Chapter 49: All the moments
Tammy managed to make it inside the building and up the stairs and down the hallway and into her studio without tripping or falling or swerving and crashing into a wall or having her legs suddenly give out from beneath her.
She closed her studio door behind her. She locked it. She’d taken two steps towards the middle of the small room when she stopped. She stared at the stool that was set before her work-in-progress as if she’d never seen the thing before.
Had she really just been sitting on that very seat, making out with that guy whose name for some reason she just couldn’t recall right then, the guy with the blue eyes and the stubble?
Had that really happened?
She looked at the painting she’d been doing when what’s-his-name had changed what she’d been doing into her doing something else. It was a picture fueled by a conviction she’d had, or at least an idea that she’d wanted to explore, which was that if she took just about any memory from her childhood, isolated it, and fully sunk herself into everything she had been feeling at that moment, she could—if she didn’t think about it, if she didn’t try, if she did nothing but stay in that moment and paint it out—capture, for all the world to see and only her to understand, everything it felt like to be her at that moment—and most of everything it had felt like to be her every moment since.
In any moment are all the moments, is the idea that had come to her.
And when it had she allowed her memory and her brush and her hand and her heart and the unbearable nightmare of her childhood to all come together, and together it, and it alone, had found the colors and the shapes necessary for it to realize itself back into existence.
Or that’s what had been happening, anyway, before the arrival of Mr. Lips.
And then Makayla.
And then she and Makaya and Isaac Green at the picnic table, the pregnant dark clouds hovering so low above them, the mysterious and mighty French Broad River just across the road, running fast and full, the trees and foliage on its banks becoming thicker and greener and more brilliant by the moment.
Maybe one day she’d paint what it had felt like to be sitting at that table with those two people.
But for now the moment that she had been working on was calling her again.
She sat on her stool.
She straightened her back.
She closed her eyes.
She felt her breathing slow down, and deepen.
And then there she was again.
There it all was again.
And there she was, a little girl, smack in the middle of it all.
She didn’t run from it. She didn’t cry. She didn’t wrap a pillow around her face and scream herself deaf.
She simply stayed right there.
And from right there she lifted up her palette, and took hold of the brush that was needed just then, and let it happen.
And it had been happening for anywhere between five minutes and five hours when her cell phone rang.
It was Ryan.
Chapter 50: Ryan calls again
With her paintbrush frozen in the air before her, Tammy stared at her phone ringing on the window ledge. She didn’t have to wonder why Ryan was calling her. She knew why.
She returned to her painting. In its effort to get her attention the phone jingle-jangled a couple of more times, and then mercifully fell silent. A minute or so later she glanced back over at it, just long enough to see that Ryan hadn’t left her a message. Of course he hadn’t.
A few minutes later her phone rang again. Ryan again. Tammy slowly placed her brush down, and while looking at his waiting name on her phone unconsciously pulled one side of her bottom lip between her teeth, biting down on it until just before it really hurt.
She reached for the phone. If she didn’t answer it, he would only keep calling until she did.
“Tammy!” he said. “How are you?” He sounded cheery as a game show host.
“Okay. Fine. How are you?” She didn’t have to worry about his failing to understand the reason she sounded so wary. The guy had done everything to hide their money—which he was apparently incapable of considering as anything but his and his alone—short of cramming as much of it as would fit into a rocketship and firing the thing off to Mars. And he probably would have done just that if he could have found a good enough deal on a rocketship. For months now he and his lawyer had been treating Tammy and her lawyer, Dan McGowan, like, as Dan had put it to Tammy, “Trump would treat a stuttering IRS auditor.”
“Did I catch you at an okay time?” said Ryan to her now.
“Well, actually, I’m right in the middle of a painting—”
“Oh, okay. So listen, Tam. I’ve decided to go ahead and come on out there next week.”
Tammy stepped off her stool. Standing with her back ramrod straight she looked out across Lyman Street at the sky-blocking trees crowding the banks of the French Broad River. How in the world could they have so quickly turned so green?
“You’re coming to Asheville?” she said.
“Yeah, I am. I want to.”
“Why? You can sign all the papers from there, just like we’ve been doing. You know, because of mail. Fed-Ex.”
“The moment I sign those, everything that you and I have been together—everything, Tam, all of it—is over. Done. Like it never happened.”
“Well, except for our children. There’s always them.”
