GLORIA ROAD by Janet Olsonbaker
EXCEPT FOR ONE WIDE bend, the Gloria Road lay clean and straight through Oregon's Mennonite farm country. On either side of the road, flat fields stretched clear to the horizon. In the distance a field of black, scorched earth from last summer’s burning lay in wait. Along the road a sign attached to a barbed wire fence read, “Ryegrass,” but the fields next to the fence were a rich brown, even in color, smooth in texture. It was 1981.
The clouds were thick and the early light, dim. Holly gripped the wheel of her 1966 Karmann Ghia. She was on her way to work at the computer manufacturer, Garson Lobe, Inc., 75 miles north. She’d had the Ghia before she and Kyle married fifteen years ago. She had been pursuing a communications degree, he working on his MFA in painting, and the Ghia was new.
On this morning’s commute, Holly got the speedometer up to seventy. The wind buffeted the Ghia and it shimmied and rattled as if she were driving over potholes instead of smooth pavement. The heater no longer worked. She wore gloves, her heavy coat, and a pair of Kyle’s wool socks pulled over her pumps and calves. The socks were Kyle’s idea back when he was thrilled with her new job, happy she could almost single-handedly support them so he could paint and work part-time at the Carnes School District.
Under her purse and briefcase was a shopping bag with the embroidered tablecloth her mother had made when she was in the Gloria Ladies Auxiliary with Mrs. Boshart. Holly kept the shopping bag in the car, intending to stop and ask Mrs. Boshart to make repairs. Now that Wendy was fourteen, Holly wanted to save the tablecloth for her hope chest. Other things in need of repair were also in the bag, and Holly suspected, with the recession, Mrs. Boshart would need the money and let her pay.
She was fast-approaching Boshart’s farmhouse with its faded red barn and leaning woodshed. The house had three narrow windows near the front door and a wide window on the side of the house looked out on fields of grazing sheep.
As she passed, she thought of last night in the kitchen.
“Let’s have the Boshart’s to dinner this weekend,” she said to Kyle.
They were alone, Wendy already in bed. Holly was loading the dishwasher and looking out the sliding glass door. The boxes of purple pansies hanging off the deck railing and the dormant hydrangea bushes were in darkness except for the light from the kitchen.
“Your mother’s gone. Can’t we quit living her life?”
He didn’t say it mean, but Holly felt a blow. Her mother had invited unfortunates into her life, but what was wrong with that?
“Why do we have to entertain at all? My painting’s going slowly. I still have another two panels to start.”
“You always make your deadlines.”
Kyle stood tall and rangy with frizzled dark curls nearly to his shoulders, and a rough, olive complexion. She loved the way his shoulders and chest muscles curved into each other, even more so when he used to reach out and put his arms around her. He was still so handsome. She could remember the excitement on her wedding day when they were desperately in love, her mother beaming, vibrant then. During the ceremony Kyle had reached up, and with the back of his fingers, brushed her cheek. Now he squinted at her and raised his voice. “I don’t want my life to be about making deadlines. I hardly have any time for my own work.”
“You’re working too hard at the district,” Holly said, her tone unruffled. “Tell them you can’t do more than two schools a day.”
She smiled at him, hiding her weariness. Bolstering him had become her role the last three years since going to work for GLI.
“I’m not telling them anything. I was lucky to get a part-time job.”
“They knew you’d work hard.”
“This isn’t about being a janitor.”
“What if we buy a farmhouse on the Gloria Road?” Holly said. “I saw one for sale. Chickens, a cow. You’d have more room to paint in the barn.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Quit the school district. Have a new part-time career. I’d help. I’d be home more with a shorter commute.”
“Listen to me. I’m no farmer.”
The Bend straightened and gave way to a grove of tall, bushy trees—oak and maple—bunched together on each side and joined over the road to form a canopy. Underneath, the Ghia went from shiny red to sandy brick. She was no longer aware of the sound of the tires on the road and imagined the Ghia floating. She checked the ditches along the side of the road for a stray sheep or dog that could dart in front of the car. But she was alone, and there was no before-the-canopy of trees and no after-the-canopy, only here, now, this cocoon of sweet, damp green.
