Lincoln Benson - 03/23/2004

six days ago, my cell phone rang.

and now luna's sitting next to me again.

this time it's a faded cherry red volkswagen beetle i'm driving. i can't even remember where i got it. no sense wondering, really. next week it'll be gone like everything else.

this time i found her hiding behind a super wal-mart ten miles outside of eugene, oregon. she's never made it this far west before. she's an amazing hitchhiker for a girl with no thumbs. she's wearing a key lime-colored t-shirt that says "i promise" in iron-on cream-colored letters. i want to ask why, but i never do. her burgundy jeans have a tear on the left knee that she slowly widens with her mud-covered fingers as we speed east, washing the fog from the road as the sun slowly climbs the pale grey sky in front of us.

so do they have you on retainer yet? she asks, not looking at me.

no, i say, i still get paid for each time. but i get more when i find you faster.

those were the first words she'd said to me since last time. i forgot about her slight lisp, and the scottish accent she picked up when it took me three months to find her last year. i found her sitting on the beach in galway, staring out at the ocean. that time she didn't say anything on the trip back, but i heard her crying on the plane when she thought i was asleep. i didn't accept payment that time, just reimbursement for the travel expenses.

i expect her to talk more. i expect her to try her weak come-ons like the last few trips we've made together. come on, i think. i've got rebuttals. i've got things to say. i've been practicing.

but i guess she's finally tired of me. typical, really. this one time it finally wasn't all about the money. i feel strange words wanting to worm their way out of my mouth and fall dead between our seats.

i missed you.

your eyes look almost violet in the morning sunlight.

you look better with a shaved head than anybody i've ever met.

talk to me.

i love you.

what is the matter with me? i've done a million runs like this. i've driven girls back to where they ran from that would shatter your mind, they're so beautiful.

so why this one?

i light a cigarette and notice that my hands are shaking a little.

i thought you quit, she said.

yeah, it didn't work out, i reply.

can i have one? she asks.

i shake one out of the pack and hand it to her. her hands are filthy. i hold out my lighter for her and she takes it out of my hand slowly, letting her fingers play across my palm. i feel goosebumps run up my arm. after lighting her smoke she reaches across and drops the lighter into my breast pocket. when she pulls her hand back, she lightly runs her fingernails across my forearm, and i glance down, taking my eyes off the road for a moment.

the front right tire slides in the gravel on the shoulder when i look down. i didn't see the slight curve in the road. i try to pull it back onto the road and hit the brakes. i was going way too fast, i realize now. she puts her arms out straight and braces against the dashboard. we start to spin around across the road. bald tires and early morning dew on the road. perfect. it feels like we're going to flip over. but then we screech to a stop, perpendicular to the road and in the wrong lane.

i sigh noisily.

sorry, i say, gripping the wheel, cigarette clenched in my teeth.

it's okay, she says nonchalantly, removing her hands from the dash and taking another drag off of her cigarette.

i feel like i'm going to vomit up my heart right now, i think.

i reach under my seat and pull out a plastic traveler's fifth of ancient age. i take a long gulping couple of pulls straight off the bottle and then i hand it to her. she takes a small swallow and hands it back. i recap it and put it back under my seat.

breakfast of champions, she says with a little giggle, and i can't help but laugh a little with her.

i toss my cigarette out the window, light another, and get the beetle back moving in the right direction.

a hundred miles pass in silence.

she starts whistling the guitar riff to "rest my head against the wall" by heatmiser.

i haven't heard that song in forever, i say.

she leans her seat back and stretches her arms up over the headrest. i glance over and see that the snap on her jeans is broken.

she reaches around under my seat and gets the whiskey back out, sipping calmly.

i realize that we're less than ten miles from the dropoff point, and i can't think of a damn thing to say.

so i hope it's not too long before i see you again, she says with a little shrug.

what, did you miss me? i say with more contempt than i mean to.

i don't know, she says in a quiet, sad voice.

the sun slinks behind the only cloud in the sky. i hear a flock of geese honking way above us.

i light another cigarette.

i see the sign up ahead for the rest area.
i see the same car as last time.
i see the same guy, holding another satchel.

i speed up and don't take the turnoff. she sits up and looks back, her lips pursed, wrinkling her nose in confusion.

i don't think he saw us, she says, turning back to me. aren't you dropping me off?

i grin and glance over at her.
she's smiling at me.

not this time.