Saturday, December 1, 2007
8.5" x 11"
Late Friday afternoon. Fall. There was beginning to be a hint of crispness in the warm air. There was a sense of movement as people, and their transportation, moved around, getting ready for Friday night football games. A constant hum of motors could be heard in the streets and on the nearby highway.
Everyone had left early while I remained in my room, finishing up and getting things ready for the coming Monday. I walked down the sidewalk to the back of the brick buildings. I usually didn't park my car in back of the school, but I had been told not to park in front of the school unless I was unloading, but had not been given a certain place within a reasonable walking distance. In the rush of getting my car parked in time for my class to start, I decided to park in the back of the school, behind the library and gym, where coaches and the librarian usually parked. I wasn't supposed to park here, either, and it was too far from my room. But, today, I just stopped where ever I could find a place.
I had a stack of books in my arms, my purse hanging near my elbow, and my key ready to open the locked door. I pushed the dirt with my foot in the little driveway as I reached the parking area.
School was peaceful with everyone gone. Long shadows caught my attention as something I should take note of for some future art work. I could breathe deeply, knowing that some of the stress of the week was behind me. I didn't have to go to the game, but could go home, kick off my shoes, have supper with my family, watch tv, and wait for the scores on the news. My thoughts were on turning on the radio in the car and listening to a program of old country western music, that began with the Aggie Band playing "The Aggie War Hymn". I could turn that on really loud and feel a great surge of energy and joy for the drive home.
The car was a little warm as I touched the key to the lock, then pulled the handle to open the door. I threw the books into the back seat, put one foot in the car, grabbed the steering wheel to pull myself onto the soft leather seat. I loved being in my car, and driving. I even enjoyed the commute home each day. A time I could unwind, and just enjoy being by myself.
Before I could sit down, I realized that someone was behind me. A tall figure, dressed in a dark blue suit, wearing a dark western hat, and brown square toed cowboy boots. The man pulled himself into the back seat and pushed me into the drivers seat. He pushed the door closed so I couldn't get back out.
I was stunned. Who was this? What did he want? This was a safe place. These things didn't happen. I shouldn't have stayed at school so late.
"Drive!" The deep voice commanded. "And hurry up about it!"
"Listen here," my school teacher voice took over. "You aren't supposed to be here. And don't think of trying anything. There are lots of people around with the game and all going on!"
"Get this car going and drive!" He leaned forward and yelled beside my ear.
"Besides, I don't have any money," I argued. "I'm just a poor school teacher." I added, hoping for a little sympathy and relief.
"I don't want any money or anythig else. I need you to drive this car! Now!"
He moved his hand beside my face and opened a brown leather wallet with something silver in it. My eyes wouldn't focus, but I assumed that he was trying to show me a badge.
"Okay, okay, I'm going!" I looked in the rearview mirror as I pulled away from the drive.
"Say, aren't you that guy on tv?" I was surprised that my car-jacker might actually be a star, or maybe he was really some kind of policeman.
"You look just like that man on the soap opera, who used to be in the cowboy shows! Say, you aren't Phil Carey, are you? I was trying to think where I had seen him before. But, of course, this couldn't be him. I read that the star had been ill, was not on the soap opera anymore, and, besides, he would be in New York and not Texas, and the star was in his 80's,now.
"No, I'm not whoever you think I am. Get going over to the highway! I just need your car for a little while." He was pushing against the back of the seat as if to make the car move forward faster.
"Well, you sure look like him, to me! Sound like him, too." I drove past the chicken place and turned onto the east-west highway. I kept glancing in the mirror, not to look for traffic, but to look at this man who looked just like the star in his younger days. The voice was unmistakable, I thought.
"There they are!" He leaned over the back of the seat and hung his arm over the back while pointing ahead. "Those four guys, in that white car! Stay with that car. Don't let them get away!" he demanded.
"Look, I'm just an old lady school teacher, not a professional driver! If you want to drive yourself, that would be okay with me!" That sounded kind of like I was lecturing a student, after I said it.
"No time! Get after them! Don't let them lose you!"
