Randle, Washington By Way of the Rhino’s Horn

I think I could wait tables in this little town, walk across the highway to my rusty old double wide covered in creeping vines turning red in the autumn chill.  I think I could crawl under quilts with something heady to read after a long shift, feel my muscles and bones soften towards sleep.  I think I could be happy enough.

Our waitress is young beneath all of her makeup.  Her thick eyeliner has been applied by a steady and practiced hand which makes it difficult to know for certain but she may even still be in highschool.  The first time I waited tables I too was young.  Young enough to wish I was cruising main street while Rita closed out the night with Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red” on the jukebox.  I would stand on the back slab of concrete staring deep into the darkening horse pastures wearing the itchy, distracted skin of youth and dream about living in a city.  Then, I’d set about emptying the three gallon jug of chicken blood Ollie left just outside the screen door.  He was Norwegian and I always thought this somehow informed his theory that the blood would draw the flies out of the restaurant even though I could see it was only bringing more in from the fields.

Now I often feel the memory of a dry wind shift the order of my thoughts and I recall with shock how wonderful it felt, how rare and infused with light, to live in a town where strangers passed through only once or twice a year.  I would take up the entire strangeness of them, take it all into myself and be sustained by their otherness for a while.

The last time I waited tables I’d dropped out of college for a semester and returned home where everyone my age was gone or married.  I spent my days off listening to slow music and requesting obscure books from the two-room library on the second floor of the old highschool in front of which, one day, I found a young man I’d never seen before snapping photos.  He also had left college and was working for a seed company picking up and replenishing expired packets of seeds all over the rural southwest.  I asked him to come with me to the little reservoir.  The water had been drained off and hundreds of silver fish were rotting in the soft slope of mud.  The odor was oppressive but the photos would be brilliant.  I drove him to Lyman Lake where one of the Crosby boys took us out in a motorboat.  In the evening I brought him home and cooked him dinner while he made shy conversation with my father.  If he ever told me his name I have long since forgotten it, but the next morning he left a packet of flower seeds on my front doorstep and I planted them in my yard.

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