Peace of Mind

Mr. Boylston (Monte Dutton sketch)
Mr. Boylston (Monte Dutton sketch)

Mr. Boylston was a cute little man. He came down for the free breakfast each morning, already dressed in a wool blazer he’d probably had for thirty years. His scent was of Old Spice and hair tonic, and it evoked images of times when families took taxicabs uptown to do their shopping on Saturdays and had grilled-cheese sandwiches at Lumley’s Drug Store on the square.

He was eighty-five if he was a day but as well preserved as his clothes. Mrs. Davies liked him. She could tell he wasn’t rich. He made sure to get a good start to his day with the coffee, cereal, danishes and waffles. He had a good appetite for a man his age, but Mrs. Davies figured he was trying to save as much money as he could, and taking his time, and reading the USA Today, gave him a nice, leisurely start to the day and made it a fairly simple matter to skip lunch. Mrs. Davies wondered why he spent so much time at the Days Inn. He never had any visitors, but he’d stay two or three days at a time, leave, and be back in a week or two. Mrs. Davies, a widow who worked the front desk on weekends, couldn’t help but be curious. She noticed when he was checking out that his home was listed as Kingsport, Tennessee. Mr. Boylston wasn’t the type of fellow who talked about himself, and Mrs. Davies wasn’t one to pry.

One morning he asked her if she knew the Varn family.

“I knew a Boyce Varn,” she said. “I believe he ran the abattoir. Sometimes we used to shop at his meat market. If I’m not mistaken, he passed on, oh, some time back.”

“Did you know Mrs. Varn?”

“A little. Her name was Jane. I didn’t know her well. We’d speak at the grocery store, you know, but I haven’t seen her in years.”

Mrs. Davies didn’t know whether or not Jane Varn was still with us. She wondered if maybe she was Mr. Boylston’s sister, but it seemed odd that, if she was still alive, he wasn’t staying at her house, and if she wasn’t, that he’d visit so often just to see the grave. She didn’t want to be nosy, though, and Mr. Boylston just nodded and shuffled out the door.

Two weeks later, she was cleaning up the breakfast area while Mr. Boylston was sipping his coffee and reading the paper.

“Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me?” he asked.

“I suppose so, Mr. Boylston, but I’ll have to be where I can see it when someone comes to check out. Do you think we could walk back up front?

“Why, of course,” Mr. Boylston said. He stood up and folded the paper under his arm. “Let me get a refill, and I’ll bring you a cup. Cream and sugar?”

“That’s right,” Mrs. Davies said, and she placed a white plastic liner in the trash can she’d just emptied.

The phone rang, and Mrs. Davies said, no, she couldn’t give out the room numbe3r of that gentleman, but she could ring the room. She pecked away a bit at the keyboard, seeing whether or not Two Eleven was clean yet, and made sure she had her reading glasses, and finally walked around the counter to where Mr. Boylston waited with her coffee.

“I hope I made it to suit you,” he said.

“Fine, just fine,” she said.

They each sipped a little. Finally, Mr. Boylston said, “I grew up in this town, but I’ve been gone for many years.”

Mrs. Davies nodded.

“I had a brother, Harvey. Folks called him Hack. He passed on back in ninety-three.”

“That’s the year my husband, Billy, died.”

“Twenty-one years.”

“Yes. It doesn’t seem anywhere near that long.”

“I left Jacksboro sixty-five years ago,” Mr. Boylston said. “I needed work, and they weren’t none here. I didn’t want to go to work in the mills.”

“My father worked there fifty years,” Mrs. Davies said. “I don’t blame you.”

“I was in love with Jane Tompkins. We was a-gonna get married, too, ‘cept I went off looking for work. I was gonna bring her with me when I got settled. The war come along. I got drafted, and, next thing I knowed, Jane had done married Boyce Varn.”

Mr. Boylston sighed. “I reckon that’s the great regret of my life.”

“Never married?”

“Never did. I still take the Jacksboro Journal. I seen where Jane was in the nursing home. Me, I’m retired, and I figured I’d come back and get in touch with her again after all these years. I was just curious how she’d changed, and figured she might be curious about how I was a-doing. You know how it is.”

Mrs. Davies didn’t know what to say. “Well,” she said, finally, “I certainly hope it means something to the both of you.”

Mr. Boylston didn’t say anything. They finished their coffee in silence, and he shuffled out the door, headed to the nursing home, Mrs. Davies reckoned.

The next week Mr. Boylston asked if there was a cheaper motel she could recommend. She told him the Jacksboro Inn was cheaper but right shabby. He took it under advisement. “I can’t afford it much longer,” he said, but a week later, he was back again.

It was the third Sunday in October when Mr. Boylston checked out and told Mrs. Davies she wouldn’t be seeing him anymore. Mrs. Davies wondered if Jane Varn had died, or if they’d had some disagreement, but she didn’t say anything.

“I finally got what I come for,” he said, folding his receipt and sliding it into his breast pocket.

“Well, I’m glad, Mr. Boylston. I’ve enjoyed us having our little conversations. You seem like a very nice man.”

“I think I finally got Jane to figure out who I was,” he said. “I reckon a man’s got to settle for what he can once he gets old.”

Mr. Boylston walked out the door, and Mrs. Davies watched him drive off in the direction of Tennessee, knowing he wouldn’t be back.

You can read all about my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, at All my books, fiction and non, are available here:


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