Fiction by Julia Watson
The mayor had gone missing.
Nobody had seen him in over a week. In a town as far-reaching as Leicester, it was custom to spot one’s neighbor only at the Ingles. The land was large, well-soiled. Horses and goats and chickens mingled and mozied across fenced hillocks, while their keepers kept to themselves.
Except the mayor. Every day, from the late morning to spill of sundown, he walked up and down the town’s one paved road, connecting family-built farms to tucked away trailer parks. If you passed him driving, it was custom to wave. He would wave back, even if your hands never left the wheel. If he passed your house, it was custom to close the blinds.
Some were glad to be rid of him. Said he slowed traffic, or drifted close enough to clip the lip of their car. One neighbor built an eight-foot fence facing the street, accompanied by big black lettering: PRIVATE PROPERTY. Others complained the fence was ugly. Didn’t connect to anything— simply a line drawn.
Some gave him a chance. Offered work, invited him in for Cheerwine. Said he wasn’t that bad. He was peaceful, ritualistic, and you shouldn’t judge others.
Everyone knew where he trekked when the rooster aired its noon call. The gas station with the coral-lipsticked cashier who never ID’d for chew.
He’d buy a lottery ticket and a Mountain Dew. And backwards, he went.
Nobody knew where he lived. He was either on the road or wasn’t. Nobody cared enough to follow.
I’d gotten close to him once. Sorting through junk mail for my biweekly check, I heard the scuffle of his shoes. His beard was scraggly, brown and gray. It caromed against his sternum as he walked. He wore the same ballcap, beat up, faded, with a dusty flannel longer than his arms.
A red GMC pulled up with an out-of-state license plate and a cranked window.
“Wanda’s got the meth. Cracked up. 60 a g.”
I’d never seen the mayor hop in a vehicle during his daily strolls.
But before I could lower my mailbox tongue, I was alone.
Folks didn’t question his vanishing. He was high and overdosed. He was high with empty pockets. He was high and pummeled by a car. One rumor claimed the cows ate him after a midnight ramble (their oats untouched the morning after). But I knew the mayor didn’t walk at night.
I’d like to think he got lucky. Bought a scratch-off, used a penny he found face-up, scored a truck, and escaped outta this hamlet, Wanda blowing in his ear.
Still the days were strange without him. Sun-heavy, hollowed-road, and gone: all we wanted to have in common.
Julia Watson earned her MFA from North Carolina State University. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her works have been published in Nashville Review, The Shore, Voicemail Poems, The Citron Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and elsewhere. She lives in Asheville with her three dogs and one fiancé. You can read more of her work at juliawatsonwriter.com.