Love Comes Tumbling Down
by Daniel DeLeon
It was the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Lou and Louise Calder, and no celebration was planned. On August 26 of 2015, the couple began the routine they repeated every morning since they closed their flower shop. Lou smoothed the sheets while Louise fluffed the pillows. They brushed their teeth and hair at his-and-her bathroom sinks. Lou held his wife’s hand down the steps, relaxing his grip when they entered the kitchen. She poured the cereal, he poured the milk— one bowl, two spoons and three drops of honey. Louise switched the water for the rose on the table, a Bravonne Prevost snipped from the hedge that once sprouted the first flower Lou gave Louise. Lou poured coffee in two blue mugs— two creamers and two packs of sugar apiece. But today, when Lou turned from the coffee machine, Louise was lying lifeless on the floor.
Fifty years prior, Louise met Lou at the Thursday Night Ball in Laughlin, Nevada. Hand posed as a microphone, belting the words to Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” Louise spotted Lou across the bar.
Tall and gangly, yet handsome, thin face with big ears, he wore a striped shirt and a tie. Louise knew better than to get involved, but as she turned his way she urged herself to reconsider— there were changes that she sought, and to change she would first have to quiet the persistent voice of fear that lived inside her.
I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour, that’s when my love begins to shine, Louise’s friend Marsha belted into her ear. “C’mon, Louise, you haven’t danced with any boys tonight.”
“Nobody’s asked to dance with me.”
“Put yourself out there. It’s the only way to get over Henry.”
Before Louise replied, Marsha grabbed her by the hand.
Dancing half-hearted, all knees and no hips, Louise’s eyes drifted to Lou.
Lou walked to where his future bride was dancing. It could have just as easily been Marsha. Between deep breaths, he sipped his Blatz and ran a hand through his wiry brown hair.
“This one’s yours,” Marsha whispered. With a spank to Louise’s behind, Marsha rushed toward the bar.
“Marsh,” shrieked Louise, but her friend disappeared. Louise turned to Lou. She hesitated.
“Dance?” Lou asked. One word was all he mustered, but the word might have saved his life.
Louise forced a smile.
Lou set his beer on the table. He placed a shaky hand around Louise’s waist. Her arm wrapped about his bony neck. They swayed to the rhythm. Concentrating, Louise bit her tongue when she danced. Hands clammy, Lou clenched his teeth and focused on his steps.
A slick-haired boy in a flannel suit yanked Louise’s hip.
“Leave me alone,” Louise shrieked.
“Who’s this punk,” the boy asked. “Get your own girl, loser.”
“Henry, I’m not your girl anymore. I’ll never be your girl again,” Louise said.
Marsha stepped forth. “Henry, you messed up the best thing you had. So you best get to work on Plan B.”
Henry slicked his hair and doddered toward the men’s room.
Louise turned to Lou. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t think he’d be here tonight.”
“It’s okay,” Lou tried, emasculated.
“Would you still like to dance?” asked Louise.
They fumbled through the last few bars of Wilson Pickett, until the Rolling Stones came on the jukebox.
“I can’t stand The Stones,” said Louise. Lou nodded, though he’d spent the last month picking Out of Our Heads, note by note, on guitar. “Let’s have a seat.”
Lou pulled a stool for Louise. She sat. He stood gawkily beside her.
“What’ll it be for the beauty and the beast,” Mack the bartender winked.
“Coke for me,” said Louise.
“You're with friends. How about a little rum, on the house?”
“Oh, I’m not old enough to drink.”
“Lou isn’t either. But he’s old enough to die for politicians.”
“Mack’s a friend of my brother’s,” Lou said to Louise.
“Your name’s Lou?” she laughed. “Hi Lou. I’m Louise.”
They would come to share a bed, a home, two children and an ever-constant stream in the wonders of life, raising their empire on the foundation of those three letters— L.O.U. Though Louise could not have known what they one day would build, she celebrated with her first taste of an alcoholic beverage.
One drink in, Lou convinced himself he loved her. Another sip, and he recalled it didn’t matter if he loved her— it only mattered that he fool her into thinking she could love him.