The Ghia roared out of the tunnel. Brown and white cows grazed near the Gloria Road, sheep huddled in the distance. A few raindrops fell on the windshield and a gust of wind got its way around the seal on the passenger window and whistled. Wind bullied the Ghia, made it wobble. She thought of her boss, Teddy McGuire, an unlikely advertising manager, a friend of Mr. Garson’s brother-in-law with a degree in anthropology. Holly was the sales promotion supervisor. Yesterday, he stood at the overhead projector in front of the marketing communications meeting, a dozen people in the conference room. In his late forties with skimpy hair, a round, pink face, he pulled his pants up and over his belly.
"Bear in mind," he said, “you have little time to get the point across.” He talked like Kyle with the same brand of assurance, an arrogance and bluster. Teddy picked up a grease pen and marked through her brochure copy for the introduction of Tulip, codename for a revolutionary handheld computer with rudimentary voice recognition. "Begin with the main point. Just the facts. Don't bother setting a mood.”
What did Teddy know about brochures? They weren’t ads—not that he knew much about those, either. At their desks across the aisle from each other, she put up with his pronouncements. But when he went to the overhead projector and rewrote her copy in front of everyone, she spoke up, her stomach doing flip-flops, her voice catching.
"The copy has to reflect the feel in the photos. Tulip is like no other product on the market. The brochure has to amplify what’s set up in the ad." She knew making her boss look bad could lead to corporate suicide, but she couldn’t let him make this mistake. And then Mr. Lobe agreed with her, and Teddy was silenced.
Holly wiped the fogged windshield with a rag she kept under the driver’s seat. The defroster was useless; it took fifteen minutes before it worked. Usually it didn’t. Rain was coming down now. She turned on the two-speed wipers to “High.” They squeaked and clunked. Sheep lined the road. Dirty-white round bodies of fleece pressed against barbed wire fencing, hooves hidden in mud and soggy grass. Holly rolled down the window and took in the scent of farm laced with wet wool. A fine mist whipped at her hair and the wind grabbed it and pulled it outside.
The road dipped into a wallow of fog. She slowed in the swirling grayness, and just as quickly rose out of it and passed Burber Junior High, two white buildings with pavement and basketball hoops. If they lived out here Wendy could walk down a dirt lane to school, breathing pure country air. She imagined Kyle bending over a hoe, tilling the soil for their own grains and vegetables, milking their cow with his hands, painting in the barn on large canvases, moving back and forth from one to another, daubing color on wadded papier-mâché shapes.
After fifty miles, the farmlands receded into houses and shrubs. Fences lapsed. A sign: 45 miles per hour. Welcome to Gloria. Population 142. A tattered marker with re-painted letters hung below: “The Gloria Road. Built 1889 by Mr. Herman Loewen for Gloria, beloved wife.” Up ahead, a blue, white, and red Pepsi sign: The Gloria General Store. Holly imagined a lunch counter, soda fountain, a soda jerk in white chef's hat heaping ice cream into stainless steel tumblers. A wooden porch spanned the width of the building and three gas pumps sat in the yard, forgotten toys of another era.
The 1981 Buick Skylark raced high above the road. Holly wasn’t at the Boshart place yet, and already she was going 80 without even feeling it. The road under the Buick’s tires sounded far away. She whizzed by fields of soon-to-be ryegrass. Between clouds, the sky held the filmy, fleeting blue of a dragonfly's wing, intense yet translucent. Light came from over her shoulder, making the morning mist sparkle on the crocuses in the ditch beside the road.
Last month she and Kyle had an unusual moment of togetherness despite its lack of tenderness. He’d pulled her into the shower with him. Holly’d gotten her hair wet and had to dry it all over again. Later, he was toweling down. “We need a ‘family’ car,” he said. “You could hear weather reports, the news, find out about current events, politics. Reagan’s getting credit for releasing the hostages, but it was Carter. You’d have time to become more informed.” That weekend she’d traded in the Ghia; it was gone before she knew it. She’d yet to turn on the new radio. She didn’t care about politics, certainly not out here.
