THURSDAY: A Familiar Road

BY FRANK T. SIKORA

Copyright is held by the author.

HENRY STARED at the old woman sitting naked on the edge of the motel bed, legs crossed, reading the newspaper. Look at her, he thought. She must be 60 years old. “Jesus, sweet baby Jesus,” he mumbled. “What have I done now?”

“Something wrong?” the woman asked. “You’re praying again.”

“Yeah–I mean, no,” he said and turned to face the mirror. Of course, as suspected, he had been in the darkness a long time. He had lost 15 pounds and his hair now hung to his shoulders. Great. Now I am the long-hair-sleeping-with-old-women guy, he thought. Well, at least I’ve lost weight. He turned back toward the woman. She wasn’t terrible looking. At one time she might have been a beauty, a real hit at Woodstock. Still, it was time to get into the car and drive. “Have you seen my travel bag?”

“It’s in the closet.”

“Thanks.”

“Care to tell me why your ‘travel’ bag contains a .45 automatic and about $30,000 in cash?”

Uh-oh, this can’t be good, Henry thought and opened the closet door. He bent to one knee and took a breath. As he unzipped the bag’s straps, he paused and said, “You looked in my bag? That’s a bit personal.”

The woman smiled. It was a nice smile, mischievous. “Sorry, but you made such a big deal about hiding it, guarding it like a secret every night. I couldn’t resist. What do you expect?”

“Privacy,” Henry said. “Respect for boundaries.”

“Seriously? Boundaries?”

“Yeah,” Henry said, “boundaries. A concept worth considering.”

“Fine, but please tell me you won the money at the casino and you’re not laundering money for drug dealers or selling Meth.”

“Heaven only knows,” he said and tossed off the shirts and slacks covering the bag’s contents. He exhaled. Yep, one .45 and one big old pile of money. Okay, now I’m intrigued. He ran his hands through the stacks. “It looks more like 50,000.”

The woman leaned back on her elbows. “Again, care to explain?”
“At this moment, I think I will pass.” Henry quickly repacked the bag and slipped it over his shoulders, then stood. “Okay then, I guess it’s time to go.”

“Seriously? At least tell me where we’re going.”

“We? I don’t know about you, but I’m going home,” Henry said. “I’ve been away too long.”

“Ah, North Dakota. Works for me.”

“Yeah, North Dakota,” Henry said, thinking, great, I told her where I live.

***

Henry kept his eyes fixed on the road, both hands on the wheel, hoping the woman would just keep quiet. Give me one hour of peace, he thought, or even 15 minutes. The road lay stretched out to the horizon, a straight shot across the desert to the mountains.

“I can’t believe you don’t remember anything about us,” the old woman said for what had to be the 15th time that day. “You woke up this morning and nothing? The money? The gun? Where we were? Us? It’s all a blank?”

“In the proverbial big old nutshell, yes,” said Henry, pressing the accelerator. “Well not completely. Places feel familiar. Faces stir feelings. Not much else. It’s like I’m always driving in a fog, and occasionally I come to clear stretches. Like now. But it never lasts long.”

“You have to remember something,” she said, twitching in her seat. The sun treated her cruelly, exposing every aged line. “How do you live? Survive?”

“I get along,” Henry said. He watched her fix her hair, running a comb through it every 10 or so minutes. Despite her age, she was vain about her looks. She did possess an attractive body —great tits, probably surgically enhanced. He reached out to stroke her leg. “I do know why I like you.”

She pushed him away. “I’m more than that.”

“Jesus. What do you want from me? I’m giving you my best. We’re together because we like to screw. We have this attraction.What’s wrong with that? Call us lovers. Go ahead. Call us friends, fine. But we’re nothing more. Keep pushing me and I’ll drop you off right here. I’m sure there’s a trucker who will pick you up. You can screw your way to the Dakotas.”

“Sorry,” she said softly, turning toward the window. “It must be hard, living with the gaps, these loose ends. The money.The gun. Forgetting loved ones.”

God, these questions. And for what? Pussy, and old pussy, at that. Henry shifted into fifth, pushing the old Charger past 90 mph. It was only when he drove that he felt in control.

“You think I am a terrible person and I don’t care about you or others. Probably. You think I am a thief? Yeah, why not? Hell, I’m sure I am capable of most anything…” Henry’s voice trailed. His hands felt numb. His vision narrowed, encroached by darkness at its edges. He looked over at the woman. She had begun to cry.

“Aww, please don’t,” he said. “I hate it when women cry. It makes me…” What am I supposed to feel, Henry wondered? Sad? Obligated? No. Just angry.

Three miles later he pulled the car over.

***

They drove under a stark black night filled with stars. They had the road to themselves. Henry spun the radio dial, searching for a melancholy song, a late-night talk show, but found only static. He didn’t mind. He found beauty in the emptiness, perhaps peace.

He looked in the backseat where the old woman lay silent, stretched out with one arm across her eyes, her breathing slow and shallow. Seven hours before he screwed her behind an abandoned gas station. It was all he could do to stop her crying. Afterward she began talking again, the same questions, and the same complaints: “You treat me like I don’t matter. I do. I’m not nothing.” On and on. Endless. Familiar. The afternoon dragged on into night. Eventually, she stopped talking. Finally she went to sleep.

God, why must women always have everything wrapped up so neatly? Henry lamented. What’s wrong with a few loose ends? Why do I have a gun? I don’t know. Why all the cash? Don’t know that either. “Don’t you love me?” She had asked. You think this is love?

Henry exhaled. The air felt stale, hot. He rolled down the window and glanced back one more time at the woman. He felt his heart skip. Shivers slithered across his limbs. It was she, of course. Who else? A bond forged at birth.

Now it all came back, how it had all begun when he was a kid; her terrible and hungry lust — his acceptance. The regrets. The shame.

He pressed the accelerator and waited, no prayed, for the return of the comforting darkness.

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