THE TWIN FORK BRIDGE
It started like any other day. My alarm hadn’t gone off yet and I was in a deep state of sleep, yet my subconscious knew the day was about to begin. My mind and my body were at war with each other for the right of way. The same as most days, something pulled me out of that place minutes before the single click and then the intrusively loud buzzing would begin.
Once that happened, there would be no more peace. I knew from hundreds of mornings just like this one, that try as I might, my safe zone from the world had ended again. It would be back, but with far too much time in between. Oh, I could have rolled over and stuck my face into my pillow to savor the moment, but that would have been it, a moment. Sadness would have crept in anyway. The only course of action I could take to keep it away was to get up. So I did, just like any other day.
The sun wasn’t visible yet from my bedroom, but I was certain that when I got out of the shower and into the kitchen for that first cup of coffee, it would be making an appearance through my favorite window over the sink. There would be patches of yellow and blue on the sand colored floor, a reflection from the stained glass piece hanging there. Morning was the best time to catch those colors.
Wearing a long, white, belted, terry cloth robe, I carried a steaming cup of bold, black coffee into the bathroom to begin my morning ritual. I squeezed the white tea therapy lotion generously into my palm and rubbed it over my silky smooth, freshly shaven legs. My arms, neck, breasts, stomach and as much of my back that I could reach would be in for the same, a sip of coffee, the special face soap and cream to follow, another sip and then I brushed my teeth. Foundation, sip, powder with the big soft brown handled brush, sip, a quick dab of blush, sip, mascara, sip, and now the hair styling fiasco.
I wandered back to the kitchen for a refill. I needed a heater upper for the goop and hair dryer ordeal. The patches of yellow and blue had moved only slightly, which meant I was making good time. The birds were singing. They probably had been, but the coffee and the shower enabled me to hear them on this trip.
I scooped some gunk out and rubbed my hands together. Pulling it through my short, dark, hair, I began to shape it. I took the hanging hair dryer off its hook and turned it on low. Mindlessly, I moved it back and forth using my other hand to pull my hair up and out, as the warm air blew through. It seemed to take forever, like it always did. Before it was completely dry, I grabbed the pump hair spray and swirled it around my hair hoping it would hold what looked good at the moment.
Down the hall and into my bedroom I passed the beckoning bed with its upturned sheets. The pillows looked as though they’d been tossed onto the bright and cheery comforter, now partially dragging on the floor.
My closet was stuffed and there was a pile of shoes cluttering the bottom, making it impossible to shut the door all the way. Shirts, dresses, skirts and pants hung, waiting to be chosen. The top shelf was full of sweatshirts, sweaters and tees in disarray. I was never one for changing out closets with the seasons. I used to have hope of some semblance of organization. That hope has passed.
I chose a favorite skirt. One that feels good. It’s the flimsy type that flairs out if I twirl around, with specks of orange, rust and brown throughout. This one negates the non-feminine look that lurks under the surface when I wear my hair short, especially now that I am nearing the thirty year mark.
I pulled a choral colored peasant blouse over my head. The scooped neck allowed for a necklace made of a brown suede leather strap with a couple of brown wood beads and a flattened, burnt-orange medallion of a rose, about an inch in diameter. The earth-toned, inch-long teardrop earrings, made by a good friend pulled the outfit together.
Now for shoes. Shoes can make or break your day. Not even a second guess. I chose the thick soled brown leather slip-on sandals with the cut out flower on top of each, leaving all the sheik, slinky pairs of sandals behind. I buy them and then I can’t seem to bring myself to put them on. They make me feel like I’m someone trying to impersonate an adult. On went the old favorites. They were a perfect fit. If only the perfect person could see me now. Nope. Not possible. That was before. This was my new life, my new old life. Just like hundreds of days in a row now.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of the white Kia with the sun roof cracked open, I pulled down the visor mirror to apply some cinnamon lipstick and caught sight of my dark brown eyes. They were pretty at first glance, but then on closer inspection, I could see that they were hollow.
I backed out onto the quiet street and turned left, heading in the direction of the interstate that would take me to the office I’d been employed at for eight years. There was a luscious ten mile stretch to begin the drive. The houses and cottages along the way were mostly still. A few early risers had been out and had their sprinklers going on their sacred flower gardens. There were many retired folks in the area, some vacation homes and a minority of working commuters like me.
