“His heart danced upon her movements like a cork upon a tide. He heard what her eyes said to him from beneath their cowl and knew that in some dim past, whether in life or revery, he had heard their tale before.” ― James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A tree lay across what once was an old logging road now turned to an eroded pathway to the past. The bark had long fallen away leaving the bleached wood to become a mossy bridge for chipmunks to cross. I locked my truck, grabbed my rucksack, and headed up the barely discernable road to see if she was still there at the homestead where I left her many years ago.
Clouds overhead and wind in the trees whispered of rain. If I made it to the house before the rain started, I’d be okay with spending the night as long as she would let me. If she still loved me as much as I loved her, staying wouldn’t be a problem. It’s the going that hurts. I felt nervous. What-ifs filled my head with doubts and images too real to push them away.
The trees were taller and thicker than I remembered. Under the clouds, the light was dimmed by the branches that reached across the gap creating a darkened tunnel of rustling leaves and chattering birds. The contrast of grasping shadows that pointed accusations at me warned me to turn back. A man can never return to the place and the love he left behind. I went anyway. I had to know what happened to her.
After a hard hour of hiking, I came out of the wood into the pasture behind the house. I saw my old red Chevy truck right where I left it. It had seen the last of its better days long before I’d gone. Now, the red magic carpet that I raced up and down the dirt roads in pursuit of life sat still, a relic to better times when youthful ambition had no regard for property or hearts.
Inside the frame of a long-gone window, I saw the springs of the bench seat that floated me over rough roads; bits of cloth hung on like tattered thoughts with no meaning. Here was where we first made love. We were reckless teenagers in the first summer after graduation. Her head hung out the window, and she laughed at my frantic efforts to unlock the secrets of her budding womanhood. Thick ginger hair, twisted into a horsetail by the wind blowing in through the open window now hung down the outside of the door and pranced to the rhythm of Eric Clapton’s version of Layla, our hard love, and her laughter.
There were bruises and sore places ignored and left as landmarks on velvet softness faded and refreshed in an endless cycle of music, dancing, and dust clouds rising like rooster tails behind this old red truck. We filled our days with love or lust, I’m not sure which one was which sometimes. She wasn’t always beat up by red painted steel in the throws of our lustful games. Creamy skin and proud amber locks didn’t seem to mind the roughness of my soil polished hands.
Beth Ann was the one that convinced me to buy this old homestead away from everyone where we could be free and loud, and no hard stares would put us down. We worked every spare moment to make it a home. My wages from working as a temporary hand on the local farms and her job as a salesperson at the hardware store was more than enough money for a place that had nothing to offer but hard work. It was ours, and we were free, and nothing else mattered.
I looked at the house now. There was only the rot of time left. I felt that old anguish return. It was too late, and I second-guessed the decision to see for myself what I already knew. Time had erased our past, and there was no future.
Oil on the gulf coast had lured many a young man to quick cash and dirty, back-breaking work. We needed the money, and we figured we could deal with the 30 days on and 15 days off. It was hard to be away, but we were making it work. Like all good things, it couldn’t last. I was drawn away by the stories of other men. I wanted to live a little too.
Beth Ann smelled the sin in my clothes and saw the distance in my eyes. She said nothing, but her heart began to turn to stone. I never thought my friends would take her from me. She wanted to be that girl in someone’s arms and see the passion in their eyes. She yearned to look into a soul looking only at her. They seemed to know her need.
There was nothing left for me to do and I walked away on a bright spring day. The sky was baby blue, and the wildlife was busy nesting and chasing each other among the wildflowers that carpeted the forest floor. Life was returning, but I was headed the other way. The road was clear and well worn by that old red truck in those days.
The sun was about to disappear behind the treetops, so I headed to the back porch of my old home. I’d stay there one more time and head back in the morning. I pried open the screen door to the covered porch and found the key to the back door where we always left it. With some convincing curses, I got the back door open and stepped into my past.
Image Source: Randy Nyhof, Pinterest.com