The Hour Between Evening and Night
Listen to this piece on episode 20 of the podcast.
An old man with leathery skin and a gold tooth turned from his apple pie and looked Odessa sideways.
“You’re not from around here are you?”
Odessa looked down. It was the boots that gave it away. Should have chucked them when she landed at the pitstop between Kansas City and Lexington.
“No sir, just stopping through.” Odessa sucked her teeth, pulling gravely bits of bread to her soft palate.
“Got a final destination?” the gentleman asked, leaning his elbow on the counter.
Odessa cracked her knuckles, swiveling around in her bar seat to take a closer look at the older man. He met her gaze and raised his bushy salt and pepper eyebrows, then returned to his pie with a shrug. Of course, she had a destination. Didn’t everyone? Problem was, she couldn’t be sure of where she ended up. New York City sounded just fine. But so did Philadelphia. Or D.C. All she knew was to travel as far east and north as she could to a city with opportunities.
Ever since Big Don hit the Lotto, he’d been taking Mama out to town all over Missouri and Kansas and Tennessee, too. Taking her to big cities where they drank good whiskey and stayed in fancy hotels and he tipped the club promoters big bills to let Mama sing in their establishments because she was going to be a star one day. Big Don’s meal ticket. The goose with the golden voice. A golden voice because he was convinced her mama hadn’t laid the golden egg—her. No, Odessa was some Vietnam Vet’s forgotten legacy after the war ended and he came back maimed and crazy. Odessa’s memories of her father before the war were few, him leaving just as she started primary school. Leaving Odessa in that house with a depressed, struggling single mother for years before Big Don came on the scene with his big talk and big plans and Mama went along with it, supposing fourteen years old was old enough for Odessa to handle herself.
Odessa looked around the lively diner. The patrons with their small talk and big laughter. The smell of sizzling steaks and fried potatoes. The waitress, fresh-faced and buoyant in her checkered blue and white apron. And the “Help Wanted” sign in the window, letters sparkling with the last rays of the setting sun. She pulled out the last of the coins in her change purse to pay for her tuna sandwich, then turned back to the gentleman. She straightened her back and poked out her flat chest, hoping she seemed mature.
“I guess I do have a destination, sir. But for now,” Odessa replied, eyes flickering back to the sign in the window, “it wouldn’t hurt to take up here for a spell.”