Two weekends after Myra’s old neighbors vacated the trailer next to hers, this man and his bony brown Lab pulled in with all his furniture tied down in the bed of his pickup. His and Myra’s two trailers sat on either side of a broad driveway, fronting a small thicket of trees nested deep by hills of rolling corn. Myra introduced herself, and he shook her hand with a big grin and eyeballed her breasts.
“Very pleased to meet you,” he said. His name was Booker.
[img_assist|nid=9854|title=Winter Sun by Janice Hayes-Cha © 2012|desc=|link=node|align=none|width=400|height=565]
A day after moving in he tacked a confederate flag beside his front door, and after a week of waking early to his truck revving and revving, Myra gave up on sleeping as late as she used to. She slid from under her covers. When her feet touched the cold bathroom floor she tucked her hands under her arms, sat on the tub’s rim, and squeaked the hot water faucet. She was accustomed to men looking at her the way Booker had; she was twenty-five and waitressed at Hildebrand’s where Nancy, another server, had once told her, “Myra, you could land any man you wanted.”
But Myra had never wanted men, and since last year, when Tracy left, she hadn’t wanted many women either.
After breakfast the air hung blue and misty when she locked the trailer behind her. In Booker’s back yard his Lab pined at her over its shoulder. In the past week she’d once seen Booker out there threatening his dog with a stick, charging then hiding the stick behind his back and calling sweetly again. She smiled at the pooch and ducked into her Chevette.
She followed the line of telephone poles that ran with the road into town. As a kid she had often seen her father working the tops of poles like these. Standing way up there in the unfolded arm of his cherry picker, he’d salute her in his hard hat as she walked to school. Now she drove this route five days a week, past barns and silos and the tree-covered mountains she never tired of looking at. She pictured herself as an old woman still living in this valley in the middle of Pennsylvania. She climbed the mountains often, whether alone or with a girlfriend, and had found the hidden cliffs, ridges, and pockets, secrets between her and the landscape. The view of it had been what sold her on the trailer, besides her limited means.
When she moved in four years ago, the Levis, a retired couple, invited her to dinner in the other trailer. During the summer she helped with their yard work and sat outside with them, their two trailers quiet. They’d been good neighbors.
As she neared downtown, the scenery turned to brick row houses, sidewalks, and stoplights. She parked behind Hildebrand’s and walked in under the second story porch in the back. The hot kitchen smelled like hash and coffee.
“Happy Tuesday,” said Norma, the owner, as Myra tied on an apron. Norma had freckles and a hint of crow’s feet, and a red braid that swung between her shoulder blades when she walked. “That neighbor still waking you up early?”
“He says he revs the truck to warm it now that it’s getting chilly,” Myra said. She breathed in the steam and warmth from the stove, and watched Norma crouch in front of the counter until she was eye-level with a dish, adjusting the garnishes until it looked just so.
“Baloney,” Norma said. “He likes to hear that engine roar.”
Myra checked her apron pockets for her pen and pad. Though she mostly waited tables, Norma talked to her over many lunches about refining recipes and developing new ones, and Myra helped cook sometimes now too. Not long after meeting Norma, her enthusiasm catching and charming, Myra brought garlic and olive oil home to her trailer and tried things she’d never made before. She moved on from the canned soups and boxed macaroni she’d habitually made for dinner, staples from when she lived alone with her father, growing up.
Myra pushed open the wobbly door from the kitchen and went out serving her breakfast patrons a wide and trusting smile. They were all regulars, happy to be up, people she would see and say hi to when she went shopping. Dr. Kingsboro started his practice at eight sharp, and Gracie Stoltzfus opened the thrift across the street at eight-thirty. Myra laughed and traded news of the valley while bringing them their sausage and orange juice, and the morning was over before she bothered to look at her watch.
At lunch, tables and booths grew crowded. Guests barked over each other and forks clinked on plates. Myra sweated as she bustled with meals from the steaming kitchen and cleared piles of napkins and morsels left behind. Her neighbor walked in today, wearing coveralls, thumbs hooked in his pockets. He sat in a booth and looked around at the vintage advertisements and postcards on the walls. When Myra went to him he grinned.
“I’ll have a black coffee.” The skin on either side of his moustache crinkled. “And Myra’s a pretty name.”
