The Romance of Hunch and Lexi - Part 1 - "The Ace of Clubs"
Alexandra Hekla Royston Minervudottir-Beauchamp descended from a long and complex line of northern Europeans. Her father’s grandfather emigrated from Normandy to Saskatoon in the early 20th century. Her father, Gabriel Royston Beauchamp, married Hekla Katrin Minervudottir, who descended from a line of Icelandic writers and fishermen. Hekla was a sort-of famous writer herself, depending on what literary circles one followed, if one followed any at all. Alexandra was born to Gabriel and Hekla in 1962, the eldest of four children. She is known to family and friends as “Lexi.” Hekla calls her “Lexi-dottir” – Icelandic for “Lexi-daughter” – when she’s mad at her.
Gabriel was an accountant for Maple Leaf Foods in Saskatoon before landing a lucrative job with Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi in 1973. Gulf Coast shipbuilding peaked in those days. Lexi was eleven. The Saskatoon-to-Pascagoula move was hard on her social life. But her ancestral creativity blossomed. She consoled herself by water coloring and oil painting. She loved the works of the late, local artist, Walter Anderson, famous for his stylized paintings of Gulf Coast scenes and pottery. By age sixteen, the Singing River Art Gallery had become her favorite – if not only – hangout in Pascagoula. To locals, Lexi seemed exotic. She had few high school friends, preferring to hang around sadder but wiser ex-hippie types, mostly in their mid-twenties, at the Gallery. Yet, some of Lexi’s boy classmates found her attractive. But none felt up to her standard.
Then she fell in love with Hunch. He was her classmate and the son of a shipyard worker. Nobody knew Hunch’s real name, except immediate family and anyone dealing in public records. No one knew why he was called Hunch. No one asked. No one cared. They were an unlikely pair. An adept redneck, Hunch was rarely without a wad of Skoal bulging from his right cheek, except in church and in Ms. Frazier’s no-nonsense math class. Though an expert in cheap beer, he was mild-mannered and polite. On their first date, Hunch took Lexi to the Ace of Clubs. In those days, and in those parts, the only requirements for bar entry were (1) your eyes had to see over the counter, and (2) you had to answer the question, “Who’s ya’ mamma?” No one cared about IDs.
On that first date, Hunch and Lexi talked religion. But not at first. He did most of the gabbing, and she did most of the thinking. Over a couple of Jax Beers, he talked about himself and his family, and his stories went on and on and on….. I saw m’older brother JoJo comin’ in from mowin’ the grass, so I put Minew the cat in the freezer ‘cause I thought JoJo’s comin’ in for a popsicle. I thought that be funny to see the cat fly out at ‘im. But he just came in and took a swig of lemonade from the frigerator. I said, “You don’t want no popsicle JoJo?” He said, “No I don’t want no popsicle.” I said, “Well, I wanna popsicle.” I’z tryin’ to get him open the freezer ‘cause I wanted to see Minew fly out at ‘im. “Can ya git me one?” I asked him. “Git ya’own popsickle,” he said. “You don’t want no ice in that lemonade?” I asked JoJo. He told me, “Hunch, git y’ass outa here.” It was daddy’s birthday and Aunt Mable walked in with an ice cream cake to put in the freezer. She opened the freezer and Minew flew out right at ‘er and right to the cake. The ice cream landed right on top a’ Minew when she hit the floor, and she ran into mamma’s king size bed and hid in the pillers. She got ice cream all over ‘dem pillars and, by golly, mamma wuz mad as hell. “Git that filthy cat outta my pillers,” she said…..
Hunch laughed uncontrollably at his own tale as Lexi stared coldly, as if he just landed from Mars. Uneasy seconds passed. Lexi put on a righteous face, as if to render a verdict, and said in perfect diction: “That was shameful, Hunch. Why did you do that to your cat? That was mean. I thought you were a Christian.” Hunch’s laughing phased out, as if he were a noise-making doll with a dying battery. The conversation turned religious.