At the intersection that crossed the old highway, I pulled a cigarette out of my crocheted purse and flicked on my lighter, just as I always did.
The radio was on low. The DJ was looking for the fifth caller to some inane contest where you could win some asinine tickets to the race track the following weekend. Oh what the hell. I pulled my cell phone out of my purse and dialed 555-10.09 and was the fourth caller. I had never in my life called to win anything. It had never occurred to me. Why did I that day? What would I have done with those tickets? I probably would have given them to my nephews who were far too young to drive and then gotten one of those “thanks a lot” looks from their mother, my sister.
My journey continued on and my world flew past, breathtaking as always, no matter the season. This happened to be the greenest time of the year. I was two miles from the I-system that would lead me to cubicle number 257 and suddenly I knew that I wouldn’t be going there. The difference was, everything was the same and I needed everything to be different. I was wearing a variation of the same ensemble that I always wore to the office. There was the other flimsy blue deal, the flowing green with the pure white scoop tank top, the gray and black with the flicks of pink and so on and so on and so on. All in all, everything was the same, except I had called the radio station for no apparent reason. Something was different.
The sun was beckoning me as I traveled east. It probably did every morning and I’d just never noticed it except to put on my sunglasses to knock out the glare.
I love my job. Well, not really my job, I love the people that I work with. How did I ever end up working for a big company, collecting big company money? I was almost thirty years old and had never bargained for settling for anything less than, less than what, I wondered? I’d never had any idea what I wanted to be.
That’s the downfall of a having a perfect childhood. You don’t dream big, to go where? You just plan on staying where you are forever and assume that happiness will follow you when you move down the block.
I thought that being in love, marrying and raising a family was all there was. Those were my plans. I knew that if I had a meaningful career the world would take me seriously but seriousness had never been for me. I’d married my high school sweetheart. He’d been full of big dreams and he let me share his. He went off to college. After he graduated we both went to work every day and we planned to do so until we were ready for kids. Then I would leave the office behind and I would become a full time mom. I never spent much time in the past or worried much about the future.
I took my cell phone from my lap, where it had been since the call to the radio station and phoned the office.
“Hello, this is Betty,” she answered.
“Hey Loser, it’s me,” I said.
“Hi Freak, what’s up?”
“I’m not coming in today.”
“No kidding? Why? Don’t tell me that you’re “sick”! she said sarcastically.
“Nah, I just need some time for myself.”
“No way! You’re going to miss the BIG DEPARTMENT MEETING on how to get along with the other frickin’ team members.”
“Seriously, why aren’t you coming in? She softened.
“Just tell Sharon that I’m going to my sister’s. She needs help with a sick friend.”
“Yeah, bullshit. Tell her that I‘ll be back next Monday.”
“Monday!” she yelled.
“My sister lives in Timbuktu you know, and that’s where I’m going. I’ll be back on Monday.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“What’s really wrong?”
“Nothing, I just can’t come in. Will you please check on my credit holds for me? Don’t let anything ship without a check for anyone past thirty days, especially those Wellington ass holes, no matter what they say. Money in the bank before they get any favors. The rest of my accounts are in pretty decent shape. Please Betty, do this for me. I’m fine, I promise. I just need a little time for myself, like I said. I’ll call you on Friday. Love ya Freak.”
“Love you too Loser. Take care. I’ll cover for you here. You’d better be okay!”
“I promise I am.” Click.
Hmmm, now what was I going to do? The I system wasn’t much further up the road. I needed to turn before I got there. I wondered where I was going. I took a left on the last road before the interstate and drove north. It was a narrow country road lined by trees on both sides. I passed a few cars who were heading to the same interstate that I’d just decided not to take.
My stomach felt funny. I’d just called in a week’s vacation to Betty, who wasn’t my boss and I had no idea what I was going to do. I spent most of my time trying not to be alone. Here I was completely alone and without a plan. This just wasn’t me. I felt like I was someone else sitting in my car. I didn’t recognize who was driving. She had the same hands as me. The same silver rings, one on each finger except the ring finger on her left hand. All were favorites, picked up one at a time from art fairs on great days full of great memories.
A sign sprang up through the thick trees. DOVER 15 MILES. I had been there once, just cruising around with my husband. It was a cute little town. Maybe there would be a cute little restaurant there on Main Street. The kind I used to waitress at as a teen and then through my short stint at college.
