My best friend from high school, Nora, is getting married to a man who owns a fireworks stand in Jefferson County, Missouri, which leads me to assume he has a meth lab in his basement, but she informs me that he does not. Just a seven-year-old daughter named Mary Jane, she tells me on the phone, laughing.
To go home I have to take the train.
These are the words that remind me of home: rust, black pepper, flannel, dogwood, gun powder, white wash, gravel, dip can, wicker, dodge.
I go on June 4th, a Friday. I take a cab from the station because my mother hasn’t made it to town yet. I ask the driver to drop me at the baseball diamond off the main road, where I sit on the bleachers and watch little clouds of dirt fly around in a rasping summer wind.
At night the ball field smells like: wet grass, leather, peanuts, difficulty of breath, Cocoa Cola, my father shaving his face in the mirror, bourbon, and ash.
Late at night I go to my hotel room, and it’s so quiet I swear I’m dreaming audibly.
On Saturday morning I wake up one hour before Nora’s wedding. I fill the
bathroom with a hurried cloud of hair spray and perfume, apply a coat of lipstick, and yank my clothes from their solitary wire hangers. My dress is the color of green vines, my shoes tan like desert sand. I hurry, frenetic, to the church. There, my mother and her new husband, Paul saved me a seat. I slide into the pew, sweating, and close my eyes as Mom kisses me on the cheek, just as an organ bellows for our attention.
The wedding is real and lovely and Nora beams the entire time at the front of the church. Afterward I hug her and shake the groom’s hand, which at one time was burnt: the skin palomino-spotted and smooth like a catfish stomach–a fireworker’s workman hand. I wish he and Nora my sincerest best.
Their reception is at the bar in town, and the bartender’s name is Graham, and we went to high school together. That night I consider drinking Jeremiah Weed in homage to myself at seventeen, but instead Graham and I go one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer until I’m blinking at him through haze. His face reminds me of blackjack and oak trees and I wonder if it’s a rorschach test for something.
And Graham tells me I don’t sound like I’m from the Midwest anymore. I ask what that means,
and He says: “You pronounce your ‘t’s’ in words. You have hard ‘t’s’ now.”
Then I tell him a story about my mother keeping a jar of my baby teeth in her bedroom when I was growing up. I’m slurring now, and I tell him how standing is sort of like a shuffling train and that I’m going home on Sunday morning.
So Graham walks me to the hotel. He does not try to kiss me. He does not say we will ever talk again.
And I put myself to bed, tasting my hard t’s with my tongue.
On Sunday morning my mother and Paul drive me to the train station at six. They kiss and hug me and make me promise to visit soon, and I get on the train. It zooms out of steeply pitched hills and rows of houses, until the cinnabar countryside gets away from me. In my prosaic exit, nothing is lost.