SHORT STORY | MONTANA RAIN
Published in the new Evergreen Review
Abriged version, New Mexico Rain, published in BLINK.
She's standing on the shoulder of the road in a downpour, wearing a white, mud splattered wedding dress. It looks like she must have run into Zorro because there's a thin, red slash of blood in the shape of a "Z" across the front of it. She's got on a pair of black cowboy boots and a beat-to-shit straw cowboy hat, but she doesn't look much like a cowboy to me. She looks more like one of those anorexic runway models that's so fried on smack that she can't make it down the runway without falling on her butt, so she gets a job modeling brassieres at Sears. And judging by the look of the coal-black river of mascara that's pouring down her cheeks, she must have been crying for a long time. But what do I know? I'm a truck driver, for all the good that English degree did me; it's none of my business. Do I look like a marriage counselor? Something's telling me that I should just put the peddle to the metal and slam the hammer down, but I can't leave a drop dead head spinner out there alone like that, crying her eyes out in the rain.
When I pull over she hikes up her wedding dress and edges her way up the cautiously, like she's checking the cab for fleas before finally crawling on in. "What took ya so long," she says, in a west Texas twang.
If I was her, I wouldn't be so picky about who picked me up. We're a hundred miles from any town anybody sane would want to be caught dead in and the rain won't let up. But what the hell, I can use the company, strange as she looks, and this load of black Angus T-bones-on-wheels I'm hauling can use a breather. I get out to check on their feed. They seem to appreciate the attention. Cows are stupid like that.
When I jump back up into the cab I notice that the girl can't be more than nineteen, twenty tops. Probably one of those arranged Mormon marriage deals in Utah where some old horn dog with six wives needs a young fresher upper but the new girl's not having any of it and tells him so. The horn dog takes exception to the rejection and takes a couple swipes at her with his pig sticker but misses pay dirt by half an inch, and she takes off down the road and here she is, sitting over there like a prom queen on a homecoming float, inspecting my cab to see if it's up to her apparently regal standards. I don't bother waiting for her seal of approval and gun my rig east. Looking back on things, if I'd have known she was going to be such a royal pain in the butt, I may have just left here there by the side of the road.
Against my better judgment, I to ask her what her name is. She reaches over and peeks up under my Stetson:
"Que? What difference does eet make?"
She's switched over to a Spanish accent now and I can't tell where she's from, or where the hell she thinks I'm from. I've got blond hair and blue eyes, do I look like I speak Mexican? The next thing I know she shucks off her high heels and fires them through the passenger side window. When they bang off a Mercedes that's passing by in the oncoming lane it sounds like a horse just threw two shoes through a plate glass window. I just hit the gas and don't look back. This trip just keeps getting weirder and weirder.
When she's not looking, I take a quick glance at her face. I've seen that look before on the faces of combat soldiers who know they're most likely going home in a box. Switching over to some kind of half-baked French accent she says; "Cowboys are lazy and reckless, and most of zeem are crazy. So tell me, why eeze it I like zeem like zat?"
I'm guessing she stole that line from a country-and-western song, but I can't be sure of anything anymore. This is going to be a long ride if we don't get a few things straight, so I lay it out there for her straight: "I'll take you as far as Chicago and that's it. Cut and dry. Keep it simple. I'm no Dr. Phil and don't want to get involved in your whacked out love life."
She's cowering over there in the corner like I just took a swing at her, so I back off, which gets me thinking; what kind of sick son-of-a-bitch would leave someone as smoking hot as her by the side of the road like that? She must be a mind reader because she leans over and whispers in my ear in a crybaby rasp, "Nobody left me. I left heem."
Well now, I'm thinking, maybe I'd best just shut up and drive. But I can't help myself from looking over at her again. It's hard not to. She looks defeated, like a horse thief with a rope around her neck, pleading for a last cigarette before they kick the horse out from under her. Unfortunately I don't smoke and don't know what to do for her; "You want me to get you a motel room so you can wash up?"
I don't know what the hell made me ask her that, but no self respecting rat would want to use the toilet in my rig.