Yesterday morning, Teddy wheeled around his cubicle in his desk chair, his hands diving under piles of papers, photos, folders, shoveling some of them into his briefcase. Holly’s desk was tidy. She found it amusing he never got ready for his trips the day before so he wouldn’t have to race down the Gloria Road to the airport in Carnes; he could easily miss the only morning flight to San Francisco.
Teddy was giving her advice on what to do while he was away—as if she didn’t know. She said, “When are we launching Tulip?”
“Bear in mind,” he said, standing and hitching up his pants. “A young woman like you can’t expect to be in the know. Talk with top execs, the critical decisions, happen in the john.”
She surprised herself getting up, coming around her desk and standing in front of him. She held her voice steady, low. “Tell me when the agency’s planning to launch. Lobe wants the brochures at point of sale when the ads hit. I’ll call the agency myself if you won’t tell me.”
Teddy huffed, made busy with his files, but finally told her the ads would hit all markets at the end of the week. Holly was incredulous. He should have told her as soon as he knew. This would hardly be enough time to get the brochures to the dealers beforehand; she was still dickering with the printer about color corrections. She knew she’d offended Teddy when she first came to GLI. They’d gone to DC for an advertising conference. Teddy’s idea. They’d stayed at the Mayflower and he wanted them to have adjoining rooms on the top floor so they could get more work done, he said, but she told him she preferred a lower floor.
No lights were on at the Boshart place, but a man was in the nearby field as she drove by. The sky had turned light gray. The sun might not break through before Lobeville. Mist collected on the windshield. Holly turned the wipers on intermittent, and they moved back and forth with no apparent effort. Further on, next to a tuft of grass, a bird, with two dark spikes poking up like horns on either side of its head, nestled into the bare earth.
Tuesday night Kyle’s shoulder blades stood out under a black T-shirt pulled across taut muscles. One hand stuffed his back pocket, the other held a glass of Scotch out to his side, down low. The defiant stance—hips squared, feet apart—plus the easy way he held the glass between his thumb and middle finger made him look like someone she didn’t know.
"I don’t have time for a family vacation,” Kyle said.
"You'll wake Wendy," she said, her voice a loud whisper. "You haven't spent any real time with her since Christmas.”
He turned around. “How do you know? You’re not here when she gets home from school. We talk.”
“You hardly see her. She probably thinks— "
Kyle waved the glass in front of her. "Neither you nor anyone else knows what she thinks." Holly became confused at the hatred she heard in his voice, a mixture of blame and accusation thrown at her as if whatever was upsetting him was her fault.
"The girl's growing up,” he said. “Let her alone. I'm sick of doing things 'cause you think she'll like them."
"She wonders about you, I know she does.” Holly hung onto the countertop. “She worries about what you think of her. When you’re around, you're at your easel."
"Let her wonder. She'll figure things out soon enough when— "
“What?” Holly said. “Why are you so angry?”
He looked away, drained the glass.
She felt afraid, not of Kyle exactly, but of the atmosphere he carried around. She went to bed. He did not follow. She was relieved to be alone except for the ache in her heart remembering how it used to be. They’d lie in bed making plans. He’d grab her hand. “Hol, we’ll have a gallery. You can run it.” She heard ice clink into a glass, and had a strange thought: someone else. Could he? She traveled sometimes and her days were long. He was behind on his commissions. No. He had no time. And there was Wendy. No.
Beyond Gloria, on the opposite side of the road and a few feet inside a low, wood fence, stood a Great Blue Heron — velvety gray blue against the brilliance of the green grass and the shimmering puddles at its feet. Sleek and narrow, the heron stood straight, still, as if suspended by an invisible thread.
Monday, the sun poked through the grayness and was fast shoving aside the remaining clouds. The sky brightened. Holly had left the outskirts of Carnes a while back, but was still twenty some miles from the canopy of trees. The Skylark reached ninety miles an hour, a racehorse on familiar track. Teddy would be in San Francisco for a photo shoot and she wanted to organize the work she could get done, but her mind couldn't stick to it. She kept seeing Kyle standing in the kitchen, turned away from her, picking at the paint under his nails, saying he had rented a studio so he could think things through, be alone. “I’m leaving. Temporarily.” That time he took only his portable easel, one suitcase. Holly practiced being brave: she didn’t argue. Let him think this was what he needed. He would realize his mistake on his own.
