Behind the wheel she seemed suddenly more formidable as she gripped the black molded circle with her pale hands. The seat was freezing beneath my thin slacks. I marveled at how abruptly the weather had changed. Snow blocked the windows. The interior of the car was cave like and mysterious.
"Brrrr! Colder than a bitches tit!" she proclaimed.
"I haven't heard that one in a while." I replied.
"Yeah, I'm in to retro I suppose. Baby boomers are big now." She pounded on the steering wheel and coughed.
She turned to me.
"Well, shall we go?"
"You have to start the car first." I said.
"Funny man." She replied and fumbled in her pocket, finally found the key and with an abrupt thrust, jammed it into the slot. "Funny man." The engine struggled to turn over and finally caught. The car started with a bang .
"Good ol' Charlie!" She yelled over the clatter and stumble of the engine.
"Who's Charlie?" I yelled back at her.
She patted the dashboard as if it was a pet.
We sat there in frozen silence and listened to the engine. Finally she turned on the dashboard lights and adjusted the heater to defrost. It took a long time for the heat to begin coming out of the vents, time in which I had an opportunity to observe her profile. In the light filtering through the frost glazed side window there wasn't much to see other than the halo of light which seemed to emanate from her that outlined her profile.
"You need to scrape the windshield." She said. "There's a scraper under the seat.
I fumbled for it amidst the litter that contained god knows what horrible discoveries and then got out of the car. in the short time we had sat there it had gotten even colder and my in drawn breath numbed my tonsils. After first pushing an immense drift of snow from the hood I scraped at the windows. She turned on the wipers and the squeal of their passage over the glass reminded me of branches scraping a window during a monsoon. I remembered the way her eyes glittered as she sat across from me in the booth, and how I had shivered, and again I thought about the end of days, and I wondered if there was some significance in the progression of memory from monsoon to the present moment, and how I had arrived there, and what a long strange trip it had been since the last time I stood in the snow scraping ice from the window of the car of the waitress in the diner in the iowa winter except then it was a robins egg blue 53 ford, and her hair was dishwater blonde.
I remembered staring at her face in the dark just like I had stared at this ones face, and wondering if I would ever see her again after we had sex in her shabby apartment on the fold out bed underneath the zipped open sleeping bag she used as a bedspread, and how she laughed as she told me that she had a son my age. I wondered if this one had a son my age but it didn't seem likely considering that she seemed considerably younger than me, although faded and worn down by life, and then I felt old and tired.
I felt as if I was going around in circles.
And then she honked the horn.
I could see her lips moving behind the glass and for a moment I wasn't sure where I was and then I remembered and I got back in the car.
"What the hell were you doing out there?" She asked and I wanted to tell her but somehow I couldn't make enough sense out of it to put it into words so I didn't say anything.
She floored the old Buick and we spun out into the street and then just hung there, wheels spinning on the ice until we finally got traction and with a lurch stumbled forward toward god knows where.
Neither of us said anything for a long while. We listened to the methodical heartbeat of the wipers and then to janus joplin singing me and Bobbie Magee and then for a long while we listened to our own blood pumping in our veins. I sensed she might be annoyed but I didn't have any responsibility to her and anyway it was her move that placed me here so I pondered the pointlessness of it all until finally she said something.
"What were you doing back there?"
"What did it look like?"
"Like you were catatonic."
"That's pretty close."
"Want to talk about it?"
"Oh, I don't know. It's a woman thing I guess. Don't you know women like to talk about feelings?"
"It wasn't a feeling."
"Well what would you call it then?"
"Really? I had an aunt that talked to dead people."
"What does that have to do with it?"
"Everybody's nuts." She replied.
I didn't reply. Another long silence and then,
"I like it that you're not a talker." She said.
"So many men feel they have to talk. I suppose women aren't any different but I don't want to talk about women. Women disgust me. Anyway I know it's not just a guy thing. It's more that I think one must be courageous to remain silent. Talking is the easy way out. Most people have nothing meaningful to say but they talk any way."
"It's called "chit chat"."
"It's boring." She replied.
"I don't talk because there isn't any point to it. I'm not good at talking about nothing and anything worth talking about makes most people uncomfortable. I used to have something to say about just about anything but not any more."
"What changed?" She asked.
"I suppose I got tired of making people uncomfortable unnecessarily. I discovered that it was more satisfying to talk to myself. It eliminated all the difficulty of trying to be understood and inevitably being misunderstood more often than not. It just wasn't worth it."
"Hmmmm." She replied.
"Besides," I added, "What's the point of inflicting my point of view on other people. It's not going to make any real difference and if it does it doesn't have anything to do with me, or with what I said. It has more to do with them. If I say things they agree with then I'm brilliant. If not I'm an asshole. I'd rather not be bothered any more."
