I was in between runs that fall, and the cold came on slow and uncertain. Leaves lingered too long. Two weeks before Halloween, a man escaped from the county jail. On WSAZ, a reporter shoved a mic in the sheriff’s face outside the station.
“We study all available routes,” he said. “We know why, but not how or where.”
Cathy pointed a cigarette at the TV and laughed out smoke. She was taking another break from quitting. “That man is a lost man,” she said.
“Which one?” I asked.
“Does it matter?”
Then a shovel went missing from the barn, two cans of kerosene, a shepherd’s hook. I slept with a .410 wedged between my side of the headboard and the nightstand.
Cathy told me I’d wake up a few seconds too late.
When I wasn’t on the road, I ate lunch at the diner just to watch Cathy polish the cutlery. Sometimes she put a spoon or fork in her purse.
“You can never be too careful,” she’d say.
If a song came on the radio she didn’t like, she changed the station, setting off the manager in the back.
“That shit drives me crazy,” she said, dropping a butter knife into her purse. She came up holding a cigarette.
I kept her company as she smoked out back, each drag longer than the last. A dog barked at a stray cat hiding between the dumpsters and the fence. Further off, an ambulance cried down the highway.
“I’m so damn tired of this place,” she said.
I asked her to come with me on my next run.
“You can drive as fast as flying,” I said. “And the sky is big enough for you to breathe.”
“What would I do? I can’t sit in a truck all day.”
“No,” I said.
“What about my mom?” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
The night before I left it rained so hard I couldn’t sleep. Something moved under the trailer, and even in the dark I knew the leaves had finally fallen off by the wind rushing them around.
Two days later I called from a payphone outside a truck stop in Cheyenne. The wind blew snow tornadoes across the parking lot as I toed a broken beer bottle with my shoe.
“They found him hiding with family in Huntington,” Cathy said. “In a basement.”
I could tell the time difference by the eleven o’clock news in the background, the clear cough that wasn’t hers. A bottle whispered open.
“How’s your mother?” I asked.
“Good,” she said. “Fine. She says hello.”
They opened the gates on the interstate the next morning, and I came down the pass into Laramie thinking it looked like a TV dinner taken from the back of a freezer. We were like that for years, asking questions that weren’t questions because we knew all the answers. I kept going until she was far away from me, knowing all along I’d have to come back.