The woman leaves everything behind: home, job, cats, clothes,
friends. Armed with only a car and a plastic card she ventures
forth into the rest of the world.
was born in New England and it’s a cold place. Raised in
the four iron walls of the long winter. Left to brood in the dark.
Growing up there made me strange though I never understood how
strange until I’d shaken the winter salt from my boots.
I drove south and watched the summers lengthen and felt the heat
make its home in my skin. The forgotten dream spurred me onward
and some days I thanked it and others I cursed it but I was happy
to have the ice melted out of my toes.
car gets a flat in South Carolina. Riding along on a back road
tangled with trees and spooky with Spanish moss when she feels
the shudder and blow, the telltale pull of the wheel.
Pennsylvania the woman picks up a hitchhiker. This hitchhiker
is a young woman who calls herself River. River is younger. She
is twenty if she is a day and she smells like she hasn’t
bathed in awhile but she’s young and has straight white
teeth and perky breasts. She never wears a bra. She giggles at
everything. She sits in the passenger seat and twiddles through
the radio stations and threatens to pee in an empty waxed paper
cup when the woman can’t find a bathroom. The two of them
pick up another hitchhiker in Virginia, a bearded guy who’s
been hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has pot and he asks politely
if he’s allowed to smoke. The woman rolls down the windows
and says she doesn’t care. The windows keep most of the
smoke out of her head but not all of it. Before they are even
out of Virginia River fucks him. She does it in a gas station
bathroom while the woman is paying for gas.
is the kind of girl who has to fuck everybody. The woman muses
on this while she is driving and eating a fruit pie. River fucked
her way out of New York and cemented the allegiance of their wannabe
nature bumhead with her cunt and will likely fuck her way to wherever
she wants to go. The woman wonders if River will make a pass at
her. The night after they leave the mountain man at a bus station
in Georgia she gets her answer. They’re staying in a cheapo
motel with one bed and the woman lies in bed and pretends to sleep
and River kisses the back of her neck. River kisses her neck and
puts her greedy arms around her waist and the woman cannot bear
her need. So she turns her down. Unlocks her hands and pushes
them away. She lies in bed and listens to River fall asleep and
thinks that if River offers again she may take her up on it.
the tire is expensive. Waiting for the tire costs even more.
night after showers River makes another try and the woman kisses
her and thinks this feels like nothing and she puts River’s
fat young nipples in her mouth and thinks still nothing. She touches
River’s cunt and it’s full of water. There’s
too much of it, too much slickness and the woman has no idea what
to do with such desire when it’s not her own. River is disappointed
that the woman is not even moist and gets down on her knees beside
the bed but her tongue feels slimy and it’s not at all good.
River gets petulant. She gets angry and throws a container of
pork fried rice. The carton doesn’t even break open as it
tumbles to the floor and something in his breaks her. River cries.
She falls into the woman’s arms and the woman holds her.
She strokes her hair. River breaks apart with astonishing ease.
The woman comforts her and helps her put herself back together
again and they go out under the buzzing blinking neon sign in
the heat of the night and buy a bag of burgers. They eat fries
together under the big neon sign and slap the moths away from
takes her empty cup into the parking lot and drops her shorts.
She hovers over it. She pees on the ice and the woman laughs until
she is out of breath.
Mississippi River awed me.
we cross this we will be in the west,” I said.
had stolen the mountain man’s stash before we got rid of
him. She had eaten some of it and was stoned. “Who cares?”
one fucking big river.”
River knocked a fist against her chest. She burped and giggled.
“Can I get an amen?”
at the Texas line and a tent revival on the side of the road slows
them down. There’s a little cash now because River sold
what was left of the stash to a car full of college students back
at a rest area and she carries the money folded up and hidden
in her shoe. The woman just wants to get across the Louisiana
state line. River is captivated by the idea of the tent revival.
on, man. I wanna get laid.”
always want to get laid.”
on. There’s some prime virgin ass just waiting to be tapped.
