Written by Tim Davis
To Lincoln, the billboard at the edge of town announced the doom of all who enter. If he could change the place, he would, but he wasn’t happy. The town’s name meant nothing anymore, and he supposed the people meant even less. The board, a blaze of purple with ice-cream covered in a purplish sauce, advertised the only thing produced by the region. Bubble Gum Delight.
Lincoln spat his wad of chewed gum into the bushes at the side of the road. Bubblegum sauce, the obsession of Deacon, a town lost to him. Lincoln was going to walk out on love, and he was unhappy.
He had to get to work. After his dad would expect him for dinner, and though he appreciated the care, he had to tell him he was leaving. He couldn’t face wearing purple for the rest of his life.
He understood how colour could send people mad. The billboard that invaded the greens and dark browns of the wooded countryside advertised that madness.
Eight hundred and twenty inhabitants, Lincoln thought, reading the sign. Many of those had packed and left years ago. His Ford’s old engine grumbled, he let the sagging springs of the seat take his weight. Tomorrow would be different. He drove to town and the craze everyone had lived with for sixty years. He thought bubble gum should be blue.
The drive was short. He saw the dust of old man Jacoby's tractor. He wondered why the old farmer bothered. Jacoby hadn’t had a decent crop in years. Lincoln couldn’t see the old man in the cab, but he knew he would be wearing a purple T-shirt with a few happy children stencilled on the back. Where the stars and stripes would have once flown, now waved triangular purple pennants announcing the religion of Bubble Gum Delight. The truck rattled and groaned as he drove down the main street; the purple pickup of Geronimo Jones parked out front of the feed and stock store, and the Mavis Hair Stylist sign now sported a new purple edging making it appear closer to the plethora of purple signs of the shop fronts. Mavis was new to town, she’d moved from the city fifteen years ago, but in time the locals would come to accept her.
He had to leave. The place was dying, and no one seemed to be noticing. He’d brought up the problem with the bubble gum life at a county meeting a few years back and was shouted down. For a moment his grip increased on the steering wheel, the memory still hurtful and frustrating. No one realised the purple sauce was no longer made in the town, though there was still a storefront now managed by an overseas company. Bubble Gum Delight was only part of the town now because no one could let the idea go, no one could move on from the sweet stuff they’d created; not even the family who had developed the sauce lived in Deacon. The de Villiers had moved to New Zealand.
Parked at the front of the store he was almost ready for work. Another four-hour shift at The Purple Burger, while good for ready cash, wasn’t how he saw his future.
“Hey, Lincoln,” Amy, his girlfriend called. She worked at Mavis’ and was on her way to work. “You taking me to the dance tonight?”
He shrugged, there was a dance every Friday night and while he did go with her every dance, tonight was different. He didn’t think he could stomach one my Friday night of purple bunting and bubblegum pop music.
“I’ve got stuff to do.” He approached the burger shop, but Amy stepped in front of him.
“You’ve been avoiding me all week, Lin, what’s wrong? You don’t talk anymore.” She offered one of her cheeky smiles, which looked odd on the now older woman. They’d been steady for well over ten years. “I don’t know how long I can just say no to other guys,” She sighed and touched his arm, her pale hand stark against his dark brown skin.
He wanted to hold her and say what was going on, but he couldn’t. He was afraid of her reaction and pleading.
“Amy,” he started, thinking hard about what he wanted to say. “I’m sorry, but I don’t like purple, and I don’t like Bubble Gum Delight.” He didn’t think it was physically possible, but it looked like Amy paled. “I love you, but there you have it; the God honest truth.” He didn’t reveal the rest.
She stepped back, her right hand covering her mouth and he could see a tear on her cheek. Damn it all; she was going to cry. He should have said nothing. Too much honesty was bad for a soul.
“I’m sorry,” he said, lowering his gaze to the scuffed toes of his work boots.
“I don’t know what to say.” She wiped her face but didn’t move away. “I knew you were unhappy with something but purple. How could you not like what the town stands for?”
He didn’t have an answer; he didn’t understand why. Maybe it was because it had become more religion to people than religion and it troubled him how so many people clung to a bygone era. He shrugged, and Amy sniffed.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Amy said, her voice soft.
She’d stepped in closer and was checking behind to see if anyone was near. Amy closed her eyes for a moment, the bright blue removed from her porcelain features. Her face, slightly lined and framed in blonde curls looked up at him. For a moment she was calm; this was something he didn’t expect with his confession. The shock he understood, but this was something else. Had his confession made leaving easier?
