Compared to my current local, I can’t say that I miss Shady Grove, though I may never have chosen to leave it while I lived. Shady Grove is a town a lot like the one you may have grown up in. There are a handful of churches, a farm store, the local A&P, and a couple of gas stations. A woman named Lenore runs a little bakery next to the Mick or Mack. The fire department is doing a car wash at Pete’s Garage, right on the corner of Main Street and Pine. The local high school football team has made state a few times in the last decade. There is a little library and a park near the center of town, where sleepy-eyed mommas grip cheap coffee and check Facebook while their children play.
I grew up in Shady Grove, back in the day when people still kept chickens in town and there was a movie theater where you could see a show for a dime. Oh, but that was a while back, wasn’t it? I remember the milk man making his rounds in the wee hours of the morning. Now everyone buys their milk at that A&P. Now, things haven’t changed too much, mind you, you can still get milk from the local creamery at the A&P. The farmers bring eggs in neat brown cartons, and in the summer, fresh local produce is sold in front of the electric glass doors.
My house was near the center of town, a pretty gingerbread Victorian that Daddy left me when he passed. I spent a lot of lonely years in that house. Never was the Lord’s will that I marry. In those years, I learned to hear the “voice of my Beloved”. There are folks roundabouts who may have never known my name, but I’ve prayed for them for years. Many sweet hours of prayer were spent in that old house, though there were many tears shed at the want of more earthly company.
My current living situation makes all those years seem like a dim memory. You see, one morning, I woke up and saw “my Beloved, skipping on the hills” and I got to go to my true home. Daddy was there, and asked about how things were coming along in Shady Grove. My only regret in coming Home was that I never got to see how my prayer list turned out.
Well, wouldn’t you know, my Beloved fills the desires of every living thing in the right season, and He went about letting me see how my little list turned out.
Salvador D’Angelo was one of the first names on my list. Been praying for the old farmer since his wife died birthing a little girl. Old Sal loved his wife fiercely, and I know losing her was a blow he almost didn’t recover from. Then to be left with the raising of Little Lisa, named for Sal’s wife. It wasn’t easy. The girl missed having a momma in her life, and had a bit of a wild streak. She got pregnant out-of-wedlock, dropped out of school. We were all relived when she got a job at the A&P and kept showing up every day. And her boy, Little Sal, what a sweet, sober little fellow. Reminds me a lot of Sal.
“Grandpa?” the little boy asked as Sal buckled him in. Sal noticed the ripped blue jeans Little Sal had come to church in and inwardly winced. Not like when Big Sal was a boy. He remembered his Ma’s boiling hot wash cloth behind the ears and the stiff starched collars. He’d have to see about getting the boy something fit to wear. Lord knows, Lisa didn’t have the sense to.
“Yeah, Shorty” Sal’s eyes were drawn to the brightly garbed folks streaming out of the church doors in search of the nearest Denny’s.
“Were you parked outside our house last night? I thought I saw your car.”
“Uhm..” Sal fumbled with his keys for a moment. The kid was observant, he’d give him that. “So what if I was?”
“That’s weird. Why are you spying on us?” The boy raised his dark brows quizzically. He was a scrawnier, much paler version of Sal, with sleepy, worrisome smudges under his brown eyes.
“I wasn’t spying on you. I was just checking on you. Making sure you were safe” Sal turned the key and waited for the church lot to clear.
Fionna Walsh chased a toddler through the lot with a little girl pulling on her dress and a bawling baby in arms. Sal tried not to chuckle. When her two little boys ducked behind the preacher’s car, Sal bit his lip. He shouldn’t laugh. Fionna caught the toddler and looked about frantically for the boys. Sal was about to say something to the hiding boys, but then Miss Betsy took the baby from Fionna and coaxed little girl to take her hand. Sal noted that Betsy was still cutting a fine figure. Fionna, with a toddler planter firmly on her hip, spotted the boys and gave them a look the could’ve put the fear of God into the Devil himself. The boys quickly rose and found their mother’s side.
“Wassit because momma’s seeing Duke now?” Sal pulled his attention back to his grandson. Hell yes, Sal was stalking his daughter because Lisa was seeing that good for nothing Duke. His gut told him that something wasn’t right. She was his daughter. She was grown, and he had to let her make her own decisions, but she was his daughter. If she needed him, he’d be there. Sal realized how that must sound and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“I just wanted to make sure you all were doing ok. You’d tell me, right, if there were some kind of problem?”