“I’m off to powder up. Thanks for the drink,” said Louise.
Lou started to speak, but she left. It struck him that he hadn’t said a word in the minutes since they sat. Impossible, he thought, that he’d be married before midnight. Guys like Lou Calder didn’t swoop in for the kill— they needed someone to discover them. Fist clenched, about to throw it hard into the bar, he restrained. He stood to go home.
“Have another, on the house. And another,” Mack said, smacking a pair of bourbon tumblers on the bar. “We all need it after Lyndon Dick’s speech.”
Lou raised a glass.
“Can you imagine?” Mack asked. “We gotta get married? That’s how we stay alive today? Not me. I’ve seen what marriage does. Worse than death. Worse than Nam. My mom and pop? Always at each other’s throats. Every night, it’s like whatshisname and Liston in the living room.”
“Clay,” Lou responded.
“Nah. He changed his name— something Muslim. Anyway, I ain’t getting married.”
Lou checked his watch. Nine o’clock. “It’s getting late for marriage anyhow.”
Mack leaned forward. “Between you and me, you know how I’m gonna outlive this war?”
Lou leaned to listen. Mack nodded toward the bartender beside him.
“Me and Richie, we’re robbing the boss-man tonight. Cleaning out the register and heading south to Mexico.”
“Sure. They have the sun. They have the women. I’m thinking Mexico can be perfect. If not, we’ll take a boat to Switzerland. It’s calm there. Peaceful.”
Lou imagined himself committing robbery and border-jumping Mexico or Canada. He tried to see himself on the shores of Switzerland, and then he wondered whether Switzerland had shores. Reaching further, he envisioned himself at the altar, vowing to a veiled girl he hadn’t yet met, but would meet before midnight. Vietnam seemed his best chance of survival.
Louise rushed to Lou, tugging at his arm in panic. “Pretend you're my date for a second,” she whispered. She turned, grabbed the bourbon tumblers from the bar, and downed them both.
Henry approached. “This is your date?” he asked Louise.
“Yeah, he’s my new steady.”
“Enjoy my leftovers.” Henry spit onto Lou’s black boots.
Lou reached back, grabbed an empty tumbler, and cracked it over Henry’s slick skull. Before Henry reacted, Louise snatched Lou’s hand. They rushed out to his mother’s station wagon in the parking lot.
Pedal to the floor, Henry screaming behind them, Lou floored the station wagon backward over gravel. Louise raised two choice fingers to her ex as Lou raced into the night.
Miles away from Laughlin, Lou stopped the car. Still beaming, Louise leaned over. She kissed him.
“I don’t believe it,” said Lou.
“I owe you one.”
“I’ve never hit anyone.”
“You were great. He had it coming.”
Panic struck Lou. “They’re gonna put me in jail.”
“You’re not going to jail,” she said.
“Did you see what I did to his head?” Lou plopped his face to his hands.
“Better jail than Nam.”
Lou lifted his head, a manic smile. “That’s exactly right. I turn myself in. They’ll put me in jail and I stay out of Nam.”
“I was kidding,” said Louise. “Besides, the ex-cons will be the first numbers called.”
“Goddammit,” Lou slammed his palm on the wheel.
“I think you could use some of this.”
Louise produced a bottle of scotch.
“Where’d you get that?”
“I grabbed it on the way out,” she said.
Lou smiled. “I’m not normally like this.”
“I never knew that I was like this.”
They kissed once again, and they both took a swig. Lou had never tried scotch, but from that moment he was scotch man.
“What’d you do to get him so mad?” Lou asked.
“He’s an old steady,” she said, taking small swigs of scotch. “We’re done. He made sure of that.” She burped, and immediately covered her mouth. “I don’t normally drink this stuff.”
Energized, Lou projected toughness. “What did that scumbucket do?”
“He’s not a scumbucket. He’s just— yeah, he’s a scumbucket.”
Lou put the bottle to his lips.
“On my way to the ladies’ room, he grabbed me by the face and started kissing me.”
Lou spit his liquor on the windshield.