“Thanks. My mother thought of it.” She gave him the imitation smile she gave all the men who looked long at her nametag. “I’ll have your coffee right out.” Mentioning her mother to him felt bitter, like the dregs he’d leave in his mug. Her mother had been dead since Myra was six, her father now single and full of stories. She put the coffee down in front of Booker.
He ordered a burger too, and took his time eating. When he finished, Myra found the tip wedged under his plate. She stood there and held the folded five in her hand. Fifty percent.
That night she stood at the counter dicing potatoes when she heard a knock at the door. She cracked it open partway, the chain still in place, and held the paring knife in her apron pocket. “Can I help you?”
“Howdy.” Booker had put a denim jacket on over his coveralls. His Lab sat on a leash beside him. “Thinking about taking my grill out this weekend, having a few beers. I thought since you’re alone out here you might want to come over awhile.”
She gave him the same waitress smile from before. “I can’t. I’m visiting my father this weekend.” That was a lie. She looked down. “Handsome dog you have.”
“Thanks. I keep her trained pretty good.” He ruffled the dog’s neck. It blinked at him, licked its lips. Myra still stood behind the chain. Booker said, “Feel free to stop over. There’ll be plenty of food on Saturday.” He turned and crunched across the gravel, unleashed his dog into his back yard.
Myra closed the door and slid the deadbolt into place. Leaving town for a day or two didn’t sound bad. If she called her father and asked if he’d like her over, of course he’d say yes.
Two days later in Hildebrand’s, after helping a pair of wrinkled women in hats, she turned and almost smacked into Booker’s chest. She had to look up at him, that grin growing repellent the closer it got. “Hi,” she said. “Just pick whichever seat you like. Nancy will be over to take your order in a second, okay?” She carried her load of dishes to the kitchen, and the door swung shut behind her. She stayed out of sight of the little window and waited for him to sit down or leave.
Norma looked over her shoulder from cooking. “You all right?”
Myra smiled her waitress smile. “Catching my breath a second,” she said. Booker left without ordering.
After work she drove home as the sun set behind the mountains. The slope of them on either side rose gentle but firm, cradling the valley. Their green turned to warm gold in the light. Soon she walked behind her trailer, through the thicket to the edge of the corn. The stalks were brown and would be harvested soon, but for now they stood shielding and tall. On summer days she would get lost in them, the green leaves brushing her arms until she found a hollow and shade to sit in.
She held herself in the wind and watched the shadows creep up the hill. The last tip of sun sank out of sight, and she was cold. She went inside and called her father, said she’d drive up on Saturday for lunch. He said her old room was always ready.
On Friday, after stopping at the supermarket, Myra saw Booker in his yard in a lawn chair, Bud in hand, wearing a white tank top and baseball cap. He faced her trailer like he was lounging at the beach, waiting for a wave to roll in.
“Afternoon,” he called, raising his beer can.
“Hello,” Myra said. She carried two paper bags of groceries, and felt him watching her backside as she turned and climbed the steps. Inside, she put the chicken in the freezer so it wouldn’t spoil on the road tomorrow. She made dinner standing by the sink, and kept glancing out the window above it to see if Booker had gone. After eating she packed clothes into a shoulder bag. Booker finally went inside when it got dark, and his windows glowed.
She shut the curtains and sat in the easy chair her father gave her when she moved into the trailer. The cushion had a hollow in it six inches deep now, and the snugness made her think of when she’d still been with Tracy. Of the comfort in a woman holding her, of curling against a smooth back before sleep. On the weekends, they had sat at a patio table in Myra’s back yard, thicket on three sides, trailer along the fourth. It gave her the feeling of safety she’d had in the clearings in the woods and on the slopes where she’d taken girls in community college. Back then she still lived with her father, and none of those girlfriends ever saw her house. Once, her father twisted his face at two women holding hands on the street, and she’d never forgotten it. After two years full of brief relationships, she finished her Associate’s in history and decided she needed space. With what she made in tips, the trailer was all she could afford.
Myra’s father waited on the porch where they’d read and talked and on warm nights listened to frogs and crickets when she was a girl. As always his gut stuck out, and she’d forgotten how gray his hair had gone. A grin cracked his face, and the boards creaked as he treaded down the stairs to meet her. He gave Myra a bear hug as she stepped from the Chevette. It was good to be in his arms. When he let go he left his big hands cupping her shoulders.
