By Don Kenton Henry
(From A Phobia of Walls)
“Throw your leg over, Princess Xanax and get on this steel horse behind me. I promise by the time we hit the Bitterroot Range–three days from here–you’ll throw all those pills–in that thing you call a purse–in the Flathead River and never look back. Let the trout get high. You’re through swimmin’ upstream. This bike, those mountains and I – are what you been lookin’ for. And we’re pawnin’ that purse before we get to Kalispell. From there we’ll drop down the Beartooth highway into Wyoming and I’ll show you the Grand Tetons. … And they can get a gander at yours. Now saddle up.”
“You certainly have a way with words, Buck. How could any woman resist an offer like that! Just sweep me off my feet and right out of that diner where you met me just three days ago. You want me to give up that dream job waiting tables and pouring Joe for every trucker, biker, loner and family seeing the USA in their Chevrolet on the cheap? And–on top of that– you promise to get me off the only thing that keeps me from going back to that rat hole apartment in that piss ant town and crying myself to sleep every night dwelling on all the other broken promises and dreams that can be made to girl.
“My promise hasn’t been broken,” I said, looking up from checking the oil level on my bike.
“Not yet, anyway. Why do I deserve the honor of such an offer. And please, don’t tell me it’s because of my big tits!
My mouth twisted into that little smirk and my eyes gave off that glint I know they do every time I know I’ve been caught at something and I said, “Well those didn’t hurt your chances any but it may also have had something to do with that red hair and the way those emerald eyes of yours flashed when I told you about standing in June snow at 14,000 feet–the highest point on the Great Divide–wearing nothing but a sleeveless T shirt, the sun over the Rockies shining down like it was on you alone, knowing not a soul other than your own knows where you are. Knowing you left no forwarding address so not even the IRS or your own mother can find you if you don’t want them to.”
“Unless you get in trouble with the law. Are you wanted for anything?” she asked. She looked me square in the eye as she waited for the answer.
“I don’t have any outstanding warrants. What about you?”
“No convictions other than moving violations,” she said with a wink.
“Just what were you moving?… No–you don’t have to answer that. Just park that sweet thing on the back of this bike before I give you a non-moving violation. Let’s blow this state. We can be through Cincinnati and Indy by nightfall. Tomorrow night we’ll be camping in the dells just east of La Crosse.”
“Camping! You mean you can’t even spring for a motel? I thought you said I was through swimming upstream. What are we going to sleep in?”
“I didn’t say I couldn’t spring for anything. But there’s a pup tent in that bedroll, baby, along with a sleeping bag and my shaving kit. And before I go parting with our seed money, you’re going to sleep some nights under the stars and get your head as clear as the night sky that holds ’em there. The two of us are going to squeeze into that sleeping bag until you feel things free of all those chemical that have numbed that beautiful body of yours for so long – until you think it’s your first time. So, unless you’re ready to sell that fancy bag of yours today, we’ll be saving the nights at the Motel 6–or better digs to come–for special occasions.”
“Special occasions! You mean like when I need a shower? Besides, this purse is a knock-off and won’t fetch much anyway. And it’s the only thing I have to put the few things in, I’m taking with me.” Her face dropped as she finished these last words. It was a sad face and seemed to bear the look of someone ashamed and humbled at having to admit this is all she had to show for thirty-five years.
I put my index finger under her chin and gently pulled it up until those beautiful green eyes met my own and said, “Hell, I knew it wasn’t an original when I stole you from this Waffle House. But you are! And that’s what counts. You’re the only waitress I’ve ever talked to who could recite every line of Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and most of Kipling to boot. But when you outlined the equation used to solve a puzzle Archimedes wrote an entire treatise on in 250bc–that wasn’t solved until a few years ago–you had me. I knew you were a special girl and if life hadn’t dealt you a bad hand a few times along the way there was no way you’d been serving cheese grits to truckers.”
“I didn’t solve that mathematical conundrum. I just memorized the solution.”
I laughed and said, “Well–that was a five napkin solution!”
She smiled big now and told me, “That’s what three years of being a math major with a minor in lit at Kent State before dropping out will get you. And–if you’re not going to make me go into the messy details in order to take this ride with you, let me say I had a hand in some of those bad hands life has dealt me and let’s leave it at that for now.”
I smiled back as I climbed on the bike and said, “Let the wine blush and keep a straight face, baby. We all gotta past and you ain’t heard mine yet either.”
“What the hell! To tell the truth, you’re easy on the eyes too. And pretty charming at that. So – if you’re willing to take a chance on me, I think I’ll just take a chance on you. I don’t have to hear your details either. So let’s make a wild charge, flash our sabers bare, break through the line and make for the Valley of the Bitterroot or wherever it was you suggested my dreams would come true!”
With that, she grabbed the hem of that waitress dress right in the middle, hiked it up to that beautiful red bird’s nest and threw one of those long, athletic legs of her over the rear fender seat of my ’68 Shovelhead, hooked her thumbs in the belt loops of my jeans and we punched it into the western sun.
(to be continued)