The thing was, I didn’t want to see her, not now, not anymore. At one time I might have been glad to find her sitting on my porch. At one time it might have been the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. But that was the past, ages ago—more than a lifetime—and I’d learned to put the past behind me. I’d worked hard to earn my freedom and I wasn’t about to jeopardize it. You might as well ask a moth to go back and become again the worm that crawled into the cocoon.
Out of curiosity I watched her come down the porch steps to meet me on the gravel yard. I wondered what she’d made of herself. She’d be sixteen--no, seventeen now; I hadn’t seen her for ten years and more. Well, she hadn’t made much of herself, that was for sure. She was skinny, unkempt, slouching, in faded dungarees, a worn blue sweatshirt, thin canvas shoes, and no socks. Her hair kept falling in her face; there was dirt under her fingernails. The wind picked up and brought to me the musky smell of unwashed skin: her scent. She was a stranger, nothing more.
My eyes shifted over to her car, a green and tan Chevy with rust spots on the sides and a rear tire low on air. It was an older model, a ‘41 or ‘42, with Massachusetts plates. “You’ve come a long way. What brings you to Blue Pine?” I said it pleasantly. I didn’t want to appear unfriendly. I figured this wouldn’t take long--no need to ruffle any feathers.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. “Actually I’m on my way west, to the coast.” She shook one out and lit it. It might have been that her hands were trembling, but maybe I just imagined that. “L.A., Hollywood, the Redwoods, that kind of thing.”
I nodded, kept hold of the bucket. I had it in my right hand; my bad hand was in my pocket. It wasn’t something that I was ashamed of, but still I didn’t see where I had to show it if I didn’t feel like it.
There was one thing that needed to be said. I figured I’d get it over with now. “How’s your mother?”
“Rita?” She laughed at that; at least it sounded like a laugh; there was no sign of it on her face. “Rita’s fine.” She sounded hard and bitter. “Rita’s always fine. She takes care of herself. But then I would have thought that you--” Her voice broke off and she looked away, out over the lake. She took an impatient pull on the cigarette, as if she were chiding herself for her display of emotion, as if that were something she hadn’t wanted me to see. When she spoke again, her voice was calm and neutral, and she accompanied it with a shrug of the shoulders as if to say she didn’t care. “She’s in Europe right now, taking pictures of things, churches, haystacks, stuff like that. It’s some kind of art--photography--trip. She and Ray--” Another shrug of the shoulders and a toss of the head as if to say, she didn’t care what I thought, either. “Ray’s this friend of hers.”