Despite the elbowed exhaust pipe reaching for the sky on the outside of the trailer, the smell of bacon grease mixed with stale cigarettes hits the back of Cindy's throat the minute she walks in the door. Flimsy and crooked, the door swings out, and hangs opened behind her. She can see into every room from the doorway. No one is there. She takes three steps to the back wall and looks out the window above the frayed and flowered couch. But the backyard is deserted… Robbie's rocking-horse stands to one side, flanked by a broken stool. It feels like a sucker punch to the gut, how much she misses that kid in an instant. A few feet away, the welding torch sits on the ground abandoned next to a large metal storage tank. She thinks maybe that's a sign Ed will come back soon. But she can't stand the smell inside, so she walks back out the dilapidated door to sit on the cinderblock steps. She'll be able to see his truck the minute he turns on to the road. So if he doesn't want to talk to her, tough shit. He'll have to anyway.
Ed shuffles along in the line of guys punching out. And like every other one of them, lights up a cigarette the minute he walks over the threshold. They grunt their goodbyes and fan across the parking lot, Ed in a beeline for his rusted out F-150. He doesn't bother locking it – who would steal this heap? But still, he's surprised to see the large yellow envelope on the seat. Left where he couldn't miss it. He picks it up, and swings himself in behind the steering wheel. He turns the sealed envelope over – but there are no markings on it. Still, he knows Cindy left it. Back in the good ol' days, Cindy used to leave him love notes, little presents – a handful of beef jerky sticks, once in a while a paper plate of brownies covered in aluminum foil. He always suspected the sweets were just her way of winning over Robbie. Ed rips open the seal, and finds an 8 x 10 photo. She's facing straight into the camera. But with eyes that seem to be looking inward, at her own thoughts, instead of at him. Her hair, her skin, her lips, all the color of honey. The image is nearly life-sized – just her head and strong shoulders – bare except for two flesh-toned spaghetti straps. Her hair is pulled back, but long loose strands frame her face like always. It looks like she posed in front of the blackboard in her classroom. He pictures her propping up the camera, then closing the door and taking off her sweater to stand there in her undershirt like that. He studies the way her one front tooth overlaps the other, just the tiniest bit, so that it almost shows between her slightly parted lips. And those pond green eyes, like summer calling to him after a long winter. She is daring him to still love her. And, the trouble is, he does.
By Rhonda Morton