The light blue Plymouth sat idling on the side of the little two lane road on an unusually cool, summer morning.
“We there yet Mama?” Anna asked.
Nora Buckley glanced at her daughter through the rearview mirror and took a deep breath. Memories of years gone by rushed through her body as she shifted her gaze back to the view in front of her. In a way, it felt like she had never left. Of course, that wasn’t true. The little bundle of blonde curls in the back of the car reminded her of that. Nora’s eyes roamed over the same faded wooden bridge that gave access down to the minuscule town of Redwater, Georgia. In the distance she could see the pristine, white chapel of Redwater’s only church against the pink and yellow tinted sky. This view, the one Nora had inked into her memory for nineteen years, the one she thought she had finally forgotten, was staring right back at her.
A light gust of wind moved through the half rolled down windows of the car. It was then that Nora realized she had been gripping the black leather steering wheel so tightly her knuckles were as white as paper. If someone had told her 5 years ago she would be back in Redwater, she would have dumped a whole pitcher of sweet tea over them. She had vowed to herself to never come back after word got round of her “mistake.”
5 years earlier
Everything’s going to be fine, Nora thought to herself as she stared at the chocolate shake sitting in front of her at DeDe’s Diner. She was meeting Rodger there after he was done with his last exam at the University of Georgia. Nora adjusted her position as the red plastic booth cushion started sticking to the bottom of her legs. Her body had started to become clammy, even while drinking the cold beverage. Everything’s going to be fine, Rodger loves you, you love him. You’ll work it out somehow. It had been a couple weeks since mother nature had rung her doorbell. At first, Nora thought it was just nerves. She and Rodger had been fooling around since they graduated high school, but she had never missed her period before. It wasn’t until the unmistakable nausea, fatigue and bloating started showing up that she knew. She was pregnant. Pregnant, nineteen, not married, and living in the 2,000 population town of Redwater, where word spread like wildfire.
Nora heard the familiar chirping of the singing bird clock above the diner counter, letting her know it was now 9pm. Rodger was late. It was a good 2 hour drive from Redwater to Athens, but Nora knew if he wasn’t going to make it he would have phoned someone to let her know. The ice cream from the milkshake was starting to separate from the chocolate as she stirred the remaining portion of it in haste. The metal of the spoon clinking to the glass in a fast paced rhythm. The later it got, the more it occurred to Nora that she couldn’t, wouldn’t, go home until he showed up. Past the point of no return. If she didn’t tell Rodger tonight, she didn’t think she could do it again until a baby appeared nine months later. Surprise!
As time ticked on, Nora’s thoughts wandered to the future she hoped would come true. That she and Rodger would get married. They had always talked about it every now and then while out in the fields looking at the stars. Get married and start a family. Well, now it would be start a family and get married. Same future, but just different means of getting there. They could all move to the new city while Rodger did his studies to be a doctor. She would take care of the baby, maybe do some more painting on the side. She could try to sell them to the students on campus and help with the income. Nora focused her energy on this future, a decent future. She couldn’t bare to think about the imminent future of having to tell not only Rodger’s parents, but her own mother. At least she knew she could count on Rodger.
The crowd in the diner started to dwindle as the clock was nearing 9:30pm. Every now and then, Nora would glance up at those passing her booth. DeDe’s attracted all types from town. There were the older folks, eating their customary dessert after choir practice, a few teenagers Nora recognized from when she was in school, and a couple families of moms, dads and tired children, trying to stay awake as long as they could. Nora was smiling to herself as she watched the little boy across from her booth slowly nodding his head every now and then, while his father went to the counter to pay the bill.
Just then, the chime of the front door rang and Nora’s head snapped quickly to the door. A tall, slender guy with dark brown hair, parted to the left side and combed back in neat streaks entered. Nora felt her heart rate pick up again, it was Rodger. Rodger glanced over the diner through his thick, black rimmed glasses until he spotted her. Smirking, he walked over to the booth Nora was at and slid in the opposite side.
“Hey doll!” He quipped, while sliding the chocolate shake over to him. “Ya gonna finish this?”
