It’s stupid to try to walk through the desert from Painted Rocks to Tucson with only half a bottle of water in my handbag. But I’m doing so anyway.
I’m still hitching … even if there will never be another car …
I didn’t want to blow the money that I took from him on a plane ticket back in Miami. If I first set foot in an airport with a plan only to go to Phoenix – or perhaps as far as LA – I knew I would let panic seduce me and spend them all on a ticket for the San Juan Fernandez Islands or someplace else so far away nobody knew it existed. But I would not feel safe anyway once I got there.
I didn’t want to rent a car, either. He’d find out for sure. He still supplies those underage flicks to Mr. Fed. He’d have access to databases or credit cards and whatever he needed to track me in 60 seconds, just for 60 seconds extra whack-time – or worse: Real time.
Or maybe I’m just paranoid. It would be like a bad Tarantino-movie if a low-life like Jeremy was ever able to blackmail somebody in authority to help find me …
But that’s just the problem. I am paranoid. So cash is the only option. And staying low …
Taxi across the South? Might as well have doled out for that plane.
Bus? Forget it. Too much info you have to give, too slow, too many mamas with screaming babies.
Last and least traceable choice: Hitch it.
So I did. Across five states.
In Orlando I was picked up by a middle-aged man with thinning hair and sweat stains all over his back. He chattered ceaselessly for the next 100 miles about his ex-wife, his purebred canary that he had recently sold for 500 dollars and some high school buddy who he was going to visit in Shreveport.
He was rambling, maybe overjoyed by finally having someone to talk to? Maybe afraid that if he stopped, I would leave again? So if he could just hold my attention for the next mile and then the next and … then I would not just be some dream he had had in a twilit 1-room condo in a Vicksburg suburb, which he swore he’d leave behind for good. He was going to change his life now, turn everything around, he said. I guess that made us kindred spirits.
I was deadly tired from hiding that day. So when some primeval instinct had assured me that the chattering hermit would be no threat, my eye-lids gave in. I dreamt, briefly, almost blissfully, of water that turned into green swirls while my dad and I sailed to the lighthouse in the dinghy a summer’s day that might as well have been as phantom-like as the imaginary high school friend whom the driver, Mr. Fitzgeorge, – (yes, that was his name) – kept babbling on about.
I thought I was … close to making it. Until a few days later. Somewhere in Nowhere.
When Jeremy found me.
We went through it all again. And then I made a choice.
I got off near the Rocks and slammed the car door into his nose and heard the bone crack like those shells you sometimes step on on the beach – old and left behind by life long ago, all brittle. My skin is prickling from the heat and my throat feels like I swallowed sand.
And sand is all there is … all that surrounds me and this river of forgotten asphalt, my only tenuous umbilical cord to a life of shopping sales and strangling predictability. The empty sky plays prism and focuses the sun right down on me. It must be trying to scorch me away from the earth …
… like Tim sometimes scorched ants with a fireglass on the veranda way – way – back in our house in Glendale. He always laughed when I said he shouldn’t hurt them.
‘They’re just ants … ‘
Strange. I minded him hurting the ants, but not the day when Tim broke Rory Mcpherson’s collar bone, pushing him off his bike, because he had called me a whore again. It wasn’t the last thing Rory would break. It wasn’t the last time I’d be called a whore, either.
I was only 11 years old. There was plenty of time for things to break and to get their proper names.
I don’t have the guts to walk right through gravel and sand and cactus any more … not after what feels like ten miles of zigzagging, trying to avoid anything that moves behind rocks, and seeing only more rocks … so I’m back on the road.
And his car is gone. He is not coming back for me.
But nobody else is coming this way, either. It must be a back road. Nobody who wants to see damn scratches on stones comes this way …
Still … it’s a road. So why aren’t there at least one car here every hour? – or every two hours? – or … ?
My head feels like all of those gazillion small cactus sprouted inside it. I feel –
Oh, wait … there’s a new car up ahead now.
That’s the only problem with illusions. They always leave you disappointed.