It’s April 9th. I walk, slowly, down the sun-soaked pavement and up the hill. It’s hot for this time of year—too hot, and my back is already dripping with sweat, leaving an ugly dark stain on the back of my shirt. My mother would gripe and complain at me for not running home and changing, but she isn’t here. There’s no need to listen to her, even though her high-pitched voice has somehow followed me through three jack-shit cars, two college dorms, and an extensive collection of ex-boyfriends. I don’t walk with purpose; I am aimless, lost. This town is tiny and I feel just as small, unsure of myself amongst the people who have known me since before I could even toddle. They all know me. Think they know me, of course, because how could anyone possibly know me when I’m not even sure if I know myself? But anyway, everyone is friendly here, in a snobbish, offhand sort of way, and so I can’t walk down the street without someone calling my name.
I ignore them.
No one can say anything, of course. I’m the preacher’s daughter and they better stay damn far away from me, or I’ll put in a word with my father, who’ll put in a word with the Man Upstairs, and then they’ll all go to hell. But in a handbasket, of course! I’ve heard the Devil likes a good snack before bed.
I walk into the nearest convenient store, something with a stupid name I never can remember—something along the lines of Dog-O-Malley or King of the Corner. My mother would be brought to tears if she saw the sketchy looking men who hang around here. I shrug at them, even as their eyes linger on me longer than they probably should.
My flip-flops slapping against the grimy tile floor, I plod over to the little fridges, where they keep the beer and wine-coolers and other such things I’m not old enough yet to drink. I dig around for a moment, trying to find something I like, my skin practically steaming as it makes contact with the cold air blasting full in my face. The sun has made me burnt and stupid and sleepy. I’m delirious.
Finding nothing appealing in the fridges, I go for the nearest six-pack I can find, not bothering to see what flavor, and slide over to the cashier, a middle-aged man with skin red as a tomato and a potbelly he can’t seem to stop scratching at.
The man at the counter takes the six-pack from me, scans it.
He looks at me.
I look at him.
Then, with a harsh sniff of his rather disgustingly rotund nose, he hands it back to me without so much as a word. I pay him in cash, a big fat wad of dollar bills my father handed me before the weekend started, when he figured I’d be out doing things like this—drinking, partying, smoking—just with people my own age, not wandering around on my own through town with no purpose and no idea what to do with myself. Underage drinking is not encouraged here. Of course not, that would be stupid. It is, however, tacitly ignored.
Before I know it, I’ve made 13th street and three of the bottles are empty. I’ve left them scattered on the ground for someone else to clean up. I’m sure it bothers anyone who sees. The man at the bank growls at me underneath his breath. The woman pushing the stroller up Main Street shakes her head in dismay. But again, no one says anything. (Hell! Handbaskets! Fiery damnation!)
I don’t even realize where I’m headed until it’s too late to turn back, till I’ve landed myself right-smack in the middle of town and there is no one left to scowl at me and all there is is silence and gravestones and emptiness in the world. I stumble over a rock and slosh beer all over the grass, losing my left flip-flop in the process. I feel like an idiot for coming here. I shouldn’t be here. I can’t be here.
I start to turn back, but something stops me, keeps me anchored here. I have to see him. What kind of a big sister would I be if I didn’t at least say hi? I take another swig of beer and careen forward.
By the time I make it to his little tombstone, I’m wasted.