One Summer in Arkansas
One Summer in Arkansas
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.
- Ecclesiastes 9:11
The late afternoon Texas sun was streaming through large plate glass windows, illuminating rows of worn red plastic seats where dozens of sweaty, baggage-laden passengers waited for the 6:15 flight to Riverton, Arkansas. Downstairs from the main terminal of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the remote corridor provided access to small towns across the South via short regional flights. In contrast to the bustling concourse above, the mix of passengers reflected unique small-town demographics, each lounge signaling the flight's destination by the dress, accent and bearing of the assembled travelers.
As Lee Addison approached the cramped waiting area for Gate 19F at the end of the corridor, he was overcome with a visceral feeling of claustrophobia.
Though boarding would not begin for half an hour, Lee preferred to stand. He dropped his briefcase near the wall and opened the New York Times he'd picked up in San Francisco that morning. He skimmed the latest headlines about the Gulf War as his ear acclimated to the pitch and inflection of the voices around him speaking in the familiar idiom of his childhood.
This would be his last chance to spend a summer at home before starting work. During law school, he had spent summers editing law review articles and interning at some of San Francisco's finest law firms, firms engaged in a lively competition to attract the best students from the best schools - team building in the wine country; lunch at Greens with a hiring partner, watching the bright midday sun melt the last remnants of fog hanging off the Golden Gate Bridge; all-hands meetings late into the night with the city's top investment bankers.
With each passing year it had become harder to find time to make the trek back to Arkansas. But his mother wasn't getting any younger, and she had pleaded with him to spend this summer at home, promising litigation experience at Riverton's leading law firm. And his sister, M.J., younger than Lee by eight years, was struggling. Maybe quality time with her big brother would help her through an awkward adolescence.
The salutation was jarring and not just because he had been deep in thought. After three years of hearing the emotionally neutral voices of California, the sweet sing-song intonation in the greeting felt like an invasion of privacy.
He looked up to see a smiling and cosmetically perfect face framed by an ash-blonde hairdo heading in his direction. The woman seemed vaguely familiar.
"How in the world are you? It's been forever since you've been home, hasn't it?"
She extended her hand. "Peggy Phillips. From high school. Do you remember me?"
He did, but not well. He remembered an active, cheerful girl, one of dozens similar in demeanor and appearance who inhabited the fading recollections of his adolescence. But the wholesome pink-cheeked exuberance of seven years ago had hardened into a more intentional look.
"I noticed you a couple of times at the Club when you came home from college. But after you broke up with Annie, you seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth."
He would have preferred this time to himself, time to adjust to the sounds and rhythms of the South, to ease into memories of his childhood and mistakes of his youth. Annie . Did he really have t