“You do that, Shorty.”
With a wave to Pastor Don, Sal pulled out of the gravel lot.
Traffic on Main Street was slow, clogged with jawing churchgoers, family vans, and the occasional horse and buggy. The first buds of spring fought for life on barren branches. Though it really was still too cold to go riding with the windows down, Little Sal leaned out to see if anyone he knew was out.
Little Sal’s lazy afternoon ride through Shady Grove ended soon enough, at a gravel lot hosting four dumpy looking trailers. It pained Sal to drop the boy here, he wished Lisa would just take him up on his offer to move back home. Goodness knows, the farmhouse could use a woman’s touch. But she’s grown, Sal reminded himself for the umpteenth time that day, she’s grown and got to make her own decisions.
Little Sal slowly opened the door.
“Need some help with the belt?”
“Naw, I got it”
“You coming over after school tomorrow?”
“I guess. Can I ride with you on the tractor?”
There wasn’t much for Sal to do with the tractor this time of year that he hadn’t done already, but he thought that for the boy’s sake he could find some ground to turn over. “Reckon so, if you get there in time.”
Sal let the truck idle and watched as the boy pulled open a rickety screen door. He made a mental note to get by at some point and tighten those hinges. He heard the boy call to his mom, and listened for the muffled reply. Satisfied that Lisa was up and about, he headed home.
The boy hated it when they screamed at each other. He tried to curl up on the mismatched superhero bedding and pull a Transfomers blanket over his head, but it was no use. He could still hear them. He could still hear the bad words and the dull thuds. He cried softly, and when he couldn’t take it anymore, Little Sal pushed the broken mini-blinds to the side and squeezed between the window frame and a bent, rusty screen. The gravel in the lot stabbed at his feet, but he ceased to care. He had to get to his tree.
The tree, the boy’s special tree, towered over the trailer. It was a Douglas Fir whose branches formed a perfect stairway for a little boy to transcend earthly cares. The smell of cigarette smoke and taste of fear was long forgotten when Sal was embraced in its piney boughs. He scampered up the tree, ever higher, until he could see half of the town. He watched smaller versions of the adults he knew getting groceries, filling up with gas, and gossiping with the neighbors. The soothing sounds of Main Street traffic drowned out the arguing.
Big Sal was glad Jerry left a sack of feed for him in a truck parked outside the farm store. Sal coulda kicked himself for forgetting to pick it up when the store was open Saturday night, he’d just been so worried about Lisa…
He parked in the near empty store lot and waved to some folks just getting ready to leave the A&P, just across the way. He thought he recognized Elle, a friend of Lisa’s from high school. As he opened the pickup door, she called to him “Hey Mr. D’Angelo , got a sec?”
“I suppose, but only because I can still remember when you were a little squirt with pig tails and no front teeth” Lord, had it been so long? It seemed like only a couple weeks ago this girl and Lisa were begging him for money for the ice cream truck and having sleepovers. If local gossip proved right, she’d be getting married soon.
Elle grinned as she crossed the road. She shook her head, “that’s been a long time now. Seriously, though, I wanted to talk to you about Lisa…” she paused to take a breath as she quickly closed the gap between them. Elle lowered her voice. “I’m worried about Lisa. We’ve been friends for a long time, and I don’t think Duke is any good for her”
“Yup. I don’t either, but its her life. There’s not a lot we can do about it.”
“Yeah, I know, but Mr. D’Angelo, I mean, I’m really worried. Duke’s brother just got arrested for cooking up Meth. The crowd he runs with is trouble.”
A knot formed in Sal’s gut, his fists clenched. “Do you think he and Lisa are into anything illegal. Is the boy in danger? “
“ I don’t know- no- I don’t think so. I mean, they still party and stuff, but—I just don’t want to see Lisa in a bad situation”, the words tumbled out as the girl twisted her blond hair nervously, “ We used to be really close.”
“Thanks for saying something Elle. I’ll be keeping an eye on things.”
“Yeah, sure, uhm- I have to go. Bye. “She turned to wave as she jogged back across the street to her car.
