Steven Marshall Newton
Art by Steven Marshall Newton
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 107 in 2004.
She's standing on the shoulder of the road in a downpour, wearing a white, mud splattered wedding dress. It looks like she must have run into Zorro because there's a thin, red slash of blood in the shape of a "Z" across the front of it. She's wearing black cowboy boots and a beat-to-shit, straw, cowboy hat, but she doesn't look much like a cowboy to me. She looks more like one of those anorexic runway models that's so fried on smack she can't make it down the runway without falling on her butt so she gets a job modeling brassieres at Sears. And judging by the look of the coal black river of mascara that's pouring down her cheeks, she must have been crying for a long time. But what do I know? I'm a truck driver, for all the good that English degree did me. It's none of my business. I'm not a marriage counselor. Something's telling me that I should just put the peddle to the metal and slam that damned hammer down, but I can't leave a drop dead gorgeous woman out there like that, alone, crying her eyes out in the cold Montana rain.
When I pull over she hikes up her wedding dress and edges her way up the ladder cautiously like she's checking the cab for fleas before she finally crawls on in. "What took you so long," she says, in some kind of French accent with a west Texas twang. If I was her, and thank God I'm not, I wouldn't be so picky about who picked me up. But I can use the company, strange as she seems, and this load of black Angus T-bones on wheels that I'm hauling can use a breather. I get out to check on their feed. They seem to appreciate the attention. Cows are stupid.
I finally decide, against my better judgement, to ask her what her name is. She reaches over and peeks up under my Stetson and she says, "what difference does it make?" She's switched over to speaking broken Spanish now in a west Texas accent and I can't tell where the hell's she's from. Or where the hell she thinks I'm from. I've got blond hair and blue eyes, do I look Spanish? The next thing I know she shucks off her high heels and fires them right through the window. When they bang off the Mercedes that's passing by in the oncoming lane it sounds like a horse threw a shoe through a plate glass window. I just gun it and don't look back. This trip just keeps getting longer.
I take a quick glance at her face. I've seen that look before on the faces of soldiers that know they're most likely going home in a box. She switches to some kind of half-baked French accent. "Cowboys are lazy and reckless," she says, "and most of zeem are crazy, so tell me, why eeze it that I like zeem like zat?" I'm guessing she stole that line from a country-and-western song, but I can't be sure of anything anymore.
I tell her I'm no shrink but I know this is going to be a long ride if we don't get a few things straight. First I tell her, "I'll take you as far as Chicago and that's it. Cut and dry. Keep it simple. I'm no Oprah Winfrey and don't want to get involved in your whacked out love life."
She's cowering over there in the corner like I just took a swing at her, so I back off. And it gets me thinking, what kind of sick son-of-a-bitch would leave anyone as pretty as her out here like this. She must be a mind reader because she whispers in my ear in a crybaby rasp, "nobody left me. I left heem."
Well now I'm thinking, I better just shut up and drive. But I can't help but look over at her again. It's hard not to. She looks defeated, like a thoroughbred horse thief with two black eyes and a rope around her neck, pleading for a last cigarette. Unfortunately I don't smoke and don't know what to do for her. "You want me to get you a motel room so you can wash up and straighten yourself up," I ask her. I don't know what the hell made me say that, but no self respecting rat would want to use the toilet in my rig. She looks hurt, like we haven't driven ten miles and already I'm trying to put her out with the trash. "No," she says. Just drive." Ten minutes later she changes her mind and says, in a dopey southern-fried English accent, "ok, maybe a motel's good. There's one right over thar. Pull over." What are you going to do? Women.
I check her into the motel and sit outside her room in my truck. She comes out five minutes later wearing nothing but a cherry red bikini bottom and a man's, white T-shirt. She's been crying again and she looks like a wet raccoon. Her hair's soaked but the water freezes before it can drip to the ground. She leans up towards me and asks, "you coming in? I'm too tired to go any further and I'm afraid to be by myself. You mind?" Damned right I mind. My boss catches me with an underage hitchhiker who's flopping around barefoot in her underwear and I'll be slopping out hog barns in Kansas for a living. "No thanks," I tell her, "I'll be just fine up right here in my rig. I gotta a sleeper and microwave and a shower. It's a regular Motel 6 in here." She starts pouting and stomps her pretty pink bare feet in the freezing slush. "Why didn't you tell me?" she says. "I hate motels." Then she runs back to her room, grabs her purse and her dress, tucks a Gideons Bible under her arm, and scrambles on back up beside me., "Let's ride!" she says. How fast'll this thing go?"
She's obviously feeling better but I'm not buying it. She's made a suspiciously lightening quick recovery if you ask me and I'm beginning to wonder if maybe she's on something, so I just come right out and ask her. "You a junkie or what?"
"Noooo, silly" she says. "For goodness sakes. You the DEA or something?"
"Noooo," I mock her. I'm CIA. Spread em!" Ha ha. I thought that was funny. She sure didn't. "You think that's something to joke about?" she snaps. "My almost-husband's a Cuban drug dealer and told me that if he ever sees me again he'll rip my heart out and eat it for supper. He snorts so much coke he thinks he's Scarface. I found out on my way to the church that the doped up freak already has a wife in Miami."
All I'm thinking is, this is all I need. And imagining how her razor toting, crack head boyfriend might have taken getting stood up at the alter, I can't resist asking her, "is that how you got that "Z" on your chest?"
