The International Writers Magazine
:Dreamscapes Travel Fiction

A Travel Story, from the Word Go
Tom Sheehan

"How come you’re so sour this morning, Marcie?" Melanie Sopes leaned toward her co-worker at the Saugus branch of AAA. Both were young, both striking redheads, hired as if they had been twins looking for work, now staffing the Trip Tik desks at the facility. Miles Kenneally, the boss, had moved the desk around in his office so he could watch their sunshine all day long.

"Oh, you’d never understand, Mellie. I’ve never been anyplace. Lucky to get out of Saugus once in a while. A trip now and then to see my aunt in New Hampshire. That’s not much of a ride. Boredom at another word." A deep breath came as punctuation. "I could draw that route in my sleep, number each exit, print out the mileage by heart. But you’ve been all over. Atlantic City, Foxwoods, even out to the Finger Lakes that time with Eddie who’s long gone now." She shrugged her shoulders, not understanding the break-up between Melanie and Eddie. "I’m just dead in the water." She turned her palms up at her own abject dissolution, and said it again: "Just dead in the water. And my mother tells me this morning, can you imagine, she’s going to Yarmouth again, up in Nova Scotia, on the gambling boat with a boyfriend. And that’s overnight again. I bet it’s her third trip or so."
"Same guy?" Melanie’s eyes moved with the question, knowing the answer.
"I don’t think so." Marcie, turning slowly in her chair, shrugged her shoulders again and looked at the surroundings, but at nothing in particular.
Melanie offered a sage caution: "Better start smiling, Marcie. If luck jumped up and bit you in the ass, you’d never know it."

From across the room, moving with a sense of dependence, a pair of old timers wearing their ages wearily, wearing eye glasses, both with hearing aids, clothing of each entirely uncoordinated, but holding hands, sat down in front of Melanie’s desk.

The man, in a purple sweater and a hideous green shirt, offered a chaste smile and said, "We want a trip ticket to Walla Walla, Washington." The woman smiled at the man, then at Melanie. Crows’ feet, implanted near her eyes, might have been scored in place. Gray hair hung thin and sparse, but her cheeks shone. "We’re going to elope and we’re not going to tell the kids." She giggled. Melanie almost giggled in turn. In an escape measure, she looked around the room, seeking something to concentrate on. Her eyes set on a young man being directed to Marcie’s desk by the reception clerk. Leaning over, whispering, Melanie said, "Smile, Marcie, there’s a grand hunk of lover boy coming your way. My gawd, he is scrumptious! We can swap if you want. I won’t mind a bit." Then she giggled again, deep in her throat. The giggle made her cough.

The young man of extraordinary looks, eyes blue as her bedroom lampshade, blond to the roots, settled easily into the chair in front of Marcie’s desk. Wide shoulders loomed square and powerful. She drew her knees together in a slight panic, with a bell, a sounder of sorts, ringing somewhere deep inside saying what she felt. Redness, as if from her hair, spread in a wave across her face.
Marcie said, "Do you have a ticket?" Her knees, tight together, knocked. She’d die if they echoed.
"No," he said, his voice smooth as the low end of a violin. "That’s what I’m here for, a trip ticket. Can you do that for me?" His blue cardigan sweater, hanging open and loose over a well-formed physique, picked on his eyes for support. One hand spread itself on the desktop; no rings, no scars, no old-time stories. Her knees slowed their rhythm, but the beat was still known, still threatened exposure.
"I mean, do you have a card? May I see it, please?" She could hear her Aunt Mary’s voice saying the phrase over and over again, proposing that you always learn from your mistakes in life: "When he comes, he’ll come like a stiletto. He’ll slide under your skin like you’ve never felt a thing before. Believe me, like a stiletto, like a razor’s edge. They’re the ones that are worth it all. You better be able to pick them out right off the bat."

The young man’s hand on the desk disappeared, came back, and placed his membership card in front of her. A name leaped out in black letters on the gold surface. When she said the name to herself it was like a mouthful of candy. She dared chew on it: Jared Perempteron. Never had she seen that name. Never had it come across her desk for the year and a half she’d been here. She said it again, mouthed it, tried counting syllables and felt the fluster and the redness merge on her face, and saw that he’d been a member since 1998, so he was at least 28 years old, said her figuring. Another look at his hands confirmed her first assessment, and how exceptionally strong they looked, tanned on the backsides and no knuckle scars evident, no rough stories. She remembered that was what she had seen in Melanie’s Eddie the first time, the knuckles giving away his past, some of his recent history.

"Where do you plan to visit, Mr. Perempteron?" she said, trying to make it all smoother than it was. The name rushed through her as before. Counting syllables in his name seemed worth it, appropriate; she tried it again. His eyes fell on her breasts, lingered, moved away, but not before they broadcast a sense of acknowledgment, appreciation. A shiver was waiting to happen along her backside.
"I don’t care," he said, without hesitation. "I’m just going, looking at scenery, seeing a bit of the country. I have the time. I’ve always wanted to go, so now I’m going. But I don’t like a lot of detours, a lot of construction on the way. That’s a definite requirement. I’ve heard you people can fill that in for me, divert me away from it, at least the on-going stuff. Am I right on that account?"

