By Abigail Smathers
When my father dies, I’m twenty-eight. I never knew my mother. Was an only child. Lawyer, small firm. No interest in relationships. Straightforward, I’ve been told.
My father and I were estranged. Nine years spent estranged. The last time I saw him, he was shouting. He died from a stroke.
The funeral wasn’t big, wasn’t grand. My father didn’t know many people and only a few of them actually liked him. No one talked to me. No one knew I was the son. That was fine.
What wasn’t fine was the woman who thought the hood of my car was a sunbed.
The woman was auburn-haired and tanned with jeans so worn some parts of them looked white and she had a black tank top shrouded by an open green button-up. She was laying on a beach towel with dolphins on it that she had laid across the hood and she was playing with the sunglasses on her face.
“You keep staring at me like that, I’m gonna have to file for a restraining order.” She sat up on her elbow and, with her other hand, pulled down the shades so she could lock eyes with me. I tried not to look surprised, but hiding things was never my strong suit. I could tell she knew I was surprised to see her eyes were maroon. Like sunlight through a dirty red wine.
“I wasn’t staring. Get off my car.”
She smirked and slid off, dragging the towel with her and folding it up without breaking her gaze. “You know, my Daddy used to say I had the devil in my eyes.”
“Have a good day.” I said. I opened the door, entered, and closed it without paying her a second glance.
She leaned forward and tapped on the window. I looked up and she waved, pushing the sunglasses up her nose while I rolled down the window. She propped her forearms on the edge. “Jackson Paul Manchester, I expected more of you.”
I tried not to look surprised again. I failed.
She grinned and tilted her head, like she knew she had me, and pulled down her shades. “You know what your Daddy did when he told me that? He used to pick me up, swing me around, take my face in his hands and say, ‘Snipe, my girl, don’t you listen to your Daddy. You’ve got constellations in your eyes.’”
“‘Snipe’?” I said, my brows knit together in question. There were several things in what she said that made me wonder, but I kept it simple–would you have struck up a conversation with the woman who thought the roof of your car was the beach?
She pushed the shades back but her lips pierced, like she was disappointed. “M’name’s Snipe. You have any problems with that, Jackie Boy?”
I grimaced. “Don’t call me that.”
“So what do you think, Jackie Boy?” The name just felt natural. She didn’t emphasize it to prove a point, she didn’t put it there on purpose. It made sense for it to be there. “Do you see the devil in my eyes or do you see constellations?”
I put on shades of my own and muttered, “I don’t see anything.” I rolled up the window. She stepped back and looked neither surprised nor disappointed. More like she expected that. She started walking backwards towards an old fruit truck and waved.
“See you ‘round, California!” She called. She looked happy, now. “Hope you’ve got a rocketship, boy, I’m gonna show you the stars!”
She drove off in that old fruit truck. I thought I’d never see her again.
The next time I saw her was three a.m. the next morning and she was banging on my apartment door.
I was awake, believe it or not. A case had come into my law office that had required careful attention. Its complexity kept my mind working until the ringing of the doorbell made me question my sense of reality. I went to the door, looked through the peep-hole and saw nothing but an eye looking back at me. Yes, I jumped a little.
When I opened the door, she was wide awake and she had that terrible grin. “Scared you, didn’t I, Jackie Boy?”
“Don’t call me that.” I growled and walked towards the kitchenette, leaving the door open.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” She called, leaning in to take a look around.
I sent her an incredulous look while I prepared coffee. Not that it would taste very good, but it’d do its work. She shrugged and entered anyway.
“You packed?” She asked, strolling about the place with her hands behind her back like it was some children’s museum.
“Packed?” I questioned, because early in the morning, my mind tends to make up things when I don’t know what’s going on.
She gave me an unamused look. “You didn’t pack anything, did you.”
“Packed for what?” I murmured into the liquid at my lips. I’m almost certain this part is a dream. In fact, I don’t remember anything after she groaned and stormed into my bedroom. I had assumed it was a dream.
Until I woke up on an air mattress in the back of that damn fruit truck. Did I mention it was the most hideous shade of purple known to man? Not only that, but as I sat up, I quickly realized that we were driving through the city. My home city. Which happens to be Los Angeles. Do you see my problem? Being L.A., I doubt that this was the strangest thing most of the passerbys had seen, but it was the first time I was the subject of the strange happening. Some tourists took pictures. I never lived that down.
Then the sheer panic took over. Because I was in the back of that hideous purple fruit truck in my pajamas headed out of my home city away from my home and being driven by the maniac who thought car hoods were sunbeds and called herself Snipe.
“Rise and shine, Jackie Boy, we’ve got a new day!”
I turned my head to the voice and saw Snipe grinning wildly as she looked at me, her black shades casting glares as the sun hit them.
I was quite certain as to the classification of my predicament.
