Sweeter than they could be

Copyright 2006
by Lin Stone

Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts, sweeter than they could be.  Frankie was sweet on Johnny.  And Johnny loved her so much he was crazy with jealousy.

Back in the good old days they had a little grocery store and a bar in the Arizona desert. Cowboys and salesmen came from miles around just to flirt with Frankie. Her saucy banter was usually agile enough to keep everything just one shade shy of respectable so that everyone but Johnny had a wonderful time.

Is Johnny back in a good mood yet? cowboys would ask as they slid onto a stool to get a chilled Coors.

Frankie would tell them how Johnny was taking it lately.  If he was still seething with crazy jealousy,  the cowboys would sigh and cool the flirting down.  If Johnny was back to his good-natured self they would start all over again to set him reeling back into the grocery store section with new jealousy seething under his collar.

Back in the good old days everything was just wonderful.  Then Johnny hired a little stockgirl named Suzzette.

That s Sue Zetteh.

In fact,
that was Sue Zetteh with an exclamation point.



Didn't nobody have to tell them young cowboys about her exclamation point; they could see it for themselves. 

Suddenly the young cowboys started buying groceries instead of beer.

Suddenly Frankie was the one reeling back into the grocery store section with jealousy seething under her collar. Johnny, Johnny, can you come do something up here for me?

One of the older cowboys who felt locked out of the competition noted that You can t drive a toothpick between them two with a sledgehammer, and Frankie was even more distraught.

Do you think ? she would ask softly. Do you think ?" and she would break into sobs. 

 When he first came to us Michael was a bundle of boyish energy, too large for his age and too bright for his years. It was said that he ran his poor grandmother to death, and having seen them together I believed it. It s strange. All of us believed it, but none of us helped, not like we should have. Oh, we hoped she could hold out, and some of us probably prayed God would give her more strength. But somehow we all felt Michael was HER problem, and not ours.


Frankie's concerns were well founded. Johnny was so involved with Sue Zetteh that he plumb forgot to be insanely jealous of Frankie.

He let her fend for herself with the flirting salesmen and disadvantaged cowboys. Frankie was so concerned for Johnny's eternal welfare that she often said things that breached fraternal etiquette but went nowhere because she usually forgot what she was saying before it came out of her mouth.

Besides, there was no use in running to Johnny for protection because Johnny was so wrapped up making sure the stock was stocked right that he had no time to be jealous about Johnny.

"I think he's going crazy," Frankie muttered to herself out loud when she had a sympathetic ear across the bar from her. "More than likely I should do something, maybe let her go for his own good."

Alas and alack, she received no encouragement in that direction, no sir, no encouragement from anyone. Not even those cowboys left in the lurch wanted to see the last of Sue Zetteh's exclamation point. "Ah Frankie, is she really hurting anything?"



And the indisputable fact of the matter was that the stock was better tended than ever before in history. Under Johnny's close supervision Sue Zetteh cleaned and dusted and rearranged everything, sometimes twice a day. With a similar approach to duty Wal*Mart would be the richest retailer on earth!

Even Frankie had to admit that grocery sales had doubled since Sue Zetteh arrived on the scene.

Unfortunately, beer sales at the bar were down by a similar amount. That worried Frankie so much that she often said things that breached fraternal etiquette but went nowhere because she usually forgot what she was saying before it came out of her mouth.

One day, about 10:42 in the morning, Frankie realized that she had not seen Johnny at the grocery store cash register in the last three minutes. When she hurried back and glanced down the aisles she realized that not only was Johnny missing, but Sue Zetteh was missing too!

Where could they be?
WHAT were they doing?

Frankie's suspicious mind was fueled by leaping fantasies and she hurried back to kick open the stockroom door.
It was dark inside.
It was also empty.

For a moment she was puzzled. Then she heard the Cadillac engine churn to life and its brand new rubber tires spun on the gravel. She got out the rear door just in time to see the Cadillac turn the corner and leap across the bridge that led to town.

"A motel," she cried. "They are going to find a motel!"



Tears streamed down her face all that day as Frankie realized just how much she had loved Johnny.  She swore that if she ever got him back that they would be true to each other forever.

