The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Four
Heading West, Southwest with Max and Katie
Thanks for stepping out of your car and hitting the road with Max and Katie. When we last heard from them they were somewhere in western West Virginia, doing about ten miles per day, heading to an unknown future with the slimmest of hopes.
Let’s find out how they are doing. That’s them up ahead, hurry now, we can catch them if we pick up the pace.
On the Road
Columbus, Ohio is a cold bastard. Cold temps, cold hearts, no radiating heat, no radiating love, just hassle the homeless, keep them moving, can’t sit there, can’t stop here, move along now, soldier boy, no panhandling, no begging, no dirtying our beautiful city now, son, get a damned job, worthless, hey, baby, twenty bucks for a blow, whatcha say, and we couldn’t get out of there quick enough, following the sixty-two southwest in the general direction of Cincinnati, hopin’ against hope that things will be different there, one foot in front of the other, stomach knotting up something awful, cramps and horses named Charlie, slowing our pace, making each step feel like a sadistic session of acupuncture.
Finally, three days without food, headaches threatening to blow the top of the roof off, we come to a city called Washington Court House, huge stone courthouse anchoring the town, roads branching off from that, four directions, southwest, southeast, northwest, northeast, just off center of normal if you ask me, brick storefronts, four stoplights, Midwest struggle disguised by a postcard setting, first visitor we get, first words out of his mouth, city cop in a black and white, “morning, folks, is there something I can help you with?” he asks, and this time that question seems to stem from genuine concern as he unfurls his six-three from the car, lights flashing in the late afternoon gloom. He looks to be about thirty, probably home grown, local high school football and basketball star, settled here after four years of college and no other prospects or offers, pretty common tale in Midwest, America.
“We’re not looking for a handout,” I tell him. “We’re just passing through trying to find warmer weather. We won’t be no trouble and give us half an hour, we’ll be out of your town.” I can feel Kate’s hand squeeze mine, anxiety building, never know with these small-town cops.
“Well I’m glad you aren’t looking for trouble,” he replies, tilting his hat back and looking up into the pewter sky. “Because neither am I. I can tell you, though, that my church offers hot meals at five each night for the down and out, and no offense meant, but you look like you qualify. Deputy Carter is my name, Josh Carter. And you folks would be?”
“I’m Max. This is Kate,” I tell him, expecting any minute a few more black and whites to pull up, help Josh Carter haul our asses to the county line, or stomp on our grits a bit before jailing us, but none of that happens.
“Max and Kate, is it? Well, we’ll dispense with last names for now. Hop in the back and I’ll take you to that church and get some food in you. Then we can talk again.”
I looked at Kate, raised my eye brow. “What do you think, Katie? Your call.”
She squeezed my hand again and led me to the car.
Take Me to Church
That song was stuck in my head as we drove along the main street, take me to church, I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies, reminded me of living on the streets, willing to do just about anything for a meal, a warm bed, maybe a shower, God Almighty, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. I must have been humming it cuz’ Kate looked at me and said “Hozier,” and I nodded, and I knew she understood.
Officer Josh Carter pulled up around back of Holy Trinity Church, another stone structure built to withstand the worst winters Ohio could manufacture, and we got out of his cruiser with a mammoth cross hovering overhead and the whispers of mom and dad raining down on me, sit up straight, Max, hush now, son, pray to Jesus and all will be well, and we entered a back door into a kitchen where four or five street folks were sitting down to a meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes and I gotta tell ya, no meal ever smelled as good, and five minutes later Kate and I were trying real hard not to eat like starved hyenas.
We were just finishing up our meal when Josh Carter set two plates of apple pie down in front of us and then sat his six-three down as well. He looked at Kate, smiled, then at me.
“You look military,” he said. “Am I right?”
I nodded. “How’d you know?”
“I was in myself, five years, and if you’ve put in time it’s hard to miss the signs. It’s the way you walk, your posture, your economy of movement. Where’d you serve, soldier?”
I took a bite of pie. Damned good.
“I saw a lot of sand. No reason to say much more on that topic, is there?”
He was quiet for a spell while Kate and I enjoyed a couple more bites of pie. He looked out the window on the parking lot, but I knew what he saw was the same sand and rocks I see occasionally in a nightmare.
Finally he looked back at us.
“I’ve got a small farm outside of town. Not much, really, a little over one-hundred acres, but it’s big enough, what with this job of mine, and there’s always work needs doing. I guess that’s what I’m offering you two, if you’re interested. A little work. I’ve got fences need mending, a good job for you, Max, and my wife has been sick of late, complications after the birth of our youngest, so she could use a little help around the house, Kate. What do you say? I figure about a week is all I’ll need of you. I don’t have much money to offer, say two-hundred? But I’ll toss in the meals, and you can stay in a heated tack room in the barn. Can you use something like that?”
He wasn’t talking down to us and I appreciated that. There would be no handouts, just a straight exchange, a little money, a little food, and in return, work.
I looked at Kate. Her nod was barely noticeable. I looked back at Josh Carter and stuck out my hand.
“It’s a deal!”
On the Farm
What I know of farming you can stuff in a thimble, but it turned out I really didn’t need much knowledge, just a strong back, one of which I had. First thing we did when we arrived at the Carter farm was take a shower, feeling the water wash away the sins of the road, giving us hope, making us breathe soft again. Josh had some old clothes that fit me just fine, which he gave to me, me discarding the grimy rags I’d been wearing, and Josh’s wife Linda, a solid woman with a pleasant face, was more than happy to find something for Kate to wear, jeans and flannels, both of us scoring old winter coats. By the time things settled down that night, and Kate and me were stretching our bedrolls over newly-spread hay in the barn, the headaches were gone and hope had filled the gaps where pain once held residence.
In the absolute darkness of the barn, Kate turned over and put her arm across my chest.
“I’ve hooked for money, Max,” she said softly, and I felt, rather than saw, her silent tears.
“We do what we have to do to survive, Katie. No shame in that.”
“Then why do I feel so shameful, Max?”
I had no answer. I’m not sure one was expected.
“Will you hold me through the night, Max?”
I told her it would be my honor to do so.
And it was.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor