Fear The Pressure Cooker
The Wheel Turns

Mixed Trails

  C 14th Bday-Xmas 2007 (query) 091

In the winter of ’94, (trust me - the other numbers don’t matter. It’s all a matter of perspective), she stuffed a duffel bag full and set out.

In retrospect it wasn’t the brightest idea she’d ever had, but her head had been so buzzing, buzzing with ideas the last year or so she could no longer judge which was the proper path. 

So she chose the open road. 

She believed she had heard a song about the open road, long ago, once upon a time.  A song both cheering and inspirational and she hummed a made up bit as she walked along; surprised by how light the duffel bag seemed, how cool and crisp the air was, and wouldn’t they be surprised at home when they returned and she wasn’t there?

She trudged more miles than she’d expected that day, and camped in copse of trees just inside the national forest.  Taking care to hang her food stores high in a tree as the yellow signs suggested and smothering the campfire with dirt before zipping into that sleeping bag to sleep the sleep of the just and exhausted.

Next morning her feet were covered with blisters.  So she dug out a first aid kid, applied antibiotic cream and several layers of band-aids with Peanut characters on them, stowed her gear, and walked on.  Humming the Peanuts theme song as she went; further along the road than she’d ever been and oh so high up.  Just lookit that sky and the snow!  Mounds upon mounds of it skirting a trail hardened by those who had gone on before.   She drank plenty of water and munched trail mix and before long heard herself singing Christmas Carols.

Three days later she passed over the state line.  She sat her camera upon a rock opposite the Welcome sign (white, with blue and purple mountains), set the timer and smiled a wide smile just as it clicked.  Figuring her adventure was one for the books now.   A part of posterity to preserve for her grandchildren so long as she didn’t die from cold or starvation; so long as she wasn’t eaten by bears or dragged off by a cougar as she slept or attacked in the middle of the night by a deranged mountain man who’d either want to marry her and set up housekeeping in a cave or slice her to bits to stew up in his cookpot.

Whatever happened, she figured it would be a lot more interesting than working at the J.C. Penny’s every day, doing laundry, and dusting her mother’s two hundred and eighty seven knickknacks.

And she walked on.

Too soon she came to the end of the path.  The snow was eight feet high and yellow iron gates proclaimed “Road Closed” in that bureaucratic font she had always despised.  Of course she could easily step around those gates.  Step around or over or even through them and continue on – never, ever, stopping, just as she’d planned.

But the trail mix was running low, and winter camping was hard, and she well recollected the story of the Donner Party and all they’d suffered and, after some figuring, figured she wasn’t ready to die in those mountains just yet.  No matter how beautiful they were, how pristine the night air was, how many stars (each of them a sun!) she could nearly, nearly touch with just one outstretched finger.

So she adjusted her course a bit to the east and came upon the Last Outpost along a highway kept fairly clear of snow and stretching on for mile upon mile.  Fashioned of wood with a slopping roof, red screen porch, and an iced over gravel parking lot.  The joint smelled of coffee and bacon when she opened the door.

She ordered hot tea (because she was evidently the only person in the entire western United States who didn’t care for coffee), eggs, bacon, toast, and a slice of hot apple pie for dessert.  Yes, dessert for breakfast and with a thick slice of sharp cheddar melted on top at that.  {What would they say back home?  What would they say at all?  She imagined them as balloon faces now, sharpie drawn features with round o’s for mouths , thin startled eyebrows, and eyes scrawled in beady with streaks of white or blue balloon showing through.}

She plowed her breakfast and wandered through the tiny souvenir shop, smiling at that mug, watching a keychain spin, spotting a calendar two years old on the shelf behind the counter marked with a series of red x’s ticking off Rita’s Vacation.

And LuAnn, who owned the joint and had actually waited on her just an hour or so before noticed her staring and they got to talking, the way some people do when the time and stars are just right.  When there’s a full moon rising and twelve foot snow drifts and a store room filled with hot pie fixings and container after container of coffee beans and loose tea. And after half an hour she had a job and a little room all her own to stay the winter in just upstairs over the kitchen with a window gazing toward mountains. She’d be waiting tables and working the souvenir cash register (the kind with actual buttons, requiring a sharp finger punch, and a bell which rang as the wooden drawer sprang out).  She immediately thought of those angels and their wings when she heard that bell, and vowed to sell as many mugs and felt drawstring bags of shiny scoop and pick rocks as she was able.

There could never be too many angels.

It took a while to decide what name to put on her nametag.  A cheap plastic fold over number with a glue on safety pin clasp and her name written in LuAnn’s flourishing script on a white card slid inside; scotch taped tight. Finally she decided upon Lucia; the Italian pronunciation with a ch sound in the middle.  LuAnn said that sounded just fine and a freshly christened Lucia slipped a robin red apron over her levis the next morning and started serving up steaming platters of eggs and sausage, waffles and cinnamon apple pancakes to road sickened families and long haul truckers and the occasional college student off to “experience America” with his daddy’s American Express Card.

The Wednesday lunch special was her favorite:  a jalapeño cheeseburger with Monterey jack cheese and a side of steak fries.  And she found herself not minding each and every salad being simply a mix of iceberg lettuce and grated carrots.  She found a bit of joy peeling and mashing potatoes; watching an entire stick of butter melt in and be swept away by a whirl of her mixer.  The afternoon hikes were lonesome and full, the night sky held her up till the morning sun dawned and she’d refill her mug and begin again.

Occasionally, Lucia caught a glimpse of the duffel bag, hanging in the back of her closet and gave it a thoughtful touch.  Spring was nearing.  Yesterday, (or had it been last week?) she’d heard folks at table five talk of how pretty New Mexico was.  But then she’d always wanted to see the Atlantic. From both sides of this road she was on, if possible.


Scriptic Prompt Exchange.

For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, daily shorts at http://ashortaday.wordpress.com/ gave me this prompt: Think of something that you regret doing or not doing. Have your character do the opposite of what you did, and describe the outcome.

I gave Diane at http://theschmorgasboard.com this prompt: The magpies arrived daily