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 Category:  General Fiction
  Posted: May 13, 2020      Views: 44

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Part 4 of a 5-part story
"Dog Rebel & The War Machine Pt.4" by BlueTiger




I hope you find what you're looking for

Those were the words Ruby June had said to him as he told her his plan and kissed her goodbye.

Dog rode the long black highway for a day and a half. In the morning the sun rose behind him, and as it set, The War Machine's shadow trailed along the asphalt and flickered like black fire. He rode through the desert, through the red mesas and dry sands, past the hills and saguaros that towered along the roadside like hallowed monuments.

I have another riddle for you, Ruby had told him, You figured out the opposite of love. But do you know what's stronger?

Nothing's stronger, he had answered.

Wrong.

And he wondered about that as he rode, as he flew past the red rocks and cacti and the silhouettes of vultures crossing the open blue skies.

When he reached the house on the second day, it was high noon.

The house was near the seaside. It was small, faded pink, walls bleached by weather and time. White curtains hung in the windows, neglected flowerpots scattered across the porch. Dog wondered if she even lived here anymore.

He stepped off the bike. The desert dust still clung to him, and he smoothed back his hair, checked his reflection in the rearview mirrors. Good enough, he decided.

He knocked on the door. A silence followed, and he wondered whether he should try to knock again, while another part of him wanted to turn around and walk away. Before he could decide, the door swung open.
There she stood in the doorway, a cup of coffee in her hand, a yellow bathrobe tied loosely around her waist.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

"My name's John," he replied, his voice sticking in his throat, "John Dog Rebel."

A look of understanding settled across her face, and she waved her hand towards the living room, inviting him in. Wordlessly, he followed her inside.

"I knew you'd show up sooner or later," she said as she set her coffee down on the table and lit a cigarette, "so what is it you want? If you're here for money, I don't have any."

"I'm not." He said.

"Then what are you here for?"

"I just wanted to see you," he answered, "John -- my dad -- he told me you were dead."

She laughed.

"Did he?" she asked, "It's not surprising. I told him to pretend I was."

"Why?" Dog asked, but she acted like she didn't hear. She looked him over, traced her finger across his cheek. She seemed to be, not looking at him, but looking through him, as though he had become a window through which she were watching a scene from the past.

"You look so much like him," she marveled, "so much the same. Except for the eyes. He had eyes like the sky in the desert. I've never seen another man with eyes like that."

There was a painting on the wall, hanging crookedly; a green field filled with brilliant yellow flowers.

"He told me you painted," Dog said.

"I used to," she replied, "not so much anymore. I do acting now. Nothing big. A few commercials here and there."

She stepped away from him, took another sip of her coffee.

"Now, was there something you wanted to ask me?" She asked. Dog cleared his throat. He must have swallowed Arizona on the ride out. He could feel it inside of him, the bones of cattle rattling across an empty stretch of road, the dry wind blowing through. His mouth was made of sand, but he managed to speak. 

"Why...why did you leave?" He asked her. His mother thought it over for a moment. Her eyes - hazel like his, like he knew they would be - were distant again, looking once more into the past. 

"There's a simple reason for it," she explained, "though it might be hard for you to understand. The truth is, I don't really know how to love anyone. I thought I did, a long time ago. I thought I wanted a family, and children, and everything normal people seem to want. But I realized I wasn't cut out for it. I needed freedom; to go where I wanted, do what I wanted. That's what it all came down to. I wish I could say that I wanted you back in my life and that I could be the caring mother you always wanted...but I don't, and I can't. I know how heartless that sounds, but I have to be honest with you. I hope you don't take it personally. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but...I just never wanted to be a wife, or a mother. I hope you can live with that, John."

Dog wasn't looking at her; his eyes were on the painting of daffodils, his mind lost in a field of yellow-gold.

"I can live with it," he said after a long moment, his gaze only leaving the painting as he looked her in the eye and asked,

"But can you?"

He didn't expect an answer, and he didn't wait for one. Instead, he turned and walked away into the blazing sunlight of the cloudless day.

************

Dog rode the bike to the county line, to the rusted-out road sign that stood alone on the side of the highway. He stopped The War Machine on the side of the road, skidding to a halt in the dust.
Swinging off the bike, he threw his helmet to the ground and shook his hair out.

The War Machine - he hated it.

He hated that gleaming hunk of metal that had belonged to her, hated the hours he had spent bringing her back from the dead. He would destroy it, he decided. Drive it off the edge of a cliff, or maybe light it on fire so he could watch it blow itself to smithereens. He had loved this thing because it was hers; now he hated it, for the same reason.

A vulture wheeled above him, alone in the sky. It's shadow was the only thing that moved, black and graceful as it moved across the sun-baked earth.

No, Dog realized, as he watched the sun beat down on the bike, setting the silver wheel rims on fire. The War Machine wasn't his mother's - it was his. He was the one who had pulled her from the dust and slowly worked her back to life. He was the one who had believed she was worth bringing back. And whatever good had been inside his mother, maybe it still lingered there; in the smooth metal of the handlebars, in the roar of the engine.

What's stronger than love? Ruby's voice echoed in his head, as he picked up his helmet again and lay a hand on the bike.

"Forgiveness," he said into the air.

And all that night, and the morning after, Dog rode The War Machine home.
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