Authors: Joseph Monninger
AMPSHIRE SUGAR MAPLES
HAT’S THE KIND OF
trees the Fergusons had had planted along the road, and they were adolescent trees, but pretty, too, and going over toward fall. A wild night, my uncle Ed used to call nights like this one, when the moon is full and woodsmoke lips out of the chimneys. I rubbed Speed’s neck and told him to take a good, deep breath, but he just kept going slowly. He had spent about seven years at a kids’ pony ride place over in Dunbarton, and still, whenever he came to a left-hand track, he took it, thinking it was the circle he had had to plod with some birthday kid on his back and a mom running beside with a camera. That was the kind of thing that got to me about Speed.
We didn’t come to any left-hand turns, though. I pulled him right at the end of the driveway and kicked him a little to get him going. He took two steps a little faster, then settled back into his walk. The moon stayed up ahead of us.
She came forward and rubbed his nose and forehead. She wore a headlamp, so the beam went wherever she looked.
When she glanced up at me, all I could see was light. When I climbed off Speed, though, I saw her in the good moonlight. She looked excited. She looked pretty, too, the way her reddish hair picked up the light and her skin seemed bright and white and tied to the moon somehow. She had taken off some weight recently, and she moved with quick, easy motions that made me think of a broom touching the ground. She wore about a dozen friendship bracelets that people had given her, and whenever she reached up to touch Speed, her wrists flashed braided strings. She always liked little things like that, and she reminded me of a Christmas tree sometimes, only a tree in a household that didn’t have much, a tree that had to be decorated with popcorn strings and clothespin animals rather than fancy crystal balls and soft white lights. There was always a little something “make-do” about Delores, something thrift-store and sub-retail, and that wouldn’t have been bad except you could tell it sometimes got to her and made her self-conscious and lonely in her head.
“Any trouble?” she asked.
“Nope,” I said. “Not a thing.”
“Let’s get him in,” she said. “We’ll be out of the state by dawn.”
“Okay,” I said, and I kissed his nose.
We unsaddled Speed in no time, then rubbed him down
quickly. Delores had taken a horse trailer from Gray’s Farm, her cousin’s place. She had put a bale of hay up on the eating rack so Speed could eat what he liked as he rode. We lined Speed up and led him inside. He went right up the ramp without a thought. He filled up the trailer, though, and it took us a second to close him off in the rear.
“He’s done that a couple million times,” I said.
“Sure has,” Delores said.
She latched the back with a padlock, then scooted around to the driver’s side. I climbed in and checked behind me. I couldn’t see Speed.
When Delores slid in, she was wired the way she gets sometimes. She had a manic energy that made people like the Fergusons nervous around her. They found her too much, too excitable. A lot of people did. But I didn’t. She was like a wind that came over the White Mountains, all nutty and strong, but she could be calm, too. Delores wasn’t all one thing.
“Okay,” she said. “No surrender.”
I nodded. She started the engine and pointed us west.
E DID IT
ELORES SAID WHEN WE HAD GONE ABOUT A
mile. “We freaking did it! I can’t believe, after all the talk, we finally did it.”
She tapped the steering wheel, playing along with Coldplay, the band she idolized. I could tell she felt good. She wore jeans and an old ratty sweater she liked and had her hair up in a baseball hat. She wore a blue down vest over the sweater, and her pair of Doc Martens. She was revved.
“We’re going west,” I said. “And Speed, too.”
“Old Speedy,” she said. “Your Speedy.”
“What do you think they’ll say when they find the note?”
“The Fergies? Oh, they’ll be glad to have the horse off their hands.”
“They’re not like that,” I said.
“You’re right,” Delores said. “They’re worse.”
“What are they going to say, Hattie? You didn’t steal anything of value. They were going to put Speed down tomorrow. So now they won’t have to. They’ll tsk and call your mom, and that will be that. Then your mom will call my mom and they’ll piece it together. By that time we’ll be west of Chicago or something.”
“I’d hate to make them feel bad. They’ve been good to me.”
“Oh, they’ll like feeling indignant and everything else. It’ll give them something to do. They always figure we’re a
bunch of crazy people living up here in trailers. You know. Trashy. This will make them feel superior.”
“You’re cynical,” I said. “They like you, too, you know.”
“They’re not sure what to make of me, Hattie. They figure I’ll be pregnant and on food stamps in about a year. They still have a little hope for you.”
“You’re full of it.”
“Road trip!” she yelled, and I had to smile. “The heck with everything else.”
It was a magical night. The moon shone right on the road, and we followed it, almost as though it were tempting us to catch it. We took back roads, just in case, and kept her Ford F-150 at an easy pace. On both sides of us the trees had begun to turn. My mom always listened to the foliage report, the track the autumn colors made from the north down. Peak for our region still remained a couple weeks away, but driving, I realized it didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be here.
We drove for a long time. Eventually we stopped talking, and the road hypnotized us. The whole world shrank down to a white line on a black piece of ribbon going through trees. My mind washed around to different things—the Fergusons, Mom, our house, Marbles my cat, the GED course where Delores and I had met and become friends—but it never settled on one thing. We had a leaving feeling, that’s what it was.