“Baby, listen for a minute. I know this has been tough on you. It’s been tough on me, too. It’s been tough on the kids. Divorce just isn’t a pretty thing, is it? And I know a lot of times it must have seemed like I was playing an awful mean game of hardball with you.”
“No,” said Tammy sarcastically.
“But that wasn’t me, okay? That was just my lawyer. I want you to know that. I’ve always wanted you to know that. You know how those guys are. He’d put the papers in front of me, I’d sign ‘em, and he’d pick them up, thank me, make sure to bill me, and then keep going. Half the time I never knew what the hell was going on. Wasn’t your guy the same way?”
“No,” said Tammy. “Dan took real good care of me.”
Ryan paused. Tammy knew what he was thinking. She let him think it.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “And I want you to know that I want us to remain friends.”
“You’re damn right I do. After all we’ve been through together? Of course I do. And I hope you want to remain friends with me, too. We can’t just let everything we’ve been together go up in smoke. Yeah, we had some hard times. And I blew it, no doubt about it. I worked too hard, tried too hard, put too much time into my business, and not enough time into you.”
“Plus you slept with other women.”
“There was just one, Tammy. And yes, that one was a mistake. A mistake for which I have paid handsomely, as you know better than anyone. And I deserve to lose half of everything I’ve made. I know I do. And you’ll never hear me complain a word about it. What’s fair is fair. I know that. It might have taken me a while to be okay with it, but I am now. And now that it’s over, and all the dust has settled, I thought I’d come out there, and see you one last time before I sign the papers that will separate us, once and for all, for the rest of our lives. That’s okay with you, isn’t it, Doodles? Things haven’t gotten so bad between us that you and I can’t enjoy one last dinner together, just for old times’ sake, have they? Just one more meal, one more glass of wine, one more toast together as husband and wife? That’s all I want; that’s all I’m asking for. And then, I swear, I’ll sign the papers, and half of everything I have will be yours, and we can go on with our lives, knowing that we parted as friends who respect and love one another, for everything that we have been together. I really want that. I hope you do, too.”
Tammy didn’t say anything.
“Do you, Tammy? Do you want that, too?”
Tammy nodded slightly, but remained silent.
The green on those trees was so amazing.
“Tammy? You still there? Do you want to see me one more time, or not?”
Chapter 51: Spanx on the bed
Tammy had told her ex-husband that yes, she did want to see him one last time. And now, a week later, three hours before she was set to meet Ryan at Posana downtown, Tammy was sitting in her bathtub discovering that she hadn’t, after all, forgotten how to shave her legs. She had figured—she had almost hoped—that living in Asheville for as long as she had meant that she’d forgotten how.
But shaving one’s legs was like riding a bicycle, apparently.
Except riding a bicycle was a fun way to enjoy one’s legs—as opposed to shaving them, which, Tammy found herself thinking, was bizarrely barbaric.
Hmm, she thought, carefully mowing down one more row on the back of her calf. Perhaps men had a point.
Except that they didn’t, she knew—or, rather, they did, and it wasn’t one that exactly worked in women’s favor. Men wanted women hairless from the neck down (save for her eyelashes, which they wanted so long a woman practically had to work out her eyelids so they’d be strong enough to allow her to blink more than once an hour)—and also wearing push-up bras, short skirts, high heels, and a perpetual expression of vacuous confusion—because that served to support men’s fantasy that women have no desire to be seen as anything but sexually willing allurements incapable of running less than two steps away from them without falling on their faces ass up.
You want money, honey? Then find a man who has some, or is likely to get some, and make yourself worthy of his generosity towards you. And when time has taken away from you what he finds most worthy about you—what all men will always find most worthy about you—then good luck, sweetheart. Because an old tire gets no traction at all.
Tammy took her glass of wine from its place next to her cell phone atop the closed toilet seat, and polished it off. Reaching for the bottle waiting for her on the floor beside the tub, she had the thought that she should probably stop drinking now. Her mood seemed to have turned pretty grim.
“Wouldn’t want that,” she said aloud, pouring herself some more. “Wouldn’t want ol’ Ryan to think that I was bitter or anything.”
Earlier that week, she had talked to Maggie about Ryan coming out to see her.
“He’s coming to Asheville?” said Maggie. “Why? What does he want to see you for?”
“I really don’t know,” said Tammy. “Old times’ sake, I guess. That’s what he said.”
