The Joni Mitchell song was playing in his head when he stepped out of the car onto the highway. The salt lick – it was for her cows, she’d said, but he thought it might be laced with LSD – lay on the floor of the front seat where he’d been sitting. “Bye,” she said, waving, “and good luck!” He looked down the highway, took a breath. She sped into traffic. He watched her yellow truck merge onto the Merritt Parkway South. The sun was beginning to set.
He stuck his thumb out, into the wind of the passing cars. Endured the stares – the gawping children, the mothers with their looks of surprised disgust, the firm fathers. He read fear, and felt scary somehow. This gave him courage. He was wearing moccasins. They weren’t actually moccasins, but he’d read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and felt a connection, so he had put on his Sears slippers before leaving – furry on the inside, leather outside. Close enough, he thought.
He walked backwards and hitched, even though his father lived 200 miles away. He thought it showed some initiative, and he needed to distinguish himself from the bums he’d seen out there. If he had been an Indian, he would walk the whole way.
The cars began to spin a little, or weave, or maybe he was losing his balance. Maybe it really was acid – he waited for the hallucinations to start. There were no rides on this stretch of road. It began to drizzle. Headlights came on. He retreated into the bushes on the side of the road to have a smoke.
When he woke up, it was dark. There were no cars. He realized he’d been asleep for a long time, but he didn’t have a watch. Three a.m.? He walked onto the highway. The white stripes seemed exceptionally long compared to what you saw from a car, driving at 60 mph. He kept looking down the road, waiting for traffic that didn’t come. The rain had stopped and clouds were clearing. Stars winked.
He sat on the pavement of the highway, lining up the soles of his moccasins with the white line, and then he lay back, spread his arms. He could see stars, patterns he couldn’t name. If he were more Indian, he could tell the time. He would know when the moon would rise.
He was standing on one bare foot — like a crane, he thought — when he saw the car approaching in the distance. It came closer, headlights clearing a path through the dark.