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September 9, 2006

Crying Amy

The two-lane black-roads bifurcated and meandered through the country, parsing it among those who would live there. Sparsely inhabited though it was, the roads permeated the country, following the lines of drift, and dissecting it along natural boundaries. In the evenings, the fog moved silently into the hollows between the ridges, thick as raw cream, and silent as the lightning bugs.

There are few people in the country, and still fewer cars, and after a while, it grows on you so that, when you get to a major road and two or four cars go by at sixty miles an hour, you think “What's the hurry, buddy? Where's the fire?? The country can do that to you. It can draw you in like the Labrea Tar Pits.

The financially encumbered people of Lickskillet were trapped, like bugs in amber. Unequivocal losers in the free market crucible, the citizens of Jefferson Davis county were hopelessly staked to the Cumberland Plateau.

Many would live and die without ever seeing the ocean. Without ever seeing the inside of an airplane. A coalition of economic slaves, surviving on mater sammiches, breeding with unseemly fury in sweltering trailers, squandering their existence for a few dollars an hour and a share of the tip jar at the end of the shift.

They dreamed of another life. Another place. It wasn't that they didn't know what else was out there. The television had changed all of that. It was clear enough that other people lived their lives in relative comfort in lands far different than the one they longed to leave.

A gas station clerk stood behind the counter, smoking. I walked in and caught her. She wasn't supposed to be smoking in the store. But she didn't even know I was there. She was a million miles away, a different person in another time zone doing something, anything but this, anything but insidiously decaying behind the counter of someone else's petrol station. Nothing could be worse than this, could it?

She waved the cigarette in a mysterious pattern - a magic wand that might whisk her away, like Dorothy. Ttransport her into the daydream. She'd gladly shed this life like a locust shedding its skin, and trade it for anything. Anything at all.

As there was next to nothing to do in Lickskillet, they watched the fabric of the community around them. They watched their neighbors and their coworkers and the engineers passing through, perched high on iron horses. They knew every person, every car, every house. They knew how the people were related and who was dating whom and where they vacationed and which church they went to on Sundays.

For good or ill, Lickskillet was, in the end, a fish bowl. A exposed stage where people acted out their lives, naked before the community. The women gossiped ferociously over the most trivial prefects. In the absence of any real news, they yammered like mocking birds chastising a cat. About what, it made no difference. Mindy wears white shoes before Easter. Jane won't give me her recipe for frog legs. The mayor of Bugscuffle made change in the offering plate last Sunday. The farmer in the hollow is strung out like a well rope, trying to get his hay baled before it rains. Such is the noise that jams the chatter channels in Lickskillet.

The bartenders probably know the townspeople as well as any.

“That's 'Crying Amy'?, she whispers to me over a beer. “She'll be crying here 'fore too long. That's for sure.?

“Who does she cry to? And why does she cry??

“Honey...she don't need a reason to cry. She'll be squabbling here shortly, you mark my words. I've fount her in the bathroom crying alone. She'll cry to complete strangers. Makes no difference to her. She loves to cry.?

She wore her tears as one might wear a shawl or a jacket. Her tears were her salvation. They made her complete.

One night, she got into it with a man at the bar. They were arguing vociferously about religion. They were both going at it tooth-and-nail. Win at all costs. Sometimes valor is the better than discretion, I supposed, and they were arguing the same basic tenets that people have argued since the beginning.

“Prove to me that religion exists. “

“If you have to have it proved to you, then you have no faith.?

If you have faith in something that can't be proven, then you're a fool...?

He loved to argue, the bartender told me. He lived to argue. He argued with his friends. With strangers. It made no difference. He was a retired engineer, and even his friends wouldn't sit with him. Some of them would, but when one engineer came in, he refused to sit with the man. And that was it, the engineers then ostracized the arguer. This was how it went in Lickskillet.

And they argued untill they were both red in the face and everyone else was laughing at them, but refusing to join the debate because things such as this can't be settled, or they would have been settled long ago. Arguing about religion is a tar baby and everyone else saw it as such and refused to enter the fracas.

Finally, Crying Amy started squalling and ran off to the ladies room and the arguer claimed victory and sat, alone, on his barstool throne, radiating heat and hatred like a barrel stove.

Posted by Peenie Wallie on September 9, 2006 at 8:20 PM

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