She rode the rails for two days, which gave her time to think, watch the countryside, and reflect on where she’d been, where she was going. She’d felt this feeling before. It felt like when she was bound for boot camp, but she felt so much more experienced, now. I knew nothing then!
Then she smiled, realizing that once again she knew next to nothing about what lay ahead. In some ways, she felt more scared today than when she was eighteen. But she also felt like she had a safety net – if this didn’t work out, she could abruptly change course. This was different than enlisting in the military - nothing was holding her down. She had an unwritten escape clause. She had choices.
She was happy that her traveling days were sunny – she could navigate by the closest star. But from time to time, she pulled her compass and map from her pocket, just to gauge her approximate location, just to estimate her arrival at each train station.
They pulled into Portland at ten AM and she immediately made her way on foot to the bus station. There, she purchased a ticket for the trek up Route 1, further north to Machias. From there, she knew, she would have to improvise a bit to get southeast to Little Kennebec Bay. Might have to hitchhike. Might have to hoof it.
For now, she had a two-hour buffer which, of course, she had designed into her plans. She walked briskly, as far as she could with her sea bag, just to smell the place, just to breathe the state of Maine. So, this is where I will write the next chapter of my life. Portland was nice – she was able to find streets that allowed long walks, unencumbered stretches and few window-shopping tourists. Speedbumps! She felt safe. She felt happy. And when the time came, she made sure she was among the first in line to board the bus.
She was surprised at how quickly the seats filled up.
She made damn sure she got a window seat on the starboard side, for that would afford a view of the coast. She reached into her left front pocket and caressed the black stone that waited for her there.
She watched as three lads got on together, laughing, noisy. They looked like native New Englanders – dark hair, long sideburns, and Navy-style pea coats. Two sat behind, and one asked if he could sit next to her.
His name was Kelly, the one with the sweet, boyish eyes. He was traveling with Randy and Tate. They were going north to attend a birthday party for a girl Randy had met just last week. Kelly leaned in to confide, “And it will be a miracle if they show up at the bus station!” Julian laughed, and he added, “And if not, we’ll kick around the metropolis for a couple days.”
When Julian told Kelly of her path and itinerary, he was mightily impressed. “Whoaaa,” then mouthed in a whisper, “No shit! Good for you!” He stood and told his buddies, then returned to his seat as if it were their private booth.
“Do you have a boy waiting for you?”
“Ahhh, no.” She considered her safety, adding, “Not exactly.”
“Okay. Yeah. Okay.”
He must think I’m a lesbian. Then, Ah, that’s not so bad. Let him. She looked out the window, just to let the silence sink in, forcing him to ponder.
But they chatted. And they were comfortable. At certain points, Julian apologized, “But I absolutely have to study the coast.” It was her first look at the New England Atlantic. Still they chatted. The miles ran quickly under the bus, like the belt of a treadmill. Between the trees, flashes of coastline teased her.
And when they arrived, Julian let escape a little laugh.
“So this is Machias!”
“Yeah – but don’t let looks fool ya. Big bad world!”
The boys followed Julian and Kelly off the bus. Randy and Tate shared a couple metered sprays of breath freshener – Kelly waved off the offer - and they started searching for Randy’s new friend. The anticipation of partying and potential girl action was palpable. Julian thought they were funny. She doubted that the mystery girl would show, much less give the boys what they came for. She waited as the bus driver struggled with the cargo bay door. He kicked the latch, and someone commented, but he knew what he was doing. The latch surrendered and he hoisted open the door. Then he set to work extracting the carcasses, the road traveler baggage.
“So, Tater,” Randy queried. “Did you bring the condoms?”
“Dude!” Tate elbowed him on account of Julian’s proximity. Julian sniffed a little laugh. Just then, her sea bag appeared on the sidewalk, and she went for it.
“Oh, I mean,” Randy exaggerated for her amusement. “Say, Tater. Did you remember to bring the c-doms?”
Julian had bent to pick up her bag. When she returned to full upright, she was laughing quietly. That’s when the Mercury Montego – probably built during the Reagan era – pulled up to the curb. A radio and failing exhaust broadcast its arrival. The wheels on the port side, Julian noticed, sported no hubcaps. Now there’s trouble.
“Hey, Randy!” came the sing-song call from the driver’s seat.
