Power Love

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03 September 2009


It's a '79 Nova. Brown. Bench seats that stick to the backs of your legs in summer. Floor mats that smell like her grandpa's pipe.

Now, though, it's fall. The bench seats are moist with morning dew. Outside, the smell of burning leaves. The sounds of birds chirping. The hum of the engine, waiting in the diner parking lot.

He's on the passenger side, jiggling the window. "Won't close," she tells him. "It's been stuck since we bought it." The whiskey bottle tilts in his lap. He puts his sunglasses on. His sideburns are speckled with gray. "I'll wait here," he says.

She has furious hair. Boot-cut Levi's. Deep lines around her eyes. She shoves her shoulder into the driver's side door, pushes her way out.

In the diner. William behind the coffee machine: beer gut, bald, used to smile. Old men dot the counter. Coffee cup stains on the tables, there since her father worked here. That was a long time ago, she thinks.

No one looked up when she walked in. No matter. The old men at the counter could tell you every crevice on her face. They've been looking at her since she was born. And now look at her, they'd say if they were talkers, taking off like there's something better somewhere else.

William doesn't smile. She doesn't either. He pours coffee in Styrofoam cups. "Tell him to lay off the whiskey," William says. She hands him a five. He doesn't take it. "I'm sure he'll get right on that," she says. She looks at William's dangling jowls, the blood vessels exploding on the tip of his nose. She remembers him at Christmas playing Santa, at 4th of July shooting off bottle rockets. Now he's winter-depressed and angry, lost since Mary's gone, spends nights shooting pull-top beer cans off the fence.

Outside, from the passenger seat in the Nova, he looks at the pond adjacent to the diner. Frayed rope dripping off a tree branch. He remembers his brother tying it there. Kid squeals and summer anticipation swell up in his head. He can smell his mom's pot roast cooking. He remembers 10. He remembers 12. He remembers his family isn't here anymore. He pets his whiskey bottle.

She's back. Car in reverse. Gravel crunching. Car in drive. Main Street. The back roads. Corn fields. Peeling red barns. Brief spurts of livestock smell. At the exit to the highway, this sign: $20,000/mo. Work from home. Call now! There's no number on the sign.

They'll take 57 south. They'll stop when it's hot outside. When the new things in the new town become old things in an old town, they'll get back in the Nova, go west, keep driving.