“Okay. Whatever. He tried to leave you completely destitute. I’ll tell you one thing: you need to not introduce him to me. Because I will cut that demon’s balls right off.”
Tammy laughed. “Maggie!”
Maggie wasn’t laughing, though. She looked dead serious. “I will. I’m serious. And I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison, happily thinking how totally worth it it was.”
“I think you’re madder at him than I am,” said Tammy.
Maggie said, “I think I just might be. And if you don’t mind my saying so, you might want to think about why that is.”
Tammy grew silent. Then she said softly, “No, I don’t mind you saying so.”
The following day, sitting in her lawyer’s office, Tammy had asked, “Dan, is there any reason I have to meet with Ryan?”
“Absolutely not,” said Dan. “In fact—and not that you asked for my opinion, so forgive me—but I’d advise against it.”
“Because he hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet. Let him do that, and then you and he can get together for a nice dinner. But I’ll tell you what: you better expect to pay the bill for that dinner. My experience with your ex-husband is that he doesn’t give up a penny without screaming it’s a dime.”
“He is like that,” said Tammy. “More than I knew.”
“And if I may say one more thing it’s not really my place to?”
“Of course. Please.”
“There’s a real good chance that your openness to spending time with Ryan will change—and I mean, radically—the moment he signs those papers. That instant, when the marriage is finally and really over, has a way of slammin’ shut and sealin’ tight a great big door the person in your position right now doesn’t even realize she’s left open. Does that make sense?”
Tammy didn’t take her eyes off Dan’s. “It does make sense,” she said.
But that sense hadn’t led her to put Ryan off. It hadn’t led her to refuse his pleas to see her again. She’d even made the reservation for them at the restaurant.
And now here she was, shaving her legs, feeling her face mask hardening, her new dress and her old Spanx waiting on her bed for her, getting drunker than she knew she should be.
The damned thing is, she thought, moving her hand around her legs to check for any spots she’d missed, was that she liked primping and preening herself. She took pleasure in the whole process of getting ready to go out. It made her feel special. Being all girly sometimes was fun.
“Men should try mega-grooming for themselves,” she said, reaching for her glass. “Probably be less war.” After taking a drink she started laughing. “Or not. God knows the horrors Trump’s hair is still waiting to wreak upon us all.”
Just as she was setting her glass back down, Tammy’s phone rang. She craned her neck to see who it was.
“Oh, shit!” she cried.
It was Laurel. Tammy had forgotten that the opening of her protege’s art show was that night.
Chapter 52: All the voices
Tammy dried her hands, picked up her phone, and accepted the call. “Laurel!” she said
“Hi, Mrs. Dulton.”
“Laurel, am I wrong, or don’t you have an art show opening tonight?”
“Yeah. I guess I do.”
“No guessing about it, girl! Unless something’s changed?”
“Then that has got to be the last time you ever call me Mrs. Dulton. Because you are now about as officially grown up as a person can be.”
“Oh. Well, I don’t feel grown up.”
“Thank God for that. And, by the way, nobody feels grown up. The whole concept of being grown up is extremely suspect. I think it’s just some cruel idea dreamed up by advertising agencies as a way to get people to stop having fun, or something.” When Laurel didn’t say anything in response, Tammy said, “Right?”
“I dunno. I’m nervous. Like, really, really nervous.”
“Well, it’s your first show. Of course you’re nervous. But you don’t have any reason to be. Your stuff is fantastic. I can’t wait to see it.”
“But you helped me hang the whole show. You’ve seen it.”
“But I haven’t seen other people see it—and loving what they see. Which they will. Because it’s awesome.”
“I don’t think I’m gonna go.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I can’t go to the opening tonight. I don’t want to.”
“Why? What’s happened?”
“Nothing. I’m just . . . I can’t . . . I don’t wanna go. I’m too afraid.”
“Of going. Of being there.”
“Where are you now?”
“How is Leslie?”
“Have you talked to her about not wanting to go tonight?”
“No. She’s at work.”
“But she’s planning on going, right?”
“Yeah. Big time.”
“So there you go. If Leslie’s going, then how can you not?” When Laurel again responded with only silence, Tammy said, “Darling, of course you don’t have to go if you really don’t want to. Nobody wants you somewhere you don’t want to be. But can I just tell you something?”
“Yes,” said Laurel softly.
