“They are behind me.” Blue gray shapes hunker against the blue sky and splay out behind his car cruising down the Interstate. “Mountains. I dreamed there. What was I thinking. I’m too old to go searching for the boogey man. They are gone. The mountains don’t change. They change people but they don’t change.”
“I climbed that old mountain wanting to see what I missed on the other side years ago. I’m a damn fool. Didn’t see it then either.”
Paul looks over his shoulder and out of the car window. His day-old beard grates on his shirt shoulder. For a second he considers rattlijng off the names of the peaks by their proper names. THere is no one in the car to impress. A passing eighteen-wheeler blocks hise view and he turns his eyes to the road ahead. He reaches for the dial of the radio. He twists the knob and watches the truck cut in front of him.
“Stairway to Heaven” comes from the stereo speakers. It sounds so much clearer than he remembers it. Years ago he rolled down these same roads listening to the same song from the 8-inch speaker of a Delco radio. He remembers the song as having more meaning back then. He flips the dial and settles on Gretchen Wilson singing “Redneck Woman.”
“She wasn’t even born back then.” He speaks to the truck pulling away from him. Old Fort is behind him and Statesville somewhere ahead.
New memories of rocks and roots flash through his thoughts. A few hours ago he stopped to climb up the old mountain trail. THe trail is marked and kept now. It avoids the bad sections he climbed years before. He stopped a few more times to listen to his lungs heave than in the past. The air was cool when he looked down from a rock outcropping. He took a picture. Thirty years ago he didn’t own a camera much less one that returned immediate results.
An SUV pulls by. He looks over. A prim and proper woman sits in the passenger seat. She glances down at him and purses her lips. He smiles. She stares straight ahead safe in her air-conditioned silence.
"Women. Women and their ways. Shit! You know we can’t live without it.” He looks at the license plate of the SUV. A vanity plate. “Well, most of us.” Paul smiles thinking of his friend Ray who is gay without being a flaming fool. "Ray wouldn't even think about doing her."
His thoughts return to the women he knew on that mountain. “Where are they now? I bet a few of them don’t look so good anymore. Hell, one or two might even be dead. Time doesn’t stop.”
The road sign indicates three fast food eateries. Thirty years before this interchange was just a way to change roads and directions. “I stood here with my thumb out for almost an hour wondering whether I’d catch a ride before the rain started.” The interchange recedes in his rear view mirror.
“God, I thought I loved them. Each one felt and sounded different. Women. They made me feel alive.”
“Them and their damn boundaries. I guess that was the way their mommas taught them. Maybe it was the time. Don’t give anything away until you have to.” He remembers one girl. He remembers the feel of her girdle under her skirt.
“Can’t fool me. At some point they sold out. Cost of living. A farmhouse, debt and children. A nursing job with bad hours and patients. A school teacher to children who put in their time. I guess I didn't offer enough.” The memory of Debby’s hair returns. So soft. She washed it with baby shampoo. He shifts his hands on the steering wheel.
“This car is going some place. I’m going no where.” He pushes the button to lower his window. The heat roars in. He reverses the button. The insulated world returns.
“That’s the problem. No dreams. Lots of regrets.” He speeds up.
The concrete bridge abutment jumps.
"Out, out, damn..."