Johnny, Johnny.  He was her man.  When she got him back he wouldn't never do her no wrong 

When the cowboys asked Frankie what the matter was she moaned... "Johnny is crazy.  He went to town to find a motel and spend all day and half the night with that little wench."

Beer sales at the bar surged upwards.  In fact, a new record in beer sales was set at the bar that day as more and more cowboys came in to be apprised of the latest news and express their wonder.  Had Johnny came back from the motel yet?  "No, no, he's still out there somewhere with that wench!" she would sob.

Johnny was gone all night as Frankie thrashed her pillow to ribbons and drowned it in tears of sorrow.  Those tears were dried up in a fiery searing heat on the following day when the bank called to advise her that checks were bouncing.

"He's CRAZY!" Frankie shouted to the line of cowboys at the bar.  "He's taken all of our money and skipped town!"

Beer sales continued to spiral upwards over the next few weeks as Frankie repeated her latest tales of woe to the sympathetic ears of curious cowboys.  "He's crawling across Wyoming now.  He used my Capital One credit card to rent a motel room for the night."

Johnny made it all the way as far as Niagara Falls before turning back and heading south.  "He spent the night at Valley Forge in a pup tent.  Can you imagine it in weather like this?  Poor Johnny, he's CRAZY!"

Johnny's fling didn't last long after Valley Forge.  Frankie reported that a sheriff had caught up with Johnny at Pea Ridge Arkansas.  Sue Zetteh was gone, the Cadillac was worn out, the money had disappeared, the credit cards had been confiscated and Johnny was in the jailhouse now. 

"Poor Johnny, he's crazy," Frankie told her wide-eyed audience.  "He told me to not even come to get him.  All he wanted from me was a little money for cigarettes.  Do you realize how much them things cost now?  I'm going to get him and bring the poor man home.  It's the least I can do."



Good Health Has
An Exclamation Point Too!

"Why did it take so long to get back?" the cowboys asked when the bar opened again.

Frankie glanced down the bar towards the grocery section cash register.  Johnny stood there, a wooden expression on his face even as he rang up big sales.  "He's crazy.  He really didn't want to come home with me.  He had his own television and a pool table was in the next cell.  That country hick of a sheriff had convinced him he could stay there the rest of his life if he wanted to.  I had to BEG him to come home, as if it was for MY sake we had to get him out of that jail."

Her gaze wandered back to the cowboy in front of her.  "Johnny wouldn't even agree to go see a psychiatrist until I told him that I was the patient and HE was just going along to corroborate my statements."

Her voice turned to wheedling.  "Will you go down there and tell him how distraught I've been ever since he left?  Make him feel guilty.  I don't want him backing out of the trip to see the psychiatrist."

The cowboy nodded eagerly.  He bought another beer and slid down the counter to where he could whisper earnestly with Johnny.  "How you doing, old man?"

Johnny turned wooden eyes upon him and whispered back.  "Oh, I'm all right.  It's Frankie that's having troubles.  She's feeling so wrecked she is actually going to start seeing a psychiatrist."

"Are you going to help her level out, Johnny?" asked the cowboy.

"Yes, yes I am," he responded.  "I will do all I can for Frankie."



As word got around the community about Johnny's determination to help Frankie through her emotional ordeal beer sales surged upwards again.  Even farm wives who had given Frankie the cold shoulder for the past eleven years came in to pry into the latest gossip.  Oh sure, they left their beers untouched -- but their money stayed in the cash register as they slid down the bar to pour out their cloying fumes of helpfully synthetic sympathy on Johnny.  "It's too bad about Frankie.  You've just GOT to help her all you can!"

"I'll do it," Johnny vowed.

Almost in tears the ladies left him with a kindly pat on his bare arm.  "You're SO good, Johnny." 

Their hearts were so stirred with good-deeding that it was only natural that they should visit old friends and close acquaintances to recount the latest news in the continuing saga of Frankie and Johnny, the sweethearts of Hassayampa Basin among the rugged rocks of the barren Arizona desert.

It wasn't long before the ballad of Frankie and Johnny was being sung all the way up to Prescott with a corresponding surge of visitors to the little bar in the desert.  So many visitors showed up that the cowboys were outnumbered and shouldered aside.  On the other hand, the cowboys were the most loyal patrons and bought the most beer.

