Written for OLWG# 289
TN first met Graciana Cortez when he stopped for lunch at a shack on the river that served nothing but freshly caught catfish and the kind of fried cornbread that locals called hush-puppies. For five dollars, you could eat your fill of fish and cornbread. Then choose from a bottomless jug of sweet tea or a bottle of warm beer to quench your thirst.
He sat at a long folding table with about ten other diners. The floor was soft with coarse sawdust, and a mangy yellow dog sat against the wall by the door. Tables sat covered with butcher paper, stapled at the corners to ensure they did not curl. And the server would carry in a large, well-used, and dented stockpot heaped with fried fish; pour it out on the table with the newsprint soaking up the grease. Eating was a free-for-all as everyone reached for the fish as soon as it hit the tabletop. A second server would follow with a similar presentation of the hush-puppies. You were encouraged to eat as much as you wanted but were not permitted to take any away.
He was in Big Thicket country, and the twisted road lay flanked by thick foliage and intertwined vines. The heavy tree canopy perpetuated a glow of gloom and iridescence despite being early afternoon. Graciana dragged a heavy, wheeled, red suitcase. She approached him in the car park after he had eaten his fill in the nameless shack that might vanish tomorrow. It might be burned to the ground when the butane-fueled fire, which super-heated the cooking oil, spread to the paper, or the sawdust, used for decor.
“Hey, Mister,” she began, “My name is Graciana, and I need a ride west. Are you going that way? Could you maybe help me out?” She was a no-nonsense girl that was clear. She had laid out her case and made her request. Now she waited, watching him with doe eyes that sparkled hopefully. TN could feel himself falling into those eyes where he knew he would be lost forever. He didn’t care, though. He had already decided to take her wherever she wanted to go. He stayed cool and asked, “How far are you going?”
“As far as, well, as far as you are willing to take me,” she said. “I’m going to Cortez. My mother told me that my father was named Cortez and that he was from a place with the same name. I intend to go to all places named Cortez. I want to see if I can find him. I’ve done the research: there are five cities with that name in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Florida, Colorado, and California.” Again she paused and studied TN with her deep eyes – those big beautiful eyes.
TN shrugged his shoulders and resigned. “From here, we should probably go to Colorado first. If we need to, we can go on to Nevada and California. Then, if we still haven’t found him, we could swing east to Pennsylvania and drop down to Florida. What are you going to do if you find him?”
“I’m not sure. Probably introduce myself, and ask if he knew my Mama. If he says yes, I could either hug him or kill him. I don’t know yet.”
TN looked at the diver’s watch he wore on his left wrist. It sounds like we’re going to be busy,” he said. “Probably should get moving.” He reached for her suitcase. She readily released her grip, and they moved across the dirt lot to his old van.
The prompts were:
- gave all my money to the rich
- thick foliage and intertwined vines
- all the way to Cortez