Fiction by Karin Cecile Davidson
Outside, pine tops, longleaf and loblolly, cut across the thin blue horizon, and flat yellow fields fell away from the edges of the road. A Texaco gas station, a fruit stand selling grapefruit the size of babies’ heads, a woman standing beside her open mailbox. I pictured how she’d stand there in the cloud of dust we left behind, then snap the metal door shut and lift the red flag to alert the postal truck of outgoing letters. The air inside the bus wavered over each passenger, the sliding windows cracked open here and there. The weather was too warm for the holly and tinsel decorating the street lamps of Christmas, Florida, and I wondered if the town looked that way all year round or just the month of December.
This whole trip was Rainey’s idea, and she was sleeping through it. By the time the lakes and streets of Anna Clara had slipped away behind us, she’d closed her eyes and pulled her long legs onto the seat and fallen into that other world, the one that left me more tired than rested. Sleep, for me, was a fitful place where I didn’t want to spend much time. For Rainey, though, sleep seemed to untie all the knots in her mind, her expression calm and light, even when the world tipped against her. Her fingers splayed against her thighs, and her hair fanned in long, pale strands against one cheek and down onto her shoulder. I knew my brother, Saul, was infatuated with Rainey, taking his chances as her on-again, off-again boyfriend. Still, I doubted he would miss her.
I’d paid for the bus tickets — one-way to West Palm Beach, a place neither of us had ever been, with transfers in Melbourne and St. Lucie. Unaccompanied teenaged girls, we’d surely be in trouble from both ends, my parents on one and Rainey’s mama, Eva, on the other. I pictured how Eva’s face would open, puzzled, and how then she’d toss her head and laugh, mystified by the sight of her daughter. And then later, after our visit, she’d wave and throw kisses from outside the bus that would take us back home, my mama would throw a fit once we’d returned, and my daddy would stay out of the fray but wonder why we’d taken off without telling anyone. Saul would lie and say he hadn’t even noticed we’d left. But right at that moment we were in the middle, between two places, without anyone to tell us what to do, surrounded by vacant morning light and the dull vibration of the engine.
I nudged Rainey slightly, and she leaned into me. She knew the route to Melbourne; maybe that’s why she slept so easily. Even as we swung onto Highway 1, past Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, she coiled herself tighter, separating herself from the blur of travel, of whatever the end of the ride might give or take away.
Rainey had a history with buses. Barely ten, she’d arrived with her single mother, Eva, in Anna Clara, the bus station her first impression of our town. Several months later, after Eva left for the Atlantic coast where nightclubs were hiring, Rainey wandered from our house on Sybelia Drive all those blocks back to the station and slept on one of the benches until a ticket agent found her. When she was eleven, she followed a family onto a Trailways bound for Miami, blending in with the children and then finding a seat by herself in the back row. No one noticed her until the Melbourne stop, and then it was my mama the bus authorities called, not Rainey’s. Eva never seemed worried about Rainey’s disappearances or embarrassed by her own absence, and Mama never spoke of it. Instead, she included Rainey as if she were her own daughter, more her daughter than me. Birthdays, picnics, Sunday mornings at church — Mama laid claim to Rainey and there was never any talk otherwise. She was one of us, one of her own. On loan perhaps, but that was understood and left unsaid.
It had been more than a year since Rainey had heard from Eva, and only weeks since the December 1973 issue of Look had landed in our mailbox. The article wasn’t long, but the photo spread went on for pages. Mama read aloud, stopping to laugh, and said, “Why, this writer must be head over heels. Just look at his praises!” Eva Ives McPherson takes on West Palm Beach! The enduring spirit of the military wife; the long years of not knowing the whereabouts of her brave husband, the Army Captain, who’d been missing in action since 1967; the sophisticated, even patriotic stance she’d given the nightclub revues. There were lists of popular songs she’d performed, accompanied by famous singers, all men. There were angled shots of Eva saluting the camera or performing for enlisted men, and posed ones: Eva waving from an open convertible, Eva walking on the beach, Eva in the company of Navy officers, their white uniforms as brilliant as her smile. But among all the captions and quotes, no mention of Rainey. No one would even know she had a daughter.
Rainey had flipped through the pages with me gazing over her shoulder, and then left the magazine on the couch where my daddy found it later. “Well, look who’s in Look,” was all he said, other than whistling a few times. I glanced across his shoulder, too, still amazed at the resemblance of Eva to Faye Dunaway, from her slim hourglass shape to her angled gaze, but more so the striking way in which Rainey looked like her mother. The bright face that could suddenly turn ashen, the eyes that widened in contemplation or creased with laughter, the pained appeal for more quiet when hours of silence were forced open by the simplest sound — a door opening and strains of Saul’s stereo edging into the hall, the TV turned on to the lowest setting, the kitchen faucet turned on quickly to wash out a juice glass.
Rainey was our precious girl, the girl who we pulled into our lives without her having any say. The girl who settled on whatever she could find, from the reflection of our faces in the lake to a boy’s kiss to a handful of seashells, sent parcel post from the beach outside her mama’s apartment. She was the girl who found solace on buses, in the thrum of moving along a road, always looking for a way home.