I just wonder if anyone else has noticed how ridiculous cat food commercials are lately. I mean, it’s cat food… for cats. Here’s the proof:
After her less than positive lunch experience and vague directions from a man with no teeth, Medina managed to locate the rented property that would be home for the next few months. The grass, patches of browning, brittle weeds yielding to the ruddy and cracked dirt below, crunched beneath her feet as she pulled onto the gravel drive. The sky had the nondescript concrete color of late August: neither sun nor cloud, just haze, humidity, and weighty hopelessness. Medina’s hair frizzed, her neck perspired, her whole body itched with the sound of southern summer insects. The thought crossed her mind that she might be allergic to the country.
The only redeeming part of the day so far was the swiftness with which she found her new home. In a town so small, one could only say lost for so long. Medina’s father had taken the liberty of renting her a house for the duration of the trial. Since rental properties, and real estate in general, are in short supply in such a rural area, an apartment was simply out of the question. Her father used his connections to acquire a small, Victorian-period cottage recently vacated due to the death of its owner, a Mrs. Lloyd A. Jensen. The widow Jensen had lived in the home for fifty-some-odd years and had kept it intact enough to be of some real value for its historic look. She did not, however, have any heir to whom it should be left aside from an ungrateful great niece. This relative lived in Chattanooga with her boyfriend, and she despised her great aunt the way she despised the little town and everything in it. Suffice it to say, dear great niece did not inherit the home. Widow Jensen, while a product of old rural gentility, carried some of the famous southern audacity. She would’ve rather the lawyers in charge of her estate own the home than let that child sell it for a profit.
Medina studied the exterior of the house before unloading her few lonely belongings. Yellow-painted wooden siding and white lattices. Paint peeled from every surface, the results of years of Tennessee Valley spring storms. Ghostly ivory lace curtains blew gently inside the obviously drafty front window. “I’ll bet there’s no air conditioning, too,” Medina allowed herself to talk out loud, breaking the uncomfortable silence between her and the house.
Medina’s first night in the house was the most restless of her life. Her assumption about air conditioning was correct, leaving her no choice in the August heat but to open the ancient windows. She was only able to open successfully two windows, spending half of the evening fruitlessly fighting the others for fresh air. “Drafty windows that won’t open,” she thought, “now that’s a picture of this town.” Medina let her disdain for Mars Hill be reflected in the broken, stubborn house. The bed creaked, half the light bulbs needed replacing, the ice box whirred every twenty minutes, and every shelf and picture hung just slightly off level, creating the dizzying fun house effect with every glance to a wall. The house, it seemed, prided itself in its backwardness, labeling it “character.” She cringed, twitched, sweated, nervously moving with every cricket and bullfrog.
So I have found myself here, not really sure why except that I’m tired of sorta writing. I’ve been working on a smattering of pieces and, not surprisingly, I seem to be unable to settle on any one genre of writing. There also seems to be an issue with my actually finishing anything. Talking with my arts life group last night, I realized that in every other aspect of my life, I am an uber-perfectionist. I finish everything, and how! But when it comes to writing, I drag my feet like a horse about to be put out of its misery. To remedy, I am going to begin uploading some of my work here, hoping to put some accountability beneath my posterior. I’ll start with pieces of the book I’m attempting, which is tentatively called Red Planet. It is a draft, so things will change. Enjoy, bash, suggest, praise, whatever.
The drive to Mars Hill was surprisingly serene. “The calm before the storm,” Medina imagined. She knew the job in that tiny town would be difficult, which is why Abner couldn’t handle it alone. Any other case, any other attorney, and she would have flatly refused. Medina was stepping off into unknown territory. Six months, maybe eight. There was no way she would stay any longer.
After about an hour on I-24, Medina started to notice all of the exits went from street names to numbers. No more Main Street, now all you saw were Highway 96 and State Route 231. Medina never was the best with numbers, causing her to nervously check and re-check the GPS. Off the interstate, a four-lane highway eventually led to a three-lane, then a narrow two-lane route. The more narrow the road, the curvier and hillier it seemed. When it was clear, she could relax, but when some redneck dually came barreling towards her, all she could do was hold her breath and hope that she stayed on the road.
