Song of the Highway

Sharon Frame Gay

I heard it again last night, the whine of tires, ebbing and flowing along the tarmac under a roaming moon. Inside where memories sleep, the highway sings its lullaby.

I yearn to stop in a goodbye town before dawn paints it with regret, watch dogs wander barren streets, shattered glass glinting along the shoulder as we pull over, cigarette butts and bottles lying in a ditch. The wind feels different as it blows across a new horizon, the scent of early spring riding the dust into town.

Anonymous, we can choose to be scowling stranger or smiling patrons of the smoke-filled cafe. Sliding into a booth, the red seat cracked and worn, I read the festive menu covered in plastic, gaze at pictures of hotcakes and eggs over easy, and glasses of orange juice, bitter on the tongue.

In the corner is a jukebox, filled with songs from yesterday. A quarter buys a memory, a dollar buys you grief. It’s enough to sit and listen, watch the trucks go by, gearing down, then speeding up as they lope along a spawning river of highway.

Back on the road, windows down, dust clogging our nostrils and staining the dashboard, I sit, feet up, head lolling, as telephone poles mark time in endless waves. The Panhandle of Texas, forlorn and spare, creates mirages in the distance. When we catch up, they disappear into grit and lonesome sky.

Turning east, heading back, the stretches of deserted land give way to higher hills and scrub. Then the oasis of town appears on the other side of the ridge, trees and grass fighting the Texas heat.

Another small town, this one bustling with the mundane of every day. Morning is coated with heat, pushing the night to the other side of the world. Beat up pickups roam the street, Indian kids in the back, peering out from under a tarp that flutters and flaps. An old man steps out of a dismal shop, ducks under an ice cream sign, and shuffles down the sidewalk.

Inside a store, the air is redolent with grease and coffee, cheap plastic and car fresheners, little green trees that never once smelled like pine. I ask for the restroom key, carry the plank of wood and head outside, around back to an ominous door that is buckling on one side as though it wants to detach and flee. The sink is rusty, trickling water plays a sad ballad. I stand and pee, the toilet seat covers used up long ago, trash can overflowing.

On the wall are an old tampon box and an even older condom display. Twenty-five cents will get you knocked up or happy, weigh the dice, toss them, go back outside and take a breath.

Why is it that heartache sometimes feels like joy? What is it about the highway that makes my eyes grainy from lack of sleep, and blood thunder with hope? Maybe we’ve known sorrow so long it’s an old friend who welcomes us back, giddy with relief to find us again. I want to kneel, kiss the tarmac, feel it’s grit between my lips. Then spit on it in despair.

Instead, we pile into the car and toss gravel as the car swings west again.

About the Author

Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. She has been published in several anthologies, as well as BioStories, Gravel Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Literary Orphans, Indiana Voice Journal, Crannog Magazine, and many others. Her work has won prizes at Women on Writing, The Writing District and Owl Hollow Press. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. You can find her on Amazon Author Central as well as Facebook as Sharon Frame Gay-Writer.