Monday, June 23, 2014

Just Passing Through: The Stranger

Marlborough Man

Magnetism:  one of the Six Fundamental Forces of the Universe, with the other five being Gravity, Duct Tape, Whining, Remote Control, and The Force That Pulls Dogs Toward The Groins Of Strangers.” ~Dave Barry

A Short Story

by CJ Heck

People who know me know I’m well-grounded, practical, fairly logical, painfully honest, and I don’t believe in love at first sight. However, I do believe in something at first sight -- but wait, I’ll tell you what happened. You decide.

I find it interesting, what our senses can pull out of the recesses of our mind into the now, with a smell, a taste, even a sound we heard a long time ago. Something, anything, can be recalled and relived, as though it happened only minutes ago.

There’s a whole day like that and it lingers, hidden in my mind, until my senses suddenly bring it up and out.

I can still taste the gritty dust the wind blew across my face on a sweltering summer’s day; still hear the ding-ding-ding at the old-fashioned red and white gas pumps, as someone filled their tank, and I can still smell the mingled aromas of diesel and gas.

As I recall, it was the middle of August, during what we called 'the dog days of summer'. It was stinking hot. I was on a road trip to nowhere in particular, just going from here to there, and taking a few days to do it.

I had stopped for gas and an orange soda at a truck stop somewhere along a two-lane road. I remember the hot wind blowing dust, and it was gritty, and it covered everything that got in its way.

Not ready to get back inside the steamy car, I sat on a large rock under the only tree I could find, savoring the ice cold soda and mopping the sweat and grime from my face and neck with a wet paper towel from the ladies room.

I remember hearing door hinges whining in protest and as I glanced up, I saw a man, a perfect stranger, climbing out of an old blue pickup parked to the side of the gas pumps.

He was walking straight towards me, wearing run-down leather boots and the wind was ruffling his sandy blond hair. Even now, I’m not sure why I was so mesmerized by the sight of him, but I was.

I can still see him walking.  He was tall and wiry, with long legs moving him along in a slow, bowlegged stride that literally reinvented the swagger. It was pure poetry.

As he got closer, I saw a tanned face road mapped with lines, and he was squinting at me through ice-blue eyes.

When he caught me staring, he touched a finger to the hat cocked to one side, threw me a wink, a quick nod, and then a crooked smile. “Maaa’am.” That’s all he said, but it was enough. I had heard his Texas drawl.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but when he passed by, my eyes were drawn to the back of those tight worn jeans and the perfect butt that filled them.  Lord, I hope my mouth was closed.

It wasn’t that he was Marlboro-Man handsome.  What he did have was a rugged muscular look, one that hinted of riding horses, squinting into the sun all day and sleeping under the stars at night. It was all of that, and being perfectly packaged in tight jeans and a blue plaid shirt with pearl snaps and rolled up sleeves.

My emotions ran high that afternoon so long ago. Maybe it was the love I had for westerns as a child, maybe his Texan drawl -- I guess I'll never really know.  The only thing that ever passed between us was a wink, a nod, and a crooked smile.

But I’ll never forget the day when I fell --- not in love, but definitely something, by the side of the road with a man I never met ... someone just passing through.

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

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