Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Intersection

There was seven miles between the flashing light in her town and the next flashing light at US441. In between those seven miles of double solid yellow line were mostly cow pastures carved from thin pine woods. The land was low and when it rained, which was often in the summer, little chains of lakes would appear in the pastures and the cows would huddle on the high ground, a mere foot above the low ground. Periodically, lightning would strike a pine tree and catch a field on fire. The fire swept across the grass so quickly that the pine trees on the edges of the fields were only singed on their trunks below the first branches. The fire had a restoring effect on the fields, new shoots of green grass sprouting almost immediately, while the blackened pine trunks tended to stay black for a year or more. Without fire, the grass in the fields was clumpy and brown like an uneven crop of straw wigs.

Never on the many trips to ‘town’, as they called the bigger town 20 miles away, had Jo ever seen anyone tending these cows, or repairing a fence, or just walking around. There were no visible houses attached to the fields, not even a doublewide. The cows were abandoned to fend for themselves, the pastures more like cow prisons than pleasant places to eat grass. But the cows had no burn marks that she could detect. How did the pine trees and grass burn so completely, but the cows were unscathed? Jo pondered this deep mystery almost all the way to the intersection.

There were approximately seven hundred telephone poles between the flashing light in town and the flashing light at US441. Jo counted them down as they passed the unburnt cows, anticipating their arrival at the intersection. At pole 681 the car started slowing to a stop in front of the red flashing light. Jo looked through the front windshield at the cars that rushed by from the left and right. She was fascinated by the speed of the cars as they approached, never slowing at the light, zooming away, their engines changing pitch slightly as they moved past. If she tracked the cars just right by moving her head in sync with their approach, she could get a look at the passengers as they crossed under the flashing light. She could capture them as if in a photo, the persistance of her vision holding them dear for a few seconds.

Where, she wondered, are these people going? Obviously it wasn’t to her town. Maybe it was another town. Never, in all the times crossing the intersection had the car she rode in ever turned right or left—it was always straight across, and again on the way home.

Her snapshot captured a boy with sandy hair and red cheeks that looked like trouble. His mother, the driver, was haggard with a frizzy mop tied back from her face, the lines of her face drawn down in a look of tired gloom. Yes, that boy was a handful, Jo decided. His mother was taking him to his aunt’s house in Georgia. There was a military school near his aunt’s house, and he was to be enrolled. His mother had just found out she had the whooping cough, and needed to go to Arizona to get out from under the humidity. The little boy’s daddy had been a pilot in the war, a real spitfire he was, that’s where his son got his rebellion. But the father had been killed, not in the war, but in an accident in the cement yard where he worked. The cement loader had accidently shifted as the boy’s father was supervising, and he was buried under the cement. Unfortunately, it was quick-dry cement.

Jo smiled at this last part. She had read somewhere that the mafia put cement shoes on people they had it in-for then dumped them in the river. Jo was always pleased when she could connect real-world events to her intersection postcards.