Some nights, running his rig down Highway 25 through Hot Springs, Errid would go past the brown brick building. He’d glance to see if any lights glowed in the three trailers out back, like maybe she still worked there. Maybe she worked there right now, her black nylon slip sticking to her belly and her bra digging a rash into her flesh in the summer heat. Maybe she turned her back to some stranger, tucked a strand of limp blond hair behind her ear and said over her shoulder, “Hey Mister, can you give me a hand and unzip me?”
She’d done that the night he met her, stepping out of the pool of her dress and kicking it away from the tangle of their feet. She stroked his sideburns, mussed his hair and when she touched the hump on his back, he’d flinched. He could still hear her crooning, “Shhhh, shhhh,” low and smiling, like she comforted a hurt child. Sometimes he’d think of that and have to pull over.
She’d told him they called her Delilah, a biblical name, when she sidled up to him that night. His truck had blown a gasket and he pulled over at the little juke joint. Back in the fifties, it had been a beauty spot, one of those one-level riverside motels. The strip of rooms burnt down long ago and they’d replaced them with trailers.
Errid placed a hundred-dollar bill down on the bar and asked the bartender, “Can you break this for me?”
She knocked her drink back, slapped the lipstick-jeweled glass down and said, “Honey, he can’t, but I probably got change back in my room if you want to follow me.”
He trailed after the sway of her hips, the soft groove in the small of her back. He left that hundred-dollar bill behind in the beat up trailer and something else, something he couldn’t lay a finger on it was so sweet and heartachey.
That’s why he went back. He thought maybe he’d find that thing he left there. The thing that kept him up at night thinking about her and how she smelled like cigarettes and Jean Nate. He took another hundred-dollar bill, crumpled in his big hand.
Errid blinked into the fluorescent light. Change had come to the little brown house. Folding chairs now lined up facing the bar where a flame-eyed preacher man stood, screaming the word of God. She sat in the second row. He could tell it was her by round slope of her shoulders and the line of her spine.
“Welcome, Brother, welcome!” The preacher man’s gaze cut through Errid and people turned to stare. She looked at him, cutting her eyes over her shoulder. He imagined she whispered, “Hey Mister. . .”
The hundred-dollar bill was hot, wet and small in his fist. He took a seat and when the service went on and everyone’s eyes faced forward, she continued to look at him. “I’ve come back for you,” he thought to her, like she could pick the notion from the dust in his eyes.
Her lips pursed and she gave a little shake of her head, settling back in her seat. Errid reached to touch her, but pulled back, figuring he had her answer.
The preacher passed a chipped dinner plate around and Errid dropped the soggy bill onto it. He slipped out of the place, unseen, unheard and drove off into the night where the road still murmured her name.
Rosanne Griffeth lives on the verge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spends her time writing, documenting Appalachian culture and raising goats. Her work has been published by Mslexia, Plain Spoke, Now and Then, Pank, Night Train, Keyhole Magazine and Smokelong Quarterly among other places. She is the blogger behind The Smokey Mountain Breakdown.