Colby Stopa CC
Hope Mills, or Someplace Like It
I’m passed out in the sleeper when you slap on the cab (you’ve been around long enough that you know not to knock with your knuckles). I tumble out of a desperate sleep, flop across the air-sprung driver seat and stick my head up under my cab curtain, and there you are, standing by my fuel tank in the twilight. You’re looking away when I first see you, framed by the weeds and sandy gravel of this parking lot, the scrubby pines beyond, the Hardee’s that passes for a truckstop in this town. You’re younger than my early thirties, pretty despite the damp curl plastered to your forehead in the dog’s-breath humidity. Not the usual dessicated husk that finds herself driven to this sandy gravel lot, this flimsy aluminum door, this ancient trade.
You smile up at me and your upcast eyes widen as I’m rolling down the window. Perhaps it’s genuine delight that I’m a youngish longhair and not some toothless tub of truckstop food and hubris. More likely it’s a practiced come-on. You step up onto my tank in a fluid movement, bringing us face-to-face where we can talk over my idling diesel.
“Want some company?” you say. We all know the code.
Do I want some company? I’ve been in solitary confinement in this aluminum cell for months. Tens of thousands of miles. Of course I want some company. Even just hearing you say those three words, I already know I’d rather listen to a voice like yours—your soft southeastern accent—than the overamplified hate on the CB, the monotonous hum of my twelve-liter Cat turning sixteen hundred rpm for hours, and hours, and hours. You’re damn right I want to look at your smiling face, into your deep brown eyes, at the shapes your lips make as you talk, instead of at the endless threadbare ribbons of pavement, the glowing red eyes of the taillights, the endless parade of loading docks and pallets and forklifts and trip sheets and logbooks and bills of lading. Absolutely, I’d love to be smelling your hair, your skin, instead of the diesel fuel and the diesel exhaust and the forklift propane and the fifth-wheel grease and the constant cigarettes and the endless, ubiquitous dust. Of course I want to touch your hair, your face, the soft curves of your body, instead of this always-greasy steering wheel, the gritty landing-gear crank, the even grittier fifth-wheel release, the glad-hands, the trailer-door hasps, the load locks, the endless parades of cardboard and pallet wrap and other people’s stuff, the SLDC groceries to be sorted and counted and verified and nitpicked, and delayed for hours over some piddling miscount when I’m already late to my next shipper. I’d be delighted to feel your breath on my neck, smell the sweat on your nape—hell, I’ll admit it—feel your hands on my body, feel my hands on your body, feel the writhing, surging, pulsing rhythms that our bodies make together.
But also the slower, more measured rhythms of some kind of normal life. Some life where we can breathe. Some life where we can sit quietly over coffee, watch the morning birds at the backyard feeder. Some life where I’m not stuck homeless in this wandering box, massaging my logbook to look like I only worked seventy hours this week. Some life where outrageous fortune hasn’t brought you to this weedy twilit lot to slap on a random trucker’s door, and to set his lonely imagination off constructing a whole life with you—not you—the idea of you.
But that’s not why we’re here.
I look into your eyes for a second, and try to smile. “Babe, I gotta get some sleep.”
“Oh,” you say, our disappointment palpable. “Okay.”
I watch you step down off my tank as I’m rolling up my window and letting the flimsy curtain drop back into place, still leaning over my air-sprung seat, the clammy breath of the air-conditioner chilling my neck, the vibrations of my two-thousand-pound turbodiesel transmitted up through the anti-slip floor mat beneath my bare knee. As I’m turning back to my solitary bunk I catch one final glimpse of you in the gloom, walking across the rutted, weedy gravel toward the glowing lights of some other idling truck, toward some other precarious future. One that is not ours.
Jay Parr drove a quarter-million miles hauling other people's stuff around the US and Canada, but that was a long time ago. Now he lives with his partner and daughter (and their bird feeder) in Greensboro, NC, where he teaches in UNCG's nontraditional Humanities program.
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