off-ramp, five

On my way back from the carnival lot on its last night, I stop by the baseball diamond to say goodbye to Billy. He’s up to bat and I watch him strike out.

He ignores me when I stand behind him, the metal fence between us. I see his good Christian parents up in the bleachers.

“This is it, Billy. This is the way it ends,” I tell him.

“I’ll get another go,” he says, not even turning around to look at me.

Poor Billy. He thinks I’m talking about baseball.

*   *   *

That night I hear Sunny’s boots hit our weathered patio. I am in a nightdress and when I press my belly up against the dirty screen door, I can feel its webbing almost as if on bare skin. Sunny looks at me through the screen a blank moment. I can’t see much of him. There is not even breath. Then he opens the door just enough to slide his hand in and take my wrist, and before I know it I am walking to his truck with my hand in his.

I don’t think I knew I could leave before I met Sunny Jethro. I wanted to, but I didn’t really know how to make it happen. But next to his beautiful old denim body, I feel like anything is possible.

“What does Rachel Belmont want?” he asks, as we’re careening down the road in his truck, Sunny’s hand on my almost womanly leg.

I know, but don’t answer. I look down at my hands and imagine the eerie beauty they would hold with no lines or creases, just the smoothness of river rocks.

*   *   *

On that first night away from home, and many nights after that, Sunny pulls the truck over on the side of the road and prepares a makeshift bed in the back of it. We crawl in and it is strange, being vehicular newlyweds. We are miles away from the highway or any town. I have never been so alone with a person.

Sunny is tired from so much driving, I guess. He lays back and falls asleep almost instantly, leaving me watching for shooting stars and wondering just what kind of animal makes that noise. This goes on until I surrender to the physical warmth of Sunny’s underground body, which wakes enough to initiate me into its true existence. Then we slide into sleep together.

When morning comes, I am the first one up, the first to discover where we’ve landed. The air smells so pristine and Sunny’s hair peaking out from under the blankets glows in the morning sun. I slip into my jeans and climb over the side of the truck, which is slick with morning dew. Every little plant and brush in sight is wet, crystallized by moisture and sun. Even the spider webs are glistening. The whole world seems new and reborn. And it feels to me that even the lizards that skitter out of my way as I walk feel the way I do. Feel the beauty and freshness of this new day. I walk and walk, greeting the morning and praising the planet’s immaculate visions.

I walk so far that I decide that I may as well continue to the edge of the ridge, which seemed much closer when I started towards it. Meanwhile, I keep glancing back nervously as I make my way there, not wanting to go so far by myself, but also not wanting to be discovered. Until finally I glance back and Sunny is my distant shadow.

We reach the ridge together and climb down a dusty slope to swim in a slow-running stream with fish as big as I’ve seen. The water is cool. Sunny swims behind me like a cloak. I can’t tell if the water creates the softness, or he does, but there is nothing to be afraid of here.

Afterwards, we lie on the cracked earth to dry. When we stand, we leave wet impressions that fade while we dress. Then it is back to the car with glistening salt-warmed bodies and miles and miles of highway.

Days pass.

*   *   *

I have no one to send postcards to of Amarillo, of Santa Fe, of Durango, but I look at them anyway. I look at all the postcards. At each truck stop café, I spend my time waiting for food at the turnstile of cards.

“Ooooh,” I say, surprised, the first time I find a card of a sight we’ve seen. I motion for Sunny to come and look.

Sunny is cheerful but indifferent. He is unmoved by what we have seen. He would rather crack jokes with the hairspray waitresses.

“C’mon. Sit down.” He pins my arms from behind and pulls, beckoning me back to the booth.

“In a sec,” I whisper, scooting free. But a second often turns into my rummaging through an aisle of oddball souvenirs while my oatmeal or grilled cheese sandwich goes cold.

There is just so much to see. So much going on that I didn’t know. I grow to feel that the strange rock candies and hand-painted ashtrays contain the hidden secrets of the universe. Never mind the people, who Sunny chides me for not noticing. I am interested in their objects.

Every now and then, I pocket something that strikes me as being real, and I take it out of the store to see what will happen. Like the tiny leather coin pouch with a golden phoenix beaded on the front. I position it carefully in the desert one night, near where we park the truck. Roadside alter to the land that belongs to me, but doesn’t.

Sunny doesn’t understand, but for whatever reason, I don’t need him to. There are things I don’t understand about him either. Like how he can spend hour after hour on that guitar we keep behind the truck’s seat, and still never get any better.

But the things that keep us separate are the things that bring us together, and when we’re riding away empty miles, I feel an indescribable affinity with everything at the same time. I can get lost in that oneness until it is no more than illusion. Then I’ll come to and realize that the scenery has changed, or the lighting, or the weather.

Time passes in turns.

Sometimes I lie my head down in Sunny’s lap and he’ll sing quiet songs that float around the cab. Other times I pull my hair back and hang my head out the window, making faces in the passenger side mirror to discover just how many people I can be.

At night we snuggle and love under the big sky. One night I wake up so entangled with Sunny that I can’t tell which parts belong to me and which parts belong to him.

This is our life. There is never a plan, there is no destination.

And it is like this for a windblown ever.

3 thoughts on “off-ramp, five

  1. I meant that in a good way – like, “this is so intriguing I want to know more about her” not, “this is too vague, I wish I knew more about her. “

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