This is the second installment. The story began HERE
Not knowing too much about hitchhiking etiquette, he thought that he should at least introduce himself. The fellow that took him the twenty miles from Asheville to this point was a talker. He knew the driver’s name and about his entire family in those twenty minutes. The only thing the hitchhiker got to tell the driver was his name. As he fitted himself comfortably in the Volvo he said, "My name is Travis. Travis Davis." She didn't say anything. "I'm traveling the U.S."
"You should travel, but you know that hitchhiking can be dangerous. Probably not as dangerous as the trains, though. I wouldn't normally pick up a hitchhiker. I've only done it once before." He didn't quite know what to say so he asked the obvious.
"Oh. When was that?"
"I was on my way to Charlotte. There were these two young, very young, hippie looking kids, a couple. It wasn't too far out of Shieldstown. I could see that they were just trying to get somewhere. They wanted to go to Asheville. They had heard it was a cool place. I think they were from the west. I don't remember."
"Where did you drop them off?"
"I took them right into the heart of Asheville. It's not too far off the highway." Travis started to relax a little bit when she added, "With your Gilligan style hat and that big pack, I pegged you for a backpacker. It’s a give-away. My name is Karen."
"Well thanks for stopping."
"M-hmm," and that's all she said. Thinking she might talk since she had opened with some dialogue, Travis pressed on.
"Where are you going? I saw your sleeping bag in the back and…" but he trailed off. Two big tears rolled from beneath her sunglasses and dropped to her chest. The conversation ended there.
They drove in silence. Karen played a Neil Young CD. The song Sugar Mountain came on. The sunroof was open and the windows cracked. It was windy and noisy in the car which didn't bother Travis, and obviously didn't bother Karen because she didn’t close the car up to hear the song; she merely turned the song louder.
When the chorus came on, she started crying. First tears rolled down her face, and then she let out a graceful yet painful sound. Travis felt concern that she might have trouble seeing with her tears, but she was steady behind the wheel winding down out of the mountains. At the base of the mountain, an exit loomed. Suddenly, she exited the interstate. When Karen stopped, Travis thought it was time to get out so he went for his seatbelt, but Karen quickly jumped from the car, leaned over, and vomited. Not that Travis stared, but it was an odd sight. He noticed nothing came out, but she hurled again then again. When finished, she stood straight and said in a quiet, yet mournful voice, "Oh God." She wiped the snot from her nose with the back of her hand as a child would and walked to the front of the car. She stood there for a few minutes just gazing motionless at the unknown in front of her with her arms at her side. Karen then pulled her hair back from her face, turned toward me and stood there holding her hair like a headband with her elbows pointed in front of her. Travis noticed how silver the hair was that framed her face like the hidden shiny underside of a shell on the beach. With her head hanging low, her rings glistened in the sun. He noticed she wore a wedding band.
"Sorry about that," but offered no other explanation as she returned the driver's seat.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she responded flatly and turned the engine over. They were soon back on the interstate with Neil Young's voice filling the car again.
Travis didn't know what else to say and soon figured out that Karen was just okay with my saying nothing at all.
He could have left at any time and could have simply said, "Oh this spot is good." Karen would have pulled over to let him out. Travis sat with his eyes on the road and though they drove with sometimes music playing and sometimes just silence filling the car, he didn't want to get out. Sitting bewildered was better then listening to someone's life story or trying to explain his own. So when Karen made the exit to south Interstate 95 and an exit marker announced the next stop, Travis only answered, "South is fine," when she asked him if he wanted her to let him out.
She wasn’t aggravated, annoyed, or bothered by his presence. It was more like he wasn't even there. She carried out all the normal driving tasks like changing CD's or radio stations on her own without a regards to Travis’ likes or dislikes. She drank water or cleaned the windshield as needed with the push of a button. She lit a cigarette, and leaned the pack toward him to offer him one. When he didn't take one, she still lit up blowing the smoke out the opened window. She knew he existed, but that was about it. She didn't stop for food, but had an extra bottle of water that she offered him, and he accepted.
Travis wasn't put off by her either. She was attractive with tanned skin and dark hair covering all that brilliant silver that he noticed when she pulled her hair from her face. He had to admit that she intrigued him just enough to keep him sitting in that car. Travis wanted to think that maybe she was comforted a little by his presence because she wasn't kicking him out. He was along for the ride which suited Travis for now.
To be continued...