Trish Dudley was pissed. More than that, she was heartbroken. Worst of all, she couldn't admit to herself how hurt she was. She hadn't heard from Thomas since kissing him goodbye at the bus station three days ago.
"The question to remember, son, is – what is it that pleases you?" His father leaned in at his side. Ripe, golden rays of light streamed through the branches. Dust from the day's work settled into a peaceful stillness that felt like cleansing rain on weathered skin. The air was fresh again. Evening birds chirped echoes of gratitude under the open sky. Tony felt the weight of his father's hand on his shoulder, and forever remembered his breath in his ear. It would be the last time they saw each other.
Hunger was already a problem. Ethel considered herself as good as dead. That didn't mean she had to be uncomfortable in the meantime, or roll over and die, for that matter. She'd had enough sitting around and suffering ... On this morning, she had a purpose in mind, and that was to hunt some food.
Dawn lit the land when Tom reached the turnoff of the long gravel road. He was almost within sight of the family homestead, yet he never felt so far away. Frost still clung to the tall yellow grass, and his ears and nose were red from the chill – Big Piney wasn't called "Ice Box of the Nation" on its town welcome sign for nothing – but he felt sweaty with nerves.
It was Tuesday evening when Tom got off the bus at Rock Springs, Wyoming, almost 30 hours since its departure. The sunset cast long shadows in front of him as he walked to the shoulder of the highway with his luggage. Hopefully he would catch a ride from a friendly stranger before dark.
"If I don't hear from you after this, you're scum," Trish said with a wink in Tom's direction, handing her credit card to the clerk at the Greyhound bus station. Tom hadn't asked her to front him the $203 ticket to get home. She had insisted. He felt a little guilty for his debt to her. She had taken him into her home after his car accident, fed him, shown him some good times, given him a chance when she had no reason to, and now this.
Ethel's movements hurt more than ever as she licked the last drop from the upturned canteen. Her right leg was still propped on the rock it had been on all night, and every shift in her body hinged on the spike of pain that emanated from her broken ankle. The second night in the southwest desert had been longer than the first, but she'd managed a few fits of sleep. Now she was out of water, a dreaded moment she had tried not to think about before.
For a while all Thomas could do was wander from the slushy road to his wrecked car in the trees, then back out to the road. There was a numb shock to his mind. He couldn't quite believe the implications of what had just happened, let alone imagine what to do next. ... He was utterly alone in the silent, black moment. ... Six hundred miles away in the desert of the Utah-Nevada-Arizona borders, Tom's mother was settling in for a hard night as well.
Ravens spiraled playfully on the updrafts. Thomas could almost touch them as he dangled his toes over the sheer cliff, kicking his feet into the air rising from the valley floor. "Come play. Come play," the ravens seemed to say. ... Thomas imagined a shark trying to trick him into diving out of a lifeboat. The ravens were so friendly and playful it was hard to trust them, though he wanted to.
Where am I? Ethel wondered when she woke. The 72-year-old was cold and stiff from sleeping on the desert slickrock. For a moment she felt like she couldn't sit up. Her neck hurt to move. Even her eyes – crusted from the powdery dust of the land – struggled to open. ... Then she remembered the BANG under the hood and coasting to a stop on the shoulder of the road.
This story is a second chapter to last week's story, "The Lotto Winner."
Tom hung up the payphone and lingered a moment in the stale fluorescent light of the shabby booth. Things weren't going well with his mom. What happened between them? She didn't approve of his new lifestyle, that was obvious.
Ethel's heart skipped. She pulled the freshly lit cigarette from her lips and set it into the ashtray. It smoldered while she stared at the six numbers in the newspaper. They matched! They matched? Couldn't be. That kind of thing never happened to her. But they matched the lotto ticket in her hand all right.