But two weeks later, he moved out after a tirade about Ronald Reagan’s ruining the country, as if a president had anything to do with a marriage. He’d borrowed a pickup and a hand cart and hauled the guest bed, two chairs, easels, paintings, boxes of paints and materials, brushes, books, bookcases down the hall, out the front door. Wendy slept over at her girlfriend's. Holly sat in the darkening living room with her arms crossed. She kept getting up and going to the window and watching him manage the few steps. She was glad her mother was gone and didn’t have to know. How could she have explained what made no sense?
At the end of the hall, when Kyle placed the oak bureau on the cart, their first piece of furniture, she understood she should have known last year something would happen when he no longer reached for her. If truth be told, she didn’t miss it, the messy predictability. But she hadn’t thought he’d leave. She didn’t want that. She needed a marriage, particularly the one they’d imagined together. They were a family.
She knew he’d been slipping away while her mother languished, Holly at her side every night, all weekend, every weekend for months. He’d said she was doing the right thing. “Wendy and I are fine. You need to be with your mother.” That’s what he’d said.
And then, ever since her mother died, Kyle had been distant. A loneliness crept between them, a feeling she left on the pillow each morning she went to work to a day of seemingly simpler challenges than those at home.
Kyle made twelve trips. After he’d closed up the back, he came into the house and stood at the edge of the living room. “I have loved you, Holly, but don’t like what I’ve become around you. I’ll pick up Wendy in the morning. I’ll tell her, then bring her home.”
Holly pressed her lips together and tightened the fold of her arms across her chest. “Are you seeing someone?” she said.
“This is about you and me, no one else.”
Holly sat very still. No fuss. No tears. She waited until he’d closed the front door behind him before going to the window. She watched him back down the driveway, her belief in a perfect life, hope for a happy future growing less distinct as the pickup moved off down the street.
Then she threw herself into taking back what was supposed to have been a guest room. Her efforts played like a movie in her mind: vacuuming, washing windows, scrubbing paint splotches off the walls, washing, pressing, re-hanging the curtains, but none of it made the room new, much less a place Kyle had never been. The room was empty, wrong.
Before she reached the Boshart’s, Holly saw up ahead a horse pulling a buggy. The buggy was black with a clear space in back for a window. Holly applied the brake and came close behind the buggy. An arm in a black coat motioned for her to pass. She came alongside. A young man whose feet barely touched the floorboard was at the reins. She waved. He looked at her but didn’t wave back.
When it came time, she pulled off the road onto a gravel driveway to the Boshart farmhouse. She grabbed the shopping bag, got out of the car, mounted the steps, and knocked. A woman answered. Her hair was pulled back under a doily attached to the crown of her head. Her dress hung shapeless to her ankles, the color of dry earth.
“I’m Ellen Gladstone’s daughter.”
“She was a fine woman,” Mrs. Boshart said. “Helped me a lot when she was in the auxiliary.”
Holly felt pressure behind her eyes. “She liked you, Mrs. Boshart, and loved coming here,” she said, her voice catching.
“You’re married to that painter.”
“Yes,” Holly said.
“We went into Carnes last month for supplies. I saw one of his things in Kramer’s Hardware. I made out a hand plow in a field. I think that’s what I saw, but there were things in the soil. Raised up. The painting wasn’t flat. I think it was a painting. It hung on a wall.”
“Kyle’s trying for three-dimensional surfaces,” Holly said. “Gives him room to say more about the human experience.” She hoped to convey the serious nature of Kyle’s work and to sound knowledgeable, positive.
Mrs. Boshart’s face did nothing to give away her thoughts.
“One of the tablecloths Mother made is coming apart.” Holly set down the bag and pulled out the tablecloth. “Do you think you can repair it, maybe mend these other things? I’ll pay you.”
Mrs. Boshart took the tablecloth and picked up the bag. “You leave them and we’ll see. I have to get to the milk buckets and my bread.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much. I’ll stop again in a while. Okay?”
“I expect so,” Mrs. Boshart said. She closed the door without a sound.
