“..two roads diverged in the wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference…”: Robert Frost
Roy jammed the 10 gallon hat on his head as he settled down on the hood of his Pontiac thunderbird. This time it looked to be a long wait and the sun was a scorcher. He squinted into the sun and stared sullenly at her retreating figure.
He was in no mood to chase her.
Ten minutes later and she still hadn’t looked back. Roy shifted his position on the hood trying to get comfortable but it wasn’t working. He was sweating buckets already. 5 more minutes, unless she turns to look back, I am riding this baby right back home he thought.
Teach her a lesson.
She walked straight ahead, in the middle of the highway: swaying slightly in high heels, white dress hugging her slim waist but swirling below the knees, the tiny yellow sunflowers just about disappearing in the folds of the skirt but reappearing with every long stride.
He could clearly see blonde hair flowing down her swan neck, glinting as they caught the noon rays.
But he couldn’t see the welts on her bare shoulders. She was too far for that.
Roy almost forgot they were there. They don’t matter he thought. She heals fast.
She shimmered in the desert haze, ethereal, with an inborn ease that seemed unaware of the sweltering sun. God, she’s beautiful. Sexy too.
And totally unprepared for the desert road. He grinned. It must be at least 140 degrees he figured.
Route 15 out of Las Vegas going to Los Angeles stretches straight as an arrow for miles and miles with no shelter on either side, except for the tall thin electric poles that barely cast a shadow in the midday sun. even the shadow of a passing big rig can be a relief. Not much traffic today. No special reason he thought. It is midweek. No weekenders that typically crowd the highway, just the odd trucker and random traveler.
Nothing to do but wait.
Roy tilted his hat for a better shade angle. He couldn’t take his eyes off that swaying body. Should he just get in the car, drive up to her, open the door, and ask her to get back in? It would be so easy. So much easier than baking in the sun, he thought.
No. This time, dammit, it’s going to be different. She would look back; wave for him to come get her. Then and only then he would go get her. Roy waited.
She kept walking away.
Beautiful yes, but obstinate as a mule. But, didn’t he know that already?
Last week for instance, she embarrassed him no end: tried running away again and when he went to get her she complained about the sex. He had had to discipline her before she let go of her whining. But this time he hadn’t stopped himself – the marks showed and she couldn’t go to work. He made up a bullshit story at the club.
He saw her for the first time when she was trying to run away after a beating from her father. They lived in the same trailer park. The yelling and shouting was so loud, he had to go see. He had brought her home and told her old man to leave her alone or else.
That was two years ago.
Could she stay in his trailer? Just to cheer her up he said okay for one night. But she had stayed on. That’s how she had moved in with him, walked into his life with nothing but the clothes on her back.
On her birthday, all of eighteen, she was the picture of innocence in the white dress with yellow sunflowers she had bought from Goodwill. Just for fun, they sat at the bar and she said “I do” as they exchanged plastic rings. Roy played savior in full cowboy regalia, his work outfit. It was her idea and he played along, but somehow it changed things.
The flabby bartender had winked at him “found yourself a young ‘un I see”. “Mind your own business” he’d snapped. But she hadn’t minded.
Back then she had been grateful. As she ought to be he thought.
Roy had helped her get a job as a waitress at the rodeo club where he ran the mechanical bull. Turned out she was a hard worker. Customers liked her so much that Roy got more prestige at the club whereas before the boss had barely tolerated him with his drinking and his frequent no-shows.
He wasn’t sure when he started disciplining her; as he called it. He had to when she tried to run away. She didn’t like his drinking; thought he couldn’t handle it. The nerve of her.
But not this time: let’s see how far you go missy. She is the one who needs me not the other way round.
She waited tables but she also looked for other jobs. Seemed like she was never satisfied. Hadn’t he taken her in and helped her stand on her feet? The club wasn’t high class enough for her. She wanted him to get a better job too. But instead he stopped going to the club all together preferring to hang out at the trailer and drink cold beer, watch TV. She made good money in tips.
Then one day he said “why don’t you become a pole dancer? It’s more money and you can keep the extra.” She just looked at him and said nothing.
Sometimes she would say Vegas is no place for me if he asked but mostly she stopped saying much. Last night she was very quiet, very calm. She hadn’t mouthed off in a while and she even grilled a burger for him. They sat outside the trailer and just hung out. It was nice: like it used to be. She even had a beer. “I took an evening off from the club” she said.