Kidnapped by a delirious homeless woman.
“Don’t you get no ideas about jumping ship when I stop, California.” Snipe said as she finally breached through the traffic. “First, you don’t know precisely where you are. Second, are you really going to assume the people you meet here will be as friendly as the people you’ll meet where we’re going? Third, I’ve already informed several people–including some of your bristley lawyer friends and your boss–that you will be taking a lovely vacation. If you cry wolf, they’re not coming. We good?”
“You–you talked to my boss?” I asked, stumbling forward to speak through the little window as she sped up. This did not seem the safest of places to be.
“Oh, yes, very nice woman, very understanding.” She called back. She turned around purposefully and seemed to note my uncomfortable predicament before returning her attention to the task at hand and pulling over when she had the chance. “I’ve got a grand idea, Jackie Boy. Why don’t you come sit with me up front? Sound a plan?”
I practically ran from the truck bed and pinched my finger in the seat belt buckle.
Snipe snorted a laugh and crossed her arms, leaning back against the window and watching me like a snake.
I sent her a questioning look, but she continued to stare.
“Snipe’s not your real name, is it.”
Her left eyebrow and the right corner of her lip raised. “What’s it to you? Got a problem with calling me that?”
I shrugged. “It’s a funny name.”
She groaned and slapped my shoulder. “Don’t go around insulting what people prefer to be called, you hear me? It’ll save you a lot of aching arms in the future.” She pointed at me when I gave her a look and I did my best to clear that up quickly.
She was staring at me again. Expectantly.
Hesitantly, I asked, “What do you want with me, anyway?”
She started clapping. “There it is! That’s the question I was waiting for! You sure know how to beat around a rather large and strangely coloured bush, my friend.” Her maroon eyes flashed with eagerness. “Get comfy, California, I’m gonna lecture you and if your ears bleed, you will be kicked out of this vehicle faster than you got in, we clear?”
I nodded. She turned to face me and for the first time, I saw a look of hesitancy dart across her face. She recovered swiftly.
“It’s like this, you see.” She liked to gesture a lot with her hands as she spoke. “I’m here because your Daddy wanted me to be here. For no other reason but his, understand? You and he didn’t get along too well, so I’m told. But he and I? We were a lot closer. Your Daddy left some nice legal stuff for you, but what he left me was a mission and an adventure. The money also helped a bit, but that’s not the point.” She was gesticulating so violently, I was worried she may hit herself–or me. “The point is, there were some things your Daddy wanted to show you before he died and he never got the chance, so he asked me to do it for him. Now, I don’t know what kind of man you thought your Daddy was, but I wouldn’t let the man I knew down for the world, so you’ve got your chance to leave now, if you want.”
I blinked. “What?”
She rolled her eyes and repeatedly slapped my arm with both hands as she said, “If you want to leave, get out!” She stopped and looked dead serious. Sad, too. “I won’t follow you, I won’t knock on your door at unnatural hours and you won’t ever see me or The Turnip ever again.” She crawled over me, opened my door and held out her hand as if to display something great before my eyes. “There’s your scape-goat. Take it or leave it
I looked from her to the door.
I won’t lie, I hated my father for a very long time before it melted down to mild rage. We’re talking about the kind of man who demanded excellence in everything I ever did through verbal emotional abuse and came home drunk four out of five times I saw him. I slept in the closet a good portion of my childhood because he couldn’t figure out how to unlock the door in his fits. He was content to scream abuse at me through the wall. I went to his funeral to make sure he was dead.
But then this woman turns up and tells me that he was a decent man. This woman–whose name is Snipe–who practically kidnapped me is sitting here telling me my father had some alter ego and grander plan to show me something before he died. Didn’t she also mention that she got his money? I had never asked who had. I’d assumed it went to pay off debts.
I reached for the door and felt her tense.
“I have your family picture.”
My eyes widened and I whipped my head to face her. She didn’t look proud about what she had said. There didn’t need to be any more explanation–I knew exactly what she was talking about.
A few months before my mother died, she had our family of three get decent pictures from a photographer. I was barely two months. Over time, the photographs dwindled to a single special picture that was given an oak frame. My father kept that picture on the mantle. I had never gone back to that house. It had been given to someone else. I remembered what she had said earlier about receiving his money. It made sense that she would get the house, too.
I was surprised, in spite of the shock of the moment, at how disappointed she looked. She was upset it had come down to a photograph to decide whether I stayed or left. I was surprised at how much her disappointment hurt me.
I stared at the door
and closed it.
“Where are we going?” I offered a smile that I hoped would help.
A massive grin lit up her face and she returned her shades to the bridge of her nose and started up the truck. “That is for me to know and you to find out, Jackie Boy.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Oh, you love it.”
“What’s ‘The Turnip’?”
