Just Drifting Along
I got off of work and drove out to the cemetery northeast of town. I pulled in and got out of my car. I didn't go searching among the gravesites or anything. I just wanted to sit on my hood and look at the headstones with the names and dates on them,
It had been a strange day, one of them days when the universe seemed to be trying to getting my attention. There were a few times back in Oklahoma where it seemed to reach out and grab me by my collar and force me to pay attention, but it was nothing like today.
It started when I was shaving in the morning, Mr. Jenks was in kitchen cooking breakfast with the radio playing. A Gene Autry song came on called Tumbling Tumbleweeds. It had the words a new world is born at dawn in it, and I'll be damned if them weren't the same exact words that Thurman had said before turning in the night before. So, that kinda caught my attention.
Later, at work, I was taking out Mrs. Ruiz's groceries to her car, and the wind was blowing a little bit. We were talking as I placed her bags into her back seat, then she looked up and said, " Look at dem tumbleweeds, Bee-ly. Dey look kinda like people moving."
I looked up and sure as shit the wind was blowing a bunch of tumbleweeds across the empty field across the street. They didn't move all together though but kind of like one would roll and stop, and then a couple of others would go.
"They look a little lonely, don't they?"
She laughed and said, "Dey tumbleweeds, Bee-ly; dey don't got no feelings."
I watched them for a minute or two after she had left, and they still looked lonely to me. When I walked back in the store, I found that Mr. Anderson had been watching me while I looking at the tumbleweeds.
He spoke in that gravelly voice of his, "When I came out here from west Texas, I can't tell you how glad I was to get away from them damned tumbleweeds. Looked like that bunch over they might have followed me out here."
"I was just telling Bella that they looked awful lonesome to me. She laughed at me."
He was cleaning off the checkout counter, and he stopped and put down the wet rag and walked over to the window. " I hear ya, son. Loneliness is the feeling I get from them too. I used to have nightmares about waves of tumbleweeds rolling through our deserted little town. In the dream, I would come out of the house at midnight of a full moon and hear the coyotes howling. I'd get so scared I'd start calling out for my mama, and she never answered. I'd be crying and the wind would get so strong, and there's be so many tumbleweeds that I eventually get swept away."
I smiled at him and went back to stocking groceries. He stayed at that window over five minutes more, not saying anything else, just looking out across the street lost in some memory.
In Oklahoma, it was our little cemetery as much as anything that nailed me down to a time and place. I would play there sometimes and read the names of my forebearers written on the stones. One of my dad's grandpas buried there was born in the 1700s. I had at least three grandpas buried there with their wives and some of their kids.
The Concord cemetery however was pretty new and only had a few permanent residents. I guess that a lot of new people who came out west were not completely tied to the ground yet, and so they felt that they could share their dead with the rest of community. One day, I had did find one person there who was born in the early days of the 1800's.
Mr. Jenks had taught me this Greek word chthonic which was pronounced without the ch sound. He told me that the ancient Greeks used it to describe things that lie within or under the earth, like plant roots and stuff like that. He also said that them Greeks had a story about this guy who had swollen feet because someone had poke clean through them with a big nail.
Jenks said that on a different level this guy's swollen feet meant that he was tied to a set time and a place kind of like a plant growing up out of the ground. And because this particular guy was like that, the Greeks were saying that all of the human race is kinda swollen footed and tied to a specific time and a place. I don't rightly know why they would need a story like that to point out something so obvious like that . I mean hell, I ain't never met nobody with wings who could fly away from their sins and troubles, or anyone could go back and forth in time at their leisure.
And it didn't especially didn't seem to make much sense when it comes to a place like California where everbody seemed to have drifted in on the wind like they were a part of an exodus of tumbleweeds.
Me and Thurman had gotten in argument one night talking about family. I was of the opinion that our new California family consisted of me and him, Burney Bush, Uncle Billy, Aunt Lou, Mr. Jenks, Martha Canary, and Mr. and Mrs. Anderson from the store. I didn't think to include Colton Welles.
Thurman said, "You just don't get to decide who's family or not when they share the same blood as you."
"Well, I could just pick out any old hobo or worthless drunk and feel more kinship with him than I do Colton."
"That don't change the fact that he's Uncle Billy's boy. You go back a couple of generations and the same experiences that created you, created him."
"I don't give a damn about that. Shit ain't right. Sumbitch poked holes in my tires. Seem that would do some canceling out or something."