Then this morning she said “let’s go for a ride Roy” and he had agreed never suspecting what lay ahead. They just rolled out of bed, got in the car and roared down Route 15, laughing, hair flying, getting along just fine.
In the car she showed him the plastic ring on her finger. “You know, once you saved me Roy and I am wearing your ring. You are a special person to me Roy.” Then she went all high-brow like she sometimes did.
“It is not just a road. Don’t you see Roy, it’s the highway to a new me: not scared, not afraid, and not crying. Who knows? Just imagine, me, Roy, doing what I want. That’s what this road is – start of my new life.”
“What you see is what you get,” Roy had said. “All I can do is ride that bull. As for you, babe, you are a damn good sight by that pole and this ain’t nothing but miles of a dusty hot highway; hot enough to fry a lizard before she can scoot off.” He couldn’t remember what more he had said but it sure set her off good.
Roy sighed. She will be back. A few days and she would forget all about it. He wasn’t ambitious – food, beer, bed and now he had her.
Roy was tired of waiting. He decided to get in the car. He turned the ignition on, more to convince himself that he indeed was going to leave her on the highway than anything else. But he couldn’t move. He turned it off.
It was even hotter in the car than out. Another 5 minutes. That’s it.
Roy couldn’t be sure now because of the dust-haze. She seemed to be slowing down but he could see her back was still ramrod straight; the stubbornness running right through her spine, into that fragile looking neck and head. Looking at her who could say she worked in a run-down Vegas club? And that’s what started it.
Now he remembered. All he said was there’s nothing wrong with pole-dancing. “Not everybody gets to be a movie star.”
“Just because I grew up in a trailer don’t make me trash. Nobody is holding me back, not even you Roy.”
The car was still moving when she opened the door and Roy had to slam on the brakes, veer off the road and stop as she jumped out and started walking. It’s a wonder she didn’t break a leg or something.
Well, she’s a natural-born dancer with balance and fast on her feet too. One hundred and ten pounds of pure muscle, she finished the eight-hour shift at the club without even breaking a sweat. How far can she walk before she falls or just plain passes out? She does have the queenly walk. You got to give her that
Roy tried willing her into looking back. If she looked back, and saw him relaxing in the car, that would be like meeting halfway. That’s good enough for me he thought. She doesn’t have to walk back to me. Just look back now; come on look back.
For God’s sake, just turn your head and look.
Looks like there’s two of her now.
Roy rubbed his eyes and peered again. No, just one of her but sure looked like she was wading in a cool cool lake of blue water. She didn’t look like she was even uncomfortable and here he was with sweat pouring out of his armpits, his forehead, his neck, everywhere.
She may be stubborn but she ain’t got the guts to leave. Roy had patience. He’d seen her moods before, especially after one of her beatings. She always came back to him.
Roy thought he must have nodded off because he almost knocked his head on the steering wheel, startled by the noise and gust of wind created by the lorry thundering by. For a moment he panicked; he couldn’t see her at all now. But the lorry slowed down and eventually came to a stop. The dust settled. He could barely make out a hazy form on the road beside the lorry. There was some waving and gesticulating and Roy’s eyes watered with the strain of looking.
She’s going to wave the lorry driver on and she’ll wait for me. Then I’ll go get her.
The lorry raised a cloud of dark fumed dust as it left the side of the road and got on the main highway. When the haze cleared Roy squinted in the sunlight to see again.
The spot where she had stood was empty. No sun-flower-dress figure stood by the roadside. In the distance he could see the lorry picking up speed as it got into the right lane.
Shit! Roy started the Pontiac, gunning it into speed. Shit, shit, shit. She didn’t look back even once.
Damn that lorry. He couldn’t even see it any more. Roy maneuvered the Pontiac off the shoulder onto Route 15, wheels spinning, a cloud of dust in his wake, ten gallon hat blown off his head, foot jammed on the gas pedal. Good thing it is a straight road with nowhere else for the lorry to go.
Roy was sweating still. But it wasn’t the sun anymore. Adrenaline coursed through his veins heightening his senses and he felt the car pick up speed. He noticed the plastic ring on his hand gripping the steering wheel. What had she said about the ring? She would always wear it?
Her way of saying thanks buddy, but it’s over now.
She ain’t coming back. Roy eased his foot off the gas pedal.
Hadn’t it worked out just fine last time she walked out of her home with nothing but the clothes on her back?