“It’s good to see you,” he said.
She walked to the house with him. “Want to see what I’ve been cooking?”
Her father sat at the table while she put together a chicken sandwich with sautéed mushrooms and peppers. He told her about preparing to retire from the phone company after thirty-three years. It was hard for her to picture him without his gloves and tools, the driveway next to the house empty of his cherry picker. She asked him what he would do.
“Bill next door’s getting a group together to fix old hiking trails,” he said. “It might take all next year. They say being outdoors helps you live longer, and now’s no time to stop.”
Myra tried never to spend a day all indoors either. She had hiked with her father a lot, and he’d even taken her shooting once or twice. “You should tell me when you start,” she said. “I could go along.”
“You bet.” He watched her cook, got quiet, and looked at his lap. “I was also thinking I’d get more involved at church. I always felt it’d be right to give a bit more.”
She thought of the chair back at her place, the silverware set, and other furnishings he’d bought for her when she paid for the trailer. For most of her childhood she’d gone with him to the Baptist church three blocks down, though when high school and weekend homework rolled around, she stayed home. On the Sundays when she was free she slept late. Readings like Paul’s letter to the Romans talked about women lusting for women, and she felt like whoever read them looked straight at her, small in the pew, even though she hadn’t told anyone she liked girls. On the way out of worship it unnerved her to shake the pastor’s hand and see him smile back when maybe he wouldn’t if he knew the truth.
“How about you? Anything new and exciting?” her father asked.
She put the finished sandwich in front of him, open faced with the bread toasted and every layer visible, a pickle wedge by the side. “Still talking to Norma. She’s sharing tips and tricks.”
Her father started eating, and she sat down with half a sandwich herself. He frowned and nodded at the taste as he chewed. “You thinking about doing something with this?”
“There isn’t a culinary school around.”
“You could make more as a chef than a waitress.”
He took a pause and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “And no one’s holding you back?”
She looked at her food, then picked it up and bit in. Her father had met Tracy once or twice when they’d been together, had seen the picture of her next to Myra’s bed, framed, the picture that was gone now. He must have figured out she loved Tracy, though she never told him the whole story. How New Hampshire was where Tracy always wanted to be. When they first met at the one local gay club she’d told Myra over a beer that she was saving money to go north, leave Pennsylvania behind. And if people here ever closed in on her, she’d be gone, money or not. Body toned taut and carried in combat boots, Tracy needed to be visible.
Myra looked up at her father eating his chicken. She’d never had a heart to heart with him about loving women, and supposed she might never do so. She had accepted that between them there would long lie certain silences.
The next day Myra smelled bacon and buttered toast when she sat up in bed. The sun broke through the curtains. Her father had been to church and back by now, and she pictured him closing the front door as he left, gently so as not to wake her. When they’d lived together she was always excited for her father’s cooking on Sundays, the one day of the week he took his time and made the food his own. Afterward they used to walk to the river.
He never spoke to her the way the pastor preached, as if she’d wasted her chance at heaven. Myra doubted her father could imagine that for her. She’d wavered for a while about believing in heaven, but there’d been times, when she sat outdoors alone or with a girlfriend, that had forced her to reconsider. Once she’d sat with Tracy in a pair of folding chairs in her yard, and next to a table torch they talked long into the night, moving inside only when they realized how late it got. Hours when she was happy enough to forget her yard was a hiding place, hours when she was simply Myra.
After dressing she headed downstairs and in the kitchen found her father reading the Sunday edition. He smiled big when he saw her and folded the newspaper up. “Let me get you something,” he said. She sat at the table. He brought her a plate of breakfast just as always. She ate, looked at his eyes, shared the silence with him. “Can we go for a walk?” she finally said.
They finished eating and put on jackets and followed the sidewalk to the river bank. She told him about her neighbor. His lonely dog, his noisy truck.
“He seem nice?” her father asked. He watched her as they walked, and she wondered how much to tell him. “Everything okay?”
“He’s just not like the Levis is all.”
“You give me a call if he bothers you.” He put his hand on her shoulder, close to her neck. “I mean it. You don’t have to be by yourself all the time.” She looked up at him and touched his cheek with the back of her hand and smiled. She didn’t tell him how alone she often felt.
That afternoon, she put her travel bag in the back seat of her Chevette. Her father stood next to her. She shut the rear door and turned to him. Gave him one more hug.