“I’m sorry,” said Louise, feeling tears coming on. “I started kissing back. I didn’t know what I was doing. He was rough. I didn’t like what was happening. He tried to put his hand down my pants. I said no, but he wouldn’t get off. So I bit him.”
“You bit him?”
“I bit him, and that’s when I found you.”
“I’m sorry,” Lou said. “Are you okay?”
“I guess so. I didn’t mean to bring you into this.”
He passed the bottle. They drank.
“Louise, what do you wanna do?”
“I don’t know. It’s not even ten o’clock.”
“No, I mean what do you, Louise, want to accomplish?”
“I don’t know.”
“Think about it.”
She laughed. “It’s silly.”
“I bet it’s not.”
Louise sipped her courage. “Our neighbor started her business last year. She’s doing really well.”
“What kind of business?”
“She runs a fast food restaurant.”
“I meant, what kind of business will you run?”
“Well, I’ve always dreamed of owning my own flower shop. I’d walk in every morning and open the door to the beautiful scent of each flower. All day, I’d provide everybody with love— everyone buys flowers for love. Whether it’s to say I love you, or to say congratulations, to apologize, or just to say that I was thinking of you, people buy flowers for the ones that they care for.” She paused. “You think I sound like a child.”
“I think you’re utterly amazing.”
They kissed, long and deep, getting drunker off each other’s breath. Wilson Pickett sang through the radio— I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour, that’s when my love comes tumbling down. Louise lay her head on Lou’s shoulder. He ran a hand through her bobbed blond hair. Rubbing her eyes, she rolled the window down. She looked outside, then to Lou.
“Where are we?” she asked.
Louise awoke in the passenger seat of an unknown car. Sunlight beamed through the windshield, burning her skin. She rubbed her eyes, releasing pain. The sleeping body in the driver’s seat beside her was a boy she didn’t recognize.
“Where are we?” she asked.
A plastic gold ring wrapped her finger. She looked across the street toward a small white house with a red awning and a manicured lawn. Screwing up her eyes again, she read the lettering across the roof— HITCHING POST WEDDING CHAPEL.
The boy beside her introduced himself as Lou— that was all she remembered. Her bra strap was loose on her shoulder, her turtleneck stretched. She fixed her eyes and smoothed her dress in the mirror.
“Lou,” said Louise, gently nudging his shoulder. “Lou, I don’t know where we are.”
Lou awoke, scotch still swimming through his head. He opened his eyes to Louise.
“Hi” was all he could say.
He blinked, attempting to comprehend that Louise was now his wife. In sickness and in health, till death do them part, till the yarn of eternity unravels into emptiness, it would be Lou and the stranger beside him.
“What happened last night,” asked Louise.
Lou collected his memories. The trip from Laughlin to Vegas should have taken ninety minutes. Driving triple digits, his adrenaline fighting the scotch, Lou reached Las Vegas in an hour. A line of fifty couples snaked down the block from the first wedding chapel they tried— all military-eligible boys like Lou with the same hopeless scheme in their heads. Even with the chaplain leading thirty-second services, they wouldn’t have a chance of getting married before midnight. Louise began to tire. She complained of getting sick. Lou didn’t know if they’d make it.
He reached to touch her hand, the cheap ring on her finger.
“I don’t know what I’m feeling,” she said.
He felt his own ring.
He had nearly given up until he found the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel. Twenty minutes to midnight, eight couples before them, they were married at 11:57 pm. The couple four behind them turned around for the bar.
Looking at Louise, he attempted to believe that she allowed him to attach his life to hers so she could save him. He knew their situation wasn’t nearly so romantic— he had simply gotten his way. A sudden rush of tears came to his eyes. He fought them for a moment, but his fight was overpowered.
When Lou cried, Louise began to bawl. Outside of Laughlin where she never had the freedom of decisions, her consequences terrified her. Makeup leaking down her face, sniffling through snot, her whimpers elevated into wails.
“My father’s gonna kill me,” she howled.
Lou placed a cautious hand upon her shoulder.
The shrillness in her voice demanded silence. “Take me home.”
