After the Rain
Tides change. So does the moon.
With the unfailing constancy of brittle autumn closing in
on bright summer, things always changed. If Suzanne
had ever had faith in anything, it was in knowing that all
things were fleeting. And for good reason. The
highway of life was littered with the roadkill of those who
didn't know when to change lanes.
Almost asleep now, Suzanne brushed
the pads of her fingers across her forehead, then down the
bridge of her nose to the small, pointed bone of her chin.
Yes, it was still her. One thousand miles, a quick
dye job, and the surgical removal of her life had not completely
obliterated her. Just smudged the edges.
The hissing of the bus's brakes brought
Suzanne awake from her almost-doze. She pushed herself
away from the images of a soft bed and dark Italian suits
and opened her eyes wide to stare out at the anonymous highway
rolling outside her window. A waxing moon smiled down
at her with a crescent grin, and she touched the glass as
if to bring it closer. "God's smile," she
whispered to no one, recalling something her mother had once
told her. Absently she let her fingers fall to the charm
on the gold chain around her neck, finding comfort in touching
the small heart through her shirt.
A sign on the overpass above them
beamed at her through the murky glass: Welcome to
Walton. Where Everybody Is Somebody. She craned
her neck as the bus slid under the overpass, partially obscuring
the sign, but wanting to make sure she had read it right.
The bus slowed to a stop, and the door opened with a loud
gasp. An older woman, wearing red high heels and with
hair puffed out in a tight bouffant like a halo, stood at
the back of the bus and began walking forward.
The driver followed the woman off
the bus, and Suzanne listened as the luggage compartment was
opened. With a squeal, the woman greeted somebody who
had been waiting. She listened as a deep male voice,
definitely not that of their Hispanic driver, greeted the
passenger. His voice carried an accent that would have
placed him in rural Georgia
no matter what corner of the world he
might travel. Suzanne smiled to herself, content not
to be so burdened.
The driver seemed to be taking a long
time pulling out the woman's luggage. From the snippets
of conversation, Suzanne gathered that there was a piece missing.
She rested her head on the back of her seat and continued
to listen. She heard the
Georgia man speak again,
and there was something about his voice that pulled at her,
something thick and rich like dark syrup. It soothed
and cajoled, as if the voice had had years of practice.
Disturbed by the effect the man's
voice was having on her, she turned away, but only to catch
sight of the sign again. Welcome to Walton.
Where Everybody Is Somebody. She sat up, watching
as the light trained on the sign dimmed, then brightened,
flickering at her like a winking eye. With a hand that
trembled slightly, she pulled at the chain around her neck
until the charm fell on the outside of her T-shirt.
Tucking in her chin to see it better, she turned the gold
heart over in her hand to read the small, engraved words.
A life without rain is like the
sun without shade. With short, unpolished nails,
she scraped the charm from her palm and flipped it over.
R. Michael Jewelers. Walton.
She pressed her forehead against the
window, forcing herself to breathe deeply and recalling the
woman who had given her the necklace. Walton.
The name shifted her jaw, as if moved by her mother's
invisible hand, but she shook her head. It was a million-to-one
shot that it was the same town. It would take sheer
luck—something that had always run on a parallel with her
life, never to intersect.
As she stared out the window, a small
shape darted from the grass on the other side of the highway
and onto the shoulder of the road. Headlights from an
approaching car appeared on the horizon, two pinpoints gradually
growing larger. The shape moved into the arc cast by
a streetlight, and Suzanne recognized the pointed head and
thin, whiplike tail of an opossum.
Pushing her hands against the window
in an impotent offer to help, she glanced again at the approaching
car, then back at the animal, its quivering nose pointing
into the road. "Don't," Suzanne mouthed, but
slowly the animal waddled into the lane and stopped, watching
as the car bore down on it.
The entire scene was too much like
her mother's fascination with the bottle, complete with
Suzanne's own helplessness, and she shut her eyes on the inevitable,
only opening them when she could hear the dying strains of
a country song from the radio of the car as it passed.
Peering out the glass, she could make out the small animal
in the middle of the road, curled into a tight little ball
under the crescent moon. It wasn’t dead, but it wasn’t
doing anything to prevent another onslaught, either.
Abruptly she stood and announced to
no one in particular, "I'm getting off here."
The driver looked up in surprise as
she stepped off the bus, the gravel crunching under the heels
of her sandals. "Your ticket goes all the way to
She gave him a half-smile. "I've
changed my mind." Spotting her one compact piece
of baggage sitting on the pavement with the rest of the unloaded
luggage, she stooped and picked it up. Holding the oversized
canvas bag by her side and adjusting her backpack-style purse
over her shoulders, she glanced at the other two people standing
with the driver. She recognized the lady with the big
hair and nodded briefly. Standing behind her was the man who
had to have been the owner of the voice.