The deep blue of his eyes made its own point and the melody in his voice seeped through her body. "Oh, yes. I can take care of that. Do you like the seashore or the mountains? Do you drive for long days or short hauls? Do you stop for lunch when driving?" How do you spend your nights, tell me?
"None of that do I know. I’ve never been any place. Now I have the chance."
"So where is it that you’re heading to?" Not too far I hope.
"I don’t care. Just tell me how to get there, keep me away from detours and road construction, make life pleasant for me."
"How long would you be going for?"
"It doesn’t matter. I have all the time in the world."
Marcie wondered about his age again. Had she been right? Had he been so successful so early in life that he could run off just like that? She could almost hear her fingers snap.
For a moment her mind was suddenly lost in another trip. She couldn’t remember who had told her about Prince Edward Island and the lobster bakes and a sparkling ride on the Cabot Trail, and how they had celebrated the end of their trip by fishing for salmon on the Miramichi River at Ted William’s own pool in Doaktown, New Brunswick. But she had gone studiously to the travel books and often went back over every foot of the trip, committing it to desire. It had brought the wanderlust… and, too, the rut that assailed her each morning.
Now, as if in waiting for the right occasion, that other trip animated her.
"How about the Finger Lakes in New York?" She wanted to stretch, to feel good, but didn’t dare to. She could have said, Eddie went up there and now he’s gone, but she said, "It’s exquisite country up there. You can get there by going up through Vermont, which is a great ride in itself, like on Route 100 or Route 7, and go to the tip of Vermont up by North Hero and then go down through upstate New York, and the whole country is open after that. You can go to Canandaigua and then there’s the ride along Lake Erie and out to Chicago along the lake too, and the lakes of Wisconsin and Michigan and mountains of Idaho and Montana and the wide open ranges and the national parks galore."
Deep breaths made their way, punctuated her litany. "Find a whole world out there right in our own country. My gosh, you could go right on to Oregon and Washington state or even on to Alaska. Like Rogers and Clark did, or some of the mountain men. Did you ever see the movie Jeremiah Johnson? My god, my kid brother loved that movie, knew all the dialogue, every last line. I even think I remember some of it." At the back of her head someplace, in a memory patch full of color, she saw Robert Redford gazing down at his Indian woman for the first time, his eyes lighting up the screen. Her knees knocked for awareness one more time.

Melanie stared at her, puzzlement emanating from her open mouth. Miles Kenneally, from inside his office, watched Marcie’s redder sunrise.

She knew she had carried on too far, but Jared Perempteror was smiling at her. He dazzled; his teeth shone perfectly, his chin carried a small dimple with character of its own, the sun that once roamed on his cheeks and forehead took on a keener display. Her knees knocked with threat, swearing anew they’d be heard across the room. Oh, God forgive me, she said under her breath, and afraid that would be heard too.

Jared Perempteror had not let go of his smile. "Mark it out for me, and just the way you said it, that remarkable way, that exciting way you do it, like you love your job and are best at it. Does things for your eyes, I swear." He paused and she believed he was going to change his mind, but he added, "Put in the Alaska part too, the whole shooting match. Might as well make it a fell swoop, if that’s how they say it."
His hands spread apart in a significant gesture that encompassed the whole country. Strong forearms loomed atop her desk. Did Robert Redford pick up his Indian woman with such arms? The color of Marcie’s hair must have drained entirely into her face. Suddenly she knew she had no awareness of her hair, as if she had gone bald. Her hand reached, touched loose red strands, and she had acute knowledge that her breasts had moved with the reach, felt the stretch; his eyes had moved too with abrupt calculation. His look exhilarated her. Deep inside, where everything starts out on its wherever, she knew him in a desperate way.

She knew she had to ask. The words popped out of her. "When would you be leaving, Mr. Perempteror?" The dream, the longing, sat in her eyes obvious as a billboard. His name is sweetness itself, smooth like chocolate. I can taste it; Perempteror. Oh, my.
"As soon as I can find a co-pilot. I don’t like to drive alone."

He’s joking with me. The look in her eyes aroused surprise, then alertness, a warning, came alongside, like a boat being secured to the pier, coming from the spread of water, coming to sudden roost.
For the first time, like ignition or spontaneous combustion, an intuitive screech started inside, rising from an old memory patch long thought lost. Oh, God, he must be sick. Maybe he’s been given a death sentence. Perhaps cancer or a blood disorder. Her mouth must have collapsed with the thought. He wants to see his country, this country, as much as he can as quick as he can. He wants to see it as much as I do. The thought plunged home. Aunt Mary went just like that, in one swift month. So unfair! So damn unfair!

Her mouth went agape, and the redness filled her face again. "Are you all right, Mr. Perempteror? You’re not sick are you?" Oh, I’m so wide open, too intrusive and entirely out of my mind. I’ll get canned now if Miles heard me.

Jared Perempteror laughed lowly and softly, trying to assure no one would hear him. "No," he said, "nothing like that." His voice was a whisper. "I just don’t have to work any more. But I will. I just want to see the country while I’m young enough to enjoy it." He tossed a minimal gesture of his head to the older couple at Melanie’s desk. "While I’m young enough to enjoy it." He nodded at the couple at Melanie’s desk. "Stuff like that’s beginning to bother me."
"Oh, yes," Marcie said, almost collapsing in a surge of satisfaction, of pleasure touching even her bones. "I was just telling Mellie about such a trip."
He leaned across the desk and said, "I don’t have to go right away. Could we talk about it at dinner sometime, like tonight?"
Melanie’s gasp matched Marcie’s as the two redheads lit up the office, as Miles wondered what was going on at the Trip Tik desk, where the two older customers were roughly getting to their feet, leaning on each other, silly grins on their faces.

© Tom Sheehan September 2005

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