Larry was the caretaker,
And he smoked Malboro Lights like they were necessary sustenance,
and he said you’ns instead of y’all or you all or you.
These are things he was likely to say:
You’ns go on up and hammer nails at the barn.
You’ns stop doing nothing and get back to it.
Holding it between his thumb and pointer finger,
He often looked at his cigarette as he spoke
As if he was forever surprised that the thing was disappearing,
That it was so quickly gone to ash.
If he wasn’t fast or aware enough to chain it,
He’d likely tap his front and back pockets when it was time for a new one even
Though he kept, ninety percent of the time he kept, the pack in his breast pocket.
When he talked about cars and going real fast when he was a kid in some
Mercury or some other such car down the road through apple orchards toward Bat Cave and
Lake Lure, he would smile with the cigarette tilting up mid-filter from between his teeth.
I bet he had been a good driver.
He even had Richard Petty posture, and
He knew where all the roads went, and he showed me a few
On the way to the sawmill or the hardware store.
(It is amazing how people know places when they have never left them–
The love them and neglect them in the same moment.)
In the afternoons sometimes he’d leave early,
Put us on some task that would last for awhile.
His head hurt and you could tell it without him saying so.
Sometimes he’d just stick it out and stay in the shade as much as possible.
Most days his voice was older in the afternoon.
I can’t remember the story of his passing anymore.
It was sudden, I remember that.
I got a call a few days after the funeral was all over.
I had different bosses by then, and I had students walking in and out of my
Classroom—English 7, American Lit, Short Fiction and Poetry.
I hadn’t seen Larry in a few years.
When I heard the news, I felt as if someone stole a moment in time from me,
As if the world kept going on briefly without me and
Now I was catching up all at once—a kind of mortality vertigo maybe.
It made my chest hurt.
Ten years earlier
We had gotten in the caked with clay and ice orange Jeep Commando.
It was wet and cold in the seats.
It was hard to see out—there was snow on the outside and it was fogged up inside.
(Early in the fall we had welded channel iron bumpers on the thing.
It only worked in four-wheel drive low.)
We took it out on Kanuga Road to see if anyone had gotten stuck in this deep,
Early snow, so we might use the hitch and the rope to get them out.
The driver we found seemed particularly
Surprised that his tires hadn’t held the road.
Once we got him out and he drove off,
I asked, “Think he’ll make it?”
After biting down on the last of a Malboro Light
And then tossing the butt into the snow
He smiled and said,
“Not a chance.”