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  • Writer's pictureT.I. Lowe

Meet Jessup Barns - Excerpt from Lulu's Cafe

Leah was refilling Ana’s glass of tea at a table near the front of the café, when a grungy little man peddled up on what looked like an oversized child’s tricycle during lunch the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He was wearing a misshapen trucker hat that sat lopsided on top of his greasy brown hair. He peddled up on the sidewalk and nearly took out one of the round planter boxes. “What in the world is that?” Leah asked as she motioned towards the man.“That is Jessup Barns. He’s our little town’s drunk,” Ana answered. Leah began to fidget at the word drunk. Ana sensing the change in Leah, tried to reassure her, “Don’t worry ‘bout ole Jessup, honey. He’s harmless. Well…to everyone but himself that is.” She laughed. They watched as Jessup struggled to dismount the odd bike. His leg got caught on the seat, making him face-plant into one of the large mum plants. Ana continued laughing at the Jessup show. “That contraption he rode up on, which seems to be beating him up at the moment, is his liquor-cycle.” “His what?” Leah asked as she continued to watch the train wreck on the sidewalk. She just couldn’t look away. “Jessup can’t keep a driver’s license on account he can’t keep from getting DUI’s. The sheriff permanently suspended them. Jessup tried to get around on a regular bike, but had a pretty hard time keeping it upright. So one night he raided Crowley’s barn and came strolling up on that thing the next day. You have to give it to him, it’s fairly creative.” They watched him finally get up from the sidewalk. “He’s got a cooler strapped on the back, and the metal basket mounted on the front is for whatever he sees fit.” They studied the basket as Jessup began to empty beer cans out of it into Lulu’s sidewalk trash bin. “At the moment, it’s his trash can. But after visiting Lulu, it will become his grocery bag. He’s a pet project of Lulu’s. She thinks she can save him. I hate to break her heart, but that poor thing is just too far gone.” Ana concluded her commentary on Jessup and returned her attention to her salad. Leah moved back to the counter, mumbling to herself, “Aren’t we all a Lulu pet project?” Jessup stumbled through the door, bringing along with him a stench of body odor and stale beer. Lulu was quick to meet him with a white lunch bag full of food. She had to move him out quickly before people started gagging. And gagging was never a good thing for business. “Good afternoon, Jessup. I got your food right here,” she said as she moved him back out the door. He mumbled a thank you and handed her a crumpled dollar. One dollar! Leah couldn’t believe it. Lulu pushed him out the door, and then rushed behind the counter to grab a large grocery bag. She handed it to him through the door. “Jessup, the drugstore had a huge buy-one-get-one free sale. Now I’m stuck with all this free mess that I don’t need. You think you could help me out and take it off my hands?” The bag contained soap, shampoo, deodorant, body spray, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and mouthwash. Leah figured that the free bag probably cost Lulu at least forty bucks. “I guess I could help you out, Miss Lulu,” Jessup agreed as he took the bag and peeped inside. “That’s mighty kind of you.” “Now don’t go wasting my kindness, Jessup,” she demanded. “No ma’am.” He placed both bags into his rectangle basket and haphazardly climbed onto his oversized tricycle. He slowly made his way over to a bench by the river to eat lunch and inspect his free loot from Lulu. Later that afternoon at closing time, Lulu and Leah were cleaning up when Crowley ambled in laughing. “What’s so blame funny, boy?” Lulu asked as she continued to wipe down the counter. Crowley stood by the front windows, looking out. “Looks like Jessup is trying to turn the river into one gigantic bubble bath.” This got the two women’s attention and they quickly made it over to the windows. They found Jessup waist deep in the river with a thick ring of foam encircling him. His hair stuck straight out all over his head in more white foam. “No. That fool is wasting my kindness, is what he’s doing,” Lulu snapped, making both Crowley and Leah laugh harder. Leah held her healing ribs cautiously. “He is supposed to get his nasty butt cleaned up with that stuff.” “Looks like he’s washing to me, Lulu,” Crowley commented, causing Leah to laugh more as he joined in. “The two of you laugh it up,” Lulu retorted, with her hands clutched in the ruffles of her frilly apron. “You think fishy river water is gonna help get the stench off his hide?” Crowley shrugged, “It’s got to be better than nothing.” “Yes. Then he’s gonna climb out and put back on those beer stained sour clothes. Yes, Crowley Mason, that’s got to be better than nothing,” Lulu said sarcastically. With that comment, Crowley was out the door in a flash and crossing the street. The six feet four inches tall man was comically trying to look inconspicuous. The two ladies watched as Crowley gathered up Jessup’s filthy clothes that he had left by the liquor-cycle. He had his back turned away and Crowley was able to go undetected. Crowley held the clothes out at arm’s length and jogged about three storefronts down dumping them into a garbage bin. He turned and jogged back to Lulu’s and headed straight to the kitchen, still holding his hands out. “What are you doing?” Lulu hollered at him. “Bleaching my hands!” He hollered back. A few minutes later, Crowley came back into the dining area, smelling like bleach and grinning. “You’re welcome,” he said to Lulu, smugly. “Yes, Crowley. Thank you for going and getting that drunk arrested again for streaking through town.” The again caught Leah’s attention. She wondered if this was a reoccurring problem. Leah watched as Crowley worked at infuriating Lulu even more by tickling her sides. The feisty petite lady slapped his hands away until he decided to take a seat on a stool. Leah thought it was quite amusing how little Lulu was riding big ole Crowley’s butt. She detected that Crowley found it amusing too. Leah felt relieved to know that the little woman did know how to frown. She was shooting Crowley a look that Leah hoped she never encountered for something she did. “He’ll be okay. He’s got his tighty-whities on…” Crowley paused. They all glanced back out the window and watched Jessup start peddling away from the river, dripping wet. He seemed to give no thought to the disappearance of his clothes.“Well, tighty-tans are more like it.” Crowley laughed. “Some airing out will do him good,” he tried to reassure Lulu. He jumped up from the stool, and popped his head out of the side door as Jessup passed by. “Be sure to put some deodorant on!” Crowley yelled. Jessup threw a hand up in acknowledgement and continued to peddle down the street. Lulu muttered as she headed into the kitchen, “Putting perfume on a pig.”

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