Really the only reason Kit bought Let It Bleed was for the opening. Once back on the road, he turned the radio up as loud as it could go and let the first notes of Gimme Shelter blare throughout the car and out the open windows. Keith breaking open the riff tentatively, tremolo up high enough to waver, completely devoid of trust in Mick and his haunted cooing in the background. Sadie picked up on the riff and mashing on the accelerator and they rocketed away over the countryside, the long knife of a car cutting through oceans of tillage. She reminded herself to keep it reigned in, knowing full well the front end wouldn’t stop pulling no matter how much you gave it. The guitar tripped over the breaking drums and unwound like a ribbon through the landscape, the poor woman they got out of bed in the middle of the night to sing backup came in and gave it everything she had. The power lines rose and fell off to starboard in perfect time. Desperate and wild, with no shelter anywhere to be had, they abandoned themselves to it fully, the Toronado’s eight cylinders hammering out a perfect hell of combustion.
“You wanna hear about the racist graffiti I saw in the bathroom? It was especially bad.”
“You want me to leave you out here in the sad, lonely corn?”
“No thanks, I’m good,” he said, smiling at his power lines.
“Hey I remember now,” she began. “Talk to me about a mansard roof. That’s how they build barns, right?”
“Well those are actually gambrel roofs, but yeah, same concept. Mansard goes around all four sides, like a box-top. Gambrel, you build it and take a gambrel it doesn’t leak.”
“Whiteboy, I’m telling you right fuckin’ now…”
He laughed long and hard. “No, you do it that way so you can stack hay up on the second floor. Instead of single rafters coming up to a peak, there’s two that make a sort of elbow. Called a truss. You can truss me on that one.”
She groaned loudly and threw her hands up but she was smiling just the same.
The towns diminished, both in size and frequency, until there was hardly anything left on the road at all. The day’s excitement consisted of a county size flurry worth of signs for a local lady making a stab for district attorney. They made a habit of waving to old timers in the oncoming lane, but even the battered pickups dwindled until they were alone on the road. There came a town, no more than a handful of buildings gathered along the road like ghost spectators, completely devoid of life. The storefronts boarded up, the co-op hollowed out and empty, the red and white checkerboard of its sign faded almost entirely.
Not soon after they interrupted the interminable flat by halting all forward motion and focusing instead on sex, having found an empty farmhouse just outside town. Kit picked it out- a dirt track lined with cedars falling away from the main stretch. They weren’t hard to spot, it seemed every third or fourth field had a tree covered lump in the middle of it that, safe to guess, hid an old homestead.
Theirs was encircled with a porch, buoyed by piles upon piles of flowers bursting with purple, the buckling floor that hovered just over the weed line had no need for a rail. Stoic posts maintained plumb with a line of what looked like empty thread spools connecting them along the top, metal roof threatened by a half-dead Bradford pear lilting close.The same cedars that lined the drive spread out and surrounded the place, warped and twisted like a ring of witches, and bunched close enough together they broke the interminable wind enough to make it whisper.
They bivouacked inside on an old iron bed on the second floor, with a remarkably clean blue-tick mattress and joints strong enough it refused to make much noise no matter how hard they persuaded it. Having been together for a while now they paused in their attempts to devour one another, and spent more time exploring each other.
Outside the ring of trees were fields that might have at one point been left to lie fallow, but the furrows had finally collapsed and now everything had gone back to grass. Most of the first day was spent nervously glancing out of panes but no dust rose on the road and no one came. The only noise anywhere seemed to be the wind outside that never seemed to let up. The house was empty but clean, still bearing evidence of a family long gone. A rocking horse, suspended mid-flight by springs in it’s frame, pots and pans stacked neatly in the battered pine cabinetry of the kitchen. The room with two double beds, a rocking chair next to a cradle they stayed out of entirely.
The small porch outside the kitchen was L-shaped and in better shape than it’s fancier counterpart out front. It also had a small run of stairs with a hand pump that after some persuasion Sadie got to draw water. They both agreed the sight of clear bright water spilling into a dry metal trough was a miracle in itself. Beyond this was a barn they peeked around in nervously, discovering a pile of scrap lumber in one corner large enough to yield a few days worth of firewood. Opening the two old tornado doors which faced the fields, they found a root cellar carved out under the house, steps cut into the earth along the edge which held rows upon rows of blue mason jars. Kit, being unable to convince Sadie to explore the underworld with him, discovered two jars of peaches with a label saying only From Georgia with Love. Back in the kitchen they gorged like unattended children at a party, licking juice off each other's fingers. Naturally they wound up in bed again.
