Round of Blues
By Susan Rukeyser
“I’ll miss my waterfall,” Deacon said, the day we met. We were in an Oklahoma motel, off a quieter stretch of I-40. Just about dark, but we kept the lights off. Outside, a thunderstorm raged.
“It’s in Alabama, at a canyon just over the Georgia line. I call it my waterfall,” he said. “My church. I climb up top, wade to my spot. I brace myself against rock, listen to the river carve room. I resist the current trying to push me over.”
When my tire blew, I was driving away from Texas and the boy who loved me. When Wheeler proposed, I said yes, thinking Maybe I shouldn’t. I stayed, thinking Maybe I should run.
Finally I stopped wasting Wheeler’s time. In Chattanooga was a friend who waited tables with me in Amarillo. She had a spare room and would put in a word for me at work. My past was under a tarp in my old yellow pickup.
I steered to the shoulder. Semis barreled past, sent up fans of water. Lightning zigged across the prairie. I was ready to hike to a gas station when a truck U-turned from the westbound lanes and pulled up behind. I watched in my side mirror as a stranger approached: long legs in jeans. No jacket, but he didn’t hurry.
He leaned in my window: “It’s underneath.”
“The spare? I know, but I don’t have a jack.”
“Well you have a Deacon,” he grinned. “And I got a jack.”
He said he’d change my tire. “It’s what I do all day. And oil changes.”
“I can do it.”
“I figured.” He said I could wait in his truck.
I opened his passenger door and picked up a stack of CDs so I could sit. His truck was worn but clean. A paper tree hung from the rearview, coconut scent.
I saw Deacon finish and would’ve gotten out, but he hollered, “Wait!”
He tossed my ruined tire in his truck and slid in beside me, blasted the heat. “This storm is stuck. We should wait it out. Get some lunch.”
Heat from the vents blew the hem of my skirt. Deacon noticed. I looked at the CDs in my lap. “Shawn Colvin, I like her.”
“My girlfriend gave me that.”
“Well, ex. I left. This time for good. I’m on my way to my brother’s in Albuquerque. Some lunch and a drink, how’s that sound?”
At the steakhouse, Deacon changed into a dry t-shirt. We sat at the bar, stools pulled close. We ordered whiskey and barbeque sandwiches.
He said he liked my cowboy boots. They were cute, floral embroidery. I thanked him. He said he heard the Texas in me. He said he liked my skirt, too.
The whiskey felt good.
“I’m not married anymore,” I said.
“I’m starting over in Chattanooga. I picked dumb fights with Wheeler. Easier to be mad than sorry. But he’s a good man. I thought we were meant to be.”
“Moments and memories, that’s what we got. There’s no plan.”
“Spoken like a man with a broken heart.”
“Josie and I had a good start. Perfect moments. Mistake was trying to make them last.” He takes a long drink. “Why do I feel like I know you?”
We ordered more whiskey.
The closest motel had a vacancy. We kissed like we’d waited forever. His hands smelled a little like motor oil. “Come here, Texas,” he growled.
Afterwards we listened to the storm. He told me about his waterfall. He lit a joint which we shared. Smoke pooled at the ceiling.
“Chattanooga’s just up the road from me,” Deacon said. “Think you’ll be there awhile?”
“Maybe. My sister is in New Orleans. I’ll head there next if things don’t work out.”
“You’re a little lost on purpose.”
“Yeah.” I breathed him in, missing him already.
“I hate phones,” he said. “Give me your address in Tennessee, I’ll write you love letters.”
At dawn his cell rang. It was Josie. She said she was probably pregnant.
Months later I finally got a letter. He married Josie about a month before Aubrey was born.
I didn’t hear from him again until this spring. Josie left, he wrote. Moved away with Aubrey, just far enough for it to be a pain in the ass, but not impossible, for him to see his baby girl.
I wrote back that I was moving to New Orleans in two weeks.
“I’ll be at my waterfall that Friday, 3:00,” said his last letter. “It’s on your way. I miss you, Texas. I miss the day we met.”
Deacon spots me and climbs down from the waterfall. He holds his wet body against mine and I remember him again. No one else is around.
We climb barefoot, my sundress hiked to my hips. The roar of the falls is astonishing. Picking our way across the cold river, I feel the current tug my ankles. It would be easy to surrender here.
“See what I mean about this place?”
I look at him in his church and think maybe I should cancel my plans, try and make this moment last.
He asks, “Would you have moved without telling me?”
“You got married.”
“I had to try, for Aubrey’s sake.”
“I’ll always send you my new address.”
He kisses me silent.
We dry off by his truck. He throws down a quilt and we sit and eat fat purple grapes. We spit seeds, compete for distance, and I fall against him laughing. We drink sweet tea. Then we’re quiet together for a while.
When the mosquitos start biting, we get in his truck. Deacon snaps on the radio, but there’s nothing but static. He nudges the CD resting in the player. It’s Shawn Colvin: “Here we go again, another round of blues…”
“Maybe you should try again with Josie.”
We kiss like we’ll never stop, until we do. Then we drive off, different ways.
Susan Rukeyser writes stories because she can’t stop. Believe it, she’s tried. Most of them are fiction. Her work appears in WhiskeyPaper, Necessary Fiction, The View from Here, Black Heart Magazine, and Monkeybicycle, among others. Find her here: www.susanrukeyser.com.