I always wondered where the expression “as the crow flies” originated. A crow does a lot of things during a day: scrabbling for a piece of roadkill, fending off territorial interlopers, terrorizing the neighbor’s cat and so on. It doesn’t go from A to B in a straight line; it flies from A to B via C, D, M and Z, which is pretty much the way my life went; it took a lot of extra miles to get where I was going, especially with Mary.
Point A started at a remote Forest Service timber camp in Rodman Bay, thirty air miles north of Sitka, Alaska, in 1978. I clambered off the aluminum ladder-struts of the Beaver into a downpour and waded ashore, met by a stranger clad in Helly Hansen raingear.
A woman’s voice said, “Hand me one of those bags.” Shouldering my heavy backpack, I passed her my daypack and the box with food, mail, and newspapers.
We stumbled up the cobble-strewn beach, never looking at anything but our feet, all powers of concentration focused on walking on bowling balls while carrying heavy bags. Our hunched-back, face-down approach also worked to keep the rain from blowing into our faces.
The alder thicket at tide line gave way to a towering stand of spruce. Four tent platforms lay scattered in a small clearing, and inside was a sodden haven from the wind. We made our way to the furthest one. Inside, I was hit by a blast of warmth emanating from a small oil stove. The stranger I followed dropped her hood.
“I’m Mary,” she said with a disarming, warm smile. A stream of water trickled down her forehead and dripped off her nose. She extended her hand to me. I shook it, noticing the dirt under her nails.
“You’re the new timber cruiser, right?” Mary dropped my wet pack on the floor, wandered over to a coffee pot on the stove and snapped the burner off. “Not much left but you’re welcome to it.”
“Thanks. I’m Mark, on loan to you guys for the next tendays until something more permanent can be worked out.” I slipped the pack off my shoulder, thankful —I’d had the foresight to secure my gear in trash bags before packing it. The box Mary carried from the beach, also swaddled in a plastic bag, got deposited on a table surrounded by eight folding lawn chairs. From past experience I knew the camp’s crew was more anxious for mail than seeing me, so I undid the knotted bag, revealing the box.
Mary pulled a folding Buck knife from her pocket and slit the strapping tape on the box. Paying no attention to the gallon Ziploc bag of Hershey bars on top, she dug until she found a brown padded envelope. “Mail!”
“Newspapers are on the bottom.”
Acting as if she didn’t hear me, Mary sorted the mail faster than a postal worker before clocking out. She bit her lip upon seeing one address, turned toward me and said, “What’s your name again?”
“Mark, your cot is in the tent on the far left.” She picked up her letters and shoved them behind the bib of her Helly pants. “I’m gonna try to find some dry clothes. The rest of the crew is still in the woods. See you at dinner.”
I wandered over to my tent and shook off my wet raingear. Three of the four bunks were already claimed, and clothes hung from nails on the two-by-four frame. After unpacking and shoving my gear under the unclaimed bunk, I killed time scanning aerial photos of Rodman Bay’s timber until dinner.
Six smelly, dirty crew who looked like they stepped out of a cave painting joined Mary and me for dinner. Between finding dry clothes and chow time, she prepared a mountain of burritos the crew devoured with little conversation other than “pass the Tabasco.” It was like a pack of wolves descending on an elk carcass, only slightly less graceful. After third helpings were devoured and the burping stopped, conversation resumed. During dinner, I checked Mary out from the corner of my eye. Her effervescence and self-assured casualness carried over to the after-dinner banter. I listened to the war stories and her repartee with the crew with much interest.
Two days later, Mary took off to visit a sick aunt in Burbank.
Three weeks had passed since Mary’s Burbank departure. I was in the Sitka Forest Service bunkhouse, carrying a load of underwear, socks, and shirts along with a pile of sheets from the laundry room to the kitchen table. I’d just started folding them when Mary walked in.
We looked at one another, startled, like two bears suddenly meeting in the woods. She said, “I know you! What’s your name again?”
Nice to know my presence at the Rodman Bay camp made such an impact. I finished coupling a pair of socks and set them aside in a pile next to the folded shirts. “Mark—Mark from Rodman Bay. It’s okay, it was only for a few days.”
She dropped her jacket on the floor, sat down in a kitchen chair and tugged off her boots. “I never forget a face. Names, on the other hand, I’m not so hot with.”
