THURSDAY: Bullseye

Valentines Week 2024
Honourable Mention


Copyright is held by the author.

GOOZIE MARRIED Redge Dunagan because she said she would.

It took Goozie fifteen years to realize her idea and Redge’s idea of marriage weren’t the same, a cut too deep to fill with a tube of wood putty and sand it smooth. Holding their relationship together would take more than a big nail. Redge’s best friend, Ethan, a carpenter, said the only thing that could hold them together was a couple of good screws.

Goozie stared at the edge of the axe, wondered how a person could have an idiot for a best friend. Were all carpenters idiots? She didn’t have a best friend, no one she could trust with what was supposed to happen that night. Was she the idiot if she couldn’t even find a friend?

She wondered, too, why Kevin Kellner kept calling. Had Redge put him up to it?

“I need an answer,” Kevin said with that tone in his voice the last time he called. But something else too. As though he would be disappointed if she said no.

Goozie rolled the log with the toe of her boot, steadied it in an upright position. The axe came down, missing the centre, the bullseye. She whacked it two more times, before the log split, the inner wood dark and moldy. She rolled another log in place. The axe came down again. She hoped the log would crack but there was only a muffled thump, the axe buried in the wet wood. That log was no good either. Goozie’s hand went to her tired back. Why did she always miss the mark?

She wondered if her date tonight would be different than her previous dates. Because she had an idea. Two could play Redge’s game. If she did everything right, since Kevin worked for Redge, Kevin might give her what she needed, information about Redge’s business assets, information Redge refused to divulge so the lawyers could consummate the divorce.

“I don’t want to meet at a bar. No cardboard pizza or greasy hamburgers. I get off work at 10:00 and restaurants stop serving dinner at 9:00,” she had told Kevin.

God, she thought, I said it in a whiny voice. She rubbed her gloved hand over her face. Kevin might go back and tell Redge she was a whiner.

Kevin had paused before responding. “I’ll make dinner at my house and keep everything warm until you get here.”

Keep everything warm until you get here? What did that mean? Was it some kind of sexual innuendo she didn’t know about that went along with dinner when a guy invited you to his house on Valentine’s Day?

She hated the thought of going to Kevin’s house, but how else was she supposed to get the information she needed to get rid of Redge once and for all?

She wondered what Kevin would cook up. “Spaghetti from a can, I bet,” she mumbled as she wrenched the axe from the soggy log. She leaned on the axe as though it was a cane, felt older than her 34 years. Whatever it was there was sure to be smoke. Something burning. She didn’t know any man who could cook. Her father couldn’t. Or his father. Redge never did.

Goozie checked her watch, propped the axe against the woodshed, grabbed her work-out bag, threw it in the car and headed for the fitness centre on the back side of St. Marie Street. She was late. Mr. Filkie, the manager, caught her sneaking through the pool room. He signaled her with a nod of his skinny head. He had that look in his eye. He motioned her to move toward the side, out of earshot of thirteen older women and one man floating like rubber-capped bobbers in the clear water of the heavily chlorinated water aerobics pool. To have a word.

Goozie’s mind retraced the events leading up to the confrontation she’d had with Mr. Filkie last night. The women’s toilet had over-flowed and during the time she was mopping up the mess someone stole a protein bar from the candy rack. Since she was the newcomer on the team, she was the suspect.

Then another thought floated across her mind. Goozie lived in her grandpa’s house while he wintered in the south. Grandpa had gotten the idea — before he’d left for Happy Hills, a popular gated community — to raise fish in the basement.

“Good eating, those tilapia,” Grandpa claimed.

Except the tilapia had all died.

“Oh God,” Goozie thought. “Do I smell like dead fish?”

But Goozie was wrong. Mr. Filkie wanted to address her . . . erm . . . protrusions. They had become an issue. Unbeknownst to Goozie they had been an issue the day she started working at the centre over a week ago.

Goozie didn’t have money to buy a new swimsuit. She had to use one she’d found at a thrift store — one that barely fit. It didn’t have cup liners. It had been like that since she’d filed for divorce and became a displaced homemaker looking for work. What she needed never fit and if it fit , she couldn’t afford it.

