When I Say You

I mean… all of you:

Man, woman and child, here in the checkout line, on the opposing escalator, on the stage, emerging from the elevator, three ahead in the queue engaged in a conversation with her, or them. Passing in your car. Looking out your window as I pass by on the freeway. A part of me is constantly derailing and coming to you, pulling you out of the burning coach, stepping between you and your drunken date, catching your subpoena as it blows away, handing you a napkin just as you spill, noticing what you notice and confirming your suspicions: your constant, faithful and anonymous companion.

Outside of Wyoming, or very newly inside, the sky was inky and unforgiving and we were singular on a very broad highway climbing to Cheyenne. At the tops of things we careened through snow flurries. In the bottoms of things we barely pierced the darkness. Ahead I saw a glow and hoped a car would pass to convince me we hadn’t left the planet through a hole in one of the crest-dwelling snowflakes.

The glow descended down the opposing hill and I rushed to welcome it. Hello Other. We are Here, yes? I am not driving Alone. This place is for Both of Us. Uncertainty set in as the glow didn’t grow into a double beam, and the double beam didn’t grow into a vehicle whirring to the place we were just leaving. I instinctively woke the sleeping passenger with a grip of the jacket. She wiped the sleep out of her eyes just as the passenger tire passed us, engulfed in flame, rolling down our hill unattached to whatever car it used to belong to. Ahead: nothing. Behind: nothing. Above: nothing. Below: the song of the blacktop. Burning tires make a warbling sound.

With a morbid quiet overtaking us, we reluctantly crawled to the crest of the hill and plateaued. A shimmering vertical skated across the highway ahead and we slowed in approach. A woman was walking the yellow line in a house dress and cardigan sweater. The window rolled down, and the ice wind flooded our car as we pleaded with her to get out of the road. She muttered and warbled in pain, eyes fixed on the spot where the tire had left her view and plummetted into North Dakota. We promised to send help again and again, but she kept trotting after her tire, little feet in flats.

We passed the scene within a few hundred yards: a loaded late 70’s station wagon with pick up bed trailer, missing one wheel, tilted by the shoulder, a comet trail of personal belongings. Our hearts sank as we waited for the next exit, which came much too late. Dutifully, we ramped it down and came to a rest at a one-pump station where we earnestly explained what we had seen out on the highway, 8 miles back, stranded in the ice wind, tire on fire, cardigan sweater. The attendant listened pokerfaced, a ghoul with a magic finger that he pointed subtlely at a stringy poodle with rheumy eyes. Depending on the movement of that finger, the dog would lie down, sit up, roll over, or attempt to flip backwards and fail, righting itself and licking its maw in a strange staccato. The attendant never spoke to us.

May I use the phone?

As we were getting back in the car, I stung my eyes looking back into the blistering blackness for the underdressed woman, and I followed the idea of her in the side mirror, even after hours of turns, and dozens of snowflakes engulfed us.

I never left her side. Arms around her by the side of the road. Everything’s going to be alright.

Count on me.

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