“What the fuck am going to do?” Shelia asked her mother.
“Whatever you want to do sweetie.”
“God damnit mama, I can’t even talk to you.”
Shelia Neal was only 21. People say only 21 like you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.
“Can I borrow a cigarette?”
“Look in my purse.”
“You don’t have a purse.”
Shelia walked outside onto the porch. The dark light of the setting sun made the autumn leaves of the two big oak trees in her front yard glimmer like fire as they fell to the ground.
Shelia wanted to get out of this house. She wanted to get away from her mother, her school, her first failed attempt at life, and start over.
“Mama!”, Shelia called, “I’m going for a walk.”
Her mother didn’t answer.
So Shelia began to walk to her spot. Over the barbed wire fences, through fields where in a few months the hay would be ready for bailing. Passed the old hog barn and up the tractor path that if you followed it long enough you would get to Shelia’s Aunt and Uncle’s house.
Shelia began to climb up the hill to her spot. It wasn’t really a specific spot; it was just some spot, on a hill.
Shelia started to run up the hill, like she did when she was a child.
Soon she reached the top and stood with her hands on her hips looking down upon the world.
Shelia wasn’t thinking. She just was. Immersed in the beauty. The chill of autumn. The crunch of yellow and red leaves under her feet.
Down below she could see her house, and the houses of her cousins, grandparents, uncles aunts. All of Shelia’s immediate relatives on her mother’s side of the family lived in this little cove. Bennett Hollow.
Shelia could see her elementary school and the baseball fields where she played softball as a child.
If Shelia had her way she would sit in that spot for the rest of her life. But soon Shelia was reminded why she went up there in the first place. Shelia didn’t know what to do… with her life. She drove 30 minutes every weekday morning to get to the local college, and drove 30 minutes every night home. She had been for two and a half years. It seemed two and a half wasted years.
Shelia sat down and buried her face in her hands.
“Fuck”, she said.
“Maybe I can be a writer, or a lawyer.”
Shelia’s mother wasn’t listening; she was busy with a can of green beans.
“When I took those career tests in middle school they always said I should be a Forest Ranger”, Shelia said.
“A forest ranger?” Shelia’s mother answered, “how would you go about being one of those?”
“I guess you’d have to major in forestry or something.”
“Are you sure you don’t want go keep studying music?”
Shelia had gone to college to study music. She could sing okay and she liked to write songs. But once she got to college she realized she was nothing special, and there were millions better than her. Besides she wanted to change the world.
Shelia got a piece of wheat bread and poured honey on it. It was her favorite snack.
“Don’t eat yet, I’m fixing dinner.”
“I need this, whole grains are the biggest section on the food pyramid.”
“Pssh. I read that they are going to change the food pyramid, you need to eat some meat”.
“Excuse me this milk is outdated,” said the old lady that came into Creekwood Grocery.
Annoyed, Shelia said, “Oh I’m so sorry, I’ll find you a fresh gallon.”
To Shelia work wasn’t really work. It was more like escape. It was thoughtlessness with a purpose.
“Paper or plastic?” Shelia would say, but everyone knew that Creekwood Grocery only had paper.
On Saturday, November 9, 1987 Eugene Gross entered Creekwood Grocery for the first time. In his black suit and tie he was out of place among the wood shelves and country hams.
A boy snickered and his mother smiled at Eugene while squeezing her son tightly on the arm.
Shelia looked at him. Eugene had a funny nose, and big ears too. But they seemed to match his lanky stature. Shelia didn’t find him attractive, but interesting nonetheless.