Holly drove back onto the road and had the Buick up to speed in no time. When she sped into the tunnel of green, a peace spread through her.
Yesterday was Sunday and Kyle had made his first visit. Holly insisted Wendy would be more comfortable at home. Mostly, she wanted to make him see what he was missing; she made his favorite brownies and the smell filled the house. In the kitchen, the sparkling stove top, polished cabinets, counters smelling of lemon-scented cleanser gave her courage. It had taken only an hour to make her kitchen look like a Better Homes & Gardens photo. There was a time when Kyle would have praised her housekeeping.
Half an hour before Kyle arrived, Wendy pulled the green skirt she’d made in Home Ec up over her slight hips. “I can tell your father about your skirt,” Holly said. “I’ll mention your teacher’s praises.”
“Quit trying to make things okay. I want Dad to notice on his own.” When Kyle drove into the driveway, she insisted on answering the door herself. “He’s coming to see me, Mom.”
Holly winced and looked into her daughter’s eyes so like her father’s: intense, inscrutable.
Holly held the hot pads and watched from the kitchen through the dining room archway. Kyle was across from Wendy in the mauve-colored easy chair, the coffee table between them. Wendy sat in the center of the pale blue sofa, her hands in her lap, her shoulders back. Worry settled across Wendy's forehead as if she thought the success of the visit depended more on the daughter than the father. Holly saw her run her hands down the green skirt that stopped three inches above her knees. The act of smoothing the skirt, made her look innocent—more like eight than fourteen.
Holly cut the brownies while they were still in the pan. They were too warm and stuck to the knife, but Kyle liked brownies right out of the oven. She arranged the ragged edges on the inside and placed the outer, crusted ones along the rim of the plate.
Holly strained to hear.
"How's school going?" Kyle asked.
"Okay," Wendy said, a little too quickly.
Maybe Kyle was right; it would be easier if he met Wendy elsewhere. But this was Wendy's home, Kyle's home.
Holly picked up the plate and napkins, her arms extended, checking her reflection as she glided by the sliding glass door. She wore new snug jeans she’d found half off at Meier & Frank’s. She moved through the archway, over to the coffee table, and placed her offering between them.
"Would you like milk, Kyle?"
He looked out the front window. "No thanks."
Holly wiped her damp palms on her jeans. She turned to Wendy. "What about you?"
The girl nodded. She looked pained.
In the kitchen, Holly couldn’t hear any conversation. At least they'd have to lean toward one another to take brownies off the plate. A droplet of cold milk spattered her hand as she poured the milk into a tall red glass, a wedding present from friends of Kyle's parents.
Holly put the glass on top of a coaster on the coffee table. She picked up a few crumbs on Kyle’s side of the table. He said, his voice thick with brownie, "Maybe I will have milk."
She scooted out to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. There'd been a hint of chocolate at the corner of his mouth. He was home in the mauve chair, with his feet placed squarely on the blue and mauve carpeting, eating her brownies in the house they bought together, that she’d made into a home. It was serene, color-coordinated, pleasing, perfect. Their home was perfect. Surely he’d realize.
When she returned to the living room with his milk, Kyle stood up. He looked at Wendy. “I’ll call you.”
In the front hallway, he glanced at Holly, the glass of milk in her hand. He said, “Thanks,” and went out, closing the door behind him.
Once again Holly sped past the Boshart place. She’d been meaning to stop for the afghan she’d commissioned. Yet the passenger side mirror showed a stately, faded farmhouse growing smaller and smaller.
Last week, Teddy made another trip to the ad agency. Holly had waited until he’d packed his briefcase before handing him the mock-up of a new full-color brochure. “Please give this directly to Ben.” Then she followed up with a black and white copy in the mail to Ben.
Holly asked Teddy when he returned what Ben thought of the mock-up. “He took it under advisement,” Teddy said.
“What’s that mean? Did he like it?”
Teddy said he had a meeting to go to and left his cubicle. Holly called Ben.
“Teddy must have forgotten to show me, but I got the copy you sent. It’s good, extends our message. Images are exactly right.”
