The only time I ever hitchhiked, a woman in a hatchback with a dolphin decal in the window stopped and picked me up. She figured she’d be safe. I looked like I was eleven. We didn’t talk. Not really. She offered me a menthol, which I accepted and smoked, watching the strip malls and fast food places turn into car lots and mountains of tires, then forest on both sides of the road. The woman had a mullet that rippled into waves. Her legs were thin and hard, not like runner’s legs, like legs that walked back and forth carrying trays of food or legs that stood for hours packing screws and bolts into plastic bags and then into cardboard boxes bound for the shimmering hardware stores of the suburbs. I wedged my cigarette in the pile of butts choking the ashtray. The ruins of a mill sprouted out of the trees. When we slowed down for another town, the woman pointed to each person we passed on the street, giving me their secret names: slut, thug, doper, bitch, her voice never rising above a whisper. These words may make you uncomfortable. I won’t say I don’t care what you think. Too many people told me that growing up; I won’t say that to you. But I won’t change my story to make you comfortable, and betray the woman and her kindness. Years later, I woke up to the sound of someone banging on my door. When I looked there was no one there. I went to my three children’s rooms, watching them breathe as they slept, pretending I could watch over them for a few minutes and it’d mean something, when I realized the woman was just trying to keep me safe. She was telling me something I didn’t know because I was too dumb. I was so dumb, I fell asleep in her car, dreaming of lightning jumping from cloud to cloud, a bride who couldn’t conceive, but gave birth to children of wood and stone and glass. When the woman shook me awake with a hand on my shoulder, I had a terrific hard-on. She said “good luck,” and I stumbled into another town, one with a fountain, a bank, a church, an all-night diner. I smoked the second cigarette she gave me and began to walk further from my home, in a town just like the others, under cold and nameless stars.
JUSTIN LACOUR lives in New Orleans and edits Trampoline: A Journal of Poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the minnesota review, Bayou Magazine, the New Orleans Review (Web Features), and other journals.