Here is my response to this week’s Community Storyboard writing prompt: Tomorrow.
Melissa’s mother, June, was always exhorting her to not put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Or something like that. She usually turned a deaf ear to her mother’s nagging, although of course now she would gladly listen for eternity just to have her back. Shortly before her mother died in that car accident, they had taken a drive to a small hamlet on the Mohawk River. The hamlet was called Fort Hunter and June had grown up there.
A year before their trip, the hamlet had been flooded in the aftermath of a tropical storm. June’s family home, which had changed hands a few times since her own mother left, had been condemned due to flood damage. June read all about the flood in the local paper. It was big news across the state. The stories heightened her interest in seeing her old childhood home. Finally, one bright Saturday morning, June announced she was driving down and invited Melissa to go with her. Henry, her husband, was happy to stay behind and watch football with a couple of friends.
June had been in good spirits on the drive down. It was early fall and the fiery colors of the trees along Route 30 made them both feel festive and alive. They had a pleasant drive, just the two of them, with June reminiscing about her childhood in the small hamlet of three hundred.
“Well, I think at its peak, we might have had 450 people living there. We had a schoolhouse where I went to school for first and second grades. My brother went all the way through sixth grade there. There were only two rooms so first through third were in one room, fourth through sixth in the other. Sometimes when I think back to that time, I swear I can smell the chalk dust, hear the scrape of the chairs against the hardwood floors, and hear Mrs. Jeffers’ voice booming across the room at some poor kid.”
Melissa was curled up in the passenger seat, as much as she could be and still comfortably wear her seatbelt. She loved when her mother talked about her childhood. Their current life wasn’t much different. Small town. Lots of land to play in. A river nearby that always made them think of travel. But White Pines had a couple of mountains and one was even a tourist spot for skiers. It had a few farms, but not as many as where her mother grew up.
“We did have a small store with a gas station back then. When I was little, I used to run over to the store, it was just across the street from the schoolhouse, and get penny candy. At night, the teenagers congregated there, especially in the summer. The store would be closed but they would be there nonetheless, talking to whoever turned up. They’d be drinking beer, the girls flirting. I once saw my Aunt Marjorie sitting on some young boy’s lap. She was only 16, I think I was about 6. I couldn’t wait to tell my mother.” June laughed and looked over at Melissa, winking as she did. For a few moments, Melissa could see the dark-haired, dark-eyed little girl in her mother’s expression, pretending innocence when she knew she only meant trouble. “Aunt Marjorie wouldn’t talk to me for weeks after that. At first I felt bad because of course my mother told grandmother and then Aunt Marjorie was grounded for two weeks. But I had never really liked her.”
Strip malls and shops started to appear along Route 30. The number of lanes increased and then restricted again as they drove through Amsterdam. Then, with a recklessness that was uncharacteristic of her mother, June veered to the far-most right lane and headed for Fort Johnson.
“I want to go over the bridge.” She drove straight for a few miles, turned left at the second lighted intersection, turned right at the Village Tavern in Tribes Hill, drove straight past the old elementary school. The single-story brick building was boarded up with a chain-linked fence bordering the weedy playground. Melissa looked over at her mother. June’s jaw was set tight, her eyes straight ahead. Her knuckles were bony white as she gripped the steering wheel.
Then another turn, this time to the left, and down a steep road that curved to the right. They went over the railroad tracks, a hump in the road that for a moment made Melissa feel that she was going up a roller coaster. And there was the bridge and the lock that raised and lower the Mohawk River. They gasped at the same time. The river was so low that Melissa thought she could walk across it. But the bridge was the same narrow structure that it always had been. Melissa was relieved that no one was entering the bridge from the other side. She’d heard too many stories, mainly from her mother, about side mirrors being sheared off because people leaned their cars in too close to the metal structure. When they got off the bridge, they both exhaled and then laughed.
“God, I always hated that bridge.” June steered the car left and then right and then left again. They drove past the old schoolhouse, once a stately building of chalky gray with the tiny bell tower that would announce the beginning of the school day. Now the paint was peeling away and weeds choked the front yard. A field of dried up corn stalks separated the schoolhouse from the remaining three houses at the end of the street. June slowed the car and Melissa could hear her mother stop breathing. Tall grasses stood where there should have been a driveway and a small two-story white house sat abandoned.
June pulled off the road, leaving barely enough room for a car to pass by. She was out of the car and wandering through the thicket of weeds and grasses before Melissa had a chance to get her own car door opened. She saw the sign on the house.
“It’s my home! It’s my fucking home!” June stood staring at the mud-spattered side door. Vines were creeping into the house through the windows that had been loosened either through neglect or the flood or both. Both entrances to the house were boarded up and signs warned her to stay away. Melissa picked her way through the weeds and to her mother’s side. It was the first time she ever saw her mother’s face streaked with tears, her eyes wild and angry, her mouth agitated as she tried to keep from crying out loud.
“What did I expect?” She choked out the words and Melissa could feel her own throat ache with each one. “I suppose there are some places where there are no more tomorrows, not even a today.” She wiped her face and surveyed the house and the neglected yard. She stepped back a foot and took in the space between her home and her neighbor’s. “This space had been huge when I was little. Teddie had his driveway there, next to his house, and we had a little walkway between our houses because us kids spent so much time with him.”
June hugged Melissa tightly to her. “I wish you could have met him. I should have brought you to see him but . . ..” And there she stopped talking and Melissa began to rub June’s back as the older woman cried like a baby in her daughter’s arms.
This is the end of the story. While the characters are made up, the memories, the places and the flood are not. For more pictures and a YouTube video of the flood damage, click here.