Caedmon hated everything about Archer City. Hated the hot, dry, dusty streets. Hated the brown, blighted landscape. Hated the razor-edged horizon, dotted with rusty, whistle-blown oilrigs.
Archer City was like a long-forgotten town you pull into when your car runs out of gas–but never leave. Stalled in time, at the intersection of nowhere in general and nowhere in particular.
For his part, Caedmon grew up in Anacortes. Living in Archer–if “living” was the operative word–he longed for the trees, the sea, the harbor, the rising and receding hills–one above another–and behind it all the snow-lined peaks–like beacons at the edge of the world.
He lived alone with his father, who sold insurance. His mother walked out on them for another man when he was ten. Then his dad was stricken with prostate cancer during his senior year of high school. They caught it late–too late.
Unable to work, his dad’s little business folded, while the bank took what little was left of the pitiful estate.
So Caedmon had to move–move somewhere cheap. And, at the time, it seemed like a good idea to get as far away as possible from Anacortes. Put the grief behind him–literally. Physical, palpable distance. Total separation.
But the grief tailed him all the way to Archer City. There he lived in exile. Rootless. And disconnected. Like tumbleweed that meandered through the eddies of the empty, wind-swept streets. What do you do when you feel far from home, yet you left home when what made it home had ceased to be?
He was mad. Mad at fate. Mad at God. Mad at his Godforsaken excuse of a life.
The only bright spot was Jessica. When she wasn’t working a day shift or night shift at the café, Jessica was a hairdresser at the beauty salon.
He first met her at the café. Because he took an instant liking to her, he was a better tipper than her average customer.
To see her more often, he started going to the beauty salon. He felt out of place there. Frankly, he didn’t care that much about his hair. Much less having it done once a week.
And the beauty salon was really a social club for the town matrons and their giddy girls. Stacked with fashion magazines. Not his cup of tea.
The barbershop, two stores down the block, was where the men hung out. And that’s where he used to go when he first moved in. He felt a bit more at ease, there.
Yet barbers make small-talk, and he wasn’t in the mood for small-talk. He didn’t like to talk about himself. Where he came from. It was still too painful.
Except for Jessica. That’s why he switched to the beauty salon. Just for her. To be with her.
At first he simply enjoyed the rush of having her soft, scented blouse stroke his face as she leaned over to wash his hair. But he also found her easy to open up in her company. Open up a crack at a time.
She was also new to town. Moved there a few years ago. She also missed her hometown–back in Biloxi. But after Katrina hit, her family moved away.
In their different ways, Caedmon and Jessica were both refugees and vagabonds. Each one felt stymied by life in Archer. So they could commiserate.
Yet unlike Caedmon, Jessica wasn’t bitter or angry inside. She had her faith. That was, to her, like a walled garden, hidden in her heart, where she could go to each day to walk and pray
She event invited him to church. But at the time he found that prospect repellent. And yet, the very thing he found repellent was what he found so oddly compelling about her. For that’s what made the difference. That’s what made her different from the other girls. The thing which put promise in her eyes, and hope in her smile. So she was his church. For now.
As the weeks wore on, they spent time together outside of work. For him, it was a spring thaw. Like a frosty bud slowly warming and opening under the steady heat and light the emergent sunshine.
He felt the frozen sap begin to move again. Heard the birds begin to sing again. Breathe again. What once felt hard and dry felt new again.
They married a year later. The wedding took place in Archer Baptist Church, which Jessica attended.
Caedmon moved back to Anacortes with his newlywed–where they attended John Knox Presbyterian Church. He took a job with the Washington State ferry system. In time, Caedmon and Jessica relocated her parents to Anacortes as well–and went for family picnics on the beach.