I wanna get Jesused. I wanna get down with the Lord. Who knows,
maybe we can knock over the collections basket or something.”
right before we get tarred and feathered and run out on a rail.”
is modern times. They don’t do that tarring and feathering
would you know?”
on, honey. Let’s do it. I’m bored.”
can knock over the collections basket.”
this mean we’re going?”
means I’m tired of driving.”
woman is nervous about leaving her car in a place where there
are so many people milling around but River convinces her to put
all the stuff that anyone might want to steal in the trunk. They
get out of the car and clean up the floor and put the trash in
the trunk along with the rest of the stuff even though River laughs
and declares that no one in their right mind would want to steal
a bunch of broken sunglasses and burned CDs. The woman stands
with her arms wrapped tight around herself. She looks up at the
night sky. The night sky is beaten back by floodlights.
come on, man, it’s a bunch of holy rollers. How wrong can
wrong if you try to steal from them. Most people don’t appreciate
it. Including Christians.”
won’t try and steal from them. I promise. Now are you still
I’m sorry, River, I can’t shake it. I’m just
jittery. All these people and this place are making me jittery.”
you’ve just been in the car too long.”
I don’t know. Maybe it’s my druid blood speaking.”
blood my ass. You’re tired.”
am that, but I’m also nervous.”
lead you in, okay? I’ll even hold your hand.”
Christ don’t do that. They’ll think we’re lesbians
and that we are in need of extra saving.”
I am in need of extra saving, but not the saving they’ve
got in mind. There are some cute girls here too. Maybe I should
run me down some pussy instead.”
is that all you think about?”
your druid blood all you think about? Or whatever it is?”
right. All right.”
talking you down.”
talking me down. You silver-tongued devil you.”
giggled. “Come on, honey. Let’s go in.”
can’t help it, I feel like someone’s going to lob
a rock through the window just for spite.”
this is a bunch of Christians feeling the love. There’s
no love in rocks.”
not getting into that with you. Let’s go in there before
I change my mind for good.”
throw grass at you. Or mud if I can find it.”
feel better if I could see a star or two.”
know, that makes me want to draw one on my boob with a sharpie
just so I can flash it at you. Maybe one on each boob.”
burst out laughing. “All right, then. I’ll be okay
once we’re in there.”
better be. Though you could blame it on tongues. Or the Holy Spirit
or whatever it is that happens at these things. You don’t
think they’ll handle snakes do you? I don’t like snakes.”
She shuddered. “They’re cold and creepy.”
there are snakes I’m getting the hell out and leaving you
here if you don’t come with me.”
as the two of them move into the tent thunder claps overhead and
it starts to rain. Fat smacking drops on the canvas. They wend
their way through a maze of folding metal chairs and murmuring
disgruntled people while the rain quickens from a tapping into
a steady growl and then into a full-on wet throated roar. River
giggles and takes hold of the woman’s hand and glides along,
her arm outstretched and looking backward as though they are partners
in some dance. Between the pouring rain and the voices they slip
through a wall of noise. More and more people are crowding into
the tent just to be out of the rain.
are empty seats in the back. The old ladies in the back think
they are sisters, even when River picks up the woman’s hand
and kisses her knuckles and giggles at her own coquettishness.
River wants to stand on the chair and the woman doesn’t
let her. River wants to sit on her lap. The woman says no. She
sits on her own chair and crosses her legs and rests her hands
on her knee like a polite schoolgirl and this makes River laugh
even harder. River laments aloud that she doesn’t have any
more dope. She passes judgment on several of the young men in
attendance and not a few of the young ladies. The old women sitting
around them beam benevolently and the woman comes to the conclusion
that they are deaf or maybe senile and possibly here looking for
a laying on of hands. River is looking for a laying on of hands
all right. With all these people around she twitches in her seat
like an animal in heat and the woman recognizes that is what River
is, really, just a cat in heat, a pussy on the prowl looking for
anything. The woman wonders what will happen to River when she
gets old. One day River won’t have young nipples or young
hips and her giggling won’t be cute anymore. It will just
be annoying. She’ll be old and wrinkled and unable to get
out of bed and won’t be able to fuck her way into anything.
woman looks at River and sees all the way down time’s dusty
preacher comes out. He can’t stand still and so he paces
as he talks into the microphone. He works himself up with each
step, words coming hard and fast and repetitious in places until
he works out a rhythm, nails it down with his words and hooks
the crowd with it and all at once the crowd is surging forward
and the preacher is leaning backward. They’re only words
rendered in this stranger’s voice but he is seducing them
just the same. Just words. The pitch of this man’s voice
is escalating and the breath of his congregation is escalating.
