“The only way to get there is to pass through Griffin. No one wants nothing to do with Griffin.”
Gabby arrived to the conclusion that she wasn’t going to get any help from the man in the orange hammock, but she felt it would be rude just to walk away. The last customers of the day were loading their haul of junk into their pickup trucks. She wondered how any of these items actually sold. They weren’t really antiques as the sign advertised. They were just unfinished, well-weathered pieces that had never seen better days. “So once I get through Griffin, where do I go next? Wait, Griffin’s a town, right?”
The man in the orange hammock sat up. His face looked worn as if the sun had tattooed an old leather glove onto it. He wore workman’s overalls and had an oval patch with “Dan” written on it in white, cursive letters. “You ain’t curious why no one wants to go through Griffin?”
“I just assumed it was because it didn’t have a Dairy Queen.”
“Oh, it gots a Dairy Queen. Fact, looks like any ordinary place. But once you step outside, you’ll know you ain’t in just any ol’ town.”
“I don’t plan on staying.”
“Hah!” His laugh was coarse and guttural. “They ain’t gonna let you leave that quick, I promise you that!”
“Can you just tell me where he lives?”
“I can tell you, but you really need someone in town to show you. It’s kinda complicated—a couple forks in the road, some landmarks that are tough to see. That’s how it is in these neck of the woods. Why you so bent on seein’ Mr. Salvador? You an author, too?”
“Me? No. I’m a nobody. At least for now. But I’ve read some of his stuff. Meet the Author was the one that did it for me.” It was no exaggeration. After reading that story she had to meet D.F. Salvador. It was like her existence depended on it. The story hadn’t answered any questions or exposed hidden truths, but it connected with her, like she knew exactly what the author had gone through in writing it.
“I read that one,” Dan said as he flicked a fire ant off his arm. “There was a big to-do ‘bout that one ‘round here when it got published, you know, on account of the familiarity of it and all.”
Gabby thought about biting her tongue, but she couldn’t resist. “I can’t help but notice, but in that story he had a guy in overalls on an orange hammock. Did he base that character on you?”
“Nah. I based me on that character. Honestly, I don’t care for the man. After the drought, he bought out my deeds forcin’ me out here to the fringes.”
“So you know where he lives?”
“Sure. Right on the banks of the Oeeokee River. If you can find it.”
Gabby pulled out her map and studied it. “Now I know you’re messing with me. There’s no Oeeokee River on the map.”
He tumbled out of the hammock and stretched his limbs. “That’s cause it didn’t exist until Mr. Salvador moved in.” Dan put his finger on the map, leaving an oily smudge where he dragged. “He dug some trenches along here, moved some boulders around, redirected the flow of that other river you do see here on the map. Made the old house riverfront property. Suppose he wanted to make an oxbow, but I guess he didn’t have time to finish. Problem is the Oeeokee ain’t got nothing to flow into, so it kinda bottles up and busts its banks whenever we get a good rain like we did last night. Floods the place. He’s always cleanin’ up the place, but the waters always comin’ in faster than he can clear it out. That’s what happens when you fight nature’s course.”
“Does he live alone?”
“Yup. He has some children in town, but he let go of them some time back. You’ll probably run into them. Griffin’s a small place. Maybe they can tell you where to find him.” He coughed out another laugh. “You best be goin’. Storm’s comin’ in.”
He seemed to be ushering her back to her car, now the only vehicle in the dirt parking lot, but Gabby felt somewhat compelled to buy something, at least for Dan’s time.
“How much for that Velasquez print?”
“Ma’am, that ain’t no print. That is a genuine painting. Lost Manyness, I think is what it’s called. It reminds us of when we lost our many niceties.”
“It’s Las Meniñas. It’s by Velasquez. It’s like in every art book.”
“Then this Velasca fella’ must’ve copied this work here.”
“It was painted in Spain—”
“Still could’ve seen this one.”
“—like five hundred years ago.”
“How you know so much about art? You an artist too?”
“Maybe I am.”
“Good luck findin’ your writer friend Mr. Diego Savador.”
Dan walked Gabby to her car, a shiny, new hybrid. He held her door open as she got in. She thanked him and said goodbye and tried to pull the door shut, but he held firm. “They say he killed a man,” he said.
“Do you believe that?” she asked.
“The important thing is if you believe that. You’re the one goin’ to see him.” He finally let go of the door. “But you can’t believe everything you read.”
Gabby pulled out of the dusty parking lot of the antique shop and followed the road north to Griffin. When she rolled into town, she was struck by the familiarity of the places lining the main road—the pizzeria with the cartoonish pepperoni pizza missing one slice painted on the window, the coffee shop with the wrought iron cafe chairs on the patio—but they existed together like an impossible memory, incongruous with the reality she knew. She had never been to Griffin before.
She stopped her car when she came to a red light. She found it peculiar that there should be a stoplight at a point in the road where there was no intersection. Minutes passed. Was this what Dan had meant when he said the town wouldn’t let people go? She was about to run the light when a sheriff’s cruiser pulled up behind her. She waited longer. He inched closer. She didn’t know what to do. The sheriff turned on the flashing red and blue lights, but she still had nowhere to go without running the light. Finally, the sheriff pulled alongside her in the southbound lane where oncoming traffic would have been had there been any traffic. He gestured for her to follow him to the Dairy Queen parking lot. She followed.
She parked, rolled down her window, turned off her car, put her hands ten-and-two on the wheel, and waited. The officer walked to her door and leaned in.
