By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
The Columbia River Gorge, which serves as a line of demarcation between much of the north/south borders of Oregon and Washington, has some of the most spectacular scenery in the Pacific Northwest; especially in the Fall, when the otherwise evergreen landscape is festooned with the rich orange, yellow, brown and reds of the changing season.
Ever since I was a little girl growing up in the Midwest, the ‘twilight’ season has been my favorite season of the year. Autumn in the Columbia River Gorge is breathtaking… mere words cannot begin to describe the majestic scenery unfolding as we motor east.
Peering through the raindrops on the side window, I gaze across the choppy blue-grey waters of the Columbia River as Tina navigates the Prius along State Route 14,Washington State’s southern-most roadway. Through the stands of conifers along the Evergreen Highway, I catch an occasional glimpse of Multnomah Falls, across the river on the Oregon side. It almost makes me forget the purpose of this little road trip.
“Chuck Wendig has a really cool beard.”
“Chuck Wendig has a really cool beard.” I turn my head away from the view across the Columbia River and look over at Tina. “I never really noticed that before, but he does.”
Tina turns her head and gives me a look that I am quite familiar with; although… she usually doesn’t favor me with it when we are hurtling along a black ribbon of highway at 60 plus miles an hour.
Tina seems to have forgotten that she is the driver and I am the navigator; her gaze remains locked on my face. I offer up a little smile and point my finger at her side of the Toyota’s windshield. Tina blinks her eyes, as if breaking a spell, and jerks her head back around… just as the left side tires make a little ‘bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-bumpity’ sound, signaling that we are drifting into the other lane. Tina swears under her breath.
“Did you just say ‘fuck’?” I ask… a little incredulous. Damn and hell are usually about as strong a language as passes over my honey’s lips; except when… well… you know…
“No!” Tina’s denial is a bit too vehement.
“You did so!” I retort. “You never say ‘fuck’… except when I have my tongue stuffed…”
“Veronica!” Tina takes her eyes off the road again… a shocked expression on her face.
“What? It’s true! And you love it… you know it!” I stick my tongue out at Tina. Her face turns a bright red as she turns her attention back to the road in front of us. We drive in silence for some time; the rhythmic back and forth of the windshield wipers a counterpoint to the steady, wet drone of tires on the rain-swept road.
“Honey, there’s a turnout ahead. Why don’t you pull off the road?”
“Why? What’s the matter? Did you need to go to the bathroom?”
I stick my tongue out in reply, and wink at Tina. Her face reddens again. I tilt my head back and laugh… I am having way too much fun here!
After a while, we pass through the sleepy little town of Stevenson, a tiny dot on the map between the Bridge of the Gods and the Hood River Bridge; two of the eight bridges that span the Columbia River, connecting Oregon and Washington. On the way out of town we drive past the white buildings of the Stevenson Econo-Lodge, where, two years ago, on a rainy windswept day much like today, Deirdre caught up with the man who had killed her six year-old daughter in cold blood, in his short-lived escape from justice. The thought sends a shudder through my small frame. I turn my thoughts elsewhere.
“I think you should let your pubes grow back out, honey.”
“I miss that ‘prickly feeling’ when we…”
“Are we still talking about Chuck Wendig’s beard? Are you trying to tell me something, Veronica?” I detect just a note of worry in Tina’s voice.
I chuckle softly under my breath… saying nothing.
“Veronica Marie! This is not funny!”
The rain has let up by the time we reach Bingen. Tina turns off of SR 14, left onto Oak Street and we pull into the parking lot next to the little brown building that is home to Bingen’s First Independent Bank. Tina turns off the ignition and I reach behind the front seat for the over-sized nondescript black shoulder bag.
“I want to be Jasmine!” Tina says; taking the Cinderella mask I pull from the bag and hand to her.
“Don’t be silly… Jasmine has dark hair… I have to be Jasmine.”
“We’re robbing a bank. Do you really think anyone is going to notice that ‘Jasmine’ has blonde hair?”
I give Tina my ‘really?’ look. She makes a little pout and pulls the mask over her face. I do the same with the Jasmine mask.
“Ronnie… wake up, baby!” Tina’s voice slowly filters through the sleep-fog in my brain. Her hand is gently shaking my shoulder. I stretch and slowly sit up in bed.
“Wow… I had the weirdest dream, honey.”
“You and I robbed a bank. We drove up the gorge in Washington, to this little town outside of White Salmon and…” Tina lets out a laugh.
“Okay… no more pepperoni and anchovy pizza for you at midnight, miss! Robbing a bank? Really? I’m a lawyer with the federal government… an officer of the law, remember? You’re a pre-school teacher. We are no more bank robbers than we are Jasmine and Cinderella!”
Tina gives a wink and walks over to the closet. I stare after her… my mouth open, but no words will come out.
Tina walks back out of the closet and leans over to give me a kiss.
I lean away from her… my eyes wide with dawning horror.
“When do you get that black shoulder bag?”
“This old thing? I’ve had it forever, Ronnie… what’s wrong, baby girl?”
(Author’s Note – I seem to have misread the prompt; I thought the word limit was 1,000. If I had more time, I could probably pad another three hundred words here, but I am pretty pleased with the 1,000 I did do, so… I am going to leave it. And, even though myself and my inamorata and wife, Christina, are in the story, I believe it qualifies as fiction, since the story… well, at least, most of it… was a dream. I’m still trying to figure out when and where Tina got that over-sized black shoulder bag. It is just not her style! Thank you for reading my little tale. VMLS)