Glenn G. Coats
The Color of Earth
The morning air in Carolina Shores is thick with moisture. It tastes of salt and fish. Spanish mackerel are running in the surf. In the still lagoons beside houses, solitary white egrets poke their reflections.
I drive north toward Wilmington. There is little traffic on a school day in October. West of the shoreline, farms begin. Fields of soybeans yellowed by autumn and a few fields of cotton, some picked, some waiting. I make a wrong turn off Interstate 40. Houses and sheds are gray, like smoke. A couch on a porch faces inside toward the window. Strangers wave in the small towns.
Seventy miles on I-95 to Emporia where I follow a detour around the train station and pass empty shop windows. A gray afternoon sky is darker behind sun glasses. Three hundred miles and the gas tank is nearly empty. I stop at a corner gas station in South Hill, Virginia. A blue truck is parked behind my shoulder, a small handmade sign says Sweet Potatoes. I give the cashier too many bills. She returns five and I wander over to the truck.
Every inch of the truck is faded and worn, bruised like skin. A man is arranging sweet potatoes by size on the truck’s bed. All of the potatoes are washed clean of dirt. There is a silver scale on the tailgate. “I keep ‘em in my kitchen in a cool place,” the man says, “last a long long time, always taste fresh dug.” The man is worn like his truck and his voice is soft, gentle. I take five pounds and he throws a few extra in. “You have a blessed day,” he says, and I know he means every word.
One more hour to go with the sweet potatoes resting on top of shirts and pants. Light is fading fast. I should have purchased a bushel.
sunset in a slice