0 Miles. Sterling Heights, Michigan Winona couldn’t.
266 miles. Gary, Indiana
I nodded. The cup almost overflowed.
“East or west?”
“You’re young, aren’t ya?”
The waitress walked to a man I’d noticed in the corner of the restaurant, also alone. He had on a pressed blue button-up and a black cap that matched his beard, possibly covered a balding head. She told me later his name was Roger Mathis.
“Be with you in a second, hun.”
I imagined Roger setting several records at his small ass high school while banging the head cheerleader. Based off short and (now) stocky point-guard like stature, maybe he was the top dog in assists, career leader in getting pussy. Or maybe he was a possessor of a full-ride blown off to support an unplanned child now grown. But he had no cheerleader, not now. No skirt to lift up, no panties to pull aside, no bra to struggle taking off.
The waitress clicked her pen. “Waiting for someone?”
“Just me.” I assumed Roger answered differently.
“Then what can I get ya?”
“Two eggs over easy, links, wheat toast. Side of pancakes.”
The waitress scurried to Roger and giggled like a cheerleader after butchering the squad’s routine with an unsynchronized kick. It made me wonder if she was once Roger’s. But Roger kept looking out the window as if he were some bird who’d forgotten how to fly south, scouring frosted dirt for worms thought unworthy.
444 Miles. Davenport, Iowa
Winona was everywhere but nowhere to be seen. A mirage, in Iowa, at home. Glowing in doorways of movie theaters, on the grass of our favorite park, Lake Erie’s shore. Pale. Confined, but beautiful.
San Diego. Where she thought she belonged, ankle deep in the Pacific. With Francis, maybe. Her skin dark as ever, sun-bleached hair. Appearing free in uploaded mirages. They do nothing at all to kill love; a year of them can’t kill that. Mere bruises, scabs picked at and crusted beneath fingernails, balled up and discarded to cold floors but still there and lingering. Winona, always lingering.
802 Miles. Lincoln, Nebraska
Mom called today and wanted to have a real conversation for once. She asked how I was and I told her fine. Then she asked how the car was holding up and I said fine.
“I’m fine. Going through a drive-thru (I’ll take a number four with Coke, please).”
“We miss you already, that smile of yours.”
That wasn’t true—unless year-long toothless grins concealing numbness counted—but I told her I miss them too, even Maggie, our bloodhound, which wasn’t true either. I miss you should have more weight, but it doesn’t from her. From Winona, sure; I miss you would’ve meant something then.
“I heard a squeak—are the brakes okay? I can wire you some money.”
“They’re fine, Mom. Everything’s fine (thanks).”
“Yes. I’m going to eat now.”
“Ok. Be safe, I love you.”
“Tell Winona I say hello.”
1071 Miles. Ogallala, Nebraska
Winona II because she looked like Winona. Flat chest, thick hips, eyes—curious eyes everyone knew could never be satisfied by half-filled silos.
“Her?” Winona II said.
I bet Winona II keeps a journal to speculate about what’s out there, prince fucking charming and a view of the city from atop a skyscraper that is supposed to clarify any confusion. Maybe Winona II wrote about me later, something about the kid sitting nearby that wouldn’t/couldn’t stop glancing at her, wondering if I was leaving or staying, what role I played in all of this. I’m not sure if Winona keeps a journal anymore. Maybe she still writes about us. Maybe on the page I evolve into Francis.
“Yeah, her.” Baby Fat looked my way so I shoved around my eggs.
Baby Fat wasn’t anything special. Skinny, some stubble, messy hair. Curious eyes, but only curious for Winona II. His didn’t search for warmer air and oceans and art school. He loved her, here, though he could fold his love to fit his pocket. I’m sure Baby Fat would try everything—emails, gifts, picnics, walks, bikes, horses, handwritten letters—to keep Winona II’s eyes on him, his wanting to sit still in her heart.
“Yeah, she’s a dyke.”
“You think so? Are you messing with me again?” Winona had a lot of questions, too.
Winona II took a long look at a woman across the restaurant reading a magazine and eating what looked to be tuna.
“What do you see?
“I see the tuna. I see the Cosmo. She’s alone. Her hair is done real nice, layered, like she just came from the salon. Nice purse. Coach, maybe. Miss anything?”
“You’re not seeing it. Switch sides.” Baby Fat was being too direct, too confident. Because he hadn’t tuned his eyes to other women, Baby Fat probably took notes on how to get The One from romcoms and dramadies that teach little to nothing about reality.
When they switched sides I caught a whiff of Winona II’s shampoo. She even smelled like her, like that first time we had sex and I was on top and didn’t know what to do with my hands so I kept them in her hair and the Ocean Breeze clung for hours.
“See anything different?”
“Look at her upper lip, at the peach fuzz. You probably think that green tanktop she’s wearing is cute—perfect for a hot day, right? The next time she moves, look at her armpits.”
“What, the sweat stains?”
“No, the hair.”
“That doesn’t make her a lesbian.”
“Here’s the kicker. You’d think with that tanktop she’d be wearing pants that hug her ass and some cute shoes that match, right? She isn’t, though. She has carpenter jeans on, baggy at that. And she’s wearing blue basketball shoes. Fucking Nikes. She’s looking at the Cosmo because it’s one of the closest things she can get to being a real woman.”