"Well, that's one way of looking at it. My grandma used to tell me that people are christian because they can't admit to their own selves that who they are, no matter how rotten, is who they are so they take on these disguises to make them who they want to be."
"Yeah, she was into christ. Now she's into bowel movements and what kind of casket she wants when she dies. Can you believe it, She's got the funeral planned out on paper and she had all of us sign it in her lawyers office just to make it official."
"All of us?"
"I have a brother and a sister. I never see them though. They're into being normal and pension plans. I can barely pay my bills each month. Sometimes I think it would be easier to be honest about it and be a whore instead of a waitress but I'm not terribly interested in sex and I'm terribly afraid of getting Aids and, after all, a whore has to be practical. The risks come with the rewards. "She said with a giggle at the end, as if she was being truthful but was slightly embarrassed by it.
There was a long silent pause when the only sound was the engine and the wipers incessant squealing and as I watched the lumpy snowflakes swirl in the air ahead of us I imagined them pounding against the car and the sound of booming metal, as if they were hailstones and we were being beaten to death, or ravaging vampire bats desperate for blood crashing into the windshield and smearing their blood across the glass as they were flung aside in the wake of the car.
I thought about past lives and who I had been in all of the incarnations I had passed through since my first memories of childhood and the self involved cruelty of tossing aside everything that was contained within each discarded shell as I metamorphosized into the next god forsaken incarnation, one more horrible than the last and then, finally into what I was after I had discarded everything, even my face, everything except the realization that none of it had been real because I was never there. It had all been just a dream and even when I thought I was awake it was only another incarnation of the same dream state, ad infinitum.
"What about you?" She asked.
"What about me?" I replied.
"Don't play dumb."
"Is that what I'm doing?"
"We have to be honest with each other. That's all that's left."
"Left of what?"
"Ha ha! Funny man. Left of the truth. Everything else is a lie. It always has been. No matter how artfully we put on the makeup, underneath it's just skin, growing older until finally there's nothing left but what's under the skin."
"And what's that?"
"With most people it's nothing. Beneath the skin there's only emptiness. Sad isn't it? All that effort and it might as well have been avoided for all it matters. But I suppose that's a woman thing. Women know a lot about artifice. Most men don't want to know what's behind the make up but a woman deals with truth and artifice every day of her life. Some woman forget who they really are. They're more concerned with what other people, especially men think they are."
Me? I haven't cared what anybody, especially myself, thinks or is in a long time."
"Nothing changed. Maybe I'm just like you. It just got to be too much of a burden. I've always been self involved. Even during those times I was with somebody. It was always me who left. Either physically or spiritually. Someone else always paid the higher price, even if I did cry when they left me. I knew in my heart that I couldn't expect anything else. I had left them long before."
She tapped on the steering wheel with the palm of her hand for a long moment. The tapping and the windshield wipers playing an out of sync rhythm that seemed, like the snowflakes, to be telling me something in a language that I recognized but didn't understand, like a racial memory or something from out of my past that I had long since forgotten, or never really wanted to know.
"So," She finally picked up where she had stopped, "Here we are, two wounded birds, going to grandma's house."
Going to grandma's house.
I remembered when I had a grandmother. Or at least when I thought I did. Even after I discovered that the people who I thought were mine were in reality other still I remembered that they must have loved me, in their way. Just like all the others that came after must have loved me, in their way, no matter how horrible it was. But I left them all far behind and so, I guess she was correct. I was a wounded bird. I had always thought I was an eagle but, truthfully, Robert King was the eagle even though only an eagle like the wizard of Oz was an eagle. I was the pathetic little man behind the curtain pulling the levers. The man without a name.
I must have fallen asleep because when I was awakened by her hand on my shoulder, shaking me, the sky was pink and violet and black and the clouds on the horizon were orange with dawn. The snow had stopped and the fields and ditches on either side of the road were full of it. A crisp white blanket of it that stretched interminably out to a nearly level horizon against which the rounded towers of silos rose like the turrets of agricultural castles next to the huge barns. There were black and white cattle plodding in the field beyond the ditch or standing staring at us as they chewed pensive seeming in their bovine stolidity.
"Where are we?" I asked as I yawned and opened the car door on air the seemed to crackle it was so cold.
"We're close." Was all she said as she reached behind the seat and rummaged in a canvas bag on the floor. She pulled out a stainless steel thermos with a dented lid, unscrewed it and poured coffee steaming into the lid.
"Here, drink this. I need to let you drive for a while. My eyes feel numb." She scowled. "You do know how to drive don't you?"
"Yeah, I know how to drive." I replied, neglecting to tell her it had been years since I had driven a car.
"Good." She said and got out of the car, stretched and pulled off her jacket. She reached down, scooped up a handful of snow and rubbed her face with it.