Jimmy Brown’s blowin’ town, he thought, as he slipped behind the wheel of his silver grey Honda Odyssey, the gift he gave himself for his 70th birthday. He loved the smell of new leather and fresh upholstery. He rubbed one hand along the dash as he slipped the key in the ignition.
The car had power adjustable seats with eight variations, the steering wheel had a tilt and telescope facility. Even the sliding doors were power operated and on top of that, it topped all the safety standards. There was a dock for his cell phone that would let him take calls, hands free and charge the battery, too, while he was driving.
Jimmy let himself slip and slide back as he ran through the driving seat adjustments. He did the same with the steering column until everything was just so. Next, he turned on the ignition, chose a cd from the selection of country favourites he’d just bought in the 7/11, Jim Reeve’s Greatest Hits, slipped it in the machine that lit up like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, then he selected a button for random play, checked his mirror, signalled and pulled out into the quiet, Main St traffic.
‘Get ready to take us to warp speed, Mr Scott,’ he chuckled, as he drove down the short end of the street and the quickest route, out of town and into the country. Monday was a quiet day so Jimmy closed the office, for the day, sending Mrs Wicks, his bookkeeper home for an unexpected break. He felt a passing whimsy, he suppressed, about why she never made any remark about it. She knew him, he didn’t take days off, yet she never said a thing about it, just grabbed her bag and coat, waved and took off.
‘What the hell, like as if I cared?’ he said to himself and he pointed his gleaming new SUV, a Honda Odyssey, no less, southwards into the great blue and desert like yonder. Jim Reeves was singing, ‘From a Jack to a King, from loneliness to a wedding ring…’ He didn’t like any fuss, anyway. Mary Wicks worked with him, in that same office, for close on 30 years. He saw her family grow up. He even designed the extension on her tract house on the edge of town.
‘with no regrets, I stacked the cards last night and Lady Luck played her hand, just right…’
He was singing along but ol’ Jim Reeves wasn’t making magic for him, he thought. With his right hand, he rustled around in the bag he’d thrown on the passenger seat and found Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads. ‘Now, that’s more like it,’ he thought, ‘a good ol’ boy, done good.’ He hit the random selection button again and got
‘when I hear the raindrops coming down, it makes me sad and blue…’
Frustrated, he hit the random button again and this time ole Marty was singing, ‘Cool, clear, water…’ This was one he knew like he’d written it himself in an old notebook he kept as a journal. At least now, though he was alone, he felt free and, well, happy or so he told himself, ‘keep a’movin’ Dan, he’s a devil of a man…’
Now the desert highway stretched out before him and he knew he had choices with plenty of time to make them. He could go on to Las Vegas and spend the night there. Or he could take the interstate at Kingman and take the long ride into Los Angeles.
Marty was singing, ‘bury me out in the prairie, where the coyotes can cry o’er my grave…’ The words made him pause as he tried to make sense of the jumble of emotions he was feeling; lonely, because he was alone for the first time in 50 years, on his birthday and angry, because his wife, Barbara, his childhood sweetheart was gone, taken by cancer, before they could pack up her memories and say goodbye.
‘She was young and she was pretty, she was warm and tender, too…’ ‘Christ,’ he shouted, aloud, reaching over to turn off the music. ‘Even Marty Robbins’s against me,’ he thought. He hated himself for feeling so sorry for himself. When he got up that morning, he was thinking of stopping by the nursery to pick up some saguaro cactus blossoms and paying a visit to her graveside. She loved their sweet smell and always laid them out in a bowl floating on a thimble of water for his birthday. She said they reminded her of him, big, rough and spiky but soft and fragrant, too. She told him it was no coincidence he was born in the same month they blossomed.
He couldn’t go to her grave, couldn’t face her, feeling angry and lonely. They’d both grown up together in Scottsdale, sweethearts through high school and stayed devoted to each other even when he studied architecture in ASU, Tempe. But that wasn’t far away so they kept in touch. His father was an architect, studied and worked with Frank Lloyd Wright and little Jimmy Brown was going to build big things, too.
But that was 1965 and he joined the Marines, volunteered, like a fool, he thought in a moment of patriotic lunacy. They married, before his first tour of duty, up country Vietnam. It was a hell that kept on giving and the only ray of hope and light for him was the thought of Barbara, waiting for him, at home. She even sent him cactus blossoms while he patrolled in the sticky heat of the fetid jungle. When he got home, safe and uninjured, externally, at least, he finished his degree, got a job and bought a house, but he knew and she knew, too, but she understood, he was never the same man.
He’d been on the road for almost three hours now, he figured but, lost in his thoughts, he didn’t know where he was. His new Honda had satnav, as standard but he was wary of it and hadn’t turned it on. He didn’t know where he was going so how could it tell him where to go?
There was one road and plenty of dirt trails but this was the Mohave Sonoran desert, the hottest, bleakest expanse of searing desert in all of North America. He’d stocked up with drinking water, had a full tank of gas and in the a/c comfort of his Odyssey, he felt at ease. He didn’t want to go to Las Vegas, though, and the thought of the long drive through even more desert, to Los Angeles, bore no appeal. No, he thought, there’s nothing to do out here, time to head home.
It was then he saw the road sign, old and beat up, it said, NOTHING and he started laughing and laughing, until the salty tears ran down his face, unchecked. He’d reached the town of Nothing, an uninhabited ghost town, smack in the middle of the desert that was now used for photo opportunities by tourists and an occasional film crew. Still laughing, he swung the Odyssey around, his journey was over. He knew Barbara would’ve laughed as well.
The drive home seemed shorter than his outward venture. But then, he thought, that was more of a journey inward. He put on another cd, Hank Williams at the Grande Ole’ Opry, put it in the machine and hit the button and waited.
‘Hey, hey, good lookin’, what you got cookin’?
Jimmy smiled, slapped his wheel, threw his head back and sang along, ‘how’s about cookin’ something up with me? Say, say, sweet baby, don’t you think, maybe, we could find us a brand new recipe…’
For the rest of the trip he sang along with Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Tammy Wynette and pretty soon he was home in Surprise, Arizona.