“That is the name of this magnificent machine you are presently sitting in. My Granddaddy was a farmer and used to fill the back of this darling to the brim with turnips to take to markets. People would drive for miles just to be able to have the chance to purchase his turnips.”
“You’re either telling the truth or you’re an incredibly good liar.”
“Got any more questions in that hackey-sack of a head, you got there?”
“Can I see your driver’s license?”
She smirked and pointed to the glove compartment on the passenger seat. “In there, in a little purse. Only take the little purse, California. If I catch you lookin’ at anything else, you better believe I’ll give those pretty eyes of yours some nice black shading.”
I stifled a laugh and popped open the compartment. I could tell she was watching me, but I couldn’t help noticing the other things nestled beside her purse. An envelope with the name ‘Snipe Kiwi’ on it. A notebook puffed up from useage. A folder overflowing with papers. She slapped my arm so I grabbed the purse and slammed the glove compartment shut. I couldn’t help but wonder if she kept the photograph in there.
She didn’t say anything else as I sifted through the purse and procured the license. I must’ve gawked when I read the name on the license because Snipe started laughing uncontrollably. It legitimately said her name was Snipe Kiwi. I looked at the birthday and swallowed.
Snipe Kiwi was nineteen.
“This is a fake.”
“This has to be a fake.”
“If I wasn’t on a time crunch, I’d stop wherever to get it verified. It’s not a fake.”
“Your name is not Snipe Kiwi.” I stated. “And you’re a kid, what are you doing going around kidnapping people for a dead man?”
“First of all, California, I did not kidnap you. We settled this, you’re coming willingly.” She was defensive, but a smile kept tugging at her lips. “As for me being a kid, you’re dead wrong. Been old enough to take care of myself since I was seven and if you’ve got a problem with that, feel free to climb into the back and hash it out there ‘cause I won’t hear it in here.” She glared now. “I assure you, Jackie Boy, you ain’t never gonna learn what my birth name was, so you might as well just drop all of your little stereotypes and get cozy because this truck is not stopping until we reach our first destination or the gas runs out. When you’re ready to come down from your high horse, I am right here to talk, yeah?”
I didn’t say anything. Just stared out the window.
For years after this, hundreds of people would ask me, “What were you thinking? You didn’t even know her and you just let her take you?”
To those people I said and will continue to say: if you were in my shoes, you’d go, too. She had a compelling nature–both to make you listen to whatever she said and to make you feel comfortable in spite of an awkward situation.
Then they ask me, “Do you ever regret it?” and that’s when I tell them no. I wouldn’t trade those days for the world. They ask me why.
This is Barstow, California.
We had passed the sign for Route 66 right as we entered Barstow. Snipe quipped something about making great time. She nudged me to make me pay attention.
She rolled her eyes and poked my chest to punctuate each word. “Write this down, Jackie Boy, we’re headed along only a bit of Route 66, but I need you to understand something here.” I awaited my brilliant lesson patiently. “You don’t drive on this road to get to a place quickly, you drive on it to have a decent time. Now where’s the significance in us driving on this road?”
I shrugged. “You’re trying to get me fired?”
She shook her head and scowled. “Life isn’t gonna always be in the fast lane, you hear? You’re gonna take detours, you’re gonna get lost, and if you take the fast lane all the time, you won’t get to see the world out your window.”
“I hope you realize how cliche you sound, right now.” I laughed because I took her advice seriously. She was a kid, but she spoke with a wisdom I wouldn’t find for a long time.
She burst out laughing, too. “I think I’m gonna like having you ‘round.”
And this is Winona, Arizona.
“We’re pulling over.” Snipe had said suddenly as we had been passing through the quiet city. This had been the beginning of the second day and yes, she had woken me up at three in the morning. Again.
She jerked the steering wheel violently, causing me to grip the side of my door and to swallow my tongue, and stopped by a an oak tree at least three stories high. I was in pure awe of its height when I noticed something hanging from it, swinging in the breeze.
A tire swing.
Snipe climbed out of the fruit truck and headed towards it, prompting myself to follow. Without a hint of hesitation–the concept of hesitating was probably foreign to her–she stuck her foot in the center and pulled herself up. “Give me a push.” She said with a child-like gleam in her eye. The sinking moon was the only thing that shone brighter than that mischief.
“You’re nineteen.” I stated.
“Yes, I am.” She replied. “Now are you going to push me or am I going to have to kick the tree?”
I rolled my eyes and gave a shove. She smiled and started swinging it higher.
“You’re a five year old trapped in an adult’s body.” I called, wincing as she swung concerningly close to the trunk.
“Everyone is,” She replied, though her attention was definitely not at my poor attempt of an insult. “Some are pretty good at hiding it, but where’s the fun in that?”
She jumped off not long after and held it out to me.
“Oh, yes, California.”
I backed up, but she followed, a fist on her hip and that stupid smirk on her face.