“Take care of yourself, Myra.”
“You too.” She let go and got into the car, and they shared a wave.
Making to turn off the road in front of her trailer, she saw a red compact sitting where she usually parked the Chevette. She left her car on the shoulder. Brown bottles lay strewn about in Booker’s yard, and a black barbeque stood next to some plastic chairs and a cooler. She opened her door and Booker’s back gate squeaked. Over her shoulder she saw a short blonde with a mop of bobbing curls, cigarette pack in her hand. The woman walked sideways between the vehicles and got into the compact.
Good, Myra thought. She closed the door behind her and put her bag in the bedroom. She heard Booker’s gate whine again and touched the curtains open a sliver. Booker was out in his yard in just cutoff jeans, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. His pale belly hung over his belt as he bent over and plucked the bottles one by one from the grass. He dropped them clattering into his trash can and banged down the lid. The Lab bounded out of its doghouse, but he swung his hand at it and said, “Back.” He went in, leaving the dog in the yard.
Myra put some veggies on to steam, and sat in her easy chair holding her arms, watching the news while she waited. When Tracy had stayed over, Myra felt the peace of waking to hear someone in the shower, the security in knowing the trailer wasn’t empty. She’d had that as a girl sharing the house with her father. Though right after her mother died, Myra would find him sitting alone in dark rooms, sometimes with his head in his hands, and he would squeeze her tight. She wondered if he still got that lonely, and tucked her legs under her in the chair, curling close.
That Friday, after work, Myra put on heels, a halter, and earrings. She let her hair down. She hadn’t been out to the bar in months, and hadn’t dated at all in the year since the night Tracy came home bruised and almost in tears, talking only of leaving town the next day. Myra held her until she fell asleep, and then sat outside in the moonlight. She had put down roots here, and Tracy hadn’t.
The sky got dark early, the night clear as Myra’s car passed through acres of farms, the stars so close like she was out in the middle of them. She opened the window a little and let the cold whip in. Driving in the middle of nowhere could some days feel like freedom. Nothing but land and trees and dark houses where no one would ever know her name.
She crested the next hill, and there stood the sign. Purple and blue neon, a lone building at the intersection, the traffic light yellow and blinking. Inside the club only the bar was lit. There were tables, dancing poles, and a jukebox. Myra slid onto a stool, and ordered a beer from a spiky-haired man in mascara and hoop earrings. She looked around. Lots of couples tonight, mostly men, and some older pairs of women in sweatshirts. A woman closer to Myra’s age with an afro and high-heeled boots massaged a pole with her hips while a girl in a leather jacket waited her turn. Men sat around the tables, some young enough to be teenagers, some older than her father.
The barman handed Myra her beer, and she took a cold swallow. She noticed a trim blonde wearing thick glasses, sitting alone with a red laptop. Brown leather boots poked from under her long skirt. Myra watched her, then walked to her table, carrying the beer.
“Like some company?”
She looked Myra up and down. “I’d love it.”
Myra sat and introduced herself. The woman said, “My name’s Carolyn.”
“You writing something?”
“Senior presentation. I’m at Shippensburg.” She stopped herself and smiled. Shut her laptop. “Get this. You hear about that homophobe governor who came out?”
They laughed. Talked politics awhile and then went to a cozy corner. It brought Myra back to the days she first found the bar after moving out of her father’s house. More than once she’d wound up outside in a woman’s back seat. After she met Tracy, the swing life lost its appeal. But she’d always been attracted to intelligence, and the thought of this pretty woman giving a talk on some academic topic or other was alluring. She was on the verge of making an offer, it had been so long since she’d been with anyone.
They shared a lingering moment.
“What are you thinking?” Carolyn said.
Myra glanced at their empty glasses. “Trying not to.”
“Interested in going outside?”
She smiled. “I live nearby.” They got up.
Carolyn followed Myra’s Chevette in her Civic. On the drive home Myra felt five years younger, at college and taking a girl to the woods. By the trailers, Carolyn left her Civic parked on the roadside. Faded stickers covered the back bumper, like “if you didn’t vote, don’t complain” and “gay marriage won’t affect your straight divorce.”
As the women walked down the driveway, Carolyn stopped. “Damn.”
She was looking at Booker’s confederate flag.
