Posted by on Jul 5, 2009 in Death and renewal, Spirit | 0 comments

She was the perfect picture of rustic misery, standing by the roadside in a pouring rain, bleached blond hair tied in two hurried and unruly frizzles behind her ears. Her smoldering cigarette was cupped by her thigh, sheltered only slightly from the downpour, her other hand lay across her torso about waist high, fist clutched in a knot, as if she just swallowed something noxious. Glancing at her tight jeans and the black leather jacket that almost covered her exposed midriff, I looked about for her motorcycle. There was only a pickup truck with the driver door open parked all alone near the front entrance of the boarded up corner store. Last I remember the store had been a mom and pop grocery, but before that an ice cream shop, prior to being a feed store, and a at some point, an equestrian supply shop. Although it is only 3 miles from the house I have lived in for over 2o years, I have never been inside it during any reincarnation.

The lot sits in what appears to be the path of progress, but for some reason, likely zoning laws, progress has skipped and hopped over it all these years. Farms blanket the road on both sides, green and seemingly prosperous. I follow the woman’s stony gaze down to the black gash that stretches across a section of the corner near the road, a burned circle about 40 feet across. The headlines from last week suddenly become real, “Two die in fiery crash in Hanover County”. Like always, I start making up story lines to explain her stance, her facial expression, her clothing. It has no basis in fact. It is sheer intuition, an educated guess from years of careful observation and my propensity for chatting up everyone from an Amish housewife in Pennsylvania to the Turkish janitor in my long ago apartment in NYC. My children consider this an affliction, like some sort of tourettes that grips me, and I suppose they are not entirely wrong although I like to think of it as a writers disease.

I look both ways for traffic, pausing longer than necessary in order to hold a picture of her in my mind. She is a cardboard cutout I can cover with flesh as I drive down the back roads on the first leg of my Sunday morning trip to Arlington. She knew the people that died, not as well as she would have liked, but they were kind to her. Perhaps she met them at the WalMart store where the man worked after his retirement. She recalls a last casual conversation, a smile, a laugh, but overriding it all all she imagines the horror of their last minutes on earth, trapped inside the burning van. She searches for some reason, some divine plan, but soon gives it up as past her understanding. There is no balm in Gilead for her this Sunday morning. She stands for long minutes crying tears for them and for herself and for life’s irony. She does not use words like irony, but nonetheless it’s part of the uncomfortable and all too familiar ache that twists inside of her.

Soon she will go back to her truck, vowing to be a better person from now on, but when she gets home the chaos of her life will intrude, and like all of us, she will soon forget. Her husband will ask her where she went and why she left him at home with the kids. Her best option is to shrug and tell him quickly and honestly, but she will be filled with emotions she has no words to express. Likely the conversation between them will be unsettling, perhaps argumentative. The angry words will come as a surprise to them both.

I gathered the newspaper out of the recycle bin when I got home Sunday night. The man was 76 a veteran of Korea and VietNam, a retired police officer, a life spent in harm’s way. His wife is remember as a loving mother, devoted to her children and grandchildren. They say his van veered into the path of an oncoming truck, ran off the road, and burst into flames immediately. There is no picture of them in the paper. My only remembrance of them will be this sad woman, standing like the scarecrow of death by the side of the road, her station in life written as clearly as her private pain across her face. She does not hang her head or sigh. She stares directly into the face of the familiar enemy. She does not go home and write a poem or paint a picture of it, she simply wears it into the weeks and years to come, like gypsy gold.

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