Mary’s Pendleton wool shirt didn’t smell of sweat, smoke or sap, so I figured she must be on her days off. For the first time, I got the opportunity to really see what she looked like. Stout but not husky, dirty blond hair, jeans snug around her muscular legs, with a shirt that filled out nicely. I wondered what she saw when she looked at me. My old girlfriend used the term “easy on the eyes.” I hoped Mary saw me the same way.
“I’m looking for a girl named Sue—I heard she was staying here. Tall. Thin. Pretty. You’d remember her if you saw her,” Mary said. She pulled out another chair and set her feet on it. “I’m not sure if I should wait for her or hoof it back downtown.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“I’ll wait a bit and see if she wanders in.” Mary eyed my pile of laundry. “You sure do a nice job folding. I can never get them like you do so I just roll ‘em into a ball.”
“Not sure if it’s a God-given talent or a lot of practice.” I eyed the crisp edges on the sheets and shirts and the underwear folded in half and started setting them in the laundry basket.
“I’m gonna give Sue five more minutes and then head out.” She pulled the Buck knife out of her back pocket and started cleaning her nails with the blade. “Where’d you say you’re from again?”
“Oregon, down on the coast. Little town called Florence. Ever heard of it?” I shoved the laundry aside, following Mary with my eyes as she moved to a weathered sofa set among two armchairs, one with an arm hanging askew. She splayed across the sofa, one leg on it and the other on the floor.
“Passed through there once when I was younger on a trip to Seattle. Don’t remember it, though.”
“Not surprised. It’s pretty small.”
Mary peered at her watch. “Time’s up. I’m gonna take off. If you see Sue tell her a bunch of us are meeting at the airport bar at 9:00 p.m.” She slid her boots on and plucked her jacket off the floor. “There’s a new band in town and we’re going dancing.” She paused and faced me. “Stop by the airport if you want, Mark from Rodman Bay.”
The bass vibrated so loud I thought cracks were going to open in the floor before I walked into the bar. The syncopated thud of the drums and flashing lights illuminated a cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over a crowd sitting at the skirt of a small dance floor. I stood near the entrance looking for Mary or anything looking like a group of Forest Service seasonals. A waitress in a tight top scurried by with several drinks on a tray. Unsure if I should return to reading my James Michener book in my bunk, I waded in deeper. As I shouldered past a guy with a logging shirt and suspenders, a sharp yank on my arm turned me around.
“Hey, you made it.” Mary smiled, a UCLA tee clung to her, and beads of sweat dotted her forehead. “We’re over here.” She half-danced while pulling me towards a round table on the far side of the floor. “Everyone, this is… Mark. Ha! You thought I forgot your name again, didn’t you?”
She laughed, and I wondered how many drinks she’d had. I recognized some people, knew two others, and found myself seated next to a tall, blond girl.
“Hi, I’m Sue.” She extended her hand. “So how do you know Mary?”
“I was out at Rodman Bay with her for two days and ran into her at the bunkhouse today. That’s about it. More random than anything.”
“Random.” She laughed. “That’s Mary all right.”
The lull between songs ended and Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” poured out of the speakers. People flooded the dance floor while I sat rooted to my chair. Mary looked over at me, gesturing with her finger to come join her. I shouted, “I’ll sit this one out!” I needed at least one beer before dancing.
Mary shot out of her chair, strode over, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out onto the floor. “This song’s too good to sit out.”
I didn’t return to my seat as we danced to an odd medley of The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen and Queen.
“You know, you’re not a bad dancer,” she said as we leaned on each otherwhile the band was on break, both of us soaked with sweat.
“Thanks for the compliment. Who’s my competition?”
“That guy with the suspenders and Mike and Bill from our table. Stone feet—all of them.”
The crowd trickled out after another set, and Mary and I caught a cab back to the bunkhouse. In the back seat, her head rested on my shoulder, as she snoozed until the taxi hit a pothole in the bunkhouse parking lot and jarred her awake. “Are we here?”
We stood in the parking lot, unsure of what was going to happen next. “You could come in if you want.”
Mary turned, looking down Halibut Point Road. “I’d like to but I should probably walk to clear my head. I’m crashing at a friend’s place.” She reached over and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. A fine mist floated down from the sky. “This was fun. Thanks.”
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Maybe I’ll call.”
“Maybe I’ll answer.”
She cut across the bunkhouse lot and walked the road shoulder towards the ferry terminal. I saw her grow smaller with each receding streetlight she passed under, and turned in for the night.