Lou twisted his keys in the ignition. Wordless, he drove back to Laughlin, staring blankly. Louise only spoke to give directions to her father’s house.
Alas they reached her home. She exited the car.
“Look,” Lou said. “I know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”
“But you did something for me that’s so far beyond anything that anybody ever did, and I can’t even begin—
“You gave your life to me. It’s only fair I give you mine.”
“I don’t even know you. We’re strangers,” she said. “Just leave. I have enough to explain to my father without him seeing some boy outside the house.”
“I can’t just leave. We’re husband and wife. It’s legally binding,” said Lou.
“You’re just some boy who got me drunk and took advantage.”
Lou paused. “I admit that the President’s speech—
“The President’s speech,” Louise screamed. “That’s what this is? You cooked up some plan to get a girl drunk and married so you can get out of the draft?”
Lou said nothing.
“You’re a coward,” she said.
A shout from the door of her home, “Louise, get your ass in this house.”
“I have to go.” She dried her tears and stepped out of the car. Lou was paralyzed. Louise walked away. She turned back. She bent, her head in the window. “I get it. The President promised that all men married by midnight last night would get out of the draft. Okay. What I don’t get is, why did it have to be me?”
Louise’s words followed Lou, gaining mass as he marched up the stairs of his home, past his screaming mother, past his bedroom and into the tub. As his mother harangued him for keeping late hours, Lou only heard Louise’s words. He listened to both sides of Out of Our Heads, twice over, but he couldn’t find an answer. The Beatles’ Help! and Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited were clueless to Louise’s open question. Through the walls, the television spoke in terms of war. At eighteen, peace seemed simple to Lou. He imagined he could fix the world’s problems with a stroke, but his relation with Louise confounded him.
Out of records, scared of silence, Lou turned the radio dial. He tuned past Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe, past Barbara Lewis’ Baby I’m Yours, before settling on the Rhythm and Blues station. Wilson Pickett sang into Lou’s room, You’re the only girl I know that can really love me so in the midnight hour.
Six weeks later, Lou drove his mother’s station wagon to Louise’s home in East Laughlin. He had written her once in the interim, to say that he was working to become what she deserved.
Knees shaking in his Sunday suit, a rose behind his back, he rapped his ringed hand on the door.
A mustached man, slightly paunchy, stood before him.
“Is Louise home?”
“I’m her— she’s not expecting me.”
Louise’s father shut the door. Lou heard shouts within the house. Eternity expired. Her father reappeared.
“Come in,” he said. “She’ll be with you in a moment.”
Lou sat in the pink living room— pink couch, pink upholstery, pink shag rug, pink painted walls and a pink dining table. Unlike Lou’s house, which had no central heating, the furniture positioned toward the television. When Louise appeared, her face was fully done, her hair exquisite. She wore no ring, which disappointed Lou, though he knew better than to be disappointed.
Lou stood. He handed her the rose that he carried. “A Baronne Prevost, double blossom, highly fragrant.”
“Thanks,” she said.
Lou continued with his speech. “The Baronne Prevost is known for its longevity. This rose has been known to survive up to a century, through heat, cold or inclement weather. Blooming brightly, the Baronne Prevost often decorates buildings, churches and graveyards. In some instances, the buildings that have housed it have been razed. It’s been said that after demolition, all that remains is ash, memories, and the pink Baronne Prevost.”
“That’s very nice, Lou.”
“It’s our first.”
“Our first what?”
“Our first hedge grown for Love On Us.”
“Love On Us?”
“I’ve been reading,” said Lou. “We have to know this if we want to run a business.”
“What are you saying?”
“I took a loan out. I opened a space. It’s not much, but we can turn it into something. You and I, together, husband and wife.”
“Keep your voice down,” she hushed. She checked the kitchen for her father.
“I know you think you made a big mistake the night we met. But I think we might learn that it wasn’t a mistake. Maybe it could be something great that we did. It doesn’t seem like it now, but it might be.”
“We don’t know a thing about each other,” she said.
“I know that you’ve always dreamed of opening a flower shop, and you know that I have an empty shop.”