Mr. Filkie demanded an immediate solution, or he would cancel the class until he could find a replacement. Goozie needed this part-time job at the fitness centre. She clenched her teeth and whispered in Mr. Filkie’s ear as her cheeks turned red.

Mr. Filkie turned on his heel as Goozie hauled out the first aid kit and fished out a couple of band aids to cover her perky little culprits. Chilly water had that effect on her nipples. As a mother of two rowdy teenage boys, she was duty-bound to improvise effectively without warning. It seemed it was always something. But she was appropriately altered and ready to teach water aerobics. One, two, three, kick. Two, two, three, kick.

Mr. Filkie stuck his head back into the pool room. “Make sure you replace what you took out of the first aid kit and bring your own next time.”

One, two, three, kick. Two, two, three, she wanted to kick him in the…well, not in the knee, that’s for sure.

Later that day Goozie wiped the big guy’s sweat off the press bench, sanitized the tanning bed. She ignored Mr. Filkie because of the suggestion he’d made earlier in the day. Goozie grabbed her purse and gave Jenny a hug. “Thanks for covering for me so I can go to my class tonight.”

“I don’t mind covering for you, but you better be back to close. Cody doesn’t like it when I’m late. He’s taking me out for Valentine’s pizza, you know,” Jenny reminded her.

“I promise I’ll be back to close up,” Goozie called over her shoulder and raced out the door.

Goozie climbed into the frozen confines of her old Taurus station wagon. She said a prayer that addressed the car’s refusal to run without making all kinds of funny noises while lights flashed on the dash as she headed to her court-ordered appointment at the Blessed Teresa Catholic church for her first displaced homemaker’s class where Helen Coldleaf, from the Work Force Placement (WFP) office down at the courthouse, was supposed to give lessons to outdated women on how to fit into today’s work place. The woman still wore flour-sack aprons she sewed herself.

Damn Redge Dunagan and his under-the-table connections with Judge Melbrock. Even though Goozie had been the one to file for divorce, Redge still managed to control her life through avenues she, herself, couldn’t afford. If she didn’t take the class to find gainful employment she would be in contempt of court.

Goozie pulled onto the highway. It started to snow. Hard. Of course.

The county snowplough in front of her rumbled along, winging snow into the roadside ditches, dribbling enough salt from its hopper to rust the Taurus’s already rusted undercarriage. The plow slowed and turned onto Elm Street just as a blue Prius, driven by old Mrs. Doppleman, scooted into the southbound lane. Goozie slammed on the brakes and narrowly missed Mrs. Doppleman but not the huge chunk of snow that torpedoed toward the Taurus from the roof of the Prius, smothering Goozie’s windshield. The Taurus went into a sideways skid on the slick part of the road untouched by the salt.

The driver behind Goozie wasn’t as quick at hitting the brakes and he slammed into the back of the Taurus. Mrs. Doppleman drove away without noticing a thing.

Goozie’s mind zoomed back to the beginning of the week, attempted a quick search of events — had she sent that insurance payment or was it still lying on the kitchen table?

Goozie gripped the steering wheel and banged her head against it as she waited for police dispatch to answer her emergency call. The dispatched officer was a woman. Kind eyes, big gun. Goozie was calm when she explained what happened. Officer Cautinsky was skeptical until Mrs. Doppleman chugged past them and dumped the other half of the snow onto the hood of the squad car. The officer cited the man behind Goozie for following too closely. They traded insurance cards and Goozie sped away.

Goozie wheeled into the church parking lot. She was not Catholic. She was barely Presbyterian. In fact, churches made her nervous. She relegated her attendance to weddings or funerals. This was a stone church with a set of double doors. Nothing indicated which door led to the inside. She would have to choose. Of course.

She chose the door on the left. It was wrong. The right one opened easily. Goozie stepped inside. A vacant space, high walls, hollow feeling. Christ was nailed to the cross near the peak. She could see the nails. Fake blood was dripping. There was a hallway. Lots of noise coming from somewhere in the bowels of the building. She spotted a light shining through a narrow window.

