Frank moved his lantern to the next stake, closer to the Standard 6. He saw the shadows of Sam and Henry moving towards the car. He could hear their voices, but couldn’t make out their words. He heard the creak of the car door opening. He heard Sam’s voice carry for a while. He imagined Sam was asking when the next sermon would be. He imagined Sam was asking for more money than they had agreed on, or a loan. He imagined Sam was telling Henry a hard luck story that could be fixed with just a little bit more money. He shook his head. They had several Sams in several towns throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The thing was, when you did a three night revival, you had to have three Sams. And you can’t come back too soon, or people’d remember the Sams. You always need a Sam to start things off. That shows people it’s real. Shows them how it works. You have to make that one perfect. Powerful. They need to feel it to believe it. Then you choose from the three marks that Henry’d gotten info about either before the show or the night before. Sometimes Sams would get info about the people out in the bars the night before. Sometimes in the bars in the mornings. In a way Frank envied the Sams. Their life was uncomplicated. They always had an escape plan.
Frank pulled the stake out and gave up imagining what Sam was talking about. He moved to the next stake. He thought of the woman with the black scarf. Why did she bother him so much? He didn’t know if it bothered him because she believed or because she didn’t. Or maybe she wanted to believe but couldn’t. It seemed to Frank like she was in on the con, but still needed it. There was a desperation in the way that she thanked him. The way she looked at him. A knowing desperation. He knew she’d be dead in a month, if not before. She was past help. Frank pulled at the stake. He pulled towards him, then away to loosen the earth’s hold on it.
“Everybody gone?” said a feminine voice from the darkness behind him.
He knew the voice, before turning around. It still startled him. Again, there was something about how she spoke. Weary, resigned—but like she had knowledge of a mystery nobody else knew about. Frank stood up and brushed his hands off on his slacks. He looked at her and tried to figure out what it was that disturbed him. She was wearing her scarf, and he was thankful for that.
“Ma’am, it’s just me, you, and Henry,” Frank said.
“Who’s the man over there talking to Henry?” she said, glancing towards the car.
“An old friend.”
“I know who it is. You don’t have to lie to me,” she said in an even voice.
“Okay,” Frank chipped at the dirt on the outside of his left index finger with his right thumb nail. “What’s your name? I never got it.”
“You’ll remember me better if you never hear it.”
“Why’s that?” Frank said.
“Because it’s true. Think about it.” The woman stared at Frank. He’d never had someone keep eye contact with him for so long. It was too intimate. He felt like she knew everything about him. Like she could see his soul. He felt like he would start crying because she could see his pain. As if he’d expressed the inexpressible. He looked back to the car at Henry and Sam, then looked back at her.
“You’re right. It keeps you a mystery. No label for you.”
“How old are you?”
“Don’t you already know?”
“I know you’re younger than you act.”
“21,” Frank said.
“You have lots of time. I don’t have much,” she said. She turned and looked toward the tree line. “Take a walk with me.”
Frank looked at the side of her face. She was thin with dark hair. She looked like she’d had a hard life, but there was an easiness about her. Frank felt relaxed around her. She was older than Frank, and he could tell she’d once been beautiful. “Okay,” Frank said. “Which way?” Frank glanced back to see Henry and Sam’s shadows stretched out across the field. Frank turned to grab the lantern.
“Leave it. Our eyes will adjust.” She walked toward the tree line. In the darkness he could make out her long off white dress moving in the wind. He followed her.
He felt his way through the grassy field, beside her. Frank felt his breathing slow down. They reached the tree line, and the woman walked under the trees. They walked for twenty yards, through the trees, feeling their way along. It started getting easier to see. The stars reflected off the water in front of them.
“I didn’t know there was a river here,” Frank said.
“There’s always a river.” She looked over at Frank. “I thought you were the kind of man who would walk around by yourself, scout things out.”
“I usually do. I was too busy.” Frank followed her down the short rocky bank. The stones felt round and smooth by the way they moved under his shoes.
“I like the stars on the water better than the stars in the sky. I like how they move,” she said. She sat down on a log at the water’s edge. Frank sat down on the log beside her. He let his feet sink into the rocky soil. The wind caught her dress and it brushed against him.