Where does Lebanon, Kansas end and where does it begin?
Long, seemingly endless roads cross each other here, on their way somewhere else. From the west, County Road 833 reaches US 281 and at that crossing, the city limits of Lebanon, US 281 becomes County Road 833 turns into School. If you stood on that corner, looking northwest you’d see half sky going up and half land coming down to meet your feet.
And you would see her riding her bike with a banana seat and a reflective flag crossing that little corner from outside town into town, riding on the dirt county road, crossing onto pavement as 281 becomes Elm. The air is still and hot, she slices through it, stirring it so that it blows her long dark and red hair around. To the north of School, on her left, are cows with their noses in the grass, and then a field of wilting sunflowers
She peddles faster along the south edge of the road. She’s alone as she crosses over except for a car stirring up dust in the distance behind her, to the west following her on the county road. It’s a white station wagon off to the east, looking a lot like a boat moving up and down on a sea of dirt and dust. It stops and turns right down Elm.
She peddles down School passes Walnut and then turns right on Pine, crosses Grove and then turns her handle bars — the tassels barely moving — into the driveway. She recognizes the car in the driveway, but there is an unusual unfamiliar one parked on the street. It’s an older car, a Packard Patrician. She doesn’t know enough to be worried about the visitor.
She drops the bike and runs inside. The spring on the screen door makes a metallic yawning sound, the hinges squeak, and the door slams shut.
Her mother calls out, “What have I said about slamming the screen door?”
Every window in the house is open. But there isn’t a breeze. Flies buzz around the outside the windows looking for a way in, and the flies inside buzz around looking for a way out.
An old man is slouched in his familiar spot in the living room, and although the heat is dense he doesn’t sweat. In his short sleeve white shirt is a wire leading to his left ear from a battery in his pocket. She stomps through the small living room filled with furniture and slouches in a chair opposite the old man.
Her mother is in the kitchen talking with someone. The Buckinghams are playing on the radio almost inaudible. But so are the voices.
Her mother calls from the kitchen, leaning around the door frame. “Come here for a minute.”
“What,” she asks.
“Don’t ask ‘what?’ just come in here,” her mother says with only mock irritation. She drags on a cigarette.
As she comes around the corner she expresses a shock reserved solely for children her age. She’s never seen anyone that looks like the man sitting at the kitchen table. His skin is dark and his hair is blacker than she’s seen. He’s a young man. He stands up. He is well dressed even for the heat, with a thin black tie and white short sleeved shirt. She pulls back a bit, unsure of what to do.
“This is your uncle,” her mother says enthusiastically. “He’s come all the way up here from New Mexico. Can you believe that?”