Oops, I emailed/posted this too soon, just spent a couple more hours working on it. If you like poetry, you may want to read this one. If you don't care, and have already read the other one, skip it. The story is the same, I worked on the language, which is part of what poetry is. (Also worked on the formatting so I hope it comes out better!)
The Night that Nothing Happened
Jean proposed the idea. Easy to imagine as we drove across Nebraska,
flat all day, sunny. Laughing, counting hawks, taking turns at the fur-covered wheel.
The plan? We'd save money, lodge free by sleeping at a jail. Simple.
She'd read about it somewhere. We'd brag about it later. We'd tell tales
to our grandchildren. We'd do it on the way back, too. We drove on, told stories
to each other. In our log, we recorded the towns we passed: Oshkosh, Bridgeport,
Scott's Bluff, signs saying next gas 70 miles. Next gas 85 miles. Took pictures
of weathered rock formations, pronghorn antelopes leaping over sagebrush.
Sang with the wind whistling at the open windows: I've been working on the railroad
and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. In Wyoming—a day west of Iowa City, a day east
of Pocatello—we decided to stop. It wasn't Cheyenne or Laramie, but a tiny town
120 miles to the next gas. A hamburger at Mabel's Diner, a bowl of chili. Then
it was time to test the idea. At the jail-house door, we fidgeted,
each trying to slip behind the other. Which of us spoke first
when the Sheriff asked what we wanted? We looked back at our car,
forgetting the bravado of earlier talk.
But one of us asked. Probably she did. The Sheriff cocked his head,
puzzled. Looked us over. We were twenty,
slender, had curves. Our breasts pressed
suddenly on the insides of our T-shirts. Big
and soft. We were alone with the Sheriff. He loomed, particularly male,
large and strong. No chaperon, no witness. I looked at the door,
took a step back. Jean took a step forward.
He said, "I will have to lock you in
for the night." We nodded. Two cells, two beds. One big key.
We went in; the doors clanked shut. He sat at his desk. We sat on our cots
and looked at him. Later, he approached our cells, keys jingling. Said
he was leaving. Turned off the light
and left us alone. Shadows of iron bars divided the floor.
Stripes of setting sun, neon lights from Main Street, a sliver of moon
sinking. Perhaps Jean was actually calm. She talked, spoke
as if we were still in the car. Still free. Maybe I spoke too, pretending
to be having fun. But even if I spoke, even if I smiled, I huddled
scared in a dark, close space, smaller than a jail, tighter than a narrow cell.
The stripes shifted; the segmented sky darkened. The moon intersected
each bar, pressed and stretched dim shadows on the floor. I watched
bats flicker across a sky splashed with more stars than I'd ever seen.
Tried to pick out the dipper among them, looked in vain for Orion. Lay awake
and listened to the catch of my own quiet breath. Don't let me have to stay
here again, I whispered to the stars, long after Jean's breathing slowed.
Not ever. In the morning, the sheriff returned
and unlocked the cells. The outer door opened to an expanse
of Wyoming sunshine. At Mabel's, we bought bacon, eggs, home fries
and coffee for a dollar. Ate outside on picnic tables, quiet in the morning chill.
for Jean Kilquist