My mind wandered as aimlessly as the slow and winding road.
Dan had been my happiness. He had loved me truly. He was much more organized and practical than I ever was. He demanded that the car doors be locked and the keys couldn’t be left under the seat with the windows wide open. He was an athlete, a fantastic cook, a great lover, my skiing partner and my best friend. He was good with numbers and was financially secure as a CPA. He mixed his mathematical logical mind with fun and nonsense. He was a comic.
We’d known each other since fourth grade. We both wore braces at the time. He teased me relentlessly about those braces. Looking back, I wonder why it bothered me so, when he was in the same dental predicament as me.
In sixth grade he asked me to be his partner in a mandatory co-ed gym class that no one wanted to be a part of. Square dancing, “doe see doe” and “swing your partners.” We were teased for being boyfriend and girlfriend, as were all of the other newly formed couples standing in socks in the old gymnasium.
After the six week session, his daily goal was to get me into trouble in algebra class. The seating arrangement had us alphabetically next to each other in the back row. Mr. Moore preferred to put the latter letters in the front and beginning letters in the rear, to mix life up a little, I guess. Atwood and Barnes were the first two seats in the back of the class when you walked in the door.
Dan (Danny then) would pass me notes. The first one he slipped over read, “How is the train
I scribbled back, “What train
“The one that ran into your face,”
was the response on the little piece of paper that I opened.
He sat stoically, studying the equation of the day on the chalk board as I practically fell out of my chair laughing, and received the first detention of my life.
I think I’m mathematically challenged to this day because of Danny. I missed an entire year of algebra, barely passing with a D. It only got worse after that.
Our first school dance was in eighth grade. I thought that Danny would ask me to go and I was pretty excited about it. Everyone thought that he was going to ask me, except Brent Steinke.
A week before the event, Brent walked up to me in the school cafeteria, where I was surrounded by my girlfriends, and he said, “Hey, Jadyn, would you be my date for the fall festival dance?”
I’m positive that my mouth was hanging wide. I heard my voice say, “Sure, that would be great.” He strutted away like he owned the world and my friends all started at once. “Are you nuts? What’d you do that for? You know Danny was going to ask you.” Blah, blah, blah.
My parents taught me to live by the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. My interpretation was to be nice to people, because I wanted people to be nice to me. I realized at that moment that even though I was following the golden rule, I was breaking another important one, and quite severely. It was the one about no profanity.
Life went on and I survived the date. It was the juvenile kind that your mom drops you off and later returns to take you home. Danny didn’t go to the dance and my friends told him that I’d wished he would have asked me first. He made sure after that to ask me before a dance was even announced. While still a freshman I was booked for the next four homecomings and proms.
The sign said DOVER CITY LIMITS as I came out of my daydream.
There was a Culvers. No. Down the slightly curved and gentle slope of the main drag I passed the small town businesses on both sides of the street. There were two old cafes directly across from one another. I pulled into a double parking spot on the right side, since parallel parking is not on my short list of driving skills. At sixteen I got my license on the second try. The instructor reluctantly signed the form and advised me to live my life without parallel parking. I had heeded his advice and it does affect my decisions as to where I go and what I do. There have to be others out there with the same problem.
Looking at the two restaurants, I tried to picture the insides and wondered which one was more likely to have a cast iron grill, which always produces better-tasting hash browns. Potatoes of all types, except potato salad, are a main focal point of my existence. I’m basically made of potatoes, cheese, beer and coffee. Oh yeah, cigarettes now too. Good thing Danny doesn’t know about the cigs or the fact that my keys were under the car seat, and the windows were wide open, as were the windows in my cottage that I’d left forty-five minutes ago.
I chose the restaurant on the right purely due to the fact that it was easier than crossing the street. A bell on the door jingled as I walked in. A group of farmers were seated at a long table where they probably congregated every day, and I learned that they flipped a coin to see who was buying the coffee, donuts and toast.
Booths were built into the walls. Red and white checkered cloths covered the tables that were scattered about the middle of the room. There were short stools at a long counter that divided the dining area from the loud kitchen that could be heard whenever the door swung open.
The place was about half full, save the farmer table, which was over flowing.
The sign read PLEASE BE SEATED. A booth was open that hugged a window facing Main Street. That morning it was mine.
