A bat is circling outside the window above our bed. I can almost gauge the thickness of his wing by the slap of sound he makes. We open the window to let him in. He flies around in small circles, far from the fire yet close enough to command our attention….”
by laine perry
The waitress comes from behind a squeal of door to stand in the rain. She is sallow faced and skinny. Her knee-highs have given out. They pool around her ankles in a futile pucker. My dog Pearl looks at her, cocks her head, and gives her a whimper. “Do you want a ride?” I ask. She surveys us greedily, her small, dark blue eyes darting over our belongings, snapping up everything. “I’m all right,” she says, stepping back. “Can you spare a smoke?” she asks. I ignore it. “Fired?” I asked knowing. She nods. “Yeah,” I tell her, “You’ll never be lucky enough to find a gig like this again.” We share a sideways look at the dirty counter, loyal bits of egg, flakes of dried ketchup. She breaks a smile. Her sharp little teeth are frightening. “We’re heading to Sisters, but don’t let that throw you. After that it’s Seattle. There are more restaurants in Seattle than any other city in this country; if that’s the kind of life you’re after.” She grunts, grabs her dirty green backpack and jumps in. She doesn’t say more than she thinks we require. A name: Vera. Sign: Aries, (thanks for the warning). Pearl licks our passenger’s ankles trying to cheer up those socks.
We land at the coast in hammering rain. After twenty minutes of heat we open the car door. The waitress gasps. We ignore her. Pearl and I slide with the rain from one end of beach to the other collecting shell and bone. Pearl’s pile is more old wood and dead fish but between the two of us she has the larger collection. I let her take a nice chunk of the driftwood with us as we head back to the car. My pockets are full of sea creature vertebrae and amber colored kelp. Both of us satisfied we hit the road again. Pearl gives me a look that speaks volumes about our troubles. Vera has stretched out along the back seat; her head rests on Pearl’s bag of Ole Roy. She doesn’t make a move. A lack of curiosity is a bad sign but we let her sleep on.
We hit Sisters at dusk. My Aunt points to the guest house, “You can sleep out there. I sleep out there sometimes,” she says. We head toward the A-frame across the property. The further we walk, the better our position seems.
A bat is circling outside the window above our bed. I can almost gauge the thickness of his wing by the slap of sound he makes. We open the window to let him in. He flies around in small circles, far from the fire yet close enough to command our attention. Pearl doesn’t like all the action. She barks at the bat so I open the door and he flies out as suggested. Pearl laps up a gallon or so of water and lays down next to me and my three empty bottles of beer. I can’t find a radio so I sing a little song I remembered hearing somewhere, a song about bluebirds. That wakes our traveler. The sleep has helped her. She manages a quick change out of the house dress she was wearing, exchanging it for Levi’s and a t-shirt that says, “Oregon Born.” She looks a lot friendlier. “Hey there,” I say, “grab a beer.” She plucks at her t-shirt where her middle had no doubt expanded with her duties at the café. “Lana,” I tell her, “and Pearl, Scorpio, the two of us.” Vera and I will not tell each other our secrets. There isn’t a need for that.
In the morning Vera finds my Aunt’s porch, and is already swilling the tar they offer and gnawing on a chunk of ham. My Aunt and Uncle have decided that Vera will work at their Café in town. They need a girl to help them through the season. I ask Vera if she is really okay with my leaving her here, she nods and throws her head back in a genuine laugh. Her teeth disappear into the sun. I feel much better leaving my Aunt with some decent company.
On the road again Pearl and I stretch out, breathe deeply and sing to each other. Pearl gives me a look as we reach the crest of a hill, we harmonize and know it. I was born just an hour and a half away in Chemeketa, a name given by the Native Americans who originally inhabited Salem, Oregon. It was a resting place. Pearl might like it there. I haven’t been back since I was two. The only things I remember about the city are the flowers. The name Salem comes from Semitic and Hebrew words Salam and Shalom, meaning peace. I had heard that the old man settled there but I didn’t bother to confirm it. The first thing we have to decide is whether it is peace we are looking for.
Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. More from Laine can be found in the Vault of Smoke.