“There is nothing in my life more important than you; you know, that right?” she said. He could accept that kind of truth; her father never did approve of his daughter dating a black man. “Oh no,” she started, grabbing his arm again, her touch warm. “Not that.” She’d read his thought. “I can only see a future with you, Lin.”
“I know.” He wishes it wasn’t so hard.
“What I mean to say is… well. I don’t like purple either.”
“But…” he pointed to her purple dress and shoes, even her earrings were purple stones. Her father was the head of the Bubble Gum Delight action committee.
“I don’t want to stand out,” she hastened. “I like yellow, but no one in town stocks yellow anything, and you know how people talk.”
Yellow was quite a difference from purple, and deep down he much preferred green, it was a colour his mother would wear only on Sundays when going to church. She had been gone a few years now, the town said she was dead, but he knew she’d fled the bubble gum oppression with young Billy, the feed store hand. He looked at Amy, thought of his mother and then couldn’t help but think of his father with his obsession.
“I like green,” he said, feeling like he’d just said he was from outer space.
Amy smiled, her teeth, slightly crooked but brilliantly white, showed only happiness. Her grip tightened on his arm, and she moved in quickly and kissed him hard on the lips. She pulled away.
“Trust me, please. Promise?”
He nodded, knowing this would be the last time he saw her. She ran down the sidewalk to Mavis’. What had just happened? Lincoln sighed and pushed his way into the restaurant and the overwhelming smells of greasy food and beer. He looked at the clock over the serving bar; it was just after eleven.
The first customers would start wandering in by eleven thirty, so there was still time to put on his purple shirt and apron and whistle the jingle that helped make the Bubble Gum Delight famous. Lincoln still had to fit in, even for just one more day. Tomorrow was the day; it would have to be, and regardless of what the population sign said, by tomorrow evening it would be one less.
There wasn’t much to pack when he set to task. After leaving behind all the purple clothes and the ones that promoted Bubble Gum Delight all Lincoln had left was a handful of T-shirts, two pairs of blue jeans and his work boots. He would need new underwear from wherever he stopped next because all of what he had carried some version of purple and he couldn’t take it with him. He would keep what he was wearing, but they wouldn’t be with him long. His father had stormed out at breakfast after he told him he was leaving. If there was such a thing as a purple rage, then his father certainly showed it and more.
“You’re just like your mother,” his father’s voice rang off the walls. “Purple was never good enough for her.”
“Everyone here is living a lie.” Lincoln kept his voice calm.
“A lie… a lie… listen here, boy, this town is famous because of the Delight, and you pay it some respect.”
Lincoln hated being called boy, at thirty-two he was long over the term. “I meant no disrespect…”
“I’m off to a planning committee, and we are thinking forward, we are thinking and planning for the future.”
His father’s face was red under the mass of beard, its shots of grey highlighting the wisdom the townsfolk saw in him. Lincoln was the child of interracial marriage and one that had gone wrong. It was probably why he never wanted the settled relationship with Amy. He didn't want to be like his father, and he didn't want Amy to feel like his mother had. The town confessed to no obvious racism, but it was there, and sometimes it was cloaked in purple.
“Next week we are putting in a new tourist sign at the other end of town.”
Lincoln suppressed a groan. To him the past was purple, but to his father, the future was not only purple but holy. His father turned and walked out the back door, his heavy footfalls echoing off the porch and down the stairs. He waited for the truck to rev into life and spin its wheels down the drive.
Frustration stuck in his heart with his inability to reach his father. The town and the dwindling population left him no choice but to leave. Amy would be heartbroken, he knew, and so would he. She'd recover. A pretty woman like her. Amy’s father would never let he veer from the bubble gum way.
Lincoln stood in his bedroom and gazed down at the photo of Amy in her prom dress. He’d taken her to the dance, and they had been together ever since. He picked up the wooden frame and smiled at the memory of their life together and yet oddly apart. The promise of tomorrow never came.
So many wasted years, so much distaste that got in the way and so much doubt about what Amy’s parents would think if he asked her to marry him. It would have been a purple wedding. She would never forgive him.
The carry bag held only a few things, and he’d saved enough over the years to get by for a short time. He shouldered and shrugged. Maybe one day he’d return.
Outside a rumbling and crunch of tires on the gravel pulled him to the back door. It was Amy’s car, a small Japanese two-door that used half as much gas as his Ford. Amy climbed out wearing the brightest yellow dress he had ever seen; even her shoes were yellow.
“You coming?” she called.
“I’ve decided to skip town, and I couldn’t do it without you, could I?”