The Open Road
Do objects discarded from cars retain
memory of the disgust, the destruction,
A brown boot sits motionless, rests
on one side; a passenger misses
A wedding ring, faintly glinting;
why would you admit to an affair
A blue scarf following an unloved
team; a fight breaks out before the
next service station.
The right leg of a plastic doll;
Only a vengeful older brother
would do this.
A pink ribbon, embracing drooping
flowers; a red ribbon, loosely holding
The rear light of a small family
car flickering through the gap,
a tidy hedge.
Hailey hugged Mary at the church picnic. She rarely saw her now. They’d been in the same class at school until Mary married 6 months ago. Initially Mary did not want to marry and came to school covered in bruises before she agreed.
Hailey told Ma about it. Ma breathed deeply and said every family was different but parents knew best and sometimes were strict with children for their own good.
Hailey had enjoyed the excitement of being a bridesmaid and seeing all Mary’s pretty new clothes but now she only got to see her at church.
Mary’s husband had been in a bad mood at the service, turning to snap at his first wife, telling her to stop their small children clambering on the seats. His straight blond hair was sparse on the top of his head and he was thickening around the waist. He was 35, an old man compared to the boys at school.
Marylou confided that the first wife, her sister wife, made her do all the housework and mind the children.
“It could be worse, Brian’s only got one other wife, some men have several. Don’t be in a hurry to ask your parents to marry you off.” she warned Hailey.
Hailey laughed, no chance of that. Patsy, her pretty blond older sister was 18 and bound to marry first. Usually it rankled to get Patsy’s old dresses. Patsy always got to sit next to Pa in the front seat of the car. This was one time she did not mind Patsy getting first pick.
Hailey was hoping to train as a nurse before her own wedding came around. She wanted to support herself, instead of being trapped in the house after school, likely to get a slap from Ma if she did not wash up or mind the younger children.
It was not certain though. She’d overheard Ma and Pa talking at night about the overdue accounts at their brickyard business. The housing market was slow and customers could not to settle their substantial bills until they sold their new build houses. Taking other church members to court was frowned upon. Unless it was resolved, they would struggle to finance Hailey’s studies. Even when things were going well, a family of 6 was expensive.
Ma said to him “We need to get Patsy settled, she’s old enough. “
The sisters had different looks. Patsy was a petite blond who turned heads. Hailey was athletic from chores around the farm, tall with long dark hair.
Pa said “That won’t be easy. Patsy wants to be a first wife. Neighbour men are asking about Patsy but they have wives already. It will take time to find a fellow who has not married before.”
He continued, “It might work out for Hailey if she marries someone willing to finance nursing training. The cost will deter some men. She can’t be fussy like Patsy and may have to settle for being a second or third wife.
Plus an educated woman is likely to question a man’s decisions as the head of the household. What man wants that?
You know I don’t see the point of all this education for women. She will have children soon enough and be too busy to work outside the home but if it makes her happy, I will try to get her what she wants.”
He’d tell Ma another time that a local builder, Lester, had offered for Hailey. While they were talking about their finances, Ma might point out Lester’s bill was 6 months overdue and ask how he could afford another wife. Pa judged Lester would pay when he could and if he married Hailey in the meantime, they would not have to pay for her studies.
One Saturday a couple of weeks later Ma made a fuss of Hailey and brushed her long dark hair in the morning. Pa told her to put on her best dress because he wanted to show off his pretty second daughter when they went out to brunch, just the two of them, at Briarwood Mall, ten miles away. At this, Patsy went to her room, slamming the door because as the oldest, if anyone got to go with Pa on their own, it ought to be her.
Hailey had shot up a couple of inches and filled out. Her dress had risen 4 inches above her ankles, short by their community’s standard. Ma tugged at the hem and thought she could just get away with it, since it was long sleeved and high necked.
Hailey hadn’t been to a Mall for ages. She tucked her babysitting money into her bag, hoping for a chance to spend it. Patsy being annoyed made the treat all the sweeter but she would bring her back some candy.
