>Dewayne lived in Uncle Jimmy’s old house. Merri knew this from some phone conversation with her mother–a casual, passing comment when Merri asked what was news in Sweetwater.
Merri’s memory of Uncle Jimmy’s house was immobile, like a snapshot: long wooden slants, porch, tin roof, lake in the back. She couldn’t really remember the interior, except thinking as a young child how the dull, stained thin planks running from the floor to the high ceiling resembled neglected teeth, and how the bugs flew around a single bulb hanging from a chain in the ceiling.
Mostly she remembered the water. The loose jello-like feel of the lake water around her tanned, skinny pre-adolescent limbs. The squishy mud bottom and the slimy grass blades between her toes as she waded out with her tractor inner tube while the grown ups drank tea up on the porch.
Merri was at Northwestern in graduate school when Uncle Jimmy died. Her cousin Ruth had brought a caramel cake to the family dinner after the graveside service. That was all her mother said about the funeral. (Her mother is jealous of the seemly unconquerable homemade caramel cake, the pinnacle of southern pastry skill.)
Merri didn’t remember Uncle Jimmy’s being so far out. They drove twenty minutes down a narrow road cutting through the tall pine trees. Merri didn’t see another car. Occasionally the headlights would capture the tail of deer disappearing into the woods or the pink glowing eyes of a possum. The soft grind of the tires on the road, the whish of breeze against the truck, and Dewayne spitting tobacco in his bottle, all harmonized in some comforting rhythm.
They pulled off the paved road into a field of evenly spaced of pecan trees. The truck bounced on the two ruts cut in the earth. Merri could see the old house from behind the shadows of the leaves, just beyond it the round, white moon reflected like white glass on the lake. The house was over one hundred years old, built fifty years before Corp of engineers flooded the shallow valley making Lake Thurman.
Dewayne pulled the truck into Uncle Jimmy’s barn, now painted white. Before he killed the headlights, she could see rusted tractor accessories hanging on the walls. Dewayne kept his wrist over the top of the wheel and let out a breath, as if he was about to speak, but he didn’t.
“I haven’t been out here in years.” Merri said, just to say something.
“It’s a mess. I’m supposed to be fixin’ it up, but I ain’t found the time.”
Merri followed him around to the front of the house. It was that dense humid air, filled with lightening bugs and mosquitoes. Amorous crickets sawed their legs and bullfrogs croaked in the tall grass by the lake.
Their motion set off a light on the porch. It was a bright white porch; the planks ran wide and straight, not thin and bowed like most old porches. Dewayne must have torn off the original.
Merri felt those warm tears collecting again in her eyes. She didn’t know why, something about Dewayne’s strong back, bent over, as he hammered each plank, side by side, refusing to let the old house succumb. Up in Boston, her colleagues brag about the old farmhouses they and their significant others had restored to spend their weekends, but down here, old places were left to die.
Inside, the thin pieces of wood running vertical along the walls and ceiling were the same stark white as the porch. Heavy wood doors with crystal doorknobs. An old mantel with a leaded, hazy mirror. No furniture except for a modern black leather sofa.
“There’s a futon in the office,” Dewayne said.
Merri was supposed to speak–say something– but her throat contracted. She and Dewayne were blood. Their only connection was shared experiences: weddings, funerals, and family get-togethers. They moved around each other, casually polite, never penetrating through the other’s shell. Class jock, class intellectual, loved, loner, state college, private college, wanting to stay, wanting to leave. Like old folks say: they were just like that. Now Merri had run out of her polite, casual words and her own words–true words–hurt to say.
She could see Dewayne’s Adam’s apple working. “I’m gonna to take a shower. Hep yourself to the fridge.” A brittle hardness was evident in his low voice.
“Thank you, Dewayne”
He nodded then went up the stairs.
Watching his retreating back, Merri felt her insides ease. She always felt more comfortable, alone, in places she knew little or nothing about, than the familiar spaces she called her homes. Certainly, not in the surveillance of her parent’s home where she had to dam everything up, careful not to let some small part of herself slip under her mother’s internal magnifying lens.
She passed through the empty dining room to the kitchen in the back. It hadn’t been renovated, except for evening floor. Food was stored in plastic bins, a dorm size refrigerator hummed on the corner. She wondered how many women Dewayne brought to his house. If they kissed him, while mentally picking out kitchen cabinets or measuring the windows for curtains.
These thoughts angered her, because they didn’t seem important, yet as she stood here, other such thoughts popped up like brain weeds. She opened the back door and followed the moon over the uneven earth to the lake’s edge where Dwayne’s boat had been tied up to a stump. A sports boat with a large bar off the back to hold water-skiing ropes. Mary took off her scandals, rolled up her jeans, and pulled herself over the edge of the bow.