striped dash

Traveler’s Gothic

No matter what time you leave, it is always just too dark to be twilight. The streetlights are always on. It is always just a little bit chilly.

You are sitting in the bus station. The bus is so late you hope they’ll honor your ticket for the next one. The bus is so late you wonder if the interstate changed directions again. The bus is so late it has lapped itself and come too early. Either way, you think you missed it. You sit in the bus station and you wait.

You watch the road outside your window. The white dashed lines flash by. The road curves and the lines keep going straight ahead. They paint themselves over cornfields and farmhouses. They bleach into the mountains. They shave segments into cows. They are Morse code. Not there yet, they say. Not there yet.

There is a man smoking on the corner. He holds a phone in one hand and a zippo in the other and his cigarette in another. You take off your headphones and stop a kind-looking woman with a grocery bag. Excuse me, you say. What city is this? She nods approvingly and says, Yes it is.

Someone asks you a question. When you answer, nothing comes out of your mouth but the smell of gasoline. You haven’t used your voice in weeks. You try tapping out morse code but all you manage is road stripes, dash-dash-dash-dash-dash–not there yet.

You have been on a layover for an hour. Your phone battery is at 42% and you hope that is enough to play music through the next leg of your trip. Someone has carved the name sam into the corner of the wall where you sit. You trace it over and over with your hands. sam, sam, samsamsamsam. They finally call for boarding. You get on to the planebustrain and fall asleep. It lurches to a stop several hours later and you depart blearily, slinging your backpack over one shoulder. You find a place to sit and hunker down. Your phone battery is at 42%. Someone has carved sam into the wall where you sit.

You stretch your legs and want a cigarette. The moon is bright and bright and bright. You rummage in your purse for your lighter. You hear the freeways because of the cars. You hear the cars because of the freeways. There is a lighter somewhere in your purse. You rummage in your purse. You rummage in your chest.

The person in the driver’s seat gives you a nudge. You take your feet off the dashboard and your legs are asleep. Rest stop? they ask. You nod. There is no one else in the parking lot. You run cold water over your hands and take your hair down. You put your pen on the sink. You leave and buy chips from the vending machine. Forty minutes later you realize you have forgotten your pen. So it goes. The next time you stop, you just buy a soda. Your friend uses the bathroom and comes out with something in their hand. You forgot this, they say. They hand you your pen.

You are counting license plate states. You find a new one. You shout. Your co-travelers curse. You tally into your notebook. The tally is number two hundred and three.

You buy cigarettes at a gas station chain where the lights flicker on/off/on/off. The clerk behind the counter has five-o'clock shadow on his eyes. The whole place smells like beer and the liquor fridge is empty. He asks to see your ID. You look different now, he says. You look at yourself in the convex mirror behind the counter. You watch yourself blink. What state is this one? he asks. It takes you five minutes and an entire cup of lukewarm coffee to realize he’s asking about your ID. You have been standing here for much too long. The line behind you is getting impatient. You mumble an answer. He ignores you and waves his co-worker over. He squints and points at you.

What state is this one? he asks.

3

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