All I had was her number written on the bar napkin I shoved in my pocket the night before. I called. She didn’t answer. I gave her the benefit of the doubt thinking she wasn’t home or busy with errands, but wondered if this was the end of the road.
After my days off in Sitka, I was back in the field at another camp. I eavesdropped on radio conversations to see if Mary called with a food order or a flight request from dispatch, just to listen to her voice or know where she was. I knew Forest Service seasonals worked in various camps, moving around Southeast Alaska like displaced persons. The thin line connecting us was withering. I wondered if there ever were any lines. I told myself it was only one night. Was I making too much of it? I sensed this connection I couldn’t shake. A karmic force tugging at me as if I had no free will.
With field season over, I headed backto my parents’ house Florence, Oregon for Thanksgiving and to sort my options while my room and board was free. On the way to the Sitka airport, I stopped to pick up my mail: paycheck, letter from mom, letter from sis, bill, bill, L.L. Bean catalog, postcard. I flipped the card over, wondering who sent me a picture of Crater Lake.
Hey, I’m in Roseburg, Oregon. C’mon down and we can go dancing again. I’ve got a place you can stay. Hope you can make it! Next to the name “Mary” was a smiley face and a phone number in bold block letters.
No explanation of how she’d disappeared or where she went. ‘Here I am, come get me!’ Like a stick I was supposed to fetch whenever it was tossed.
In my head I knew Roseburg and Florence weren’t that far apart. At least they were on the same side of the state. I didn’t have any firm schedule once I got off the jet in Seattle, so what the hell. A few Greyhound bus legs and I’d be in Roseburg. I wondered if I was just some dumb golden retriever, running in circles, looking for a stick to chase.
The Roseburg Greyhound terminal phone booth next to the men’s room smelled of Pine Sol and urine. The phone book was ripped from its mooring and several names and numbers were scribbled on the wall. I pulled the card from my shirt pocket, plugged a coin in the slot and listened to the loud, clicking dial tone.
“Mary, it’s me. Mark. I’m at the bus terminal.”
“Woohoo! You came! I wasn’t sure you would.”
I almost didn’t come. I liked to plan. But with Mary, I was moving over new terrain without a map, compass, or my common sense. She was like a chunk of iron totally messing up the magnetic arrow inside me, which always pointed true north. “Here I am. So, where are you?”
“I’ll come get you.” A click indicated she’d hung up.
I slung my backpack over a shoulder, picked up my duffle bag, and shuffled to a wooden bench in front of the terminal, staring at a gray fall sky undecided if it would unleash snow, sleet or rain. Thankful for the terminal’s overhang, I set my pack and duffle on the bench beside me, part to keep it off the dirty, stained sidewalk, and part to keep the odd human strays I’d seen in the terminal from sitting next to me. Others had lingered here–the bench was carved with graffiti and highly detailed anatomical drawings.
An orange VW Bug backfired and stopped in front of me. The parking brake crunched, and Mary opened the door, ran over and hugged me. I wrapped my arms around her, inhaling the sharp zest of Doctor Bronner’s Peppermint Soap, the inexpensive and potent favorite in field camps. We stood apart, momentarily admiring each other. Her powder blue down jacket had duct tape on one elbow, and her hair hung down to her shoulders. She hugged me again, this time longer and silent as if we were that Buck knife folding into itself.
“Let’s get away from this shithole.”
We headed north on Route 99 past a stream of fast food joints, auto parts stores, and more churches than there are religions, before shifting east. The whole time, Mary filled me in on her life since I’d seen her. I listened but focused on Mary. I saw the gentle curve of her jaw, the cute eye-squinting, the scrunched-up nose. The way her breasts shifted as she went from third to fourth gear like an Indy race car driver.
“We’re almost there.”
“So where are we headed?”
“I’m crashing at a friend’s place. She went to Medford for a week, so we have the place to ourselves.” She looked over at me to see how that registered.
I let the comment float by me, untouched.
We pulled into a trailer park and stopped in a muddy cul-de-sac. “Here we are.” She grabbed my duffle bag and, though it weighed north of forty pounds, hefted it on to her shoulder with ease.
I flopped on the sofa using my backpack for a footrest, looking forward to settling in, even if it was only for a few days.
Mary sat down beside me, draped a hand on my knee and laid her head on my shoulder. “I’m really glad you’re here.”
I put my arm around her and tilted my head towards hers. “I’m glad I came.” We sat there for a minute, my mind wondering where I was going, adrift in a raft on a still lake.
