Monday, April 21, 2014

Back Across the Prairie

Lily sat at the hotel bar and watched the clouds roll down off of the mountains. He would be up there in the thick of it now, under that makeshift tent with a bottle and a cigarette. She hoped he wasn't cold without her.

"I'm going back," she said.
He didn't say anything for a long time, just looked out across the mountains and took a pull on the bottle. She produced a pack of cigarettes from the folds of her blouse and offered him one. He shook his head and pulled a Marlboro from his shirt pocket and lit it.
"Ain't you gonna say anything?" she asked after a while.
He took a drag on the cigarette. "I'll drop you in the next town."
"You aren't coming back with me?"
He shook his head. "Goin' on. Got more road ahead."
They stood then and watched the sun sink into the mountains and disappear. They climbed onto the bike and road into the dusk.

The storm was raging now. She wanted to run into it with her arms open and her head to the sky. Better judgment reminded her she didn't have much to change into, so she lit a cigarette and drank her beer, contemplating the rain and the gray black sky.

On the road east of Denver Lily saw a car approaching. She hooked a thumb and smiled. The car slowed and the door opened.
"Goin' east?" Lily asked.
"All the way to New York," said the driver. She was a girl around Lily's age, with copper hair and a spray of freckles across her face. She said her name was Mary.
"I'll go as far toward Michigan as you'll take me."
"Hop in, you can help drive!" said Mary, smiling. Lily found she did a lot of that. She smiled slowly in reply, liking the feel of it on her face.
They drove east, away from the setting sun and the mountains and the cold. Mary was going to New York to "make it" she said. She didn't mean with a boy.
"Where you headed kid?" Mary asked.
Lily sighed. "Home," she said.
"Oh yeah? You go on the run?"
"Not exactly. Hopped on a bike and road west for a time."
Mary nodded.
The hours passed and the miles slipped by beneath them. The afternoon rains dissipated and the setting sun set fire to the broken cottony clouds in the west. Lily could see it all in the rearview mirror. Ah to turn and head back into that. She understood well what drove so many west, for the grandeur and the beauty and the ever striving to catch the setting sun were things she felt pulling her heart, too. They had pulled her west, but they could not pull her all the way. The promise of something eternal lying across those great vast prairies had not been really a lie, but it had not been quite true either. She believed that somewhere in the heart of those mountains he was still riding, still searching for it. She glanced at Mary, asleep in the passenger seat, and smiled. I hope they make it she thought.
The sun yielded to twilight, and the gray and the cool were a peaceful end to the grand display of dying light. The clouds blew she knew not where, and twilight turned to night. No moon brightened the sky. Only a field of stars and the two headlights of the old Chevy lit the way.
One step is enough she remember from somewhere.

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