“Come on, if this is going to be the extent of your sense of adventure, it’s going to be a very long trip.”
I had hesitated where she did not. I scowled, but took the rope in my hands and placed a foot inside. With one last rebellious sigh, I kicked off.
And this is Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We only stayed in bed and breakfasts when we weren’t driving. I wasn’t sure how Snipe had the kind of stamina to drive for as long as she did, but it was something to be envious of. Snipe had picked this one because she knew the family that owned it and was greeted warmly upon entry.
“Ave, te mira!” The older woman exclaimed, enveloping Snipe in a hug. The man beside her–whom Snipe later told me was the woman’s brother–kissed both her cheeks and forehead while a stampede of children from what looked like five to eleven years flew down the stairs to engulf Snipe in arms and affection, all of them shouting in happiness, “Florita, Florita ha vuelto!”
Snipe greeted them each by name, the five children, and gave them all forehead kisses as she passed. “Josefina, Miguel, Leticia, Francisca, Little José Luis.”
The owner was Ana María, a kind woman who had owned the bed and breakfast for nearly twenty years when she founded it. Antonio had been a doctor in the army for a brief time and returned to join his sister in the upkeep of the house. We were welcomed to stay for as long as we wished, but Snipe insisted that it would only be for the night. Talk about leaving often led to Ana María and Antonio sending each other what looked like worried looks, but Snipe seemed not to pay attention to it.
“Well,” Antonio said. “We’ll just have to make up for lost time.”
We ended up falling asleep two hours before we typically got up. Josefina and Leticia had thought Snipe and I were seeing each other and asked question after question about me to both her and I. To settle it, Snipe told them we were cousins and they let it rest. Miguel and Snipe played soccer while Little José Luis and I raced cars. Francisca braided Snipe’s hair and taught me the best ways to make a french braid. The children were given an extra hour to spend with us and then after, the “grown-ups” played a card game and chatted about almost anything. Antonio was not exaggerating when he said they were going to make up for lost time.
I had turned off the lamplight and curled into the bed under the blanket when it was flicked back on. I cringed at the sudden reintroduction of light and turned on my side to see Snipe sitting on the edge of her bed.
“Ana María never married.” She said.
She had a blank face. I noticed that her tan was fading.
“I saw the question in your eyes.” She continued. “She never married because she didn’t want to. But she did want children. She filed to adopt, but they never contacted her. A few years ago, there was a pretty nasty tornado. Took out a good deal of people and she took the kids in under foster care. Since then, no one has talked to her about setting them up to be adopted like they said they would. She’s happy now.”
“There’s probably going to be legal trouble in the future.” I stated plainly.
She nodded. She turned off the light.
We woke a few hours later. I caught sight of Snipe ruffling through a few drawers in a desk and tuck a little bottle into her pocket. We left without saying goodbye.
Even then, people won’t understand. So I tried to explain in a different way.
Because of Amarillo, Texas.
We could hear the noise a half-mile before we passed the barn. Lights slipped through the cracks of the old wood and you could hear the voices of excited people and the hum of a band. Snipe pulled over and parked, eagerly jumping out of the truck and pulling me out after her.
“What are we doing?” I asked.
“It’s a barn dance, Jackie Boy,” She replied excitedly, pulling the door open a smidge and slipping inside with me in tow. “We are not missing this!”
I had two left feet and Snipe somehow had three, but it didn’t matter. No one there knew we weren’t from around Amarillo, even if when we spoke our accents didn’t match. Snipe was welcomed immediately and, after she had her fun dragging me around, was asked to dance by several others. She seemed to attract younger children, which made sense now that I ponder it. She had a child’s sense of wonder about her and it was a beacon to any wanderer.
Her smile was beautiful.
Because of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
It was not long after sunset that Snipe parked in a vacant field. She climbed into the back, opened up a plastic box that had been tied down and pulled out several blankets and a few pillows. Curious, I got out and took a look. She was laying the thicker blankets on the floor of the back and used one of the lighter ones to encircle her shoulders before laying on the bed she had made.
“You just gonna stare, Jackie Boy? ‘Cause that restraining order is still an option.”
I snorted and climbed in. I laid down next to her and gazed up to where she was looking.
And there it was.
Everything that had or ever will happen, spread out for billions and billions of miles, of time. A road open to any traveler, unexplored, undefiled, free. Wild.
“Will you do me a favour, Jackie Boy?”
“Keep me in the stars.”
I think she was crying.
And because of New Orleans, Louisiana.
“I’m not going to do it.”
“Come on, California, show your strength!”
“This has nothing to do with strength!”
“Oh, that’s right, I forgot, your masculinity is way too fragile for me to compare this to a test of strength. Heaven forbid I challenge that!”
“Snipe, it’s shrimp.”
