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“We oughta ditch this damn car first chance we get,” she said. “Thirty miles down this road.” She pointed out ahead. Across the road and across a dry wash a hundred yards was what looked like a huge mobile-home town, with a factory or a refinery of some kind lit up behind it and in full swing. “We’re pushing.” “I’m not pushing.” Edna reached up and locked her door. “Then you just steer.” “You’re pushing us to Rock Springs, are you, Earl? You just get out with Little Duke and move out of the way.” Edna gave me a threatening look, just as if I’d tried to hit her. “No she can’t either.” And I thought she was about to cry, but she didn’t.I had wanted all along to drive the car into Florida like a big success story. There were lights on in a lot of the mobile homes, and there were cars moving along an access road that ended near the freeway overpass a mile the other way. It doesn’t look like it’s more than about three miles.” “I’ll push,” Cheryl said from the back. But when I got out she slid into my seat and took the wheel, staring angrily ahead straight into the cottonwood scrub. I told Edna to keep the ignition on so it wouldn’t lock up and to steer into the cottonwoods with the parking lights on so she could see. Her voice was tired and hard, and I knew she could have put a good meal to use. You might’ve been something, but things just went crazy someplace.” I had a thought about poor Danny.
But I knew Edna was right about it, that we shouldn’t take crazy chances. Little Duke’s tired of it too.” Where the car stopped rolling was some distance from the town, though you could see the clear outline of the interstate in the dark with Rock Springs lighting up the sky behind. The lights in the mobile homes seemed friendly to me, and I knew right then what I should do. “Edna can’t drive that car,” Cheryl said from out in the dark. And when I started, she steered it straight off into the trees, and I kept pushing until we were twenty yards into the cover and the tires sank in the soft sand and nothing at all could be seen from the road. She had a sweet nature, and I recognized that this wasn’t her fault but mine. “You stay right here, and I’ll go over to that trailer park and call us a cab,” I said. ” Edna said, her mouth wrinkled as if she’d never heard anything like that in her life. He was a vet and crazy as a shit-house mouse, and I was glad he wasn’t in for all this.
I had kept thinking of it as my car and not the ophthalmologist’s, and that was how you got caught in these things. I figured I could worry about breaking down and let other people be happy for a change. You could hear the big tractors hitting the spacers in the overpass, revving up for the climb to the mountains. “There’ll be cabs,” I said, and tried to smile at her. “Just get the baby in the car,” I said, trying to be patient.
It felt like a whole new beginning for us, bad memories left behind and a new horizon to build on. She wasn’t worried yet, but she wanted to know what I was thinking about.
I got so worked up, I had a tattoo done on my arm that said FAMOUS TIMES, and Edna bought a Bailey hat with an Indian feather band and a little turquoise-and-silver bracelet for Cheryl, and we made love on the seat of the car in the Quality Court parking lot just as the sun was burning up on the Snake River, and everything seemed then like the end of the rainbow. “Something’s not right in the oil.” She looked around at Cheryl and Little Duke, who were peeing on the hardtop side-by-side like two little dolls, then out at the mountains, which were becoming black and lost in the distance. “Let me try it again.” “That’s a good idea,” she said, and we all got back in the car.
I got out to look at the motor, and Edna got out with Cheryl and the dog to let them have a pee by the car. But there wasn’t any light on, and I started wondering if maybe I hadn’t dreamed I saw it, or that it had been the sun catching an angle off the window chrome, or maybe I was scared of something and didn’t know it. Edna was usually good with Cheryl, but I knew she was tired now.
I checked the water and checked the oil stick, and both of them said perfect. We hadn’t had much sleep, and she had a tendency to get cranky when she didn’t sleep. “Rock Springs, Wyoming,” Edna said with conviction. You won’t have to do anything.” “I’d hope not,” she said and looked the other way.Edna had out a whiskey bottle and some plastic cups and was measuring levels on the glove-box lid. “Isn’t that a shameful story, Earl, what happened to that poor little monkey? And sure enough she had seen something I hadn’t, which was Rock Springs, Wyoming, at the bottom of a long hill, a little glowing jewel in the desert with 1-80 running on the north side and the black desert spread out behind. I heard a woman’s voice talking, and then the door opened wide. “They’re like our hearts,” she said, her face shining in the little bulb light that burned beside the door. ” I turned and looked over into the dark, but I couldn’t see anything because of where we’d put it. “You can’t see it in the dark.” “Who all’s with you now? “My daughter’s asleep or I would have brought them.” “They shouldn’t be left in the dark by themselves,” the woman said and frowned. Something good and sweet was cooking in the kitchen, and the trailer felt like it was somebody’s comfortable new home instead of just temporary.She liked drinking, and she liked drinking in the car, which was something you got used to in Montana, where it wasn’t against the law, but where, strangely enough, a bad check would land you in Deer Lodge Prison for a year. ” Edna said, setting my drink on the dashboard where I could reach it when I was ready. She was like that, up one minute and down the next. A large Negro woman with a wide, friendly face stood in the doorway. “I can’t fix it myself, and I wondered if I could use your phone to call for help.” The woman smiled down at me knowingly. “There’s too much unsavoriness out there.” “The best I can do is hurry back.” I tried to look sincere, since everything except Cheryl being asleep and Edna being my wife was the truth. I’ve lived in trailers, but they were just snailbacks with one room and no toilet, and they always felt cramped and unhappy—though I’ve thought maybe it might’ve been me that was unhappy in them.I don’t know what was between Edna and me, just beached by the same tides when you got down to it.Though love has been built on frailer ground than that, as I well know.But I hadn’t done the hurting, and Edna just wanted the story worse than it was so Danny wouldn’t act crazy and make her have to take her kids back, since she had made a good adjustment to not having them, and I already had Cheryl with me.I’m not a violent person and would never put a man’s eye out, much less kill someone.It all made me giddy, and I drove clear down to Bozeman, then straight on through the park to Jackson Hole.I rented us the bridal suite in the Quality Court in Jackson and left Cheryl and her little dog, Duke, sleeping while Edna and I drove to a rib barn and drank beer and laughed till after midnight.In these ten exquisite stories, first published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1987 and now reissued as a Grove Press paperback, Richard Ford mines literary gold from the wind-scrubbed landscape of the American West—and from the guarded hopes and gnawing loneliness of the people who live there: a refugee from justice driving across Wyoming with his daughter and an unhappy girlfriend in a stolen, cranberry-colored Mercedes; a boy watching his family dissolve in a night of tragicomic violence; and two men and a woman swapping hard-luck stories in a frontier bar as they try to sweeten their luck.“The finest of these stories achieve luminous moments, moments with potential to change how the reader sees and thinks. Rock Springs is cause for celebration.” — Rock Springs Edna and I had started down from Kalispell, heading for Tampa-St.