Afterwards, catching her breath, Sadie said, “This is impossible.”
“Something in the peaches.” Kit replied.
“Peaches,” Sadie laughed. “We can’t do a thing that we don’t wind up back in this bed.”
“I thought the bed was the reason we stopped driving.”
“No, I gotta look at the carb,” she said.
“I keep telling you there ain’t a thing in the world wrong with that carb,” he said
“You don’t know it like I do, she’s got a hiccup or something.”
“Pssh,” he said. “Hiccup.”
“Pssh what, whiteboy? Like you’re some kind of mechanic.”
“You don’t think, huh.”
“Spell carburetor,” she said “Spell it.”
“Oh now you’re just fighting dirty.”
“Go on. C-A-R-B…” she rolled over on her side to look into his eyes, hardly able to keep from laughing.
“Look. Like some people I never went to friggin Columbia for higher learnin’ and I damn sure never took French.” He laughed
“What French?!” Her laugh was loud and clear.
“Carbur-e’- tuer, mademoiselle. Oui oui.” That was all it took. She rolled over on top of him and held his arms over his head. He laid there, grinning, and took it like a man.
Finally they forced themselves out of bed. He dug around in the barn and found a small porcelain tub with only a few nicks missing. It cleaned out easily and he brought it to her.
“Lookit, we can clean ourselves up a bit.”
“Oh Lord, do I need a whore bath,” she said.
“Ugh, please don’t say that.”
“I wasn’t saying I’m a whore,” she said.
“Yeah, I know, just..” put the tub down on the floor in the kitchen. “You know what, you’re absolutely right. I fuckin’-a can do better than that,” and out the door he rushed.
“Do better than what.” she hollered after him, following him out onto the back door with a squint.
“It’s almost dark, right? Let’s start a fire,” and he disappeared into the darkest reaches of the barn.
She got a fire going in short order and presently he returned with a wheelbarrow, the front wheel had a definite cant to it, but it rolled along diligently nonetheless. She’d managed to coax the fire into an initial dull roar and he rolled the front wheel right over it and planted the frame dead in the middle, steel legs straddling the blaze.
“What the hell you up to now, crazy ass?” she laughed at him, “Gonna melt that tire off.”
“Naw it’s made of that hard rubber. Plus I’ll block it from the heat with a rock or something.”
“Okay so that still doesn’t answer my question.”
“You’ll see.” and, marching over to the pump, began filling the bucket they’d been using. He took the first can and cleaned out the inside of the tray, sloshing the water around and rubbing the dirt loose with his open hand. Then he tipped it sideways out of the fire and set to filling it once more.
“If you expect me to take a bath in a goddam wheelbarrow..” she began.
“No ma’am! This is just to heat the water. I noticed the tub inside was already pretty clean.”
“Okay, hotshot, well how you gonna get your load of water inside?”
“Very, very carefully.” He said. He was wild eyed and grinning. To her surprise, she realized it was a look she’d grown fond of. There really was no telling with this one.
He dug out a length of spare rafter from the barn that was roughly the length of the porch stairs and wide enough to accomodate the wheel. By the time he got the ramp secured, the water was steaming. With a fair of water spilling over the sides, he got it out of the hissing fire and mounted the stairs. Steam wafted all around him. The whole scene tickled Sadie to no end.
“You really need to stop laughing. It’s making it hard to concentrate.” His tongue was sticking out one side of his mouth. “I’m trying to synchronize the sloshing with my forward momentum.”
“You really are crazy, you know that?”
“You do remember how we met, right?”
Using a small dustpan he found under the sink, he scooped up some embers and placed the whole thing under the claw foot tub to keep it warm. In three trips he had it half filled.
“That’s good for me. This thing is crazy deep.” She said.
“You sure?” He replied wiping sweat from his brow and breathing heavy. “I got probably a couple more trips in me.”
“Yeah, cowboy, I’m sure.”
“I think I saw some candles back down in the basement. Be right back.”
Along with candles, he found a bar of soap in his pack along with the last bar of chocolate. Under the water and lit by candles, her mahogany skin glowed like honey. He washed her feet and did his best not to ogle her. He fed her chocolate and made a big production about everything. She laughed and watched him moving about and said “You spoil me.”