I felt self-conscious as I settled in. The buzz at the farmer table barely changed with the stranger in town. The other conversations had short lapses. Short enough to not lose a word, but long enough for a head to turn and look and back again in time to pick up in mid-sentence.
A middle aged waitress came by and handed me a menu. “Coffee?”
“Yes please. Oh, do you, by chance, have a newspaper?” I asked.
“Sorry Honey, none for sale. We do have a pass-around, but it’s in use right now. I’ll let him know that you’re next in line.”
“Thanks.” Damn, I thought. It’s hard to eat alone in a restaurant without some sort of a diversion. Now I would have to resort to balancing my check book without my calculator. That is never a good thing.
I placed an order for a double order of hash browns with Swiss cheese and onions and threw in the word ‘crispy‘.
“No eggs or meat with that?” She asked.
“Orange juice or fresh fruit?”
What is this I thought, McDonald’s? Fries with that and a large coke? I knew my choices. I’d just read the menu, for the Love of God. Non-potato people don’t get it. You don’t need those other fillers. They get in the way of the hash browns. Of course this was a gamble. For all I knew they could be re-constituted potatoes.
As I sipped my coffee and started to log the last ten checks from the carbon copies that always save me, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me. I’m done with the front section. I’ll bring you the rest in a little while,” he said.
I think it was his voice. Or it could have been his eyes. Or it could have been my naivety with lust at first sight. I think I said, “Okay, sure, thanks.”
What the hell was that, I thought? I shook my head internally and put away my check book.
The front page pictured a horrendous two car fatal accident that had taken place the day before on highway K, about ten miles east of Dover. As I pretended to read the details, my thoughts went back to Dan.
It was the summer between eighth and ninth grade that he kissed me. We were leaning against the tennis court back board. It was dark out. It was that same summer that he asked me to marry him. Even at fourteen, when I said yes, I knew deep down that it was a bad idea because we were so young. It was our secret and I never told anyone.
All through high school we were an item. College didn’t break us apart. He went to a small northern private college and I lived with my family and attended the area technical school for a little while, that offered a degree in commercial art.
I did all right, but was never really serious about pursuing the career. I knew that I lacked the self confidence that the field requires. My parents thought that Dan and I were too young to be so serious and hoped that the college separation would break us apart. We needed to ‘experience life on our own first before we should settle down with each other.’ Those were my mom’s words of advice, which I never paid attention to.
The waitress showed up with a heaping order of hash browns. I should have realized with all of the hard working farmers in the room that they probably took their breakfasts seriously.
A dash of salt and a ton of pepper were sprinkled on the feast. I wanted to eat a bunch before anyone noticed the giant mound on my plate. The women would wonder where I put it, thinking that I always ate like this. They can dislike you for this reason alone.
I turned the newspaper inside out and was focusing on an article about a bad situation developing in the Middle East.
That voice again. I turned and met his green eyes. They had little specs of brown and blue in them. I naturally had a mouth stuffed full of potatoes. He handed me the rest of the paper, wished me a nice day, and headed to the cash register at the corner of the counter.
He was wearing faded jeans with tears in both knees. His t-shirt was so thin that one more wash would surely do it in. The neckline was fraying and a couple of holes were emerging between the band around the neck and the shirt.
He was of medium build with large golden-tanned shoulders and a nice you-know-what. His hair was light brown and slowly curled and waved. Whoever he was, he was good-looking, really good-looking, really, really good-looking. Really.
I would have been picturing him all cleaned up and in non-frayed clothing if I was like my friends, but that would have killed his tattered charm. Charm. All he did was wish me a good day. What was so charming about that?
My eyes were in the Middle East as he passed my table. My plate still bore a mountain of potatoes. The bell jingled and he was gone.
I ate as much as I could. The potatoes were a strong eight on my scale of one to ten. I could come back and order a single helping sometime.
I paid the bill, left a tip, went to the ladies room, and jingled the bell myself as I left.
Out in the sunshine on the street, I decided to take a ride to Eaton, about twenty miles away. It was a touristy town located on one of the hundreds of lakes in the state. I had to get my map out of the glove compartment.
As I drove on County Highway 2, and was picking myself apart for all of my flaws, I added a new one: not being able to spit out the words ‘thank you’ and ‘have a nice day yourself’ to a guy who could have possibly fulfilled the new lustful craving I was experiencing.