Mary stood up and tugged my hand. “C’mon.”
The munchies got us out of bed at 11:00 p.m. Mary, shirtless with my gym shorts on, and me, towel wrapped around my waist. Her butter knife scraped the bottom of the peanut butter jar just as I finished off the Saltine crackers. The symmetry struck us, and we burst out laughing, hugging and toppling onto the mattress on the bedroom floor, before falling asleep, sated in all ways.
It went on for five days: scavenging odd meals at odder hours, exhausting ourselves like spawned out salmon in bed, dancing at the Lariat until our limbs were limp. A haze settled over us like the damp fog that rolled into Roseburg from the hills. Morning bled into afternoon, which turned to dusk, then dark, as if we were in our own personal time zone.
It was time to go. I promised my parents I would be home for Thanksgiving, now three days away. We sat in the VW at the bus terminal, windshield wipers swishing at the light rain, while we silently contemplated all the roads ahead of us. Two unemployed itinerant Forest Service seasonals with only the homes we grew up in as our true base. Places we’d outgrown but could not leave for good. We lingered at the bus door as long as possible until the bus driver said, “Hey Buddy, kiss her and let’s get a move on.”
I stepped up, and the door hissed shut.
Mary said she’d write or call, although she told me she didn’t like talking on the phone much. Either way, not a word from her. It was mid-December and I was stuck in neutral waiting for the mailman and hoping each ring of the phone might be her. Should I call or wait? It was an age-old dating game I usually lost. I called the Roseburg number.
“Nah, she’s not here.” Mary’s roommate said. “Left about a week ago, kinda on short notice. Sold her car and a few things and said she was heading south.” The voice paused and papers rustled in the background. “I think she said California. I have contact info here somewhere and will call you when I find it. Okay to call collect?”
“Sure, collect is fine.” I carefully recited my phone number twice and hung up. When I didn’t hear anything for three days, I tried again. Five times to be exact. In the back of my mind, the road to Mary turned into a dead end.
I hung the dog leash on a peg by the door and handed Dudley, our family lab, a Milkbone. The chill from our beach walk started to wear off when my mom said, “You got mail. Who is this Mary, anyway?” She pointed to a wooden side table where the mail was piled. “You never said anything about a Mary.”
“You read my mail?”
“I couldn’t help but read it, it’s a postcard. By the way, when are you going to help take the Christmas lights down?”
One corner of the card was torn, and the other looked like a small rodent nibbled it. The front said, “Greetings from Acapulco.” On the back was Mary’s looping scrawl: I got a great place on the beach. Really cheap. Learning to surf (kind of). Come join me. Mary. There was an address and a strange-looking phone number for a nearby restaurant named Juanita’s that could reach Mary. I checked the postmark: December 12th.
I pulled a weathered Rand McNally atlas from our bookshelf and turned to Mexico, straining to find Acapulco. With one finger marking the page, I flipped to California, Oregon, and Mexico to get a sense of how far it was from Florence.
Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada to the mountains of Mexico, and arctic terns flap from the top of North America to Tierra del Fuego. What they follow, nobody really knows. Are there landmarks? Magnetic fields? Celestial navigation? Do they go in a straight line or make side trips to feed or rest? I had no idea where the crows go. All I know is I found my way 2,500 miles to Mexico, Spanish-American paperback dictionary in hand, blinking in the hot sun waiting for Mary to meet me at the Acapulco airport.
A colectivo pulled up to the curb, an overflowing heap of luggage bungee-corded to the top of it. The door swung open and Mary, tanned and wearing a bikini top and cutoff jeans, spilled out from a wall of bodies packed into the van.
She gave me a big hug, and I felt the warmth of her arms circle me. “Get in, we’re headed for Marquelia, about 90 miles south.”
She sensed my hesitation as I looked at the tangle of arms, legs and torsos sandwiched in the van.
“Don’t worry, there’s room.” Her hand was on my back, and I felt it pushing me. Somehow, I made it in, my backpack draped across two stranger’s laps. Mary plopped in mine, her arm curling around my neck. “See, I told you there was room.” She had a triumphant look as the colectivo belched smoke and pulled away from the curb.
We cut off onto a dirt road for ten miles, a cloud of dust trailing us. The ocean was so close breakers curled in, casting foam on the broad expanse of sand. A town appeared among the swaying palms: shacks with tin roofs, empanada stands, and dilapidated buildings with signs showing, ferreteria, where sweaty, shirtless guys with cutting torches dissembled cars. Mangy dogs wandered the streets. Chickens pecked in side yards.