She sat in the front seat of the car next to Pa, looking forward to the day. Pa stopped for a chat at Lester’s office. He gave her a bottle of water to drink and said he would not be long. Then the three of them drove to the Mall to eat.
Walking to the restaurant, they passed an electronics store. There was a TV in the window showing girls in mesmerising bright sleeveless dresses, showing their knees. She was shocked. One girl in a red dress was laughing and holding hands with a tall, tanned boy her own age. John and Lester lingered a little by the store and then they went to the restaurant.
Hailey felt shy and kept her eyes on her plate. She was thinking about the girls she had seen in the TV show, free to do what they wanted and mixing with boys, as if it was not wrong. She would love a red dress like that, but longer and with sleeves.
Lester did not speak to her, but if he did, she would tell him she knew two of his daughters in school. Best not to mention she avoided them. They avoided her too because she did not cover her head with a scarf. Her family had a more liberal dress code.
She guessed because his hair was greying he must be really old, 50 at least. He was fat. The sister wives competed to feed up their man.
Lester talked distractedly to her father about Church and the lull in the building trade. Since he walked out to the car he'd been thinking how to say he’d mixed up John’s daughters. This brunette girl was the wrong one.
He had 3 brunette wives. John’s blond daughter would have been a nice change for a fourth wife. There was no way Lester could risk antagonising him by admitting his mistake. Pity Hailey was not the blond, but still, she was a looker and it’s all the same in bed in the dark.
It was not a good time to take on the expense of another wife but John was a major creditor, the last one to let him buy on account. His other suppliers no longer gave him credit. If the housing market did not pick up, Lester would be bankrupted. Marrying into this family was a safety measure. John would not cut off supplies to a son in law and might even help him if the bank threatened to foreclose on his mortgage.
The other wives complained the last time he married. But why should he explain himself? He was head of the household. If they got any funny ideas, well, there would be a sweet new wife to sleep with and they would soon get back into line.
He father touched her arm and she looked up. “What do you think, Honey? Lester says he will pay for you to study nursing.”
She spluttered, unable to form a sentence. Was her father saying that if she married Lester, she could go to college?
The two men laughed at her open mouth and wide eyes. “Cat got your tongue?” Lester asked her and nodded to her father, “Ain’t she cute.”
Her head pounded. She was being offered her dream, but with a price tag of marrying a man as old as her father. She’d have to live with his disagreeable daughters.
In spite of the air conditioning in the restaurant, she was burning up. The more she blushed, the more the two men laughed.
She excused herself and went to the bathroom. She looked at her red face in the mirror and splashed herself with cold water. She opened the high window over the sink for air.
She fought the urge to retch. Pa was less strict than most but girls did not get a say about their marriage. Hailey took another deep breathe. The washroom was empty.
She scrambled onto the edge of the washbasin and looked down through the narrow window into a delivery yard with a service road. Beyond, she could see a young woman jogging up a wooded hill. She pulled herself up and stuck her head out of the window. Her long dress snagged on the window fittings but she eased it free, wriggling her hips round in the opening and she lowered herself carefully behind a garbage bin.
She felt her lungs fill with excitement. In her bag she had a water bottle and money. She made her way to the footpath and ran into the trees. She must get out of sight before they knew she’d gone. She decided to stay clear of the freeway today and tomorrow make her way, somewhere, anywhere, away from everything she knew.
A Chevy pick-up, painted ashen by swirling sand dust drove across the Chihuahuan Desert on a dying mid-summer evening.
The driver, a middle-aged Navajo called Ben Ayze drove with his face almost over the wheel. Although he had driven this lonely road a thousand times he held the speedometer at a steady forty-five. Squinting against the light of the disappearing sun he turned on the radio but only heard the steady sound of static.
To his left, his elderly mother, her head slumped against the window, slept. Ben lifted the blanket that had slipped to the floor. He only took his eyes off the road for a second when he felt the impact. He gripped the steering and slammed his foot down.
His mother awoke with a start and stared wide-eyed at the dirty windshield. There was a smear of blood on the driver’s side. She spoke in her native tongue to Ben who replied in English.
