The Luck You Make
It is 97 degrees outside, and it is only April 30th. The bright, new green leaves are wilting in the heat. A wavering haze hovers over the valley below as we wind through mountainous roads. Our car is in a dead zone with no radio reception; the silence is stifling.
I turn my body halfway in my seat so that I am facing Seth as he drives. I remind him that when we met, I told him I would bring no good luck. It was our joke; a bad fortune from a cookie on our first date. He doesn’t respond. If the radio was on, I would wonder if he has even heard me. He is lost in a thought he isn’t ready to share.
I pivot my body to the passenger window, surveying the valley. When did these people come to this place? What were they looking for? Were they running to or were they running from? The mountainsides are dotted with rhododendrons, mountain laurels, wild phlox. The beauty is undeniable, but it is marred by the hardscrabble little towns, tucked like scabs in the bends of the river, in the crevices of the mountains. Abandoned factories are covered in graffiti. Train cars sit idle on defunct tracks. We pass a child’s bike, missing the front tire, on the side of the highway. Rot, I think.
I begin to bite my nails. Seth places a warm hand on my thigh. Don’t, he entreats. He knows I bite my nails when I am anxious. I don’t want to attend this funeral. Aside from Seth, I will not know anyone here. Because I need you with me to do this, is what Seth says when I ask him why I should go. I flip the mirror down on the visor, look for lipstick on my teeth. Seth tells me I am beautiful. I wonder if a person should try to look beautiful for a funeral.
The dead person is Seth’s best friend from high school. I cannot imagine a teenage Seth. Acne and greasy hair, begging girls for hand jobs. This is how I remember boys from my high school.
Before last week, he never mentioned those years. I know his parents are dead and he does not visit his hometown. I think I just figured if there was anything important from Seth’s youth, he would have shared it with me. I look at him now, studying his face for acne scars. Was his ear ever pierced? He feels my focus, reaches for my hand, and kisses my fingertips. Placing my hand back in my lap, he pats it, as a grandmother might there, there an upset child. He turns the radio dial. Dead air.
You had a best friend, I say. He nods. Most people do, he tells me. And your parents are dead, I state. They are, he says. He locks his hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. A small vein at his temple pulses. Getting off now, he says. I realize we have reached our exit. The car begins to descend into one of those little valley towns, all shanties and convenience stores, pickup trucks, and roaming dogs. It did not occur to me that Seth would be from one of these places. We talk about Camus and struggles with students. We talk about where we want to be if money was no object. Home is not a topic.
The town’s name is Depass. There is a boarded-up mechanic’s shop, an abandoned veterinary hospital, and a brand-new Sheetz. People will always need coffee and gas to get far away from places like Depass. The radio roars to life. ABBA extols the dancing queen.
We turn left onto a gravel road called Little Hoary Holler. Seth turns the radio off. He lowers his window and the air is thick with the smell of honeysuckle, river water, recently cut grass.
Seth makes a right turn into what appears to be a pasture. He turns off the ignition, settles back into his seat and looks at me. In a voice I have not heard him use before, Seth tells me there is ruin in him. He tells me he has known it his whole life, like the way some people just know they hate asparagus even if they have never eaten it. I tell him I love asparagus. When he smiles, it is weary, and I know I should not have made the joke. I take his hand into both of mine. I tell him that I was never very good at math, but it seems that between me bringing no good luck and him being ruinous, perhaps our two negatives create a positive.
As I am wondering if these words are enough, I notice there are many other cars in the pasture. All the license plates are from other states. I am about to say something about how Sheetz will make a mint off all these people, but there is a gathering that turns my attention. The soldiers and truckers, the nurses and schoolteachers, the friends of Seth’s dead best friend. They are walking to the river; someone is singing American Pie. I reach for the door handle, but Seth stops me. He tells me it is enough to be here, we don’t have to go any further. I am about to ask him about the people here, were they running to or from. Seth puts the key in the ignition and lowers my window. He tells me his friend never wanted him to come back here, that she would’ve left if she could have. I ask him why we have come then. He tells me if you don’t say goodbye to a place, you are bound to carry it with you. I think about this. Say goodbye to ruin, I tell him. He smiles and turns the key. Taking my hand, he says he already has.
This piece was first featured in The Dillydoun Review in July 2021.