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Welcome to Wyoming

Matt Zalaznick

On freeways slicing across the American West, it is fifty, maybe sixty miles between exits and sometimes even farther. It is heavy, slightly-sinister darkness; it is scoured plain and jagged mountain evaporating into boundless, impassible shadow; it is isolation and abandonment until, coming around a bend, you catch wind in the sails and it is loose flocks of lights flickering on both sides of the interstate. A negligible patch of the West lit briskly by motels, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations. A faraway town marooned in the corner of Wyoming: it is the backcountry, the obscure, the middle of nowhere, but also a harbor in the massive, remote expanse; a ragged radiance hinting of at least an atoll where a traveler can drop anchor instead of fighting fatigue and suffering the elements, instead of foundering on, only to be blotted out by the thundering desolation ahead. “Find one that has a pool,” Townie Lee says to herself – just like her bank robber character did in her last movie, when the impassive bulldog bitch of a guard is leading her to the cell she’s to spend the rest of her life in. Townie has been speeding west for hours, and right now she has one hand on the wheel and the other reaching crookedly behind her into a duffel bag behind the seat. She feels the bathing suit – thank god she tied the two halves of her bikini together, she thinks – and whips it out onto the passenger seat. She has never been to Wyoming before, wasn’t quite sure it really existed, but began to have more faith when she crossed over from South Dakota and saw the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign. Now, there’s harder proof in the clusters of light and the scattered pinpricks twinkling in the mighty blankness. And, after all the darkness, the bank of lights illuminating only the interchange call out to the travelers like a team of lighthouses, announcing both the hazards and hospitality of a coast. Townie tugs one arm out of the sleeve of her sweater, jerks it off over her head, knocks her glasses askew, and quickly undoes her bra. She is anxious and feeling grimy from travel. She is light-headed and hungry. She is holding the wheel with one hand and shoving her jeans off with the other. She wants to change into her bathing suit before she gets to the motel she’ll spend the night in so there’ll be no delay diving into the probably over-chlorinated pool. The driver of a decrepit van approaching Townie Lee’s BMW 720i from behind is relieved to have finally emerged from the barren pounding of the high plains night. Ethereal green signs flutter rapidly toward his cracked and grimy windshield. They hang in his mind and he doesn’t actually read them until they’re a few dozen feet, dozens of feet, hundreds of feet behind him. The first one: GAS FOOD LODGINGNEXT RIGHTThe second: EXIT 245 BURROW JUNCTION SPINNAKER DRIVETypical, comforting. But not the third: EXIT 245AINTERSTATE 25 SOUTHCHEYENNEDENVERStretching ahead is the interstate he’s been on and off all day. On and off, on and off and on now later than usual. Another vague interstate is creeping off into the gruff darkness to the south – and here’s Burrow Junction, open for business, somber and abuzz. Yes, he decides, he will take the exit. Interstates at this hour at just about any hour, he has learned are only trembling, asphalt tightropes, highly-strung but not live wires; numbing roads leading at both ends to ambiguous arrivals. There is truer motion in not having gotten anywhere, he has decided, and veers off the freeway, sends his fancy, leather briefcase careening across the backseat and aims his van in for a landing, but worries for a second he’s taken the wrong exit, that’s he’s headed irreparably to Cheyenne, Denver, Albuquerque, Mexico, hisses goddamn son of a bitch, but no, no, he’s on the right ramp, yes, headed in for a landing and following Townie Lee’s taillights toward the warm beckoning, one after another, of places to sleep, places to eat, places to put some money in a juke box, have a few cocktails or drink a few beers. A place, Townie Lee thinks, to stop after the fourth day in a row of hurtling across the country at 90 mph. She swerves on and off the empty sidewalk as she yanks the bottom half of the bikini over her thighs. Her hubcaps grind briefly against the cement. She can smell burnt tires. She is fed up with films, fed up with being Townie Lee Docks, so she is going into seclusion – for good – somewhere on these oceanic plains.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of the serialization of Matt Zalaznick’s short story, “Junktown.” The Vail Daily is serializing short stories and novels written by locals. To submit a piece, contact Vail Daily editor Matt Zalaznick at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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