Episode Fourteen ♦ Discomfort 

Anita watched George close his book. She sat, her legs stretched out together, and said, “It’s hard to get comfortable on a concrete slab. I wish there was a little shade.” Sweat ran down her back.

“I know,” said George. “How long do you think we’ve been here?”

She looked at the sky. “Judging by the movement of the sun, a couple of hours.”

He sighed and paced around the elevated platform.

“I’m curious. Why did you pick the name George Winston?” she asked.

“Simple, George Orwell wrote about Winston Smith in 1984. And Anita?”

“I picked it because it works in both English and Hindi.”

“Do you know what it means?”

“Something like ‘without guile’ in Hindi. Not really sure about English.”

She wondered. Was she without guile? It was easy to avoid thinking about where they were headed when De Authoriteit might read her thoughts. She had also used the same logic to avoid answering Luis’ questions. That foil no longer worked, and now she had fewer answers.

George seemed ready with his next question when a vehicle slid from the forest on The Track. This one was much smaller than the boxy van Pa and Cordella used. The color of meadow grass, Anita thought it was shaped like a grain of rice had swallowed a mung bean. She was unable to see inside the large windows. Stopping at the platform, the door slid open and two men alighted.

“Hi,” said the smaller, slighter of the two. His neatly-combed blond hair was short and parted in the middle. He wore jeans, workboots, and a sportshirt. Blue die had been used to reveal a splash of daisies across the right front of the shirt. “I’m Matt and this is my husband Parker.” When he said it, it sounded like Pahkah. Parker was bald but with a full set of whiskers. He wore matching jeans and boots but a forest green jersey. He was big-shouldered, quite tall, and thick without being fat.

George brightened and stepped forward with outstretched hand. “Hello. I’m Lu…”

“Honey, can you help me,” she interrupted loudly but was standing before he had turned. “We’re George and Anita Winston.” They took turns shaking hands and saying hello.

Matt said, “We’re goin’ to the market in Sterlin’. Whe’re y’all headin’?”

She sensed it was time to wing it. “We’re heading for Saint Louis.” She worried the next questions would be how and why were they here.

“Oh, that’s easy. In Sterlin’ y’all can catch a train for Louieville and transfer to Saint Louie there. We’d be happy to give y’all a lift.” Matt picked up George’s bag.

George beamed.

Her bag over her shoulder, Anita accepted Parker’s help through the doorway. Of the three, only Parker had to stoop while inside the vehicle. He offered her a front seat while Matt set the bags on the floor next to a couple boxes behind the seats. Parker sat in the other front seat; George and Matt, in the rear two. Styled like well-appointed household furniture, each teal swivel chair was roomy, comfortable, and made it easy to look at the others while chatting and enjoy a 360-degree view.

The door closed and the vehicle powered forward along the concrete guideway towards its programmed destination. George seemed a bit excited. Was it delight at their rescue? He couldn’t be… flirting? She fretted he might talk…

“We gotta place up in Packer Holler,” Matt said. “If y’all get back this way, y’all have to stop for a visit.”

“That would be lovely,” said George, wide-eyed. She waited for him to plead can we, please!

Matt continued speaking. “I’m not from around here. Parker is. I bet you’re wonderin’ how we met. It’s a funny story. He was visitin’ one of his cousins in Nashville. That’s where I’m from. Well, my cousin’s sister-in-law had a party and you know me, I’m just a withdrawn purple wallflower...” He batted his eyelashes. “…Hidin’ in a corner all by my little lonesome, nursin’ my cocktail, when this gorgeous man comes over and asks me to dance. What could I say?”

She watched George lean forward in his seat. Was he mesmerized by Matt’s lilting drawl?

“He took my hand and led me out into the middle of the dance floor. Of course, at that very moment, the band leader called ‘couples only’ and they played ‘Moon River.’ Parker sweeps me up in those muscular arms and you can ask him, we’ve been in love ever since. Right dear?”

Parker smiled. George sighed, “Really?”

“After dancin’ for quite a spell, we walked over to a little place I knew. He treated me to a Kentucky Buck and the best pork barbeque this side of Chattanooga. We talked and talked and talked all night. He invited me back to his room, but I said ‘I’m just not that kinda boy.’ Had to settle for a hug and kiss goodnight and, of course, my contact key.

“We talked whenever we had a chance, but that wasn’t too often since he was tryin’ to run his family’s farm up here – it’s where we live now, Packer Holler – lovely place, if y’all ever have the chance, y’all must come and visit. We raise berries, make jams, and have millions of bees, so of course there’s scads of honey. Plus chickens, horses, a couple dairy cows, and some goats. So there’s lots to keep up with.

