This is one of the February Writing Challenge entries that was chosen to be a featured story.
When I think ‘bout her, I remember how she had always worn that red scarf. That was a thing, ya know, with ‘er. She loved that scarf. I think her mum bought it for ‘er, or somethin’ like that.
We’d sit across from each other at Ruthie’s Diner, ‘nd she’d complain ‘bout how the cracked vinyl seat stuck to ‘er thighs. That was in the ol’ days, with checkered floors ‘nd homecooked meals. The waitress knew your name. A shiny jukebox sat in a corner. It cost a quarter to play a song, ‘nd my girl always chose Springsteen. She knew every word to every song o’ his.
When I’d take ‘er back home, she’d put ‘er feet up on the dashboard and sing “Thunder Road” or “Born to Run” or somethin’. She had an awful pretty voice. Dreamed of making it big in Nashville or Los Angeles. Big cities with bright lights ‘nd dirty alleys ‘nd where the neighbors didn’t know each other from Adam.
Where was I? The diner. She’d cross her legs all ladylike, but she could swallow a burger whole. She had a nice mouth ‘nd a nice face ‘nd nice legs. Pretty as a picture. ‘Er fatherwas one o’ those bankertypes; ‘er mother looked like she walked straight off a magazine cover.
But a little house with a white picket fence don’t make a happy family, ‘nd two-point-five kids can’t fix a marriage. I, o’ all people, with a mum who cried at night ‘nd a dad whose first home was a pub, knew that the most. A saggin’ house with a dry brown yard. Toyota truck rustin’ in the grass. The white picket fence always peelin’.
“Come with me,” my girl had begged me, with ‘er tan arms spread across the steel table, palms upward like the Virgin Mary. Oil stained my hands even back then. “I got two tickets for the next bus to Nashville.”
I remember thinkin’ that she was crazy. We had just graduated, ya know, and I’d a job lined up at the mechanic’s. I’d already done the math for how much an engagement ring would cost, ‘cause that’s what you did back then. You graduated ‘nd married your high school sweetheart, even if she was a pain sometimes, ‘nd you moved a few streets over from your folks. You knot your tie before work ‘nd you went to church on Sundays. You stayed.
Why ruin what was good? ‘Nd that’s what I’d asked ‘er. Why? Running away wouldn’ fix ‘er parents’ distance from ‘er. She couldn’ make a livin’ by singin’ the Boss all the time. She was pretty, ‘nd she was smart, but not street smart. In the end, no one left our podunk town for good.
‘Er big baby blue eyes had widened at that, and she didn’ take it very well. She had stood up ‘nd huffed ‘nd tightened that bright red scarf ‘round her neck even though it was the middle of summer. 90 degrees ‘nd supposed to grow hotter. I had thought, watchin’ her hips swing as she walked away, that she’d come back.
So I stayed in our little hometown, ‘cause that’s how things go, ya know? I’m boss over at the mechanic’s. My folks died not too long ago. I have a wife, a woman whose dreams involve family china ‘nd two-point-five kids, ‘nd she always has dinner waiting for me at home where the picket fence isn’ peelin’. People are talkin’ ‘bout puttin’ a McDonald’s up on Main Street, where old Ruthie’s Diner used to stand.
At work, while rotatin’ some other married woman’s wheels or replacin’ an ol’ friend’s
battery, I turn on the radio. Springsteen isn’ played on there anymore; sometimes I think I hear
my girl’s pretty voice instead.