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   a n d y

--- A L I C E   A Y E R S

Your name is Andy. Everyone knows you. Everyone knows the stories of your life. Everyone knows your house, your office at the police station, your boy, your woman, your barber. Everyone knows your Aunt Bee.

And everyone knows exactly how you should react to any given situation, even when you don't. Take this thing that happened when you swapped Aunt Bee's homemade pickles with store-bought. You thought you were doing yourself a favor because to be blunt, Auntie's pickles were pretty damn bad. But then she won a blue-ribbon at the county fair and all hell broke loose.

You came home from the station one day to find Auntie in the kitchen with her top blouse buttons unsprung and passionate beads of sweat on her corpulent bosom. " Oh Andy!" she cried and the spittle flew from her lip, "we have pickles for the next fifty years!"

You nearly wept. Why you were so undone, why it was pickles, you'll never know. Maybe it was just because you could see where it would all lead. There would be pickles served with every meal, Christ, there would be pickles scrambled into the breakfast eggs, chopped up in the meatloaf, fried along with the okra and even added to Aunt Bee's mouth-watering grits casserole. You and Opie would choke them down at first and when you just couldn't any more, Auntie would get that puzzled look on her face and somewhere down the road it would all lead to a warm scene that ended with a big hug and a tear in the eye. You left the kitchen in disgust. You knew that without Aunt Bee life would be easier.

The next day you were down at the station--yes there had been a pickle in your lunch and it now lay stinking in the wastebasket next to your desk. Fife was there too. The little deputy had his back turned and his shoulders hunched. You knew he had the phone nestled in the concave curve of his chest and that he was talking to Juanita from the Bluebird Diner. Your lip curled. Your gun was out of its holster and pointed at the back of his head before you even knew your hand had moved.

Naturally, you thought of Helen. Something about a hard barrel lifted in the air, maybe. Helen, oh Helen, Helen Crump. The flower of her lip, the length of her leg. Two nights ago, you had picked her up in the squad car and driven her down all those little back roads until you got to the one that led to the river. You'd parked the car, tuned up the radio and turned on the light bar. Helen had danced on the pine needles, wearing nothing but her stockings and her slip while the red and blue lights flashed over her body and lit the branches of the trees from underneath. One arm curled above her head like a swan's neck. The other reached to you, offering you a hand as white and delicate as a lotus blossom. How could you not ache for her?

But in the backseat of the squad car, she sat up and pushed you away.

"For crying out loud, Helen!" you'd shouted. "We're adults! We can do what we want! We don't have to answer to anyone!"

It had been no use. Helen had silently reapplied her lipstick and slipped back into the starched dress she'd had spread on the front seat to keep it from wrinkling.

You knew what she wanted, of course you did. And it wasn't that you didn't love her. Sometimes you wanted to whisper in her ear, oh Helen, be my Helen and I your Paris for whom you were made. But then your stomach rolled and something inside you said no no no. Something told you that you had power, and part of that power was in possibility. A widower with a child was open in some way a married man was not.

You sighed. And put the gun down on the desk. Fife still nattering away to Juanita when you slipped out of the room.

You drove for hours it seemed, but maybe it was only minutes. All you knew was that you had the impression that once you left Mayberry there was nothing out there but the sky, the pines and all that sandy Carolina soil that grew field after field of tobacco. Nothing but you and the straight road, the swamp and the setting sun. Then suddenly you were back in Mayberry.

The squad car seemed to know where to go. You parked at the school house and slipped quietly into Helen's classroom. She was there of course. It was where she belonged. Alone in her neat linen dress, her graceful arm going back and forth to erase a diagrammed sentence from the blackboard. And with all the tiny, empty desks behind her, tucked into neat rows like little soldiers, symbols of everything good and brave and decent.

You put your hands in the pockets and studied your shoes while you talked to her in a low voice. Helen cried with her hands over her face. "Oh, Andy," she said. "Are you really going to throw away love?" She looked at you, her eyes green and wet. Loose tendrils of hair stuck damply to that exquisite face. "Throwing away love when there's not enough to go around--why Andy, it's practically a crime!"

It was her use of the word "crime" that stopped you. Reminded you of who you were. The sheriff. Guardian not only of the law, but of all that was morally and intrinsically right. As you hesitated, the last ray of sunlight came in the window and lit Helen like a madonna in a Christmas play. You stepped forward and the relief washed over you as you took her into your arms. That thing you had said to her down at the river--we don't have to answer to anyone--really you were not so sure. When you did right, you felt an amazing wash of approval, not only from your own flock in Mayberry but from a whole unseen other, that invisible watcher you inexplicably but unequivocally knew was there. When you did wrong, you had the crazy sense the world could fall apart.

You left her then and drove back to the station house. Your gun was still on the desk and Fife was still there too, his eyes positively a-bug and his big-lipped mouth slack with surprise. "For pete's sake, Ange, where you been? Why didn't you tell me you were going? I got half the town out looking for you!" You rolled your eyes and shut your gun away quickly. No use flirting with temptation.

You sat with resignation at your desk. There was one thing more to do before you went home to little Opie and Aunt Bee. A brief image of Helen picking out wedding clothes entered your mind, but you brushed it away. That was the future, a possible outcome of what you had set in motion today. As for the present--well, in your life, the little details had a funny way of demanding closure.

You leaned over and retrieved Aunt Bee's pickle from the trash. The little green bastard lay in its nest of wax wrappings and seemed almost evil, its skin a thin integument for all the foul flavors of the world. Fife waited with his usual composure. He squirmed and blew his cheeks. His fingers plucked at his collar, cap and tie, the buttons on his shirts, but thankfully stopped short of his fly.

"You know, Barn," you said. "I never should have replaced Aunt Bee's pickles. It was wrong and now I'm paying for it."

You bit into the pickle, watching Fife while you chewed. His whole face seemed to spasm with agitation. You hated to imagine what your own face was doing.

"There's only one thing to do. It's what I should have done in the first place." You said this to little deputy, but felt like you were releasing the statement to the world at large. "Learn to love 'em."

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