"Ever onward," he thought. That was what his grandfather had always said. It was the motto of a life well lived.
His feet rasped lightly across the cool stone tiles. The sun was just slipping inside the room, the light dancing about as the curtains swayed in the morning breeze. He pulled them aside to look out the window, sipping his drink as he did so. The ice rattled in his glass and the chilled rye seemed to drop straight down into the pit in his stomach, where it burned and warmed but did not fill.
His skin tingled with something like anticipation, with the dread of what was coming. From his breast pocket he took a silver chain with a small medallion on the end of it. The source of all his hope, and all his uncertainty, lay in that small, swinging object. He took another drink.
They were drunk. That was nothing, they had been drunk many times before. A silver moon hung low and perfect above the mountains behind her adobe. He held up the bottle of cheap mezcal. It was nearly empty.
"We are sooo pissed right now," he slurred in a bad accent.
She laughed and hit his chest. "You spend one month travelling around Britain and you think you get a lice... a lice," she hiccuped and tried again,"a lie... sins..." she hiccuped again, "to use their... words."
He laughed. "I'm sorry."
"I forgive you, kiss me."
He did. He felt the heat of the fire in her lips, saw the dancing flames reflected in her blue eyes, like two sapphires glowing with drink and lust. Her black hair shimmered in phosphorescent waves. She tasted like mezcal and cigarettes. It was wonderful.
She pressed a hand against his chest, gently this time. Her hand found something in the breast pocket. She pulled her lips away just enough to speak. "What's this?"
"I don't know." He fumbled for a minute with the snap. At last he managed to open the pocket and removed a thin, silver chain with a medallion at the end. On one side was an image of a woman in long flowing robes, standing with her hands down and her palms open, beckoning. Rays of light emanated from her fingertips and the fringe of her cape. There was writing around the edge, probably Latin, he thought, but in the flickering light and the mezcal-fueled haze, he could not be sure. The silver flashed in the firelight, clothing the woman with a warm glow.
'It's beautiful..." she whispered. "What is it?"
"A gift, from an old friend." His eyes misted over and his thoughts trailed off down into the valley of memories. Old sensations prodded at his senses, trying to break through the booze and the fire and the warmth of the girl who was pressed against him. He shook them away and returned the chain to his pocket. "It was nothing," he said.
"It was a beautiful gift," she said.
She awoke to the sound of an engine sputtering, coughing, growling, then finally turning over. Throwing back the curtains, she watched as his El Camino hobbled its way down the gravel path away from her house. A suspicion grabbed ahold of her, and she darted outside, leaving the sheet she had been clutching around her in a twisted mess by their bed. He was already too far away, already beyond the reach of her voice as she called his name, praying him to return. She stood, naked in the morning sun, a hole forming in her stomach, growing and devouring her from the inside.
Her feet were bruised and scratched from racing across the gravel. She noticed that, now, as she turned and stepped gingerly back to the house. The adobe already looked empty. She wondered if she was insane. She didn't know, really, that he was gone, she only knew he had left. Perhaps he would return. Perhaps he only wanted a morning drive in the desert. In that hole inside her, though, she knew that was never how it was. It was always leaving. If she'd ever settled down, it would have been... she thought, anyway, that he would have been her kind. She had left so many, and been left behind by so many. Why did this one hurt?
On the table next to her bed she saw the note.
It breaks my heart, it really does, but I must. There's a bell ringing for me somewhere, and I have to find it.
She flopped back down on the bed and read the note, once, twice, and again. Then she crumpled it and let it fall. Only then did she notice the chain around her neck, the tiny silver pendant that she had seen in the firelight under a full spring moon. She sat there on the edge of the bed, clutching the medal in her hand and whispering words, she knew not which, perhaps a prayer, though she never had.
In the distance he heard the bell at the old Jesuit mission, ringing the six o'clock hour miles away. The sound stirred something inside him, some longing for peace, for beauty. The Wandering One, he called himself. He sought beauty in the world and peace in the calm of nature, the arms of a lover, a travelling companion through life. Roads diverged, recrossing sometimes, but more often leading to new people, new embraces, the desert, the mountains, the forests, the seas, the farmland, all these he had seen and known, and he would know more, always searching. He never wanted to stop searching. The finding did not interest him, but the bell did. It's rich voice called him back to the road. He would visit the bell first. Then the road would lay itself out before him, opening into the distance He knew then what he had known since the night he found the silver chain - it was time to move on. He liked her, perhaps even loved her, but he could not stay for her. Other roads waited. Other loves and hopes.
He dropped a handful of ice into a glass, splashed a double of rye over it, and took a drink. "Ever onward," he whispered.