THE SIGHT OF THE YOUNG COUPLE making out against the Cadillac ignites a fire in me. Worse, the handful of words we exchange remind me how lonely I’ve been since I boarded the plane in Spain. I pretend to examine graffiti as I watch them stroll away, casually entwined. The way she clutched at his shoulder suggested orgasm. I haven’t had that pleasure since Barcelona. I wish I could have read it in her eyes.
The giant cross.
The leaning water tower.
If I was her, I might have collected the set. A fumble and tumble at every roadside attraction. A guaranteed way of livening up the trip. Did she? Probably not. There was something in her eyes. That girl is burning at both ends.
Discarded spray cans litter the ground around the cars. The first I pick up is blue, the second a shade of burnt orange. I have no inspiration and many miles to go, yet feel an obligation to leave my mark upon these rusted husks.
He fucked her with his hand against the third car from the right. That’s where I create an orange heart, outlined in blue. I imagine it’ll be gone within a day or two, painted over by another bored tourist passing through, so I sign my name across my heart. My real name. Emily Maltravers. I forgo the ‘Honorable’. No need to show off.
Walking back to the Jetta, a large SUV arrives. It’s white which seems like the sensible color choice here. The couple who gave me the show were traveling in a big old boat of a car, magnificent in Virgin Atlantic red. Both vehicles seem better suited to a coast-to-coast road trip but at least my humble Jetta can’t be traced to me.
Key in the ignition, air con kicking in, I check myself in the mirror before I pull out. I’m still Emily. My hair is longer than usual – ponytail long – but growing out my bob isn’t a disguise. My natural ash blonde color goes with my pale eyes. A look I’m known for in the British media. The upmarket newspapers tend to label me ‘arctic’. The gutter press and paps dubbed me the Ice Queen.
I really like my hair, but it’s going to have to go.
A thousand miles of open road before me, I have plenty of time to pin down my new look.
The red and yellow sign across the interstate proclaims New Mexico to be the Land of Enchantment. You can’t tell from here. The only thing that changes when I cross the line into my thirteenth state is the time. The bright blue marker by the side of the road tells me I’m now living on Mountain Time.
I don’t see any mountains, but the land grows increasingly rocky and occasional mesas crop up as the Jetta and I push on for Albuquerque. Eventually the road begins to climb and those mountains become a distant reality.
All the way from Albuquerque to Gallup, I try to remember the lyrics of ‘Route 66’. I’m sure it mentions Amarillo and Gallup but can’t recall a name check for Albuquerque. I make a note not to forget Winona.
The air is fresh and chilled when I stop for gas in Gallup. It’s eight o’clock already and I need to stop for the night. There’s a decent looking motel less than a hundred yards from a family restaurant called Applebee’s. A name like that, it’s probably a chain. It seems like everything is.