“No, no, no.” She waved her fork at me threateningly and I thought that the shrimp stuck on the end might fly off. “This is not ‘shrimp.’ This is gumbo made by the hands of the greatest chef in all of New Orleans. You will eat this or you won’t be welcomed back.”
I rolled my eyes and continued to pick around the shrimp. Seafood had never been my favourite.
I winced, but returned to cool and collected quick enough that I think she didn’t see me. Lavinia Mae Allegre was our waitress and she and Snipe were close friends.
When we had walked into the little restaurant in the middle of the bustling city, a shrill cry stretched from the very back of the large place to the front which retrieved Snipe’s attention and lit up her face with a smile.
“MY GOD, IT’S PEACOCK!”
From that moment, nothing could deter Snipe from her mission. She and the waitress pushed through the crowd and hugged each other with a death grip I would soon experience upon my introduction.
As Lavinia was working, Snipe couldn’t talk as much as she wanted, but they seemed to squeeze in a saga and a trilogy sequel before dinner came. According to Snipe, they had met the first time she had gone to New Orleans, back when Lavinia was in law school. As it turned out, she had recently gotten a job at a firm my own office had worked with in the past.I found it amusing that Lavinia had nicknamed Snipe ‘Peacock.’ She had shot me a look when I tried to use it and Lavinia smacked my head with a pile of napkins.
“Whatcha need, Peacock?”
“This man,” She pointed to me accusingly with the fork. “Has traveled all the way to New Orleans from Los Angeles and will not try the seafood. Isn’t that against some moral code? Do you have any wise words for him?” The grin spread as she saw Lavinia take her side.
She turned to me with a hand on her hip, leaning over the table. “Now I can’t make you do nothin’ you don’t wanna, but I am tellin’ you now, you ain’t never gonna regret tryin’ some of Mama Louie’s gumbo.”
In my defense, her stare was compelling.
I went back to New Orleans a year later–it was the only place that had the seafood I loved.
My next favourite question is when people say, “You’re so different, now! How could that child possibly do anything to change you?”
This is Memphis, Tennessee.
Beale Street was lit up with jazz, blues, street performers, side shows and stores that wouldn’t close until the odd hours of the morning.
And we weren’t here for any of it.
We stopped by a guy who needed to be discovered by some music producer because he had a gift when Snipe nudged my arm and nodded, without looking, to the far end of the street where a woman, younger than myself, older than Snipe, was walking and texting. I shrugged and didn’t see it until she gestured with her head to the man following the oblivious woman.
She took my hand and pulled me to the upper part of the street and we rounded the corner to reach the next street over. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Act normal.” She said and we walked slowly together towards the oblivious woman walking towards us. The man was farther back, but clearly following her. “Follow my lead.”
She started running and I followed. “Oh, my gosh, Stacy, how are you?!” She exclaimed happily and hugged the woman who stiffened with surprise. “There’s a man following you, let’s walk a bit.”
“Stacy” smiled in relief and nodded. Snipe struck up a conversation with her and while they were animatedly talking, I stole a glance behind. The man was scurrying away and turned out of sight.
We helped the woman locate her friends, which had been why she was texting, and parted happily.
As we took our seats in the Turnip, I opened my mouth to ask, but no words came out. Snipe didn’t look too pleased, which had been what I had expected. She looked despondent.
“Too much,” She muttered as we pulled out. “Too much.”
And then there’s St. Louis, Missouri.
Snipe looked in her element here. Questions came out of her mouth faster than anyone would have the answers and her eyes were wide with curiosity. It struck me, suddenly, that this was what she was like when she was somewhere new. She needed to immerse herself in the environment, learn about it, and then love it.
“I want a picture by the arch.” She said, faster than my mind could register it, and dragged me by the hand to the impressive structure.
Before leaving the truck, she had produced an old-fashioned polaroid camera from the glove compartment I wasn’t supposed to look in and had been snapping pictures all day. She asked a teen to take the picture and it was, frankly, hilarious watching him try to figure it out. With only a small amount of convincing necessary, I had been cajoled into being in the picture with her. I put an arm around her waist and she did the same to me, her smile wide and bright and real.
“Alright, three, two, one…”
We were driving away when she handed me the picture, the date and our names freshly printed on the bottom. “Take it.” She said, shaking it to emphasize her demand. I took it and studied it with a new eye. “Now give it back.”
Confused, I gave it back and she set it upside down on her lap. “Now hand me the envelope with my name on it. In the glove compartment.”
“The one I’m not allowed to go in?”
“Yes, smart-alec, that one.”
I obeyed and she stuffed the polaroid into the envelope, then handed it back for me to return. “What was that for?” I asked.
“Anyone could look at that picture for a week and never think of it again. You, you looked at that picture for seconds and will remember it for the rest of your life.”
“How do you know that?” My voice was a lot quieter than I wanted it to be. Like I was worried I wouldn’t remember. It felt like a nudge.