The worried father grabbed the bag of feed from the back of a green truck painted with the yellow letters “Peal County Co-op”. It landed in the back of his pickup with a thud. What was he going to do about Lisa? What about Little Sal? Why did she always have to make such rotten choices and leave him to pick up the pieces? That boy deserved better. Hell, Lisa deserved better. He decided to swing by her place, just to check in.
Sal chewed on his cheek as he pulled out of the lot. He wanted to talk with his friend, Dot Sayers, down in South Fork. South Fork was the nearest town with its own police force, and Dot was on it. She’d be a good one to talk to about anything illegal Duke might be caught up in. Maybe give Sal some more information about Duke’s brother and the people they were running around with.
Sal heard the hollering before he’d even pulled the whole way into the lot. He jumped from the truck and scrambled to the front door as quickly as his aging frame would let him. The screen door came off in his hands, but the door behind it was locked.
He knocked hard enough to splinter the wood. It took a moment for Sal to even realize that he was pounding on the door, let alone that it was beginning to crack beneath his bleeding fists. He stood back to finish the job with a kick. As he lifted his leg, several thoughts ran through his mind: what was he going to find on the other side of the door? Was Lisa alright? Where was the boy? How much was this going to cost him to fix? How badly was he going to beat that sommabitch if he’d laid a hand on his daughter?
Just then Lisa opened the door. Her eye was swollen, a trickle of blood stained her lip and her shirt torn. Sal pushed past her to find the punk, but he’d already run out the back. Sal knew his limitations, and that he’d never catch the decades younger boy. Especially if he was stung out on meth. He briefly pondered running him down in the truck, but his better sense started to get a hold of him, past the coursing adrenaline. Lisa and they boy needed him now. Best not do anything that could land him in jail.
‘Get the boy and your things, you’re coming home”
Lisa sat on the floor and started to cry.
Sal stared blankly for a moment, unsure of what to do now. He hated when she cried. He tried patting her on the head, but that didn’t seem to be helping. He went to the dirty kitchenette and dug around in the drawers for a clean rag. Finally, he found one that didn’t seem to smell too bad. He ran some cold water and brought it to Lisa. Sal knelt on the floor to put an arm around his daughter, cleaning her cuts with a cool rag. His knees protested, but he tried to ignore them.
“Where’s Little Sal? I can help him get his clothes together” Sal hand Lisa the washcloth to hold over her eye and gave her arm a final, awkward pat.
“I doubt it” Sal ambled to the back bedroom. The bed was empty, but he noticed the bent screen.
“Lisa! He isn’t here. Looks like he might have gone out the window. I’m going to go look for him.”
“What do you mean: He isn’t here? I put him to bed a couple of hours ago.” She started to sob again.
Just then, the boy walked through the door.
“I saw you pull up. Is Duke gone?”
“Yeah, he’s gone.”
Little Sal wrapped his arms around his grandfathers waist, burying his head in his belly. The boy didn’t cry, but stood silently resting his head on Big Sal’s solid frame. “Come on, ya’ll get your things together. We’re going home.”
Duke cursed. He’d run out without his cell phone. At least he had some change in the torn pockets of his jeans. It be enough to buy another beer and call Randy from the 7-11. He would probably just crash there tonight.
He kicked a stray piece of gravel down the sidewalk. Lisa was such a bitch. He was just trying to plan for their future. There wasn’t a supply anymore since his brother, Jed, had gone to jail. This new business idea was the best thing they had going, and it wasn’t even hard work. She needed to stop fighting him over this. It was only a couple of videos. Well, for now at least. If things went the way Randy thought it would, they could be getting some REAL money, and Lisa was only the start.
Duke ignored a sunset that’d have made Van Gogh blush and carefully planned his next moves. He’d leave Lisa alone for a few days. Yeah. Make her sweat like he wasn’t going to take her back. Let her cool down a bit and remember what it was like living with her super strict father. Then he’d call her, invite her to come party with him a little. She’d take him back.
I never liked that boy. A dark cloud seemed to follow him wherever he went. Even now, as he walked down the street, thick darkness surrounded him. I was glad to be seated where I was, in heavenly realms, and nowhere near the skeletal looking fellow with his sores and snaggly teeth. But Sal, that was something else. I never knew he had it in him. If only he could have seen the flames of fire that went before him into that trailer. I tell you, sometimes the view from here is better than any book or TV show ever thought of.