The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Stories
The Hitcher of '46
It was 1946. He was 17, a high school senior. He’d been let off on the main street of a small Midwestern town. It was mid-afternoon. He hadn’t eaten since the morning.
He saw a diner, went in and sat down at the counter. He set the gym bag carrying his things down on the floor. The waitress behind the counter came over. She was in her forties, with dyed blonde hair and a tired face. The apple pie in the case looked good. He ordered a slice and a glass of milk. She brought them over.
He was hungry. “Hmmm, this pie tastes good,” he said.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” the waitress said.
“No, just passing through.”
“Where are you from?”
“New York. That’s where I’m going.”
“Where are you coming from?”
“Idaho. I worked in the Forestry Service over the summer.”
“Idaho? That’s a long ways. How come you went way out there?”
“A friend of mine told me about it. They paid a dollar an hour, time and a half on Saturday. And you had your room and board so everything you made was clear. It was a good deal.”
“Hope you didn’t spend it all on some girlfriend.”
“No girlfriend. here was really nothing to spend it on. The nearest town was about 30 miles away.”
An older man had sat down at the counter. “Hi, Mary,” he said. “Cup of coffee.” He looked down at the gym bag. “You hitch-hiking?” he asked.
“Have any trouble?”
“Not yet. Well, a little, in Montana, when I started out. The guy was drunk so I asked him to stop and I got out, on a winding road in the mountains. Luckily, a guy stopped, a school teacher visiting his sister, and he drove me all the way to Iowa.”
“That was lucky,” the man said. “A lot of soldier boys on the road; people like to give them rides. Were you in the service?”
“No, too young.”
“He was in the Forestry Service,” said Mary helpfully.
“That so? Fight any fires?”
“No. We had training but there was a lot of rain so no fires.”
“He’s going back to New York,” said Mary. “I bet he has a girl back there.”
“No, not really.”
Give him another slice of that pie,” the man said. “I’ll get his bill.”
“Thanks.” When he finished they wished him good luck.
He walked down Main Street, a gas station, a general store, a clothing store, a few other shops. People were moving up and down the street, going about their business. He came to a few houses. He could see people through the windows and suddenly he felt a pang of loneliness. When he came to the point where the road led out of town he put down his gym bag and started to wait for cars to come along.
The feeling of loneliness persisted; everyone else in that little town has his or her place and he was just a stranger, on the outside. But it wasn’t too bad. He knew he wasn’t really all by himself. His mother was waiting for his return, although she didn’t know he was hitch-hiking; she thought he was taking a bus. She’d make a big fuss over him. Then he was going off to college. He had a scholarship that would pay for his tuition. He would be working on campus for his room and board. He hoped the money he’d saved over the summer would cover his books and other expenses.
He waited. The last ride he’d had was a short one, just two towns over. He wanted another long ride, like the one he’d gotten in Montana. It was mid-afternoon. The landscape was flat. The sky was a pale blue. The sun looked fiery. It was hot. Nothing like New York City, but then he’d become used to different settings, even the national forest in which he’d worked. And to different people. Usually, they were nice, like those two in the diner. Again, he felt lonely and small, just a slight figure in this flat land that seemed to stretch forever. Sooner or later though the right car would come along and he’d be on his way again. Until then he was by himself, alone; but something else, he was, for that moment, free.
© Martin Green Jan 2013
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