Saturday, February 3, 2018

In the early morning I drifted from your heart. As if I were grey smoke weaving free through clouds of fog.

I could hear you sleeping—gentle, peaceful; the rhythm of your lungs drawing as a lullaby. You told me once your father was an outlaw—he died in prison. But you never told me much more. Where he’d been. What he did. Only that he was always on the run. Maybe you masked you family hurt with kindness. Or maybe there was no hurt at all and kindness was what you are. That is why I left you in quiet; because I never knew for sure if you would turn back the clock.

I carried my canvas backpack and stepped slowly on the hard wood. I thought I could feel your sleeping breath as I softly closed the screen door. The autumn dawn was cool. A dew settled on the grass.  Soon your summer windows would need to close against the winter air, and I wouldn’t be there to place a ladder along your wall—but you had brothers; a male cousin to help.

As I walked along the roadway gravel I foresaw you awakening alone— your plaintive hand stroking the empty half of our bed.

I made it to the two lane black top that ran along your home. The country highway seemed to shimmer like a frozen creek--as if I could skate away on thin ice breaking behind my feet. I rested my heavy backpack against my right leg. My out stretched thumb lured a car.

An old Buick parked beside me. A large man with half a grin told me to get in. I sat with my heavy pack in the back seat.

“Where you headed to?” the man asked.

“Anywhere is OK.”

“Oh. Well I’m going to the city. It should take me a couple of hours. I can drop you off there.”

“That’ll be fine. I can catch a Greyhound bus out of town.”

The car lurched forward onto the highway. I caught my bag as it slid along the seat

“You from around here?” he asked.

“Born and raised.” I said.

“So why you leaving? None of my business, of course.”

“Me and my girl drifted apart.”

“Ah, I see. I was young once.”

I was going to ask if the car was stolen. But I saw the tag on his vest turned up against the back of his neck. I knew the fat man didn’t have what it takes to be a thief. That despite what he said about his youth, he never stole a woman's heart.

It was six a.m., and the fat man left me at the Greyhound station. As I shut the car door I thanked him over the sound of idling buses and belching clouds of diesel that made my eyes tear up and my throat burn.

The next bus to the coast would leave at seven a.m. The station was nearly empty expect for straggling travelers in country clothes--the worn dungarees--the worn steel toed boots. They had the heaviness of men who worked hard in the fields and smoked too much and drank too much and had fallen out of love with their wives and never really spoke to anyone about the emptiness of a life without dreams.

Were they why I was leaving you?

I watched an old Mexican janitor wash the floor with long, rhythmic strokes of a worn out mop. He whistled softly as he placed the mop in the bucket and squeezed its excess water. He looked like he once had tilled the soil. Like he bent over to pick cash crops for rich farmers who spoke of how their success came from ingenuity and hard work. Now the Mexican seemed too old to work the fields. Perhaps bitter but grateful he had a job cleaning bus station floors till he was too old to work at all. Till he could no longer purse his lips and whistle Spanish songs of a better life.

Maybe I was leaving you because of him.

I promised myself when I got to the coast I would write to you--maybe call you. Try somehow to ease your pain. You said your father died a prisoner. I wondered if he tried to break out. If he died falling from a prison gate.

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