She looks hurt, like we haven't gone ten miles and already I'm trying to put her out with the garbage. "No," she says. Just drive."
Ten minutes later she changes her mind and starts chirping away in a dopey, deep-fried southern accent;
"Ok, maybe a motel's good. There's one right over thar. Pull ovuh."
What are you going to do? Women.
I check her into the motel and sit outside her room in my truck. She comes out an hour later wearing nothing but a cherry-red bikini bottom and a man's white T-shirt. She's been crying again and looks like a wet white rabbit with two black eyes. Her hair's soaked but the water freezes before it can drip to the ground. "You coming in?" she asks, "I'm too tired to go any further and I'm afraid to be by myself. You mind?"
Damned right I mind. My boss catches me with an underage hitchhiker who's flopping around barefoot in her underwear and I'll be slopping out hog barns in Kansas for a living, so I tell her, "No thanks. I'll be just fine up right here in my rig. I got a sleeper and a microwave and a shower. It's a regular Motel 6 in here."
She starts pouting and stomps her pretty pink bare feet in the freezing slush; "Why didn't you tell me?" she says. "I hate motels."
Running back to her room, she grabs her purse and her dress, tucks a Gideon's Bible under her arm, and scrambles on back up beside me. "Let's ride!" she says. How fast'll this thing go?"
She seems to be feeling better but I'm not buying it. She's made a suspiciously fast recovery and I'm beginning to wonder if maybe she's on something. So I just come right out and ask her, "You a junkie or what?"
"Noooo, silly" she says. "For goodness sakes. You the DEA or something?"
"Noooo, I'm CIA. Spread em!" Ha ha. I thought that was funny, but she sure didn't.
"You think that's something to joke about?" she snaps. "My almost-husband is a Cuban drug dealer and he told me that if he ever sees me again he'll rip my heart out and eat it for supper. He snorts so much coke he thinks he's Scarface. I found out on my way to the church to get married that the doped up freak already had a wife in Miami."
All I'm thinking is, this is all I need. And imagining how her razor toting, crack head boyfriend might have taken to getting stood up at the alter, I can't resist asking her, "Is that how you got that "Z" on your chest?"
"Noooo. I did that trying to cut my dress off after my fiancé's best man sprung the beeeg surprise about the little woman my fiancé's got stashed down there in Florida. My maid of honor had me sausaged into that damned dress so tight I couldn't pee, so I sliced eet off."
Oh, boy, I'm thinking, can this get any worse? "Look," I tell her, "I got no beef with Juan Valdez, or Fidel Castro, or whoever the hell your boyfriend is, and I don't need any trouble. I'm just a long haul truck driver with a load of surly sirloins headed for the feed lots in Chicago. How about I drive and you keep the waterworks on hold and your little one-horse soap opera to yourself till we get there, ok?"
"Fine," she says, "but don't worry. My boyfriend is so coked up he can't find his own shadow; chances are he won't even miss me. I only agreed to marry him in the first place so I could get a green card."
Her accents keeps switching back and forth between Spanish, French, and English, and I'm thinking that if Francisco Pizarro, or whatever her boyfriend's name is, had found out about her only agreeing to marry him so she could get a green card, well then, yeah, maybe he did have a legit gripe, ya know? Who could blame him? In the mean time, I decide to keep one eye on my back door and one on the road ahead. I'm also thinking to myself that Chicago just keeps getting further and further away.
The stoned cold silence is lasting longer than both of my marriages. Queen Isabelle, or Marie Antoinette or whoever, is over there squashed up against the shotgun seat door rummaging through my glove compartment, looking for something or other-probably a gun. I wouldn't put it past her. Fortunately I'm not packing heat this trip and let her wander around for awhile, but all she finds are my maps, a weight log, and a leftover silk slip. Maybe I'll get lucky and she'll find the rubbers I can't find in there. She does, but doesn't seem to know what they are. "You got any thing to eat in here?" she asks.
"Yeah, I got a Porterhouse steak, a bottle of French Bordeaux, and a couple pheasants under glass, keep looking."
