A Roadside Confession

by Sarah Hamaker

This is part one of a short story I wrote a few years ago. Enjoy!

It’s always startling to find out your mother has a secret, especially when it’s not an ordinary, run-of-the-mill secret, but an I’ve-never-told-a-living-soul secret. My mother, Norma Jane Brookings, began unburdening this secret with a simple phone call.

* * *

My cell phone jarred me awake from a deep, dreamless sleep. Disoriented, I grabbed the phone and croaked out a greeting.

“Emily? Did I wake you? Time to rise and shine, sleepyhead,” a familiar voice chirped sweetly into my ear.

“Mom,” I squinted at the time on the screen, “it’s five-thirty. In the morning.”

I rubbed my eyes and waited for my mother—who never called without an agenda—to continue.

“You haven’t fallen back asleep, have you? Emily?”

I exhaled loudly. “I’m here, mom. What’s going on?”

“You’re still in Santa Fe, right?”

“Yes, I’m researching the Delaplane family’s trek to California along the Santa Fe trail.”

“You have the most interesting job.”

My work as a genealogical researcher provided one of the few topics my mother and I could discuss without animosity. When I was a child, she had often taken off without explanation for days at a time, leaving me alone with my father. She left for good after my father died during my college years. Our communication now mostly consisted of brief phone calls and birthday cards, and the sporadic correspondence contributed to my feelings of hurt and anger toward my mother.

“Can you take a day off to drive to Orogrande?” Mom asked.

“Is that in New Mexico?”

“Yes. Could you do it today?”

“Today?” I mentally reviewed my remaining workload. “I suppose so. Why?”

“Wonderful. It’s about a four-hour drive from Santa Fe, so I’ll call you about ten-thirty.” She ended the call without waiting for my answer.

Drop everything and drive to Orogrande?

The phone rang again.

“Emily? Aren’t you in the shower yet? Get moving!”

Click.

I grimaced and staggered sleepily to the bathroom.

* * *

I arrived at Orogrande, New Mexico, at precisely ten-twenty-eight. Only a rundown hotel, grocery store, gasoline station, two restaurants, and a dilapidated bus station greeted me.

Swirling dust added a filmy layer of grit to my already sticky skin as I stepped out into the mid-morning sun.

My phone rang. I checked the time: Ten-thirty on the dot.

“Hello, Mother.”

“Emily. Where are you?”

“Where else but in Orogrande, on Main Street.”

“Oh, good. I’ll be right there.”

Another click.

In shock, I swiveled around and saw my mother walking towards me from the hotel.

“All right. Let’s go,” she said, opening the passenger car door of my vehicle.

I shrugged and got behind the wheel.

“Now head south on Highway 54 and pull off the road at the intersection of Highway 9 and Highway 13,” she instructed.

“Mom, what’s this all about?”

My mother stubbornly pressed her lips together and stared straight ahead. I shook my head and started driving.

At Highways 54 and 13, I pulled off the road and found myself staring at a weather-beaten wooden cross. Straggly grass grew up around its base. A barbed wire fence separated the shoulder from ranch land.

“What on earth are we doing here?”

She sidestepped the question as she exited the car. I followed.

“I’ve failed, you know.” She paused and broke into sobs. “That cross should have represented my death, but instead, I’m here.”

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