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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Contest · #1924969
The instructions were to use the words: pickup, highway, ribbon, opal, and fence
I had ideas! I wanted to amount to something, so I tried. I needed money to dress well,
I needed to keep moving, otherwise the summer would go and I will have nothing for the
next school year.

The sacrifice made is not realized until later. Each year I would leave my little town to work
and save so I could keep up. Most others had full sets of parents, dependable meals, an
extra buck or two when needed. I had nothing extra. Ever! It was careful planning, graceful
excuses, and the ability to move along.

Moving along is what you do when you sort of have a girlfriend, as long as you can keep
them interested. When they lose interest, you move along. They know there are others that have more
to offer. There are others that are around more, know more, have futures. My friends had also
regrouped, paired up, or were doing things in another direction. One must always
be prepared to ‘move along’.

It seems that each time I left my home to work in the summers of my high school years, I     
would arrive home expecting someone to know I had been gone. I would be thrilled to
call on my old friends, or my most recent ‘girlfriend’. It didn’t take a ‘whiz bang’ to realize
they all had moved on, made new bonds, and had plans for their future, or not. Each year I
would take stock, re-measure, re-connect, but the pairing up, the plans and destinations for
my friends and classmates could not be denied. I was on my own!

I knew that I wanted to go to college. I, of course, did not have the money, and did not know
what I wanted to do, so I joined the Navy. They pretty much killed any chance of loyalty, so I
did my time and left.

I went home. Everything was the same. Everyone else had grown up, or were gone.

I bought a pickup truck, and headed west!


With both windows cranked all of the way down on my turquoise 1958 flathead 6,
Apache pickup, I scratched the three day old stubble, and took a swig from the beat-up jug.
The hot highway ahead looked wet and the rising heat treated the asphalt like a runaway
spool of ribbon unrolling past the table-top hills, appearing and disappearing toward infinity,
into the opal sunset. The engine drone, the heat and hot wind through the cab, slow time, 
passing fence and telephone poles the only measure of anything.

I did meet a few travelers in older cars going in the opposite direction, brave with their canvas water bag
hanging in front of the radiator. Some had that new, water filled cooling thing suspended on the outside of the shady side rear window, a towel hanging on the inside rear window on the sunny side. Most were vacationers, some adventurers like me caught crossing the desert river in broad daylight.

The professionals knew better.

I did not!


The sound of those Route 66 professionals, filtered through the wing windows I had left open
for fresh air and cooling. I was leaning on my old Navy pea coat, a cushion against the
cardboard boxes that contained my life. I couldn’t lie completely flat, but at a forty-five
degree angle, sideways, my legs bent under the steering wheel, and my feet against the
driver’s door, my hands flat together between my legs as a reaction to the desert chill.

The truck was facing east. I could feel the warmth of the rising sun on my forehead, exhaled
as if I had been holding my breath, and groggily sat up. Everything in my mouth was stuck
together. I took a mouthful from the plastic jug, rolled down the window and spit it out, and
took another mouthful. The swallow was like a drink from a mountain spring and was
absorbed before it ever hit my stomach, the heat of the previous day had left me parched.

With my eyes still closed, I felt down inside the nearest cardboard box and found the open
five cent Planter’s Peanut bag. The half bag of peanuts and the salt were the second item
on my bodies 'pleased' list, followed by the next gulp of water.

By this time, I was getting a full face full of Sun and the cab was heating up. I turned the key,
hit the starter, then turned right onto the asphalt. The sign said:

The Oasis Motel and Gas
Turn back for a good nights rest
Free Water

A mile down the road the next sign said:

California State Line
7 miles

I swallowed hard, and thought about going back home as I’d done so many times. Not this
time! Everything there will have changed just the same. I guess I’ve changed too.

809 words
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