“Making for the open road,
differing doors can creak open,
manifesting a much heavier load.”
“Dope? You’re telling me your Mr. Rock Solid was dealing his way through law school?”
“Lawson was a tight end at UCLA with a blown-out knee, all right? His undergrad scholarship had gone up in smoke, and he wasn’t going back to Nebraska for anything. So now he’s up in Center Creek, busting cokeheads all over Lassiter County…and he’s still a good friend. Damn, I’ve gotta free up these pedals…”
“Tight end, my tush—great, just a big dumb football player. Some friends you’ve got…and what exactly are you doing down there?”
The wages of disinformation had begun consuming us over blueberry buckwheats and red-pepper poached eggs in some fringe anti-Christian café. Small talk bounded from covert phone calls to my selectively recalled saga over the Divide. Sydney answered this positive spin of mine with a breakfast polemic that continued on out Salt Lake City’s T-square predictable side streets, well beyond its flat, tree-patchy, snow melting environs to where drive-thru liquor marts met the fairgrounds and quick-sale motels. Little else of consequence was said back onto Interstate 80, where incoming tri-jetliners strafed over on approach to Salt Lake International’s 35-North, drawing Syd’s dissonant sighs and muttered cravings for airline food. Thereabouts she pulled the sleeping bag back around her ski sweater, scrunching up, bracing her knees against the dashboard for a long drive west with the conviction that whatever I was up to was not likely to generate any more heat.
“Yeah, well, Moon for one happens to think Lawson Bennaker is aces, too.” I yanked back and forth on the compact’s pedal cluster, one eye on the highway, as we neared an industrial park construction site beyond the airport. Right when it appeared, and I had freed my brake pedal, the accelerator sunk to the floor. “Damn, now it’s stuck.”
“Hmph, I’ll just bet that’s what Moon thinks…look out!!!”
One of the site’s gravel haulers had gathered a head of steam up some makeshift access road for its ramp run onto the interstate, spitting snow, hitting the shoulder at roughly the same time my squareback stampeded that way. The grossly mismatched vehicles converged on I-80’s breakdown lane like cornet and Sousaphone players at a Rosebowl halftime show. I swerved sharply, sidling up parallel to the blaring dump truck for an instant, then bounding desperately toward the median strip, a gaper’s clot of startled traffic braking several car lengths behind. The trucker peeled off nimbly rightward, powershifting down 80 West with angry horns, leaving my stalling Volks to rollerskate onto an inner shoulder, along a slushy slick backwash of leaking landfill.
“You OK,” I heaved, clutching the steering wheel as my car ground to a halt and died, its load of Sydney’s baggage shifting, then resettling sharply back and forth.
“Magnifique,” Sydney wriggled upright in her seat like protozoa in a Petri dish, just far enough to straighten her hair and black leotards. “Now, I’ll thank you to get me to the airport.”
“Well, at least my throttle cable’s loosening up,” I goosed the gas pedal while avoiding the passing stares of surging traffic. “Say what?!”
“I said I want you to drop me back at the airport.” She twisted the rearview mirror toward the passenger seat, licking traces of cherry red lipstick off her fine front teeth. “You don’t think I’m going another mile in this deathtrap, do you?”
“Sure, fine,” I cranked the wagon, glancing over my shoulder, buckwheat heartburn setting in. “That’s the way you want it, you wrestle all your crap into the terminal. Far as I’m concerned, I can’t wait to phone Moon and get back to Boulder…”
“Moon—yes…phone…Moon,” Syd paused. She followed my glance aft wagon to her scattered luggage as the last standing suitcase toppled in the sidedraft of a passing Greyhound. Then she poked my shoulder, suddenly bursting into a smile. “Got-cha! I was just jo-king…”
“I don’t see what’s so damn funny.” I fuel injected the engine, pressure tested the brakes.
“All that academia’s zapped your sense of humor or what?” She twisted the mirror toward me once again, tapping my knee, then slithered back down into the sleep bag. “C’mon, let’s quite spinning our wheels here and get rolling again…”
“What say we stick with airport plan…” Suddenly I hated this. And I wasn’t much into her act either. That I knew—intuitively, intellectually—her thermal reactor temperament and gyroscopic ways; it roiled up like grease-fried sausage. I even hated myself for being here with her, then hated myself more for baggin’ on her so fast—damn, where was this all headed? Wasatch snow peaks and Temple Square shadowed my side mirrors as I accelerated onto I-80, to the heavy horn of an onrushing Monte Carlo. I did want to call Melissa and ask her straight out how she could get me into this. Better yet, how did sister superior here wheedle Moon into getting me into this?
