The empty highway. Swift and still, lonesomely musical and treacherously lonely; a parapsychological void-like black field. The only thing living is the highway itself, promising the remnants of the comfort of civilization. The smooth sound of the wind brush against the ends of the teamsters truck, a still, murmuring hum that bellowed from the wheels, pulling on the noise of his thoughts. The moon, tinted white, painted the desert before him with two beams of yellow that extended beyond the hood.
He became a truck driver to isolate himself. The nice thing about driving was that, for some strange reason, he found that he would drive not thinking, but rather, in a benign state of unconscious calm, unburdened by the slander of anxiety that diseased him. From North to South, East to West, he rode along highways that stretched out past the horizon. He was on a delivery trip from Nashville to Phoenix on the third of June, and it was cold and dark. He stopped at an isolated, old diner that had a large beam holding a sign that said Jimmy’s. It was a comfort for him to see such a sign of life in a vacant place. Upon his entry he was welcomed by a tall woman wearing red high heels that matched her red dyed hair, that was curled to the extent that it stood up on its own.
She poured the man’s coffee and leaned over the bar, staring right into his eyes with an uncomfortable stare and said: “What’re you doing round here?”
“I’m goin’ out to Phoenix.”
“Aah,” she said with a phony sense of interest. She pulled out a stick of gum and began to chew loudly.
“Why? you got the family down there?”
“You live down there?”
“No, I’m shippin’ a load of tobacco.”
She patted her red curls, “I’m tryin’ to quit myself,” she said. “That’s why I work nights I can’t sleep none.”
“You know, we don’t get many nice guys like you comin’ ‘round here. Only mean, old men, drunks, and penny-less hitchhikers.”
He looked away. He felt as if her stare was a beam of light shining directly into his eyes. Her compliments only made it worse.
“You married?” She asked rather directly.
“Neither am I but I got a kid, his name’s Jeff, damn near handsomest boy you’ll ever see,” she remarked proudly.
He took nervous sips from his coffee and drummed on his thighs. He longed for her to stop staring into his eyes. It felt as if she was trying to look into his soul.
“You know, you’re kinda cute”
He didn’t reply. Instead he took another sip from his coffee finishing the glass.
She sighed, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you, hun.”
“No, I ain’t embarrassed.”
He noticed just how hungry he was. When you’re deep in thought you tend not to notice.
“Maybe I’ll get some of ‘em sausage links,” he replied, pointing at a standing menu.
“One order of sausage links comin’ up,” she said, disappearing into the back.
He thought of leaving some money on the counter and going in order to escape her stare but he was starving and doubted there were any other restaurants for miles. Besides, he had such a small ration of money for the trip and there was no point in wasting it on nothing.
She came back with a small plate of sausage links.
“ Bon appetite,” she exclaimed. She leaned back on the counter and, again, began to stare. He felt her eyes going inside his head and digging around in his thoughts. He couldn’t stand the sound of her gum. He lost his appetite.
“Ain’t ya’ gonna eat any of your sausages?”
At that moment a bearded man with a leather coat, gloves, and boots tumbled through the door. She quickly stood upright.
The bearded man walked toward the bar and sat on the stool next to the trucker. The stench of sour liquor and cigarette smoke was thick like the air of fear and disappointment.
“I just came down to see how you was doin’ Barbie,” the bearded man said. “Who’s this?”
“Charlie” The man replied.
“Listen to this guy ‘Charlie’,” He mocked.
He grabbed Charlie by the collar and threw him to the ground.
“I seen you flirt’ with this pussy, Barbie”
He swept his arm across the bar, sending condiments and cups falling to the floor. Barbara screamed at him to stop but he jumped over the table and punched Barbra square in the face. Then the man grabbed his coat and jumped over the counter.
“I don’t want to see your face anywhere near my house ever again” he yelled.
The women just stayed on the floor, crying for quite some time. Charlie wanted to help but he couldn’t bring himself to talk to her. She stood up and began to pick up the small pieces of glass that had shattered all over the floor.
“You know, Dane, that man you just saw. He’s really a good guy. Just jealous, real jealous.”
“Why you stayin’ with a guy who treats you that way?”
“I ain’t gonna leave him, he’s all my boy’s got as a dad,” She said with a almost dreary sigh. Charlie really didn’t know at all and it hurt him to see her search his face for a glimpse of response.
“Are you married?” He asked.
She paused and went back around the counter, leaning on it again.
“Ya, been married ‘about two years now.”
Charlie reached into his pocket, pulled out a few dollars, and set them on the table, grabbed his coat and left for the door.
“I’m – I’m really sorry hun’, good luck goin’ down to Phoenix,” she clearly didn’t want him to leave.
He nodded his head in response and left. When he looked back he saw the waitress alone behind the bar, solemn and tired with her hands pressed against her forehead. The diner was bright with yellow that painted the deep blue of early morning light black in its contrast. The waitress held the weight of a tiresome woman: stuck in a sleepy place unaware of her free will, and haunted by fearful slander and abuse in her relationship. Charlie hoped one day he would drive by “Jimmy’s” only not to see her here again.
A few blocks down the road his gas-low light began to blink, indicating that the gas tank was nearly out. He pulled into an old gas station with a small gang of men sitting outside the front door. He pulled up to a pump and began to fill the car.
One of the men walked up to him and looked directly into my face. He felt his heart thump like a shoe in a dryer when he realized just who it was: it was the bearded man from the diner. He was far drunker than before.
“Hey gang, you won’t believe what we have here. It’s that bitch I told you about earlier, from the dinner.” He announced with a surprising sense of joy.
His crew gathered around Charlie bringing the bitter scent of booze: a foreboding presentiment of violence. Then, before Charlie knew it, he had eight men surrounding him with their boots pummeling his stomach and face. The iron taste of blood filled his mouth and he could felt his tooth loose with his tongue. The air stunk of booze from sour men’s mouths. Once Charlie’s face was beat purple and his stomach blue, they roared away in their Kawasaki’s and Motorola’s. Charlie rolled onto his face, feeling the dust stick to his drying blood and the cold desert air sting his flesh.
“I really wanted to help you,” sad the gas station clerk with shaking anxiety. “Really.” He could make out through blurred vision a young man wearing yellow and red. “I just didn’t want them to hurt me too.”
Charlie didn’t listen. The clerk’s voice was loud and high and it burned his head with an aching agony and the clerk’s presence made his spine shake. “Leave!” Charlie screamed. The scrawny and cowardly kid ran away. He lifted himself up and stumbled to his truck. Gas trickled down onto his truck door. And lugging himself into the driver’s seat he left without pulling out the pump. In a daze of pain and confusion, he continued alone with a sense of pride. Blood trickled down his face and dripped off his chin. Grey emptiness stretched on beyond the horizon. He was filled with an almost godly sense of grace and desire, feeling like his life was before him trapped within the constraints of his truck doors. He felt a sense of appreciation that stemmed from his never before understood desire to live, to fight, laugh and to die. The violence and his visions of pain sculpted his newfound gratitude. Engulfed the road down that highway, lonesome and musical; an instrument of the soothing absence of thought and the cataclysmic life that swarmed it.