“A coyote, maybe. I’ll go see.”
Stepping out into the dusk, Ben looked around. At the edge of the scrub he knelt and called out in Navajo. The old woman, the blanket still draped around her shoulders appeared at his shoulder.
He spoke softly. “It’s a man, “There was a slight hesitation. “I think. He’s still alive.”
Picking up the bloodied figure as if it was weightless he laid it gently in the rear of the pick-up. As his mother started back towards the motor, she bent down and picked up a small metallic box.
Thirty-five years later Ben Ayze sat alone, contemplating the past. The burden of years weighed heavy on sagging shoulders and his face was beat, lined with dry crevices and straggly shards of hoar frost colored hair. Only his eyes, pools of cobalt blue still sparked.
“Grandfather? You wanted to see me?” The voice belonged to Haloke, his grandson.
Ben turned and for a fleeting moment saw his younger self, a tall, gangly youth of seventeen, oozing nervousness.
“Come with me.” Said the old man. They walked into the next room where a small crowd was gathered. The room fell silent as Ben took centre stage.
“The spirits are silent. Jimmy Moonman has been consumed and the footprints of the Elders are scattered to the wind. Remember him well.” He walked over to a tall ornate dresser, opened up a drawer and brought out a small metal box. He nodded to his wife who answered with a silent muted smile.
They drove into the desert for about an hour, the road straight as an arrow. Only once did Hal try to make conversation but his words were met with silence and he knew his grandfather well enough not to try again. When the pick-up pulled up, Ben got out and walked towards a small canyon about a half a mile away. In silence the grandson followed at a respectful distance.
The old Indian was seated on a rock atop a small grey gorge which housed a small flat lake at its foot when Hal approached. There was no noise save that of a distant breeze on which a fragrance of magnolia rested, although no plants could be seen.
Hal scrambled up the scree of grey rock and wondered how the old man was not as breathless as he was. Ben stared at the horizon as if he expected something or someone.
“Jimmy Moonman is dead.” He said.
“You knew Jimmy.”
“He was always at your house, grandfather.”
“He was my best friend. What did you think of him.”
“He wasn’t Navajo, but he was a good man, different to anyone I’ve met. A great mechanic…”
“Different, yes. There are words that must be spoken.”
He stood up and whispered an old Navajo prayer into the breeze.
” Thirty-five years ago, along that road down there, I accidentally hit him with my pick-up. Your great grandmother and I took him back to the reservation. He was unconscious for three days. When he awoke, he was ok, just a little dazed. It was June, nineteen forty seven. Thirty-five miles away that night, something happened in Roswell.”
“The Roswell thing. Yeah, I know about that.”
“The man I hit that night was part of it all. Jimmy Moonman was not human, as we know it. Jimmy Moonman was from…” He glanced towards the sky.
“From Rhode Island…”
The old man chuckled. “No, he wasn’t.”
Over the next hour, Ben talked thirty-five years of history and of the man known as Jimmy Moonman. He spoke of how when Jimmy woke up, he informed them that he had come from another galaxy with a message for the world.
“He was injured, confused so at first, no-one believed him but then he showed what he could do.”
“What was that?”
“A horse broke its leg. We decided to shoot it but he came over. He placed his hands on its leg and fixed it. No break. Best damn horse we ever had. People from Government were nosing around after Roswell and the tribe Elders decided that we would not abandon him. We gave him the tribal name of Moonman. Jimmy became Navajo.”
“This is crazy…”
“Have you never wondered why no-one has a new car on the reservation? There are more forties and fifties motors here than Havana. Jimmy could fix anything. We sheltered him.”
“But this…message. What was it?”
The old man sighed and reached inside his jacket. He bought out the little metal box.
“Your great grandmother picked it up that evening. Jimmy said the message was inside but the box would not open until the time was right.” He handed the box to Hal.
“What? Why me?”
“He was specific. When you were born, he said the box belonged only to you.”
Hal took the box.
“He said you would know. He said you would know when the time was right.”
President Hal Azoke is sixty-five years old today. The world is on the brink of war. The time is right. The box opened…