A somewhat true story lightly based on actual events…
The whole thing was fucked up Ashleigh thought to herself, the sulphurous breeze rushing through the Ford’s windows whipped her long brown hair haphazardly across her bronze shoulders, she ignored it lost in the hum of the tires and the static of an AM country station out of Jessup. It had been almost two weeks since she had been headed to the Lil Cricket for a pack of Marlboros – she had gotten sick – twice – in the stained bowl tucked in the back of the store between the stacks of Styrofoam cups and cases of Mountain Dew – a pink plus sign later she had run not knowing where she was headed or even why. Now two hours from the Florida border with less than twelve dollars in her pocket she still wasn’t ready to accept that all of this was real, but home was still home.
They say fate will find you where you are, and you can’t hide from your destiny; but she would be damned if she wasn’t going to try. She hadn’t wanted any of this, hell you couldn’t be more careful than she had been. Two more positives in a CVS bathroom had confirmed that God must have some kinda fucked up sense of humor – it had only been one time and not much at that she thought with a sad smile, hell they weren’t even really together. Should have learned my lesson with the last asshole, she thinks to herself picking up 17 South and heading toward the Georgia border. She didn’t have a destination, but she couldn’t face any of them and the only thing she loved in Florida, her dog Charlie, had died in an accident so she sure as hell wasn’t going home. It just wasn’t fair she had dreams, plans, places she wanted to see this wasn’t supposed to happen, not now… not ever she cries as the hot breeze sweeping off the Carolina low country dries her tears and the miles sweep by.
The roadside sign promised home-made baked goods, local vegetables, and boiled peanuts; it wasn’t much more than a lean-to-shack a few feet off the road – grass growing through the gravel pull off betrayed the lack of traffic. She can hear the tick and ping of the engine cooling as she heads inside in search of something cold to drink. Eyes adjusting to the dim light she can barely make out the ancient black woman in the corner, “Come in child all is well…” She doesn’t say anything else and Ashleigh isn’t sure if she had even heard her right, and she was pretty damn sure all wasn’t well and wasn’t going to be anytime soon. Forty minutes later and a few miles down the road with two bottles of water and three jars of homemade elderberry jam she still wasn’t sure it had been real but the gentle clink of the jars in the seat next to her were reassuring in a strange way.
She ate shrimp in a parking lot in Statesboro wishing the a/c worked her feet folded under her a sweet tea sweating in the cup holder. Taylor county had peach trees ripening in the afternoon sun as far as she could see – pulled off on the shoulder she wandered down the rows picking a few of the low hanging fruit listening to the silence around her. A couple miles further on at the farm stand she added two jars of fresh peach jam to her collection. A day later she had hiked up the base of the Toccoa falls listening to the roar of water drowning out the noise in her head, standing in the mist the drops of water shining like diamonds in her hair as the sun set behind her she had cried again. On her way back to the car she had wandered through the college – a life she had thought about before life had happened.
She spent two days in Helen, a Bavarian style little town nestled in the North Georgia mountains, eating brats and pretzels – dancing with the old men in their lederhosen she was almost able to forget, but she had finally headed West with three jars of apple butter added to her growing collection. She spent a night camped out at one of the big lakes along the North Carolina border listening to the night birds and an orchestra of frogs singing her to sleep, Waffle House for breakfast and she had headed Southwest towards Alabama stopping in Rome debating whether to continue further West. As it happened she had accumulated another two jars each of strawberry and cherry jelly along the way – she was up to eleven jars now.
It was in a small diner outside Bowden Corners when she started to question herself, it had been nine days since she had left and although she hadn’t reconciled this whole having a kid thing yet, she also knew this odyssey wasn’t going to last forever. Climbing behind the wheel she heads East her jars clinking in floorboard next to her, she had moved them into a box two days earlier. The pecan orchards flash by, the long rows of tall stately trees quiet sentinels to her inner struggle. The orchards give way to the open fields of the few remaining cotton fields sprinkled throughout the red dirt, the puffy boles ripening in the late summer sun a testament to simpler yet harsher times. She can smell the lowlands and the paper mills as she approaches the coast and the way home.
She carries life with her and with a wan smile she realizes her life is on a different trajectory, one she couldn’t have imagined and had never wished for but that had found her nonetheless. There were conversations to be had, plans to be made, and a life to figure out. The road stretches out before her leading her home, forward, and into a future unplanned but still hers to define… and she has jelly lots and lots of jelly.