My tears make no impression on Helen. Not really the point of them anyway. She returns to her seat on the porch.
“I said things to you about my life. You know why? ‘Cause you’re a stranger. You’re not my friend. I can honestly say that your judgment of me means nothing. Now, Virginia’s a different story. You don’t dare speak against my girl.”
I squeegee tears from my cheeks. I suck snot. Maybe she has no compassion leftover after giving it all to Virginia.
“I also said things to you about your life. For the same reasons. You can trust me, ’cause I’m a stranger. Or you can throw my words out with the garbage, ’cause I’m a stranger. Can you honestly say my judgment on you means nothing?”
With Helen, I can’t tell whether questions are meant rhetorically. Since the conversation’s been one-sided so far, I see no reason to butt in now.
“Take my number with you,” Helen says. “You can call me from anyplace anytime. I’ll answer if I’m of a mind to.” She fishes in her pocket to reveal a slip of ragged paper.
I accept the phone number. She stands and offers me a hand next. I accept that too. If she hugs, that’ll be awkward, but she won’t and doesn’t. We aren’t huggable people, Helen and I.
“Let me walk you to your car,” she says. In the blink of an eye, I’m escorted off the porch into the fine, sinking gravel. “Can’t chance you using the bathroom. Goodness knows if I’d every get you back out the door.”
She speaks with no mirth, no anger, no discernible emotion at all.
I’m belted in and running the engine before she speaks again.
“Don’t come back here,” she says. Her fingers curl around the top of the open window. “Unless you’ve made a difference somewhere out there, don’t you dare come back here.”
My eyes search hers. Never have I met a person who seems to so thoroughly know my pettiness. Never have I been commanded to stay away. Until tonight.
“Thank you, Helen.” My voice squeaks with disuse and suppressed sobs. “Tell Virginia thank you, too.”
“You know good and well I won’t. Your problems have no business on her shoulders.” She still grips the window, which is fine with me. “Let me know where you land. Calling’s alright.”
I nod. A vein of compassion glitters against the stone exterior in which she’s buried. Helen won’t be the first to let go. But reverse comes easily for me. I’ve backed out of plenty in my lifetime. The car shudders. Helen loosens her fingers. Tires crush sandy gravel. Her hands fall to her sides.
“Be well and be good,” she calls after me. I wave and shift forward, the direction of every story.