”You want sugar with that?”
He looked at her a moment, considering.
“Will it get me to Sedona?”
Her expression taunted him.
“No honey, but I got something in back that might.”
He looked at her hands, big soft puffy ones. He wondered if she’d ever been to California, if she’d ever been anyplace.
“You got any pie back there?”
She took a step back, looking him over, just like all the others.
“I don’t think so.”
She looked him right in the eye. “I think we’re all outta pie today.”
They always were.
“Well, never mind then.”
He turned and looked towards the door.
“You got anybody there?”
Conversation he didn’t need. “No, I’m just goin’.”
He swung back to look at her. “Is that alright with you?”
He didn’t wait for her reply, just continued.
“I gotta get there by morning.”
“Yeah, everybody always does.”
She bent over to pick up his empty plate.
“It won’t matter, ya know.”
He swung himself away from her, sealing his fate.
He gave here two twenties, and got up to leave.
“Thanks ma’am, it’s been a treat.”
He didn’t bother answering her query, just kept walking. It didn’t matter. Outside it was hot, dusty.
“A man could lose himself out here.” He reminded himself.
“A man could die”.
He made his way over to the only truck parked outside. As he climbed in, he thought about the woman behind the counter, and sighed.
He listened to the engine roar to life, grateful that it fired. Maybe he’d make it after all.
He drove steady, feeling the vibration, feeling the heat rising up out of the mist to greet him.
He’d forgotten, again, how much he missed the desert, how much he missed it all.
When the engine started crackling, he wasn’t surprised. It seemed somehow that it was meant to be. He drove on regardless, wondering how much further he’d go.
Didn’t take long. Soon enough the engine died, and he and the truck rolled to a heavy stop.
He knew what was behind him, so he looked up ahead. Nothing he hadn’t seen before. He also knew that out there, beyond the black, beyond the heat, were the mountains. He knew he’d never get there too.
He pulled out a pack and fired up, thinking once again about the woman behind the counter. He smiled, knowing she would be amused.
Headlights travel forever when there’s nothing there to stop them – someone would be passing by soon enough. He considered a nap.
He felt it pulling him in, taking him away. He relaxed, and told himself it didn’t really matter, and let it overtake him.
When the light came through, he wasn’t sure if it was only in his head. He let it dance around inside before opening his eyes.
He wondered for a moment how long he’d been there, how much time he’d lost, how much time was left.
But then he remembered, once again. It didn’t really matter.
He fixed his eyes on the twin beams, and waited.
He waited until he could make out the car behind them.
He wondered who it might be, as he pulled his body from the truck. He wondered if it would matter, if things would be alright.
He stood up straight, in the middle of the road, raised his hands, and prepared for the worst.
He listened for the engine to slow, the wheels on the road. He listened to his heart beat, and was rewarded with a sign.
The car pulled off the road, and stopped right behind his truck.
The woman behind the wheel looked straight at him, and then slowly opened her door. She kept her eyes on him as she shut it behind her, and then as she walked right up to him.
He couldn’t help but smile. Women in the desert aren’t afraid of anything.
“Need a lift?”
He looked at her for a moment, and wondered what to say. Life became too obvious at times.
It seemed enough.
He watched her walk beside him. Back to her car. He wondered if she was crazy, or if it was only him. He offered her a cigarette, and then gave her a light. He tried to speak, but there was nothing left to say. They drove in silence, deep into the night. They drove in emptiness, and listened to the wind. He wondered if she’d ever been, or if she’d ever left. He wondered if she would stay.
“Yeah”, she replied. It was.
He turned to look at her, and she returned his smile.
“You have no idea where you’re goin, do ya?”
“No.” he paused. “I don’t”.
She turned and looked up the road.
“Looks like we’re going there.”
It was a small gas station, with another small diner.
On the way to Sedona.
The Long Road
”You want sugar with that?”