Six-thirty a.m. at the Super 8. I shut off the air conditioner – blessed maker of white noise – and slide the window open. Rain falls on hundreds of acres of pavement to no purpose. I sip my coffee, prop my feet up as if I were back home on my own front porch.
Four men stand talking and moving their arms in the parking lot below, gesturing toward the GP station, the Shoney’s, the Wal-Mart Supercenter – maybe even toward the hills. I can hear every word, but understand nothing. Can my Spanish really be that rusty?
I call my linguist brother over to the window. “That’s not Spanish. It’s some Eastern European language, I think.” After a few minutes, they arrive at some decision, get into their pick-ups and drive away.
I listen to the semis going by on the wet highway – shhhhhhhUSHHhhhhh. Something triggers a car alarm in the distance, a plaintive beeping that goes on and on without stopping.
Ten-thirty in the small reception area at Scotty’s Discount Tire and Muffler in downtown Summersville, West Virginia (population 3,900). I return from a walk with my umbrella in the on-again, off-again drizzle and find my brother reading a history of India as he waits for news about the car. A small, white-haired lady in the next seat over is singing about Jesus.
As I stand gaping in the doorway, a middle-aged woman walks over, leans down and asks the other woman if she’ll be coming for supper that night. “Just nod your head if the answer is ‘yes,’ mother,” she says. The singing woman nods, then goes on slowly nodding, keeping time to one gospel hymn after another: jubilant words in a voice as sad and quiet as the rain.
Twelve-thirty at Fran’s Restaurant, catty-corner from the courthouse, waiting for lunch at a table facing the street. We can just make out the sign for another body shop, which appears to be closed – Rusty Auto. “Too bad they’re not open – that seems like the place for us,” I joke.
Steve swats at a persistent fly and misses. “Clap your hands in the air above him – that always works,” I say. “Oh, I know. But I prefer to catch them,” he says, “Like this – ” and as the fly makes its next pass low over the flat monotony of imitation wood, his hand darts in from behind and scoops it up. “So the question now is, how to get rid of it?” he asks rhetorically, and proceeds to demonstrate, dashing the fly against the table so it lies there, stunned, waiting for the hand’s deliberate descent.