I picked that sore all the way out past the low-lying Stansbury Mountains, backdrop to the dingy quarries and salt plants west of Salt Lake City, a thicket of tall, pencil-thin smokestacks coughing anthracite gray billows into an already hazy sky. Red pepper, blueberry syrup: the whole thing left a dry, brackish taste in my mouth. Still, I pressed ahead in silence on Melissa’s behalf, fidgeting with the squareback’s balky gas linkage, stealing an occasional glance at this bindle of headaches rustling beside me, drawing up into the fetal mode. So help me, I came this very close to reaching over and full-speed shoving her out the door.
“Why don’t you just kick it into cruise control,” her voice muffled through alternating layers of rayon and ruffled feathers. “It’s a straight shot from here to Nevada…thing seems to have a mind of its own, anyway…a whole lot more than a heater.”
“Cruise control? Don’t press your…” I bit hard and retreated into the rearview mirrors. “Think it’ll be OK now…”
“Better be. You have my precious life in your hands,” she re-braced her knees against the glove box. “Broadsiding through the Rockies was bad enough, but that last little move was too much, even for me…”
“You knew about the spinout up by Steamboat? But you were snoring worse than my father does about then.”
“I can snore with my eyes open,” she said, snaking her hands up out of the Frostline bag toward her brow. “Can even turn my eyelids inside out and bend my fingers over the tops of my knuckles. I can do all sorts of twisted things…” Whatever else, she acted as though she knew this terrain like the back of her hand. Dead flat, runway straight: just jam a broom handle through the steering column and brick down the gas. Strange part was she knew Melissa knew the basic terrain, as well—throw friends together, stir in the stock. Yet school had let out, and here we all were. Curiouser and curiouser: As Brigham Young’s Deseret dissolved in her door mirror, this seemed to placate yet perturb her no end.
Faced with her pink underlids and bloodshot sclera, I hastily averted toward the sooty salt piles, the snowy, butchered hills that tapered down by steam shoveled gradients into the broad abject emptiness of Great Salt Lake Basin. Syd responded by drawing up the strings of her sleeping bag. With each mile marker, sniffs of acknowledgement met with nodding resignation. Things she didn’t want to talk about sideswiped things I didn’t want to hear, but something had to give, so I plowed through the impasse. “Hey, I’ve seen worse.”
“That some sort of compliment?”
“No, I mean spinouts, close calls…like, with Moon. When we first caravanned out to Boulder from Chicago, I was leading us along I-70 in this heap; she was pulling a U-Haul with her Toyota. Halfway through Kansas, we hit this hellaceous ice storm—about four inches thick, glowing in the road lights. But Moon was going along great, flashing me with her brights…”
“What, no his-and-her CB radios,” she resurfaced, from the crew neck up.
“Right, roger that,” I snipped, resisting her resistance, then signaled to pass a laboring potash hauler with the care and deliberation due this half-thawed stretch of interstate. “Anyway, we were crawling along, cross winds pushing us lane to lane. Before I know it, some semis are roaring by, hemming us in. Soon as the last one blows past, I check my mirrors, and she’s jackknifing in the backdraft. All of a sudden, her left rear snow tire shoots off…whole wheel bounced across the median strip in front of an oncoming motor home. I was sure the trailer was going to flip, but she steered the whole rig under control somehow, then skated off to the side. I pulled over, chased the wheel while she dug out her tools and jacked up the Toyota—fully loaded, yet. It was incredible, she did the whole damn pit stop herself…she can be amazing that way…”
“I know better. Melissa is more like a little nestling in this world, a precious hummingbird who needs protection above all,” she replied, surveying the littoral landscape up ahead. “That what you want to be, Kenneth—her full-time father protector?”
“Naw, that’s not the Moon I know.”
“Hmph, call that great?”
“That…lake,” she idly pointed through the wing vent, burying her nose. “When next I open my eyes, make this be Tahoe…”
Care for more?
Chapter 9. Lunarscape dead ahead,
with some coarser things perhaps
better left unsaid…