The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Twelve
Thank You so Much
The road stretches long and true . . . me thinks for all of us . . . so perhaps that explains why this story/future novel has been so popular. Perhaps we can all see a bit of ourselves in these characters, Max and Katie. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful to have you back on the next leg of this journey.
Our friends have left Cheyenne in a ’97 Ford pickup truck, traveling on a wing and prayer, so to speak, so let’s see how they are this fine Wednesday.
The Reality of War
We stopped at a convenience store in Rock Springs, Wyoming, to pick up some snack food for the road and to gas up. Outside there was a teenager wearing a long coat, killing time, his breath pluming in the winter sky, maybe waiting for friends to pick him up. I saw him and all I could think about was the bomb strapped under his coat, how I needed to tackle him, disarm that bomb, before he could blow up the store and hurt innocents.
Of course there was no bomb, and the kid wasn’t a suicide bomber planted by Al-Qaeda, but that’s what war will do to you. Sweat was pouring off my brow when Katie reached over and took my hand in hers.
“Let it go, Max! Your time with war is over.” And she meant well, and I understand the truth in her statement, but it’s just not that easy. You don’t erase memories like that by sheer willpower. You don’t pretend you didn’t see the dismembered and blown-apart on your mind’s projector. You can’t rewind the tape and film a new story. It’s a part of me now, has been for over a decade, and I suspect it will be for some time to come. I hadn’t had my Zoloft for over a month by that time, and there were times it felt like my skin was peeling off.
On the Road Again
The money we made in Cheyenne would have to last us to Seattle, so we were squeezing our pennies. The old Ford was running fine but it drank gasoline and that had me concerned. I was still trying to wrap my brain around the kindness shown by Pastor Charles and Mindi. Hard to fathom in my world.
The Plains were all but behind us and the Rockies loomed ahead, snowcapped, ominous, forcing us to make a decision. We could take the easy route, through South Pass, four-lane road and plowed, but that would take us further south, adding more miles to the trip. Or we could head up through Yellowstone, but that meant the worst of Wyoming winter road conditions, and I wasn’t sure how much I trusted the old truck going over the Continental Divide at almost ten-thousand feet. I asked Katie for her opinion.
“I was a hooker in Pittsburgh, Max. What do I know about mountain climbing? I trust you to get us home safely.” And the thing was, she did trust me, almost a childlike-trusting in my abilities, and it scared the hell out of me to have someone betting it all on me. But that’s really what love is all about, right? You stick your neck out, risking the butcher’s axe, and your partner does the same thing, because together is better than alone, and I’ll never understand that shit, not fully, but there it is.
I was sweating and my hands quivered a bit. Katie noticed. She didn’t miss much.
“Do you need your Zoloft, Max?”
“I probably do, Katie, but look around you. The VA doesn’t deliver, and we’re nowhere near an army base. I’ll just have to hold it together.”
“Where’s the nearest base?” she asked, concern etching into her lovely features.
“I don’t think there’s one in Idaho. Probably Fort Lewis in Washington. I really don’t know, Katie. Don’t worry yourself over it. I’m a survivor, like you. We’ll be fine.”
But I wasn’t fine, and my words sounded hollow in my own mind as I steered north and west towards Yellowstone.
There comes a time, approaching the Rockies from the east, when you figure you understand what the travelers of the Oregon Trail felt. There is safety behind you, the flat land stretching to another sunrise, a certain serenity in the sameness, so unlike the wall of jagged peaks facing you to the west, formidable, daring anyone to challenge them, a geographic warning to the weak-of-will to turn around immediately or face the origin of your childhood fears.
And then there was the gray, always present, pressing down on us, suffocating our spirit, whispering in our ears that you can’t go home again, the past is buried and always will be, and hope, for the hopeless, is a cheap commodity held together with spit and chewing gum.
Two hours later One-Ninety-One took us right to the doorstep of the Gros Ventre Range, the elevation rising quickly, sagebrush replaced by pine trees, and more pine trees, looming overhead, the tops sheared off by the clouds, and we rounded one turn and I heard Katie gasp and God Almighty, such a sight, like God’s own painting it was, lakes and rivers, green valleys with patches of white, and snowcaps, contrasted, in my mind, with the squalor that was Pittsburgh, and the reality of it all came crashing down and I found myself pulling the truck to the side of the road and crying like a damned infant.
And Katie holding me close, whispering in my ear “it’s all right now, Max, it’s all right,” and “hush now, darling, isn’t it just the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” and bringing me down from the ledge, back into her lap of safety, and at that moment I loved that woman more than anyone has loved another.
Rest for Another Night
The town of Jackson welcomed us, the Teton Range to our left, the Wind River Range to our right, a small pocket of humanity sitting out the winter in that hollow, the wind blowing something fierce, sheets of snow obscuring the buildings, snowmobiles parked at the store instead of cars, a different world for us.
We found a cheap motel on the outskirts, one of those U-shaped motor courts built during the Fifties, paid the clerk his forty bucks, found Room Eighteen without much trouble, and gave ourselves completely to the welcoming warmth of the room. We lay down on that bed, still in our coats, my head held to Katie’s breast, her hand caressing my hair, her whispering words of comfort to me, just as Momma had so many years earlier.
After a spell Katie told me to rest and asked me for twenty bucks.
“Where you going, hon?” I asked, not at all eager to get up and follow.
“You just rest, Max. I know right where I’m going and I’ll be back soon.” And out into the growing storm she walked, a sliver of a woman with the courage of any ten men, on a mission, determined.
The wind rattled the glass panes of our room, all other sounds muffled as the snow fell. Occasionally the throaty roar of a snowmobile would shatter the silence, but then the town would once again settle into the muted existence of winter in the mountains.
An hour later I felt Katie’s hand on my head, bringing me back from a mission served long ago, me holding the guts of Private Peter Hammond tight to his cavity, pressing hard, trying my damndest to beat back the inevitable, watching the life leave his eyes, never to return.
“Take this, Max,” and she handed me a pill and a glass of water. “It’s Zoloft, darling, come on now, sit up and take it.” I did as I was instructed and rested back, once again, against the bosom of love.
“How’d you find Zoloft in this town, Katie?”
“I’ve got enough for you for a week, and don’t you worry none how I got it.”
“But I only gave you a twenty. That’s not enough for a week’s worth of pills.’
And her hand stroked my hair again, and the warmth of her breasts made my eyes heavy, her breath against my face, little wisp of a woman holding the big soldier tight.
“Don’t you worry now, Max. We’re going to be all right. Everything is going to be all right. The past can never hurt us again.”
As I fell off into a fitful sleep, the words of my father, spoken long ago to his teenage son, came back to me. “We all do what we have to do to survive, Max. There’s no shame in that,” he told me, and I reckon he was correct.
AND WITH THAT I’LL LEAVE YOU
Thank you, once again, for joining me this week. Hopefully you’ve read enough of this story, and enjoyed it, so you’ll join me again next Wednesday.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor