The writer is…
many things, among them a government hack, a writer, a freelance editor, and the Dream Operator. She is a former member of ‘B’ Street Writers and her stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Marin Independent Journal, Static Movement Online, Wheelhouse Magazine, Boston Literary Magazine, Tiny Lights Online, Clever Magazine, and The Rose & Thorn. Her poetry has been published in The Verse Marauder, Lachryma: Modern Songs of Lament, and Farmhouse Magazine. She has written and sold over 400 articles on topics ranging from shower doors, to turbine engines, to silk dresses, to fine-quality timepieces. Particular interests include: hospital cuisine, baby-making music, superior cosmetics and lowbrow skin treatments from your kitchen pantry, historical fiction, the British Monarchy, the power of intuitiveness, Catholicism, people-watching at airports, good bread with good cheese, crosswords, 80s music, beautiful hotel rooms, the Enneagram (Type 4), and other assorted delights.
- THE MAIL COMES TO TRUNK HOLE
- (This story has been published in the Rose & Thorn periodical and was selected by the Rogue Community College in Medford, Oregon, for study in its Literary workshops).
By Mary June Brown
The sharpest memories of my childhood are the sounds and smells of dump trucks. If I close my eyes, I can easily conjure up a truck’s grinding gears and the heaving mechanical arms. Fifty to seventy-five trucks went by our house each day. Well, not “house,” exactly. Exactly a forty-year old single-wide. A mobile home with beat up
orange aluminum siding and an add-on porch used mainly for smoking cigarettes, and sometimes, for waiting patiently for the mailman to come. And, it’s not exactly my house anymore. Though the trailer remains, I no longer call it home.
I remember the year I was seventeen, standing there on that beaten-down porch, watching
the day’s fourteenth truck rumble down the road with it’s load of trash, unused items, wreckage. I had my Doral Ultra-light under way and I watched the truck pass by, punting pebbles and dirt as it went. The road stretched out, dry as a dusty gold path. The truck made groaning, shifting-engine noises, but I didn’t hear them then. I was
hearing, repeatedly, the flowing sound of liquid. I took in a big hit of the Doral and
replayed the sound in my head that was, even then, a memory recorded in my eardrums.
The sound was similar to water moving in the most languid creek. Bubbling and swallowing, finally dwindling and dripping into a serene pool.
But this was no potable water, no aqua fresco, no mountain fresh-filtered life-giving wholesome spring water. This was wine. Red wine from a bottle-green jug with a screw-off cap. And this was the sound wine made when poured down the drain of the chipped porcelain sink in the
crummy kitchen of my home on Trunk Hole Road in Trunk Hole, Oregon.
I hated that jug. Not that particular jug, but all the jugs and bottles of cut-rate wine in the
lower cupboard next to the fridge. Wine had always been stored there, so that when my
Granma Lill went to find it, there it was. Easy.
Like the day before the envelope I waited for came. Granma Lill had been in a temper,
sweeping around in her grubby yellow housecoat, and she hadn’t had to stop her shrill lecture for a moment to get her hands around the jug. “You sees, girl! Them books and whatchacallims don’ mean nuthin’ if you don’ got a man. An’ a man needs love. Love! You can keep learnin’ but, sugar, you gonna be a-lone.” She nodded her head at her own clever pronouncement and poured her sour-smelling “red table wine” into a plastic
On that day, as on so many days, I remember watching, my mouth pursing at Granma Lill’s dirty slippers, so old their once bright purple color were now dark navy. Her hair needed a cut: it hung in oily silver hanks around her heavy face. She took a mighty swig from the tumbler and plopped down on the plastic lawn seat we used as a dining room chair.
“Thanks for the advice. I’m going to college anyway, Granma.” I paused, working to
keep my voice even. “Then you’ll have the trailer to yourself. You can watch Bowling for
Dollars all day, enjoy yourself. Give all the love you want.” I turned away, knowing Lill would watch me closely, looking for my “sarcastic mouth.”
I couldn’t wait to get out of Granma’s home. Out of Trunk Hole. I was one in a long line in my family who seemed to feel that way. My Grandpa Cass left Lill some fifteen years before I was born. Went back east somewhere. My own mama left home, two months after she had me. I remember finding a couple pictures of her once, stuck to the bottom
of a drawer in the T.V. cabinet. She didn’t look like someone I could’ve been related to, and maybe she had thought the same thing. She had never sent a card, never called. My father, I never knew him. Granma Lill didn’t talk about him and I didn’t ask. I had an uncle, Uncle Morty, who visited once when I was thirteen. He had been nice enough, maybe a little slow. He and Granma Lill had sat and drank, watching sitcoms, laughing. I remember him asking about my mama, and Lill waving the question away, “You know her! Never did have her head on right. Never hear from her, anyways.” She
had seemed for a moment like she would say more, but the laugh track on the sitcom caught her attention, and the moment passed. Uncle Morty stayed three months and talked about the lumbering jobs he would work in northern Oregon, where he was headed. When I woke up one morning, he’d packed up his small suitcase and was gone. Granma said he would visit again soon, but I didn’t really believe it. Leaving and not coming back was a family tradition.
