The Delta

Trianne was the one who first mentioned an adventure.

A few weeks into the semester, we seniors were all, strangely, bored. Aside from our senior projects, we didn’t have much to do. I spent most classes scrolling through Facebook, journaling, or working on my Capstone; nothing felt real anymore, even the looming date of graduation only three months away. I was having a hard time finding inspiration because of this. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one.

“I want to go on a day trip,” Trianne said, offhand.

It was Thursday. She was giving me a ride back to my apartment in the falling dusk, Bastille’s soft music barely noticeable in the background.

I perked up at her words. The idea of a spontaneous adventures was something I was always up for. “Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“I have a list.”

Said list consisted of places in Mississippi Trianne wanted to visit before graduating. Since she’d come back from her semester of studying abroad in Ireland, she’d written down every place she could think of that she wanted to go. We looked at her list together the next day in an attempt to figure out our day trip’s destination. It contained things like The Petrified Forest, Famous Museums, a swamp

“Swamp?” I asked.

Trianne shrugged. “I’ve never seen one.”

I continued to read down the list, none of the names sticking out to me until I reached the end and saw a single word. Delta. Something in my chest rose. I’d heard whispers of the Delta, of how it was the madness of Mississippi, personified. People talked about it like it was a strange mix of a haven and a prison. The only true glimpse I’d ever gotten of the Delta came in the form of an article written by an expat, Richard Grant, after he and his now-wife moved there on a whim and fell in love. I’d wanted to visit it since.

“You’ve never been to the Delta?” I asked.

“No. Have you?”

I shook my head. “But I’ve always wanted to go!”

We looked at maps, figured out where the Delta was, exactly, and decided on the town of Cleveland. It was about two hours from Jackson, possessing all the crumbling picturesque buildings and streets any visitor to the Delta could ask for. That was all the discussion we needed; our destination was decided, and Saturday morning, bright and early, we started off.

I had a rental car for the next week or so; a minor accident left my car unable to drive, and the insurance of the person who hit me paid for the rental car as long as my Impala was in the shop. As Trianne and I drove off in the Hyundai Elantra, which I’d nicknamed “Ella”, we listened to my road trip playlist and set the GPS on my phone to Cleveland.

The drive there was like crossing into a different dimension. Most of Mississippi feels the same as anywhere in the Deep South. If you’ve driven through Georgia or Alabama, you’ve driven through Mississippi. The Delta, however, was something else entirely.

The area itself was situated across an alluvial flood plain that stretched for miles and miles, sandwiched between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Coming from the south, you knew you’d reached the Delta when you hit a large, arcing bridge that crossed the Yazoo river. It was like a paradigm shift. The top of the bridge revealed the plain, and just a cursory glance in your rearview mirror was enough to tell you that this was different. The land behind you rolled, dipped, and cracked. Mississippi was twisting and turning by nature. The land we stared at now from the top of that bridge was as flat and endless as any Midwest field. Endless rows of cotton and hay stretched into a horizon dotted by evergreens and hay bales, fields crossed by machines made to water large areas, old mills an abandoned shacks and roadkill every few miles.

I grew up with Southern culture. I knew the ins and outs of the social niceties, the behavior deemed acceptable, the public eye, the fresh air and strange addiction to sweet tea (I never liked the stuff), but this really was different. I couldn’t explain it, but something in the air, in the atmosphere, just felt nothing like the South I knew. It was as if someone had taken Southern culture, given it steroids, and then carved out a chunk of Kansas land and slapped it in the middle of Mississippi.

As I drove, my playlist belting out Indie tunes strangely apropos for the situation, great clouds of birds wheeled and dipped across the sky in formation as half-sunken forests lined each side of the deserted, single-lane highway. My rental car felt smooth underneath my hands, made even more noticeable by the strangely-even road stretching into the distance. Jackson was known for its terrible roads full of potholes, but the road here was smooth and nearly faultless. Trianne and I laughed and told jokes and stories, and I reveled in the jarring realization that this was an adventure and Jackson was behind us.

