Evvie Clayton stood on the side of the road, looking directly into the orange fireball on the horizon. She snickered, contemplating the value of the five-dollar sunglasses she’d stolen from the truck stop outside of Winslow. Even with them on, looking directly into the sun caused the rods and cones in her eyeballs to flash and send little light impulses to jump around in the darkness whenever she blinked, accompanied by the tiny round after-image implanted upon her corneas. Certainly this couldn’t be good for her, but the surreal effect brought a little joy, even if only temporary. Maybe going blind wouldn’t be so bad, and even if it were, she might have some company in this or that publicly supported welfare institution provided for the unfortunates stupid enough to have their vision permanently and irreversibly ruined by staring at the sun. Again, she grinned at nothing in particular.
The hard-packed soil beneath her feet offered scant relief but the asphalt would be twice as hot, making the decision to walk in the dirt a no-brainer. Reaching down, she removed her canvas sneakers and poked her toes into an ant pile, digging her feet into the softness of the mound. Of course, the comfort of the soil would quickly be disrupted by the onslaught of soldiers dispatched to defend the castle. Well, she figured, at least it’ll give them something to do tonight. She didn’t really mind the desert except for the disparity in temperature from day to night. Soon, her polyester tee shirt would offer little by way of warmth as the sun yielded its power to the darkness of the Arizona night. In retrospect, she now wished she’d stolen a jacket as well as the glasses. Come on, fellas… surely there’s one horny trucker going to Ajo tonight.
Walking the barrow pit adjoining the pavement, she allowed her mind to stray back to Daddy and the bitch that called her the oldest baby in the world. Fucking cunt…she ought to know about babies, she had three living with strangers throughout the Midwest. I hope he’s getting his money’s worth. But, things are as they are. Daddy made his choice and she’d made hers. He couldn’t be bothered with her, considering all that new pussy being shoved in his face. Well, she isn’t the only pussy in the whole world and Evvie knew all too well the value her own womanhood held, at least in terms of survival. The more subtle aspects of love and family would have to wait. Now, she needed to get to Mexico by whatever means available, and if it meant using the tools God gave her, so be it. What I never knew, I never will forget. It’s a big old goofy world, and I mean to get me some.
By now, the exercise of peeing outside was no problem, especially when enough light remained to survey the area underneath her before she squatted. Now, with the sun having gone down and no leaves available to facilitate cleanliness, Evvie started to button the fly of her jeans. Better a little moist than snake bit. As she fumbled, she heard the sound of an engine approaching. A glance northward rewarded her with the sight of two headlights speeding toward her. Grabbing the Adidas gym bag that held her belongings, Evvie ran to a spot in the middle of the road, waving her arms and screaming for the truck to stop.
The sound of hydraulic brakes filled the air as a semi with a lighted cross on the hood slowed and stopped in the middle of the road, dwarfing the form of the petite girl now striding towards the cab.
Eternity passed as Evvie looked up at the driver’s window, waiting for a response from inside. The door of the tractor-trailer, immense and imposing, was painted with various numbers and symbols which she supposed to be some sort of code known only to drivers and police officers. Come on, dude, open the window, I won’t bite you.
Finally, the window lowered, offering her the first glimpse of the driver. Outside of the dirty ball cap and scruffy beard, the man’s face offered few clues as to his demeanor. He merely stared at the girl through expressionless eyes.
“You alone, Sweetie?”
Evvie dropped her bag on the pavement and folded her arms in front of her, all the while staring at the dumbest man in the entire world. “Well, I sent my limo driver back to Winslow for some cocktail weenies. I’m sure you’d agree that a martini isn’t much without hors d’oeuvres. I’m expecting him back at any moment and in the hope you might be him, I thought I’d stand out in the middle of the road just so he wouldn’t miss me and drive on by. But since you don’t appear to be a limo driver, I guess I’d have to confirm your suspicions… yes, I’m alone. Any chance whatsoever of hitchin’ a ride?”
”You got kind of a smart mouth, don’t ya’, Missy?” Still no expression, but a puff of smoke revealed his habit.
“Oh, its Evvie… is that supposed to impress me?”
Evvie picked the bag up and jumped up on the running board, her arm hooked around the mirror support. “Look, I’m sorry. I just need a ride. If you want, you can just start up and I’ll hold on here. If I fall off, I fall off… its no skin off your nose, either way. I apologize for getting smart. I’ll be good, I promise.”
“You know, I ain’t supposed to pick up hitchhikers…”
“Yea, and I ain’t supposed to be walking across the fucking desert by myself, either, but here we are. Let your conscience be your guide, ‘cause I ain’t gonna beg ya’.”
Now he grinned. “You’re a snotty little fart, ain’t ya’? Do you eat with that mouth?” Motioning with his thumb, he pointed back over his shoulder. “But, I like my women a little ballsy. Get in.”
Evvie climbed up on the passenger’s side and pressed the button to open the door. Even in the near darkness inside the cabin, Evvie’s first glance around left a deep impression. There were so many lights on the dashboard console that she imagined a pull on one of the many levers might reveal a spinning dial stopping on two lemons and a cherry. My luck never changes. Certainly he doesn’t use them all… how hard could it be to drive one of these things? You turn the key, put it in gear and go. Now, stopping it might require a bit more strategy with this big sumbitch, but if this bozo can do it, how difficult could it be?
The seat proved to be soft and luxuriant, the cool leather conforming to her form like a down-filled sleeping bag. Evvie didn’t want to get too comfy, though, God only knows what this guy had in mind for the evening.
