TRAVELING WEST
Jane Zingale

Once on the freeway, she looked for any large rig traveling in her direction; truckers knew the road and she considered them to be her protection when she traveled long distances. She was headed to California, and an hour outside of Oklahoma City she pulled her red Volkswagen Bug in behind a big, black hauler. Two trucks drove up on her side, another two moved in behind her little car. Surrounded now, she became a part of a convoy heading west. With their CB’s blaring, the fleet sped through midnight shadows along the thoroughfare to Amarillo, Texas. They took the second exit down the slope to where they all convened at Bill’s Truck Stop—GOOD GRITS AND GREEN CHILI OMELETS.

She followed the five truckers into the café and asked if she could join them. Then they all sat down in a large corner booth. 

“We were talking about you on our radios and wondering what your story was,” they said as they ordered coffee. 

She introduced herself, said she was headed for California, and told those boys that someday she wanted to drive a truck. 

Across from her sat a big red-headed trucker who smoked Camels, no filter, and downed tablets of speed with his coffee.

“Name’s Ralph," he said. “Truckin’s a tough job.” He showed her his swollen ankles and feet. “Got me some disease,” he said. “Hurts like hell. When I put my shoes on it’s like shoving a pregnant sow into an old boot. Doc gives me Cortisone shots.”

 Next to her sat a guy they called Corky. She presumed by his sun-bleached hair that he was probably a surfer dude. 

“I like truckin’, my wife used to ride with me all the time.” Corky said.

“Hell,” said Ralph, “I been married four times, once to Amy, once to Iris and twice to Corinne, them gals never came onboard my rig. I got five kids though but I ain’t married now.”

“My wife and I had a good time,” said Corky the truckin’ surfer. “I planned our lives around the highways and the waves. We were going to live on the road, between hauls—we’d camp out under the stars. Someday we’d have kids so—we’d put ‘em in hammocks and let them swing from state to state. Now she’s too pregnant to ride and just wants to stay home. I need the road,” he said, as he tore open a pack of vitamins.

The conversation stopped when the food arrived. In the din of muzak and the clatter of forks, she imagined running off with that truckin’ surfer. She wanted to climb up into Corky’s cab, slide over and sit on top of him as they took off. She’d be Rosie the Riveter of the road, her handle would be Prom Queen, she’d dazzle them with her smile and they’d call her Pearl.

She’d design fashions for the road, shapes with a vintage perspective. Shoulder pads worn on the outside, like epaulets. Soft felt caps with tinted ostrich plumes. Box-pleated trousers, wide-legged and reckless, hitched in at the waist with a large button creating an hourglass figure. She’d wear soft leather saddle shoes with rubber nubs on the soles to prevent pedal slippage. She’d create a skin care line for the travel-weary, aromatic bath essences for body and mind, scented condoms and flavorful douches.

They’d be a royal team, she and Corky—the king and queen of the road. They’d take truck stops by surprise; cheers would go up when they walked through the doors. She’d dazzle them with her smile. They’d call her Pearl and ask for her autograph. Waitresses would show her their skin and ask for advice. She’d give seminars on the art of being seductive and sexy while driving a rig.

Sometimes they’d call ahead. “Breaker, breaker—this is Prom Queen. Stoppin’ for go-go juice. My wheels are spinnin’ and my beaver’s grinnin’. Loud and clear, 10-4.” They’d buff up that roadway riding high on the ways of life, and through the side-view mirrors they’d always see where they’d been and they’d call her Pearl. 

Her envisioned coupling with Corky dissipated when the meal was over and it was time to say goodbye to her truckers.

She filled up with gas and left Amarillo with a sack full of snacks, cigarettes and a cooler full of vodka, orange juice and beer. A yellow moon followed her to Gallup, New Mexico where it met up with a falling star at the Arizona state line. Passing through the desert, she knew in less than twenty-four hours she’d be in LA. It was a clear, full moon night when she stopped by the edge of the road to take a pee; she’d left her scent in each state on her way out West. There was no traffic. The night was so silent it was creepy, she thought as she slipped in behind the wheel. Now the only sound was her car’s engine gathering speed as she pulled back onto the highway.

All of a sudden she heard a commotion coming from the floor near the paper bag. It was a rustling sound that made the hair on her arms stand at attention. Something’s crawled into my car, she thought as she listened to the thrashing sound. Her apprehension sounded an alarm. It must have gotten into her car when she’d stopped. It sounded like it was in the sack rooting about for something to eat. Fear increased alongside her imagination, which took flight. Whatever it was, it might come looking for more, maybe crawl up her leg or slither into her crotch. What was it? What could it be? Her fear increased. She began to suspect maybe it was a snake, possibly a newt or a skunk conceivably—or a jumping spider. They were all nocturnal feeders. The noise swelled—it was a jumping spider, she was sure of it. She visualized a Robber Fly on the spider’s hairy back. They’d stalked her foot until the Fly grasped the top of her ankle with its forelegs. She had a mental picture of it stabbing her with its beak, paralyzing her with enzymes and then shooting a poison that would dissolve her organs, muscles and bones—all but her skin. In her mind’s eye, her body structure crumpled and began to sag. The skin on her shoulders rumpled, fell, emptied and drooped and her skull collapsed, settling on the car seat like a kicked tent.

