Part 1. All the Romance Anyone Needs

After years of a lifeless marriage, they had but one fantasy left. Making love on a secluded beach. Living in Iowa presented some obstacles, but they had time. Time was all they had left.

Clifford and Brenda grew up in Iowa. On the side of the state, that’s cold in the winter and hot and humid in the summer. The side just like the other side. The side was flat with nothing but feed corn and soybean fields as far as the eye could see. He was from Dubuque, she from Des Moines. Any closer, and they’d have been related. Clifford grew up tall for his age; then he settled into just being tall. His constitution was solid, and his nervous energy belied his ability to eat twenty or more Snickers bars in one sitting, a highlight of the county fair. Now in his early forties, his six foot four and carries his one hundred twenty-seven pounds like the weathervane planted in every Iowa yard.

Brenda wasn’t homely as a child. Or so her mother says. Not fat but far from slim, yet of steady stock, one capable of plowing six acres before the horse was out of the barn. With her Brenda Lee raised-heel shoes that she got for her seventeenth birthday, she stood five foot four.

Early in their marriage, they’d tell people that destiny brought them together and God blessed their holy Iowa union. The facts remain, however. When they were sixteen, it wasn’t so much fate as a consequence of the match. Brenda won first prize at the county fair that year. Clifford entered the contest as a joke and the peer pressure of the other boys. Brenda beat all takers that year in the strong arm, best man arm-wrestling contest. Clifford was her trophy.

Now, a few decades after a quick wrist and bulging biceps brought their love together, they felt alone. They lived together, but Brenda and Clifford had long since drifted apart. Drifting in their marriage like the blowing Iowa snow. Secretly longing for the passion now buried in the mound of snow piled high and left by the plow. Now, the Iowa snowplow of loneliness covered their mailbox of love.

Clifford’s search history was full of long-dormant passion. He was careful to delete it. They shared a single out-of-date computer and almost everything else in their lives. He knew they shared too much when he caught her cleaning the sink drain with his toothbrush. It was over. Little did he know, she had the passion as well. Smoldering, not buried deep, but hidden, right below her ample bosom. Mostly she ignored it. Ignoring her passion like she tried to ignore the bloating she often felt. One too many Iowa biscuits, she thought.

Then, one day she saw it, his history file still there, a careless mistake. She’d never admit it; she was curious. She had the passion too. Star-crossed lovers. A secluded beach. Come to Jamacia, the ad said. Come to the land of enchantment, lapping waves on a sandy beach—rum drinks with fruit. Just then, she felt it surfacing from under her ample bosom. The bloating took over again. The moment was ruined. Not completely, but temporarily on hold. For now, she had more pressing desires.

Working at the feed store didn’t leave much money after the bills were paid. He managed to save some. He hid it from her. She’d just blow it. Pay the gas bill on time for once. Or maybe buy that toaster oven she’d been eyeing down at Markel’s Five ‘n Dime. Yeah, he hid his money, just like his passion, or so he thought. She hid her money too. Twenty-plus years of buying groceries and picking up the slack for his lack of ambition. An extra nickel here or there. She was the saver of the family. Cutting hair, doing makeup. She had her own business. It didn’t bring in much, but as I said, a nickel here, a nickel there.

What she really liked and the thing she did most often was read the cards. At the time, Tarot cards were frowned upon in Iowa. Many so-called ‘parlors’ were raided by the local police. Raided due to the suspicion of drugs and other such non-Iowa things. Couldn’t have that in our community. But you couldn’t stop Iowa women from wanting her to read their cards. And so it goes, for every local gal who had their hair done, two, sometimes three, wanted to know what the cards had to say. Some came back week after a fruitless week. Truth was, the cards always said the same thing. She was an expert at knowing what the local Iowa women wanted to hear.

‘Will he leave me?’ ‘When will he leave me?’ ‘Why won’t he leave me?’

But there was another question all these women wanted to know. ‘When the hell am I going to get out of Iowa?’