Other Worlds

We talked about other worlds.

(Bob was told by a close relative who once worked in a criminal law office that two inches below the surface there is another world the rest of us don’t know anything about.)

I still think about it.
The place where they sold roasting hogs was another world.

Crossing the mountains into Burke’s Garden was like entering another world. In places the mist was so thick you could barely see the road, just hear the gravel crunch and feel the ruts, knowing that on one side the mountain loomed, unseen but felt, and on the other side the edge crumbled off into nothing. The road could have forked, gone somewhere else, and we would have not known it.

It was another world on the Appalachian Trial where I walked out to pee (knowing that I would write “I pee in the mist on the Appalachian Trial”). After a few hundred feet I could not see Bob or Big Boy (the Land Cruiser). There was just the sound of my own water splashing on the already wet ground and the whisper of wind in the trees, like the sound of old hymns. I could have gotten turned around and gone the wrong way into the wilderness.

The Burke’s Garden CafĂ© and General Store was another world.

We had crossed the last mountain and were in the valley, driving down a narrow paved road past well-kept farms. The mist had lifted but the sky was still overcast. At first the building seemed abandoned. There were no vehicles visible. But going past, lights shone from behind chintz curtains on the front windows. There was a sign. And in the parking lot on the other side, we saw an old Mercedes diesel sedan with a sooty rear bumper and a faded red Subaru Outback.

Note 9/27/2012 - Got this picture wrong. Here from the trip with Karen is where Bob and I ate. By 2012 the place was closed. The Subaru is Piggy.

I said, “Let’s stop here and eat lunch.”
Bob said, “Sure” and turned around.
We parked beside the Subaru (it had a Vermont tag; the Mercedes was from Virginia) and walked around to the front. I pulled back an unpainted screen door. Hinges creaked. Inside the place seemed bigger than outside. That might have been because the rear was filled with cases and shelves illuminated by a few dim lights. I could not see the back wall, just those individual pools of clarity.
But it was cheery up front, six tables on one side and a counter and small grill on the other side. A couple sat at one of the tables, heads inclined toward each other talking in low voices. They seemed middle aged. He was balding. She had short blond hair, suggesting a recent bout with chemotherapy. They were dressed in clothes that might have come from LL Bean, but not this year.
A tall woman wearing jeans and a baggy blue sweater stood at the grill, facing away from us. Her black hair was fluffy and streaked with gray. There were holes in the elbows of her sweater. Her jeans were snug but not tight. The left back pocket was frayed. When the screen shut she spoke over her shoulder, “Sit anywhere you like. I’ll be over in a minute.” She had high cheekbones like an Indian or a Russian. Her eyes were green. She wiped her face with the back of her hand.

Bob and I took the other table by the front window. Down the road to the left was an old white frame church. A rock wall bordered a large graveyard. Tombstones gathered on the hill like curious children.

Bob nodded toward the people at the adjoining table. “Good morning folks.”

The man glanced up; his lean face breaking into smile. “Morning.”
The woman nodded and smiled but didn’t say anything. Her thin face was pretty; her skin was translucent.

I said, “Interesting place. Unexpected.”

The man looked around as if he was just now aware of his surroundings, “Yes it is interesting.”

The woman spoke. Her voice had a fragile bell like quality. “But not unexpected.”

The brunette woman came out from the behind the counter. She placed plates in front of the couple and leaned over and patted the thin woman on the shoulder, her hand lingering like a caress. Then, walking over to our table, she pointed to a chalk board on the wall. “Gentlemen, my name is Grace. That’s what we have for lunch today. Drinks are tea, homemade cider, lemonade, coffee. Do you need a minute?”

We glanced at the board.

I said, “I see something. Let me try the scrapple sandwich. And I’ll have tea.”

The woman laughed, a throaty, rich sound. “Do you know what scrapple is?”

“Like North Carolina livermush, right?”

“You do know. Ours is home grown, put up right here in the valley. In the sandwich it’s fried with a slice of onion, cheese, mayonnaise and mustard. The bread is homemade, sliced thick.”

Bob snorted. “Thank you Grace. I’ll stick to the BLT. And I’ll have tea.”

The couple at the next table resumed their low conversation. Occasionally there was the sound of a fork striking a plate. They did not seem hungry. At one point the man reached across the table and touched the woman’s hand. I imagined that it must be like silk or parchment. She patted his hand on top of her hand.

Paws. That’s what Brenda and I called hands.

Bob and I talked about this and that. About the ghost town of Thurmond where we would go this afternoon. About Beckley where we had reservations tonight in a Hampton Inn and where tomorrow we would visit a coal mine.

In 10 minutes or so Grace brought our food. I was right. Scrapple was like livermush, but not quite as rich. Bob said his BLT was good.

Leaving our table Grace disappeared into the back of the store. She walked like a ballet dancer or an Indian. The couple stared into the shadows. In a few minutes Grace came back out. Looking at the thin woman, but speaking to both of them, she said, “Would you like to look around?”

Before the man could say anything the thin woman said, “Yes.”

They all walked to the back. The thin woman moved carefully, as if she might break. I heard voices then it was quiet.

Grace returned. Stopping at our table, she said, “Would you like a fried apple pie? The church ladies made them last night.”

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