Holly took everything to the printer and they started work on the brochure. After several days and no word from the printer, she called. Teddy had cancelled the job. The brochure was not ready, not even being worked on. She felt outmaneuvered, sabotaged. Should she talk to Lobe, expose Teddy? Become a whiner? Best to call the printer back with an invoice number. She could then send the brochures to the dealers as planned, albeit late. Maybe when Teddy found out he’d think it was a mistake, not think she’d gone behind his back.
The sheep were thinned out now, having eaten the winter and spring grasses. Up close to the road, bare earth had given way to ryegrass—field after field. Freshly scorched soil from an earlier burn, lay beyond the ryegrass. Farther along, the fields changed: high grass, wide, tapered blades moved in the breeze, one direction, then another. A stake in the ground with a sign read, “Tall Fescue.”
Holly pressed the buttons and rolled down all the windows. Her hair blew back and whipped in the wind. She leaned into the bend as the Buick hugged the road.
“I’m staying on in my studio,” Kyle had said over the phone last night; she was cleaning up the kitchen. “We should think about divorce. I’m doing painture. I’m experimenting with colors never before dreamed of inside shapes reflecting states of mind.” That’s what he said. Colors no one had ever seen. She’d ignored the part about divorce as if she hadn’t heard it.
“You’ll be back,” Holly told him, and hung up.
She’d put the receiver down on her own husband as if she didn’t want to listen to him anymore and had nothing more to say. Anger had risen and moved in her like a slow-moving dark cloud about to spill its rain. But she’d gotten hold of herself, whipped up a cake from a box for Wendy’s lunches.
Without so much as a hint over the phone Kyle came by after Wendy had gone to bed. He’d forgotten a couple canvases he’d stored in the garage. Holly went out and watched Kyle move boxes of Christmas decorations to get at his canvases.
“I don’t know why you left.”
“I’ve been telling you. Fewer distractions.”
“We’re a family.”
“I’ll see Wendy.”
“I love you, Kyle,” she said out of hope, a futile determination, and without emotion.
Kyle looked at her. “I don’t. Not anymore. It’s gone, Hol.” He picked up the canvases.
She came out of the canopy of trees and jammed her foot on the brake. The Skylark bucked, and the seat belt locked into place. She slammed to a stop before a cow, a pale brown and white cow. Holly gaped through the windshield, and the cow gaped back. It stood in front of the car; its bulky ribs rose well above the hood, and made her glad for the Buick’s big engine in the front of the car.
The cow ambled farther out into the road. A ditch on the right and a cow at her left front, Holly honked the horn, a piercing blast. One ear quivered, but the cow stood motionless. Then it took a few more steps out into the road, noisy hooves, its hindquarter heavy, ponderous. The cow turned toward her, rocking side to side like a slow-moving boxcar, and came around the Skylark. It stopped at the driver's window and looked down into the car. A greenish-brown stain covered the underside of the cow's cream-colored muzzle. Its gray nostrils sounded faintly of air moving in and out. Blank eyes looked at Holly. At the top of a long fawn-colored face was a white diamond shape, and at either side, oval ears stuck out. Ears twitched against a blue sky.
The nostrils opened wide, the head came forward and down and the cow thrust its square snout over the window ledge into the car. Holly gasped and pressed herself against the seat back. The head was enormous. An eye rolled back and took a look at her. Without thinking, Holly reached out. She touched the broad, white bony area above its nostrils. She petted the hide. It felt coarse, warm. The cow's neck settled on the bottom of the window opening. Drool slid from the flesh-colored corners of its mouth and dribbled onto Holly's mauve suit skirt.
Time stood at a distance, and Holly knew neither demand nor longing. A summer morning, unbidden, unimagined. Her hand found a scraggly, woolly part between the ears. She pushed her fingers into that roughness and scratched. A quick burst of air escaped and the Skylark filled with cow breath. She felt a rush of warmth fill her—amazement, and a puzzling gratitude.
The cow's head jerked, bumping the bridge of its snout on the upper part of the window opening, and extracted itself. It stood with its head lowered, looking at her. In the rearview mirror, a black station wagon came fast out of the trees and skidded to a halt. The cow shifted its attention to the station wagon.