"No. I did that trying to cut my dress off after my fiancè's best man sprung the beeeg surprise about the little woman he's got stashed down there in Florida. My maid of honor had me sausaged into that damned dress so tight I couldn't pee straight so I had to slice eet off."
Oh, boy, I'm thinking, can this get any worse? "Look," I tell her. "I got no beef with Juan Pizarro, or Fidel Castro, or whoever the hell your boyfriend is. I don't need any trouble. I'm just a truck driver with a load of surly sirloins headed for the feed lots in Chicago. How about we just drive and you keep the waterworks on hold and your little, one horse soap opera to yourself till we get there, ok?"
Ok," she says, "but don't worry. My boyfriend is so coked up he can't even find his own shadow. Chances are he won't even miss me. I only agreed to marry him in the first place so I could get a green card." Her accent keeps switching back and forth from Spanish to French to English and back again, and I'm thinking that if Juan Valdez, or whatever her boyfriend's name is, had found out about her only agreeing to marry him so she could get a green card, well then, yeah, maybe he did have a legit gripe, ya know? Who could blame him? In the mean time, I decide to just keep an eye on my back door and keep my mind on the road. I'm thinking to myself that Chicago just keeps getting farther and further away.
The stoned cold silence is lasting longer than both of my marriages. Queen Isabelle, or Marie Antoinette, or whatever her frigging name is, is over there squashed up against the shotgun seat door, rummaging through my glove compartment, looking for something or other. Probably a gun. I wouldn't put it past her. Fortunately I'm not packing heat this trip and let her wander through my maps and weight logs. But all she finds is a left over, silk slip. Maybe I'll get lucky and she'll find the rubbers I can't find in there. She does, but doesn't seem to know what they are. "You got any thing to eat in here?" she asks. "Yeah, I got a Porterhouse steak, a couple pheasants under glass, and a bottle of French Bordeaux in there, keep looking." My not-so-subtle sarcasm seems lost on her "You got any tootsie rolls?" she asks. "I looove Tootsie Rolls." "Lady, I got a tire gauge, a buck knife, and four pair of panty hose somebody left behind in that damned thing, but Tootsie Rolls I ain't got. You want me to stop and buy you lunch? My treat." She brightens a bit but it's a no go. "I just wanted some candy," she says. Shit, I'm thinking, I knew it. She's a speed freak. Only crank heads eat nothing but candy. Just my frigging luck. "You sure you're not a junkie," I feel compelled to ask her. "No. I just have a sweet tooth," she says, and gives me one of those wily coyote smiles that's supposed to explain everything.
We're still rumbling down the interstate towards Chicago, burning daylight, and I'm staring into the face of a nasty blue norther that's roaring down from Alberta and blowing sleet and hail all over the dirty gold, Nebraska plains. I look over at Miss France and notice her sobbing quietly into a questionably clean, silk handkerchief that she may, or may not have, found in the glove box. There's something about the girl that I can't quite put my finger on. It's creepy how sweet she looks but she's got sad eyes. Must have had one hell of a life down there in Guatemala, or Venezuela, or wherever she's from. It's hard not to feel something for somebody that lost. But I keep my hands welded to the wheel. I got enough problems without getting snowed by a jilted dope fiend hitchhiker in a sliced up, raggedy ass wedding dress. Tears don't work on me. Normally. I turn on Merle Haggard and watch the cold, white slash of the Nebraska state line disappear in my rear view mirror.
She's up there making herself right at home and stretches out across both seats with nothing much else on but the Des Moines weather report. Christ, it's not like I'm a sicko or anything, but after all, I am a guy, for Christsakes. If she takes anything else off I don't know what I'll do. Thank God she keeps her panties on and I don't have to find out. She's asking an awful lot of me, and there is something about her. Maybe it's the way she tilts her head like she's listening to the ocean when I'm talking to her, I don't know. She's nothing like any of the other women I meet on the road. She's got moxie, like they say about the women in those old black and white movies. It takes guts to put yourself at the mercy of people like me. She doesn't know who I am. I could be a neo-Nazi, serial killer that makes lampshades out of women's' skin for all she knows. But I have to admit, it is nice having her here, even if she does talk wierd.
That next night I pull over to get us both something to eat. It takes a still moving filet mignon, three baked potatoes, four Coronas, and a piece of fresh baked peach pie with homemade vanilla ice cream on top to get her to, but she finally tells me her name. She says it's Alice and that she's from Brazil. But I don't believe her. She looks more like a Francoise or an Esmeralda to me. Reading my mind again, she says, "you know those accents I've been using? They're just something I put on to keep undercover INS agents from figuring out where I'm from." And then she gives me the evil eye, like she's expecting maybe that I'll crack and confess. Personally, I think she talks like that because she's a spaced-out, pill popping psycho that hustles free rides to Chicago from suckers like me, that's what I think, but I don't say anything. Like I said, she is awfully cute.
It's three years later and I'm hauling a load of mad cows from Denver to Omaha when I see a pretty little, tear-stained woman, not much more than a girl really, wearing a ripped, mud smeared wedding dress, leaning up against the shoulder of the road crying. I can't believe it. She looks at me like a whipped puppy that expects me to run her over. I start to goose my brakes when I get this tap on my arm. "Don't even think about it," Alice says.