Myra grimaced. “Sorry, I should have warned you.”
They went inside and sat with each other in the bedroom and kissed, a long one Myra held. They lay down and touched each other’s hips, and Myra let the moment carry her where it chose. Their legs laced together, and she imagined the hills and mountains outside rolling hers and Carolyn’s bodies into one anther.
Half past midnight they put on clothes, smiling when they glanced up and reaching to fix each other’s hair. They traded numbers. Myra went with Carolyn to the door, took her hand and in gratitude kissed her again, watched her walk to the shoulder. When Myra went back to bed she held a pillow to her chest, the blankets warm as she waited for sleep.
Monday morning the first frost of the year tingled white in the sun and mist. The squeak of Myra’s screen door echoed off the trees. The air stung her nose, sunlit clouds of her breath rising, the gravel slippery. Usually Booker’s truck was gone by this time of day, and Myra stared at it. She’d heard the echo of a gunshot while eating breakfast and now made the connection.
A bark behind Myra made her jolt. She turned expecting the dog to be on her heels, but it stood behind Booker’s fence, eyeing her through the slats. She hesitated, then started back up the driveway toward it. It watched her and wagged its tail, tags jingling. Myra stood at the fence, its rim to her waist. The dog whined. She reached down and ruffled the stiff fur on its neck, cold and wet from sleeping outdoors. A silver water bowl sat empty in a corner. She wished she could help the animal get warm, though she’d be late if she didn’t leave now.
“Finally decide to come over, then?”
Myra spun and saw Booker standing in front of the thicket, a shotgun crooked under one arm, a lot like the gun her father taught her to use. Booker’s other hand held a brown rabbit hanging by the feet, a neon cap above his eyes blazing orange in the sun.
“She looked cold,” Myra said. “I was seeing if I could help.”
He walked up to her. “Why don’t you run along?”
He stood there until she moved away from his yard, watched her step back to her half of the driveway. Before going to his door, he spit once on the ground. He left the water bowl empty. Myra got into her Chevette, cleared the windshield frost with her wipers, and drove.
The frozen ground was steaming. The wood of the telephone poles looked like masts of old ships rising out of the fog, the sun glowing yellow as the wires rose and fell outside her window.
She got to work late. Norma was waiting on customers but said nothing about it, so Myra walked past her and took orders. Four years now she’d worked for Norma, but she was young. The arc of her life was still climbing, and maybe one day Norma would help her open a place of her own. Back when Tracy had left, Myra had told herself she ought to sell her trailer and leave Hildebrand’s behind, but in the end she never called the newspaper up to place an ad in the classifieds, and never wrote the “home for sale” sign to put inside her window. The valley hadn’t loosed its hold.
With her mail the next day Myra found a sheet of paper, handwritten in blue. It said DYKE. She imagined Booker peering from inside his window now that it was cold, as she and Carloyn walked up to her trailer. Maybe he’d wandered out for a smoke, read Carolyn’s bumper stickers. Smiled to himself as he finally got it.
Outside, Booker’s driveway sat empty. The confederate flag’s corner curled up in the wind, faded red and coming unstrung. She wrinkled the paper in her hand and considered calling her father. Somehow she could see Booker facing him down, demanding evidence of guilt, thinking up more potshots for when her father left.
Still holding the sheet, Myra opened the door and stepped down. It clapped behind her, and she walked around her trailer to the trees, meaning to throw the paper away. It felt like a dead animal in her hand. She blocked branches from her face with an arm until she stood where the corn used to be. Prickles of sharp tan broken stalk ran downhill, splinters shifting in the breeze. The harvest had skinned the landscape. Myra could see clear to the bottom of the rise, where the field crept into the darkness cast by the mountains.
Tracy and Carolyn had refused to hide.
She walked back to Booker’s trailer, climbed the stairs, and rapped on his door. It stayed shut. The peeling doghouse stood vacant in his yard. After a minute she stepped to the gravel and looked out at the street, hoping he’d pull in right then so she could hold the note at his face, ask him if she should wear it as a nametag. Or tack it above her door. She kept the crumpled paper and sat on her steps waiting, watching the shadows of their trailers lengthen in the sun.
James Dunham’s fiction has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Glossolalia, and Plain China. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Bowling Green State University and a BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University. He acknowledges the contributions of many a friend and mentor throughout the writing of "Two Trailers."