Part 4 of 4 from a summer short fiction collection as seen in The Repercussions Issue
A waiter from the hotel restaurant caught me staring at the old woman.
“She comes here every day around 2 P.M. to read her book and drink her tea.”
Of course this woman with the floppy hat, the pageboy haircut, and the squash blossom necklace sits in this hotel garden every day to read and drink tea.
I knew she was full of stories, but how do you approach a stranger and extract what you needed to hear?
I shuffled over to her table and pointed at her necklace.
“I love your squash blossom!”
She looked up from her book and grabbed the necklace resting on her heart.
“Oh, this silly thing? I bought this in Gallup in 1962, when Route 66 was still in its heyday.”
“I would have loved to have seen that road in 1962.”
“She was a beauty, with all her neon signs and little diners. I probably traveled her at least a hundred times.”
“Do you travel a lot?”
She set her book down and waved me to sit down.
“Sweetheart, I’ve been traveling since the day I was born.”
An army father brought her and her two sisters and mother to Germany, Japan, Texas, and California;
a photographer husband brought her to every state in America except for Delaware (“too boring”), Mississippi (“too religious”), and Iowa (“too flat”); and, after her husband died, her own painful wanderlust took her to every continent on the planet.
“Except for Antarctica,” she said. “I’m planning on going next year.
I have to go before I can’t do it.”
She noticed my raised eyebrows.
“Oh, they tell me I’m losing my mind, but I’ve always been a little crazy. My husband used to say that I was nuttier than a fruitcake, but that’s why he married me. I married him because he lived up until the day he died.”
The waiter came over and asked me if I needed anything. Yes, I need answers. I need someone to tell me where I’m going.
“I’m good, thank you.” But I’m not good. I want to be good again.
“Give me another whiskey on the rocks,” the old woman said as she held out her teacup to the waiter.
“You got it, Jean,” the waiter said with knowing smile.
Jean, with the floppy hat, the pageboy haircut, the squash blossom, and the teacup full of whiskey.
“So what brings you to this hotel in the middle of New Mexico with a cup full of whiskey, Jean?
“I should be asking YOU that,” she said to me. “You don’t look like a New Mexican.”
“Do New Mexicans have a look?”
“Yes, they look like me: dripping in turquoise, au natural hair, and skin weathered from too many years playing in the desert.”
Do I tell her the truth, that I don’t know where I’m going or where I’m headed and I found myself here because I thought that all of life’s answers would be revealed to me?
“I don’t know,” I said. “I read about this place in a magazine and I thought…”Just go ahead and say it “…it would teach me something about myself.”
“I’ve been searching for myself for the past 80 years, in every nook and cranny of this planet. Still haven’t found me yet, but I’m ok with that.”
“I disagree. You seem so confident—so sure of yourself.”
“Just because you’re searching, it doesn’t mean you’re lost,” she said.