He towered over the two people in
front of him, standing somewhere around six feet four.
He wore a button-down white oxford cloth shirt tucked into
wrinkled khakis that looked like he'd slept in them.
A red whiteboard marker and a pencil protruded from his shirt
pocket. She raised her eyes to study his face and was
surprised to find him staring at her chest.
Shifting her suitcase to her other
hand, she sneaked a glance down at her shirt and noticed that
she hadn't tucked her necklace back in and it was now dangling
over the mound of her breasts, calling attention to their
size. Disgusted, she twisted away from him and
turned toward the driver.
"Can you tell me if there's a
place around here to call a cab?"
There was a brief silence before the
tall man drawled, "You're not from around here, are you?"
Suzanne frowned up at him, wondering
how he knew that about her. She briefly thought about
stepping back onto the bus and its cool anonymity. But
then she remembered the petrified opossum awaiting its chance
to be roadkill, and she ground her heels a little deeper into
"No, I'm not. Could you
recommend a cab company to call?"
The older woman stepped forward, her
perfume reaching Suzanne first. "Sugar, are you
visiting somebody in Walton? Joe and I could give you
Suzanne cut her off. "No, thank
you. I'll take a cab." She looked around,
spotting a service station across the two-lane highway.
Surely there would be a phone there, and she could call a
cab to take her to the nearest hotel. Someplace sterile
and impersonal, where she could get her thoughts together
and figure out what she would do next. With a brief
nod good-bye, she headed across the road, avoiding looking
at the opossum and making sure she checked for oncoming traffic
As she neared the service station,
she stared at the large neon sign stuck on a pole on the edge
of the highway. It read, Bait. Gas. Cappuccino.
Then, underneath the first line, in different lettering as
if it had been added at a later date, the word Diapers.
She hesitated again, wondering what kind of place this Walton
was. She could hear the rumbling of the bus behind her
as it waited on the side of the road. It wasn't too
late to get back on and head to Atlanta. A big city
would make it easier to disappear. Then again, they'd
never think to look for her in a small town stuck in the middle
of nowhere. With a deep breath of resolve, she crossed
the parking lot.
The tinkling bells over the door as
she entered were the last peaceful sounds she heard.
A towheaded girl of about four streaked past her wearing only
a shirt. Suzanne got a glimpse of the stark-naked behind
of the little girl as she darted down an aisle.
"Amanda! You quit it right
now or I'm gonna jar your preserves!" A tall teenage
girl ran past Suzanne in hot pursuit of the pantless child,
forcing Suzanne to press herself against the door so she wouldn't
get run over. The girl held a small boy of about two
against her hip, who seemed happily oblivious of the pursuit
and grinned a drool-filled grin as he flopped by, apparently
glad to be along for the ride.
Suzanne stayed where she was, afraid
to move as the sound of more running feet approached from
the second aisle. Three more children raced by, two
girls and a boy, the youngest girl swinging bright red braids
down her back.
Suzanne had just managed to move against
a tall rack of MoonPies and drop her bag when the procession
of naked child and pursuing teenager ran by her again.
The teen paused for a moment as she spotted Suzanne, then,
without preamble, handed the little boy to Suzanne.
"Hold him. I can run faster without him."
Caught by surprise, Suzanne stuck
out her arms and felt the heaviness of the child as he was
placed in her hands. He looked as surprised as she was
and blinked large blue eyes at her. She kept her arms
extended, not knowing where to put him. Never having
held a child before, she wondered briefly if it would be the
same as holding a puppy. It had something to do with
the scruff of the neck, but never having held a puppy either,
it was all pretty vague.
The little boy let out a huge wail
and began pedaling his legs as if he were on a tricycle.
Just then the front door opened, and the woman from the bus
and the man she had called Joe entered the store. They
pressed back as the running stream of five children ran past
them, the redheaded girl now carrying the pants of the escapee.
Staring after the running children,
Suzanne asked, "Don't they have leash laws in this state?"
At the sound of the jingling bells,
the child in her arms stopped screaming and turned his head
toward the man and woman. "Daddy!" he shouted,
and launched himself into the outstretched arms of the tall
With one smooth movement, Joe reached
forward and grabbed the arm of the undressed child as she
tried to make it down the MoonPie aisle again. In a
stern voice he said, "You go put your pants on right
this minute, young lady. And don't give your sister
any more trouble, you hear?"
The little girl stopped and looked
up at him with somber blue eyes. "Yes, sir,"
she mumbled as the redheaded girl caught up and dragged her
back to the bathroom.
Joe straightened and looked at Suzanne
with eyes that were less than friendly. With a brief
"Excuse me, ma'am," he moved past her down the aisle
and toward the counter.