fiction by Michael Amos Cody
Kayla’s Jeep Cherokee Pioneer bounced along the freshly oiled dirt road until she pulled up eighth in the earlybird line of cars and pickups waiting for the 12:35. Down the hill she could see the front car stopped just short of the railroad tracks where the dirt road ended.
Mrs. Whitson, over the counter at Whitson’s Green Grocer that day of the blizzard: “Beggars can’t be choosers, honey.”
She felt the train before she heard it, heard the whistle’s song before the rhythmic rumble. It sounded still some way away through the valleys and hills, so she didn’t move. The bright noonday sun glowed red through her eyelids and warmed her all over. The honeysuckle mountain breeze rose up from the verge of the railroad gradient and cooled the sweat on her upper lip, at her temples, in her palms. This day wanted to relax her, hypnotize her.
By the time she came out of the changing tent, the westering sun had left Jamboree in twilight. A golden red glow edged the western ridges and the thin cirrus clouds above, and Hobert Stackhouse had begun his yearly duty of lighting fires in metal barrels—a hillbilly version of an old lamplighter. Kayla always wondered how he kept his perpetually greasy-looking yellow and white beard from catching fire, leaning over into each barrel as he did to strike a match to the paper under the firewood.
. . . the band mounted the flatbed trailer, and an anxious crowd flooded into the dancing area down in front. Colored lights began to pulse brightly against the backdrop of black hills and the now washed-out and star-dusted sunset—the glow of all reflected from the foreground of scattered bald heads and occasional flashes of eyeglasses.
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,That can sing both high and low.Trip no further, pretty sweeting;Journey’s end in lover’s meeting,Every wise man’s son does know.
The Obion River Ramblers returned to the stage to finish out the night and finish off the dancers.
Songs for the highland,Songs for the sea,Songs for the lovers who long to live freeFrom the painful misgiving and the fear of misstep.Let ’em laugh right out loud
And dance wild through the crowded Jamboree.
The crowd thinned quickly when the train full of stargazers had passed.
She slept in the cool gray light of a foggy Tuesday morning and dreamed again.
Michael Amos Cody is author of the novel Gabriel’s Songbook (Pisgah Press, 2017) and the short story collection Twilight Reel (Pisgah, 2021). He was raised in western North Carolina and lives with his wife Leesa near Johnson City, Tennessee, where he teaches at East Tennessee State University. He spent a decade in Nashville writing songs, a handful of which were recorded by such performers as Glen Campbell and Gary Morris. He fiction has appeared in Tampa Review, The Chaffine Journal, and Yemassee, among other places. Find him on Twitter @DrMacOde.