“Hey!” Randy clapped and walked over and kissed the girl. Julian noticed that there were at least two other females onboard. Well, maybe I misjudged the lads. Or maybe I misjudged the local babes.
Julian pulled back, unsure if Kelly would think to say good-bye. Anyway, she had to find out where she was going, so she pulled out her map, looked up at the sun, then back to her map. She had five miles to cover. Plenty of daylight left. With any luck, she’d catch a ride. The lads were crowding around the car, backpacks slung over shoulders.
“Julian! Where are you headed?” Kelly asked.
“Um, south to, er, Marsh Stream Lane. Five miles.”
Kelly turned back to the driver, who gave Julian a look. Julian’s face gave the equivalent of a shrug, so the driver used her index finger to bring Julian to her. She grabbed her sea bag, backpack, and map. She got to the door and bent at the waist. Smoke owned the air freshener that dangled from the rearview mirror.
The driver was actually quite pretty up-close, and she looked Julian dead in the eye. Her voice was low, nothing like the sing-song she granted to Kelly. “Got any pot?”
Julian stood upright and laughed. “Yer kiddin’ me right? I’ve been on a train for two days. You think I wanna fuckin’ party?” She adjusted her sea bag, ready for the five-mile hike.
The driver opened the car door, gave Julian a look, and went to work on the trunk. She signaled for everyone to throw their gear in. Julian, too. Then she slammed the thing once. Twice. Then a “Fuck” third time. Just then, Kelly yelled.
“Hey, Randy! Your… accordion!”
Randy jogged back to the bus. The last piece of cargo lay on the sidewalk – his guitar. Julian looked at Kelly.
Kelly just winked.
The driver – Courtney was her name – rolled her eyes and popped the trunk again, but the guitar fit with room to spare.
They all piled in. Everyone met everyone else, and the Montego chugged away from the curb, creaky but unemotional, like an old Shetland pony pulling a cart. Just another passenger, just another mile.
Inside, three guys and four girls, hilarious creatures from the zoo of life. Julian glimpsed the faces and wondered if any of them had a dream in the world, a purpose in life, until she realized that she was one of them – merely a traveler, navigating by feel. Some sought short-term adventure, others just wanted to arrive at a damned destination.
“What’s the address on Marsh Stream?” Courtney asked from up front.
“Ah… four-zero.” She was accustomed to communicating with unambiguous precision. Then she added, “40. Marsh Stream Lane,” if only to seal the waypoint in her own memory.
They arrived in minutes. Julian was struck by the rural setting, but was happy to see mailboxes, driveways, signs of life as they neared the coast. Then, there it was – number 40 Marsh Stream Lane. The big car pulled into the gravel driveway at a dirty 45-degree angle. Courtney put it in Park, left it idling. She got out to pop the trunk.
Tate opened the back door and stepped out, and Julian followed.
“Bye, everyone! Have a great time!”
Kelly got out after her. He gave her a hug. “I hope you like it here! Good luck with your job and all.”
Courtney yanked at Julian’s sea bag, finally freeing it. “Ya got rocks in there?”
“Uh, yup.” Julian reached into her pocket. “Courtney, let me give you some gas money.”
“No, hey, that’s cool.” She slammed the trunk closed on the first try, then added, “I hope you like the place.”
“Thank you. Thanks a lot.”
Julian shook Courtney’s hand. It was both a sign of peace for the driver, but also Julian’s touch-confirmation that she was truly here, among new natives.
The party loaded up again and Courtney put the beast in Reverse. The power steering strained, and every belt bitched in protest. She dropped it into Drive, and they were gone. Julian gave a little wave but no one saw. And then everything got quiet.
She let moments pass, bags still at her feet. She reached into her left front pocket and caressed the black stone that waited for her there.
A breeze brought salt air to her nose and she swallowed it, soothed, and then took another. So this is what I’ll see when I look out from my porch, my window.
She turned for her first assessment of the house itself. It was four steps up to the tiny porch. A wicker mail basket with a wooden lid graced the screen door halfway up, worn like a fanny pack. The wind directed her attention to the two-person swing, a pendulum just barely in motion, flowered cushions its humble offering.
And just as she bent to fetch her gear, she saw the neighbor’s front door open.