Read “Waiting in the Chute“ for the latest on this novel.
Read “Cel-e-BRA-tion!” about bringing this manuscript to print.
At twenty minutes until six on the first Friday morning of June, Angela Garrett sat on the edge of the chair nearest the front door, waiting. Two cars had passed by on the street in front of the wood-frame house with the big porch, and both times Angela shot up from her perch with the flutter of a nervous bird. She tilted her head toward the screen door and listened as their engine noise faded away to silence and then sat back down again.
He had promised her he would be there by six. “You be ready, now. This big old car won’t wait.” He flashed his boyish grin and gently shook her shoulder when he warned her but she knew he meant what he said.
Odd, then, that as she waited, she would be so filled with the anticipation of what was to come when she had no realistic notions of what that might be. To be so unworldly, so naive about what kinds of places and what types of people existed beyond the countryside that bound her small hometown, did not keep Angela’s heart from hammering inside her chest. When a girl is very young and has known only the beauty of the land and the kindness of nearly every human who has touched her life, why would she, or could she, think it to be different anywhere else?
Her mother’s shabby suitcase, packed tight with jeans, shirts and every undergarment and pair of socks without holes she could scrape up, sat out on the porch. Next to it a cardboard carton printed with the words, “contents: one dozen toilet tissue” in blue letters on all four sides, held a few comic books, a pink plastic container with some personal items she had snatched up, including the tube of Revlon Rosebud lipstick from her mother’s dresser, her warm coat and then her pillow stuffed on top. From her place in the living room Angela could hear her mother moving about in the kitchen: the thunk of cupboard doors, the clink of the coffee canister lid, and the slipping-slide and metallic rattle of the silverware drawer. She knew the routine by the sounds but she tried to ignore them so she could concentrate on the arrival of Lanny Ray’s big car. The squeak of the faucet handle and the wet, hollow sound of water filling the metal coffee pot annoyed her for a moment and then she felt guilty, and sad. She and her mother had hardly spoken since Arlene had come out of her room and discovered Angela already up and dressed.
“Get down, Char,” Angela finally said softly. “Get down as far as you can on the floor. We don’t want them to see our shadows in here.” She didn’t even know if such a thing might be possible, but she didn’t want to risk being seen.
Char did as she was told. “Ang, I got down like you said,” she whispered.
“Good girl. We have to stay quiet,” and for once, Charlotte didn’t have anything to say.
The men continued to wrestle around. Angela knew because they were still making the car move. The noises they made were frightening, grunting and growling like mean dogs. The thuds of fist against flesh kept on. When they spoke, she could no longer understand them. They were out of breath and the words were breathed out gusts.
Finally one of the men said more clearly, “Get up and fight you lousy son-of-a-bitch. You can’t call me a cheater and get away with it. I’ll beat you to kingdom come. Get up, I said.”
The girls, crouched down on the floorboard, stayed motionless and then, suddenly, it grew eerily quiet. The men had stopped speaking and the girls couldn’t hear the sickening sounds of fighting anymore. They didn’t want to move and were trying to hold themselves still but they cringed and gasped again when they felt a slight movement of the car, so slight it could have been just a strong hand against it. The men were still there. Or at least one of them had to be.
Angela heard Charlotte sniff and realized she was crying. “It’s okay, Char. Don’t cry. I think it’s over. Maybe my dad will be out here to check on us soon.” She spoke softly and put her arm across Char’s shoulders.
“Okay, Ang,” Charlotte said in a small wobbling voice.
Angela slowly, very slowly, pushed herself up and tried to peer out of the back window again. No … she still couldn’t see out. She crawled on her hands and knees across the seat to the side window. She put one small finger against the glass and made a short swipe. A clear, watery slit appeared in the fog on the window and she quickly peeked through it. What she saw shocked her so hard she shuddered. Several feet away from the car, the blurred figure of a man was bent low, his hands gripping the outstretched arms of another man lying on his back, and being dragged through the mud and water. His body coated in mud from his head to his boots, and his hair matted to his head. The little peek hole fogged over too fast and she couldn’t see the man’s face.
After what seemed like a hundred nights had passed, he stood on whatever footholds his boots could find and thrust the upper half of his body through the frame of the missing windshield. Glass shards tore through the flesh of his chest and belly. By then, he was aware of the fact that he could not use his right shoulder, his arm or hand. For whatever reason, his pain had lessened to at least tolerable. Using his trembling left arm, he struggled for leverage until he pulled himself out of the car and finally let his body roll off of the cold metal and onto the ground. He heard the sound of the air leaving his body when he landed. Finally, finally he could begin to crawl toward the road above him.