When we reached Cleveland, our first order of business was lunch. We ate at a rustic placed called the Delta Meat Market; after we stuffed ourselves, we walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. We found hole-in-the-wall bookstores, an antiques store sporting a seventeen-year-old cat, overpriced clothing stores, and boutiques dedicated to sewing materials and Bougie Candles (yes, it actually said that on the label.) It was everything I hoped for. When we started to get sleepy, Trianne and I drove a few streets down and found an offbeat coffee shop called Mississippi Grounds. Underneath the sign, the tagline “worship the bean” stood like some sort of odd mantra. It was even the place’s Wi-Fi password.

We walked across the street after we got our coffee to look at some of the historical plaques and statues in front of what looked like a State building. Then we drove over to the Delta State University and wandered the gardens in front of the Performing Arts Center, scrutinizing the odd sculptures there and doing our best to emulate their poses as we took pictures of each other. The sun had just begun to set when we headed back to the car; I felt as if we weren’t done, but I didn’t know where to go next.

“Are we going to do anything else?” Trianne asked.

I thought for a moment. “Well, I did want to go to an actual nice bookstore. The one we went to downtown was kind of lacking.”

“That sounds good.”

We got in the car, and Trianne looked up stores on her phone as I began to drive. A cool-looking bookstore called Turnrow Book Company caught our eyes, but it was in Greenwood, a town about an hour away.

“I mean, I think we’ve done everything we wanted to do in Cleveland,” I said with a shrug, “And since Greenwood is on our way back to Jackson, we can make it a sort of pit-stop.”

Trianne agreed, so we set the GPS for Greenwood and took off. We sang to Ed Sheeran and Sia, chatting occasionally as the road stretched on. Trianne fell asleep at one point; I didn’t notice until I tried to sing at her and realized she was out-cold. I let the music continue to play as my thoughts drifted to Richard Grant’s article on the Delta and the odd mix of peace and feverishness that seemed to permeate every town in the area. Now, having experienced it for myself, I had to agree.

About twenty minutes later, we arrived in Greenwood. Trianne woke on her own. We discussed possible dinner plans as I parked and we walked down the street to the bookstore. Sunset was well on its way, and the nearly-empty streets were bathed in warm, yellow light. I snapped some scenic pictures on my phone before we found our destination and left the world outside for a moment.

The Turnrow Book Company was right in the heart of Greenwood’s downtown area. It closed at six on Saturdays, so we had about an hour to look around. Trianne and I went our separate ways when we first arrived, calling the other over to check out something interesting every few moments. After we both picked out a book we wanted, we went up to the second floor where there was a café and gallery; the café had already closed for the day, but we were still able to wander around and look at all the art. Trianne found a tiny jug that fit in the palm of her hand, I got a book translated from Italian, and we headed back downstairs to chat with the cashier as he rang us up.

Just before we left, however, a book on the counter caught my eye. A tiny plaque next to it said it was one of the best Mississippi-centric books of the year. The title read Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, and underneath, the author’s name—Richard Grant. My eyes widened.

“Hey!” I exclaimed, picking up the book. “I know this guy!”

“Richard Grant?” the cashier echoed.

“Yeah! I read an article of his about how he moved from Manhattan to the Delta. That article is what made me want to visit this area in the first place!” I stared at the book, hardly able to believe it. What a coincidence. But knew I couldn’t buy it. I’d already bought my book for the day; sadly, I set it back down and instead took a picture of it so I wouldn’t forget the title.

“You can get it later,” Trianne said.

“I know.”

We left the bookstore and walked down the street for a bit, reveling in the peace that had fallen over the town. It was late evening now, the temperature soft and cool. Despite the sense of calm, we knew we shouldn’t be out on the streets after dark, so we headed back to the car and decided to begin our way back to Jackson.

We weren’t too far now—a little over an hour away—but I was getting hungry, and my phone’s maps said there wasn’t anywhere to eat within thirty miles. In the end, we didn’t get anything to eat until we made it back to I-55 and out of the Delta. There, we stopped at a Love’s Travel Stop and got Arby’s. The TV mounted on the far wall played the newest season of 24 in the background as I ate loaded curly fries and a classic beef sandwich, and Trianne and I talked about the day’s events and personal ideas amidst laughter and inside jokes.

Jackson was only twenty-five minutes away when we got back on the interstate. I knew the Delta was already behind me, the reality of school and troubles and graduation dead ahead, but that odd peace I found there continued to stay with me. I now understood the love with which Richard Grant described the Delta. There really was nowhere else like it.

And once you went there, you were haunted.

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