It was a long day and a long drive through the never-ending twilight. The road had turned to bumpy dirt fifty miles ago, and I bumped along squinting through clouds of dust that hung, half-illuminated, in the air. A gulch dipped off to the right of the road, full of green trees cut through with a river at the bottom, so far away it was just a ribbon. On either side of the gulch and all around us there was only tundra, dotted sparsely with stunted spruce.
Bro jumped down from the bed to the seat next to me with a small “wuf,” and put his chin on the dash. I squinted. There was an animal walking up the road in the distance. It’s walk rolled and bobbed, like a bear, but it was a funny shape for a bear. I slowed down and squinted some more. It was a person! With a pack.
When you see a person out here, you stop and talk. It’s like a law of nature. As I got closer I could see that it was a woman with some crazy black curls. She had a small pack and a sleeping bag strapped to her back, and as I approached she turned around and gave me a big grin and a wave.
“Get up in bed,” I told Bro as we stopped. He jumped back in the bed just as she opened the door.
“Hey,” she said, all crazy hair and big smile.
“Hey.” I smiled back. “You want a ride?”
Her eyes twitched over the van, Bro, my bed, the bookshelves. She wasn’t used to hitchhiking.
“Where are you coming from?” she asked.
“I was down in the little big city, and before that the big scary city, and before that in the little tourist town, working. Where are you going?” The question is useless, this road only goes one place.
“Oh, up to the village.” She threw her pack in the back and swung into the passenger seat. “What’re you doing out this way?”
“I’m on a quest to the river. I love it.”
We talked about the village. She’d moved there from the little big city, which had been a horrible place for her. Too much bad stuff. Now she lives in a cabin that she and her girlfriend built with their three kids (two were hers, one was her girlfriend). I was surprised. I don’t often meet other lesbians in the villages. She says they don’t hide their relationship or anything, but they aren’t affectionate in public.
“Cool. So if I moved here some day I wouldn’t have to pretend to be straight?” I ask.
“Nah. There’s some things better left unsaid if you wanna be involved in the community, but mostly if you pull your own weight and get involved and help out people won’t fuck with you.”
“Wow.” This totally blows my mind.
“So what do you do for money, traveling around in a van like this?” she asks.
Thats probably one of those things better left unsaid, but I’m so unused to lying that I just giggle. “Oh, you know, horrible immoral things.”
“Oh.” Her face gets serious. “I been there too. Hey, ya gotta do what you gotta do. There ain’t no shame in that.”
“Oh, I’m not ashamed. I love dancing.”
“Oh, you just dance? There’s nothing wrong with that,” she tells me. “Hell, I done worse.”
“Really? It just seemed like one of those things better left unsaid around here?”
“Oh, it definitely is. Fuck, don’t tell anyone here about me, okay?” Suddenly her face is serious and trembly as a rabbit right before it relaxes and gives up on life.
“Of course not.”
“No, really. No one here knows.”
“Hey, you know my secret too. We’re even.” I try to reassure her.
“Okay.” She smiles a little but the rabbit look is still there.
“So you worked in the little big city?”
“Yeah, for an agency. It wasn’t so much about the sex, more companionship. I just had a few regulars that would always ask for me. Well…. honestly mostly they wanted someone to sit with them while they did coke.”
I smile. “Aren’t cokeheads the best? They just talk and talk and have no idea what’s going on.”
“Yeah.” She’s finally smiling, too. “Wow, I can’t believe I told you about that. I haven’t even thought about it in years.”
“Yeah… imagine the odds of two lesbian sex workers running into each other here. There probably isn’t another human for fifty miles.” It’s true.
“We’re definitely the only two lesbians for a couple hundred miles.”
That night she sleeps in the moss next to the van on the side of the road. We leave the van door open and I’m afraid Bro will pee on her, but instead he leaves me in the middle of the night and curles up next to her. When she wakes up he comes to me for morning snuggles, then runs back to her for more morning snuggles, and then back to me. There’s such an abundance of morning snuggles that he forgets about breakfast until I remind him.
A few hours later I drop her off at the head of a trail, ten miles from the village.
“Thanks for the ride,” she says. “Stay happy.” Then she starts off down the trail into a gully. The last I see of her before she turns the corner she is covered in a patchwork of tree shadows and light, half-illuminated.