Like the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were...'
No radio but the song kept recycling in her mind. 'Of the way we were...' She clenched back the tears. Couldn't cry now. Would never be able to see the road.
The glare of the setting sun was already blinding her as it fried every June bug, cicada and firefly splatting itself on the muddy windshield of her pint-sized pick-up. If she turned on the wipers what chance enough washer-fluid was in the tank to make a difference? No, with her luck it would only solidify the view into guts and wings stained-glass. With miles to go she needed to be home before dark. All the more so now.
One police warning about a missing taillight was one too many. Maybe if she picked up the parts her son could do the installation saving her some money. He used to spend enough time tinkering with his dad. Lately, he'd been grumbling about having to watch his sisters. She could taste his bitter resentment being asked to help more.
All three kids would be starving by the time she reached home. So another run through Micky D's would take her last twenty.
'Before it's earned our money's all been spent...'
Oh, great! Another tear jerker rattling her brain. Tall, beautiful, Bette, with her long, straight, dark hair always sang the Cher part...
The plan seemed simple enough. Using a couple of hours everyday after work she could knock out these assignments in a month and make enough money to replace this falling apart chariot with something her whole family could fit in at the same time. But the simple plan failed to account for all the unnamed roads and unmarked addresses tucked in the most remote areas where one could get hopelessly lost. High hopes of the misguided plan were dashed long ago as now she found herself driving through monsoons or early summer humid heat instead of the flowering spring fields she once envisioned.
Home would sure look good after this miserable trip. AC was MIA so her clothes stuck to her in places they shouldn't and sweat pooled in places it shouldn't. Her generous belly rubbed against the sticky steering wheel leaving a black mark where there shouldn't be one.
And as luck would have it, she happened across the one man she hoped never to see again. The man who changed everything in her world...
She recognized him immediately when he shuffled from his recliner, dragging his right foot through the matted shag, to reluctantly pull open the squeaky screen door. She was not aware she landed in this forsaken corner of the county. Coming from a different direction nothing was familiar. Several more houses were planted in the corn fields plus the other lane of the spur was finally blacktopped. Years upon years had passed. Yet it felt like yesterday. Amazing how memories spate out over your brain in a matter of nanoseconds! She would never expect him to still be living here, anyway.
He took a moment or two longer to retrieve the long-ago image – a full-page color photo of a dazzling smile highlighting her luxurious hair piled in an up-do beneath a shining homecoming queen crown gracing his high-school yearbook. The kind of dream girl a guy could crush on even knowing she was so far out of his league ladders weren't built tall enough to ever reach that high. After all, she changed quite a bit. Long, soft brown locks were now spiky gray. Probably about five pounds a year were added to her once hot cheerleader bod. So how many years was it, anyhow? At least twenty-five? Thirty? No smile now, mouth agape. She knew who he was.
“Thelma?... It is Thelma, right? Why..? What are you doing here?” mouth also agape.
More anguish washed over her. Only people from far back in her past ever used her given name. She never liked it. Always wondered why her dear mother gave her such a harsh sounding name. As her first-born that was the first-pick? Why couldn't her mom have picked something pretty or cute? No one ever even gave her a nick-name.
When the opportunity arose moving into a new town and starting a new life after her husband left her for a skinny woman she renamed herself 'Tiffany' on a whim. It was trending and she thought maybe it would make her feel young and vivacious again. For all the good it did, she didn't have friends to call her the new-image name. Her colleagues and special-ed students all knew her as 'Mrs. Z'. Her married name was as confusing as her maiden name for people to pronounce. But she would never forget his name.
What seemed like an eternity to relive was in reality only a few seconds. “Uh, Mr. Allen, I need to...”
“What you need to do is catch your truck.” He pointed behind her. “It's taking off without you!”
Mortified, she turned to see her rust-dappled Ranger hip-hopping back down the rutted inclined driveway they minutes ago bumped up. #*%+&! parking brake! No wonder she wanted to replace the Fred Flintstone mobile. A foot could easily stomp through the rotted out floorboards. Please, Lord, let this only be temporary.
Even with his gimpy leg he won the race to where it lodged. The single working taillight smashed into a lopsided fence post. She wasn't going to be able to complete this sparsely inhabited neighborhood before dark. She would have to make another trip out here to finish her census taking.
“I'll get the tractor and haul you out.”
While she waited she took more notice of the place. In her duties she visited some nice homesteads. This wasn't one of them. Antiquated farm equipment served as yard art among thick growing weeds. A dismantled vehicle perched on blocks in the side yard. The roof sagged, house and barn in need of paint make-overs. She wasn't judging. Her house begged for attention, too. Perhaps his injury kept him from accomplishing all he needed to do.
She still didn't know if he lived alone. So far the only other obvious occupants were an old droopy-eared hound dog puddled on the porch and a bleating goat somewhere out back, hungry or thirsty or both. A scraggly garden grew along the collapsing fence line so she supposed his government disability check was basically all he lived on. His breath smelled like his diet was liquid.
Not a grandiose life but at least he had one. It happened the night after her high-school graduation, about this same time of year. The darn FFA kid celebrated with a couple of beers then weaponized his new driver's license by plowing his dad's farm truck head-on into the sixties' model Cutlass her seventeen-year-old sister was riding in with her boyfriend. Bette 'n Thelma, Thelma 'n Bette, eleven months apart in age and always inseparable, died on that old spur road. One of a broken neck, the other of a broken heart.
Said as he helped her back into her truck, “I want you to know I've never forgotten her.”
“Neither have I.”