Goozie peered through the skinny window looking into Room A, where she was supposed to be. The room was full, except for the front row. She closed her eyes and pulled the door open. All heads turned toward her as she slipped into the empty seat.

Helen Coldleaf was nowhere in sight. A woman next to Goozie coughed, stood, turned to face the class.

“My name is Leaner Hazelhurst and I have pamphlets. About how to organize your life. I volunteer at the Memorial Building, in the kiosk, handing out brochures for local activities and fun places to visit in our county. Snow shoeing on the ice age trail is popular this time of year.”

The lady slapped a pamphlet onto the desk extension of Goozie’s chair. The extension was on the right. Goozie was left-handed. Leaner kept talking but Goozie’s headache blocked the sound as the door swung open and a flash of something thin and blonde blew into the room. It had cherry red lips that Goozie had seen before, in of all places, the parking lot behind Trilly’s bar. Those lips had been kissing Redge’s lips right before Goozie filed for divorce.

“I am so-o-o sorry I’m late. My name is Cassidy Berkmeyer. I’m filling in for Mrs. Coldleaf. Shall we start with roll call? Raise your hand when I call your name.”

“You didn’t call my name,” Leaner said when Cassidy was done. “None of us in the front row raised our hands.”

Cassidy scanned the room. “I called all the names on the list.”

“We’re new, assigned to class this week. Maybe we’re not on your sheet yet. Judge Melbrock believes it won’t take much for us to catch up with the rest of the class. My name is Leaner Hazelhurst. You can write that on your list.” Leaner pointed at Goozie.

“Goozie Dunagan.”

The other two didn’t wait for Leaner to point.

“Viola Vicars.”

“What a lovely name,” Leaner leaned her heavy frame toward Viola. “Are you Catholic?”

Viola stared at Leaner while the next lady answered.

“Marge Marshall.”

“Alright, I’ve added all of you to the list.”

Goozie glared at the young intern, but the girl didn’t notice. It occurred to Goozie that Cassidy had no idea who she was, but then why would she? The first time Goozie saw Cassidy was when the girl was standing beside a car in plain sight at midnight, kissing Redge, while Goozie hid in the bushes along the bank of the river, watching in disbelief.

Cassidy went on. “We’ll start where the class left off last week. How about we start with you, Goozie? What is your goal for February?”

 “To make it to March 1st.”

One person laughed, a young girl, with green hair and purple highlights, a multitude of tattoos decorating the left side of her face, who, it appeared, had already chewed the eraser off her No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil.

Goozie’s first thought was, “I’m glad we’re still using pencils. It means there’s a chance I’ll survive this class because I can erase my mistakes.”

Cassidy continued, “Marge, how about you? Do you have a goal?”

Viola noticed Cassidy kept glancing at the clock and whispered to the front row. “It’s Valentine’s Day. She’s expecting to get a ring from her fiancé.” Viola made a smooching sound.

Cassidy’s face turned red. “Again, Marge, do you have a goal?”

“Just once I would like to make it through tax season without breaking out in hives.”

“Excuse me?”

“Every time, according to my calculations, lines 5 and 8 don’t add up on the tax form. By the time I get to line 25 and need to multiply by .02% the whole thing has gone to hell in a hand basket. I feel like making something up just so I can send it in by the deadline to avoid a penalty. Then, do I send a copy of my psychiatrist’s bill to the government so they can cover the cost of the migraine I get every time I do my taxes, not to mention my hives?”

“I heard that’s why most people use an accountant.” The words shot out of Leaner’s mouth.

“What are you, a wisdom tooth?” Marge answered, her voice tougher now.

“Pardon me?” Leaner’s brows knitted together tighter than a backstitch.

“You know, a wisdom tooth. Something nobody needs but it’s going to take a hammer and a pair of pliers to get rid of it.” Marge sat with her back straight, lips tighter than Leaner’s eyebrows.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Cassidy intervened as she checked a note she’d missed before. “I see the new members need to do their assessments.”

