Lucy’s sister had this friend just outside Thermopolis, Wyoming whom Lucy had promised to visit on her way home from San Diego. They were supposed to meet at Thermopolis Hardware twenty minutes ago. Lucy kept expecting, hoping that she’d drive over the next rise or around the next nearly-bare mountain and be there.
Lucy’s phone was dead. “Could you let her know I’m running late?” Lucy asked the waxing moon when it was out from behind a passing peak. She imagined living her life here as an evergreen tree standing in a cluster clinging to dusty life on some mountainside overlooking a river. A huddle of white RVs she’d seen around a small lake ten minutes back had inspired the vision and Lucy smiled when she realized it.
It was nearly an hour after she said she’d be there when she finally saw the big rectangular sign and pulled into the parking lot past a pretty, but sagging wooden fence that maybe didn’t speak highly of the expertise of the shop employees. She stepped out of her Civic and stretched. The car was clicking and clanging, relieved to have stopped. Lucy looked again at the fence and realized that what had looked to her like sagging was actually part of the construction—where your average fence had a single upright post, this fence had two, sometimes crossed near the middle of their length, sometimes joined at the top. She guessed that this type of fence had some significance around these parts.
She laughed at the phrase, “around these parts.”
Thermopolis Hardware was closed. The Super 8 Motel next door might let her plug her phone in, at least long enough to text Jill and apologize for being so late.
Lucy lay her arms across the bottom of the surfboard strapped belly up to the roof of her car.
She lowered her arms to her side and looked toward the area of dark parking lot where the voice had come from. “Jill?”
Jill’s saunter was all cowgirl, but her aggressively asymmetrical bob, her loose black dress and her bright yellow belt were something else entirely.
“Sorry I’m late, eh.”
“Pretty hard to predict ETA when you’re driving thousands of miles.”
“I would have texted, but my phone died. I think its batteries are fucked.” Plus, Lucy had spent all day texting pictures of her drive to Olivia back in San Diego, a so-far-fruitless conciliatory gesture, an effort to enact her parting promise that they could ‘still be friends.’
Jill was standing looking up at Lucy. “Are we gonna hug? Christine’s a real hugger.”
“We don’t have to.” Suddenly Lucy missed her sister. “Christine does love hugs, eh?”
“I think we should. Just to honour her.”
Jill’s breasts pressed against Lucy’s abdomen. Against Lucy’s palms, Jill’s shoulder blades felt like pieces of delicate, handmade ceramic.
“That’s enough,” Jill said, patting Lucy’s back twice. “Kay. You’ll have to follow me.”
“Sure.”“I don’t know.”
“You’re probably sick of driving.”
“Well, that’s me.” Jill pointed to a tall pickup truck with doubled back tires. Lucy followed it down the dark back roads.
Jill’s place was a bungalow with wood siding. The kitchen light was on. Lucy could see devil’s ivy reaching three desperate, sparse vines along the windowsill. A creature ran out of the shadows straight for Lucy and she jumped. It was at her ankles, sniffing, before she realized it was a golden retriever. “Here, Chet,” Jill called and he flopped over to Jill, half-running, half-twisting in a whole-body wag. “That’s Lucy, Christine’s sister. Go say, Hi.” Chet obediently bounded over and rubbed his whole body against Lucy. “Okay, Chet, that’s enough.” Chet trotted off to the door.
Jill showed Lucy to the guest room. There was a faded, but beautiful quilt on a brass double bed. A cedar-lined closet gave the room a sauna scent.
Lucy fished her charger out from under a T-shirt of Olivia’s she’d accidentally taken. It had been an honest mistake, but Lucy worried how Olivia might perceive it. When she plugged her phone in, Lucy checked to see if Olivia had texted her back about the shirt yet. Or about any of the pictures of her drive.
Lucy unlocked her phone. There were no new texts, but she wasn’t actually sure that any texts would come in if her phone was off. Then she noticed that she had no bars.
“Do you want a glass of red wine,” Jill called from, Lucy presumed, the kitchen.