"Why? Why are you doing this? And why am I having to drive for you? Don't you have a car of your own?" I asked. This seemed very strange. Why wasn't this man driving his car, or a police car, if that's what he was?
"Can't let them see that I'm following them. Just keep up with them. And don't let them out of your sight!"
The white car pulled in and out of lanes as they sped through the traffic going to the big games in the area. I didn't think they realized that I was trying to follow them as I stayed behind them. I had been driving these streets for many years, ever since I got my drivers license, so I knew them well. The men in the car were laughing and their car rocked with booming music.
"Why are you following them? I asked, not really caring if they got away in the traffic. I was ready to go home and quit this game.
The man leaned back as we approached the car. He took a phone from his jacket and called someone.
The white car turned north on Highway 6 and then onto 79, the highway that led to the county seat and on into the next state. They could be going anywhere.
"Listen, mister. I've got to get home. And this is not the way I go! I haven't been over here in a long time. I always go south. " I told him. "Besides, I don't have money to be buying gas, either!"
"Just drive! And shut up!" He went back to talking on the phone as we followed the curved overpass onto the highway that led east.
"Just do what he says. Just do what he says," I told myself over and over. "Don't act scared. Don't let him know you are scared. Try to follow that car."
I wished for a Highway Patrol car to pull that white speeding car over. But, with my luck, if one came along, they would stop me and give me a ticket! I tried to keep within the speed limit, but, at the same time, keep the white car in sight.
Things had changed some since the last time I had been here. Homes and stores that had been there all my life were either gone, or were abandoned to weeds and vines. Some buildings had fallen in and were now only piles of rubble. And, a few new places had been built. I didn't recognize some of the old places because their surroundings were changed.
As we approached the little town that was the county seat, the white car turned off the highway and onto a narrow street. The men in the back seat of the car looked back and laughed. Did they know that I was following them? Did they know that the man was in my car? Could they possibly think that they could lose themselves in this little town?
I slowed down as I turned onto the street.
"Where does this go?" the man asked in his deep, husky voice.
"Well, in this town, all streets either lead to the courthouse, or you can go on to another highway that leads north and west, if I remember correctly. I haven't been here in years, so I'm really not sure. It could have changed."
I looked for the white car, but it had either pulled into a driveway and behind a house, or it was still in front of us. Then I got a glimpse of it turning onto the next street, closer to the courthouse.
"Keep on him!" the man said.
"Okay. I am. But, I have to tell you, I haven't been here in a long time." I said nervously.
"What's over that way?" The man pointed ahead of us.
" That's the courthouse. And the jail." I pointed.
The streets were a little different than I remembered. For an instant, I even wondered if this was the same town that was next to my hometown. There were empy lots where houses and stores had once been. The old wooden hotel and the white gas station that I remembered were still there. The bank had a new brick building closer to the highway, and a little cafe had opened to serve people traveling on this busy interstate highway. The town, like others in the county, was losing people and buildings.
"I can't remember this street, but I know that if I keep following it, it will end at the square and the courthouse. I've probably been on it, but where are the homes that I would recognize?" I tried to reason out where I was.
"Surely, if those are bad guys in the white car, they won't go near the jail and the courthouse, or even the middle of town. Or maybe this is the bad guy in here with me! He wouldn't want to go there, either, I would think." I tried to figure out what was happening.
The white car moved slowly along the narrow street, avoiding parked cars.
"Are you sure that you want to go this way? The courthouse is coming up soon."
"Yeah, I want to go there, alright. Those guys are going to get a surprise when they get by the courthouse. Just be ready to stop when I tell you to." He held his phone on the seat beside my head.
"You sure that you aren't that guy on tv, or kin to him?" I thought that maybe casual conversation might make him relax and less likely to hurt me.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said quietly. I just needed a car that those guys wouldn't recognize. And I happened to see you out there without anyone around. I left my car back there on the street. That's all. As soon as we get up here, and get them, you can go on home and about your business."
"Oh." I couldn't manage to say more.