“I’m a believer,” said Hunch. “You gotta believe in Jesus!” She glared blankly, with ice blue eyes, for five uncomfortable, speechless seconds. Then her eyes glanced over Hunch’s shoulder and locked on someone else. “Who’s that priest over there?” Hunch sneaked a peak over his left shoulder, without being too obvious. “That’s Father Bourgeois,” he said, “and that other guy with ‘im is the Reverence Peachtree from ma’ church. My granddaddy’s turnin’ over in ‘is grave ‘cause the Pastor of the First Tabernacle of Pascagoula – that was grandaddy’s church too – is fellowshippin’ and drankin’ with a priest. He’s been talkin’ to that priest for some time now. The Reverence Peachtree gave me a lil’ baseball card he said the priest gave ‘im. I got it in ma’ wallet.” Hunch took it out. “Looka’ here.” He showed it to Lexi. “It’s a guy in a black robe floatin’ in mid-air! Ain’t that somethin’! The Reverence Peachtree thought it was Saint Francis of a Sissy, but the priest said it’s Saint Joseph Cappuccino. The Reverence Peachtree’s kid was failin’ fourth grade, and the priest said Cappucino’s good for school kids. He passed the fourth grade, and now he’s in fifth grade. I’z failing Ms. Frazier’s math class so the Reverence gave me one of those cards too. I never knew Catholics got slain in the Spirit like that. They can float in mid-air! The Reverence Peachtree cain’t do that. But I think that Father’s gittin’ to Reverence Peachtree and it’s pissin’ off the folks at the First Tabernacle. You gotta see that statue a’ Jesus showing off his open heart surgery in front of our church. Ma’ granddaddy’s rollin’ in ‘is grave, with the Reverence Peachtree buyin’ statues and talkin’ to a priest at the Ace of Clubs. I showed that picture of Saint Cappuccino to Cinclaire, the guy over there at the bar – see ‘im over there? – and he gave me free shot a’ Cutty Shark…” Hunch went on and on and on….
But Lexi was falling madly in love with him. She saw rainbows in her Jax Beer. “Do you really believe in God?” she asked. “Hell, I dunno. I’m just a Christian and Jesus is ma’ Lord and Savior. But this Cappucino guy’s passin’ me through Ms. Frazier’s class. I’z looking at the card durin’ the egg-zam and she thought I’z cheatin’. But when I showed her the card she just looked and made a cross over her face, like she just made a touchdown.” “Well then,” said Lexi, “you must believe in God, then.” “D’you believe?” he asked. “I believe,” declared Lexi, sitting up straight, “in a universal humanity of love and peace and sisterhood.” That shut down Hunch for a few seconds. But she stared right at him with her light blue eyes, slightly raising her blond eyebrows. She went on, “I think we’re all just One. You…. me….. and everyone…..and everything…. are all just One. That’s what I think about when I paint.” Hunch began to see rainbows in his Jax Beer. “Lexi,” he said, looking her in the blue eye, “I just believe in Jesus.” “Well,” she said warmly, though in counterpoint, “I believe in universal humanity.” Hunch had no idea what she meant by that, and he didn’t ask.
The Reverend Peachtree came to their table, with Father Bourgeois onlooking from his seat. “How y’all do, Hunch? Who’s the nice lady?” “That’s Lexi, Reverence. We’z talkin’ ‘bout God. I said I believe in Jesus and she believes in the universe and humanity.” The Reverend turned to Lexi and asked, as if she were on a witness stand, “Do you take Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and be saved right now?” Her blue eyes widened, coldly again, and she raised her brows but said nothing. “Well, Lexi,” he tried again, “do you wanna’ be saved?” “From what?” she asked, not missing a beat. The Reverend wasn’t prepared for that. “What does that priest over there think?” she asked. Peachtree wasn’t prepared for that either. Lexi looked right at the Father. He felt the glance. The silver haired cleric got up and came to their table. “Y’all want me for something?”
“What do you think?” she asked Father Bourgeois, “Do you believe in God? Or in Jesus? Or in universal humanity?” He seemed completely at home with the question. “Why,” asked Father, “did you use the word ‘OR’ twice?” “What do you mean?” she asked. “You asked if I believe in God, ‘OR’ in Jesus, ‘OR’ in universal humanity. Replace the word ‘OR’ with the word ‘AND’ and you’ll know what I believe. That sums it up.” Father Bourgeois returned to his chair.
There wasn’t much else to say after that. The Reverend Peachtree and Father Bourgeois left the Ace of Clubs. Hunch was atypically short on words. Lexi’s mind was somewhere else. They walked hand-in-hand back to her house, saying little. Lexi was in deep thought about Father’s comment about “AND.” When they arrived at her front porch, Lexi said, “You know, Hunch, when I paint my most beautiful painting someday – and I don’t when that’ll be, or what it’ll be – I think I’ll just call it ‘AND.’” “You’re gittin’ weird on me,” he said, “I aint’ buyin’ you no more beer.” He gave her a gentle kiss, smiled into her blue eyes and opened her front door. She smiled back, turned around and walked into her living room, as Hunch walked away. She sat on the living room couch and turned on a small, dim lamp and began to wonder, “What is the most beautiful thing I could ever paint that I could call ‘AND?’” Resting on the end table beneath the lamp was an old tattered, brittle, Lutheran family Bible that hadn’t been opened in decades. It was written in Icelandic. She opened it. The musty pages made a cracking sound as she turned them. She opened to a woodcut portrait of Jesus, with dark gentle eyes looking right at her. “Those eyes!” she thought. Small print beneath the picture captioned: “Elska hver annan eins og ég hef elskað þig.” She couldn’t read it, but she deciphered the citation: John 15:12. She called Hunch and asked him to get a Bible. “What’s that passage?” He read it to her. She hung up the phone, without saying goodbye. Father Bourgeois’ words stuck in her mind, forever.