She looked over to me and smiled gently. “Because you’re not the same person you were when I found you.”
And Chicago, Illinois.
“Truth or dare?”
I rolled my eyes, but smiled. “Truth.”
“What’s your favourite colour?”
I had to think about that for a moment. Favourite colours hadn’t been a requirement since the third grade.
“You’re poking fun at my eyes, aren’t you?”
“Maybe.” I smirked. “Your Dad wasn’t wrong when he said you had the devil in your eyes.”
She punched my shoulder, a bit harder than usual. “Come on, now, be serious.” She didn’t like the joke.
“Is there a problem with that?”
“No, it’s just that you struck me as more of a blue kind of guy.”
I shrugged. “Truth or dare?”
“Dare,” She responded after debate. That surprised me. She never hesitated.
“I dare you to tell me your real name.”
“I’m telling you now and I ain’t telling you again, you minx,” She was waving her finger threateningly. “It’s Snipe Kiwi.”
“The driver’s license is a fake, Snipe, even I could see that eventually.”
“Why does it matter?” She was suddenly very serious. “So what if it’s not the name I was born with? It’s my real name. I don’t want to be known as anything other than Snipe because the person before Snipe is not the person I want to associate myself with, you got that?”
I nodded and fell silent. We remained quiet for a tense minute that felt like the eternity stretched out before us when we laid in the back of the truck. Then I said, “Truth or dare?”
“It’s my turn, you ass.”
And after that, there was Detroit.
We eventually just started asking each other questions to fill the gaps that Snipe’s music choices didn’t. What had been ‘truth or dare’ evolved into who could find out the most about the other person. We played all the way to Detroit and then whenever we had a chance after.
Snipe took me to the city gardens and we wandered around the city built on metal and wires until we stopped at the Eastern Market where she bought a bouquet of flowers and we climbed back into the Turnip. She didn’t say anything as we drove to a cemetery and parked on the roadside.
She got out without saying a word and trekked through the stone slabs until the names became almost unreadable and the dates reached so far back I couldn’t comprehend the world existing so long.
She knelt before a slab whose words were so faded they looked like nothing more than rough chips from rocks that had hit it over time. She ran her hands over those letters and set down the flowers.
“This was the grave of my great, great, great, great granddaddy.” She explained. “It’s tradition to put flowers on his tombstone the first day of summer to commemorate the day he crossed the border. My family’s debated for generations whether that was the wisest or dumbest decision, but we’re here anyway.”
The gesture was nice, but then a realization hit me. “You don’t live anywhere, do you?” She gave me a look and I clarified before I was smacked. “I mean, you know so many cities and so many people because you don’t stay in one place for too long. You make the trip from wherever you are to here to give your grandfather flowers every first day of summer.”
Snipe nodded at him, then looked back at the grave. “I have to tell you something, Jackie Boy. Not now, but soon. You’re gonna be real upset about it, I’m sure, but I need you to stick with me to the end, you hear?”
I didn’t like the sound of that, but she didn’t elaborate. I asked her why I needed to stay.
Because of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
She was sitting in the driver’s seat when I came back from the rest stop restroom. Her hands were on the wheel, but the keys weren’t in the ignition and she had a dead stare in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as I took a seat.
She took a sharp breath. She wouldn’t look at me. With shaky hands, she started the truck and backed out, but she looked so pale and so withdrawn that I had her pull over.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
She didn’t speak.
I shrugged and got out, made my way over to her side of the truck and opened the door. “Why don’t you take a break? You’ve driven this whole way, I can take the wheel for a bit.”
She nodded and crawled into the passenger seat. “Keep driving straight, for now. We’re almost in Philadelphia.”
We had breached the outskirts of the city when she finally spoke up. “There’s something I have to tell you about your Daddy.”
I kept driving and waited for her to continue. I didn’t like this.
Snipe’s lip quivered and her eyes were shining. It hadn’t struck me until now that she didn’t just look pale, she looked sick.
“Your Daddy loved you something awful, Jackie Boy.” She started. “He loved you so much he drove you away. That man had some demons and he knew it, he didn’t go about it the right way, but he made you leave so you wouldn’t see his real bad side. I won’t justify his actions like he wanted, though, because they were wrong.
“What you didn’t know was that your Daddy might’ve been bad, but his brother was a whole circle of hell worse. At least the man you knew wanted to get better.”
My father never told me he had a brother. The lawyer at the beginning would’ve interrupted her to ask for proof of a brother. Of my uncle. The traveler here believed her.
“I’ll spare you the details about your Daddy’s brother. He got himself into some bad trouble, got life in prison.” She snorted half-heartedly and looked out the side window. “Isn’t it funny how the two harshest sentences for a crime are life and death?”
I waited for her to continue.
