The wiper blades shush-shushed sheets of water from the windshield of Lynnie’s Durango as it sped through the glistening, rain-soaked night.
Dried tears were crusty on her cheeks.
Her eyes were arid, sore, burning with the chore of keeping on the highway, keeping straight ahead, keeping on.
There was an overnight case in the back seat. It bulged slightly. She had packed it hurriedly and nothing was folded.
Nothing was neat.
She ruffled through her purse, sitting open on the passenger seat, looking for the pack of smokes she had purchased at the gas station a few miles back. Lynnie hadn’t smoked for two decades but tonight seemed like a good time to pick up the habit again.
She peeled back the cellophane sealer strip with her teeth, then ripped it off and opened the fresh pack. The smell of tobacco whooshed up and she smiled crookedly, gratefully, as she snuffed the scent up.
Lynnie hadn’t smiled for days.
She touched her bruised jaw tenderly, grimaced, then pushed in the cigarette lighter.
The highway stretched ahead, middle-of-the-night empty. She pulled a cigarette out of the pack and stuck it in her mouth, staring down the black tunnel of asphalt, waiting for the lighter to pop.
She hummed to herself.
The song was America by Simon and Garfunkel and it began with slow downhill harmony.
Let us be lovers
we’ll marry our fortunes together,
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag ...
The lighter popped, startling her.
Lynnie pulled it out and pressed it against the tip of her cigarette, breathing in. Smoke curled up as the tip reddened. She coughed. Once. And replaced the lighter.
She took a deep drag on the smoke.
It was good.
As good as she remembered.
“So we bought a pack of cigarettes,” she whispered, “and Mrs. Wagner pies.
“And we walked off to look for America.”
Her soft voice trailed off. She remembered the first time she had ever heard this song.
She was so young.
It was her first job after college and she was boarding at a house in the middle of nowhere, owned by an older hippie couple who introduced her to exotica like curry and Simon and Garfunkel.
No one was home at the moment. Just her. She put S & G’s Greatest Hits on the record player, turned up the volume and carried a cup of coffee and her smokes out to the back stoop.
It was late summer, late afternoon and the distant, forested hills glowed in the sun. The air was thick, redolent, rich. Lynnie drank her coffee and smoked her cigarettes and listened to the record, dreaming of the adventures that almost certainly lay ahead.
She wanted to live her life like the couple in the song. There was a world out there to see. It was calling her. She felt her heart swoon in answer.
Yes, it said.
“Toss me a cigarette,
I think there’s one in my raincoat.”
“We smoked the last one an hour ago.”
So I looked at the scenery,
she read her magazine.
And the moon rose over an open field.
The middle-aged Lynnie smoked her cigarette down to the filter, smushed it into the empty ashtray, then lit another one.
She felt slightly high.
“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said,
though I knew she was sleeping.
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,
They’ve all gone to look for America...
Lynnie drove through the long night, a melancholy trail of cigarette smoke and broken dreams in her wake.