Sand. Sonoran desert saguaros scattered across the blended yellow, sometimes reddish landscape. An endless blue sky. In the blaze of sunlight, only the far off mountains shaped the blinding expanse. Through the rising heat waves Jake could make out a small range maybe twenty-five miles away.
The black asphalt led him he didn’t know where and he didn’t care. Sixty, seventy, fast enough to dry the sweat from his forehead and shirt with the windows down, the humidity so low his sweat evaporated like condensation from a steamy glass held to a flame.
Reaching into the cooler in the seat beside him he pulled out an icy Coke, popped it, and locked down the lid. He emptied half the can and stuck it in the console. Steadying the wheel, Jake picked up the folded map. A rest stop in about forty-five miles. Less than an hour, but the heat made him long for a cool, dark place, a restaurant, even the temporary relief of a convenience store.
His eyes rested for a moment on his left hand curled around the steering wheel, at his wedding ring. A brief regret gave him pause, but, without further thought he slipped it off his moist finger and tossed it out the open window as casually as he would a greasy Big Mac wrapper. His eyes returned to the road, the hypnotic line that offered lonesome freedom and a buffeting wind that drove away thoughts of the previous night.
Far up the highway, next to the black strip that headed off into the foothills, appeared a color that didn’t fit the desert. Blue, shiny. A speck. Then a flash of sunlight, again just off the road, as if from a small mirror. A glass window. A town? There were no towns here, at least not mapped. A motel? He hoped with a restaurant.
Another five minutes and several angular shapes began to rise from the desert. A ghost town perhaps, too insignificant to record. The start of a community that died a quiet death, unnourished, unkempt. Just built and used and abandoned. Jake thought of a night drive past distant farmhouses lit by a high single bluish light, illuminating the dwelling people on the edge of non-existence, tapping the land for a little bit of life and barely receiving any. A train whistle in the far distance.
He pushed the pedal down and cruised at eighty until the indistinguishable shapes became a garage with a couple old Esso pumps, what looked like a tavern, a large shed in the form of a horse barn, minus any corral or fencing, painted a now faded blue. Close by, a strip of doors in front of which was erected a ten-foot pole with a wooden marquee reading “Junction Motel.” No one was around, but the tavern door was open, and the window in the Junction Motel office held a vacancy sign.
“Somebody’s idea of a joke?” he wondered. Easing his pickup parallel to the gravel sidewalk by the tavern and turned off the key. As he got out of the truck he looked around at a place which would become more familiar to him that he could imagine.