He sent a letter she hadn’t opened yet. She wasn’t ready. They left on bad terms– insults, shouting.
Standing by her car, the windy rain hit her head like a million people spitting from the clouds. Charred ground confronted her with the blackened skeletons of tumbleweed, beer cans, tire shreds and dead house pets. Cars rushed by at her back, spraying her with their wake in a curt mechanical sound.
The fire burned some of the freeway lanes. A chain-link fence stood between the auto dealership and Interstate 10. Wilted bouquets lay at the foot of it with white streamers woven into the links to make a cross and a person’s name– “Eddie”… darling Eddie.
She looked over the scorched earth leading up to the makeshift shrine. His time came too fast. Eddie was invincible, impervious to death, like any headstrong, cocky boy, awkwardly overwrought with his own youth.
She wasn’t sure what bothered her more– what was gone, or what was just beginning.
The rain stopped and the sunlight broke through the clouds sending down beams of light that looked so ethereal against the darkened clouds. Some might have taken this as a sign from heaven, but to her it seemed like God was mocking her. How could the sun warm such an ugly spot of earth?
She resented the fact she could not be alone, hundreds of speeding intruders watching a lone girl with wet stringy hair and worried eyes. She only hoped nobody who knew her was going by.
She didn’t know what to do with herself. And that was before any of this happened. Ready to graduate high school with nowhere to go. Friends and family now called at all hours to offer their support and prayers. But she grew tired of their awkward platitudes.
“You must be strong, move on with life and persevere,” blah, blah, blah. Her mother set up a meeting with the priest at St. Rose’s, a stodgy old-school cleric who spoke in calm, measured tones but like others in his profession loved God, everyone, and no one.
She thought about hopping into her little red Toyota and just driving to nowhere in particular. But she had no money and the car was making strange noises.
She fought with Eddie for hours and hours about the pregnancy. He wanted an abortion, but she wasn’t so sure, especially since it would constitute a cardinal sin. Now the little embryo slowly growing inside her was all she had left of him. Her mother’s Catholic pride would be shattered.
She could see Eddie in his Ford Rambler. A car he rebuilt with his brother, Richie. It rumbled down the street like an angry steed fueled with nervous energy combusting under the cool veneer. He sat in the front seat, sunglasses on, flashing his freshly tattooed deltoids.
But she knew everything that Eddie the tough gangbanger tried to hide. The Eddie who cried when they watched West Side Story and Maria cradled the dying Tony. Eddie the romantic, who dreamed of taking her away to some quiet town as far from gangland as he could go. He saw this house he wanted in a magazine, cut out the page and put it on the wall of his bedroom. It was a two-story house with dormer windows topped by a quarter-horse weathervane behind a while picket fence in a tree-lined neighborhood. It looked like nothing in his neighborhood of stucco bungalows and dilapidated Ranch-style surrounded by rusting iron fences and snarling pitbulls.
His family moved out to the Inland Empire to get away from the bad influences, but the bad influences just seemed to follow them. Or, maybe the bad influences were already there but his parents just saw what they wanted to see. Eddie kept talking about moving to the East Coast because he couldn’t think of any place farther away than that, and it looked almost otherworldly on television, like Narnia or Middle-earth.
Poor Eddie. Speeding down the rain-drenched highway, he ended up lodged beneath a tanker truck full of fuel that spilled everywhere. The fireball could be seen as far as Fontana.
Back at home, her mother was still at work and the letter lay on a candy dish like a sealed verdict. It was time. She couldn’t let it sit there any longer. She could feel his energy around the envelope like a holy aura. She could see his hands as he wrote the words that she read silently. It contained a lyric from a Bruce Springsteen song:
Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
And maybe everything that dies, someday comes back
Put your make-up on
Fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.
B.G. Kinney has lived and worked in and around the Inland Empire for much of his adult life. He is a marketing and communications professional for a higher education institution in the IE.