Tammy sat up straight in her tub. “You know that thing that’s come over you, that’s making you want to stay home curled up into a ball under a blanket rather than go to the opening of your first ever gallery show? That thing is one hundred percent bullshit. It’s nothing. It’s not real. It’s just the voice of your parents, and your teachers, and all the messages that you’ve gotten from the media, and from all the people in your life—and especially from all the men in your life, because you’re a woman and that’s something all women have to deal with—who’ve gotten off on treating you like dirt.
This time Tammy didn’t interrupt her young friend’s silence. She wanted what she’d said to sink into the girl.
Finally, and softly, Tammy continued. “You’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough. You’re not talented enough. You’re not strong enough. You don’t deserve to have a show. You don’t deserve anything, because you’re nothing. That’s what you’re hearing.
“But you know what?”
“It doesn’t always have to be like that. It could stop being like that, for you, right now. You can break that ridiculous, crippling chain, right now. You don’t have to accept that heavy load being wrapped all around you, weighing you down. You can shake it off.”
Laurel paused. “Like Taylor Swift,” she said.
“Exactly like Taylor Swift. You don’t see Ms. Swift wondering if it’s okay if she expresses herself. She knows what’s up. She knows that if she waits around for someone to give her permission to be everything she knows she is, she’ll be waiting for that permission until the day she dies. Right?”
Laurel waited a long time before speaking.
“Right,” she said.
Tammy took a sip of her wine. “Right,” she said.
Chapter 53: Outside Posana
Tammy was late to her dinner with Ryan that night. But right after hanging up with Laurel, she had called him to let him know that she would be.
“Whaddaya mean, late?” he’d snapped. But then he checked his irrepressibly offensive temperament. “I mean, I was just looking forward to seeing you, is all.”
Tammy pretended not to notice how the fake Ryan had shown up just a moment too late to stop the real Ryan from making his pissy little appearance.
“Oh, you’ll manage without me until I get there,” she’d said. “There’ll probably be some pretty young thing in the bar area you can charm into buying you a drink. They keep the lights pretty low there.”
“Oh, now, c’mon. I’m not gonna—wait, what?”
“It was just a joke. Sorry. I’m in a mood. Listen, I doubt I’ll be fifteen minutes late, okay? I’m just gonna pop into the show, say some hellos, and I’ll be on my way there before you’ve finished your first martini—or scotch, or Red Bull, or whatever you’re drinking these days. Okay?”
“Well, yeah, I guess. But—”
“Great!” said Tammy. “Be there, or be square—or, third option, be somewhere else. One never knows. Life’s a mystery.” She hung up, letting her phone fall onto the bathmat. Lifting her wine glass from the edge of the tub, she said, “Hope you don’t choke on a breadstick waiting for me.”
* * * * *
When she walked into Posana that night she saw Ryan sitting at a small table near a window facing Biltmore Avenue. He waved to her. He was holding a scotch in his hand and a smile on his face that showed her he was already trying just a little too hard.
Then she saw the seated Ryan, still smiling and looking up at her, drawing nearer to her as she made her way towards him.
When she reached him, she said, “Hey,” and pulled out her chair. She was suddenly feeling shy and self-conscious—and then angry with herself for feeling that way. “Hope you haven’t been waiting too long.”
“Not at all,” he said. “My, but don’t you look good.”
Fiddling with her napkin on her lap, she said, “Thanks.” Did he just FLIRT with her?
“You cut your hair,” he said. “I like it. It looks good short.”
She ran a hand through her hair. “This is actually grown out. A year or so ago I cut it really short. Like, crazy short. I just took a pair of scissors, and . . . really had at it.”
“You look good, too,” she said. “Adultery and leaving your wife without a penny and then trying to screw her out of every last dime in the divorce becomes you. Oh, look, here comes our waitress.”
He waited silently—if not sullenly, and while polishing off the second half of his drink—as she amiably discussed with the waitress what white wine she might enjoy.
The moment the waitress left, Ryan said softly, “Look, Tam, I didn’t come here to argue with you, or make a scene.”
He actually didn’t look good, she saw. He didn’t look bad, either. He looked exactly as she remembered him looking: like a middle-aged white guy who goes to the gym a couple of times a week, keeps his hair cut too short and neat, and is almost, but not quite, as good-looking as he thinks he is.
For a moment nothing about him, or about the two of them together, seemed to have changed at all. Except for the part where everything had.
“I didn’t come to fight either, Ryan. I’m sorry I said that. It was unnecessary.”