Suddenly the speed limit dropped and the street signs once again held words. Surreal images of ancient brick store-fronts and three-story Victorian homes rolled past Medina’s windshield. Wind-frayed flags hung mournfully from porches, unmoved by the unforgiving August heat. The downtown, if one could call it that, spanned about three city blocks, ending in a town square, complete with a county courthouse at its center. Surrounding the courthouse were tiny cafes, antiques shops, boutiques, and an old-fashioned barber. The square’s buildings looked like a bar graph, with buildings of alternating heights and colors, but each about the same narrow width.
Medina suddenly came to two realizations: she was hungry, and she didn’t have a clue as to where she was going. She pulled the old Volvo into a spot on the square. “Free Parking: 2-hour Limit” read the sign in front of the row. “Now there’s a new concept,” she thought as she stepped onto the sidewalk. Mars Hill Café looked like just the place to meet both of her needs, so she stepped out of the sun and through its heavy wooden door.
It took a minute to adjust to the light. The term “restaurant” could not be applied here. “Dive” seemed more appropriate. The width of the place could not have been much more than your standard dormitory bedroom. There was just enough space for a counter, a single-file line of booths, and a one-waitress walkway. Every furnishing appeared faded: aging photographs, Coca-Cola signs, newspaper clippings on the painted panel walls. The blurred atmosphere carried the smells of chicken grease, ashes, and coffee.
Lost in thought, Medina had been standing in the entry way for an inordinate amount of time. She felt the awkwardness of unfamiliar eyes on her. She scurried to the first empty booth and looked around for a menu. A waitress automatically came with a coffee cup, filling it up and taking her order.
“Do you guys do specials here?” Medina asked as confidently as possible.
“Yep. Today’s chicken fried steak, greens, carrots, and corn pone,” the waitress replied.
“Sounds great.” Medina couldn’t remember the last time she ate like this, if she ever had. However, the last thing she wanted to do was start off on the wrong foot by asking for a Caesar salad and green tea in this place. For all she knew, anyone in here could be connected to her case, and she didn’t want to get on anyone’s bad side…yet.
Medina flopped an accordion folder out of her bag and onto the table. “No need to waste this time,” she thought, turning her mind to the case that brought her to town. She would be representing the defendant South First Bank, a longtime client of the firm, in its fight with a local over a family’s property. This family had owned twenty acres just south of town for years, but several years ago, they were forced to take out a second mortgage. When the owner died in March, the only surviving family member was forced to pay up or relinquish the land. While it would normally be a simple case, the survivor, a grandson of the decedent, is claiming that the stipulations in the second mortgage are unfair.
Medina skimmed the case files, attempting to summarize the plaintiff. Silas Payne, twenty-seven years old, worked add jobs as a contractor and landscaper and had lived on the disputed property all of his life until a little while just after high school. He had returned at the onset of his grandfather’s illness to take care of him and the land. “Under-employed, under-educated: what does he think he’s doing? Does he know what he’s gotten himself into?” Medina was lost in her own thoughts when a plate clanked onto her table.
“That’s a mighty big folder you got there, honey. You might oughta get a bag or somethin’.”
Medina did not look up to acknowledge the plate-wielding voice. “I’m fine, thank you. I would like some more coffee, though.” She continued to maneuver her folder’s contents.
“Honey where you from?” Her tone shifted now, equal parts annoyed and amused, like a cat with a new toy. Medina took notice now, lifting her head to address her interrogator. A stout woman, shaped like the coffee pot in her right hand, her elbow stuck in a ballooning hip to form the handle. Her hair was piled loosely on her head, ready to collapse at a moment’s notice.
“Well, obviously not from here,” Medina half smiled, half snapped back before realizing the offense the statement caused as evidenced on the waitress’ face. She deflated a bit, “I’m from Nashville, well, Atlanta originally. I’m here for a while on business, you see, I’m an attorney and the firm I work – “
“Honey, I didn’t ask for your history, it was a simple question. Figured by the looks of yuh, well…,” the waitress left her sentence hanging in the air, sensing that finishing it was unnecessary. Carolyn, as the nametag showed, refilled the coffee mug and swiveled towards the next table.