What had I gotten myself into? I just wanted to see Mary, enjoy some sun, and drink cheap margaritas. We could have done that in San Diego or Honolulu, where I could at least order drinks in English.
Mary squeezed my inner thigh, “Don’t worry, this will be fun.”
The van eased past several pedestrians before turning into a dirt lot next to a convenience store with freshly killed chickens hanging in the window. A guy in a sleeveless tee shirt managed to pry open the door, and a half-dozen of us sprang for the fresh air.
Backpack on, Mary grabbed my hand and said, “This way.” Two dogs followed us, and Mary pulled some dogs treats from her pocket. “Here Paco.” The dog munched the treat. “I don’t know this other guy but he’s kinda cute.” Half his ear was gone, an abscess weeped on his side, and his tail was missing a chunk of fur. Mary tossed his treat on the ground, and we kept moving.
We passed through two side streets with signs for hostels and cheap rooms when Mary said, “Here we are.” Three rough-hewn, graying wood cabanas with tin roofs nestled under a grove of palms at the edge of the beach sand. “We’re in the one on the right.” She pulled a small key from her shorts and the front door creaked open. Inside, two single beds were pushed together. The propane fridge and small two-burner stove sat wedged next to open cupboards with plates, cups and bowls, and a tiny sink drained into a five-gallon bucket. A jug of drinking water was perched on the other side of the counter. “The bathroom and more drinking water are at Juanita’s restaurant down that alley. She rents the place.”
Juanita was a heavyset, formidable entrepreneur with a family empire engulfing the town of Marquelia. She owned two restaurants, one hotel, and the cabanas. Need a bike tire fixed? See her cousin, Heraldo. The freshest chickens? Try her brother, Manuel. Plumbing problems? Her uncle Jorge could fix anything.
Mary let the cabana’s cheap slat blinds down on three sides and set the ocean-side blinds at half-mast so the breeze could waft in. In the dim light, Mary already removed her top and was stepping out of her shorts.
The next week we lazed around, wandered to the local market mangling the little Spanish I gleaned from my dictionary, and sampled every bar and empanada stand in town. I took surfing lessons from Juanita’s brother, Felipe, who provided the bulk of his guidance from the beach, sitting in a palapa’s shade, knocking back cervezas.
Despite generous applications of Coppertone, my white skin turned shades of red I never knew existed. Mary tended me lovingly, but body contact was painful, the merest touch scorching like a scorpion sting. For two days I lay in bed, praying for the cool ocean breeze to filter in and wrap me in its embrace. I stared at the corrugated aluminum roof until I saw images and shapes in the folds of metal.
Emerging like a mole from underground, I stepped from the cabana in a tee shirt and broad-brimmed straw hat, shielding against the sun. One day we rented bikes from Heraldo and peddled to a nearby beach where a man approached us while we lolled on our blanket and offered two ice creams for free. He worked at a small palapa down the beach and thought we might be hot. Two days later, Juanita left fresh tamales for us. The sense of community of our beach town, with the laughter and strong family ties, made me wonder why these people, so obviously poor, seemed to enjoy life more than people in Roseburg or Florence.
In the evening, we’d find a small, quiet restaurant with just locals and enjoy the friendly banter, even if it only consisted of a few words or gestures. The cool of night brought out singing, guitars, mescal, and tequila.
It only took nine days for me to exhaust pretty much everything there was to do in and around Marquelia. That included getting sunburned and two days recovering. I hadn’t learned the fine art of doing nothing and knowing it is okay to feel that way. Mary had mastered it and found more ways to do nothing than anyone I ever knew.
On more than one occasion, Mary got up from our table and sauntered over to laugh with some of the Mexicans while I sat in my plastic lawn chair under a string of colored electric lights, nursing my margarita. The men laughed, and words like “mujer caliente,” and “hermosa mujer” drifted to me in the night air. Twice, a mariachi band played, and Mary was asked to dance. The Mexicans looked at me and I was unable to decipher their thoughts. The foreign music and different culture left me unsure of myself. Was I failing to amuse her, or was I jealous of their attention? Or both? I couldn’t help but wonder if I was a redundant part of this vacation.
The surf roared in the background as we lay on our backs underneath a threadbare sheet in our tiny cabana. Only minutes before, we grunted in unison, our bodies enmeshed like two breeding anacondas, only pausing when Mary accidently knocked over the small night table lamp. The gasping ceased, and a stillness settled. Mary ran her hand across my chest, making small, twirly circles.