Nearly throwing himself back in his chair, he said, “I’ll say it was.”
Tammy found herself blankly looking at him, trying to comprehend the fact that he has just been openly and childishly petulant.
And was he now actually glowering at her? Was he really sitting there, clearly waiting for her to get on with her profuse, heartfelt, REAL apology?
“So,” she said, casually looking about. “Nice restaurant, don’t you think?”
When she looked back at him, he was staring contemplatively at his empty glass, slowly spinning it on the table. He spoke as if unaware that she was there at all, much less overhearing the heart-to-heart talk that he was having with himself. “Maybe I shouldn’t have even come here tonight. Or come to Asheville at all. Maybe this whole thing was just a waste of time.”
Tammy stood up from her chair so fast it startled him. “Maybe it was, Ryan. In fact, let’s that say that it was. Okay?”
With the rage he always knew how to modulate in public so nobody but her would see or hear it, he practically growled, “I don’t have to sign the divorce papers, you know.”
Looking down at him, it took her a beat to process what he’d said. Then she broke out laughing. With Ryan staring daggers at her, she said, “All I can say is, I’m begging you. Please, please, please be that stupid. In fact, can I call Dan right now, and tell him you’ve decided not to sign the settlement? Please let me. He’s a good guy. He deserves this.”
If Ryan had a rejoinder, his mind had temporarily forgotten how to share it with his mouth.
Tammy picked up her purse. “Okay, I’ll take that as a no. But if you change your mind, promise to call me that very moment. Good news is meant to be shared.”
Turning away, she began to make her way back through the restaurant. Her first thought was that she would return to the bookstore. Laurel, Maggie, Sam, Leslie, Donna, Makayla and some of her other friends from Riverview Station would still be there, laughing, drinking wine, having fun.
But when she stepped out of Posana and into the warm night air, she heard something that made her stop. It was a young man and woman performing on the brick walkway outside of the restaurant. He was playing a guitar, and she a violin. Singing what Tammy thought must be an old bluegrass or mountain song, they were harmonizing like two angels who knew at heart they’d always be mortal. Their lilting, plaintive song was about a young woman who is going off to be with the man she loves, even though she knows it means that she might never see her home again.
Chapter 54: “We’re done”
Tammy felt a tap on her shoulder.
It was Ryan, come out of the restaurant.
Tammy said, “What?”
“I don’t want to argue,” said Ryan.
“Because you’re a new man?” Ryan glanced around real quick to see if anyone had heard that. Tammy kept her eyes locked right on him. She had never much cared whether or not people heard them arguing. Her attitude had always been that if someone had so little going on in their own life that they couldn’t resist listening in on hers, then that was their problem.
The fact that she know how insane it made Ryan to argue in public was just a bonus sometimes.
“Can’t we just have a conversation for a little while?” he said.
He seemed to wilt a little beneath the weight of her gaze.
“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry about saying I wouldn’t sign the papers. Of course I’ll sign them.” Internally Tammy rolled her eyes. So big of him to do what he’d be jailed for not doing.
The busking couple finished their song, and began conferring together about what to play next. Tammy watched them for a while, and then said to Ryan, “If you’re up for a milkshake, I guess I could go for one.”
“Sure, yeah. That sounds great.”
Tammy stopped for a moment, as if reconsidering her offer. But then she said, “Okay. C’mon. It’s across the street.” The light had just turned green, so she headed for the curb, and kept walking across Broadway toward the line of people patiently waiting to get inside the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Ryan followed a few steps behind her.
Ryan, it seemed, wanted to talk about everything, and nothing. His business, which was going well; his relationship with Miss Choppertone 2016, which wasn’t; their children, about whose current lives Tammy was disappointed but unsurprised to learn that he knew something close to nothing. She caught him up on what was happening with them.
“Why don’t you ever call them?” she said.
But he was so busy, he said, and he knew how busy they were, too, with school and all, and they both seemed to be doing so well, whereas his business was on the verge of setting up some new deals and she stopped listening, since why stay on a train that you know is going nowhere?
Watching him more than listening to him, Tammy thought again how tired he looked, how somehow frazzled around his edges. Nothing too alarming; Ryan had always taken care to keep his look together. But she saw the sadness and exhaustion around his eyes, which nothing could hide. She thought that he looked like a man who doesn’t know how to live without a woman to take care of him.
And now he was looking at her with great earnestness. “I’m going to tell you the truth, Tam,” he said. “I’m honestly not sure we did the right thing here.”