“Yes ma’am.” was all he could say. As long as he treated the whole thing like a joke they might manage to pull it off. If he said any more, he’d likely ruin it. The word lingering in the back of his mind was “cherish” but he dared not speak it.
On the third day a pissing rain settled in and woke him early, the wind pushing aside the flax colored curtains from the one missing pane was colder. He decided to take a chance and stoked the fire up enough to boil them some coffee in a pot, figured if they hadn’t been found out by now, they likely wouldn’t be. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d heard a car on the road. Perhaps some great cataclysm had occurred and they were the last two people on Earth. Even the family of rabbits seemed to have accepted them. He stood under an umbrella he’d found in the trunk of the car and watched coffee grounds roil in the water of the pot nestled in the fire and thought about all these things. The rabbits nosing the grass between the house and the barn paid him no mind. His bare feet were cold and wet almost up to his ankles, which he decided was a strangely comforting feeling. He had no plan after coffee and was actively trying to not think of one. He lucked out and found not only a coffee cup in the shelves but a strainer, although he knew she liked the grit.
One of the larger rabbits crept his way closer toward Kit and the fire. Kit stood stock still under the umbrella and watched him. A buck, probably the largest he’d ever seen, on its haunches, towering above the tufted heath, ears alert but without tension. Close enough Kit could make out the flecks of grey, rain collecting on it’s tan and white coat, vibrant against the green heaps of grass that had pushed over by the wind. He longed to stroke it, but was content in knowing he never would. One wild eye of the hare regarded him indifferently, having never known a man with a gun.
Tiptoeing up the stairs with coffee in one hand and a jug of water in the other, he found the cool air had driven her deep under her grand-ma’s quilt and a knit yellow blanket that had accompanied the bed. She refused to wake, so he put the coffee on the floor next to her and sitting on the foot of the bed, watched her sleep. There was a break in the cloud cover outside and the sudden sunshine blazing through the curtains cast a lace pattern across her shoulder, neck and face. It was enough to take his breath away. “Oh man, this is bad,” he thought to himself. Either the sun, the sound of him catching his breath or the chicory smell raised her, and opening one eye to him, she sat up and smiled. “Good morning, weirdo.”
Blushing, he chuckled and drank from the mason jar he was holding in his lap.
“That ain’t moonshine is it?” she asked.
“Huh?” he replied “Oh this? No, more of that miracle water you got for us.”
“I dare say there’s likely some down there in the root cellar, but I’m not going hunting for it” he said. “Don’t worry,”
“Just let me know if you start feeling squirrely,” she said, and pulling the quilt up over her shoulders, leaned back against the iron frame and had her coffee.
“This is actually the calmest I’ve felt in I don’t know how long,” he said. “Maybe we just stay here til winter.”
“Hm,” she said into her coffee
“I’m just kidding, we gotta get you home to momma right?” She cut a look his way that caused him to chuckle and look at his shoes. “Sorry,” he said. “Just teasing.”
“I don’t really have anywhere I need to be. Lord knows I’m not too crazy about showing my face back home. Guess we could just stay here til the coyotes come to eat us.”
“I think we may run out of peaches before then.” This got a smile out of her. “Peaches,” she laughed.
She slung her feet over the side of the bed, with the quilt wrapped around her like a cloak, padded barefooted around the room. Being the largest, and the only upstairs room in the bungalow, they figured it must have been the bedroom of the farmer and his wife, consisting of angled walls with dormer windows cut into the middle of each. She went to the pair of windows where the light was pouring through, and looked out over the yard with miles of prairie beyond.
“I thought I saw a man out there yesterday. Just standing out in the middle of the field. Scared the shit out of me,” she said. “Maybe I’m the one getting squirrelly.”
“If you’re feeling like we oughta move on today or tomorrow, that’s fine with me.” He tried not to focus on the way she looked in the sunlight.
“The whole thing feels we’re about to get caught skipping school, you know?” She said. “It’s exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time.”
She found herself looking intently at the wallpaper buckling across the sloped ceiling. She’d been wondering about it from the bed, but now as she got right up to it, saw it was made up of victorian vignettes, young lords and ladies engaged in various activities spread over the walls of the room. A country gent pushed a girl in a swing under some boughs, her dress and hair looking almost like a wedding cake in flight, hair flowing wildly out from under her hat, she’d even managed to send a shoe flying. Next to this, a young lady played piano for another young lady while a third descended a staircase behind them, all three in gowns. There was wood being chopped, horses hitched to wagons. She wondered why it took her til now to notice it and how it came to be in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Did the farmer’s wife pick it out? Would she perhaps gaze at it wistfully when the man and the children were out in the fields, longing for her home back East? A girl in a runaway cart was being chased by two boys and a dog. Children were dancing around a Maypole, others toiling in the fields, a young man leaning his forearm against the curved blade of a scythe. Extravagant rose bushes and story book trees filled the spaces between.