It was a tradition I planned on honoring. My calculus teacher, Mr. Anbato, helped with my application to the private university two towns over—about 200 miles away. With his help and with the scholarship I was up for, I planned on leaving as soon as I could. I sweated over being admitted into college, sure it would be the proverbial ticket out of a life I hoped wasn’t all there was.
I counted the days, marking them off on a calendar in my mind. I waited for the mail to come, waited for the letter that would tell me whether or not there was hope. The days ticked by: days when Granma had too many tumblers, and the trucks were too loud on their way to the fetid dump a mile from our trailer, and the dreary, cheerless days inside the trailer echoed her barking about “how to make it”—days that depressed me, smothered me. I bristled at her slurry voice, thick from the long-term affects of alcohol and a shabby life. And I drained her wine slowly, secretly into the sink when she was in the bathroom.
I remember another day when I sat on the porch, reading. I watched the forty-fifth truck of the day go by, so it must have been afternoon. I walked to the window and peered in. Granma Lill sat there, impassive, watching her shows. She liked those court programs, the ones where the plaintiffs and the defendants agreed to settle things up on national T.V. While I watched her, she’d hoisted herself up and sort of walked sideways over to
her cabinet to refill her cup. She never took her eyes off the television set. Putting the wine to her mouth, I was reminded of a baby with its bottle, drinking eagerly and blankly at once, small and helpless with thirst.
Many of Granma’s beliefs came from her shows. Lill thought college was about the dumbest thing she’d ever heard of. “Goin’ to school! That’s not thinking, sugar. Go get yourself married. Get a man who loves you! Now that’s smart.” She pointed at the soap she was watching, where a bleached blonde sat opposite her “suitor” in a swanky restaurant. But I had no interest in the show, or the blonde, or in Granma’s loud advice. She’d talk, yap yap yap, but I only heard the chant I’d been saying all through high school: I want to study, learn to cook fresh food, hear a symphony. I want to grow exotic
flowers. I want to speak a foreign language, have my own home. I want to learn something important: maybe medicine, maybe law. I want to go to a big city and walk on crowded streets.
I wanted to get away, far away from Trunk Hole.
I recall sitting at the kitchen table and looking up when I heard an engine. I thought it must be another truck making it’s slow way to the dump, lumbering past to take someone’s once-precious goods, scraps of food, and pieces of whole lives over to the Trunk Hole Dump. The landfill was why Trunk Hole had originally been settled. Many folks with few skills got jobs there. It was considered a good job, too, working for the dump. When first established, workers lived in the trailer compound and were paid fifty cents above the minimum wage. Granma had received a pension check every month from the county, the only lingering vestige from her husband. When he had been there,
they lived in the trailer encampment; when he left, she had stayed on. The Trunk Hole Sanitary Company must have taken pity on her—they never asked her to leave.
Looking out the window, I saw it wasn’t a truck I’d heard, but a large mail van. I felt my vision sharpen, my lungs suck in a whoosh of air. I’d been waiting for the letter for weeks, scrutinizing the mailman, and I knew when I saw his face that he had it. I went out to the porch, lit a cigarette and waited.
“Hi, Mr. Badger.” I walked down the steps to meet the mailman.
“Janey. Looks like you got something from the big university. Guess you’ll be leaving us, hmm?” Mr. Badger held out the stack of mail. I recall watching his hand shoot up in the air, giving a thumbs-up as he climbed back into the van.
I took the mail and sat down on the porch, enjoying my cigarette and holding the envelope, turning it over in my hands. Ms. Jane Peace Langley, 21 Trunk Hole Road.
“Who was that?” Granma Lill opened the screen door and peered at me. I told her and she came lumbering out. “Anythin’ for me? What’s that?”
I put my envelope down and handed her the mail: coupons for pizza, a bill from the water district, a TV Guide. She frowned and nodded toward my envelope. “What’s that there?”
I could not wait to open it, even as my palms were moist with perspiration. I slid my thumb under the seam and felt my body thrum: blood pounding, fingers unsteady. In the background, I could hear a noise and I glanced up. A truck, the sixty-seventh today, made its way down the road, past our house. It must be almost 5:00, I thought, “quittin’
time,” Granma called it, though I never knew why. I don’t think she’d ever had a job besides some ironing, and that was years ago.
Granma shielded her eyes from the setting sun and pointed at the passing truck. “Look. Another truck.” She seemed to have forgotten about my letter. “That’s wha’ you should do, sugar. Get a county man. Fall in love, marry.” She paused. “You could stay here and keep me company when he out at the dumps.” Her voice sounded anxious, and with a start, I realized she was pleading. Time slowed, a concession to all I was feeling: disgust
and hope, sadness and excitement.
I opened the letter. “Dear Ms. Langley,” it began. I hesitated to read further. I felt a hand on my back, a strange feeling, and I turned to Lill. Her face—something had moved in it. Her expression was soft and she said in a quiet voice, “Don’t pay any attention to me, baby. You go on and read your letter.” I saw then her hands trembled, too. I gazed at her. Her eyes were wet and full of something I had not noticed before, something like regret. Something like hope, too.
In my ears, I heard a truck’s big engine, and other sounds—the music of flowing wine, the pulsing of my heart, the paper in my hand fluttering in the warm wind, and the new and quiet whisper of my grandmother’s rough hand sliding over the top of my head, over my cheek. “Go on. Read it to me,” she said, looking away, watching that gold dusty road.