The semester was over, but before I started my job, I had decided to visit Amy. Amy moved to Ventura, California, right outside of L. A., after our freshman year. I called her and told her I’d be driving out there and should be arriving on Wednesday, May 31st. Most of the trip I was to travel on Interstate Highway 40. It was my first roadtrip to the west coast and the first time I had driven alone on such a long distance.
I took my time driving, stopping along the route to take pictures, write a poem or just to say hello to the people. Everywhere I ate or slept, the people treated me as if I were from royalty. I enjoyed the hospitality from the ordinary small-town Americans. So I made it a point to relax in the company of family-oriented people who live in towns whose names are so original that the people and the scenery fit those names.
It was Monday night, more than three quarters of the way there, in Arizona, when a fierce thunderstorm was born. The sky had blackened dark and the wile of wind wept splatters of rain on the road, my car – I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to take any chances staying on the 40, so I decided to get off at the next exit.
About two miles from the highway, I saw a light on, I pulled over and noticed an partially lit sign. The only part I could see, read ‘INN’. I made a run for it, trying to go in between the raindrips, I may add that I failed at that! As I reached the porch, the front door opened. A woman greeted me with a blanket which she placed around my shoulders. She then proceeded to lead me to the kitchen with a freshly brewed pot of tea. No words were spoken.
In fact, I couldn’t speak at all. I was tired from driving all day. The woman knew it. She brought me upstairs and showed me my room. I fell asleep right away.
When I woke in the morning, I looked out the opened window. It was a beautiful cool summer morning. As I was looking out, I noticed a gas station across the street. No cars drove by, nobody was there. But I heard the stirring of people. I went downstairs and sure enough, the family was engaging in their orderly breakfast ceremony.
I was about to say good morning, but I found a loss of my voice. I just nodded and smiled. After I ate, I took a shower, and got ready to leave. I paid the woman for her services, nodded a friendly goodbye and thank you, then walked to my car.
The gas register read ‘E’ and I thought it funny, for I had filled the tank about 20 miles before I hit the storm. I didn’t want to be stranded without gas, so I went to the gas station across the street. The attendant had a very nice smile, I could tell by the way he checked the oil and washed the windshield. He was content in this town and with his small gas station.
While I waited, I stood inside the station. A map laid on the desk. I glanced at it for a moment and looked out at the attendant who was still fiddling with my car. Curious to know how far I had to travel, I picked up the map for closer inspection. I knew I wasn’t too far from the Arizona/California border – if only I knew the name of this town, I could then figure how long it would take me to get to Amy’s.
I took the map to the attendant and pointed to the area I thought I was at. I gave a puzzled look and shrugged my shoulders. Apparently, the man didn’t understand my body language, because he responded by shaking his head ‘No’. Oh well, I thought, once I get back on the highway I’ll see signs and I’ll know how far I have to go.
I started my car, paid the man, put an Eagles tape in and left. As I was driving, an eerie feeling came over me. I was singing. Why wasn’t I able to talk back there? I can speak now. Why didn’t the gas attendant understand that I wasn’t sure where I was? His response didn’t make sense to me.
As I thought about it more, it occurred to me that he had to know what I had asked – what did he mean by shaking his head ‘No’? I looked in my rearview mirror and there was nothing – no inn, no station, only a stretch of highway and land. As if that’s all there ever was.
I also thought it was strange how the woman at the inn greeted me – as if she was expecting me to arrive. The blanket, fresh tea – there was something odd about it. Something odd about the way no one spoke.
I was getting thirsty, so I pulled into a parking lot of a diner for a soda. I was still puzzled after the whole incident, so I questioned the waitress. I told her that about 35 – 40 miles east of the diner, was a place where I couldn’t talk. I asked here if she knew of the family who owned the inn or the gas station. She didn’t know.
A man sitting at the counter approached me and introduced himself as Johnny Donne, a retired state police officer. He apologized for overhearing my conversation with the waitress and told me that maybe he could answer my questions.
I explained what had happened, the thunderstorm, the inn and woman, the man and map and how nothing was there when I looked back. He stared at me and said, “What storm? There was no rain last night – hasn’t rained for weeks.” Then he told me that he knows this area very well and there isn’t an inn or motel within 60 miles of the diner. “I’m sorry ma’am, good-day”, he softly spoke while patting my back.
More than before in confusion, I thanked the waitress for her time. I said, “Have a nice day”, paid my bill and started to leave. On the wall, near the door, was a day-to-day calendar. The date shown was Monday, May 29th. I turned back to the waitress, who was cleaning my table, “Miss, you’d better change that.” “Why?”, she asked. “It’s Tuesday, the 30th, Monday was yesterday”, I pointed out. She came to the door, looked at me and asked if I was okay. “First you said it rained last night, and said something about an inn, and not talking. Today is Monday, Memorial Day, but you claim it’s Tuesday.”
I put my hands over my face & kneeled down screaming.
The next thing I knew, I was in a room. A hospital room. Amy was sitting beside me. “Denise, it’s alright. You had me scared for a while. Don’t you remember? Three days ago, you lost control of your car, you went off the road. When you woke up, you drove and somehow got here safely. You have a concussion. You went into a state of shock this morning. But now you’re okay, everything is alright.”
I looked at Amy, grabbed her arm, when I tried to say something, I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t say a thing. I couldn’t even say thank you.
_______________________________© dld december 16th, 1978