My not-so-subtle sarcasm seems lost on her.
"You got any tootsie rolls?" she asks. "I looove Tootsie Rolls."
"Lady, I got a tire gauge, a buck knife, and four pair of panty hose somebody left behind in that damned thing, but Tootsie Rolls I ain't got. You want me to stop and buy you lunch? My treat."
She brightens up a bit but it's a no go. "I just wanted some candy," she says.
Shit, I'm thinking, I knew it. She's a speed freak. Only crank heads eat nothing but candy. Just my frigging luck. I feel compelled to ask; "You sure you're not a junkie?"
"No. I just have a sweet tooth," she says, giving me one of those wily coyote smiles that's supposed to explain everything.
We’re rumbling down the interstate towards Chicago, staring into the face of a nasty blue norther that's roaring down from Alberta, blowing sleet and hail all over the dirty gold Nebraska plains. I look over at Miss France who's sobbing quietly into a questionably clean silk handkerchief that she may, or may not have, found in the glove box. There's something about the girl I can't quite put my finger on. It's creepy how sweet she looks, but she's got sad eyes. Must have had one hell of a life down there in Peru, or Venezuela, or wherever the hell she's from. It's hard not to feel something for somebody that lost. But I keep my hands welded to the wheel. I've got enough problems without getting snowed by a jilted dope fiend hitchhiker in a sliced-up, raggedy-ass wedding dress. Tears don't work on me. Normally. I turn on Merle Haggard and look in my rear view mirror at the cold white slash of the Nebraska state line disappear.
It's coming on midnight and I'm still wide awake, lying in a sleeper that I've got set up behind the cab, listening to the black angus in the back bawl. I don't know what's worse, listening to a woman or a cow cry. Carmen Miranda has decided that staying all alone in a motel would most likely drive her to suicide and that she'd rather sleep in the truck, if I don't mind. Of course I mind. Like I said, I like my job and I'm not cut out to pick grapefruit in the San Joaquin Valley. I try to give her the bed but she won't take it.
I can see her through the curtain, making herself right at home, stretching out across both seats with nothing much else on but the local news and the Des Moines weather report. Christ, it's not like I'm a sicko or anything, but after all, I am a guy, for Christ sakes. If she takes anything else off I don't know what I'll do. Thank God she keeps her panties on and I don't have to find out. She's asking an awful lot of me, and there is something about her. Maybe it's the way she tilts her head like she's listening to the ocean when I'm talking to her, I don't know. She's nothing like the other women I meet on the road. She's got moxie, like they say about the vamps in those old black-and-white movies. It takes guts to put yourself at the mercy of people like me. She doesn't know who I am. I could be a neo-Nazi serial killer that makes lampshades out of women's skin for all she knows. But I have to admit, it is nice having her here, even if she does talk weird.
The next morning we pull over to get something to eat. It takes a still-moving filet mignon, three baked potatoes, four Coronas, and a piece of fresh baked peach pie with homemade vanilla ice cream on top to get the girl to, but she finally tells me her name. She says it's Alice and that she's from Brazil. Like I believe that. She looks more like a Francoise or a Daisy Mae to me.
Reading my mind again, she says, "You know those accents I've been using? They're just something I put on to keep undercover INS agents from figuring out where I'm from." And then she gives me the evil eye, like she's expecting that maybe I'll crack and confess to being one. For all I know, she talks like that because she's a spaced-out, pill-popping lot lizard that hustles free rides to Chicago from suckers like me, but I don't say anything. Like I said, she is awfully cute.
It’s three years later and I'm hauling a load of ticked off cows from Denver to Omaha when I see a pretty little woman with a tear-stained face, not much more than a girl really, wearing a ripped, mud-smeared wedding dress, leaning up against the shoulder of the road crying her eyes out in the rain. I can't believe it. She looks at me like a whipped puppy that expects me to run her over. I start to goose my brakes when I get this not-so-gentle tap on my arm. "Don't even think about it," my wife Alice says.