Meeting in the City—Tom Gaffney
Meeting in the City
The breeze was crisp after the all night stale air of the vehicle. She still found her fatigue a bit daunting, but as she stretched facing the early morning sunshine, arms raised and back arched toward the sky, she basked in the freshness of the wind and the contours it cut in the grass. The leaves on the big tree next to the rest area parking lot shifted in the wind like they were scales on a fish’s skin. A world of mundane sensations struck her as new, not just in the luster of the sunrise but as having been revealed to her as marvels connected to so many things she had not been able to see before.
If you do not have words for it, how can you be aware of it? She’d never come this way before. This space was a discovery everywhere she looked.
She fingered the green stones on her pendant. Her grandmother had given it to her the last time they had spoken. She just seemed to up and decide she was done. Started giving away what little was important to her, stopped taking her medication, upped her smoking. Those last two months she spent every night on the sun porch, wrapped in blankets, sitting in silence, dozing or watching the sky. She said she was comfortable and peaceful. Delia had been gone for the weekend, the big senior trip. Her grandmother was gone by the time she got back.
Delia had been surprised at how well she had dealt with it. She had been so upset when grandmother had been diagnosed. She’d avoided her for weeks. Not that she had ever shared that much with her. Her grandmother had been a quiet and benevolent force in her life. Rarely acting directly, but always present, keeping tabs in a good way. You would see her and did not need to catch up. She seemed to know what was going on, always. She was connected and aware despite a thriftiness of word and gesture.
Then she had put the necklace away. She stumbled on it last week, dusted it off, and suddenly it just felt right. Hers as well as her grandmother’s.
The cloudless blue sky struck her as limiting. The reflection from water still hundreds of miles away, hiding the expanses just beyond this little bubble of atmosphere of sustenance. Limit or no, the world was green and beautiful under the sky this morning.
Work had offered her plenty of shifts lately, and she was glad of it. Putting some money away. For what? She wasn’t sure. She had even been getting on with mom lately. Watching her sister had definitely earned her some credits. Mom had even been complimentary, cheered when she saw her wearing the necklace she recognized.
“I’m not surprised your grandmother gave you that. It suits you and it’s pretty. It goes well with your standard costume.”
Delia had replied, “I’ll wear any color as long as it’s black – or grandma’s.”
Anyway, things with Mom were good, and when Delia told her that she was taking off for a few days she had not even seemed to care. True, her mother was probably thinking, or assuming that she and Nathan were a thing. Whatever to that. Nathan was alright, but he was not on her list.
Nope, it had been a chance to get out of town. Granted, not much of a chance. She worked with Nathan at the Pizza Hut. They were friendly enough, having done a lot of dead weeknight shifts together where there had been nothing to do but talk away the silence. She was pretty sure she was not on his list either. That made it seem not too shady when he asked her to drive with him out to Washington for a few days. Nathan was always trading things, a regular craigslist wizard. He collected all sorts of cards and spent most of his free time playing video games and whatever you called what they do on reddit. He said he had a deal worked out in Seattle. Needed to deliver it himself, didn’t want to mail it.
Of course, she had to ask him if it was meth or pills.
“Yeah, right,” he laughed, “I’m moving that stuff from Deer Lodge to Seattle. Pretty sure that road usually runs the other way.”
Nathan was more of a bartering kingpin businessman in the making than a dealer anyway. His favorite drug was delivered by Mountain Dew. He drove an old Toyota van he had bought from his uncle. Hardly a pimp mobile, but it ran.
“You don’t even have to pay for gas. Just need you to stay awake with me. I want to get on the road after we finish our shift.“
He had watched her sleeping. She had not exactly been all that helpful at keeping him awake. He did not mind though. His connection in Seattle had said they could crash at his place for a couple of days. Nothing weird he said, just being friendly. So what if I do not know that much about Max in meatspace, he thought. I’ve been gaming with the guy for almost a year. He’s a good partner. Reliable, runs on the same hours. Consistent. Besides, he had hooked me up with the rocks in the first place.
Yup, Nathan, you really are putting things together. Trades and deliveries. Max said he would cover the gas and let us couch surf for a couple of days. What’s not to love? All just to deliver some rocks. And having Delia along was a breather from isolation. Talking to Delia was pressure free, simple.
They had made it until four or so, when Nathan felt like he was starting to weave on the road. A couple of hours and he was ready to go again.
“Two or three more hours and we can drop the rocks. Then we can check out the city.”
“So, you’re delivering these rocks to this guy. What kind of rocks are they?” asked Delia.
“Shards, or so I am told,” said Nathan. “Max hooked me up with this guy. He was a little unusual, even for a trader.”
“I don’t know. I just sorta didn’t like him. His face seemed to have a natural smirk. Nothing I could put my finger on. Probably nothing. Anyway, Max said some of them used to be pots or bowls in a camp, somewhere near a reservation.”
“Near the reservation?”
“I know, but it seems innocent enough. Just some rocks – shards. They lie around in all sorts of places.”
The sun climbed higher and then they were climbing into the mountains, traffic picking up, then more houses and the city on the horizon. Soon, Nathan had her reading the directions off from a text message on Nathan’s phone. Despite the rush hour traffic they found their way to the address without too much confusion. Max’s place was in this island of quiet and trees amongst the teeming city. When Nathan hopped out, Delia was immediately impressed by the quiet. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t think you were in the city at all.
Delia waited while Nathan went in. She saw him at the door, talking to a hairy and sloppy guy she assumed was Max.
Delia was thinking more about the shards now, more about the guy Nathan had picked them up from. She was no long so sure about their plan to crash at Max’s. This place was eerily quiet and the more she thought about Max the less sure she got. She slunk down in her seat, fingered the stones on her grandmother’s necklace, thought about home.
She remembered how tired she was, climbed into the back of the van, curled up next to the rocks, shards, Nathan was transporting and went to sleep. Maybe I can just stay out here until we head home. She remembered the way the grass and trees had looked at the rest stop this morning, remembered how fresh and new everything seemed.
Next thing she knew, she could hear Nathan opening the back of the van. A couple stood with him, one of them the creepy guy she had seen him with at the door.
“Well, well, well Nathan, look at what we have here,” a woman she had not seen before said with a leer. She reached a hand adorned with many rings in towards Delia. She had “LOVE” tattooed on her hand, a letter for every finger. “Nathan, my love, you must introduce me to your friend . . . “