Highway- excerpt from THRIP

Southwest Georgia is like a dystopian public service mash-up from a Make-A-Wish Foundation telethon. ~ J.D. Brayton – THRIP


   She didn’t talk much as Hale drove up state road 82 toward Albany. He had a cold tallboy of Budweiser kept between his legs, nursing it as they rolled behind a straw truck spitting whisks and dried splines in slow-motion all over the highway, causing traffic to slow to a crawl. Hale seemed satisfied to hang back and sip his beer, glad to spend time together, listening to a Top 40 station, singing along. They stopped at a vegetable stand just before Ty-Ty, bought some fresh tomatoes, a basket of peaches, and a mess of okra. She felt too sick to consider eating – but just handling the fresh produce made her feel more energized somehow. After a nap she wanted to make Hale his favorite dinner- fried chicken, breaded okra, and a home-baked peach cobbler with cinnamon-nutmeg seasoning.

   These thoughts buoyed her until they cruised slowly through the tiny downtown strip of Ty-Ty proper. It was a strange mixture of ramshackle wooden rectangles and newly funded municipal buildings constructed of plain brick, left languishing by the side of a forgotten state road, a ghost of old Georgia; architecturally squat, unadorned and utilitarian – tiny, secretive, unannounced, save by the white municipal signage pocked through by .22 shot. A whisper town, hemmed like a forgotten Jim Crow funeral jacket –tarnished buttons portrayed by farm trucks, bent Coca-Cola signs, broken bottles, empty plastic soft-drink jugs and rusty machines. Easily forgotten; if it weren’t for one shameful family of serial killers. A blink in eternity. Jesus choking on a fishbone. Pee-stained bib overalls covered in wisps of soy and tobacco seed. She and Hale had never actually stopped in the town or spoken to anyone. She had never met Thrip face to face. Somewhere off to the north, on one of the languorous back tar-top rural roads her star pupil sat, cogent, alone in a room with his pet dog; inscribing the entropic vision of freedom. As they traveled past the last town-limit sign, and the speed limit increased, she watched the dead-end dirt roads push out to the west- like straight cracks in the old dusty firmament, out where they praised God, the Son, the Father, the Holy Ghost, humming hymns intoned by the pitch proffered by John Deere, warbling under the whispering redemption, the thumb-faced redneck everyman conjuring soybeans, tobacco, okra, beans and pigs. Out where tractors groaned and smoked like robot dinosaurs – scarring and suturing loam, divided, parenthetically, by a godsend of pine, southern oak and lob-lolly left to provide green pauses for wicked winds pushed hellishly ahead by the sun, gusts strong enough to vibrate banal dirt-merchant homes, chaffed, chipped, standing alone like catafalques of un-discovered Yankee derision, watered by sulfur scented wells, surrounded by skeletal irrigation rigs spraying the straight numb inculcate rows, infinitely numbered, sucking the water table dry, sip by suck, hunkered and hunched behind endless caustically injected hectares, sewn with bland raw commodities –but here and there lay hidden swatches, whispers, left by wise old stewards, dreamlike golden grasses bedding forest  meadows, which supposition dictates only skeletal freizes, biblical clans, and spotted deer know exist, an Eden between seasons of slaughter, dripping chins and comestible tornadoes. Out there where Breedlove and his wife’s last dying breaths still mixed with the Georgia dioxide – air heavy with rancid August sweat, manure, chemical fertilizers, insecticides and stubborn resignation.

 And everything, EVERYTHING permeated by the omniscient stink of caramelized pig shit.

I may cook tonight, she thought, but I won’t be eating much.

   Hale trolled slowly, sipping the can of beer, glancing surreptitiously side to side as they rolled through the known hog-town speed traps of weedy Poulan and time-creased Sylvester. Once free from all constraints, he pushed the pedal to the floor for the last remaining twenty miles of flat, straight road to Albany. He maxed the A/C, rolled down the tinted windows, pushed the engine up, pegging 85 miles an hour; the fields blew by as one solid conjoined, empty heartbreak that Deidra Brook was now, perhaps forever, content to leave behind. The sound of the engine lulled her into a hypnotic trance, where she traded worry for dreams of rebirth; innocence, a childhood uninformed of death or infirmary, gentle Mississippi gulf vistas, the clean hopeful parable of fresh, pan-baked, peach cobbler; the poetic inclusion of ingredients were – mistakenly, undeniably, and without proper explanation, left out of the 23rd psalm.

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