Raylene lived with her Mawmaw in a weather-beaten house on a red dirt road where the guttural hum of a bluesy organ streamed out the open windows into the shimmering Mississippi heat. She was older than us, with Slinky-like chestnut curls that bounced like thunder when she tossed her head at her boyfriend, Rooster. They fought and made up on the regular, mostly because Raylene didn’t take any shit off him. She had plans that he said were crazy and she’d best hurry up and think about settling down.
We liked spending time with Raylene because she treated us like equals. She told us about men and how we should always keep our eyes open when dealing with them and not fall for their sweet talk and kisses and never let them tell us what our lives were supposed to be. When she talked like that, a look like a barracuda on a mission came into her eyes.
Percy Sledge would be singing honey from the turntable, wrapping us all up in his warm and tender love and I’d think that is a man that can’t lie and I knew Raylene believed it too. She swore Percy was good juju – the last voice she heard every night before going to work, looking up through the oaks to the stars and thinking about how far away the road ran outside her door.
Raylene and Rooster met early most mornings in the Jitney Jungle parking lot when she was going into her shift checking groceries and he was getting off his at Deere. Rooster would lay his calloused hands on Raylene’s cheeks, pull her face close, close, closer. Kiss her like he was
trying to suck her soul out of her body. That’s what she said. We didn’t know what to say back so we watched her face real close, watched her eyelashes ripple up and down like she was trying to swim away from that memory.
Raylene’s mamma was killed by her boyfriend in a car chase. He ran her off the road in a drunken rage when she tried to leave him, clots of red bloomed around her head into the creek water, flowed away like jellyfish into the deep. Baby Raylene didn’t have a scratch on her. Her Mawmaw said Percy’s voice was warbling from the tape deck when the highway patrol arrived. Said Percy blew a bubble in the back seat and that’s what saved Baby Raylene. Raylene said he latched onto her and never left, said he whispered things in her ear ever after. Important things like what ran through Rooster’s head when he watched her walk across Jitney Jungle’s parking lot.
On the 20th anniversary morning of her mamma’s death Raylene took both of Rooster’s scratchy country hands in hers and kissed his palms. I was never going to be the right woman for you. No matter how much you wanted it. Then she climbed into the old Stingray she bought with four years of grocery store wages and drove off. Six months later we got a card in the mail from Weeki Wachee, Florida. Inside was a Polaroid of Raylene suspended in turquoise, hair floating a sunny halo around her head and a silver sequined flipper curving up behind her.
Charlotte Hamrick’s creative work has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Still: The Journal, Harpy Hybrid Review, New World Writing, Reckon Review, and Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog. She’s had nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and was a Finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize and for Micro Madness 2020. She is Features Editor for Reckon Review and Creative Nonfiction Editor for The Citron Review. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets where she sometimes does things other than read and write.