I looked at the empty lots and tried to remember the old houses and stores that had been there. A brick furniture store was empty, the sidewalk in front, cracked. Where there once were large homes of the early settlers of the county, there were only weeds, dead trees, or new trees that had grown where a home had once been.
"You can pull in here," he pointed to a curb in front of a gnarled tree within sight of the courthouse. I could see the old hotel and gas station beyond the tree, on the next street and the highway.
"No point in you having to get into this. Just sit tight here for a little while. There might be some traffic coming this way kind of fast, or something happening that you don't need to get into."
He opened the door, got out, and stood beside the car. He was really tall, probably about 6'4", and good-looking. He squinted as he looked toward the courthouse square where the white car was heading.
"Sorry that I scared you, Ma'am," he said quietly, looking over the car, not at me. "There just wasn't time to explain. You've been a big help. And I thank you."
"Well..., " I didn't know what to say. Now that I had seen him, and listened to him, I wished I was younger, and that he might show a hint of interest in me. Instead, I had used my gas, been scared half out of my mind, been delayed from my quiet evening, and taken to a town I thought I would probably never be in again in my lifetime.
"Thank you again, Ma'am. You take it easy,now. And, by the way, I've never been on tv, but, if you watch the news tonight...." He tipped his hat and walked cautiously toward the square.
I tried to watch him as he walked down the street and wondered what might be about to happen. Maybe a bunch of Highway Patrol and police cars would rush to surround the car. Shots might be fired. Someone might be shot, or even killed. Or maybe the white car would take off again, heading for the highway that headed north, and the man would have to try to find someone else to ride with. Or he might jump in a police car, as those pulled up, and off they would go on a chase. Or, maybe, if I sat there a while, he might come back and need another ride.
I looked at the gnarled tree in front of me, waiting to see what would happen.
"This tree is kind of interesting," I thought. The warm colors of the late afternoon sun enhanced the dark crack down the side. "I wonder if squirrels or other critters live in there, and why it cracked like that. One of these days, I'll have to come back over here and paint that tree. If I can find it again." I tried to make note of the tree, the street, and what was there now, so that I could find the tree again.
Local police, county, sheriff department, and Highway Patrol cars surrounded the white car as it passed the courthouse. They seemed to appear from nowhere, rushing out of side streets and allys. The man stood out among the men in various brown and gray uniforms, with his height, his blue suit and western hat. They gathered to talk on the sidewalk in front of the old courthouse. The man and some of the officers had guns in their hands.
The men were being removed from the white car when I saw my rider wave at me. I guessed that meant that it was okay for me to leave.
I would have to listen to the news on tv when I got home to see what happened. Nosey me, of course, wanted to rush over and find out what it was all about, and possibly even get something that I could write up. I always felt sure that, in these instances, someone would tell me that it was none of my business and to get out of there. I wouldn't risk it, especially since they had guns.
I looked at the tree again. "Yes sir, I guess I will have to bring my painting things and come over here and paint you, tree, if I can ever find you again. I wonder why I never noticed you before."
"Grandma, can you wake up and make me some toast?" my young grandson asked.
I sat up in bed and tried to wake up. "What a dumb dream!" I rubbed my eyes. "All that was a dream!"
I can figure out why I might have dreamed about the tv star since I had read about him no longer being on the soap opera. But, this dream was so unsetling. Why that tree, so detailed! And the place. It may not even exist. The town does. But, it all stuck with me and I had to draw it. I will paint it and have already done the drawing on watercolor paper. One of these days, I will have to go see if I can find that tree. I can't help but wonder if the star would like my story/dream!
In my drawing, I've shown the parking spot, for once the town was busy and space was needed even far from the courthouse for parking. The curb, the old sidewalk, the weed covered lots, the old hotel, the small white filling station on the highway, and, of course, the distinctive tree are all there.
I hope that you enjoyed my tale of the "Dream Tree". I will post the paintings when I have done them.
There is another tree, that I actually drove past for years, in that county, that I have photographed, drawn, painted, wondered about, and even wrote a little about. I don't have a particular interest in trees, or flowers, for that matter, but they can be fascinating.
Let me know if you see something that is of interest to you.