Gabby stepped out into the hot, humid air of a mid-September afternoon in northern Florida. He tried to shade himself under the yellow awning that read, “Adult Superstore.” Travelers passed by a short distance from the front parking lot. Gabby paid no heed to the stares and glares he received from men and women he had no connection with that drove along the unassuming landscape. He stood there for a moment and tried to feel something, anything. Cicadas buzzed along the forest’s edge surrounding the old shop. The parking lot was full; it was a reminder to Gabby he was not alone in his dark world.
“Gabby, I thought I’d find you here.”
Gabby jumped and looked. There, just a few feet away was the preacher man. At least that how Gabby knew him. If the old evangelist had a name Gabby had no plan to find out what it was. The parson stood out in the blazing Florida sun under a wide brim, circular black hat. He had on a black short sleeve button-down shirt and a pair of thin black slacks. Peaking out of the bottom of his pants were a couple of dusty black cowboy boots.
At least he had the good sense to wear short sleeves this time, thought Gabby to himself. “What is it, Preacher Man?” asked Gabby.
The old preacher took a step towards Gabby and held Gabby’s shoulder in his large palm. He gave him a gentle squeeze as he spoke. “You know why I’m here. You have to let her go, Gabby, it’s been five years.”
Gabby jerked his shoulder back away from the parson. “What do you know? You ever have a wife die, been married, heck, have you ever dated, Preacher Man?”
The old preacher just slowly shook his head, and then spoke quietly. “No, but I know how it feels to be alone. I know that hollow feeling you are carrying. You have to let that go. Look around you, Gabby. This place isn’t who you are. What would Denise say if she found you coming out of one of these stores?”
Gabby’s lip curled into a snarl, “She’d not say a thing on account of being dead.”
The old preacher crossed his arms. “Okay,” the preacher pointed towards the sign on the awning and said, “Is it helping?”
Gabby kicked up some dust towards the preacher. “What kind of question is that? You know full well this ain’t helping. It leaves me feeling darker, more guilty. It meshes well with the dark hole death left me. Where’s your God now, now that I ain’t got the one person I ever loved? Why didn’t he step in and cure her of that cancer?”
The preacher dropped his arms, and his head drooped slightly. “Gabby, He’s with you. You’ve just forgotten how to look for Him, but I know He is looking out for you.”
Gabby waved away the thought and started walking towards his truck. “Leave me alone, Preacher Man. You still ain’t got no answers.”
Gabby slid into his rusty stepside pickup. The old door gave a loud creak as Gabby slammed in shut. He looked in his review mirror. The scraggly gray beard was a sad sight compared to the dark, thick beard he had as a young man. Denise loved that beard. A lot of women were put off by it, but she loved his thick, soft mane. Denise would bury her face in it and fall asleep. Gabby wondered what she would think if she could see him now. A tear ran down his cheek.
“Gabby, you have to let Denise go.”
Gabby jumped, and his arm flung up and tilted his review mirror. “How did you get there? I didn’t hear the door.”
Gabby looked past the preacher and saw the door was locked. “You planning on locking us in here together?”
The Preacher smiled. “I don’t need to do that. I just don’t want us disturbed. Listen to me, Gabby. I do understand what you’re feeling. I talk to thousands of people like you all the time. You have to let go of your grief and your hate.”
“Hate?” questioned Gabby, “I ain’t got any hate towards anybody. If you think I’m blaming Denise, you’re crazier than I am.”
Preacher Man nodded, “Hate, towards yourself. You think you should be the one that’s dead. You’re angry at God for not healing Denise’s cancer, and you’re angry at death for even existing.”
Gabby nodded, “Okay, now you’re speaking the truth. I have every right to be mad. Why would God let her die, and why does He send you to keep harassing me?”
The old preacher smiled from underneath his brim, “Oh, harassing you is my idea. I know you believe in heaven, so let me ask you a question. Do you think Denise is happier there, or here?”
Gabby shrugged, “I suppose there. Who’d want to live down here in all the sweat and hard work?”
Gabby could see Preacher Man’s sparkling blue eyes as the man of God pushed up his brim and continued, “Then why are you trying to keep her here?”
Gabby rested his hands on the steering wheel and thought for a moment. The dusty smell of the old pickup truck filled his nostrils. For the first time, he noticed a bald eagle perched atop an old southern oak tree. It almost seemed to be watching him through the windshield. Gabby kept observing the bird as he spoke, “I reckon I hadn’t thought of it that way. I don’t want to lose her. If I don’t hang on to the darkness, I might forget her beautiful smile. I might even forget what it felt like when she kissed me.”
Preacher Man just rested his hand on Gabby’s shoulder. “You won’t ever forget those things, Gabby. Trust me, I’ll be around to help you remember, but you need to forgive, let go, and move on. Denise wouldn’t want you living this way.”
Gabby looked through his windshield. The faded yellow awning had a tear in the “S” of “Superstore.” The blue front door was dirty, faded and dented in places. Gabby wondered how those details had slipped his notice before. A knock on the driver’s side window startled him, and he looked out to see Frank standing there. I guess Frank got done inside, thought Gabby. Gabby looked at Frank’s face and wondered how he had overlooked Frank’s dull, sad eyes before. Frank’s appearance would have made anyone think he was strung out on some drug, but the truth was Frank had never taken so much as an aspirin in his life. At least that is what he had told Gabby when they were inside the store about a month ago.
“You alright?” asked Frank through the closed window.
Gabby pointed over his shoulder, “I’m just talking to Preacher Man.”
“Who?” Frank appeared to search past Gabby, unable to see anyone.
Gabby looked over his shoulder, the old preacher had disappeared again, just like always. Never a sound or a footstep.
“You better roll down those windows, Gabe. You’ll suffocate in this heat.”
The hot tacky air and the sweat sticking his clothing alerted Gabby to his predicament. He quickly rolled down his window. Frank slapped the top of the truck door, gave a wave, and ambled to his car. Gabby sucked in the muggy air of the outdoors. He cranked up his old truck. “So long, Frank,” Gabby said out loud to himself, “I don’t think I’ll be seeing you here again.”