It’s like fucking. The woman is amazed. Crowd psychology,
she knows it, has seen the same thing happen at conventions and
rock concerts but there is something primitive about the inside
of this tent, being hemmed in by the rain, the very air she breathes
laden with the scent of mud and too much sweating skin. Fermented
zealotry. Or maybe it’s the eye of faith.
so fuck him,” River breathed.
rolled my eyes. “I’m shocked. Really.”
think I should try to?”
What would be the point?”
like nailing the top banana. It’s serious street cred in
the bad-girl Christian world. I don’t think I’ve ever
fucked a preacher.”
probably have. You just don’t know it.”
spoil everything. You rain on my parade.”
looked at the canvas ceiling. “You’re right on the
rain. But the rain isn’t my fault.”
aren’t going to blame that on your druid blood too?”
the fuck up about my druid blood. Do not piss on my druid blood.
It’s a real thing.”
preacher’s good and worked up now, his forehead gleams with
a sweat that puts her in mind of a lathered horse and the people
in the tent are agitated and full of moans and sways. A man falls
down in the aisle and convulses while spitting out a stream of
gibberish. The woman thinks seizure but the congregants think
holy spirit and this man is borne up on a sea of waving hands
and passed around like an artifact. Every finger in the place
touches him. Even the woman puts her hand on his ankle thinking
maybe faith is like a virus and it’s worth catching a little
something, that maybe it will creep up on her and the desire for
the Bible will be like a fever and the next time she’s busy
living her life she’ll feel a tickle and instead of a sneeze
out will come a big fat hallelujah.
toes curled in my sandals and pushed all the blood out of my nail
beds. I marveled at their paleness.
is a man walking into the tent. He is tall. His coat is long.
It is cut to the shape of his broad shoulders and it falls around
him in a sweep, the motion of his stride captured in a flap of
storm-colored canvas. He’s wearing some kind of old-fashioned
pale hat with a black band. A fedora, she thinks, but I’m
not sure if that’s right, it’s the only kind of hat
I can think of that men don’t wear anymore, and whatever
kind of hat that is men don’t wear it anymore. It’s
gone by the wayside. It’s been plucked off a corpse. This
thought rises out of a secret place and makes her shiver. The
man pauses at the head of the congregation and takes the hat off,
shakes the rain from it. His water-colored eyes move across the
crowd. The woman feels their sweep and her face feels funny, detached
and floating, as though it has risen above the crowd and cried
out to be seen. She wants to cover it with her hands but knows
it will be hot. There is too much blood in her cheeks.
you okay?” River squinted. “Your face is all red.”
straightened up and looked around. “You sure? It is kinda
hot in here. We can go and get some air if you want.”
I’ll be fine. I just saw something.”
puts the hat back on his head and people are noticing. They see
his fine coat and notice. They see his hat and the casual disrespect
of it. They are huddled in an itinerant house of God, still a
holy place even if the walls are canvas and the fallow ground
beneath their feet belongs to a local farmer. There is still sanctity
even if it is makeshift.
me,” said River.
nothing to tell.”
it you’re bullshitting me and I want you to stop it. What
is going on? What did you see? Is it that guy we picked up in
Virginia? Oh my God it is, isn’t it? Isn’t it?”
