Dave should have been distracted. The grill cook rattled his utensils like Gene Krupa. The dish washer clattered away at a huge pile from the morning rush. Chit chat and rumor buzzed amongst the remaining occupied booths. It was mid morning, breakfast was well over, but the regulars hung around, trading barbs, bad puns and hellos. His brain swirled like the non-dairy creamer in his coffee. A beige puddle collected in the spoon as soon as he set it down. So this is North Little Rock, he thought.
He had gone to Memphis to find her, but he hadn’t. In escaping with his life, he had only just kept his freedom. The jury was still out on that too. Another bad pun.
As the stoneware coffee mug touched his lip, the warmth of her kisses swept back over him. He recognized the frosted top and brown glaze of the stoneware. A copy of a classic pottery design that had originated in Ohio. God, Ohio. They had fallen in love at a small college in the Miami Valley. Dave was there because of Dad’s ministry. It was a good school; a Lutheran College that offered financial aid to the children of clergy. Toni had enrolled because of the well known classical dance program. Her family was from New Orleans, but she had been raised in Memphis. A dark beautiful mix of voodoo and soul, she was life changing. She was his. And then she’d left for New York and an Off Broadway gig.
His Mother should have loved her. She was Lutheran. She sang in the church choir. Her voice was beautiful, clear and strong. You could get religion just hearing her sing. But his parents had reacted in a completely unexpected and backward way. The relationship had brought up issues that he had never had to confront back home. His Dad felt their relationship threatened his position in the church. On the phone, his Mother had just cried and cried. In the confusion and frustration, he had paused when he should have been strong. He had been weak and indecisive, at the most perfectly tragic moment. She had gone to New York without him.
She was hurt. There was more crying on phones. He had never wanted to let her go. Constraints he no longer accepted had stopped him from helping her pack, driving her there and staying with her.
Soon Toni had lost her bearings somehow on the Great White Way. The demands were steep and the pace was frenetic compared to the genteel South she had known. Just as the bright white lights of the marquee never quite reach the damp grit of the street, she had never quite fulfilled her dreams. She had gone back to Memphis and had gotten into some trouble; a mistake with a local tough guy, Tavo. Now she, and her newborn child, were hiding.
In Memphis, Dave wasn’t expected in the neighborhoods where he searched. He was a pale, freckled Midwesterner. Everyone there seemed to know all they needed to know about him; yet he knew nothing of them. Then he had found Toni’s sister. And he had found Tavo too. The sister told him Toni was in Austin. The tough guy told him he was going to be dead.
“Is that all, Hon?”
The waitress had jarred him back to North Little Rock. He hadn’t remembered eating the pie, or finishing the coffee, but there it was — an empty plate, a thin cold puddle in the bottom of the mug, the messy fork draped across the plate, the napkin tossed aside, and the dirty spoon. He hadn’t used the knife. He hadn’t expected to use a knife. Tavo hadn’t even expected him to have one on him. As soon as he got to Austin, he could tell Toni they were safe.
“Yeah… thanks,” he said slowly.
Todd R. Townsend is fixing up an old boat and writing. Soon, he’ll be sailing an old boat and writing.