“But it’s yours.”
“I’ll sell you the rights for a dollar. The business will be yours. I’ll be your employee. We can call it Love On Us— L. O. U.”
Louise thought. “This is absurd,” she concluded.
“It may be,” said Lou. “But I want this to work. And it’s not just because I wanna stay away from Nam. I want to know you, Louise. I’m open to the thought of us loving each other.”
“Just think about it,” Lou said. “I don’t need an answer right now. If you decide it’s too much, that’s okay.” Lou pointed to his ring. “You can have this back. We’ll make legal arrangements.”
“And if you get drafted?”
“I don’t know,” said Louise with a sigh.
“Think about it.”
Love On Us opened in the spring of ‘66. Louise led the business— Lou became her employee. Together, they opened the shop every day, releasing their aroma to the world. Though neither of their parents accepted them initially, the families united in the ’67 summer when Louise and Lou announced Louise was pregnant. Andrew was born the following spring. Jill followed two years after.
Lou’s constant touting of the Stones had its effect on Louise. In April of ’71, Lou opened the phonograph to find the band’s newest album, Sticky Fingers, with a hand-written note from Louise— it’s their finest work to date. Through their dedication to Love On Us, and through time invested in Andrew and Jill, Lou dusted off his guitar on occasion, writing mediocre tunes for Louise, songs that might have been good if he had had the time to polish them.
Through years of knowing looks across the register in Love On Us, across the kitchen table and into the bedroom, others began to take note that Lou and Louise were developing similar manners. In the early days of Love On Us, Louise would tease Lou for the way he slouched his shoulders when he walked. As they aged, she assumed a similar hunch, only conscious of her posture when her husband cracked a joke. Lou, who was always a meticulous eater, began to slurp soup as Louise did. She adopted his manner of speaking with his hands. He picked up her strange way of sneezing in threes.
They welcomed the eighties, opening a second Love On Us. Andrew left to study at UNLV. Jill experienced rough years in high school, likely triggered by Louise’s diagnosis— from the moment her biopsy came back malignant, Lou temporarily closed Love On Us. He spent his hours nursing Louise. When the doctors performed a double mastectomy, hours Lou describes as the darkest of his life, Louise emerged free of disease. Lou took her home to a house filled with flowers.
Andrew moved to New York at the end of the decade. Jill dropped out of community college. Louise and Lou gave her a job in the shop shortly after they opened their third location. Jill dated a string of boys her parents disapproved of— in turn, she disapproved of her parents.
Reaching toward her daughter, Louise shared a story with Jill that she had only shared with Lou. After she spontaneously married a stranger, Louise felt so low that she took Henry back. Weeks later, Henry left her for a girl he impregnated. Alone, Louise attempted suicide.
While recovering, she received a letter in the mail from the stranger who had given her a ring. It was then, before she knew him, that she pledged to him her soul, because she knew that he was doing so for her.
One day, Jacob entered Love On Us. After purchasing a single Baronne Prevost rose, he handed it to Jill and walked off. They wed in ’99, thirty-four years to the day that Lou met Louise.
After working every day for thirty-seven years, with one hiatus, Louise and Lou closed Love On Us in ’03, keeping only the original Bravonne Prevost hedge.
With time, their features and their mannerisms merged. By their fiftieth, they nearly conjoined. Their children and grandchildren would joke, though they were secretly concerned, that Lou and Louise would have to perish in an accident, for one could never live without the other. One time, when discussing this, Andrew became overwhelmed. Louise’s health was waning faster than Lou’s. Andrew saw the future and he worried for his father.
“I mean it Dad, what would you do?” he had asked. “You’d be ruined. You could never move on.”
Fifty years to the day of the Thursday Night Ball, Louise lie lifeless on the kitchen floor, a Baronne Prevost rose in her hand. Lou was pouring coffee the moment before, attempting to remember which song was playing when they met.
When he saw her on the ground, he stooped toward her. He knew she was gone. Filled with sadness for a moment, his heart skipped.
Regaining breath, he pried the rose from Louise’s cold hand. He walked on.