Copyright© 2011 by Robert McKay
This story takes place in May and June of 2006
We left out of Albuquerque early in the morning. It was Monday, but Darlia's last day of school had been Friday, and she didn't have to go back for three months. I remember I used to love three-month vacations when I was in school, and wonder how I'd do without them when I became an adult. Now I've been doing without for years, and I still love the idea. I haven't taken one that long yet, but I can afford to if I want. This year we would, in fact, have probably three months vacation total, though not at the same time – we always spend a month in the desert in high summer, a month in Leanna sometime during the year, and now we were headed for a month in the town where I'd been a cop.
We were in Cecelia's red Mazda; I love my truck, Darlia likes it, and Cecelia doesn't mind it, but an old Chevy pickup isn't the best vehicle for a long cross-country run. I've made sure that the engine is in top shape, and the same with the radio and all the other running gear, but a single bench seat with the gear shift in the middle isn't as comfortable as a four door car – not for a family of three, anyway. Cecelia's my wife, Darlia's my daughter, and I'm Darvin Carpenter, a private investigator in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Our route would be partly on I-40, just to get us out of town. From there we'd go a more scenic route. Red Hawk is in Dewey County, between Lenora and Camargo, in western Oklahoma. We didn't have any detailed plans for the route, though we'd looked at the map and had a general idea of how we wanted to travel. We'd make decisions on which road to take when we got to the intersections. We had all summer, and weren't interested in rushing around.
Cecelia was driving the first stage. She's never driven for a living, but she ought to; she's very good at it. Like me she drives one-handed – though it's her right hand on the wheel, and she doesn't need to shift gears with her automatic transmission. That one-handed grip enables faster turning, without hands getting in the way – you can whip the steering wheel right around - and she keeps her eyes moving; nothing happens within a mile of her that she doesn't know about. And she never, ever uses her cell phone while driving. Not only does she dislike talking on the phone almost as much as I do, but she is an adherent of the "hang up and drive" school. Little makes her angry, but one thing that does is people who are trying to drive with one hand glued to their ear. Albuquerque drivers are scary at the best of times; with cell phones going they're people we have no desire to be around.
I looked over at her as we crossed Tramway and entered Tijeras Canyon. Once again the name Nefertiti came to my mind. Though that ancient Egyptian queen had fuller lips and a longer neck, and lighter skin and a longer nose, than Cecelia does, her face had the same wedge shaped profile. My wife, with her thin lips and flat nose, isn't Nefertiti's twin, but the resemblance strikes me all the time.
Cecelia was wearing driving clothes – a brown long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow, a pair of jeans, and her brown cowboy boots. The only jewelry visible was her wedding ring; I knew that hidden under the shirt was the necklace I'd given her just before she proposed, the ruby hanging at the end of its gold chain. Her hands were long and thin and strong, and I could see the small muscles of her forearms clearly, defined from years of working out.
I turned further, looking in the back seat at Darlia. She was sitting behind Cecelia – behind the driver's seat, actually, her favorite spot in the car, no matter who's driving – and there was a box of books and toys on the floor behind my seat. She was looking out the window, a Dr. Seuss book open and forgotten in her lap. She's been all around Albuquerque, and of course we've gone through Tijeras Canyon twice a year every year since she was born – going and coming on our visits to Alabama, where Cecelia's from – but it's still not one of her usual haunts and she was taking it all in. Darlia has black eyes like Cecelia, darker than her skin, which is the golden color of aged ivory even when she doesn't have a tan. Darlia doesn't look anything like either of us – her skin is neither white nor black; her hair is brownish blonde with natural lighter streaks in it, and a strong wave which its weight pulls out into gentleness; and she's a chunky kid, tall and heavy for her age, with neither my average build nor Cecelia's thinness. The only feature that clearly comes from either one of us is her nose – Darlia shares with Cecelia the African breadth and flatness of it.
I turned back toward the front. We were coming up on Tijeras, which I had once walked to after parking my truck by the Smith's at Tramway and Central. There and back had been about 13 miles. Cecelia can outrun me in about three yards, but though she can walk for miles and hours and never show a sign of weariness, she would never have walked that far just for fun. But that was the only reason I'd done it.
The engine hummed under the hood – not like the Wankel engine that had powered my uncle Tony's Mazda when I was a kid, but smoothly enough. I took my current book – Mickey Spillane's Vengeance Is Mine – from the pocket in the door, and began reading. Cecelia steered expertly through the traffic, and we got closer to a place I hadn't seen since 1990.