The campground is in the lot adjacent to the antiques shop, separated from a noisy highway by a few logs. There are no picnic tables. The dumpster is overflowing. In the pre-dawn gloom profanity explodes from a cheap tent that has collapsed with all the finality of a punctured lung. The tent wriggles. A man and a woman are screaming at each other. The man emerges, a musclebound thug in his twenties with no shirt and a bacon-crispy tan. His face is covered with tattoos, lines of small blue dots descending from eyelids to cheeks. He fumbles with the tent poles, trying to resuscitate the deflated structure while the woman inside writhes and curses.
Oil has not struck the Saint Marks National Wildlife Reserve, but it's arrival is inevitable. The facilities crew are attempting to figure out how to put scum filters out in the Gulf to slow the petroleum's invasion of the marshes. The men do not seem optimistic. It is dawn, but the next week could be the marsh's twilight; birds, amphibians, and gators will all bathe in a chemical they can sense but not understand. The men stare into the distance while they speak, then they stare at their shoes. Dragonflies fill the air: bronze, cobalt, and copper streaks hovering and diving, metallic thunderbolts striking down mosquitoes, perfected DNA guiding their surgically precise movements.
The fruit stand is like any number of roadside fruit stands across the south, an ugly service station that folded during the gas crisis, its two weatherbeaten analog pumps sticking up in the parking lot like bad teeth. The interior is spartan. Undecorated beige walls enclose an uncomfortably small number of white metallic shelves, an awkwardness accentuated by their own lack of products. On the checkout counter, religious comics are piled up for the taking. Behind the counter, the woman with the round face and the straw-colored hair shares a difficult decision: to honestly report her taxes.
She feels that she is taxed enough through property taxes, sales taxes, and business taxes... paying income tax at the end of the year is like getting "taxed twice." She repeats this phrase like a mantra. We have been taxed twice. And there are virtually no repercussions for misreporting—people evade the IRS all the time. Her friends do. Her husband wanted her to when she started the fruit stand. She did. Maybe once, maybe several times, but it gnawed at her. Not because she felt the government deserved the money, not because the tax was just, and not because of the risk of an audit. It was troubling because God knew she was lying. A relationship with God is her endgame, and God cannot be fooled. So she began reporting her income correctly. Her husband rolled his eyes, but she feels good—it has allowed her to progress spiritually, to become closer to God. Her marriage has improved. She feels that she has grown considerably as a person since making the decision, a result she never anticipated when making the choice. She smiles and opens her lips to say something else, hesitating barely long enough for a glint of silver to sparkle from the center of her tongue.