“You okay there, lady?” Kit finally asked.
She was pulled back to the room suddenly. The sun was covered once again and it had started to actually rain. Who was this man, she thought, and how did she come to be here with him? She felt like an intruder. She didn’t belong here, and worse, didn’t belong anywhere else. The branches of the pear tree tapped against the side of the house.
“Yeah, guess the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet,”
“Definitely got that thousand yard stare,” he said.
“You should check out this wallpaper sometime. Good shit.”
“Yeah, I noticed that,” he said. “Farm life was a real party back then.”
She finished the cup and made her way down the stairs to the kitchen. “There any more coffee? You left the grounds out of that last one.”
Still sitting on the bed he smiled and called down the hall after her “Yes Dear, sitting on the stove.”
Once in the kitchen, she noticed the umbrella leaning by the open door, a small puddle on the floor yet to dry.
“Hey, where’d you find this umbrella?” Her tone turned sharp.
“I got it out of the trunk,” he said. “I noticed it the other day.”
“Oh,” was all she said, but he could feel her irritation, so he got up and ambled down the stairs to face her.
“Hey look, I wasn’t rummaging around in your things, I promise. What all you got in your car is your business, not mine.”
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” she said, pouring herself another coffee from the pot, still steaming on the drain side of the porcelain sink. She noticed the embers going outside the window. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to have the fire stoked up that much?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I think it’ll be fine.” She met his eyes and the look of concern there. It wasn’t an unkind expression, but she felt foolish anyway. She strode around the other rooms, pacing like a panther. Everything seemed more dusty today, shabby and vacant and sad. She could hear wind whistling through a loose pane of glass somewhere she couldn’t quite identify.
“Maybe we should head out,” she said. “This damn wind sets my nerves on edge.”
“Sure thing, we can go anytime you want,” he said, following her.
“It just feels like the law is gonna come down on us anytime now. Or somebody worse. I don’t know. I’m being paranoid.”
“No, I hear ya.” he said. Running out of dusty corners to investigate and looking for a place to settle, she made her way back up to their bedroom. He followed just behind.
She threw the blanket back on the bed and pulled her jeans on, and then her shirt. He watched the way her muscles moved across her back and tried not to leer. She sat on the bed and pulled on one and then the other of the cowboy boots. He paused in the doorway, unsure of what to do or say. She met his gaze, felt like yelling at him to stop looking at her but didn’t. She stood up to walk past him but realized she’d put her coffee down by the bed and went back to get it. He let her squeeze by her in the doorway and she jogged down the stairs, her boots making more noise than she was comfortable with.
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”
“Sure. I’m fine,” she said over her shoulder. “No problem.”
“Okay,” he replied. She brushed by him again, got down to the kitchen with the car waiting outside in the rain when she pulled up short. Driving felt like an insurmountable task. The world outside loomed large and intimidating, the wind had picked almost to a gale and blew rain up the porch not quite into the kitchen.
“Actually that’s total bullshit. I’m a bundle of nerves. I feel like I can’t breathe.”
“Dang. Sounds like a panic attack,” he said, standing at the foot of the stairs. He was considerably well versed on the subject but didn’t feel like elaborating on it just then.
Thoughts crowded her mind, she wished he’d stop following her around the house, but she didn’t want to say so. Her mind was racing and she didn’t want to send him away. “I think I need to lay back down for a while,” and squeezing past him once again, walked slowly up the stairs. She got back under both the blanket and the quilt without bothering to take her boots off. She let them hang over the iron end of the bed so as not to get it dirty and pulled the covers over her head, her intention being to hide there from everything.
“Man, those are terrible. Feels like you’re gonna die,” he said. “You want me to climb in there and hold you?”
“I think that would be nice, yes.”
He started getting undressed but all of a sudden said, “Oh! I got something might help,” and turning, made for the door.
“Where you going?” she asked. She peeked out from under the covers, eyes huge.
“Just to the car, I’ll be right back. Stay right there, okay?” He said with a grin.
