And the Frog

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13

Luckily, driving on the interstate in El Paso inhibits thinking. The roads and overpasses seemed to resemble a tangled mass of yarn, the cars tiny honking ants scrambling about on every thread. It was so chaotic that it felt deliberate, or at least that was how Emma felt because Marigold very much fit the part of villain in the current arc of her life’s tale and therefore she wanted reasons to dislike her. Though she did realize full well that without Marigold she would have no idea where she was going and would most probably end up crashing (and then maybe this entire predicament would start over again).

Emma was directed swiftly and succinctly. “Get in to the leftmost lane, now, you’re good, take the third exit, watch for the idiot in the Chevy.” She would’ve appreciated Marigold’s assistance if it hadn’t been her who 1) brought them here and 2) made Emma drive in the first place. Also she wanted to murder her, so, lest we forget, villain.

“Look to the right,” said Marigold among her litany of directives, “Mexico.”

Emma looked, and Marigold sat back in her seat so that she could see out of the passenger side window. It was true, less than half a mile way it seemed a new land rose up. It was colorful, if dull. At a glance she saw, underneath a ridge of mountains, what immediately looked like houses stacked onto each other, sprouting from each other. It was like an entirely different civilization had been carried on the back of a massive whale, which collided into the North American continent and died, never to move again. At least that was all that came to her in the moment, as it really was just a glance because after a second or two Marigold said, “Alright, it’s just Juarez. Eyes the road,” which was fair because that is where one’s eyes should be, on the road. “Get off up here. We’re going to one of my favorite motels.”

Emma furrowed her eyebrows. “We’re in an RV. Why would we pay for a motel?”

“Please. You think John ever slept in this thing?” Marigold returned her feet to the dashboard, which she’d done four or five times as they’d been going. Well, it was true that the bed was covered in various things and was clearly not utilized for recreational purposes, but she knew for empirical fact that the red recliner was very sleep-worthy, and John surely had a blanket and pillow stashed somewhere in Ferrule so that, when Marigold took the recliner, she could take the floor.

“I was under the impression, yes,” said Emma.

“Emma,” said Marigold, “Tillers don’t need to sleep.” Come to think of it, John never did. But really it hadn’t been all that long that she’d been with him, though she slept twice. Still, she wouldn’t expect a man of the age that he looked to be able to chug on for so long without a single snooze.

“Then why do we need a motel?” she asked.

“Because, stupid, this one is my favorite.” Oops, Emma had forgotten to stop asking questions. “And besides,” continued Marigold, “I don’t want to be one of those people that parks an RV overnight it a Walmart parking lot.” She couldn’t help but agree there, though almost definitely for a different reason. She felt at this point that Walmarts were where integral things happened, where she decided to travel with John Bain, and where she’d first encountered Marigold. She’d rather have learned a bit more before she moved on to the next phase of this journey, so she was alright with avoiding Walmart.

Marigold went on pointing her to this and that turn, taking her feet on and off the dashboard, where dirt marks were becoming a bit too dominant. Emma had always liked putting her feet up during long car rides too, if she was being honest. Saphal would always slap her lightly in the thigh and tell her to at least take her shoes off first, and when he did he’d say something like oh right I forgot, your feet smell like if cheese could sweat, and she would take a sock off and drop it in his lap. And then when they switched off and she was driving she’d do it with no shoes on so that he couldn’t tell her to put them on, and, and she suddenly remembered that she’d been driving. When they crashed, she’d been driving.

“Oh,” she said out loud.

“Oh what?”

She wasn’t about to share that thought. “Just realized that Atlas is a great name for a big dog,” she said, proud of how fast that lie had come for her.

“Liar,” said Marigold. “We’re here, it’s up on the left.” She pointed with her chin, and up the road and on the left, beyond a Wendy’s, was a La Quinta Inn.

“The La Quinta?” said Emma.

“Yep.”

“I thought you said we were going to your favorite motel.”

“I did say that we were going to my favorite motel. Pull in.” Marigold pointed at the entrance to the lot. Emma turned in.

“Your favorite motel is a La Quinta?”

“Your have an issue with that?” Not an issue, per se. She picked a parking spot in the lot that ran alongside the building, and parking facing toward the Wendy’s. There weren’t a great many other cars with them. As she put Ferrule in park, she looked out the window and consciously realized for the first time that it was night. She’d always been the type of person that didn’t pay much attention to her surroundings during long drives, apparently even when she was the one driving. Her brain liked keeping itself occupied too much to notice many real-world details. Though not even registering the time of day was admittedly extreme. She must’ve been pretty mentally battered. She shook her head and returned to the present conversation. Marigold had already opened her door and was stretching her back, just like Emma did after sleeping.

