To Ray's great relief, no Virgil was present when he walked into the Depot. A stocky woman in overalls said Mr. Cantrell was out running errands and wouldn't be back for two hours. Ray inquired about storage space, and she offered to show him around.
Years before, a remote uncle from Texas had come to visit. Ray's mother scrubbed and polished him to the point of misery. With great anticipation they drove to the depot to fetch the uncle. Forrest was an infant and they left him at home with the nanny. Ray clearly remembered waiting on the platform, hearing the train's whistle, seeing it approach, feeling the excitement as the crowd waited. The depot back then was a busy place. When he was in high school they boarded it up, and the hoodlums used it as a hangout. It was almost razed before the town stepped in with an ill-advised renovation.
Now it was a collection of chopped-up rooms flung over two floors, with worthless junk piled to the ceiling. Lumber and wall-board were stacked throughout, evidence of endless repairs. Sawdust covered the floors. A quick walk-through convinced Ray that the place was more flammable than Maple Run.
"We got more space in the basement," the woman said.
He stepped outside to leave, and flying by on Taylor Street was a brand-new black Cadillac, glistening in the early sun, not a speck of dirt anywhere, Claudia behind the wheel with Jackie O sunglasses.
Standing there in the early morning heat, watching the car race down the street, Ray felt the town of Clanton collapse on top of him. Claudia, the Virgils, Harry Rex and his wives and secretaries, the Atkins boys roofing and drinking and fighting.
Is everybody crazy, or is it just me?
He got in his car and left the Depot, slinging gravel behind. At the edge of town the road stopped. To the north was Forrest, to the south was the coast. Life would get no simpler by visiting his brother, but he had promised.