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Last Stop

by Daniel Braum

Buzzing black flies careen into the dusty plate-glass window. Through it, I see him park his Harley by the ancient pipe-cactus at the side of the road. He opens the door. It jingles and a blast of hot, dry air circulates the aroma of coffee, frying burgers, and burnt bacon. Before the door closes I feel, more than hear, the thrum and warble of the thing over the bend, though there is a sound that carries above the tinny classic rock coming from the little speakers in the booths.

Marla, that’s what her nametag says, extends her lower lip and blows a lock of her curly raven hair out of her eyes. Green eyes. Green eyes clearly frustrated with the customers. She notices him in a second, sure as a kangaroo rat knows a plump cactus blossom has fallen to the desert floor. She leaves her station, coffee pot in hand, and greets him.

He clanks his dinged metal thermos on the counter. This guy isn’t here for science, or profit, not on that bike. Curiosity or art, maybe. But I don’t think so.

“Damn if I know where my next cup is coming from,” he says. “Better fill ‘er up.”

Her body language screams disappointment. Those green eyes search for something more. I think of all the last stop diners I’ve been to. All the signs that said “last gas for 200 miles” and I laugh, then stop myself.

I came for the thing that opened up round the bend. But I was heading away, out of town, when I stopped in and saw her.

I understand why she wants to go. She’s seen the interviews of prospectors and storytellers and their tales of beauty and wonder on the other side. Those that come back. The lucky few that do, show up in random places. Tuscaloosa. Perth. Johannesburg are the hot spots, lately. Those that aren’t mad, have been “touched”. I guess you can call it that. Touched with a bliss that is apparent and infectious even from a TV screen.

What is it about this guy? Is he a Prospector? A treasure seeker? A thrill chaser? Just another pilot of purple twilight doing it just because? I want to ask him, maybe convince him to take me along, but it will ruin their moment.

She walks with him outside. That whine and warble is louder now. The government men will be here soon and I don’t want to be around when they do. Being detained is not pleasant.

I watch them kiss goodbye. Why he doesn’t stay with her or take her with him, I don’t know. Guess I never will. Some people just have to drive.

He speeds off, trailing a cloud of dust. When the sound of his engine fades, I will go to her, or think of something witty to say if she comes to refill my coffee. There is nothing here for her now; soon there will be nothing for me.


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