I’d forgotten how much I hated small talk until we hit the interstate. Three hours into the trip I pull into a truck stop to buy Meredith a Milky Way and some headphones for her Walkman. I suppose I secretly hoped the caramel would paste her teeth together. Or, at the very least, she’d listen to her Mahavishnu Orchestra cassettes and stop talking. Instead, she smacks her lips and just talks louder.
As Memphis recedes in my rearview mirror, I glance at Meredith and try to remember what attracted me to her in the first place. Other than her looks, I can’t really remember. She’s a librarian but hates to read. What she does love is knitting, singing out of key, and cheating at crossword puzzles. And she smokes a lot of pot.
I watch her play air piano on the dashboard and tell myself she’s not that pretty.
“What?” I say. Apparently, she was talking while I was thinking.
“I have to pee again.”
“Didn’t we just do that?”
She shrugs and gnaws off another section of candy bar. I steer onto the next off-ramp and look for a clean restroom. Meredith shouts over the tinny sound of what might be a drum solo, something about her aunt needing gallbladder surgery.
“What?” I say again, mostly out of habit.
“There!” Meredith says. “Pull in there, the car wash.”
“I thought you said you had to use the ladies’ room.”
“It comes and goes.” She’s wearing the headphones like a scarf now. “But your truck needs a bath. Like, in the worst possible way.”
“So do you,” I say.
She thinks I’m teasing and snuggles up next to me.
I pull into the stall. Meredith feeds quarters into the little box, then aims the wand at me. I used to like it when she flirted, now it mostly annoys me. She puts her headphones back on and dances around as she douses my F-150 with pink suds, using the wand as an air guitar, then as a giant penis as she mimes taking a man-sized leak. She keeps almost spraying me. I stand there, daring her not to and craving cigarettes and another life.
When the water runs out, Meredith is talking again.
“I said vacuum.” She points to the row of spindly hoses across the parking lot and says, “Got any quarters?”
I shake my head.
“Pull over to the hoses,” she says. “I’ll meet you there.” Meredith ducks into the cab of the truck and retrieves a small sledgehammer from behind the seat. “Go on, now. I’ll just be a minute.” She sees something in my expression and adds, “God, you’re such a prude sometimes.”
She’s giggling madly as I climb in and start the truck. Meredith tests the heft of the hammer, tucks her tongue into the corner of her mouth, and takes aim at one of the piano hinges on the coin box. I put the truck in gear, hear the first clash of metal, and ease it out of the stall toward the vacuum stand.
But I don’t stop at the vacuum stand. I don’t even slow down. Instead, I ease the truck onto some nameless two-lane in some town in Arkansas and drive away. It’s hard, but I resist checking the rearview just in case she’s giving chase. She really is that pretty.