I wish I would’ve said something to Baby Fat. Winona would, like that one time at Arby’s when a punk ass teenager made fun of an old woman struggling to put Horsey sauce on her tray and Winona threw an uncapped cup of ketchup that splattered on the flat bill of Punk Ass’s hat. Winona’s actions and the old woman’s “Thank you” spoke much louder than Punk Ass’s “Fuck you, bitch” and exit.
“Why’s she eating the tuna then?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
“No. It isn’t.”
“Pussy smells like tuna.”
I had never been like Baby Fat.
“You haven’t changed.” Winona II grabbed her purse and left. Maybe pussy and tuna would be the last flick on a nerve once hidden by thick skin now exposed and throbbing.
Baby Fat pouted at the table, his curious eyes unsatisfied with the certainty of what his greasy coffee cup reflected back under the light: Baby Fat, alone.
1460 Miles. Rifle, Colorado
Jake called me today and said Winona put pictures of her and Francis online. I could’ve, but didn’t look them up on my phone miles later. Without me asking, he said they were taken at some concert and both of them were dripping with sweat, like in that dream I told him about a while ago where I see Winona getting railed by some dude on a beach that can throw her around in a way she likes. A way that I can’t. The one that ends with her struggling for breath, fingernails hidden in what little fat the dude has on his back, her knuckles white. I asked if he was a big guy and Jake said he was. Then he told me they’d miss me at the car wash and he was pissed he’d have to work with dipshit Arthur all summer. I laughed and told him I wasn’t sorry, then he asked if I’d told Winona I was coming. I told him no, that it’s a surprise and it could change things. He called me an idiot and said it wasn’t going to change a goddamn thing and I hung up.
1733 Miles. Aurora, Utah
Lots of chatter in the restaurant, which made me homesick for the first time since I left. Thought of Coney, of Dad and where he could be now, of Stevenson High School’s cafeteria, of Mom watching Ellen, then Maury, then Montel.
“Royce Crosaci, you ginger son of a bitch.”
They shook hands next to their table. Bronco reminded me of a fat Patrick Bateman, slicked hair and three-piece suit foreign to Aurora. Royce was a weathered redhead with coffee splatters on his t-shirt from an anxious wrist.
“How are the kids?”
“Getting to the age where they’re out there searching for love.”
I wondered at what age I began, when anyone does. I waited for Bronco to tell me there was such a thing to be found in San Diego—the tone in his voice said he knew, the confidence sliding off the back of his tongue, not leaping off the tip—but Royce, Royce needed answers, too.
“I don’t know where she goes.”
“How do you not know?” Again, that slide.
“Well, Becky doesn’t get home until eight usually. She told me she wanted to get a membership at Total Fitness, but I haven’t seen any change in the bank account. She’s not paying membership fees. I’d see that, right?”
“What does she look like when she gets home?”
“She’s still in her office clothes but she, she—she doesn’t look like she just got fucked or anything.”
I pictured Becky as an average woman. Not a model. Not a dog. Not tall. Not short. Maybe work and alcohol and cigarettes took a toll on her body but she was still attractive to a degree. Still desirable.
“I can’t just accuse her of cheating. She’d avoid the question. Flip the situation on its head and send me on a guilt trip for even considering it. Maybe leave me.”
“You still love her?”
“Of course.” Royce’s response time couldn’t have been gauged by seconds.
“Don’t let her out of your sight. Put a GPS on that bitch. You should’ve kept her ass at home, like I did with Marie.”
Bronco, the oracle, was merely a suit with hair that had searched only for control and found it in what he figured was a weaker being. He hadn’t learned a short leash solves nothing. This Marie, she probably brought a world Bronco was ignorant of into their home, onto her couch, his side of the bed. I lost my appetite thinking Marie had the right.
1936 Miles. Littlefield, Arizona
Sick of driving. Stopped for the night in some scummy motel. First time I’ve thought about turning back. Can hear people fucking next door and whoever’s on top keeps slapping the walls like it proves a point and I’m afraid to fall asleep because of that dream. I don’t want to see it anymore, Winona’s lips like curtains unveiling teeth, the white knuckles, the wet tan-lined thighs. She kisses him when she’s done, always kisses him not just on the lips, but the forehead. And then they trace each other’s interstates on their palms under moonlight, waves not crashing like my conscious mind would hope, but gently filling lovers’ footprints.
1945 Miles. Mesquite, Nevada
He had an Oklahoman drawl when he said, “Willie.”
Willie was a handsome guy—old but fit with tattoos. He showed me one with a bulldog. Its jaws were no longer fierce but sloppily drooling over his blistered right hand. Mauled by Nevada sun, and age.
“Got that after basic. Hottest summer of my life. Where you headed?”
“Girl then. We do dumb things for love, don’t we.” Willie phrased this not as a question, but a statement; the right punctuation. “What’s her name?”
“That’s pretty.” Despite Willie’s machismo, pretty was not a hard word for him to say.
“Was? What’s your story, Trevor?”
“Don’t have a story.”
“Gonna start one then?”
After that he told me if I loved Winona like he loved his wife to not let her die and I think I was listening because the way the bulldog shivered when Willie spoke of bedpans and IVs and oxygen tanks and time seemed to wake me up. Those hands, that bulldog had seen many places, loved many things, perhaps killed others. But one room, one person had scarred its soul still.
0 Miles. Mesquite, Nevada
I don’t know when I’ll see an ocean.
About the Author: Garrett Dennert is a native of Michigan, former Laker, current Nonfiction Editor of Squalorly, writer until death. This is his first publication.
Story Song: "Hole in the Silver Lining" by The Crane Wives