This was it. The defining moment. The critical juncture.
Take the ride? Or pass?
She climbed into the vintage red pick-up, set the army green backpack (much heavier now than when she struck out on her 18th birthday), between battered ruby tennis shoes.
“Broker,” she gave the driver a slight smile. “I’m heading to Broker.”
White walls kicked up a trail of New Mexico dust as they pulled onto Highway Seven.
“Figured,” the old black man extended a hand. “Tobias Rainer.”
Arnica accepted the offering. “Arnica.”
She watched from the corner of her eye. The gut hearing declared him safe enough, but occasionally, like that time in Mississippi, her gut went askew.
“So, you have family in Broker?” Tobias asked.
“Not anymore.” Not any that counts.
Tobias’ steady eyes never left the endless expanse of blacktop.
Arnica relaxed into cool white leather seats. “My sister died.”
“My condolences.” Tobias offered.
Whitewalls huffed against heat-blasted asphalt in soothing rythmic breaths as the pick-up transgressed the desert. Arnica’s lids drooped.
“Jericho.” Uncommitted eyelids finally chose a side. “Her name is Jericho.”
“Unusual,” Tobias murmured.
Not really. But she wasn’t about to confess a raging religious alcoholic mother; who birthed two daughters by different men within two years, and stopped the endless pursuit of self-pleasure only as long as it took to name them. Wouldn’t violate the sanctity of the cozy old truck with tales of sexual abuse, hunger, and beatings which peppered her childhood...
She knew the dream.
Dread lodged like a locust in her throat.
A weed ridden path to the tired three room shack of childhood, roof gone, walls crumbling, she circled the house; dust puffed up between dirty bare toes.
Jericho wept inside.
Arnica called out, again and again, desperate for her sister; desperate for her life’s anchor.
“Peace. Peace. ” A new voice encouraged from behind her. “He’s sleeping.”
Arnica turned toward the voice housed in a large black man with a short-circuited aura blinking off and on about his person. He stood on the grassless lawn in pristine bare feet holding an infant.
In the part of her mind still chained to reality, she snorted. Even in dreams she did not believe such things!
“He needs you.”
Arnica lifted her hands. “No!” How could she possibly love the child responsible for her sister’s death?
“You love your sister,” he whispered. “She loves this child. Can you find no room in your heart for someone your sister holds so dear?”
Arnica looked back at the stained white clapboards, bitter memories dark upon her brow. And in that place, the dark place civilized people rarely acknowledge, that place of gut hearing, she knew Jericho wept for her baby. Wept for his future.
The black man held the child out.
The dream fell apart.
“Here we are,” Tobias stopped the pick-up just inside Broker’s city limit.
Arnica stared at the black man for a long suspicious second.
“Thanks,” she offered.
“You’re welcome.” Tobias said. “Peace to you now girl.”
The red pick-up performed a U-Turn and cruised back out of town.
Arnica squinted against the southwest sun until the pickup was nothing more than a seed on the horizon.
Hefting the backpack to fit more comfortably, she walked toward the heart of Broker. And for the first time in many years...her gut sang.