>Chapter Five — Tina

>The ride home was uncomfortable. The truck seemed to catch every pothole, every rut. Merri stared out the window. Dewayne kept his eyes on the road.

“You can tell me about it,” she said.

He didn’t reply.

She sighed. “Fine. So don’t trust me, see if I care.”

“Not about trust.”

“What’s it about then?”

He just shook his head.

She turned her gaze back to the window. The moon rolled along beside them. Three-quarters waxing, fat and white, like a slice of new potato.

“I don’t want to go back to Mama’s,” she said. “She’s having her Red Hat Ladies over. There will be sandwiches and sherbet punch and hats and I swear by all that I hold holy, Dewayne, I might just collapse on the floor after this day, I might just start crying and not stop.”

“You’ll always stop,” Dewayne said. “It just doesn’t feel like it.”

Merri looked at him then, in profile against the night, his face lit by approaching traffic, and she understood that he knew what that feeling was like, and that he wasn’t ashamed of it.

“So don’t make me go through that tonight,” she said. “Let me stay at your place.”

“Merri . . .”

“Just till eleven or so. And then I’ll go home.”

“You don’t have your car. I’ll have to drive you, and I’m too tired . . .”

“So let me stay on the sofa. All I need’s a blanket.”

“Merri . . .”

“I’ll take you to work in the morning. And pick you up in the afternoon.”

“Merri . . .”

“Please, Dewayne. Please.”

He didn’t say no. She took that for a yes.

He spat more tobacco juice into his little soda bottle, didn’t look her way. “What you got against your mama’s friends anyway?”

“I’m not in the mood for a lecture on how uppity I am.”

“Just a question, Merri, you’re the one fillin’ in the motivations.”

She tried to explain. “I don’t have any common ground with them, and they know it, and everybody’s polite about it — excruciatingly polite — but they look at Mama and you can see the pity in their eyes, only it’s mixed with gratitude too — like, thank the Good Lord I don’t have that child — and it’s a superior gratitude — like they’re patting themselves on the back for raising their own kids right, like my mama failed somehow. And I can’t hack it tonight, Dewayne, not tonight, not after today.”

He slid a sideways glance in her direction. “Well, damn. Guess you been thinking about this after all.”

But all she could think was how uppity she’d sounded. “Yeah well,” she said.

And he almost laughed, would have laughed perhaps, if the day still weren’t hanging on him, like a thick coat of dust he couldn’t shake off. Merri was usually so good with words; she’s staked her life on them, after all. Such a response was amusing, because it was inarticulate. A contradiction. But coming from a woman skilled at wielding words, talented at parsing and analyzing them, it was also honest, for it faced the ultimate failure of language in the face of the concrete.

The failure of all symbols, really. And still her fingers sought her pentacle.

Dewayne noticed. “It’s the same, you know. That necklace of yours. Those casseroles. The red hats. All the same. You know that..”

“So do you,” she said, waving at his badge, hidden once again, out of sight but never out of mind.

“I guess I do,” he said. Then he looked at her square on. “Why’d you come back? ‘Cause your mama said to?”


He wasn’t expecting that response. “Why does that matter to you?”

“Because it does.”

“What about the rest of it, all your questions about Meema, about how she thinks Gram was murdered? Why are you so curious?”

“Because I am.”

He kept his eyes on her. The road seemed to unspool before him, as if it were laying itself down right at the edge of his headlight, just beyond what they could see, in the dark space.

“That’s answer enough,” he said. He spat into his bottle again, turned his eyes back to the road. “You drink regular or decaf?”

She settled into her seat and let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Regular.”

“Good. I gotta be at work by 7. That means leaving 6:30 sharp.”


“And I don’t feel like talkin’, you hear me?”


He exhaled. “But I might tomorrow. Maybe.”

She just nodded. She felt tears pricking behind her eyes, and she was washed inside and out with gratitude.

Dewayne nodded too. “All right then.”

Published by laura

I'm the author of two short story collections, a story cycle, and a collection of short memoirs. I am an educator, literary translator, journal editor, and writing coach.

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