“No danger of leaving now,” she said.
“Oh yeah and keep breathing!”
Barefoot, he bounded down the narrow staircase. She heard the screen door slam and the car door open. She could tell from the sound it was the driver’s side. What if he left her there, she thought, then immediately felt foolish for it. After what seemed like an eternity, she heard the screen door squeak open, his feet on the stairs and he entered the room with the radio under one arm and duffel bag under the other.
“Ah jeez. I don’t want to listen to the Stones anymore,” she said.
“Nah, something better,” he replied and sitting on the bed next to her, thrust his arm into the furthest reaches of the bag. Squinting at the ceiling he felt around, tongue sticking out until he grasped something, yelped “AHA” and drew his hand back with an old battered tape.
“What A-ha,” she said.
“You’ll see,” and popping the tape in the player, hit play and proceeded to peel off his wet t-shirt.
“Hold on, you know where my canteen went?”
“I just saw it in the car. You want me to fill it up for you?”
“Could you please?”
What started with a typical walking baseline soon paired with a harmonica chug-chugging along and a lap steel guitar with the reverb turned up so much the whole thing transformed into a locomotive steaming along a wooded valley floor. She listened to it and focused on the comforting smell of the musty yellow blanket, surely the farmer's wife left it there for them. Kit got back with the canteen just after Waylon started pouring his smokey baritone over the whole mess like syrup.
“What is this Bobby McGee bullshit?” she asked while he spooned in close behind her and clutched her tight around the waist.
“Just give it a minute. Also, Bobby McGee is on the back side.”
The song ran like a river. For all it’s storytelling and meandering steel guitar, Lonesome, On’ry and Mean, ended as the prayer of an outlaw, in the valley, near daybreak, begging salvation.
“This is his best one and sucker didn’t even write it. My old man used to get drunk and sing it to me.” Kit said.
“Who is it?”
“Waylon By-God Jennings of course. Maybe you’ve heard of him?”
“Some country shit for real.”
“The most real-deal country shit there is,” he said.
Her heart continued racing but there was no doubt it soothed her a bit. Old Waylon yodeled toward the end and she almost laughed. The swirling maelstrom in her head abated, there may have been tears involved but she made sure he couldn’t see them.
“Okay, I’ll admit this ain’t bad,” she said, “but we’re listening to Ray Charles next.”
“Anything you say, ma’am.” and they lay together until her breathing slowed.
“Guns,” she said after a while. “Guns are what’s in the trunk. I don’t wanna tell you where they came from or what they’re for.”
“Yeah, that’s what I guessed,” he said. “Rifles make a pretty distinctive shape no matter how many blankets they’re under. Say I got a question for you.”
“What’s that,” She was holding her breath, despite the attempt not to.
“That smell,” he said. “Some kind of flower, you notice it?”
“Yeah, lavender,” she said, incredulous.
“Is that what’s out front?”
“Yeah. My momma has some of it the same way along her porch back home.”
“Cool,” he said, and nuzzled back into her shoulders.
“Now hold up,” she said. “You mean to tell me I inform you we’re hauling weaponry that may or may not have been involved in a crime and you wanna know about what kind of flowers are out in the yard?”
“Well, yeah, I mean, the smell is pretty intense.”
“Unbelievable,” she said. “You really are something.”
“Well, I kind of had you pegged as a revolutionary when you picked me up. The bald head kind of gave it away.”
She found that no matter how much he soothed her, she could only abide Waylon for one side of the album, so she got up and started packing, though her hands were only slightly shaking now. The rain had subsided enough they could load the car without getting soaked. Together they focused on the kitchen, leaving it cleaner than they found it, an unspoken understanding that it was the right thing to do.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to hang a bunch of shit on you.”
“Lady, do you not remember nursing me for three days in that hotel room? Figure I owe it to you.”
“I just got a lot on me right now,” she said.
“You carry it well,” he said. “And just like Old Waylon says, Part of living is how well you carry things.”
“Did he really say that?”
“No, I think I made it up just now.”
With nothing else left to do they loaded themselves into the Toronado. It started with a roar and idled impatiently while Sadie let it warm up. “Oh!” said Kit and he was out the door once more.
He came back almost at once, bearing a bouquet of lavender, wild, unkept and desperate as anything else in that season. Smiling, she laid them across her lap, and shifting the Olds into drive, they pulled off down the gravel drive leaving the empty windows of the house, crooked cedars and the rabbits to view their passing.