Cassidy looked around for a private place to administer the assessments without disrupting the main class. “Ladies, if you’ll follow me, we’ll get you set up somewhere quiet.”

The ladies groaned and glanced at each other. They scooped up their belongings and headed out the door.

“Oh,” said Cassidy. “I forgot to have you deposit your cell phones in this basket. We don’t allow outside influence while you’re filling out the forms.”

“I ended up with two phones once when I had to do this. My phone is so sexy one of the other phones wanted to mate with it.” Viola Vicars gave a wink with a double eyebrow raise. Cassidy blushed. Leaner rolled her eyes.

“I’m not leaving my cell phone, especially if it’s going to be exposed to her phone,” Marge insisted, glaring at Viola.

“It’s required. Of course, you can keep your cell phone, but you won’t be allowed to complete the assessment and take the course.”

Goozie watched Marge’s lips form a straight line. Marge pulled her cell phone from her purse and dropped it in the basket. “If anything happens, I’m holding you accountable,” Marge said to Cassidy.

“Understood. Now, let’s see if we can find a place for you to fill out these assessment forms. I’ll give you plenty of time and then I’ll come back and do your reviews.”

Cassidy led them down the hallway, past rooms bustling with activity. Leaner stuck her head in one of the doors. “That looks like fun. What are ya’ll doing?”

“A Clutter for Christ Benefit. The Johnson’s house burned down,” two ladies took turns finishing each other’s sentences. “The sale starts on Saturday. At 10:00 a.m.”

Leaner rifled through her purse and brought out a soap dish and a hot pad. “Can I donate?”

“Of course!” the ladies said.

Leaner waddled to catch up with her group. Cassidy had stopped in front of an open door leading to an empty room. Leaner pushed to the front.

“We can’t go in there. It’s the sacristy. It’s sacred,” Leaner said.

“It’s the only room available,” Cassidy said, looking up and down the hallway.

“It doesn’t matter,” Leaner said.

“Then you’ll have to wait until class next week to do your assessments,” Cassidy countered.

“I’ll go,” said Marge. “I want to get this over with.” Marge barged into the room and flicked on the light. Goozie and Viola followed.

Cassidy stepped inside and moved a table to the middle of the room. “I saw some folding chairs in the hallway back by the Sunday school rooms.”

“I’ll get them,” Marge said as she pushed back through the door, shoving past Leaner.

Cassidy pulled four forms that consisted of ten pages stapled together, from her folder and dealt them onto the table like huge playing cards along with Ticonderoga pencils for each of them. “Take as long as you like to fill out your assessments.”

Marge came back in with three folding chairs and set them around the table. “Oh, it looks like we’re one short.” She winked at the ladies as everyone took a seat except Leaner.

Leaner started to open her mouth, but Cassidy went on, “I’ll come back in a little bit to go over your assessments and do your reviews. If you get done early, just come back to the main room.” Cassidy tucked her folder under her arm and inched out the door past Leaner and disappeared down the hallway.

Leaner grumbled as she went to get a chair. She came back to the room and set her chair in front of the last assessment form on the table just as a group of children ran screaming down the hallway. “Noisy kids. I can’t think with all that noise.” She got back up, stepped out, and kicked the wedge from under the door. She stepped back in and slammed the door shut behind her. “We shouldn’t be in here,” she said as she took her seat and picked up her pencil.

Viola wiped her nose with an embroidered handkerchief. Goozie rubbed her forehead with one hand and tapped her pencil on the table with the other.

“Do you have to do that?” Leaner said, focusing on Goozie’s pencil.

“I could think of something else to do with it,” Goozie shot back. She had one nerve left and Leaner had just poked it. All Goozie could think about was going to Kevin’s house.

The four women bent over the forms in front of them. The only noise was from the children in the hallway.

Marge chewed off the end of her Ticonderoga pencil and after a while she asked, “What does social media mean?”

“It’s one of the reasons you need this class,” Leaner answered. “To help you stay connected.”

“Connected to what?”

