After third shift lets off, I come home by way of the bus stop on Third and he’s waiting for me. Martin Ogle, my neighbor, sits on the top step of his trailer with his legs spread and a mug of something hot in his hands, this day when he’s decided out of the blue to start waiting for me.
“It’s early, Martin.” I pull my hair forward and push it back over my shoulder. “What are you doing up?”
He shrugs. “Kind of a long story.” He takes a sip from the mug and leans sideways until his shoulder touches the doorway.
I nod and smile, swinging the lunch bag I took with me to the paper mill.
“You have a good one,” I call out, waiting until the last minute to turn away. His face is rough-looking all over, rougher this morning than when I’ve seen him in the evening—lighting a cigarette in the same doorway, the shape of his wife behind him wiping her hands on a dishcloth, her hair half-up and half-down like it can’t decide.
When I check on Aunt Sheila in the back bedroom, the window shade is pulled down and flapping from the fan blowing in the corner, wobbly on its stand. She rolls over and I tell her to keep resting.
I fry up an egg and eat it standing in front of the kitchen sink, tossing yesterday’s mail in the trash can by the refrigerator, except for the bills, which I leave for Aunt Sheila. I set the coffee maker for her and—finally tired, like I’ve worked my way up to it—stumble down the hall to the first bedroom—mine—where there’s no shade on the window and the sun comes through while I try to sleep, white hot, making the dust dance.
I’m back at work by 10:55, five minutes before I have to be. Even though it’s the middle of the night, the heat hasn’t let up and Sam holds a can of Coke to his forehead. He rolls it across and then starts again. When he sees me watching, he sets the can down on his metal desk.
“Hey Beatrice, you probably need to clock in.”
“No problem,” I say, pushing the paper in and looking back at him. He pops open the can and his forehead is left-over pink from the cold.
“Supposed to get up to 96, 97 today—tomorrow, whatever.” He flips through some papers on his desk. “But I got the fans fixed for y’all.”
I nod. “Thank you.” It’s like I can already feel the air moving even though I haven’t left the office yet.
When I get off work, Martin’s there again, the second morning in a row.
“Hi there, out early again, I see.” I wave. “Looks like rain, doesn’t it?” The sky is a blushed pink, waiting.
“Sure looks like it.” Martin nods. “You take care.”
I imagine him turning away after I’ve passed by, looking down as he heads back into the trailer, already waiting for the next morning.
At work, I tell Sam what’s happened like I can’t help myself, like instead of eighteen and holding down a job, I’m five years old at show and tell.
“Two mornings in a row?” He raises his eyebrows. “And he’s married, you say?”
“Yeah.” I find myself smiling and I frown partway through. “I don’t really know what to do about it. Talk about awkward.”
“You’ll have to tell me what happens.” He leans down to pull open a drawer in the desk.
The sun’s already up and hot when I walk home from the bus stop. Martin’s there on the top step, like I knew he would be. No mug in his hand today and he nods when I walk past with my stomach sucked in and tits out. He doesn’t say anything, but I feel his eyes on me. I walk slowly, kicking a rock with my shoe, inching it forward a little bit and then a little bit more. I’ve forgotten what I’d planned on saying to him.
When I’m almost home, I change my mind. I stop walking and inch back up against a tree where I can see Martin down the road. He stands up and stretches, looking up at the sky and down the road toward the bus stop.
“Dee Ray,” he yells out. “Time for breakfast.” I wait to see what he’s talking about, and a brown and white spaniel comes trotting down the dirt road, her tail up and ready.
“Come on, girl,” he says with his hand out and the new dog comes up the steps, following him into the trailer, and the door clamps shut behind them.
Sam isn’t at his desk when I get to work, but I wait a minute and he shows up with a newspaper tucked under his arm.
“Sam, you’ve gotta hear the latest.” I punch the time card and put it on the board and check to make sure he’s listening. He’s looking right at me. “So this morning he was waiting for me again.”
“Is that right?” He eases down in his chair and leaves the newspaper on the side of the desk, right by the framed picture he’s never shown me. The back of the frame is cardboard, stained brown on the bottom left corner like it got wet one time.
“He stood up as soon as he saw me coming down the road. He held his hand up over his eyes, you know what I mean?”
“And what did he say?” Sam asks, his brown eyes full up with wanting to know.
I take a deep breath and shake my head, looking around to make sure nobody else is around. “He really shouldn’t have, but he asked me if I knew—if I knew how beautiful I was.”
Sam’s chair whines when he leans up.
“I mean, can you believe that?” My hair falls from behind my ear and I leave it soft against my burning cheek, and shake my head again.
About the author:
Heather Bell Adams lives in Raleigh, NC, where she is a lawyer and on the fiction staff of Raleigh Review. A finalist for the Reynolds Price Fiction Prize and the James Hurst Fiction Prize, she has published short stories in Pembroke Magazine, Clapboard House, Foliate Oak, Bluestone Review, First Stop Fiction, and elsewhere.