The rain stopped as abruptly as it started, and now the late morning sun poked through the clouds and beat down on the land, bringing it to a low simmer; steam rose in vaporous wisps from the ribbon of highway that passed in front of the diner. Lucy lowered the driver’s window and then palpated the edge of her seat, soggy from the deluge; the friendly waitress had gifted her a pile of old bar mops to put under her bum. They had saved her shorts from soaking through, at least. And the electronics in her car door seemed to work still, thank the universe. An odor Lucy appraised as somewhere between stale and rancid filled the cabin, betraying chapters of other people’s stories, nameless, faceless people who had driven this little rust bucket before Lucy: The VW was but a tool for travel, she mused, and a bargain at that. She’d drive it as long as she could until…until what, she wondered. She squared her shoulders and reminded herself it took moxie to drive into the great unknown without a master plan. This is the time to do this, said the people around her before she left the city, when you’re unencumbered by attachments and responsibilities. This advice sounded plausible enough on the face of it, but maybe attachments were what she longed for after all.
She eased slowly out of the diner parking lot and onto the road, carefully nudging the car up to speed; the muffler was just a tad too loud, another maintenance box to tick in coming weeks. Ahead a twosome ambled along the highway’s shoulder; Lucy could see they were juveniles, teenage boys, one in a T-shirt and the other bare-chested, with his shirt slung over his back. Each wore jeans and a trucker cap, which in one case served to extrude a wild, curly mop of hair, and in the other, nothing but tawny skin. Neither boy was in a hurry.
As she drew closer to them, Lucy noted their lean, sinewy bodies; the bare-chested boy was covered in tattoos and his trousers were slung low around his hips, revealing washboard musculature in his belly, but also a bit too much of the nether regions below it, Lucy decided. A girl who dresses like that must carry a heavier burden, she mused. And where were those girls in this town? What were they called, and how would they write the chapters of their own stories? Or maybe they expected someone else would write them, like this pair walking down the road. Did the girls in this town want loafers like these to sweep them up onto a stallion before riding off into the sunset for a beautiful lifetime of devotion?
Don’t hold your breath, she said aloud.
Lucy could hear the crickets and cicadas just starting to sing as she crossed over the county line and picked up speed along the highway. She had so missed them these last years. Did cicadas sing the girls here to sleep at night, through the screens in their open bedroom windows? Or did these girls know there was anything in life to miss? Lucy’s mind wandered to an earlier conversation with her beloved Aunt Jo, who’d had rare occasion to leave the city, for the 60-plus years of her life thus far. “You know, Aunt Jo,” Lucy beamed, “there’s a great big country out there, with a lot to see, that-a-way.” She gestured toward the west, with exaggeration. “And there’s an awful lot of humanity squished into a relatively small piece of real estate here.” Lucy formed a tiny box with both her thumbs and forefingers, and squinting, peered through it with one eye.
Jo wheezed her greasy, congested sounding smoker’s laugh at this notion and without missing a beat, quipped, “Are you suggesting we should…spread out?” The two of them had collapsed in giggles. Already Lucy missed her Aunt Jo.
Maybe the girls here missed somebody, too.