“Uh..nn…No” Nora scratched out, she hadn’t realized how dry her throat had become since waiting in the diner all this time. Rodger eagerly dug into the rest of melted shake while Nora tried to think of something to talk about. Slowly ease the conversation towards what she knew she needed to bring up. She asked him about his exams, about the drive home, and what plans he had for the summer. Rodger’s replies were the typical ones she had come to expect. The drive home was alright, he hated once he left the city and had to maneuver the winding country roads to get back. His exams were decent, he prepared well for them, but thought he could have done better. And as for his summer plans, well, he planned on working all summer at the local doctor’s office just outside Redwater. The more experience he gained, the better he would be prepared for when the time came to do his residency. Rodger wanted to be a doctor more than anything, Nora always knew that. But sometimes she couldn’t help but wonder if it was truly Rodger’s dream, or one his parents subtly thrust upon him his whole life.
After a few minutes of silence, Rodger noticed Nora sitting and staring at her lap. “What’s wrong doll?”
Oh god. This is it. Do it Nora, just move your mouth and spit it out. Nora slowly lifted her eyes from her hands and looked Rodger square in the eye. She inhaled a deep breathe before she spoke. “I’ve….I’ve got some news.”
“Good news or bad news?” Rodger asked, arching his brow.
“Uh, well, I don’t know.” Nora could feel her entire body tensing as the moment drew closer. She had no idea how Rodger was going to react and the more she realized that, the faster the future she dreamed about was slipping away.
“How can you not know? Come on, just tell me.” Rodger reached out his hand for Nora to take. She looked down at his open palm. Hesitantly, she moved hers from her lap and laid it down in his. “Rodger, I…..Rodger, I’m ppregnant.” Instantly, Nora felt all the tension she had built up within her body release. It finally felt good to let it out, it was not longer a secret she was keeping from him. Nora felt Rodger squeeze her hand, but it didn’t feel like a reassuring one. It was hard, tight and starting to become uncomfortable.
“What?” Was all he said. Nora repeated the statement. “Are you sure? Have you gone to the doctor, done tests?” His voice was starting to elevate the more he started speaking. Nora tried to get him to lower his voice, but nothing she did would work. She glanced around and noticed those left in the diner starting to eavesdrop on their conversation. Assholes. If she had known the diner would be as quiet as it was tonight, she would have asked Rodger to meet her somewhere else.
“I mean are you really sure? The doctor can do better tests. Test your urine and stuff.”
“I don’t need a freaking rabbit test, Rodger. I’m pretty sure it’s a done deal.” Nora could feel herself getting frustrated with Rodger. Of course he wouldn’t show any sign of emotion, he jumped right into doctor mode. They sat in silence for what felt like hours, not looking at each other. Their hands still together, but barely touching now.
“Say something.” Nora said.
Rodger leaned in closer to the table, lowered his head and softly asked, “Have you thought about getting rid of it?” Nora could feel the stinging of tears coming to her eyes. What? What was going on? Why would he suggest such a terrible thing. This was their child.
“NO!” Nora shouted, causing the other patrons of the diner to come out of their dazed state of watching the two and going back to their own business. She got up out of the booth, and started putting on her light pink sweater to head out the door. Nora was pushing through the front door when Rodger finally called after her. She turned around to face him, trying to force the tears in her eyes to go away. Rodger stood in front of her, but didn’t reach out to her, he just looked at her. “I’m sorry,” he said. Nora felt a little glimmer of hope, before he had finished his statement. “But, I just can’t do this.”
Nora didn’t return to her house till almost midnight. After Rodger had tried to reason with her, she walked out of DeDe’s and straight on down the road. She walked all around the perimeter of Redwater, trying to clear her head over what just happened. At one point, she found herself over the railroad tracks and down near the overgrown fields. The sky was clear and she could see thousands of stars in the night sky. Far in the distance she noticed smoke rising in the air from the old farm house. Some family owned it, what was their names? The Dixons, she thought it was. Nora remembered all the stories she heard about them growing up, especially when the first farm house had burned down with Mrs. Dixon inside. She felt a pang of guilt for judging them as she now realized she was soon to become the town’s new favorite topic of gossip.
