Ruthie Traveler

September 16, 2016

I remember, it was warm, it was cold; the rain was falling, there was deep, deep snow; her hair was rust red, was apple gold. She was a Vermont Yankee, a Georgia peach. Crisp leaves, colored like crayons, fell; slick green, birthed leaves unfolded.

It was the early 70s, in Chicago. One of my four roommates brought home a stray girl he had met walking the streets of Old Town. She told him she needed a place to crash. We often hosted crashers, from all over the country. Her backpack was as big as she was. Her hair was twisted into a long braid. She might have been a teen; she might have been twenty.

We greeted her, set out blankets and a pillow on the couch. I played my guitar and sang a song or two. We drank a couple bottles of red wine, and Ruthie Traveler hugged each one of us and passed out Hershey’s Kisses. And we all went to bed, and we all were disappointed.

Sometime in the night, my bedroom door opened. The apartment was pitch black. A few weeks ago, we had been robbed while we were asleep. So I was alert.

But this wasn’t a robber. Ruthie Traveler had decided the couch was uncomfortable. Could she share my mattress on the floor? Clothes on, back to back – yes? Safe, yes? So I slipped my jeans back on, and yes.

There was the flick of a lighter, the pungent smell of marijuana smoke. We inhaled, we giggled like kids. We were kids.

“When I lay beside her, her body looks like silver; The white places of her are pillows soft and fine”

Until there were no clothes, no space, no right-side-up. No nos. Her husky laugh. The flickering candle in my hand tattooing light upon her bird breasts, her red bird’s nest.

I almost ruined the moment with questions. Ruthie Traveler answered the first question: I am leaving tomorrow.

The beauty of her face is, the little secret places, that melt when I kiss her and whisper she is mine

I’m not yours. Thumb . . . here. Your fingers . . . there. Strum me, guitar man.

“Lady don’t leave my bed tonight; I need your love in the shadow light”

Tell me about you.

No.

“Like salt air, she is a taste of time: She is milk white wine”

The next morning, I drove her to the Iowa border, to a rest stop on the interstate. She was headed for Oregon, for Baja, California. She shouldered her backpack, tugged the hem of her granny dress in place, tapped on my window and kissed the glass.

She mouthed: Thanks for the rides.

And she laughed and covered her red mouth with her freckled hand. She was a robber after all, of a heart, not goods.

And she walked away. I watched her talk to a truck driver, shake his hand, climb aboard his rig.

I remember, it was warm, it was cold; the rain was falling, there was deep, deep snow; her hair was rust red, was apple gold. She was a Vermont Yankee, a Georgia peach. Crisp leaves colored like crayons fell; slick green, birthed leaves unfolded.

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