“What time is it?” Delores asked eventually. “You hungry?”
“It’s around four.”
“There’s a place I know that’s not too far. Right near the Vermont border. Why don’t we stop for breakfast?”
“I want to check Speed, too.”
“You know,” she said, “if I had a lot of money, I’d buy about a thousand acres out in Wyoming and I’d leave it empty. Just as empty as it could be. And I’d put out the word that anyone who had an old horse could just swing by and drop that horse off. Nature would take care of the rest. I wouldn’t allow anything but horses.”
“There are places like that,” I said. “I found some online.”
“I mean really free horse country. Prairie land. What do you think Speed will do when he sees a prairie?”
“He’s old,” I said.
“You wait,” she said. “There’s some life left in him. No more going in circles. Speedy boy is going to be free as a bird.”
Then for a little while Delores did a dance that she does when she’s feeling goofy. It’s a kind of wiggle thing where she pretends the gear shift is her partner, and she did some finger waves and some voodoo passes, and she reached over and made me do it, too. She goes high and she goes low, Delores.
She was in an up phase, I knew, but that could turn around. I’d seen her change in five minutes flat, go from bubbly to sad in the time it takes to walk to the kitchen in most houses. Right now, with the sun just starting to scrape back the night, she danced like a crazy woman. “Full moon, full moon, full moon,” she chanted. And for a while she drove with her knees, her hands throwing themselves at the world around her. Now and then I spotted the slits in her wrists—the scars, deep scars going up and down vertically the way the serious ones try it—and wished that she would hold on and go a little slower, breathe a little deeper, find a center place and try to be there.
ELORES ORDERED PANCAKES WITH SAUSAGE
cheese omelet with home fries and cinnamon toast. We split a pot of tea.
“That be all for now?” the waitress asked after she delivered the meals. “You got everything you need?”
She was a big woman with breasts the size of dachshunds. You had to make a deliberate effort to raise your eyes above the cliff they made. Her name tag said
“We’re set,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Don’t see many girls out this time of morning,” Sue said. “Nice to have a break from all the truckers.”
“We’re delivering a horse,” I said, which was a phrase we had scripted to have on hand for anyone asking.
“Well, good for you. Call me over if you need anything.”
She took off. Delores dripped honey over her pancakes. She hated maple syrup, I knew.
“Speed looked good,” she said as she speared some pancake. “He’s used to riding in a trailer.”
“How many days, you think?” I asked, even though we had discussed it a thousand times since Speed had received his death sentence.
“Four days, maybe. Depends how we go. If we take turns driving, no problem.”
“You think they’ll call the police?”
Delores stabbed pancake and then sausage.
“Who knows? I’ll be honest, I’m more worried about my cousin whistling me down for the trailer than I am about Speed. The Fergies aren’t the sort to want the police to know their private business.”
“I’ve got to call Mom this morning. She’ll have a hissy.”
“But in the end, what can she do?”
“I’m not eighteen,” I said.
“I am,” Delores said.
“Which makes you arrestable.”
“Is ‘arrestable’ a word? Pass me the butter, would you?”
I did. I ate some of my omelet. It was pretty good, though the cook had tried to fancy it up by sprinkling paprika on it. The home fries were better. We ate and watched the truckers slide into booths here and there around the diner. Most of them were fat. Sue scuttled around serving everyone. She brought coffee before anyone asked for it. She carried the white cups in bunches.
“How far do you think we can get today?” I asked after we had eaten half our meal.
“You ever been out West?” I asked.
Delores shook her head.
“Nope,” she said.
“You think it looks like it does in the movies?”
“Nothing looks like anything does in the movies.”
“Except Johnny Depp.”
“If Johnny Depp in real life looked like Johnny Depp in the movies, people would faint around him.”
“Girls,” I said.
“Heck, gay guys would, too.”
“My mom used to always say, ‘Life isn’t a movie.’ That
was supposed to be a cure for something. Like you shouldn’t believe in appearances.”
“You really think your mom is going to throw a hissy?” Delores asked.
“Of course. You know how she is.”
“My mom will say she expected something like this. She’ll say it’s harebrained. What is harebrained, anyway?”
“No one who loves horses will think it’s harebrained.”
A pair of youngish truckers slid into the booth behind Delores. They had big belt buckles and wide sideburns. They smelled of cigarettes and diesel. Delores started speaking French to me. She couldn’t really speak it, but it was something we did. Sometimes on ski lifts or in a mall we spoke pretend French, throwing in a word and mumbling things together so that it almost sounded like something. That’s what she did now. I answered back, running my voice up and down French scales, trying to sound Parisian. After a while the guy closest to us turned in his seat and asked if we were from Montreal.
“No,” Delores said.
She said it
, like a Frenchy.
“Where, then?” the guy said.
“Paree,” Delores said.
“Paris?” the guy asked.
That made us laugh, and the guy turned back to his table and left us alone. Then Delores started making kissing poses by sticking out her lips and closing her eyes. She meant it as a commentary on the guys, mocking them, but finally Sue came with the check.
“You girls drive careful,” Sue said, tearing off the check.