And then suddenly it was so simple. I felt a sense of calm come over me from a decision I’d made that wasn’t even in word form yet. I knew at that moment what I would do with this new old life of mine.
I would write a book, a novel. Why not? Why? Why did I think I could? What would I write about? Who would publish it? Who would buy it? How would I start it? What would I need? Was I crazy? These were just a few of the thoughts running through my mind as I glanced at my speedometer and lifted my foot off of the accelerator. A ticket would definitely have spoiled the strange and magical moment.
I stayed on course to Eaton with my new-found enthusiasm for life. There would be lots of shops there to pick up writing materials, and maybe a silver bracelet too.
The curve of the road took my thoughts away again, back to my impending novel. How do you go about writing a book? What do authors do? Do they have an idea and go from there, creating characters to carry out a preplanned plot? That could be a real problem, I thought. I don’t even have an idea.
Maybe they just sit down, write a sentence and see what follows. I had a feeling that would be my technique. A lot like my jumbled closets. I could always pull a perfect outfit out of that mess.
“Don’t worry about it“, I told myself. “It’ll come. I can feel it and so can you.” Talking to me as if I were someone else wasn’t that unusual, considering the circumstances. Of course, I’d been doing it ever since that night almost three years ago, when Dan announced that he was leaving me.
Her mangled body was found under the thick brush about a mile from the Twin Fork Bridge.
That sounded kind of interesting. I wondered who she was. Why was she mangled? Who mangled her? Where in the hell was the Twin Fork Bridge? And what exactly is a Twin Fork Bridge?
There, I had my opening sentence. All I had to do was write the rest of the story. Eaton popped up out of nowhere. It was bustling. The main drag was all parallel parking. No chance of finding two empty spots in a row. Was everyone on vacation?
I took a right at the first intersection that had lights, assuring myself of easy access on my return. They even came with a left-turn arrow, a great invention. I hope whoever thought of it got rich.
The next left brought me to the back sides of the businesses that lined Main Street. There were several small parking lots for us non-parallel parkers.
After reapplying the lipstick that had been erased with hash browns, I stepped out of my car. I felt like a million bucks and I swung my purse over my left shoulder. I was ready to shop. I walked through the graveled alley between the brick buildings and emerged onto the bustling main street, where everyone clearly appeared to be on vacation.
A display of hand- made silver earrings and rings in the window of a jewelry store persuaded me to walk inside. Where there are earrings and rings there are bound to be bracelets.
When I shop for jewelry I like to wander around until I find myself looking at the one item that I just have to have, no matter what, if it’s within reason.
“May I help you?” She asked.
“No thanks, I’m just looking.”
I hoped that she’d keep busy, because if her eyes were following me, there would be no chance of finding that special bracelet. The search is a private, almost intimate experience and it has to be done alone.
I studied several sections, looking at a large assortment of various types of rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets hoping to bore her. It seemed to work.
Once alone, I began looking more closely. I spotted a slim, silver chain linking several small, plain, silver rectangles together. The clasp let you adjust for size and the little left-over chain dangled separately with a small silver ball at the end. It was the winner of the day.
It was more than I would have liked to spend, but it was a special day and I did have my visa card with me with only a forty-eight dollar balance. Yeah, it was mine.
In the bookstore, my heart was racing. I bought a stack of thick, hunter-green notebooks with double-spaced lines and perforated edges; several pens, all medium points in both black and blue ink; a dozen pencils, a bottle of white out, a large eraser, a dictionary, and a thesaurus. I skipped out the door, swinging the large white plastic bag with the name “Books For You” written across it in bright red letters.
I was done shopping. I wanted to go home and start arranging for my new endeavor. I wanted to go home. How different was that?
It was almost one o’clock in the afternoon when I pulled into my driveway with wide open windows and Warren Zevon and I singing our hearts out.
The turn of the key turned off Warren, me, and my confidence all at once with the sudden silence.
The red impatience plants in the shaded window boxes facing the front yard were looking very thirsty. They looked to be on the dead side of dead. It had been more than a few days since I’d watered them. Any other kind of flower would not be able to survive me, except maybe a cactus, which I had in full bloom in a sunny corner on the back deck.
I dropped my bag on the kitchen table next to the sliding glass door, and went out to save all my flowers.