“Name’s Handy… Wallace Handy… but everybody calls me Flip.” Extending from his cowboy shirt with the sleeves rolled up, the man’s hand shot out in front of her, his head staring at the driver’s side mirror.
After pulling out onto the road and noticing that she hadn’t responded to his gesture of friendship, he looked at over at her and pulled his arm back. “Okay, if that’s the way it is, so be it. Let’s have a look in that bag of yours, sis.” Before Evvie could move, he’d grabbed the bag and sat it on his lap.
“Hey, goddamn it, get your dick-skinners off my stuff!” Evvie’s attempt to pull the bag from him gained her a meaty forearm across the side of her face, not so much a smack as a deterrent. Once again she started to lunge for the bag, but he held up one finger of his right hand, his glare switching from her to the road, back to her again.
“You’re in my truck now. I aim to find out if you’re packin’. You wouldn’t be the first one who took advantage of the kindness of a stranger.”
“Oh, yea, I’m going to pull out a gun and force you over to the side of the road. Then, I’m going to rape you and steal the seventy-five dollars you keep in that secret pouch right next to your nuts before I drive off in a rig I don’t know how to start, leaving you to die in the desert. Does that about sum it up, big fella’?”
Apparently satisfied that she didn’t have any weapons, he tossed the bag back at her. “If you could find it in your heart to keep your mouth shut for five minutes or so, I’d appreciate it. You’re giving me a migraine.”
The push of a button caused John Prine to start strumming the lead-in chords to “In Spite of Ourselves” and four duets had passed before Evvie moved. Reaching over with her left arm, she touched his forearm and uttered a soft “I’m sorry.”
Wallace “Flip” Handy offered a glance and a small grin of his own. “What for? A person has a right to sound off a little if she thinks her honor is being questioned. Hell, I do it most every day at one point or another… sometimes pretty often.” He pointed to a compartment above her head. “If you’re hungry, you might find something up there.”
In one motion approaching the speed of light, Evvie had both knees up on the seat and the lift-up door open. Reaching in the dimly lit compartment, she put her hands on several small boxes and pulled them out. Junior Mints. Putting them back, she pulled out several more. Yet more Junior Mints.
“Is there, like, any chance at all I’m going to find anything besides Junior Mints?”
A pause preceded a snicker in the dark. “Well… I suppose anything is possible. If it was me, though, I wouldn’t be putting any odds on the likelihood of that happening.”
Grabbing a box, Evvie sat back down and tossed one of the morsels in her mouth. “Why do I feel like I’m in a Seinfeld episode? I half-expect to look over at you and see Kramer dropping a Junior Mint into a patient.”
“Does that make you Elaine or the friend who wore her bra on the outside?”
“Leave me out of this, unless I, like, get the royalties.”
Again he glanced her way. “Oh, so you know about royalties. What else do you get paid for?”
Evvie didn’t look at him. “I won’t even dignify that with a response, other than to tell you that if you try to find out, I’ll do everything within my power as a human being to put every last one of those Junior Mints where the sun don’t shine.”
“Easy, Missy… Not only do you jump to conclusions, you have a dirty mind for someone so young. How old are you, anyway?”
Glints of fire flew from her eyes as she stared at him. “Like you really give a shit…”
“Okay… you got me there. So, Evvie, tell me, who are you running from?”
“I’ll be twenty-four in December.”
“Well, assuming you’re telling me the truth, at least now I know I’m not looking at life in the joint for being a pedophile if I get caught with you in the truck. But, that was a two-part question… come on, fess up… who or what brings you out this way?”
“If I tell you, will that make us, like, engaged or something?”
“Possibly… but only if you’re willing to sign a pre-nup.”
“Never mind, our attorneys will work it out. Have you registered us at Bloomingdales yet?”
“Yea… and the invitations are in the mail. I’m expecting, like, four thousand people. Can you afford Junior Mints for that many?”
“Hell, I figured your daddy would be springing for the wedding. Can I count on him for at least half?”
“I’ll get back to you on that… I’ll have to check with his new bit— er, bride.” Despite her every effort devoted to stifling it, a smile emerged on Evvie’s face.
“Ain’t you a little old to be running away from home?”
“Is that a question? It sounded more like a character assassination from where I sit.”
“Question… accusation… you pick. What do you care, Sweetie? I’m just a trucker with a soft heart trying to make conversation.”
“Well, my beloved, since you put it that way… the likelihood of a question being answered far outweighs that of an accusation. A smart fella’ like you should know that.”
“Okay, Lovie, since we’re so deeply in love and all, I’ll give you the right to assume it was a question.”
“I see. Well then, husband-in-training, ask your question again, but this time, make me believe you really care about an answer you might receive, should I choose to bless you with one.”
Yet another pause ended with his expulsion of air through pursed lips. “Snookums, you’re wearing me out, here. Are we going to do this little dance every time I open my mouth?”
Reaching up to softly touch his cheek, she replied, “Only until you find something other than Junior Mints to put in my mouth, Darlin’.” Then, realizing her faux pas, Evvie quickly added, “Don’t bother reaching for that zipper, either… there probably ain’t enough nutrition in there to keep a bird alive.”
The next several miles passed quickly as two giggling strangers laughed out loud and slapped each other on the arm. In the background, John Prine proved the moment.
In spite of ourselves, we’ll end up swinging on a rainbow…
Against all odds, honey, you’re the big door prize.
We’re gonna spite our noses right off of our faces…
There won’t be nothin’ but big ol’ hearts dancin’ in our eyes.