Her hand stopped moving, “We’re not really much alike.”
I turned towards her, staring into eyes as blue as the lagoon down the coast. Her mouth, normally a cat-like smile was a thin, flat line. “When did you realize that?”
“I kinda knew it all along but never needed to say it.”
“You needed to say it?”
“I guess it was time,” Mary sat up, holding the sheet against her breasts like armor. “We’re not really compatible. I mean we get along and all that, but…”
“But what?” I was more than hurt, I was cut deeply—though I realized she was right. I hadn’t wanted to admit it and didn’t want to now.
“You don’t really relax.” Mary pulled more of the sheet around her, uncovering me. “Kind of like you’re on guard all the time. I don’t get it.”
Mary’s window into my personality unsettled me. I recognized she was more perceptive than I was, which rattled me more. Her flair for life, scattered manner, and derring-do in bed blinded me to what our relationship was about and where it was going. My natural reaction was normally to deploy a defensive shield to block her words, although I knew Mary could easily knock it aside.
“Am I right? Are you going to say something?” Mary got out of bed, the sheet half-wrapped around her, part toga, part sarong. She opened the blinds a bit more and seemed to stare far out to sea.
I let out a sigh. “I guess you’re right. I don’t have your ability to go with the flow.” It felt like we were out on the dance floor, dancing by ourselves at opposite ends until the music stopped. “Was this whole thing just about sex?” I spat it at her, knowing it would sting. It wasn’t that way for me. But what was it? I wanted more, but maybe I desired it so badly because I knew I couldn’t have it. I fell through a trap door and hit bottom.
“No. Well, yes. Kind of. It was more than that, and you damn well know it.” Mary opened the small fridge and took out a beer. Instead of opening it, she placed it on her forehead, moving it slowly side to side. “We had fun. We laughed and were silly. We talked about life. And yes, the sex was sensational. I’m not apologizing for anything, and I don’t expect you to either.”
I sat naked at the edge of the bed. “So what do we do now?”
We had less and less to say to each other over the next two days before I could get a flight back to the States. A tropic torpor set in. The silence weighed down everything and gnawed, like those worms leaving tunnels in the beach logs we’d seen on our walks. Mary disappeared for long beach walks. I read in the lumpy bed and ate my rice and beans alone at Juanita’s.
Mary insisted on accompanying me on the clammy colectivo ride back to the airport. We sat side-by-side like statues, not making eye contact. As the driver unloaded the colectivo at the terminal entrance, Mary turned towards me, tears glistening in her eyes. We were way stations before the next person in our lives showed up. A long journey in a short time without knowing which way we were going. Now we knew. I couldn’t change who I was any more than birds can change their migration routes. We were two crows flying in different directions. The hot buzz of hormones and infatuation flared until the final lick of flame guttered out.
No theatrics, no fireworks at the end—we weren’t those kinds of people. A parting of minds before the stakes got higher. We couldn’t check all our emotions at the door. She put her arms around me, tears wetting my shirt. I held her tight and laid my head in the crook at the base of her neck, not wanting to move.
“Vámanos!” The driver tapped his horn gently.
I kissed her gently on the cheek, tasting the salty smoothness. “Drop me a card.”
“Okay, I will.” She pulled a red bandana from a back pocket and blotted tears.
I knew this was the last I’d hear from her.
The driver honked more insistently.
“Time for me to go.” Anything I wanted to say was a cliché, a goodbye from a Bogart movie. I put my pack on and headed for the automatic glass doors of the terminal. I passed below a light stanchion with a crow perched on it. Before reaching the door, I turned to see Mary. The crow caw-cawed, and the colectivo was gone.
Inside, I set my daypack on a molded plastic seat and checked to make sure I had my return ticket, finding it exactly where I’d left it. As I set the ticket back my fingers felt the tiny Spanish-American dictionary nestled in my palm. With my thumb, I riffed the pages once and set it down on the seat. Perhaps a new traveler could use it.
You can be a butterfly, an arctic tern, or a crow, but the path in life is not between two points. It is more like a circle, maybe one that doesn’t close. And all roads don’t have to lead somewhere.
Ken Post is originally from the suburbs of New Jersey and worked for the Forest Service in Alaska for 40 years. He writes short stories during the long, dark winters, and his work has previously appeared in Forest World, Cirque, and Red Fez.