“Other people.”

“I don’t like other people.”

Leaner raised her eyebrows. “I’m other people.”

“So, there you go . . .” Marge turned around, faced the wall with the papers in her lap, cursing as she read through the form.

“Stop cursing. We are after all, in a sacristy,” Leaner said.

“Well, I’m done with this sh . . . stuff. I already know a place where I can get a job milking cows,” Marge answered. She lumbered out of her chair and went to the door, turned the knob, but when she pushed, nothing happened. “What the . . .” She pushed again.

Goozie and Viola looked up.

“It won’t open,” Marge said.

Goozie shook her head. Were they locked in somehow? Of course.

Marge flicked off the light as she pressed her ear against the door and then looked down.

“Hey, I can’t see!” Leaner said.

“There’s no light coming from the hallway under the door. Looks like Cassidy, and everybody else, left. “Help! We’re in the sacristy,” she yelled and pounded on the door, but no one answered. She kept pounding.

“Like I said,” Viola reminded them with a quirky grin, “Cassidy was focused on going out with her boyfriend, hoping for a Valentine’s Day ring.”

Goozie wanted to shout at her, my husband is her boyfriend but instead turned to Leaner, “Do you have anything in your purse that can get us out of here?”

“A bobby pin and a nail file. I saw them use it on TV!” Leaner ran to the door and made a show of meticulously inserting the instruments in the lock, but nothing happened.

“Looks like it only works on TV,” Marge said just as Viola produced a cell phone from her purse and waved it in the air.

“Where did you get that? I saw you put your cell phone in the basket,” Goozie said.

“This is the one my other phone mated with that other time I had to put my phone in a basket.”

“Is it turned on?”

“Of course it’s turned on,” Marge answered. “Haven’t you realized by now her other phone is a nymphomaniac?”

Viola giggled.

Goozie grabbed the phone, held her breath and dialed 9-1-1. A dispatcher answered. Then she checked the time as there was no clock in the sacristy. “It’s 10:45. We’ve been here almost two hours!”

“Wow, time really does fly when you’re having fun,” Marge said.

A half hour later they listened to voices in the hall. It turned out to be the janitor for the church, and another voice Goozie recognized. Officer Cautinsky.

After the janitor opened the door, Goozie rolled her eyes as Viola approached Officer Cautinsky and unabashedly asked the officer if she was doing anything special when she got off work. Wink. Wink.

Marge buried her face in her hands and shook her head.

Of course.

By the time they got out of the sacristy and retrieved their phones from the basket in the main room, it was nearly midnight. It was too late to contact Jenny, but that was the least of Goozie’s worries.

What about Kevin?

Goozie decided it was best to drive over to Kevin’s house instead of just calling, to at least apologize, and explain what happened. She pulled up to Kevin’s front door. She sat in the car and stared past the snow at the soft glow shining from the front door window. She was thirty-four years old and didn’t know what to do. What would she say? What if he didn’t open the door? Good lord, she remembered she was wearing her fitness centre uniform from work! A purple polyester sweat suit!

Goozie banged her head on the steering wheel and said a prayer, thought of running her fingers through her hair, to fluff it up a bit, but what was the use?

She exited her vehicle, walked up the steps and rapped gently on the door.

It opened slowly.

Kevin was standing there, holding a dozen roses taller than her. “I made spaghetti with my grandma’s special secret sauce and it’s still warm.”

Goozie couldn’t believe it. She started to cry.

“You don’t like roses? Or spaghetti?” A look of failure swept across Kevin’s face.

“No. It’s just that no one has ever cooked for me or got me roses before,” she said swiping her hand across her nose.

“I know I’m an idiot, but I really like you.” The look in Kevin’s eyes matched his words and it shot right to her heart.

Of course.

And just like that, nothing about Redge mattered anymore.



Image of Julie Eger.

Julie Eger occasionally writes a good story, perforates the edges of the page while writing, believes anything is possible for those who believe anything is possible, and lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two black Golden Doodles. She has raised two sons and the spirits of many others. She also understands there really is something about pie.

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