“Sure.” She moved the phone towards the window, the door, the corner, careful of course not to disconnect it. “Hey, do you get cell reception out here?”
“Sometimes.” Jill came to the door with Lucy’s wine. “Depends where you’re standing and probably on some other factors. Technology being tempermental. Weather changes. Celestial rhythms, maybe. I don’t know. I just have a land line.”
“I’ll try again later, I guess,” Lucy said.
“You can use my computer for internet, if you need it. Or you can use my phone, of course.”
Lucy wondered if she actually wanted to speak to Olivia. The answer was probably not.
In the kitchen, Jill handed Lucy a bowl of chili with some shredded cheddar on top, then invited Lucy to come to the front room and sit with her while she opened up a package she’d just received. “No idea what it is,” she said. “But my brother’s always sending me things. All the writing on it is Russian.”
“Like in Cyrillic?”
“I guess other places use that alphabet.”
“I think so. You’re probably right, though. It’s probably Russian.”
Lucy sat on the couch and ate chili from her lap. Jill lay the box out on the floor and cut the tape around the edges using a steak knife. When Jill put the knife on the coffee table, Lucy saw that it had a broken tip and that the wooden handle was splitting. “I think my grandmother had the same set.”
Lucy picked up the knife. “I think my grandmother had a set of these steak knives.”
“Oh. I think that was just in one of the drawers when I moved in.”
Lucy ran her thumb down the crack to see if it would give her a splinter, though she was probably pressing too lightly.
“You can take it,” Jill said.
“That’s okay. Thanks, though.”
Lucy put it back down.
The lid squeaked as it came off. Chet barked a reply, then started whining.
“It’s a telescope,” Jill said.
“Crazy. Your brother just sent that to you?”
“Right? He must have found some money.”
It was a big telescope. Like, probably not a cheap one.
Jill figured it was too late to call her brother to thank him. She took her time and figured out how to set the telescope up, despite the Cyrillic instructions written in whatever language.
Lucy washed her chili dish and spoon and, with Jill’s permission, poured them more wine. They moved to the back yard, where they sat on plastic deck chairs and took turns looking at various visible celestial bodies. Chet lay across some flagstones just past the parallelogram of light cast through the sliding door. Lucy looked at the surface of the moon out of curiosity and out of a sense of responsibility. Like, if you had the chance to meet in person someone with whom you had kept up a long and intimate correspondence. Her more intimate perspective provided no revelations, though, which was disappointing.
“I think I’ve gotta go to sleep,” Lucy said. “The wine. And the driving.”
“No need to explain. You need anything?”
Chet lifted his head when he heard the sliding door.
The quilt was heavy and reminded Lucy of the lead bibs they lay over your chest before an x-ray.
When Lucy woke, she was sure it had snowed. She’d probably had some dream about it. But no, summer was right where she’d left it. She looked at her phone. The battery was charged, but there were still no messages and still no service. She could hear Jill moving around in the kitchen and Lucy considered going to ask her which corner of the house or yard sometimes got service. Then Jill’s home phone rang, and Chet barked. Jill said something to Chet before answering the phone. From what words of Jill’s half of the conversation Lucy could hear, she understood that it was Jill’s brother calling back and that, yes, he had sent her the telescope. As far as he knew, the instructions should have been in English, but anyway they were probably available on-line.
Lucy smelled coffee and decided to get out of bed. The Sunday New York Times was on Jill’s kitchen table. They passed a quiet hour sipping coffee, eating toast and peanut butter and reading the news. Chet slept by the front door.
“It’s lovely here,” Lucy said. “Thank you for having me.”
“You don’t have to go,” Jill said. “Not yet.”
Lucy looked out the kitchen window. Her bright surfboard on the roof of her car seemed as out of place here as it did back home. She should have sold it in San Diego.
“You don’t mind? If I stay for a few hours?”
“A few days even. But I’d understand if you just wanted to get home,” Jill said.
“Can I play it by ear?”
“Of course. No problem.”
Lucy poured another cup of coffee.
Toronto, November 2015
Emoji sequence: Teresa Morrow, associate editor of Pilot