“Your Daddy sure did love his brother.” She whispered. “Jackson,”
That got me to look at her. If I hadn’t been paying attention to the look in her eyes, to the complexion of her skin, to her lack of movement, that one word told me that this was no joke.
“Jackson, your Daddy’s brother had a little girl.”
I felt my muscles tense. My heart felt hard in its cage.
“Your Daddy’s brother had a little girl and the man you loathed took her in when she was ten years old and treated her as his own. Because of his son and because of watching his brother, he cleaned up his act and he took care of that little girl until she couldn’t bare to burden his happiness and took off for her own.”
There was a rock in my throat. Her cheeks were wet.
“Jackson,” She was staring at me intently. Her voice was barely above a whisper. “That little girl was me.”
I jerked the Turnip to the side of the road and parked. Neither of us said anything. I think she was looking at me, but I couldn’t look at her.
I got out of the car.
I walked away.
I found a taxicab.
I had it drive far away.
Snipe found me hours later, sitting alone on a bus bench. She looked worse than before. Her eyes were red.
“You’re only gonna find trouble sitting there alone, Jackie Boy.” She choked out. She opened the passenger door and waited for me to climb in. We kept driving.
We were fifteen minutes from crossing the border into Delaware when I finally opened my mouth. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
She coughed into her elbow before replying, “You wouldn’t have believed me until now.”
“So that makes us cousins, does it?” I smiled and I felt a pang of hurt when I saw how relieved she was at that simple gesture.
“Wasn’t exactly lying when I told the Medina kids we were, was I?”
She laughed and started coughing. Violently.
“Snipe, pull over.” I said when it became uncontrollable. I reached over and pulled the steering wheel in my direction and she braked so I could put it into park.
Her sleeve was wet. It gleamed like her eyes.
This was Middletown, Delaware.
I hadn’t been in a hospital since I broke my arm in college. I never liked them.
I was waiting in a white plastic chair. They didn’t tell me anything. I slept in that chair and remained there until eleven the next morning when I drank coffee that tasted like cardboard. I waited more.
A nurse came to get me around three in the afternoon and led me to the room, explaining the situation.
When I walked into the room, I didn’t recognize her. She was a living, breathing thing, more like a bird than a person in her ways and she was attached to so many wires and machines that she looked more like a machine than anything. Her complexion matched the white of the sheets.
The nurse left us.
I took her hand in mine and her eyes opened. That ridiculous smirk curled on her lips. “Forgot to mention this, Jackie Boy.” She whispered. “Surprise.”
I smacked her shoulder and snorted. “Yeah, ‘surprise.’ Might’ve been nice to mention that a stage four cancer patient was driving me across the whole damn country.”
She shrugged. “Didn’t think it would happen that fast.”
“What, you dying?”
The word caught in my throat. I don’t think I could say it. I don’t remember.
She smiled faintly. “Found out last year. Went back to Uncle Michael’s just to see him again. He cried like a baby. Kind of like you right now.” She nudged my arm affectionately. “You wanna know why?”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re gonna tell me anyway.”
She nodded. “That I am. I asked him to live for me. He told me he was too old to do that. He said I had a decent cousin over in L.A. that would do the job just as well.” Her playful demeanor weakened. I saw the break in the lines of her face. “Will you live for me, Jackie Boy?”
I cried. I did. I’m not going to say I didn’t. She’d call me a blooming liar if she did and she’d be right.
“The world won’t be the same without you in it.” I had whispered.
“Ah, bull.” She dismissed with the wave of her hand. “The whole universe’ll go on, even if you don’t. So you go with it, right?”
“Something like that.”
I thought this would be the last place I would see Snipe Kiwi alive.
I was wrong.
This is how it ends.
I was woken up from my sleep in a slightly less uncomfortable chair in Snipe’s room by the woman herself. At first, I tried to go back to sleep, then I realized what it meant–the fact that she was waking me up.
“California, if you don’t get off of your lazy butt in the next minute, I’m leaving without you.”
The blanket flew to the floor as I jumped to my feet. “You need to get some sleep, Snipe.” I tried to push her back on to the bed.
“Not a chance,” She said determinedly. She was pulling on her shoes. I remember how pale she looked in comparison to those black shoes. I remember how thin she looked in her own clothing. “I’m not dying hooked up to a stupid machine that breathes for me. We’re going to see a sunrise, Jackie Boy, if it’s the last thing I do.”
She had managed to convince the nurse to let her check out–a very Snipe thing to do–and tried to get into the driver’s seat.
“You should be resting,” I said as I grabbed her arm. “You should be, but you’re not and I’m letting you. So you’re going to put me at some ease and let me drive.”
She rolled her eyes and conceded. “We’re going to the beach, drive as far east as possible.” Were her only instructions.
I sped through the roads, getting honked at more in those twenty minutes than I ever had in my life.