“You must be lost. The road pretty much ends here, or a little ways down the road. The only people who stop here at this light are people who are lost. Everyone else just drives on through. So, what exactly are you doing here?”
Gabby wasn’t sure if she’d done anything wrong. “I don’t know exactly where I’m going. I’m looking for a writer,” she said. “D.F. Salvador. Do you know him?”
“I sure do! If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be sheriff!”
“Can you help me find him?”
The sheriff removed his cap and scratched his head. “Well, you follow this road until it comes to a T-intersection. Take a left…you know, it’s complicated.” A few more cars pulled into the parking lot diverting the sheriff’s attention. “I’m late for a town hall meeting, too.”
“At Dairy Queen?”
“You think we have a town hall? Look, I’d help you, even drive you out there, if it wasn’t such a big meeting. It’s our Third of May Celebration tonight. You should stick around. Bring your gun.”
“Yeah. Everyone fires off at midnight.”
“Wouldn’t that be the fourth of May?” she asked. The sheriff began to slowly retreat toward the Dairy Queen, and Gabby wasn’t sure if he’d heard her snide question. “Listen,” he said. “If you’re looking for your author, just listen for water and head in that direction. You’ll probably find him in the river.” He backpedaled a little faster. “Sorry, I can’t help you more—”
Gabby stepped out of her car and called out, “I heard he has family in town. Do you know where I can find them?”
The sheriff laughed. “Everyone in this town is related in one way or another.” He pointed a finger pistol at Gabby and winked. “But try to make it tonight.” He disappeared inside the restaurant.
Suddenly, something prodded Gabby in the back.
She spun around and found a scraggy, one-legged man waving a crutch. His other arm was in a sling, propped up at a 90 degree angle. “You’re looking for Diego Salvador, aren’t you?” he said, falling hard back onto his crutch. “Do not let him see you or he will use you. He will, he will use you. You know, he did this to me.” His eyes were expressionless, but she quickly realized it was because he had no eyebrows. He was painfully lacking.
“You know where to find him?” she asked.
“Last time I went looking for him, this happened to me,” he said, nodding to his limp arm. “Here. Take this.” He held out the crutch. “I need to give you something. Hurry! Take it! Do you want me to help you or not!”
She put a hand on his shoulder and took the crutch.
He continued to hop around while he searched his pants. He yanked out a gun. Gabby recoiled, nearly making him fall in the process. “Gimme my crutch,” he said. He waved the gun wildly as he tried to balance himself. “Here. Take this,” he said, offering the gun. “Trade. Gimme my crutch. Quick! Before I fall and break my one good limb.”
She didn’t want it, but she she didn’t want to see him fall either. And she certainly didn’t want the gun to go off accidentally, so she took it. It felt warm and heavy in her hands.
“You seem like a nice girl.” the man said. “You have a name?”
“You’re a lucky one, I can tell. I just don’t want to see what happened to me happen to you. It ain’t easy being half a man.”
She tried to hand the gun back to him. “I’m sure he didn’t intentionally hurt you.”
He pushed it away. “Are you his mouthpiece now? He’s using you and you don’t even know it.”
“I don’t need a gun,” she said.
“Keep it. I really have no reason for carrying it. I guess I just had it for the celebration.” He smile widely. “But tonight, you’re the celebration.”
Gabby pulled the gun closer to her. “I don’t know what you want me to do with this.”
“You’ll need it. I’ll show you exactly how to get there, but first you have to promise to me to do something.”
She followed the directions, moving slowly down the path. She had been warned not to startle him. She had been warned not to step in his shadow or pass over his reflection. The one-legged man had warned of many things, but the consequences of ignoring the warnings were vague. As long as she beat the storm, which gathered strength at the edge of the tree line, she’d find him on the river, which would be the “safest place to confront him.”
It was when she felt the first twinge in her chest that she first turned around and assessed her progress, wondering if she’d be able to return the same way she came or if she’d even recognize the path from a flipped perspective. Why had she trusted the one-legged man over her own instincts? She closed her eyes and dampness closed in on her senses until it filled her body. Thunder just beyond the tree line. The natal smell of rain. Water. Water flowing. She opened her eyes and followed the sound. She hopped over prickly plants, trusting the stability of makeshift stepping stones.
Finally, a shallow stream swarmed around her ankles. She’d reached the outer nerves of the Oeeokee River. The little house was where she knew it would be, but she knew D.F. would not be inside. Upriver, a cluster of boulders parted the river, unleashing rapids on one side and a calm flow on the other. A small tree sprouted from the largest of the boulders.
She mapped her way there, choosing the flattest rocks and stones and imagining the occasional leaps and feats of balance that would be required to reach the cluster. She knew she’d find him there on the other side of the largest boulder.
She moved quickly but quietly. A few rays of sun broke through the clouds. Her shadow danced along the boulders until her shape took form in the reflection of the river. She was aware of her pounding heart as she climbed atop the boulder. She gave one final look at where she’d come from and she caught a glance of her reflection, full and colorful, in the river below. She felt more resolute than ever as she pulled herself atop the boulder.
There he was under the shade of the tree, his back to her, his journal in his hands. The rolling water obscured her footsteps as she crept up behind him. Before she did anything else, she had to see what he had written.
On the page were two sentences and his hand hovered above, prepared to add more. She moved closer to read what he had written.
The only way to get there is to pass through Griffin. No one wants nothing to do with Griffin.”