The desert landscape stretched out on either side of the black tongue of road in expanses of flat tan earth and distant purple peaks interrupted by the occasional sequoia. The old Dodge Dart rumbled along that line, a streak of pale banana yellow with chrome fenders and black wheels and white letters spinning so that they were a white line racing around and around on the surface of dark rubber.
Inside it was difficult to hear the radio over the roar of the air outside engulfing and rattling the old vehicle as it sped along. It was now picking up mostly static anyway. With one hand on the wheel, Daniel reached for the silver knob of the radio tuner, a burning cigarette poised between his index and middle finger so that he manipulated the dial between his thumb and ring finger. More static rose, some talk, then he tried the AM and at last clicked it off.
The wind roared in through the open window and he put the cigarette in his mouth and inhaled and switched hands so that he could let one arm rest on the open window and the other could cling to the wheel. His black hair rose in a wave at the crown of his head, rippling in the chaotic current of air. A green rectangle appeared on the right shoulder and grew in size as he approached it. It informed him in neat white letters that Phoenix was 250 miles away.
The sun was beginning to descend behind those distant peaks leaving a purple and orange band in the sky. He estimated that in another three or four hours he would arrive. And then what? Well he would get a room, of course, and then dial the most precious number in the little black book residing in the back pocket of his blue jeans. Or maybe he’d just find his way straight to the address that was written in wavering blue ink under the phone number, all of which was scrawled under the name “Sue” on the first page marked by the tab labeled “Q, R, S”. He would park against the curb in front of a house with a lawn of white quartz rock glittering under the moonlight and make his way up the Astroturf carpeted front walk. With the hand that was now on the steering wheel, he would then rap on the door and there would be shuffling inside and the sound of muffled voices as her grandparents wondered who it could be. Then the door would open a crack and blue eyes would peer out and widen in disbelief and the door would be opened wider and Sue would cry,
“Daniel!” and then she would at last know that he loved her because he had crossed the Mojave to find her.
As the desert air cooled he took a last drag off the cigarette and dropped the glowing butt out the window so that it hit the asphalt and showered tiny red sparks into the darkness.
The sun finally disappeared entirely and purple night wrapped itself around the lone vehicle cruising over the endless road. Now he turned on the headlights and they illuminated only the small patch of highway ahead of him. Chilled by the impending desert night, Daniel rolled the window up, and it was then, just as it closed, that there was a tremendous POP! And a thunka, thunka, thunka, and he had to grab the wheel with both hands to maintain control of the Dart and pull it over onto the dusty shoulder of the road.
He sat quietly with both hands on the steering wheel after the engine had been turned off. The silence cloaked him under the emergent twinkling of stars and deepening of night. The full knowledge that the spare tire wasn’t there crept over him and he continued to sit still feeling the vision of Susan fade away to be replaced by a small nagging creature; a little thing that was formless and faceless and caused goose bumps to form on his forearms. A thing called dread. Dread, bathed in isolation and the splendor of an awakening black night.