The words over at Three Word Wednesday are escape, hum and vibrant.
The kernel for his escape began as she raked her hand across his three-day stubble, fingers shrunken and cold like parchment, in the wake of her struggle to lean her lips near to his ear and whispered, “Let me go.”
He ran his palms across his jeans, the ones he’d purchased for this getaway at a thrift store, and worried. Gaining enough trajectory for this, he’d downsized quickly, selling off possessions that included both their high-priced vehicles, a reminder of a different time, a different life.
He would slink into the expanse clean with the clothes on his back, driving a pickup he’d purchased with cash from a farmer who had placed a sign in the cab, hand-painted with a spray can, announcing it was low on miles and “ran good.”
But in getting the truck ready for the journey, he’d haphazardly gotten battery acid on the denim and in the wake, blossoms opened, exposing his flesh.
He rubbed at the holes, felt the soft cotton where the acid had devoured, and fretted. There wasn’t the energy to shop again, that would interrupt his flight, maybe even signal an abrupt abort. No.
He pulled his fingers away from the holes, closed his eyes, turned the key that caused the truck to sputter to life.
She had passed from him on a Tuesday and he had missed it. She slipped silently away while he slept in her hospital bed, his muscle tone, his healthy pink skin engulfing her decline from beauty to skin-wrapped skeleton.
He woke startled, felt with his frame for any signs of life and finding none, softly wept in her ear, filling the canal (he still felt guilt about that), until the charge nurse put her hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s time, honey, let go of her, let God have her.”
The service was private, held at the graveside, avoiding both awkward explanations and open caskets.
The sell-off was immediate, calculated. Money transfers to a holding company where he could gain access, shopping, thrust building.
He retired via email, from an account he would never check again.
Sitting on the truck’s bench seat was a pristine Rand-McNally atlas and an 1888 Morgan silver dollar, a gift from her during a trip to San Francisco when he still cared about obtaining things.
Lady Liberty faced him and lay slightly west of Ohio.
Heads meant west, so he nudged the truck into the flow of traffic, avoided the Interstate and instead rumbled toward the Pacific on a two-lane blacktop into darkness and a sea of stars, the first echo of pinks and oranges making an appearance in his rear-view mirror.
He remembered the day clearly. She’d gone for a run, but cut it short when a stitch developed in her side and would not be subdued. The pain escalated, until she called their doctor and begged an audience.
The cancer was advanced, aggressive. It was eating her in such a way that there was nothing to do but go home, open a bottle of wine and cry into each-other’s shoulders, until she suggested they go to bed and make love like they used to, unbridled, loud, carnal.
He protested, worried that he’d hurt her somehow, but she stripped in front of him, deliberate, bending this way and that, her body still full and supple.
They had stayed naked and in bed the next day and deep into the next night. They laughed at the stains made on the expensive cotton sheets, touched, laughed, cried.
Thirty-six days later, she felt his warmth one last time, let out a sigh, left him.
He closed his eyes for a time to savor her memory, then snapped them open to scan the open prairie. The windows were open and the cab was filled with moist, vibrant smells of earth, the sweetness of the emerging green fields.
He came to a rise and watched as a figure began to emerge as he closed the distance in the truck. She was altogether familiar, all the curves in the correct places, but younger. He slowed when she put out a thumb on her extended arm, walking casually in brown cowboy boots, the hem of lemon-colored sundress sashaying as she followed the fog line.
He passed her and in the rear-view, he watched as she lowered her arm, turn completely around on one heel in a little dance move and bowed toward him, the gesture playful, defiant.
He braked hard, sent gravel flying. The truck sat angled, clumsy, half on the shoulder, the ass-end in the roadway. She picked up her pace, reached the passenger door and smiled.
“I appreciate the sudden impulse to stop,” she said, laughing. “Where you headed?”
“West,” he said, weaker than he intended, his saliva suddenly depleted.
“Wow, works for me.”
She slid into the cab, careful not to damage the atlas, spied the coin with a crinkle in the corners of her eyes and smiled again.
“Road trip without a predetermined destination, some sort of quest or are you just running from the law?”
“A combination of the first two,” he said, gripping the wheel much too hard.
He angled back onto the roadway, the cab bouncing as the wheels gained purchase on the blacktop and thanked her for joining him. She laid a hand on his arm, warm and electric, and laughed.
“You have no idea,” she said.
And without aid of the radio, she began to hum a tune that caused his breath to stick in his chest.
Her song, the one she hummed while reading food labels at the grocery, the tune she murmured while she shaved her legs.
He looked at her, tears welling in his eyes, causing the landscape to blur into muted tones.
Another jolt as she touched his arm again.
“Just drive,” she whispered. “West suits us, I think.”