End of The Trail (Bud Tutmarc) - click for .mp3
You’re having it again. That dream. And in it you wake up lying in the backseat of a car as it rides the rumble strip of an interstate off-ramp. The seat is nineteen inches too short for you and your knees hurt from being pressed into the chrome door handle for all of this time.
Your contacts are sticking to your eyelids. You wonder if the pleat of the vinyl seat has been etched into your sleep-hot right cheek like the raised mattress seams did when you were just a kid. You don’t sit up. There is a tear in the pea green upholstered ceiling — near the dome light that’s full of dead and shriveled gnats and mosquitoes — and you can see the asbestos white padding underneath.
Every night, all the windows are fogged but the driver doesn’t give two fucks about the defrost, reaches up and rubs a space clean with her shirt sleeve about the size of a photograph, cranes her neck forward. Her hair spills out and over the back of her coat collar. Tonight, it is June blonde, unbleached by sun. Last night: augite black. You ask if it’s still snowing, if the roads are bad. She says ‘had to get off.’
In this dream, you’re aware that you’re moving north. You swear you can feel it by the pressure in your ears. The driver pulls into the filling station and the light that fills the car is monstrous after the chalky interstate sky.
She runs in ahead of you. The way the snow whips in the overhead lighting makes her look like a little kid. It’s icy. Her boots are mismatched. She never falls.
You open the door and are the only one inside. The driver has disappeared. The tile smells like bleach. A popcorn machine hisses, hot oil in a pan. From a speaker tucked somewhere you can’t see, woozy organ moves underneath slack-key guitar. It scares you, the abject strangeness of it — a trilobite in amber. You pick through the snack aisle but everything is expired. Some of the packages are filled with ants.
You do not buy anything, but hand the elderly cashier a dollar for letting you warm up. Her face is put together delicately wrong, like someone really cared about building all the parts but got drunk before gluing them together. She smells like Nivea Creme and menthols. In this dream, she is always wearing a banker’s visor. You are worried she might have cancer.
Her lips are thin, taunt at the corners and red like boiled lobster. She reaches out a waxy hand and pulls you close, kisses your mouth.
“The music is beautiful, huh.” she says, her lips still just inches from yours. “I made it myself.”
Her husband is always there, hovering behind her. Some nights he takes a picture of you with a Polaroid camera then pulls her hair until she falls to her knees and all you can see is the green of her visor hovering over the lip of the counter. Some nights he’s using a hammer to drive finishing nails into his left hand. He cups the blood in his palm then rubs it on the wall without looking. A mural of the cashier on fire is almost finished. You hear the door behind you open and close, turn to see the driver moving back through the squall..
Flustered, you leave and getting in the car you ask if you can drive. “No.” You get into the back seat and lie back down, watching the tear in the ceiling as the light from the filing station ebbs away. You are almost asleep before the driver pulls back onto the interstate. She wedges the stolen Polaroid of the cashier kissing you into the console, next to the odometer. It is always gone when you wake up again.