—Lyle Rosdahl“A Fresh One” by D. Ellis Phelps Jake usually drove the '56 yellow F-100 her father had restored for her the year before he died like it was a race car. She loved revving up the engine at stop lights when she happened to pull up next to a guy driving a shiny, new Corvette or, even better, a supped up Camaro. Today though, she lumbered along, letting the engine rumble and purr just under fifty. She hung her left arm out the window dangling a Winston from her fingertips and tapped the thumb of her right hand on the dashboard. She knew she should quit smoking. But she wouldn't. She loved smoking, lighting up a fresh one, that first swirl of smoke curling up her nose, the rich sting of tobacco tingling mid-way back on her tongue—that first, long deep drag that made embers burn red at the tip of that paper pimp promising satisfaction guaranteed, every time. The day her mother's mind had packed up and walked out down a path no one could follow, Jake had done the same. She'd thought she could drive away from it all. It hadn't worked. She'd slept in every Motel Six from Fort Worth to El Paso waiting tables in grungy truck stops. She'd seen lots of dust, too many nutcases, and not enough love. It didn't exist, enough love. The last one had emptied her gut. There was nothing left. She'd do without it. Period. Jake took the last drag of Winston and flipped the butt out the window then glanced in her rear view mirror to watch it hit the road. It surprised her to see anything but tumbleweed behind her, but there was a car coming up fast. She couldn't see for sure, a glint of sun kept bouncing off its hood, but it was shiny and it was low, probably a Benz or a Jag. City slicker. This might take her mind off her trouble. She revved up the1970 402 Chevy big-block and stepped on the gas. "Here we go Baby Girl," she yelled, her voice becoming shrill, throwing her head back, remembering her mother's voice doing the same, slinging her slender, brown body by her skinny arms around in wild circles in a rowdy romp of their favorite game: Swing the Statue. God! I miss you, you crazy Bitch! Jake didn't look back. She could feel the car coming in her skin. She sat up straight, kept her eyes on the Ozona road stretching out in front of her like forever. Her breath came slow and even. She loved to drive like some women love silk and she handled the wheel like it was a designer dress. She let the Jag pull up close enough to kiss her bumper, looked in the mirror long enough to see the guy driving grin from ear to ear, show her his dimples deep enough to stuff a pimento into, then she floored it and galloped away on five hundred and fifty horses. A hundred miles later, Jake felt hungry. She didn't know how long it had been since she'd eaten, but fifteen crumpled packs of Winstons in the floorboard and an empty, pound bag of M and M's said it hadn't been lately. She turned into the next truck stop and ate at the bar: chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes, green beans cooked in bacon grease. In the ladies' room after dinner, she picked her teeth and pulled her auburn hair into a messy pony tail on top of her head. She stared into the mirror at the bags under her eyes. There's no one left. That's all, Baby Girl. Deal with it. When Jake walked out of the diner, thunder rumbled in the distance and a light mist fell, settling the dust and cooling the asphalt. Just as she finished filling the gas tank, the guy in the Jag pulled in behind her. He grinned at her and got out. "That's one fast truck you've got there. Mind if I have a look under the hood?" Jake nodded and tried not to smile. But for the first time in a while, she wanted to.
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