“No?” said Tammy. “Why? Is something wrong with your milkshake? Not enough malt?”
“C’mon. You know what I mean.”
“I do, yes. Sorry for the stupid joke. But Ryan, listen to me. I want you to hear this. Okay? We did do the right thing. Trust me. It was the best thing that could have happened to either one of us. I’m sure of it.”
Ryan held her gaze for a moment, and then looked down at his milkshake. Stirring it pensively, he said, “Well, I’m not.”
“Well, that’s not good for you,” she said. She gently wrapped her hands around her warm mug. She looked across the street towards the Vance Memorial, once so beloved, and now the object of such rage. “Because here we are,” she said.
Ryan looked up at her. With equal parts hurt and accusation, he said, “It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”
“You don’t,” said Tammy. “To be honest with you—and this isn’t your fault, at all—I barely knew myself before all this started.”
* * * * * * * *
Driving home soon afterwards, Tammy found herself pulling into an open parking space in front of the Wedge studios.
She didn’t know why, exactly, but she wanted to—she felt as if she somehow had to—see the French Broad River.
So she parked her car, got out, and, dark though it was, started walking across the bridge. She was the only person on it.
When she was directly over the river, she stopped.
Looking at the river, she thought of that freezing first morning after she’d come to Asheville over a year before. She remembered her vision of the dark brown water rising up from its bed to become a giant snake wanting to devour her, how she’d been so terrified by the sky-blocking beast that she didn’t think she’d make it off the bridge alive.
From what she could see of it through the darkness, the river seemed calm now, the bright moon overhead popping glints of silver light everywhere upon the moving water.
Why didn’t Ryan just call the kids every once in a while? she thought. Send them an email? Show them he cares about them? It’s all they wanted. It’s all he wanted.
Why deny himself something so good that he could have for himself so easily?
Why turn your back on love that’s simply waiting there for you?
And that’s when she saw the river stirring itself again, the same as before.
In a vision she saw the colossus rising up from its bed, oily-black like the night around it, pulling all of the river’s water into itself. It rapidly grew larger and larger, until like a skyscraper it was towering above her. Then the monster became still, save for its slow, rhythmic undulations. Through the darkness she couldn’t see much of its head, save for the glowing red eyes staring hungrily down upon her.
And suddenly the whole of her gathered together inside of her, and, as if in someone else’s voice, she screamed one word.
Gripping hard the guard rail before her, she dropped her voice to a guttural, furious growl. Anyone looking at her would have thought she was talking to the night sky overhead.
“No. You do not get to do this,” she said. “You do not get to scare me. You stupid motherfucker. Come get me. C’mon. Let’s see what you got. No? You just gonna stare at me all night? Of course you are. Because you’ve got nothing.”
But then she looked away, towards the Wedge and the train she heard coming to a squealing stop. She knew the snake would stay where it was.
And she thought: No. That’s wrong. What that creature had wasn’t nothing. It was everything. It was only that its power was so omnipresent that it could seem to be nowhere. And the evil it was and spread didn’t want only her, and her life. It wanted to destroy as much of everyone’s life as it could. And it succeeded, all the time, everywhere. It had ruined so much of Ryan’s life, Charlie’s life, Todd’s life, Frank’s life, Donna’s life, Laurel’s life, Wyatt’s life, so much of the lives of her mother, her father, her sister. It had ruined the life of her rapist—as it had the lives all the rapists, all the misogynists, all the racists, all the homophobes, all the men who shot all the people.
It was ruining the world, right now.
It was the thing that made the fear that begat the anger that obliterated the love.
Tammy felt her legs suddenly give out beneath her. She used the rail to keep herself upright. When steady again she looked back up into the sky.
“You, with your demon red eyes,” she said. “That’s not anything but blood. And blood doesn’t scare me. I’m a mother. I know from blood. So stop it already. Just stop. I’m not afraid of you. Become a beautiful river again.”
And just like that, the snake vanished from the sky, and the river was a river once more.
For a moment, or an hour, Tammy watched the water far below flowing quietly beneath and past her.
Then she straightened up to her full height, and said aloud to herself, “Okay. We’re done. What’s left of my life belongs to me. And only me.”
As she was walking back toward her car, she heard beneath her the train starting to roll again. She wondered where the train was going, and what it might find when it got there.
[This concludes Ashes to Asheville.]