“It’s just a La Quinta.”

“Is it?” Marigold said as she left the cab. Yes.

Marigold left the passenger side door open. “Guess I’ll get that,” Emma said to herself as she climbed out, or intended only to say it to herself.

“Do what you want,” she heard Marigold call as she walked away. She walked to the back end of the Ferrule and saw Marigold reach the side door to the motel and open it. The Woman turned and said, “Can’t move that thing without a Tiller, and I don’t give any shits whether someone steals John’s junk.”

Yes, Marigold, it was blatantly established by this point that you weren’t fond of John. Emma looked up at the clouded night sky and down at the asphalt in the lot. So much asphalt in her life lately. There was a Mountain Dew bottle on the ground, freshly spilled, contents spilled out in front of it like a glimmering little river system. She went around to the other side of the RV and closed the door and through the window saw a revolver had been left on the seat. She sighed, turned, and began walking toward the La Quinta. She stepped over the Mountain Dew river, and stopped to consider whether she should throw the bottle away. Did she really want to actively alter the state of anything, now that she knew life wasn’t what she thought? She once thought littering was harmful, but she also once that she’d never speak to her grandmother again. Maybe those two things weren’t exactly logical to compare, but she was tired so she went with it. No, she decided. Leave the bottle where it lies. And as she continued walking toward the La Quinta side door, she realized that she’d seen a revolver sitting on the passenger seat of Ferrule.

Her eyes widened, the way any character’s do when their struck with a game-changing revelation. She spun on her feet and quickly returned to the RV. There it was, sitting in the dark, either John or Marigold’s gun – probably John’s, as she assumed Marigold would be apt at keeping track of her own gun. She tried the door. Locked. And she’d closed it herself. Nuts.

Well, that couldn’t stop her, could it? Her life was on the line, after all. She tried the door handle again, because you should always try it again, to be sure. She tried the driver’s side, the back, the side doors. All locked. What? She’d never seen John lock a single one. Then again, she herself had never opened one from the outside, either. This was a think fast situation, which Emma was not particularly skilled in handling. She needed . . . she needed to break that window. Screw unaltered states. She flipped around, scanned. Between the La Quinta lot and the Wendy’s lot was a stretch of gravel. She marched into it and crunched around on the rocks for a bit before she found the biggest one and scooped it up. Back to the passenger side window, and she cranked back her arm and –

“You gonna break into that RV?”

Good gravy, her heart skipped a beat and she turned to see an old man, all bundled up in a knit hat and jacket although it wasn’t all that cold.

“Its . . . said Emma, “mine.”

The old man squinted at her for a bit and then said “Oh,” and went on his way.

Emma turned back to the window, momentum having been stunted, and saw her reflection. Messy dark red-brown hair, freckles on the nose, jaw wider than she would’ve liked. She hadn’t seen it in a while, but she recognized it. Was that really the face of someone who broke into RV’s to get guns? Was she really going to do this?

Yes. “Sorry, John,” she whispered and she smashed the rock right into the reflection of her nose. It didn’t break all the way through, just cracked a white spider web into the glass. For a moment she wondered why the top window was bullet proof and this one wasn’t, and in the next moment she hit it again. It took one more smash to render the door windowless, and she swiped away enough of the glass to reach in. She paused. Best not cut herself; it would be hard to hide blood from Marigold, or lie an any sort of a convincing manner. So, somewhat gingerly, she reached in and grasped the barrel of the revolver, and pulled it out. She looked around, more than half expected Marigold to have been watching from behind, her own gun trained on Emma the entire time.

But she was alone. She walked to the end of Ferrule and surveyed the lot. Even the old man was gone. Fantastic. And now she had a revolver which, from what she understood, could at least put Marigold down temporarily like it had John. Hit snooze on her. She looked down at the gun, which she was still holding by the barrel. That seemed wrong. She stuck that end down into the waistband at the back of her pants, like people do on TV, with the handle out. She felt it nudge the screwdriver in her back pocket. Then she pulled the back of her shirt over it. It felt secure enough.

Goodness, what was she doing? This would be a logical time to start hyperventilating, she thought. She flicked her head to one side to try to crack her neck, which didn’t work, then walked to the side door of the La Quinta.

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