"How did it go?" everyone asked Frankie after that first visit to the psychiatrist.

"He's young, but he's really good," Frankie announced giddily.  "He only talked to me about ten minutes, then he spent the rest of the hour counseling with Johnny."

"Did Johnny cotton to what was going on, Frankie?"

"Oh no," Frankie gushed with a guilty blush as she glanced down the bar towards Johnny.  "The psychiatrist just kept telling him how important it was to verify what I was telling him.  He told Johnny that it was imperative that HE, the doctor, be able to identify fact from fantasy in the fables I was relating. 

The psychiatrist said that Johnny swells up like a happy toad; he's so glad to be helping me he doesn't even realize HE is the one getting the help!  Now don't say anything to clue him in, but go on down there and keep his pump primed for our next visit, next week."

"Next week?" the cowboys queried.  "Wow.  He must really need help if the doc wants to see him once a week!"

Her eyes sad, Frankie frankly admitted that was indeed the sad state of affairs.  "In fact, the psychiatrist wanted to see Johnny twice a week, but I didn't dare risk it.  We need a whole week for us to sustain his determination to help me out by going to see the psychiatrist."

Each cowboy would then buy another beer and slide down the bar to sustain Johnny's determination.  "Johnny, you know how much I care about Frankie and I just want to tell you how great it is of you to go on helping her to get things hashed out with this young doctor."



The King of Birds 

Beer sales continued to shoot through the roof.  The little bar now had so many patrons that Frankie had to add a pavilion on to the side where visitors could resort after having received the latest score from Frankie and confessed to Johnny how much they admired him for sticking by his resolutions to help Frankie at all costs.

"He told me that sometimes the doctor talked to him more than he does to Frankie," one patron gushed giddily.

"And he still doesn't suspect anything?"

"Not a thing."

As they chuckled this over someone else piped in.  "Johnny told me the doc is always asking more questions about this gal Sue Zetteh,  That doc is a cagey one; that sure throws Johnny off stride.  Just mention her name and his eyes light up." 

Thus it was they so gladly toasted the psychiatrist with one last beer as they left the bar and hurried on their separate ways to visit old friends and close acquaintances so they could recount the latest news in the continuing saga of Frankie and Johnny.


Two months later, a thundering horde of well-wishers descended upon the bar one Thursday morning to receive the latest score from Frankie and confess to Johnny how much they admired him for continuing to help Frankie at all costs.

Frankie met them with glowers
glowers dancing across the bar at them like daggers,
glowers of pure hatred.

They drew back in confusion.  At last one wizened old salesman slid up to the bar and whispered, "Frankie, what IS the matter?  Did the psychiatrist slip up --"

"He slipped up all right," Frankie snapped.  Her voice was dry and brittle.

"It was bad enough last week when he got confused about who was the customer and who was paying the bills.  But yesterday, yesterday --- "

"Yes," the old salesman prompted with bated breath.  "What happened yesterday?"

Her eyes blazed more fiercely than ever as her gaze wheeled round upon him in full intensity.  "When we got up there yesterday there was a sign on the door saying the psychiatrist had closed up shop so he could go hunt down Sue Zetteh for himself!"

"Oh my!" said the salesman as he sank down on the bar stool and ordered a beer.  "Oh my."

Then a mischievous grin stole across his face and his eyes danced from side to side.  Leaving the cold beer behind he dashed outside and hurried away with his merchandise jangling.  He had so many great friends he couldn't decide which one to go see first!

The new owner of the bar is a personable old codger that keeps the beer sales from sagging by reading occasional letters from Frankie. "She said the latest psychiatrist is over 80 and she hopes he may last just a bit longer than the last two did."

the end

Lin Stone is an author, writer and photographer living in Mena Arkansas among the gentle mountains known as Ouachita.  He writes about adventures and he writes about the peaceable things of this world for Share Your State.  In his spare time Lin writes copy for insurance roundup.  You can have immediate, and free, reading of many more pieces when you send your little surfer scooting to Lin's home page at where he keeps stirring up more good things for the soul.

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