Mr. Jenks was listening in, and he picked that time to give us a long lecture about what he called the true meaning of the dispute between Cain and Abel. He explained it different though than the preacher's did. He said it had something to do with randomness, and the need to create new life energy. He said that one day in the distant future Cain was going to come back to the Garden of Eden, battle scarred and wiser, beaten down, and whole lot more humble, and his mama and daddy were going to run down to the gates of Eden and let him in and welcome him home with open arms.
I said, "I don't understand any of that. Seems to me that Abel's the one getting the short end of the stick. Also, how did Adam and Eve get back in there. I thought God had sent them away too." I looked over at Thurman, but he had gone quiet, and I knew that he was thinking about the time that Mama had ran out to the road to meet him.
I didn't include Jeannie Lazarus on the list of family members, but I working hard on getting her an invite. We had gone out on more than a few dates and had ourselves some pretty good times. She was a wild one and loved to dance and laugh. There were a lot of dance halls around, and we would go out and dance the night away.
One day, I went down early to the cafe to pick her up, and Sol Adams, the man who owned the place came out from the kitchen. He was still wearing his cooking clothes and a blue apron, but it looked like he had something on his mind that he wanted to tell me.
"Billy John, I wanted to give you a heads up on Jeannie."
"What kind of head's up, Sol?"
"Well, I like you a lot, son. You and your brother are good people, and I don't want to see you getting hurt. But that girl been working here four months and she's had a new beau for every month. They all start out strong, but she seems to get bored of them easy enough."
The words kind of knocked the wind right out my sails. I mean I really hadn't given much thought about whether I was her only beau or not. I was just having fun, but when Sol said I was just another in a long line of men vying for her attentions, I really didn't take to that idea too well.
Susie Adams, Sol's stocky, grayhaired wife and fellow cook came out of the kitchen next. She was drying her hands on a blue towel. "Sol, you leave Billy alone. If he likes Jeannie, he can make up his own mind what he should do."
Sol and Susie argued all of the time, but never in real anger. "Billy's a lot better person than them other fools. I just don't want him getting hurt."
"Billy, don't pay Sol no nevermind. Jeannie's a good girl. She's got a good heart. It's just she ain't had no raising that's all. Her mama's a full on she-bitch, and them two sisters of hers ain't worth the lard they made out of, but Jeannie's a lot different. She just needs someone to point it out to her."
Susie could see I was saddened by the conversation, and she brought me out some fresh baked apple pie. I ate it slowly, drank some coffee and waited. In fact, I waited thirty minutes past the time that Jeannie had said she'd meet me there.
I finally accepted that she wasn't coming, got up, and slowly and sadly walked out on the street intending to go home. When I shut the door behind me, I looked to my right down the street where I could see Jeannie getting out of Sammy Ames's car. She leaned down and kissed him on the lips, jumped up on the sidewalk and started walking up the street toward the cafe. She had her make-up on and was dressed real nice, but she was thinking real hard on something and didn't see me until she had walked about thirty feet.
I waited to see her reaction and then turned and walked away. I could hear her steps behind as she started running to catch up to me.
"Billy John. Where you going? I thought we had us a date."
I turned and faced her. "I thought we did too until I saw you getting out of the car and kissing on Sammie Ames."
"That? Sammie's just a friend. We just went for a ride over to Hartford and back. It didn't mean nothing. Sides, I don't know what you getting mad at. I didn't know we were going steady or nothing."
I waited until I cooled down a bit before I answered, "Jeannie, you remember what I told you the first time we met?"
She looked puzzled, "You said something foolish about you wouldn't date a woman with green eyeshadow on her face."
"Well, you should have fucking listened!" I quickly turned away and left her standing there in the middle of the sidewalk. I could see Sol and Susie looking sad and serious in the window of their cafe.
Tell the truth, I no more understood what I had just told her, than she did. But, damn it, I was hurt and more than a little bit confused. Way I saw it, I couldn't much be blamed if I didn't make any sense at all.
All I heard was her whining out one last frustrated, "But Billy...".
I got to my car and didn't even turn to look her way when I opened up my car door, slid in and slammed the door shut. When I started up the engine, I had left the radio on, and I swear it started playing Tumbling Tumbleweeds. I pulled out unto main street and rolled away slowly as I was being pushed along by a wind blowing over the plains of west Texas.