Henry sat on the guardrail at the top of the onramp thumbing for rides with absolutely no enthusiasm. A man sat half-heartedly from its perch atop an industrial steel pole a mile above him. Seemed neither of them were particularly into their jobs tonight.
He glanced at his watch only to find a bare wrist. He’d made the same stupid move a dozen times today and seemed incapable of learning from the results. His watch had taken its leave of him. It was probably in a better place, probably sharing the good company of his wallet, belt, jacket, tie, and socks.
Judging by the juxtaposition of the moon, stars, and streetlamp, he guessed it to be somewhere in the vicinity of ten or eleven. By his reckoning, Mrs. Pena had left his company around seven o’clock that evening. He’d spent the next half hour walking from the rest area to the next exit just so he could turn around and start hitchhiking west. That meant he’d been sitting here on this miserable on-ramp for at least a solid three and a half fruitless hours now.
His mind was a slowly spinning vat of sludge. He wanted nothing more than to bury himself in the dirt and sleep. He’d seriously considered walking back to the rest area and hunkering down behind the locked door of a toilet stall for a few hours. But this was the Wild, Wild West, after all, and the fear of patrolling sheriffs and drifting outlaws gave the plan a safety rating of ‘Inadvisable’. At best.
So here he sat.
He dragged the hair back from his face and sighed. At least he was clean. Well… cleaner. The soaps provided by Josho had helped a bit. And even if they hadn’t, at least he’d tried. Anyway, that was his story, and he was sticking to it.
Mrs. Pena’s pizza, God Bless Her Soul, had done wonders to bring him back to a shadow of his former self. That bit of food and the lukewarm cola had done more to reverse his headache than even the Vicodin. In fact, he hadn’t taken anymore V’s since those first two back in the Josho Phase of this ridiculous dream.
Still, as he thought about it, he wondered if it was the pizza at all. Mrs. Pena was one hell of a strange bird. She was uptight, ridiculously serious, and completely self-righteous. And she was better at his game than he was. She’d actually managed to get him to talk. A little, anyway. And not just because she was so damned intimidating, either. He’d liked talking to her, though he’d vehemently deny it if asked publicly. If they’d been in a different time and a better venue, he probably would’ve ended up telling her everything. He wondered how things might have worked out if he’d known her back when…
He stood up and dug her card out of his pocket. He turned and held it up to the trembling light.
Ximena J. Pena, MSW.
Healthcare for the Homeless
“Ximena,” he read out loud, “Hee may nya.”
It was an interesting first name. He liked the way it somersaulted off his tongue. “I’m Hee may nya. Hee may nya J. Pay nya.”
He laughed at that. The whole thing still seemed surreal, like a dream that clings long after you wake, and the images have faded, and all you’re left with is the good vibes.
This small, Hispanic woman with her lavender pantsuit, and that optimistically white purse, and those laser eyes was the very last person on this miserable planet he’d ever expected to take an interest in him. But she’d knocked him clean on his ass, hadn’t she? Then she’d pulled him up from the dirt and yelled at him hard enough to hear. Despite his sincerest efforts to resist, she’d somehow made contact.
“Mrs. Ximena J. Pena,” he said. And then he tucked the card back into his pocket. He had the feeling he might be using it someday.