Nonfiction from Marla Lepore
At the Corner of West Wilderness Way
AS THE RENTAL CAR SLOWS AT THE FOUR-WAY STOP, you see the chewed up lawn, the fading olive shutters, brick that seems worn by the Louisiana sun, even as untended trees extend their sloppy canopy across the corner lot. But do you see that circular shadow, the tattoo of the rose bed my father planted and groomed year after year? My mother used to preserve its bounty in small vases on the kitchen table. I can hear the bees searching for those colorful old buds, their thick stems and thorns always ready to punk you.
Over there, where it seems hushed and vacant to you, I hear my shoes crunching over the fallen cones of two invisible loblollies. The twin pines guarded the side yard and protected my brother’s bedroom, most famously on that hot afternoon when some kid from across the tracks got drunk and took a gamble behind the wheel of his punched-up Dodge. He whipped around the corner of West Wilderness Way, passed the roses and went straight up into the lawn, stopped only by those faithful trees. Neighbors from up and down the block came out to see what the cracking and screeching was all about, to shake their heads at this kid, who stumbled out with only minor injuries. The Dodge was done, but the trees survived longer than you might think. Years after the tire tracks had faded into the lush Bermuda, the scars in their bark remained, like burnt skin, a stubborn reminder of their sacrifice.
Do you hear the faint springy squawk of the screen door as it opens? I am a whiff away from the kitchen, where Dad’s Sunday loaves of country wheat have been resting. I hear the bread drawer roll open, and the nails of Caesar, our basset hound, my childhood best friend, scrambling across the wood-grained vinyl floor of the den, hoping to get him there in time to snag a lucky piece. I hear the warm hum of the kitchen fridge—Caesar’s mother when he was a puppy—lulling him to sleep.
You see a closed-in garage with a window-unit AC hanging off the door, suggesting some sort of homemade home addition. I see the garage back when it was a garage, utilitarian and busy, rumbling from the diesel engine of a silvery blue Volvo. Just ahead of its bumper sat a spare fridge, stowing leftover chicken and my graduation bottle of champagne. I hear my ex-boyfriend sliding off the foil and wrestling with the cork, the squeak and pop as he finally gets it open and the foam bubbles over onto the grease-stained concrete. We were through and he was dating my best friend’s little sister, but we drank it down and went ahead and did it anyway, a last rite before heading off to college.
I ease my foot off the brake and hit the turn signal, its blinkering click ticking softly in the background. As I take one last look over my shoulder, I hear it all, the metronome of a tennis ball thumping against the wooden fence, the rustling of toilet-papered trees, ghosts playing kick the can. In the universe of this four-way stop, it must seem so quiet to you.
Marla Lepore is a writer, editor, and marketing communications consultant based in Nashville, TN. Her work has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Complex, The Higgs Weldon, and elsewhere. You can find her online at marlaink.com and follow her on Twitter @marlaink.