Chapter 3 - Terrie
When she looked around, all she saw was white. But no, not white, not dark, not anything. Every time she tried to name the color of the haze that danced across her eyes it would shift, become something different, defy definition. She looked down at her arms. They looked for a moment as they always did—thick and dark, age spots dappling trails down to her veiny hands. But then she blinked, and the image faded, and her arms went white, then thin, then limp, and finally nothing at all. She felt something catch in her throat, not bile, but the memory of it. She tried to look around, but all she could see, all around her in every direction, was the haze. Like amniotic fluid suspending her in a great womb. With considerable effort, she took a step forward. But it wasn’t a step, and when she looked down to try and find the legs that had carried her all of her 47 years all she found was her body, smooth and colorless as the water’s surface, sliding slowly across a floor she could not see. The sound of a bell flowed into her mind. She remembered its tone, though she couldn’t place it. But each time it pealed, she felt it resonate with something deep within her, as though it carried a message meant only for her. She strained her ears, willing the sound to form a story in her mind that would reveal to her the truth and set right the world again, bring her back to the her that she knew, but all it did was ring, and ring, and ring, and ring, and ring, and ring, and ring.
Terrie awoke with a start to the sound of her phone’s alarm blaring in her ears. Her back throbbed with a familiar ache. She tried to reach for the phone to silence her alarm, but her arm didn’t respond and for a moment, she felt the bile of fear rise again in her throat. She looked down, but there was the arm, just as spotted and veiny as she remembered, pinned under her side, asleep on pins and needles. Slowly, she extricated it from beneath her and massaged it back to life. Nearly every morning she awoke with some new ache or pain from being cramped into the too-small bed. Seeing as most long-haul truckers were men, you’d think they would make the sleeper cabs long enough for a good night’s sleep. She was tall, but not that tall.
Uncurling herself from her hunched position, Terrie swung her legs over the side and sat up. Her spine groaned, straightening like an old hinge. Normally, she was up before her alarm, preferring to let the sun through the windshield wake her up naturally. But looking out, she could see why she’d been left in the dream—it was raining. Not hard, but enough that the world outside was a thick haze of gray. With her good arm, she reached over and silenced her phone. Seven o’clock. She usually liked to be on the road by now, but it had been a few days since she’d showered, and she knew her day would be miserable if she didn’t at least wash her face. Reaching into the sliding compartment under the bed, Terrie pulled out a rumpled gray hoodie, emblazoned on the front with a big scarlet hawk, and tugged it over her head. She then slid her bare feet into her large, black boots, and climbing over the driver’s seat, rolled through the door and out of the truck.
The asphalt parking lot had been stained a dark slate by the rain, and Terrie hiked the hood over her thin, dark curls and stuffed her hands in her front pocket. Head bent, she made for the dingy white door of the women’s bathroom, cut into the side of the small truck stop kiosk. In the early morning gray, the lot was fairly deserted. Besides her own truck, there were only three other eighteen-wheelers, lined up side by side about halfway between her and the bathroom. Standing together in front of them were three men, each one rounder than the last, sucking on cigarettes and Styrofoam coffee cups. Even from far away she could hear the grating sputter of their laughter, humoring a joke she didn’t want to hear. She had heard them all before. As she approached, she hiked up her shoulders, hiding behind her hood, holding her breath. Their voices went quiet as she passed, and for a moment, there was a stillness in the morning air. But then she heard a muffled comment and the men resumed their laughter. She felt the hair on her neck bristle.
The bathroom was not the worst she had ever seen, but all the same, she did her best to touch as little as possible. At least it had a door that locked. With the deadbolt thrown, she breathed a sigh and pulled the hoodie back over her head, then the t-shirt underneath, leaving her standing in only her shorts and faded gray muscle shirt. Running the water, she splashed a handful on her face, then pumped out a glob of soap and rubbed it in her armpits, rinsing off one by one in the sink. In her first few months on the road, she had tried so hard to stick to a regular hygiene schedule, taking advantage of every shower facility she passed. But the further you drive, the more money you make, and over the years the cumulative amount of time she’d spent in the presence of another person, let alone one whose opinion she cared about, was negligible enough to make her rethink her routines. Before long, you get used to the smell of yourself.
Drying off with a handful of paper towels, Terrie redressed and pushed her way back out into the rain. It had let up some, and was now coming down in a fine mist. It must be nearly quarter passed, she thought, and if she hurried, she could have coffee in hand and be on the road before seven-thirty. She reached into her back pocket for her wallet, but quickly realized in the scurry of the morning, she’d forgotten to pull on her jeans over her shorts. Her money was still in the truck. She’d have to go back and get it.
The three round men were still in position, one leaning against the grill of his truck. But this time, as she approached, she heard an audible shush, and his compatriots went quiet. She only looked up when she saw his shoes slide into her line of sight.
“Hey,” he said, as though she’d said it first.
When she scanned her eyes up his body, she was surprised to find herself looking down on him. For as wide as he was, he stood about two inches shorter than her. He wore a blue checkered shirt, and his belly hung down over the waist of his jeans, like an awning bogged down by the rain. His moustache was patchy in places.
“Hey,” she said. She kept her face flat.
They stood in silence for a moment, sizing each other up. Then, rearing back his neck, he shot a line of spit down to the pavement by his feet.
“You sure you know how to drive that thing?”
It took her a moment to realize he was referring to her truck. She sucked in air deep through her nostrils, pulling in the scent of tobacco smoke and dime store deodorant. She couldn’t tell who it belonged to. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t been asked this before, hadn’t been accused of sitting in her daddy’s truck, but what particularly made her blood boil this time was the way he spit before he said it. As if the very thought was a bile in his mouth. She sucked in a second breath, filling her lungs with enough of his stink to spit on him her own string of vile words, to tell him all the places she’d been, all the things she’d been through, all the men bigger and badder than him she’d had to step over to carve out a space for herself in the sleeper compartment of that truck, but as she opened her mouth to unleash on him, the air around them warped and suddenly she was back in the dream, a strange, colorless blob on the landscape, faced with a lump of transparent flesh just the same as her. Their paunches were the same, their faces the same, the hair on their legs and their armpits the same. And then just as quickly, they were back, opposing forces on the blacktop. But the air was gone from her lungs, and all she could muster was a forceful step forward, landing a shoulder into his, pushing him out of her way. She would go without her coffee this morning. She had places to be.