Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Hitchhiker

Jeremy Byars


Cumuli charge across the sky as if chased away by the setting sun,
speeding northward, ahead of the forecasted front; the temperature’s
already dropped according to the car’s thermometer. I slow down—
a man tightropes the edge of the highway ahead. He favors his left leg,
a slight tug with each step. It may be the large canvas bag around
that left shoulder or it may be a war wound. Forty- or fifty-something,
perhaps he served in Desert Storm; by all accounts—open-toe sandals
in November, faded Titans sweatshirt, and the small Batman backpack
around the other shoulder—he’s homeless. He may have been a casualty
of the Camden Foundry’s closing or laid off from the Carhartt factory.

You have my attention already, sir—no need for the extended thumb.
The gravel pops as I pull over to the shoulder near the entrance
to the city park. A group of kids is playing pickup softball
on the nearest little league field. Parents cheer from fences, and a father
underhands a pitch towards the plate. A beagle mix runs across
the highway; it resembles the neighbor’s dog, but wears a blue collar instead.
The hitchhiker turns away from my parked car and hobbles down the hill
towards the game. His arms raised, thumbs extended, he celebrates a double
from the boy rounding first, who slides, dusts himself off, and waves back to him.
And later, when the game ends, I swear I hear him call him “Daddy.”

***

Jeremy Byars has been published in such journals as Gihon River Review and Ottawa Arts Review and has degrees from Bethel College and Murray State University. He currently teaches at Murray State University while working on an annotated bibliography of the Towneley plays and completing his MFA in creative writing.

© Jeremy Byars

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012