When she finally reached her home, Nora’s heart dropped as she saw the light in the living room. Oh crap. Her mother was up. See, wildfire. Just like wildfire. Slowly she made her way up the concrete walkway, opened the screen door, and turned the knob on the wooden one. The aroma of alcohol and smoke hit her nose immediately. As she walked through the door she saw the silhouette of her small framed mother sitting in the rocking chair next to the green shaded lamp. The end table on the side holding a small glass of whiskey. Making eye contact with her, Nora forced a weak smile onto her face.
“Mama.” Her mother didn’t respond. Just took another slow, long drag of her cigarette. After a few more minutes of silence, her mother finally spoke.
“There somethin’ ya wanna tell me?” Nora stood there watching her mother. She knew. She just wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Nora and her mother didn’t always have the best relationship and it only seemed to get worse when her father died. They could barely make ends meet with just the two of them. Her mother cleaned the houses of the rich folks in the next town over, while Nora had taken the year between high school and college off working odd jobs in town to save money of her own. She knew her mother wouldn’t want a baby in the house.
“I said, there somethin’ ya wanna tell me?” Her mother asked again. Nora realized there was no point in trying to work around the question. Her heart was already broken, so she had nothing else to lose.
“Mama I…Mama, I’m pppregnant.” She finally mustered out.
“Mmhmm.” Mother responded, as she tapped the ashes of her cigarette into the tray. “And what? Ya thought you could just hide that little tidbit of information for nine months round here?” Nora tried to explain that she went to Rodger, thought that they would work it out, but that he wanted nothing to with it.
“Boys gotta point though.” Her mother mumbled through her sip of whiskey. “I mean, he’s going to school. Thinkin bout his future. Don’t think his parents would be too pleased to find out he knocked ya up.” Once again, Nora felt the threat of tears trying to escape from her eyes. Frustrated, tired, and heartbroken, Nora didn’t feel like working up the fight in her to argue back with her mother. Instead, she chocked down a sob, and turned around to head towards the hallway stairs and up to her room.
“And don’t think I’m gonna be willin to help ya when you need it. Lord knows how many shifts I’d have to work for that.” Her mother called out.
“Don’t worry Mama. I won’t.” Nora whispered as she started walking up the stairs to her room.
With the dreams of her future dashed, Nora finally took a hold of her emotions and planned out a new future for herself. She spent the next couple of months working and saving as much money as she could, but with the small bump that appeared overnight, the tasks she used to be able to do with no thought were now starting to take a toll on her body. Though she was able to find work in the shops around town, she was not immune to the whispered conversations customers had when they thought she was out of earshot.
“I heard she cozied up to one of the carnies from that Fall Festival last year.” Said a brown haired teenager sitting next to her friend at the local bookstore. Nora, in the next row over stacking a shelf, paused. “Oh no, you nimwit!” Her friend responded. “Didnt ya hear? She was going steady with that Pearson guy. He dropped her like a hot skillet when he found out. His family wont even acknowledge it.”
“Wow, poor thing.” The brown haired one uttered. Nora felt the heat radiating off her skin. Poor thing! Poor thing? If there was one phrase that seemed to be repeated whenever she found herself in one of these situations it was “poor thing.” Nora had had enough of the town’s gossip. Everywhere she turned she felt eyes on her, the low murmurs of whispers as she passed by, but most of all, she hated the pity. The pity of these so called self-righteous people. Who really only pitied her, not because they honestly felt sorry for her, but because it made them feel better about themselves. That day was the final straw, Nora knew it was time to move on from Redwater. Her mother all but basically said that once the baby arrived they would no longer be welcomed at the house, and Nora figured she had saved enough money by now to get her out of town and to some new city far away. She thought the best thing would be to leave while her mother was in the town over cleaning that way she could go in peace. She didn’t pack much, just enough to get her by, and by the same time the following week she was on the bus out of Redwater.
“Mamaaaaa, we there yet?” Anna repeated, after Nora didn’t respond. She took a deep breath as her daughter’s questioning knocked her out the trance she was in.
“Yeah baby,” Nora paused, trying to get the next words out as cheerfully and she could. “We’re home.”