Dazed by this perceived depiction of her situation she sat motionless behind the wheel while her car moved onto the exit ramp. A rattle bleated in her ear-holes. A pink neon sign GAS-EATS-GAS-EATS-GAS-EATS flashed on the hood of her car as it came to a halt in front of a roadside café. She jumped out, quickly closed the door, sneaked around to the other side, flung open the car door and her Triple-A map flapped in the breeze once then fell to the asphalt, silent and dead.

Finally in LA, her car went down and she limped into the nearest gas station. The mechanic, John, was a long, lean drink with a mass of curly brown hair and big brown eyes. She was wearing her platform sandals, a green A-line crepe de chine skirt, a loose billowy blouse with floral lace and sixteen covered buttons that spelled longing, romance, and wildness. A scarf tied at her waist gave her an hourglass figure.

She told John that she had just arrived in LA. He said he’d fix her car and buy her a lobster dinner. He told her to return at 5:00. They had that lobster dinner with a bottle of wine, some rum and coke and several shots of Bailey’s Irish Creme. Lighthearted and happy they whirled into the night, and then romped in the sack. He blew in her ear and he got her. The next day she waited for him to return. Call me, she hummed, call, Johnny Boy, just call me. My mind wants my body to migrate. He called her—he came by— he came late but he found her. She was lost and he found her. He told her tales, he told her lies, he blew in her ear and she was lost. She was drifting. She wrote notes to herself and pinned them on the wall—she needed to remember her name. She wondered if this was love or everlasting gratitude.

Again, he blew in her ear. She tried to catch herself before she left the ground as her veils of Maya in bright red with threads of gold fluttered behind her. She ran along the ocean’s edge, jumping through foam-filled negative ions. She leapt into the air leaving only a toe-print in the sand. Beneath her, all she could see were her black-strapped high-heeled shoes flung against his crumpled bathing suit. She swam into the sky, wrestled a cloud, and then breast-stroked through the stratosphere. Moving past planets, she ducked beneath their shadows— the universe was oscillating. She was flying, she was swinging, she salsa’d over to the Sombrero Nebula of Virgo, flash-danced into the hot, blue stars of Orion where the gases made her high. She was filled with self-compassion.

PING—a bell was ringing, she had to go back. Ping, ping, pinging, it was time for dinner. She sped closer, and quivering, she let out a deafening whoop when she was yanked back to the shoreline. Help me get my shoes on she squealed, I’m falling.

Minutes, hours, days and months she loved her Johnny Boy, until the day arrived when she hoped he’d call, the night he didn’t, and she knew it would rain the day after he left. And now she walks the dog, brushes her teeth, climbs into bed and tries not to think of him.

Then, her old boyfriend in Farmington, New Mexico, called. Oh, he could turn a girl’s head. Tall, hazel eyes and a Texas drawl that slurped around her body. “Fly out here to me, I’ll make you an offer you can’t resist,” he said. They sat in the local bar. 

“I’ll set you up with the best high-class men, weekends only, Florida, New York, Chicago. Transportation and wardrobe included.” When he smiled, his soft lips wrapped perfect white teeth.

“I need to think,” she said, stunned by his proposition. “Give me your keys, I’ll be back later.”

She slid onto leather seats the color of caramel, and drove his navy blue 450 SL straight out of town to the edge of the reservation, where she squatted down, dropped some acid, and soon she was high and tripping.

She took her broken spirit, stretched its fibers then push-pinned the edges. She looked for the ends as she walked mid-stream on her red dirt spinal column. A stomach-footed slug slithered her way with rhythmic wave-like contractions as its hump pumped fluids through a sluice-way that left a trail of slime. Its radula, rasp-like, scraped and filed her herniated discs. And as she scrambled to catch the ends, she shirred her ganglia, which gave her a Novocain high. The pain was gone just like the end of a migraine in a bad love affair. She returned his keys and flew home. 

___

JANE ZINGALE is an artist, writer and yoga instructor. She taught performance techniques at the Dutch Institute of Art in Amsterdam, NL and the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-arts Lyon, FR. She directed the recreation of deCointet's Five Sisters at festivals and museums in United States, Amsterdam, Belgium and Spain. She’s performed in Los Angeles at the Getty, The Reina Sophia Museum Madrid, Spain, The LA County Museum, CA, MOMA in NY, The Pompidou, Paris FR and The Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. She’s performed three podcasts for I LOVE A GOOD STORY.