The Whole Track Cafe

Got this old Mustang right off the showroom floor, back in '69.  I call him Gus, short for Gusto.

I liked the way all those horses roared when I punched it real hard, and the sound of the wind accompanying them in a wild symphony of freedom, blowing down some country road at about 90.

Most of all I liked the motion - the change.  There's always something new over the next rise, around the next corner, like a dream about to come true.

'Bout the only place I call home is the counter of the next diner along the road.  Diners are interesting places.  Everyone there brings his own world with him.  Regulars see the same old faces and yesterday's pie on the shelf ‑ 'cause that's all they want to see.  Travelers like me see fresh faces, new possibilities, a new story from the trucker on the next stool.

'Cause I've been searching, see?  Somethin's not right, and the answer's out there, somewhere.

I tried to settle down once, live a Yuppie life in the suburbs with some trendy chick named Tania.  But things seem to settle on top of me, trying to press me into some mold that I just don't fit.  One day I saw old Gus sitting in that double garage - dust covering his midnight black polish - and I realized I hadn't taken him down a new road in months.  Hell, he looked downright dejected.  His headlights were like a couple of eyes, penetrating my soul.  They were telling me there wasn't enough room in that place for either of us... I would either have to park myself next to him and gather dust too, or drive us both the hell out of there....


So there we were, back on the road.  The wind was blowing the dust away and the sun was brightening up those dark corners in both of us.  But there was something new - or maybe something old ‑ that didn't blow away with the wind or brighten up in the sun - something hanging around like a piece of a dream you can't quite remember and can't quite forget.

After a while - time kinda slips by unnoticed on the road - I found myself at some 4-way-stop intersection of two country roads, low hills all around, and lots of green trees.  There was a diner and gas station on the other side.  We were both runnin' pretty close to empty, so I pulled in.

Must have still been back in my head somewhere, 'cause I was already inside and sitting down before I noticed her, three places down the counter.

When she looked at me I got that kind of shiver that makes your skin go all bumpy.  I woke up with the waiter asking me the third time for my order.

As he walked back to the kitchen she smiled a sunrise-on-the-first-day-of-spring smile and said, "Hi - I've been waiting - what took you so long?", and moved to sit next to me.

Now, I've had some come-on's in my time, but this was different.  Something opened up in my head - like the world got brighter.

She just sat there, next to me, looking at me through homemade sunlight and eyes like emeralds.

Then I got the damnedest picture - it just took over my vision.  There were two kids - a boy and girl about fourteen - talking about their future.  He was saying how he was going to be a freedom fighter and overthrow that evil emperor who had squashed their people for so long.  She would be a famous artist and help put back the dreams that had made their culture great.

Then the picture shifted, and I saw this strange looking fighter plane streaking across a reddish sky to engage four different looking craft in an air battle.

And then I saw the girl again, a woman now.  She was at some great ceremony, tears in her eyes, as she accepted a folded up flag and some medals.

She had been watching me, waiting for me to say something, a puzzled look on her face.  She said, "What happened?"

I held onto her deep green eyes like a lifeline, and said, "I don't know - I just saw the most amazing pictures... I... don't know what..."

Then she smiled that first smile again and said, "Oh - you don't remember, do you?"

"Remember what!?"

She said, "Come outside with me for a second," and took my hand, getting up out of the seat, pulling me gently with her.

Her hand was warm.  I let her lead me outside.

When I looked around the foothills and trees were gone, replaced by a broad valley with a railroad track running along just behind the diner, heading for a distant town.  The sky was different, reddish, like in that vision.

And Gus was gone - there were two odd-looking cars parked outside, but no Gus!!

"What the hell... where are we!?" I said.

"Let's go back in," she said, not answering.  She waited while I looked around at the sky and the valley and the diner, letting me make up my mind that there was nothing else to do.

Back inside things looked the same, and the steak sandwich I barely remembered ordering was on the counter, next to her hamburger and fries.  We sat down, and she acted like nothing had happened.  She just smiled and ate her meal.  I ate too, trying to make sense out of the last few minutes.

"But where is my car?" I asked her, finally.  "Where's my world?"

"Right where you left them," she answered.  "Go ahead and look, if you want."

I got up fast and she had to hurry to keep up with me.  I walked outside to see the familiar blue sky, the foothills, the trees, and Gus sitting in the parking lot.  He seemed to wink at me through those magical headlights.

"What was that - a dream?"

"Well...," she said carefully, "yes and no"....

Mike Blaauw

I worked with the very talented Mike more than twenty years ago and was particularly pleased when recently he contacted me and sent me one of his short stories for inclusion on this page. I think it an excellent piece of work.

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