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Mickey and Skye stand between the Caddy and the stealth pickup.
“I sort of wish I could tag along with you. On the other hand…”
“You want to be Nature Boy.”
Mickey searches the data banks. “Nat King Cole?”
“That’s the one.”
“Yep. No offense to she who will not be named, but it’s nice to come to a junction and go right or left without a conference. Maybe even do something stupid, with the luxury of nobody knowing about it.”
Skye chuckles. “Feels like I’m passing the torch.”
Mickey looks toward the truck. “You will definitely have to let me know what happens. Lots of pain in that girl. Should I tell her goodbye?”
Skye kicks a stray pebble, is surprised when it clangs against a pipe. “At this point, I’m going by what they say about coma patients: you never know what’s going to get through so you may as well say it.”
Mickey approaches the window. Rachel is curled against the headrest, one hand wrapped around the seatbelt. Mickey ducks inside to kiss her on the cheek. She stretches, cat-like, then resumes her position.
“Come back, Persephone. We need you for the spring.”
He turns and gives Skye a hug. “Best of luck, Captain. Send me some updates.”
“Thanks, Mick. And thanks for the preposterous idea.”
“Anytime.” Mickey climbs into the Caddy and fires it to a baritone rumble. He hits the horn, producing the theme from Beethoven’s Fifth, and rolls away.
Skye gets into his new-old truck, pulls out a map and considers his future.
His initial thought is of icons – the icons in Rachel’s collages. Perhaps a spark of recognition will help to bring her back. He heads north along the Missouri River, Lewis and Clark’s river, Nebraska whispering just across the water. On the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, they enter a rainstorm, and Skye sees thousands of leaves drifting across the road.
“Look, honey, isn’t that odd? Why would wet leaves be blowing around like that?”
The running narration is something he decided he needs to do – although it does feel a bit silly.
He pulls over to get some gas, and notices something strange on his bumper: a dozen green smears, like guacamole constellations. The connection doesn’t take long to land: those weren’t leaves. Those were frogs, tens of thousands of frogs migrating across the road. He can only imagine how many went under his tires.
He finds a radio station and sings along to an old Roger Miller tune, “Chug-a-lug,” hoping to mask the shadow of death, but suspects he has failed when Rachel takes his hand. Still, the feel of her fingers is nice, and the roadway is clear of amphibians.
They head west on I-90, and wake up in a motel in Mitchell. He guides Rachel into a diner and gets her to share some of his pancakes. The day is brilliant, and the coffee has had its effect, so Skye sets out to tell his entire life story. Somewhere along age eleven, he lands on a relevant subject.
“We were stationed in Monterey, at the Naval Postgraduate School, and then my dad got orders to San Jose, about 60 miles to the north. It being summer, we decided to cover that 60 miles via Yellowstone Park.
“I loved Yellowstone! The hydrothermal stuff was mesmerizing. The mudpots like boiling buckets of paint, that great rotten-egg smell. We got back to California a day early, so we parked the camper in the mountains overlooking San Jose. And naturally, our cat gets out and disappears into the woods, and looking back I have to say, We took a cat to Yellowstone? Are you fucking kidding me? Oh look, honey, we’re crossing the Missouri.”
To which Rachel responds, “Hm.” And buries herself in her blanket.
The rest of the day is one icon after another, beginning with the Badlands. Thinking of the alarm clock, Skye pulls Rachel to a bench at the overlook, and holds her head in his hands so she’s forced to look: hundreds of yellow, orange and red mounds, topped with snow like mineral desserts.
Driving through Rapid City, Skye spots a pack of dinosaurs on a high ridge and wanders the streets until he reaches them. At a park, the lights of town stretched out beneath them, he lifts Rachel’s hand to the metallic belly of a brontosaur.
They make Mt. Rushmore after nightfall and find the presidents lit up by spotlights. This being the icon of icons, Skye forces himself to stay with Rachel and stare for a good twenty minutes. He’s actually a little disappointed – Rushmore looks exactly like it’s supposed to look. Driving away, he lands on a rockabilly surf tune and hears a phrase pinging around his head: To see Abe Lincoln glowing in the cold arena light. He recites it a dozen times as they snake through the Black Hills.
They wake up in Gillette, Wyoming and stop in Buffalo for Chinese food. Climbing into the Bighorn Mountains, Skye breaks into the leftovers and is still noshing as they pass a sign that reads Powder River Pass. He repeats the phrase several times, then sees what he’s eating and expands it to, And still we eat our snow peas on the Powder River Pass. Then recites it twenty times as Rachel occasionally grunts.
At sunset they arrive in Thermopolis, a hot springs park with all the subtlety of a children’s pizza parlor. Skye manages to get Rachel into shorts and shirt, and walks her to a hot tub that smells of rotten eggs. A curious yellow triceratops peers over their shoulders as an afterglow paints the lunar hills. He dips his hand into the water and dabs it on her face.
“Rachel, I’m trying real hard here, but I gotta admit, it’s getting a little frustrating. I would be thrilled to meet your real self before we get to California.”
Once again, the West is wearing him out. Once they reach I-80 at Rock Springs, he finds himself on an old track, and he’s too tired to finagle his way out of it. He gets through Salt Lake City as quickly as possible, and spends the remainder of the day conquering the Salt Flats. The graffiti on the roadsides, black rocks against white salt, is the exact opposite of the Kona lava fields. It’s just now that he realizes he drove almost completely across Utah without thinking of Lindsy.
They enter the Jack Mormon paradise of Wendover, Nevada, and are greeted by Wendover Will, an illuminated 63-foot cowboy. Skye gets them a room at a casino and takes Rachel to the main floor to absorb the merry chaos of the slots. He settles at a penny machine featuring yodeling goats, and enjoys the feel of Rachel leaning on his shoulder.
“Where are we?”
It’s the first three-word sentence she’s produced since the shutdown began. He fights the urge to over-react by keeping his eyes on the screen.
“We’re in Nevada, honey. We’re playing the slots.”
“Hm.” She runs a hand into his hair. He hits the Spin Again button.
The three words give him the idea that he’s headed in the right direction, so he bullets across the state, picking up sandwiches at truck stops and driving on. The shadow of Lindsy reappears at Winnemucca. He drives on. As they near Lovelock, curtains of snow drift across the roadway. Rachel comes awake to watch them, and smile.
Speed is essential, so he sticks to the interstate, all the way into Reno. He takes Rachel into a casino for a five-dollar slots refresher, then courses south through Carson City, onto the sweeping curves of 395. They arrive in Bridgeport at midnight. Skye pulls into the same motor lodge, and, because it’s the off-season, gets the same room he had before. He feels the loop of his travels clicking into place.