River. Calm down.”
is. You just don’t want to tell me.”
got nothing to do with that.”
going to wait. I see how it is. You’re going to lie to me
about this and wait and then when he figures out that I stole
his dope he’s gonna…”
you are freaking out about nothing.” I kept my voice a low
hiss. “I’m only going to say it one more time: it’s
nothing. There’s nothing. The guy with the dope isn’t
else could it be? Why are you acting like this? Are you trying
to get rid of me?”
not acting like anything. If I wanted to get rid of you I wouldn’t
need to make an excuse.”
are so acting like something. You’re hiding things from
me. And what does that mean, you wouldn’t need an excuse?
Do you want to get rid of me?”
are too. I don’t want to get rid of you. Calm the fuck down.
People are staring.”
don’t give a shit if they’re staring or not!”
River’s voice rose. “Tell me straight. Is that guy
here? Did you see him? Just give me a yes or a no.”
in my eyes and do it.”
sighed and leaned forward. “No. The dope guy isn’t
here. If he is here I haven’t seen him.”
River looked around. “Do you think he is here?”
doubt it,” I said.
everything all right here?”
and I both turned around. The man in the hat stood in the row
behind us. I smelled the rain dripping off his coat and something
else, too, something I couldn’t put my finger on: trees,
or maybe smoke, or the heat of sunlight trapped in a rock and
all of this mixed in with the clean sweet scent of a kitten’s
fur. His large hands rested one on each chair. I craned my neck
and looked down my back at his hand.
your own fuckin business dude,” snapped River.
man,” said one of the old ladies. “Young man you should
remove your hat. This is the house of the Lord. Was you raised
in a barn? Haven’t you any manners?”
big man laughed. It was a hearty sound, full of wind and sunshine
and decadent things.
you relax? Drink something,” said River.
can’t. I’m driving.”
if we’re going anywhere tonight.”
has to drive around looking for a hotel.”
we’ll sleep in the car. Drink something. You’re like
a cat in the rain. You’re making me nervous.”
was an amazing thing. It was hard to imagine River nervous. She
was full of beer and feeling no pain and had danced with a dozen
men. She’d slipped out into the back parking lot with a
least two of them and her short dark hair was rain-damp and clung
to her forehead. Her little sundress clung to her curves. She
pushed a bottle of beer on me. “Come on, honey. Drink something.”
I picked up the bottle and took a sip. She cheered and clapped
her hands and bounced up and down. “Yay! She’s drinking!
Yay! Now dance. Come out here and dance with me. Let’s scandalize
these rednecks, m’kay? M’kay?”
I said. “Drinking this shit is horrible enough.”
come on.” She tickled my arm. “Well and if you don’t
like beer then get something you like. Or let one of these fine
men buy it for you.”
all right. I’m okay with just water, really. Besides someone
has to stay straight in case you need your drunk ass scraped up
off the floor.”
River leaned in and kissed my cheek. “You’re sweet.”
practical.” I pushed her off me. “Someone has to be.
Go and have fun.”
really wish you’d dance with me.” She pouted. “I’d
And that’s my last word on it.”
by the expression on your face I’d say you aren’t
much of a beer drinker.” The big man from the tent revival
took a seat on the stool next to me. The leather creaked beneath
his weight. I looked at him, ready to swear on a stack of Bibles
that a little Mexican man had been sitting there not ten seconds
before with long greasy hair but he was gone, baby, gone. The
big man took up his space. He’d checked his coat at the
door. He wore a nice white button-up shirt, clean jeans, and simple
dark leather cowboy boots. “Maybe you’re a margarita
sort of lady but none of that cheap stuff for you. Even in a mixed
drink it needs to be top-shelf. Am I right?” He put his
elbows on the table, a position that should have made him look
hunched but instead lent his back a strange feline grace. He signaled
the bartender. “Make the lady a margarita and make sure
what’s in it doesn’t cost less than fifteen dollars.”
you’re just showing up everywhere, aren’t you?”
River stared at him. “And always cutting in on my conversations.
You know, I don’t know if that’s rude or not. I can’t
it’s all right,” I said to him. “I don’t
need it. But thank you.”
you’re cute.” River flashed him a smile. “And
I suppose that makes it all okay.”
bartender laid a napkin on the bar. He put a full glass on top
you.” I picked it up.
where are you from?” River leaned her elbows on the bar.
