O Shenandoah! Dirt Road Journal

treeO Shenandoah! Dirt Road Journal

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"This One's Gonna Break Your Heart"


Saundra can't remember ever seeing the sky so clear, so crowded with brilliant sparkling light. She sees, almost feels, the stars, planets, suns, moons and comets, asteroids straining back into the universe, imploding, exploding, stretching toward infinity. For an instant she knows herself, a tiny still life marooned on a field, spinning on a planet, crystallized against a vast expanse of eternity, unknowable, untouched.

"Women are always in love, and men are always busy," her mind notes, as Saundra rinses a plate in tears and warm water. Cory has been gone nearly a month now. She's heard from him twice, once by phone and once a postcard from Charleston. He's a trucker and, basically, he loves it, loves his truck. The cab is pink and a friend has painted dragon swirls in black, curling over the doors, climbing onto the hood. Women creep into his loneliness, curving into the bunk on fleeting nights, caught in a dim memory as the four- and six-lane blacktops call him on, carrying him through states from Maine to Florida, and occasionally west toward the Mississippi.


"Hey, gal, how ya' doin'?" Deb smiles and holds out her arms.

"Great!" Sandy hugs her. "It's such a gorgeous day!"

"Yeah, I know. I've been rushing around doin' stuff, so I could go to the river. You comin?"

"Yeah. Let me finish paying bills. I'll meet you down there."

"Okay. Don't be long."

"I won't."

Sandy hears Deb's motorcycle sputter and choke, die and start, as always.

Deb is seated in her webbed metal chair, feet resting on a plastic side table, as Sandy steps and slides down the bank onto the pebbled beach.

"Where's the jerk?" Dependably plain in expressing opinions, Deb never sanctions or encourages entanglement with a man so obviously committed to loose ends, to being a loose end.

Accustomed in total disagreement to Deb's view of Cory, Sandy laughs.

"He's in Buffalo, or almost. I just talked with him. He calls every morning now. Really early, like 5:30 a.m. I can hardly get my mind together. By the time he hangs up, I'm awake. Then I remember what I wanted to tell him."

Sandy sighs, staring through translucent water into the muted pastel of rocks wavering on the river floor, listening to her heart's echo of a deep voice that comes from beneath Cory's feet, from the center of the earth, that rumbles into her soul.

"There's so many men around here. Good ones. Interesting ones. Fred's in love with you."

"He isn't. We're friends."

"I'll never understand you choosing a guy that's always gone." And that messes around all the time, Deb thinks, and Sandy hears it.

"I love him. And I don't mind time by myself. I get a lot done."

"It doesn't make any sense."

Sandy laughs. "It does."

"Okay," Deb warns, "but this one's gonna break your heart."

"He won't." Sandy digs her toes into the sand and stone. "I'll be fine."


Saundra always knew instinctively about the women, felt them in Cory when he came home and willed them away, pulling the essence of him alone back into her heart. Now it had stretched, torn, melted into her bones. There was an ache under her left breast and a silence inside her, broken by the beat of a sudden image or the remembered crush of his body against her. He wasn't coming back. He might appear for a time, but his spirit had left her. How had she lived before him? What had she done with her days, her thoughts? Saundra can't remember. From a distance, she watches as her body moves, performs the rituals of life: running a bath, writing a letter, changing the sheets. No, Saundra thinks, I can't stand it. She sees Cory stretched against the covers, arms folded under his head, laughing, teasing. Come here. Saundra closes the bedroom door and sleeps on the couch in her clothes. Finally, she crouches into the rug, folds into a darkness that becomes all of Saundra.

Rocking softly toward the screens, swaying on the frayed white diamonds of a hammock they had bought years ago, Saundra watches from a silent lake. Finches, defining yellow and etched in black, flow through waves of warm summer breezes, settle into the lavender down of thistles. Flowerheads thrust toward the midday sun and fall in disordered step down the hill, against a small forest of pine, toward the river's unceasing current. A grayness sweeps slowly through quieting leaves. It clouds the air and calms the midday heat, silences each song of transient warm-season birds. The world appears to be dying. She understands why ancient people, uncomprehending of celestial law, were afraid; but Saundra knows, has been told: today there's a partial eclipse of the sun.



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Original material O Shenandoah! Country Rag April, 1996. All rights reserved.