Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!


Desert Flower

This little story happened a long time ago, when I was barely old enough to drive - during the year of dreams.

I remember climbing steep over the Harlem River, onto the Cross Bronx Expressway. I remember blowing diesel fumes under Broadway, crossing the George Washington Bridge, paying the toll, tapping my gauges, and hauling down Fort Lee hill.

It was mid-morning, clear and blue, and the Jersey Turnpike connected all maps west. Behind me, 24 tons of smoked hams, cooling by refrigeration – under me, enough fuel to reach West Virginia. But after I passed Newark, I lost touch with time and place. From there, I remember almost nothing, not stopping in Wheeling, or Indianapolis, or St. Louis. That’s what happens when we’re in transit possessed – when you’re so intent on chasing the sun that everything in between gets lost in the blur.


Have you seen California? Beautiful, and sometimes in places you might least expect. Like the desert, crossing the seemingly lifeless, empty landscape. Yet, I was caught in the blur, even after self-possessing so many forgotten miles.

Then, now, I remember leaving Blythe, rolling through Indio, then stopping in Thousand Palms. It was daybreak-California, where Mojave lizards do their morning push-ups in the middle of the road. Eggs to-go, 200 gallons in the saddle tanks – the fuel jockeys were thinking I might have stolen the truck. I had this face, frown or smile, that looked fourteen. Oh, no time to explain, shifting as good as any Mack-man, twin-smoke blazing high into the western sky.


Man!… what was she doing out in the shadeless heat, standing on the side of the desert road? From the east, the sun had set her hair aflame, her slender white thumb into a bright red stop-sign.

“Climb up” I yelled down. Big, yellow-green eyes, she might have been as young as I looked, a flower grown right up from the desert, a flower with freckles, and an Arkansas girl with a dream. She had seventeen names, a different one for each time I didn’t ask. She decided on Mary, then Sue, and Mary-Sue. Seems she’d been reading movie magazines, late at night, under her quilt back in the Ozark mountains. Been readin’ since she was ten, and singing since she was born.

Except for cat-naps, I hadn’t stopped since leaving New York. Burgers and eggs behind the wheel, fried chicken bouncing on the seat, cokes spilling on the floor. But forty miles west of Thousand Palms, I pulled over at the Juanita’s. My watch said I had plenty of time, that I was ahead of schedule, only a few gear-shifts out of LA. So, Mary Sue and I sat down over strange and exotic foods, then talked about her, and Hollywood. I said if looks counted, she’d be a star - she smiled – and Lord, her looks counted.

Yet, I was still possessed with getting there, always worried a gear wouldn’t mesh, a tire might suddenly go airless. Back on the desert highway, Mary Sue slept as if she’d been raised in a washing machine. Before dozing off, she smiled, “Y’all drive like my Daddy” – no wonder she could sleep like a mountain quilt in a Whirlpool.

This is one of the things I remember, her sleeping, me driving. I had dreamed this dream before, her sleeping, me driving. Ten thousand miles, and more, always thinking, always dreaming. Foolish boy, in love again.

Her eyes opened as we past Redlands. It was then she realized just how far from Arkansas she'd come. Still, she had this dream, to be a star. For a moment she sat there in folk-hums from the Ozarks, in country thoughts worlds away from the star-walks of fame. But then, out of the mountain blue, she began singing with the voice of an angel I’ll never forget; “I was waltzing, with my darlin’, to the Tennessee…”


A few miles west of Thousand Palms, California, there’s a seemingly desolate spot where, once every blue moon, the silent desert grows a beautiful Ozark flower ~ a brilliant yellow against a forever green, with amber freckles blazing across the sands.

© David Baker/Dave Molloy


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