A quarter moon had begun to rise over the fallow fields. Four hours since his last stop according to his watch. His endurance was getting better. When he started, he couldn’t last two. Was this North Dakota or South? He didn’t care as long as it wasn’t Atlanta. The place had gotten to big, too fast. The only thing he missed was the green trees. Here it was blank land split up into wheat fields. Not even any people to speak of.
The building looked like a dugout, green moss growing on the faded clapboards. He pulled off and shut down the engine. The rusted sign out front said “Cattlemen’s Cove”. You’d think it would be next to a lake, but there was no water around for miles. No other buildings for that matter. Maybe it’s a harbor for ranch hands. Tom didn’t care He had to pee. If it was open, he’d go in. If not, the back looked hidden enough. Cold wind blew hard across the parking lot. It felt like sandpaper with as much dust as was being kicked up.
He was the only customer, which kind of puzzled him. The room was dark with dusty promotion signs lining the walls, a bullet hole in the window. There probably is a story about that, but he didn’t want to know. A propane heater clanking in the corner didn’t do much for the drafts. The floor was dusty and the bar scarred. A plump girl of indeterminate age spoke up from behind it.
“What’s your pleasure?”
“A restroom.” Tom replied. “And a beer.”
“Back to your right.” She pointed toward the sign and he went for it. He barely made it. When he was done, he found the cold glass waiting for him. He pulled up the stool.
“Kind of quiet.”
“Yeah.” The lady replied. “Most of the herd was driven south a few weeks ago. The boys will be back in May.”
“Why do you keep the place open?”
“It’s something for me to do.” She picked up a glass and polished it with her rag. “Where’yah from?”
“Back east.” Tom took a sip. “Wife died and there was nothing left for me.”
“One of those.” She smiled. “We get them from time to time. Where’yah headed?”
Tom looked up from his glass and into the the blue eyes. There was something familiar about her.
“Where ever the road takes me. I’m not picky.”
She tapped the edge of the bar with the glass. “Well, set a spell. It isn’t like there’s a hurry.”
Tom had to agree. There was no goal or finish line to worry about. The only competition was with himself. He spun slowly away from the bar to look out the window. A semi was trudging its way down the highway, trailer swaying in the cross wind. A whistle rose from the bullet hole.
“It sounds like the Big, Bad Wolf is mad at you.”
“I’ve never heard it described thataway. “The girl laughed. “Does that make us piggies?”
Tom looked at his empty glass. “Just my impression. What’s your name?”
The eyes crkinled and brightened. “Jane. My friends call me ‘Plain’.”
“Plain Jane?” He smiled. He liked her style.
“It became my nickname in high school before I grew up.” She kept polishing the glasses. “One of the Prom Queens coined it because my Momma always kept me covered up.”
Tom noticed a rose peeking out from the button side of her blouse.
“Funny, you don’t look plain anymore.”
“Oh, that.” Jane tugged her collar closed. It was like a switch had been flipped. “I had a boyfriend a while back and he liked ink.”
“I think it’s pretty.”
“Really?” The face was as pink as the sunset. “Momma threw me out of the house over it. Said it was Satan’s work.”
“Does it have his name on it?”
“Lord, yes.” Jane snorted. “It reminds me of the bastard every time I get dressed.”
“Did he hit you?”
Jane put her hands on the bar and looked Tom in the eyes. “How did you know?”
“My Momma went through two like him. The second one killed her.”
Silence filled the room.
“Ooh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Jane pulled a fresh beer and changed the subject. “Want something to eat?”
It was the best thing Tom had heard in a couple of days. “What’s on the menu?”
“Got Bison Burger that was ground up yesterday with some hand cut fries.”
“Sounds great. Are you the cook, too?”
She slapped the bar in front of him. “You don’t see anyone else, do you?”
The grill on the back wall had two iron skillets on top. The next fifteen minutes was the ballet of an experienced farm girl. Oil ladled into the skillet on the right. Four slices turned a potato into twelve perfect fries. After they were going good, she reached into the cooler to her left and pulled out the patty. A couple of shakes of salt later, it happily joined the hot dance. All the while she kept up a banter about she got to this place in the middle of nowhere, how the world was evil, and that’s why she’d never left. All the people she knew were drug addicts, drunks, or worse and she would rather be alone than to be one of them.
It was better than any strip bar he’d ever been in. And when she was done, she laid the perfectly prepared meal in front of him. The smell of the meat was intoxicating. As he bit in, he noticed it was lean and coarse, but tasty. As simple as it was, it felt like home. Tom’s mind went back to Angela. She couldn’t boil water, but she filled in all the other holes in his life. Had it been a year since the wreck? I guess time does fly.
The sound of Jane’s voice shook him out of his thoughts.
“Every good thing that has happened to me, happened by accident.”
He put the sandwich down and looked up. The smile on her face was brighter than a full moon. With a brush of her hand, she opened her shirt to expose the tattoo. There were two blooms, one over each of her breasts, the green stems growing from the cups of her bra. Above each was a name above in a cursive script. The one on the left was Janie, the other, Tommy. It took him a full ten seconds to speak.
“How did you know it was me?”
She came around the bar and took him into her arms.
“I remember Momma-and you, little brother.”
They relaxed into each other.
“Welcome home, Tommy.”
Pic guesses: Relax (in blog), Lake (in blog), serene, peaceful, deck, Shore, late winter