Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When The Wind Blows

Molly’s eyes open slow and sure into the twinkling blue slits she wears by day. The corners of her mouth turn up on her moony face, repositioning some sly old joke behind the crescent. The bedside lamp has been on all night. From flat on her pillow, she can see the first frost of the late season on her breath. Outside, thin, icy clouds sweep across the mountains. She separates the hands clasped at her fleshy breastbone and slaps one over the horsehair mattress, only to find familiar lumps big as bodies — not Griffin’s body itself.

No one’s home to hear but she barks out the coarse chuckle of the jolly girl she is supposed to be. She knows Griffin has been out since dawn:  He likes to visit the yawning girls putting together sausage biscuits at the Duck ‘n Go, or chat with Beau Tillman on his bread route. The truck rocks down the town’s dirt roads and Griffin walks alongside in the grainy light, hands in his pockets, hissing laughter. Maybe Beau is listening through the open window, maybe not.

Molly sits up, grabs the Noxema from the table, smears a thin coat over her freckles. Stubby fingers rake her hair into a tight ponytail. She stands into a pair of Birkenstocks worn shiny black by her round white feet and scuffs her way toward the kitchen. In the short hallway, she stops at a photograph of the father she has not seen since she was three — his sepia face hangs at the same height as a real father’s. On tiptoe, like a ballerina a fraction of her weight, she presses her cheek against his brash smile. His retouched hair looks black instead of red-brown, like hers.

In the kitchen, one of the vinyl chairs squeaks to accept her weight. Griffin has left a stolen newspaper on the table as usual — with a note on top, which is not usual. “Hey girl,” it says. “Thanks. Sister in Atlanta got me a job.” An expanse of blank white suggests he might have wanted to say more, but finally the word “Cool” closes the note, without punctuation, pencil line drifting off to nothing. Molly heaves herself from the chair, goes to the screen door and drops her Mexican poncho over her head. She leaves her Birkenstocks inside and stuffs bare feet into boots that have been on the steps since spring.

Her nose whistles on the walk. Her flannel drawstring pants pillow half in and half out of the boots. Her hands are small and exposed hanging outside the poncho, beside her wide hips. Opposite the back alley, shops are dressed up for the tourists like rows of saloon hall hussies, but away from the façades shop owners smoke or let their guts hang out while they empty trash.

“Hey Molly!” they call.

She turns suddenly into the back of the Mount Mercy Rescue Mission. Reverend Sebastian stirs a big pot of oatmeal with his bottom lip poked out, while she ties on her apron.

At length he says, “Saw Griffin at the bus stop this mornin’.”

“Yep,” Molly replies. Her nose is still whistling. She scans the dozen cots on the other side of the room. Half are taken.

The reverend points his dripping ladle without checking to see if she is watching. “That there’s Tallahassee Joe, come in last night from North Pass Campground.”

Molly locks down the joke she holds between her teeth and gums a little more securely.  

“Hey Joe!” she shouts. “Get over here and get some breakfast.”