"Well, this is awkward,” she thinks to herself, squatting beside the brick wall. Her urine rolls down the sloping concrete in a thin stream, pooling up around the broken glass. She pushes the last drops out and stands up quickly to yank her underwear back under her skirt. The potato chip wrapper floats lightly as the urine flows underneath it. And then the breeze smacks her in the face and tells her it’s time to get moving again.
She watches the road. Squinting with all of her might she tries to conjure a car into existence, illustrating its form in the deep cotton of night. It appears. Sometimes she can’t tell the difference between fate and determination. When she wants something to happen why should it not. When Willis went screaming into the ice bucket that time he shot his own finger off, did she not will it into being. She watches the headlights dilate.
“Looking for me?” he says.
“I guess so,” she says. “Can I get a ride?”
“Of course,” he says.
“You want anything?”
“Nothing. Hop in.”
His cigarette ember pricks the darkness. She runs her hands over the skirt on her thighs, rubbing out the wrinkles like her hands were irons. Just running the fabric smooth and steady as she felt the hairs on her thighs catch. Then the hot twitching inside her begins again, and she tries not to bend over.
“It’s funny, I don’t really see many women like you. I see all sorts of strangers, though. Mostly kids who are just running away and sometimes I’ll get a boyfriend girlfriend duet. But mostly it’s just the kids, they’re the ones who are always waiting. I found this one kid once, waiting with two grams of heroin on him and he offered me half of one. The thing about going all night though is you don’t want to be on that kind of stuff because it’ll just put you down. I mean, it’ll put your head right through the floor. It’s mostly just the uppers that I like. You need those if you want to push this chariot through the fire or whatever.”
At this point she notices that there’s a little bit of pee on her shoe, in a wet spot on the canvas. Damn it, she thinks, and begins to cry, very, very lightly. The feeling of holding Willis’s fingerless stump to staunch the blood comes back to her hands, the hot and pulsating throb. She gripped it tightly and her hands almost squeeze around nothing now.
“Do you have a band-aid?” she asks.
“Cause I got to patch something up.”
“What you got to patch up?”
He looks her up and down, keeping one hand on the weathered leather wheel.
“It’s not here,” she says. “But I need one for later.”
“Well I ain’t got any anyways,” he says. “You just gonna have to make do with some clothing or something.”
She thinks of every Christmas she used to spend in the yellow trailer with Pigeon the dog and her mother Mary sitting beside their skeletal tree with mugs of instant hot chocolate. One time she finished opening all the presents too soon and she asked her mother if that was all and her mother started crying. There were only five ornaments on the emaciated tree. Then the truck runs over a possum with a slight bump.
“Oh my God,” she says. “We just hit that possum.”
“What?” he says. “That white critter?”
“That’s a possum.”
“Damn. We killed it dead.”
In the rearview mirror she can see its long crimson entrails in a vector leading from the flattened white body. She can see the last flick of the paw. Then the taillights leave it in the darkness and she just has the little ember again, hovering under his nose. The smoke trails up, swimming into his nostrils in lines.
“Where are you going to anyways?” he asks.
“That’s not a bad place.”
“Nothing will be open at this hour and I need a band-aid.”
“There’s that little place on the corner that might be open. What’s a woman like you doing traveling alone anyways?”
She looks at him as he looks at her long spidery fingers plaiting the folds in the fabric like irons. She looks at her legs, long and white and smooth. My God, she thinks to herself, watching the pine trees alternating between the telephone poles. My God, when will it all end. When will I be the one driving again. When will it all end. When will Willis regrow that finger. When will this night end. The driver says that he used to have a thief for a friend.
“The thing about the Lion King is you can’t trust him with a dime. You can’t trust him with a single thing. Don’t ever let him near your wallet. Don’t ever let him near your keys. But most importantly, don’t ever let him near you. He’ll steal the eyeballs right out of your head and you won’t have realized till you walk into a goddamn wall.”
The headlights bleed into the light from a vending machine beside the road, under the awning of a garage. There’s a young man standing there, waiting. The truck slows down and the young man puts his face in the opening of the passenger window, breathing frosty words into her face. Good God, she thinks, he looks like he’s been awake for days. The driver hollers out the window and invites the man inside. She scoots into the middle, wedged between the new man and the driver. He throws the ember pinprick out of the window and it tumbles on the road. The truck moves again and she tries flexing, silently, almost wetting herself.
“Thank you much.”
“When I was your age there was one thing about the road that no one told me and now I wish someone had told me when I was young. That’s the thing about getting old though, you got to hold on to what you had when you were young and shed all that young skin at the same time. One time I shot a turkey in the neck with a pistol, hit that thing square in the neck with a forty four at twenty five feet off, swear to God. It just ripped the whole thing clean apart and you bet we had something to eat for a long time.”
The man slips his hand into hers and she feels the warmth of something she had not felt for a long time, bubbling in her middle and rippling out into her toes and fingertips. She felt happy and safe again, watching through the windshield as the indigo night turned into the grey crimson, slowly percolating through the silhouette of the pine trees. She held her thigh tightly with her remaining hand, clenching the patchwork dress on her smooth legs.
“It smells a little like piss,” the driver says, sniffing with his nose.
She feels the sweat in his palm.
“I can’t smell a thing,” she says.
And she can’t smell a thing and she holds tightly to the skin.