“I saw you when you came into the revival. Hard not to notice
such a big guy.”
unfolded a twenty and straightened it and passed it to the bartender.
The bartender took it and as he started to make change the big
man made a negative gesture.
name’s River,” she said.
looked at me. “Does it meet with your satisfaction?”
stirred it with the straw and took a sip. “Yes.”
I have the bartender write down the mixture for you?”
I turned to the mirror. “It’s good, though.”
I sipped again. “Actually it’s excellent.”
looked into the eyes of my reflection. “This pleases me.”
the question is this: would you call that fifteen dollars’
worth of margarita? Can you taste the money?”
I think I would. And I can.”
smile went all the way to his eyes and broke the corners of them
into sun-made wrinkles. I took a long drink. His smile shortened,
softening around the edges, and became secret. I looked back at
him. He took my free hand and bent it at the knuckles. I opened
my mouth and closed it again. He held up my hand and slid off
his stool. All the blood rushed to my face. I put the glass on
the bar. He pulled me down. My feet drifted to the floor.
River folded her arms. “Well! If I’d known that would’ve
worked I might’ve tried it!”
led me onto the center of the crowded dance floor and I moved
behind him in a daze and thought about the cutoff jeans I was
wearing and how I wasn’t wearing a bra and how the long
ugly fringe of strings swished along my thighs and how my breath
smelled like onions and tequila and how my face was free of makeup
and anything remotely related to cleanliness; I was sure my deodorant
had worn off this morning in the dense humid heat and that when
I put my arms up I would smell my armpits.
came into his presence, into his smell and warmth and his hands
on my skin and there was nothing else. I started to shake. He
moved a hand along my back. I heard him in three places: his chest,
the air, and the center of my mind.
took my face in his hands and steadied it. He kissed my forehead.
It was a parting gesture.
that moment River got into it with some girls at the bar. They
were big and local and full of meanness. They stood like men and
River just laughed, all of her teeth showing and she slung her
arm around some guy, drawing up close to him, kissing him with
open sloppy attention that he returned. The one girl snatched
River away and flung her into the other girl. All three of them
disappeared into a snarl of screamed threats and swinging limbs.
I pushed my way off the dance floor and waded in and tried to
break it up but the bouncers came along and bounced all four of
two girls huddled near the door and shared a cigarette. They looked
remember that,” River screeched as I dragged her to the
car. “You just remember that, you nasty fuckin bitches!”
is a hotel on the edge of town. I want to go on to the next town
but River is whiny and tired.
more than five minutes in the bed and she’s all over me.
Her fingers pinching my nipples. Her hot little mouth on mine.
Her slippery tongue tasting of beer.
I’m clear on what’s happening we’re side by
side with our legs entwined and our breath alive in the dark,
alive and kicking, and she’s got three or four fingers in
my cunt pumping in and out and it feels hot and sweet and sharp,
strong, the orgasm rearing up out of the sweating dark and biting
with razor teeth. She’s kissing me like if she doesn’t
her heart will stop, like my lips and her breath are the only
things left in the world and who knows, maybe they are, and I
put my tongue in her mouth and feel the strange sensation of her
pink hole, soft and firm around my fingers. Her whimpering, the
shaking in her body announcing the migration of her orgasm to
her arms and legs. We’re both panting and sweating and there’s
too much breath for this to be over. So she turns around on the
bed and pushes her cunt into my face and burrows her head between
my thighs. I hear her voice murmuring, my you’re hot tonight
yes you are oh you want it, her slippery fingers are in there
and thrusting and her tongue is so hot on my clit that I can’t
help coming and the second time sinks deep. I scream.
weren’t even thinking about me, she says. I know it. You
were thinking about him, weren’t you. Weren’t you.
lives in New England with her cats, her aging parents, and a whole
mess of books. She is an editor and co-founder of Freaky Fountain