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A Taste of 'Cherryville'


Li'l Salinger Girl dialed up her brother that afternoon, when Nelson had barely finished showering and shaving, before he had even had anything to eat. She told him where she was and that she'd be waiting for him. Though hungry, he threw his things into his suitcase and went straight to his car without bothering to check out of the hotel. Li'l Salinger Girl's location was an easy one: she still lived in the house they had grown up in.

After passing through downtown Blessed River, Nelson turned onto Pency and saw it was blocked off, a hundred feet along the block, with several barrier sawhorses, their diagonal black and white stripes browned with age, their feet suspiciously obscured by weeds. It was no problem, because he could walk from here. He pulled onto the dusty shoulder and stopped, grabbed the suitcase and walked.

When he came up even with the house, he stood for a moment, noting that the round stone with the square hole in the middle was still there, right beneath the big shady live oak. The millstone seemed a little smaller than he remembered it, the effect of his years of growing larger. And the front walk was still cracked and decayed, no more nor less than he remembered it. He stood for a moment more, suddenly swathed in nostalgia -- it was all too familiar. And then he saw the figure of Li'l Salinger Girl standing just inside the front door, silhouetted behind the screen, looking at him, waiting. He walked up the walk and the steps to the front porch, stopped, and smiled.

"Hey Li'l. I'm Nelson, but grown up." She just looked at him, curious. "I know it's weird, but it's me."

"Yeah, I can see it is you," she said in her little high-pitched girl's voice. She gave him the thumbs-up with both hands. "Both thumbs," she said, and he hoped she smiled but the screen was obscuring her facial expressions.

Nodding, he said, "I had to think of something to say that you'd know it was me. Something we never told anybody about."

"But you couldn't think of anything like that?" For a moment, neither of them said anything, but then she pushed the screen partially open. He reached out and took the edge of the screen door and opened it full. Li'l Salinger Girl stood before him, her dishwater blonde hair in slack pigtails. She wore blue seersucker coveralls over a thin tangerine sweater -- clothes he didn't remember. "I guess come on in, even though you're probably a murderer."

"You know I'm not," he said, and followed her into the house. "Ask me anything. I can prove it's me."

"It really doesn't even matter," she said, plopping herself onto the couch in the living room. Same old couch. Same old everything in the room. "I'll believe you until you do something that shows me you're not really Nelson."

"Okay, thanks." He put his suitcase down on the floor and sat in the broken down old easy chair with the dark blue brocade upholstery worn through at the back and arms.

"You planning on staying?" She was looking at the suitcase. "We're selling this whole town, you know."

"Yeah. We already did. I don't know if I can stay or how long. Just want to talk, catch you up on a few things, get some input."

"What's input?"

"Your opinion."

"Oh."

"But first, do you have anything to eat? I haven't eaten yet today."

"I have Cows, if you want one of those."

"What is that?"

"I'll show you." She jumped up and hurried toward the kitchen. He waited, heard the refrigerator open and close, a soft clink of glass, some other soft sounds, and she returned carrying two fancy shaped bottles of brown fluid. She handed one very cold bottle to Nelson. "Go ahead, try it. They're good."

"Nothing to eat, though?"

"No. 'Fraid not."

The label on the bottle read 'Mocha Cow.' He set it down on the coffee table, opened his suitcase and retrieved a cornbread stick. When he began removing it from its foil wrap, Li'l Salinger Girl cocked her head and said, "Cornbread sticks? I want one. Please."

He hesitated, but for such a brief moment it was probably not perceptible. It was of no import that the cornbread sticks were spiked, given the surreal circumstances, so he tossed one to Li'l. "They pack a punch, so beware."

"That's okay. So do the Cows."