Driving Directions

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Jim Walke


An Excerpt from “Driving Directions”

Eastern Wyoming sloped. Sheer granite in the distance was a reminder of the true vertical crossed, but the highway unrolled across plains tilting east and down. The sun rose over the hood, blinding us to the expanse. We were lulled by the gentle descent, stupefied.

Twenty-four hours gone, the time spent along thirteen hundred miles.

Wham! Wham! Wham! The truck whipped across both lanes, both of us snapping awake. The hitchhiker banged on the back window again, the wind stealing his shouts. He pointed with one frozen claw at an exit sign: Spearfish. He hopped out after we slid to a halt, knees buckling when he hit the ground. He muttered thanks and trudged shakily up the exit.

“Nice guy.”

“I should have asked him if he’d seen the moose.”

“Hour to Rushmore.”

“Gonna be early.”

“Breakfast.”

Keystone, South Dakota was not yet awake. The signs promised the pleasures of a thousand family vacations, but most of the lights were off… most, but not all.

“Mini-golf?”

“No.”

“Ye Olde-Timey Photographs?”

“No.”

“Gun museum?”

“Oh, yes.”

Of course the gun museum was open at seven in the morning. It had a coffee shop. Either that or the coffee shop had a gun museum. I had blueberry waffles beneath a phalanx of bayoneted rifles. The salt and pepper shakers were shaped like little derringers, and were for sale.

“When is Mom’s birthday?” Sandy asked.

“Don’t even think about it.”

We paid our fee at the gates of the park and joined the pack of RVs and buses hunting the elusive parking space. A loose mob of senior citizens walked to the viewing platform and we trailed along, the youngest by fifty years.

A woman with Cheeto-orange hair clawed onto my arm as we walked up the slightest of slopes. She picked up a conversation we had never started.

“Of course we always went to Branson. Before my Glen died, we went every year. In the fall we went.”

“That’s nice ma’am.” I tried to get my arm free.

“I didn’t want to come on this one. My friend made me. Of course she just plays bridge on the bus, so what does she care? The restroom smells poopy. The Branson bus is much better. We sing.”

“Sounds awful, ma’am,” I said automatically. She had a grip like a gorilla. She barely came up to my shoulder and I could see Sandy over her head. He rooted in his rucksack and offered the panty rose to me. I mouthed bad words.

We reached the viewing platform. The four stone heads hung on the mountainside, poised to speak. A hush fell over the group.

“I thought they’d be bigger,” said Glen’s widow.

“Me too,” I said. The answer was echoed by others, but an elderly vet in his W.W. II cap focused his glare on me. Commenting on the former Presidents’ head size was unappreciated.

“Good likeness, though,” she added. “I saw Roosevelt when I was a little girl.” She repeated herself, louder. The white heads nodded in approval, and she released my arm to work her way to forward. They were listening to her now.

“I usually go to Branson,” she told them.

Sandy and I drifted away.

“What’d you think?”

“I’ve seen it. I don’t have to come back.”

“Really moved you?”

“It’s your turn to drive.”


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Jim Walke is an actor, writer, and cubicle monkey. He lives in Virginia with his wife and two canine children. In his spare time he wanders the Appalachian Trail. E-mail: jaywalke[at]yahoo.com.

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