“We didn’t date as much as I think proper, but we met up at a cousin’s house in Louieville when he could get away. That’s where you’re headed, right?”

George nodded eagerly.

“Well, my cousin turns out to be related to one of Parker’s cousin’s somethin’ or other thrice removed. So that’s where we rendezvoused. They live in one of those ancient houses in Ole Louieville. The story goes they’re descended from George Rogers Clark who was related to that famous guy Lewis Clark who discovered the west and was almost killed by savages before a princess fell in love with him and begged her father to spare him and they discovered the Pacific Ocean.”

Anita saw George was enthralled. Smitten even. She shifted position in her chair about to provide the correct version of the stories…

“Well Parker just couldn’t keep his hands off me, but I told him he was goin’ to have to make an honest man outta me before we…” He raised his eyebrows. “So we talked about marriage, but he made me promise to come and live on the farm for a year – can you imagine? A city boy like me on a farm for a whole year? But of course I took to farm life like a bear takes to moonshine.” He flashed an uneven grin Parker’s way.

“And I never left. We got married a year later and that was, ‘bout ten years ago. So what will y’all do in Saint Louie? I’ve always wanted to go out west and see the wilderness. You know, ride horses on the prairie and sleep in a tent, but it’s hard for us to get away for more than a couple of nights because of the animals. I know what y’all’re thinkin’. How’d we even get away this long? Tell ‘em hun.

“It’s all Parker can do to get his brother and that woman he’s with to come and look after the place even though half’s his. We do all the work and they still want their share of the berries and honey and eggs and cheese and meat. You should hear Parker go at it with them, but we finally agreed that they’d come up and spend time each month so we can at least get away to shop.

“But they ain’t comin’ over today! No sir! Today we’ll be back b’fore sundown. We milked the cows and nannies before we left and have to get back before milkin’ time tonight. Sometimes a cousin’ll come over if we need to be gone a little longer. We don’t always know when we’ll get called away like today.

“See, we’ve got a friend, more like a cousin of Parker’s, but we’ve never figured out the exact relationship. She has a stall at Sterlin’ Market – you can catch a train there for Louieville. Oh, which reminds me, you have to stay at the Seelbach Inn. I won’t take no for answer. It’s a lovely, magnificent old hotel. Well, not really. The old place burnt down years ago. They rebuilt the main buildin’ as a restaurant, banquet halls, and meetin’ rooms. That’s where we had our reception, matter of fact. All decked out with white daisies and red roses. Our friends and family traveled from all over. It was simply wonderful.

“So the hotel is gone, but they run an inn a couple doors down and the restaurant is fantastic! Good, fresh, local food. You won’t be disappointed. Our cousin works there. Whatever you do, don’t forget to look for a Daisy.”

Anita opened her mouth to ask…

“Anyway, we got a call this mornin’ that this friend, Parker’s cousin or whatever, needed us to bring in a couple more boxes of jam and honey. She sells stuff like that at the market and only carries local stuff. Ours has to be the farm furthest away. I don’t know why she insists we come, but when she calls, we always do.

“And wouldn’t y’all know it? There y’all were sittin’ on that platform. So Parker says we just have to stop and pick y’all up. Who knows how long it would’ve been b’fore your car got there. Cars are pretty scarce up here in the hills and everyone and his dog needs one to get anywhere. We don’t mind pickin’ people up. After all, we get to meet lots of really nice people like yourselves thataway.

“Can y’all believe it? We’re already in Sterlin’.”

Anita turned her attention to the village outside the window. The car eased to a gradual stop at the town’s station. Matt handed Anita and George their bags, motioning for them to exit. They waited on the arrival end of the platform as a family boarded a car at the departure end. Parker emerged carrying two large crates while Matt carried a smaller box. The door closed and the car moved down the platform where an elderly couple waited.

Matt took the lead, walking towards the stairs. “Come with us. Y’all have a couple hours before your train leaves for Louieville. That’ll give us more time to visit and walk around the market. I’m sure it’s like the market wherever y’all are from, but there’s still plenty to see.

“I bet y’all’re hungry. Well, we just need to drop off these boxes and we can get somethin’ to eat. Our treat. And Parker won’t take no for an answer, will ya’ dear? Oh, it’s such a lovely day. You know, it was a day just like this when we went off to Louieville to tie the knot. Now you won’t forget to look for a Daisy, will you hun?” Matt winked at George, who walked by his side.

Anita and Parker followed a few paces behind. Parker smiled at Anita. “Someone’s had too much Faulkner in his diet.”

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