Before the rain

the new fall do

I remember the day was overcast. Mom hung laundry outside most every day, except for the wettest. It didn’t cross her eyes to have the sheets languish in the rain. She claimed it just made the linen cleaner and fresher. But the sky looked particularly heavy. It felt like a hard rain, a long rain, and there was nothing to do but wait it out. The air smelled fertile, rich and damp.
In the years following the death of my father, there wasn’t much occasion for me to drive into Handsome with my mother. She was always too busy keeping up the old place, and she didn’t like going to town. To her, I suppose, the whole place was a ghost town, filled with memories of her mostly restless marriage. She lived quietly, and mostly unannounced. She liked her life to blend in with the seams.
Even though I was in Handsome three or four times a week, it always looked different to me when I was with her. It seemed older and sadder, like a photograph that has faded and yellowed.

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Little Route 57

golden heart

Not many people know where Little Route 57 ends. The old-timers might have some memory from their childhood but have since forgotten how mean it can get. The road stretches about four miles on ill-mannered dirt and corduroyed mud. The curves are shoddy and you have to pay attention. It would be easy to bust an axle or blow a tire.
Little Route widens a bit the last quarter-mile, but the pine trees are closely clustered, and they cast a permanent shadow. It feels like you’re driving straight into the past, and you are.
At the end of the road is the old Handsome Cemetery. Dish-soap-colored headstones melt into the dirt, their writing mostly unreadable. If you run your fingers against the stones, you might trace out dates or names. Near as I can tell, the last burying took place sometime in 1872. There are Davidsons and Wheats and Wassons and Hincheys resting here.
I came across the cemetery when I was in my early twenties. Two years married, it was already souring. Rosie’s old man gave me my first job – running Clemson’s Texaco station – and I was expected to keep it in his name after his passing; I’d always be the hired help. Rosie and I grew apart and her daddy had a lot to do with it.

Watching the fire

the center of it all

I saw a girl standing on the corner, across from Noble’s Department Store. She was wearing apron whites over a beige dress. Her hair was done up in a bun and she was staring at the flames. Her face was pale and it shone from the waves of heat coming from the hotel. She didn’t look anxious or afraid. I may have been the only one on Texas Street who wasn’t watching the fire. She stood isolated from the crowd, and the night lay behind her like a piece of black felt. She tapped one foot, like she was waiting for her shift to begin. And then she walked around the corner and was gone. A smart man would have followed her, but that wasn’t me. I asked around about her the next day.