Sailor lit a cigarette.
We were sitting on the stained concrete back step of The Palisades, a cheap motel in Calvert, Oregon, which is actually a cluster of trailers and a couple convenience stores way out on a state road that cuts northeast across the desert toward the turn in the Columbia River, just north of the Oregon-Washington border. The first few hours of hitching and hooking our way up to Washington were long for me because I didn’t know the landscape… Miles of power conversion stations and convenience store litter mixed with yellow-gray tumbleweeds. I’d never seen so much beige in my life, stretching from the roadside to the rim of the sky. I kept waiting to see the blue-green color of fir trees, the dark color of a deep river, lush grass, a change of scenery.
“It’s going to be desert all the way up,” Sailor said to me between drags. “Washington’s desert on the east side, too, part of it. We’re gonna turn hard for the east, though, at a certain point…get us up into the mountains. Harlin won’t follow us up there…and then we’ll be free.”
I picked a cigarette from the pack Sailor waved in my direction. She lit it for me. As she leaned over toward me her jean shorts pulled away from the underneath of her thigh and I saw candy-stripe underwear hugging to her crotch. A strand of hair fell out from where she had it pulled back into a loose bun. She moved it back behind her ear with her fingers.
“Try to get your cigarette where the fire is, honey-bear,” she said, almost smiling.
A wave of embarrassment passed over me. I pulled hard, exhaled, made a big deal of getting lit up.
I tried to flip things.
“Sailor,” I started, exhaling, “Is that your real name?”
“It’s real if that’s what I answer to, right? Why, are we on television?”
“What’s the name printed on your birth certificate?”
Sailor nodded ever so slightly. “Haley. Haley Minwood.”
“Hm. That’s kinda good. Why did you change it?”
“My parents had money. A piss-ton. A fucking pipeline. Dividend income. Trust funds, nine digit shit everywhere. That means you have two real options…anything else would be half-assing it. You can either have a pert, square-cut little girl-scout pussy, nod yes and be good and go to law school on daddy’s dime…or be a Lindsay Lohan snatch, a spoiled, take-the money-and-run little trust fund druggie pretender bitch. Both bad. Doesn’t matter how fine your relationship with your parents is. If you come from wealth, and you’re interested in personal integrity, annihilation of the entire construct is the only option… The only way to author a biography that has any stock or guts. Cut yourself loose. No insurance, no phone calls to mommy, nothing.”
She French-inhaled, looked at me with narrowing eyes.
I leaned forward a little, tapped some ash out onto the ground, took another drag. Sailor let one knee sort of loll out to the side, so now the gap between her jean shorts and candy-stripe underwear was in plain view. She was wearing one of Harlin’s old dress shirts, and some of her hair had slipped inside the collar. She’d left the first three buttons undone, so I could see where the silky piece of hair touched down on her collar bone, where the big tendon stood up when she dragged on her cigarette. When she leaned forward to ash her cigarette I could see her breasts, the way they were cupped by her bra, which was just a little big for her.
I pulled my head up, and looked into her eyes.
She was waiting for me to do just that.
I said, “And this all adds up to your choice of name in some way?”
“Yeah. Because I can’t stake myself on anything. I’m a lost soul. Out to sea. And Sailor sounds like a good name for a girl who’s all about her own skin, which is what you’re thinking about anyway…not listening to a word I’m saying…”
(Back Door: Enter “Skinny Haley” into the search bar.)