine's
Day. He gave them to her during homeroom. Her polite and gentle,
"Thank you, Bobby, that's sweet," was overpowered by the
laughter and taunts of the clique of popular kids that always surrounded
In the end, Lisa went off to college and Bobby stayed
home to work in his father's hardware store. But fate enjoys a good
At 19, Bobby took over the management of his family's
Sparks, Mississippi, hardware store after his father's unexpected
death. The store opened during the building boom of the early 1950s
by Bob's dad, a World War II hero. Jack Perryman was awarded a medal
of valor for taking out a German machine gun nest in the Battle
of the Bulge. The medal still hangs in a case on the wall behind
the cash register. For nearly a quarter century, Bob managed to
eke out a living surrounded by the ever-expanding chain stores.
Lisa fell for some hot-looking, no-account football
jock who got her drunk and took her to bed. Actually, it was the
back seat of his '72 Mustang G.T., but the result was the same.
As soon as she realized she was pregnant, they married. For more
than 20 years, she put up with his drinking and cheating. But the
night he came home drunk and slammed her against the wall, Lisa
packed a suitcase and came home.
When Bob learned of Lisa's return, he felt an energy,
a longing, the sudden urge to join a gym.
A week passed, then another as Bob tried to gather
the courage to call her. Four days after his 42nd birthday, the
need for a hammer brought Lisa into Bob's hardware store.
The ringing of the bell on the front door brought
his eyes up from the latest edition of the Bass Master's Monthly
he had bought after his meatloaf lunch at the Elite Café.
She looked great. It was as if a fresh breeze followed her in.
The flowing hair that used to flip and sway as she
led cheers on those crisp autumn nights had been cut short. A simple
yellow dress sprinkled with purple flowers held her tightly and
hinted at a figure maintained with countless salads and hours of
Jane Fonda tapes.
In a rare moment of courage and clarity, while simultaneously
attempting to suck in his gut and describe the advantages of the
claw hammer over a ballpeen, Bob managed to blurt out, "So,
can I treat you to a welcome home dinner tonight at the E-Light?
Mattie still makes the best chicken-fried steak in the county."
"That's very sweet," she said.
Bobby's heart was beating at twice its already too-high
resting-rate. He felt light headed as he tried to remember if he
had taken his blood pressure pill that morning.
Bob hated that word. Nothing good ever comes after
"but." He remembered all those years he tried out for
little league baseball. The coach would always say, "I wish
there was room on the team for everybody, but there isn't. I'm sorry
The one time he had managed to ask Lisa to a party
in high school he had heard that word. "I would love to go
with you, but we are such good friends, and I don't want to damage
that." Of course they weren't good friends. Bobby actually
loved her the more for trying to let him down easily.
I promised my mother I would stay home
tonight and help her with some canning."
Bob's heart moved from his throat to his stomach then
"She just brought in the garden and she wants
to get her tomatoes put up."
Another "but"? What else can she do? Bob
was already figuring how much Drano it would take to equal the damage
she had just done to him.
"I am free tomorrow night
if that's OK?"
OK? thought Bob. It's damn terrific! He wanted to
grab her, kiss her and propose to her on the spot.
"Sure, that's fine. Tomorrow is, uh, fine."
He still didn't believe it. Was there another "but" coming?
"6:30 OK?" asked Lisa.
"Sure, 6:30 is great!" he said with more
enthusiasm than he intended to convey.
She smiled. It was the same sweet smile that Bob loved
all those years ago, but this time it was for him.
She said something about the weather, paid for the
hammer and said goodbye. Her delicate perfume lingered for several
minutes before it was overpowered by aging paint and bug spray.
It was four days after Bob Perryman's 42nd birthday
and he realized he would never be on the cover of Time
magazine. He knew there would be no trip to Mars, no starring roles,
no pimple cream formula. Whether his dinner with Lisa was the beginning
of a wonderful relationship or the end of a dream, nothing would
ever top the way he felt at that moment, and for Bob Perryman, that
Tom Salter discovered the joy of communicating
at an early age breaking all records for detentions given for talking
in class at his elementary school. After graduation from college,
a potentially brilliant career in professional theatre was cut short
when Tom discovered the importance of little things
Tom exploited his oratorical skills as a broadcaster,
primarily in radio. He later put his gift of gab to work for children
when he began serving as a public relations practitioner for schools.
Tom is currently the communication manager for the Alabama Department
This short story is the first in a series set in the
fictional town of Sparks, Mississippi. Tom hopes to assemble the
stories into a book . Tom and his wife Susan
live near Montgomery, Alabama and have three children and a very
small dog who thinks he is a very big dog.