Liston Point was quiet and dark when we pulled on to the beach. Snipe got out slowly, eager but careful. She used the edge of the truck to help her walk and climbed into the back. She laid out the blankets and pillows like she did in Oklahoma City and curled up.
I laid beside her and she reached out to take my hand.
“Truth or dare?” She whispered as we listened to the world and gazed at oblivion.
I smiled. “Dare.”
I wasn’t looking at her, but I could see the smirk spread on her face. “Forgive me?”
Snipe Kiwi died ten minutes after sunrise.
This is how it begins.
Only the Medinas and Lavinia made their way to Delaware. While we waited for the crematorium to provide us with our last memory of Snipe Kiwi, they told me. Snipe had been looking for a doctor to help with her treatments when necessary and Antonio fit the bill. Lavinia made arrangements for the will and the successions of her few possessions. They had all been tools, but they weren’t. They meant more to Snipe than that.
When the urn was deposited into my hands, Lavinia hugged me tight and whispered, “Now, she was a peacock that could fly, wasn’t she?”
There wasn’t a dry eye among the Medina children and I gave them a group hug worthy of Snipe Kiwi herself. Antonio insisted that I come to visit.
We made our way to the parking lot. I had expected to see her lying on the hood of the old truck.I set the urn in the passenger seat of The Turnip and wrapped the seatbelt around it. I thought for a moment that she may just jump out, come from the ashes like a phoenix. Phoenixes and Snipes were different types of birds.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. Ana María was smiling sadly. She kissed my forehead and cupped my cheek. After a pause, she spoke. “It’s in the glove compartment.” She said. “And so’s her will.”
I nodded my thanks.
Ana María smiled. “Those devil’s eyes are going to haunt us a long time, aren’t they?”
I grinned. “Would you want it any other way?” I kissed her cheek. “I’ll see you soon.”
I threw open the driver’s door to the fruit truck, climbed in, shut the door and opened the glove compartment. The urn shook where it was tucked in.
Only take the little purse, California. If I catch you lookin’ at anything else, you better believe I’ll give those pretty eyes of yours nice black shading.
I snorted a laugh and pulled out the envelope with her name on it and the used notebook. Inside the envelope was the legal document right beside the polaroid from St. Louis.
She had given me the Turnip and all inside it.
She had given me everything she had.
I turned to the notebook and flipped through it.
Sketches of maps, pressed flowers, dated pages like a diary. Her entire life, pressed together in the little book between my hands. I turned to the last entry she wrote–the day before she died.
Dear Jackie Boy (yes, I know you hate that name. No, I won’t ever stop,)
You’ve done and seen a lot of things over the course of these two weeks. Didn’t feel like two weeks, did it? Showed you the whole world and a universe in a limited number of hours. That’s what dying people tend to do, you know. Show the living everything they’re missing before they go. Here’s what you need to know to continue your adventure without your most trusted guide.
1) Feel free to explore this notebook. It has lots of information about places to see, things to do and it’s not limited to the U.S. Come on, Jackie Boy, the world isn’t in just one country. As you go, it is your responsibility to fill out these pages with your new knowledge and to correct the old parts that no longer apply. The last page of my life will remain empty until you write it.
2) In the folder by this notebook, it has a lot of my personal information in it. Health records, school records, old pictures, all that. You’re welcome to take a peek at the person I was if the whim arises. Just promise me you and only you know that person–let the world know Snipe Kiwi.
3)Take care of Turnip, for me. He’s getting old and they don’t make him like they used to.
4) I never got the chance to tell you that I loved you, so the proof will live in these words. I learned the hard way that ‘I love you,’ doesn’t mean ‘I’ll never leave you,’ and that’s something they don’t teach you in preppy lawyer school.
5) The most important thing you need to know? I was like a bird, Jackie Boy, and I loved it. I did. But you know something? I’m terrified of birds.
I was crying by the end of it. Won’t deny that, either. I reached into the glove compartment for the folder and shuffled it until a photograph slid out. My family. I pushed it aside and shook it again until a paper slid out. The corner of a birth certificate. I could read the last name. Manchester.
I put it back.
I looked around and smiled.
Snipe Kiwi was afraid of birds.
This is Now.
I’m driving down an open road. The windows are down and the night sky is spread out all around me, its stars the pins on my map. I can breath. I hold my fist out the window and feel the last of Snipe Kiwi slip through my fingers, fluttering up into oblivion and into all of existence. Little lights making their way to the new road, the unexplored world. The cages of the urn lay shattered somewhere along Route 66.
This wasn’t like any other place I had visited. This was the last time I got to watch Snipe fly. It was hard the first time. It is hard now. Her wingspan now stretched from the rocky corner of the Alps to the frozen North and, over time, would go further. Her maroon gaze will watch the world until she turned and made her way to the stars where I would keep her, like I promised.
The last page is written.