Holly heard the clack of hooves on the pavement along the Skylark's left side and around the back. She turned in her seat. The cow descended into the ditch, then galloped out onto the side of the field, first the front legs together, and then the rear in lumbering movement. It headed toward a mashed, broken area in the barbed wire, then disappeared.
Holly touched the wet spot. It felt slick, odd. Her eyes blurred with tears. They slid onto her cheeks, down her neck. They were the cool tears of knowing, the quiet grief that comes after a long time of hanging on.
A horn sounded and the station wagon tore around her. She jumped and moved her foot to the accelerator. The Skylark lurched forward. The sun warmed the growing crops. Swallows swerved low in front of the Buick, flying free in the nick of time.
Before she realized it, Holly had turned the Skylark off the road, rolled past the gas pumps, and stopped in front of the Gloria General Store. She grabbed her purse, got out of the car. The cool, fresh smell of grass in the early morning filled her. With a tissue, she blotted tears and cow slobber. She straightened her skirt and brushed her hand over the damp drool; the cow was still with her, it felt like a kind of protection.
She walked up the wide steps and onto the porch. Past the three long benches hung a pay phone next to the door. Through the glass in the door a man behind a counter looked up at her. He wore denim overalls and a white T-shirt.
He came around the counter and swung open the door. "Howdy! Not quite open yet, but the coffee's hot."
"Thanks." Holly smiled.
"Go on back."
The two aisles were spacious and dimly lit from the windows. The floor was uneven, scuffed; it creaked underfoot. Grocery items were here and there on the shelving. She counted one can of soup, five boxes of corn flakes, a package of balloons. There was a cooler crammed with beer, and, in the dairy case, apples and two quarts of milk.
At the end of the other aisle, Holly found a plate of plain cake doughnuts and a coffee maker on a small, wooden table. A sign read, "Coffee and Homemade Doughnut $.65." She poured herself half a cup and took a doughnut. The doughnut was lopsided. She sat in a chair beside the table. The chair had the same curved chrome legs and green and white, marbled plastic seat of her mother's kitchen chairs when Holly was growing up in Carnes. Down at the other end of the aisle, the owner hunched over a ledger beside the cash register. He wrote with a pencil and used the eraser on the end.
Wendy was away at camp. Holly thought of going home, sitting in the quiet of the living room, looking out the front and the back, the hydrangeas, their blue and mauve bundles, plump, satisfying surprises. She could call in sick from the pay phone outside. She wouldn’t have to deal with Teddy and the brochure.
She eyed the shelves and the few cleaning products. Several boxes of muffin mix stood in an even row by themselves: blue and white Jiffy boxes lined up together. A single yellow cake mix suggested there was no other cake. Holly finished the coffee and pitched the cup into a wastebasket beside the table. On her way down the aisle she picked up the yellow cake mix. It felt substantial. She paid the man and for the coffee and doughnut.
“That doughnut was delicious.”
“My wife makes them every morning.”
“You should put out a sign,” Holly said. “Fantastic Homemade Doughnuts.”
“Okay,” the man said. “That’s a good idea.”
She tucked the cake mix under her arm and went to the door.
"You come on back now.” He grinned. “I'm the new owner. Next week every shelf will be packed."
Holly got into the Skylark and looked at the store front, its humble benches under bold, red letters declaring themselves: The Gloria General Store. She imagined the afghan, its blue and mauve squares, the raised popcorn pattern Mrs. Boshart knitted. The afghan would make the living room homey, the soft colors continuing the theme in the hydrangeas. She backed around the gas pumps, drove to the road, and headed north. The Skylark climbed to fifty, sixty-five, seventy. Past the outskirts of Gloria, a hawk sat on a high fence post, its breast fluffy white but streaked with brown feathers.
JANET OLSONBAKER has taught writing at the University of Puget Sound, the University of Louisville, the University of Oregon, and for 21 years wrote for the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington. One of her stories will be published in Gargoyle.
Years ago, Alice Munro read "Gloria Road" and wrote, “...that’s good stuff about the cow and the store....” Those words kept Olsonbaker writing. She lives in Seattle where, rain or shine, she’s working on novellas of linked stories.