Posted on: January 6, 2015
They sold Dena's car, Chris's bike, their used textbooks. They sold the dresser Dena's father had given her before he died, the one that belonged to Aunt Elizabeth. The one she swore she'd keep in the family.
"You Craigslisted the dresser?" she squawked at Chris.
"Chill! We got a hundred bucks for it!"
Dena felt a little catch in her lungs, or maybe in her heart. She remembered her father’s body, the sticky tape sealing tubes and needles to his skin, pushing and pumping, trying.
Her father was dead. Aunt Elizabeth was dead. A dresser wouldn't fit in an RV anyway.
Kimbra came over to buy the last of the pot.
"It's not the good stuff. I won't lie to you," Chris told Kimbra. "But we really need the money right now."
"I think what you're doing is totally rad," Kimbra said. "It's just like On the Road, right?"
Dena watched Chris fold the money into their thick stack of cash.
"Yeah. Just like On the Road."
She knew Chris hadn't read Kerouac. Couldn't speak to the tradition. Couldn't know to be afraid of it.
"Don't eat any poison plants, 'kay?" Kimbra said.
Into the Wild, not On the Road. Is everybody I know full of bullshit?
Kimbra gave them a ride to the used car lot and wished them luck, already pawing in the marijuana baggie as she waited for them to climb out.
The day was hot. The last crisp cool of Kimbra's AC deserted Dena's skin. She could feel the back of her neck begin to sweat, her baby hairs curling into insistent ringlets.
"You ready?" Chris asked. He didn't wait for her to answer.
Louie barely looked up when they entered the shack that housed the dealership’s office.
"Still want the Chinook?" Louie asked.
Chris handed over the money. Louie counted it, licking his fingertips to separate the bills.
"Now, she's definitely your vintage model, but I added some freon for you this morning. You should be good to go. Where y'all going, anyway?"
"West," Chris said.
That was all he ever said when people asked, as if the answer was meant to evoke the spirit of adventure. Lewis and Clark. The gold rush. More likely, Chris was thinking Oregon Trail. Living off the land. Hunting and gathering. Dying of dysentery after attempting to caulk the wagon and float.
Dena climbed into the RV first. It smelled of cat urine and mildew and something worse—a lingering cloud of lavender Febreeze. At least Louie had tried.
"Fucking home sweet home," Chris said, pumping his fists above his head.
Dena climbed into the bed tucked over the cab. The mattress cover had a hole in it, and underneath, she could see that the foam was dried and rotten. She thought of her father’s hospital bed, starched and sanitized, even the railings coated in copper to kill germs.
"Are you thinking about how sweet it's going to be to sleep up here, in the middle of a national park, listening to the wolves howl?" Chris asked, climbing up beside her.
“Yeah,” Dena said. “That’s pretty much exactly what I’m thinking.”
They spent their first night parked at a rest stop in Mississippi. The RV had made slow time, groaning when Chris pushed it over sixty miles an hour.
“It’s not about the destination anyway,” he said.
In the bed over the cab, Dena tossed and turned as Chris snored. The radio had only been able to pick up country music through Alabama, then finally a dubious R&B station. Chris had hummed along to a song in which a guy croons that he doesn’t mind if his girlfriend’s a stripper as long as she makes money. They’d eaten McDonald’s for breakfast, Burger King for lunch, and Waffle House for dinner.
“We are human grease,” she’d said to Chris.
“The body is an amazing thing. It can get used to almost anything, after a while.”
“Yeah. Like cancer,” Dena muttered.
He’d rambled on about accumulating callouses, about sun-tanned skin, about a new awareness of nature. But now the rambling was replaced by snoring.
And then, a howl.
At first, Dena rolled her eyes. It was too much. There were no wolves on I-22. She heard it again. A high-pitched howl. Definitely not her imagination.
She rolled out of the bed and guided herself to the floor, sneaking towards the door. She slid on her flip flops and went outside. The air was still hot, even in the middle of the night. Lights washed the rest stop in an orange glow.
She heard the howl again and moved towards the noise.
On the other side of the parking lot, a man in a baseball hat was dragging a dog towards a green pickup truck. The dog, some kind of hound mix, howled and struggled, lurching towards the rest station building.
“That your dog?” Dena called.
“Yeah,” said the man in the hat. “Sorry—it’s just—he’s after the raccoons.”
“They’re smart. They’ve figured out how to rob the vending machines.”
Near the entrance to the women’s bathroom, two raccoons were scuttling near the snack machine. One had snaked its arm inside and was grabbing at the food trapped in the black metal coils. The other paced behind its companion in obvious anticipation.
“Shit,” Dena said.
“Resourceful little critters,” the man said. “Get in, Riley.”
The dog resisted.
“Want a hand, there?”
Dena helped the man hoist Riley into the cab of the truck.
“Thanks,” he said. “Can’t blame him, right? Hey, is that your camper over there?”
“Where you heading?”
Dena paused. Her lips had almost formed the word West, but instead she said, “Away.”
“Great American adventure?”
“Something like that.”
The man in the hat grinned at her. In the great American adventure story, he’d say his name was Bill. He’d offer her a beer or maybe some ill-advised hallucinogens. They’d stay up all night as Riley slept in the cab of the truck, as Chris snored in the Chinook. Maybe he’d try to kiss her. Maybe she’d tell him all about her father, about feeling so lonely you’d sell everything you owned to ride across the country with an unlovable optimist. They’d watch the sun rise. Maybe she’d leave with him, drive north, slip another untraceable layer between who she was and who she could become.
But this was not a story. There was no such thing as real reinvention.
“Your front tire there looks a little flat,” the man in the baseball hat said as he climbed into the truck. “Might want to find someone to take a look at that before you hit the road.”
The truck pulled onto the interstate. The light by the rest station flickered. As Dena crossed the parking lot towards the Chinook, the two raccoons ran across her path. Each one carried a bag of honey mustard pretzels in its whiskered mouth.
Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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