‘Jesus, Phil! That’s fucking disgusting,’ I said.
Small clouds of sugar dust rose from the corners of Phil’s mouth. His foot rolled one of several empty water bottles protruding from beneath the passenger seat. ‘Sugar. Breakfast of champions,’ he said as he popped the lid back on the Tang can.
Fourteen hours into the drive and we’d only made it to Oklahoma. The van had stalled again at an off-ramp outside of Shawnee. The sun was coming up behind us, and it was just a matter of time before the sweat would roll.
Jennifer had been sleeping since the last van meltdown – ‘done with this’.
‘Can you at least take a look at the engine again?’ I asked Phil.
‘It’s gonna look the same as before. I’m not a mechanic.’ But he rubbed Tang crystals off his chin, got out, and began jiggling things under the hood. Unlike the last three times we’d stalled, the van, a shit-brown ’70s Ford with ‘Good Times’ on the side panel, still refused to start.
‘Battery must be shot,’ I heard from behind the hood.
‘It can’t be the battery, Phil! The cigarette lighter still works. I smell burnt oil.’
‘That oil leak isn’t what’s making us stall. It’s usually on an incline, too. Maybe a short in one of these wires.’ He made an exasperated sound. ‘Should’ve never brought this piece of shit!’
‘Well, it’s the only ride we have. And I didn’t hear you offering to drive us in your Honda.’
Our bitching had woken Jennifer, who sprawled across the pull-out bed in the back of the van, a lit joint already between her fingers. Wake and bake. But I suppose that was the point of all this. The joke; the pot at the end of the rainbow. We just needed to make it to Carson for the gathering, then it was all bliss. Ten thousand hippies would welcome us into the fold and we would be a part of the Rainbow Family. Peace, love and happiness. A little smoke didn’t hurt either.
‘Anything left to eat?’ she asked.
‘Phil still has Tang.’
‘Don’t touch that!’ yelled Phil from under the hood.
She shifted to Phil’s passenger seat. ‘Shit. All these waters are empty.’
I’d hoped she’d sit next to me for more of the trip. It’d been months since we sat together under a blanket on the couch, smoking and talking in long, curly paths of ideas and shared memories. Then Phil had moved in upstairs. They didn’t even date. He just sort of took my place on the couch. Not that I really had anything against him. He fit right into our lifestyle. But he didn’t have shared memories. Didn’t know the punchlines to the jokes.
This had been her idea: road trip to hippie heaven. Buy a cheap van and drive to New Mexico for the Rainbow gathering. Stay as long as you want. No money, no problem. Just thousands of flower children getting high and naked in the forest. So I spent the last of my cash on this van to make her dreams come true. I thought the trip would give us something new to share. A new memory – together. But now we were stuck in the middle of nowhere with no food or water. Yeah, I fucked up.
If I’m honest, I didn’t even give a shit about the gathering. I just wanted to spend more time with Jennifer. Why did we even have to include Phil?
Jennifer pulled her pack from the floor, found some fresh clothes and pulled off her shirt. I turned my head but the sounds of her changing were making me squirm.
I stepped onto the gravel of the off-ramp, hoping to find a place to pee behind the van. The sunrise had become almost painful. I noticed a dark shape in the glare. Maybe I was stoned and maybe I was tired, but somebody was coming towards us.
Oh shit. The police.
Wait. That wasn’t a cop and there was no car there.
The person continued to approach. A person in white. A white pantsuit. No, a white jumpsuit. A white jumpsuit with enormous legs. My mouth hung open as Elvis walked up and gave me a side grin. The jumpsuit’s rhinestones caught the morning sunlight and the singer blazed.
‘Mornin’, young miss. Looks like yer havin’ some trouble.’
The singer extracted a fat roll of money from the jumpsuit’s pocket and, pulling two twenties from the wad, reached out.
‘Take these, darlin’. There’s a diner ’bout a mile up the road. Go get some food. They can call a tow from there.’
The singer wrapped my hand around the bills and grinned, an action that shifted her sideburns away from her cheeks. I looked down towards my hand and noticed her pink nail polish and the swell of breasts above the wide, rhinestone-studded belt she wore. There were messages written over her entire costume, love notes from fans. I looked back up, smiled and nodded thanks.
‘Next time y’all are in Memphis, you come see me. You know where to find me. Don’t be shy. I got to mosey now, so you get over to that diner before it gets too hot out here.’
She turned back towards the sun and began to walk away.
I looked down at my hand again and confirmed that I did have two twenties. Where the hell did she come from? I looked back up, thinking to ask, but she was gone.
I startled as the hood slammed shut.
Phil came around the side of the van. ‘What’s up? You’ve been quiet.’
‘Elvis just gave us 40 bucks,’ I said.
‘How much of that pot have you smoked?’
‘No, seriously. Elvis just gave me money. There’s a diner down the road where we can call a tow.’ I held out the notes.
Phil looked at them, then down the road.
‘Christine, there’s nobody here. You know that, right? But cool that you found some cash.’
Jennifer opened the van door and shuffled to us. She had Tang on her cheek and t-shirt.
I rubbed orange dust from her face and smiled. ‘The van won’t start, but there’s a diner down the road where we can get food and help. We can be in Carson later today.’
‘Cool. Let’s do it.’ She took the money from my hand and leaned in to kiss Phil. I could smell the Tang on her lips.