Hannah is sucking on a Blow Pop as we drive. She is scrolling through my iPhone, looking at my music. “Don’t you have anything from this century in here?” she asks.
“Don’t give me any grief,” I say. “You’re the same age I am.”
“Maybe, but my musical education didn’t stop in 1987.” She finally picks something, and The Boomtown Rats start playing from the car speakers.
“I do listen to new music, you know,” I say. “It’s just new music that sounds like old music.”
The road is all curves here, in the hills along the California and Nevada border. The freeway is far behind us, and this smaller road continues to unfold as we speed down it, no destination in mind. Everything here looks the same—the trees, the cracked pavement, the small islands of snow at the sides of the road that haven’t melted away yet—but it is a sameness that is comforting in a way, like the pages of a familiar novel.
I stop the car at a four-way, and Hannah points with her Blow Pop out the front window. “Is that a crow?” she asks. A large black bird peers at us from atop a wooden post that is part of an old fence just back from the road.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe. Probably.” There are no cars behind me in the rear view, so we sit at the intersection and watch the bird watching us. After a minute, it takes to the air, and flies over the car and out of sight.
“I bet that was an omen,” Hannah says. “A bad one.”
“Seeing a bird in the woods doesn’t count as an omen.” I take my foot off the brake and start driving again. “Seeing a Sasquatch might.”
“If we see a Sasquatch, I hope he likes shitty music.”
“Keep it up,” I say. “You can always walk home.”
I hadn’t planned on playing hooky today, but when Hannah called this morning to suggest it, I knew that it was an idea with merit. Lord knows I’ve got a million vacation hours squirreled away, and no one could blame me for wanting to cash one of them in on short notice now and again. I drove to her house, and she was already waiting for me outside her door.
“This is a new dress,” she’d said then, pressing her hands against the fabric at her hips. “And a new haircut.”
“Looks good,” I said, meaning it. Her hair fell just below her chin, and made her look like an old silent movie actress.
“Take me into the hills,” she’d said, and so I did, letting her sleep for part of the trip, letting her talk the rest of the way. Some journeys are meant for looking, and others are meant for discovery.
“Find a good place to stop,” she says now, from the passenger seat. She has kicked off her shoes and has her feet up on the dash. Her toenails are painted blue, like she is a little girl with a love for the brightest colors.
“Anywhere in particular?” I ask.
“Just someplace good.”
We drive for a few more miles, and I see a spot that might qualify. The remains of some small wooden building are set back from the road, the shell of it collapsed upon itself, perhaps from the weight of some previous winter’s heavy snow. Beside the ruined building is a rusted out old automobile, something that might have been sporty back in the late ‘60s, but now it is brown and speckled with rusted holes. The windshield is surprisingly in one piece.
“That’s perfect,” she says, reading my mind. I pull off the road as far as possible, and turn off the car’s engine. Hannah slips her shoes on, then lifts her purse from the floor and rummages through it, pulling out a sandwich bag stuffed with Oreos. “Here,” she says, handing the bag to me. “Take this.” She opens her door and gets out, not waiting for me to do the same before she is already heading toward the old car and building.
It’s wonderfully silent outside. I can’t hear any hum of traffic, and the sense of isolation is deep. It feels good to be away from things, and I am relaxed in a way that I haven’t been in a very long time.
Hannah is peering through the dirty glass of the abandoned car when I join her. “There’s probably spiders in there,” she says. “Big, fat black ones.”
“Look but don’t touch,” I suggest. The interior looks dusty as well, but other than cracks in the cover of the bucket seat, it’s appears to be in good condition.
“I bet we could just turn the key and start it up,” she says. “If the key is in it. And if the spiders don’t eat us.”
“You aren’t dressed for spiders,” I say. “Bare legs and all.”
“I thought about pants this morning,” she says. “I knew I should have done it.”
“I’m wearing pants, and there’s no way I’m going inside a spider car.”
“Probably a good idea. The tank is probably empty anyway. Not worth getting cocooned over.”
She walks away from the car and over to the broken building, and I follow. “Think this was a garage?” she asks.
“Weird place for it. If it’s a garage, where’s the rest of the house?”
“Blown away,” she says. “Like Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz.”
“Not really in tornado country here.”
“Then maybe the spiders ate it,” she says. “Splinter by splinter.” She seems to consider this a moment, reaching her hand up to undo the top button of her dress, and scratching the skin that is revealed with her fingernail. “Maybe they moved it back deeper into the woods, so that they could have it all to themselves. A house of spiders, out where nobody could ever find it.”
“I’m not even going to go look,” I say. “That’s the way people die in the movies.”
“Better than dying in a hospital,” she says. “At least it would be a story.” She reaches out her hand and runs her fingertip over the head of a thick nail, which is protruding from one of the boards of the building. “I’d like to be part of a story.”
“You already are,” I say. “You’re in your own story.”
She grasps the nail between her thumb and finger and begins to wiggle it back and forth, working it slowly from the board. “That’s such a silly thing to say. Stories have to have a point. Most people’s lives are totally pointless. Mine is, anyway.”
“No, it’s not,” I say.
“It is,” she says. “Nobody gets to say if there’s a point to mine but me. I’m the only one who would know that.” The nail pops out from the weathered wood, and she holds it up and looks at it, turning it this way and that. “Something to remember this place by.” She hands the nail out to me. “You should keep this. You’ll need to remember it longer than I will.”
I take the nail from her and hold it like a cigarette between my fingers. She turns away from the building and walks back to the old automobile, and again I follow. The afternoon light grows suddenly darker, and I look up to see that a thick cloud has passed in front of the sun.
“It’s chilly,” she says. “I definitely should have worn pants.”
“Let’s get back in my car,” I say. “I’ll get the heat on.”
“Probably no spiders in your car either.”
“Pretty safe bet,” I say.
“We should eat those cookies though,” she says, pointing at my hand. I’d forgotten I was carrying them.
“We can eat them in the car. I don’t mind a few crumbs on the seats.” I put the nail and the cookie bag into one hand, and offer my other to Hannah. She takes it, and I lead her through the fallen twigs and small plants back to where we have parked.
“I want to come back here,” she says as we walk. “To this exact spot.”
“Okay,” I say.
“I want to come back after,” she says, and I slow my step slightly, and look over my shoulder at her. She is not looking at me, but back at the rusted auto and collapsed building behind us.
“After?” I ask, but I know exactly what she means.
“Yes,” she says. “Promise me.”
I turn away from her and watch my step over the uneven ground. “We can talk about it later.”
“I know,” she says, and squeezes my hand. “It’s okay. Later is okay.”
There are no spiders on my car when we reach it.
There are no crows to be seen.