I counted telephone poles and the seconds between them. The highway cut through the desert and offered little else. No curves. No hills. Just poles.
I’m not sure when she changed. Smiles that used to appear without reason failed to form, jokes she used to tell were no longer told. I watched while she drove. Not even a blink, just an arid stare. She hid behind the wheel and focused on the road, her excuse to pretend I wasn’t there. Maybe I’d changed, too. I went back to the poles.
She once asked me to keep her young and I said there wasn’t much I could do about aging. So she rephrased and asked me to keep her youthful. This I could try. And so came the days when everyone we saw became someone else. We spent hours inventing stories about people, who they were, what their lives were like. I got the idea from a Simon and Garfunkel song. In a grocery store, she said, “See that woman over there? She’s having an affair with her tango teacher. Her husband knows it, too. But he’s sleeping with his secretary.” She looked at me and waited for what I would say.
“Do you think they’re aware?” I asked.
“Aware of what?”
“That her tango teacher is married to his secretary?”
And she kissed me right there in the grocery store. For a long time.
I tired of the poles and wanted to turn on the radio, but figured no stations were in reach. I also figured she’d turn it off if I found one. I wanted to talk or break something. I dozed off instead.
I don’t remember pulling over. When I woke she wasn’t in the car, but it was still running. I jumped out and found her standing in the sand some ways away. I walked to where she was, but let her speak first. She stood in front of a cactus, prickly in bloom.
“They’re spies,” she said.
I wanted to say something, but it wasn’t my turn. So I waited.
“They’re spies from another planet sent here to watch us. See those flowers?” She pointed. “They’re not really flowers.”
I was up. “No, they’re not,” I said. “They’re communication devices used to send information back home. Information they gather throughout the year.”
“Yes,” she said. “That’s exactly what they are. Communication devices.”
I wanted to ask where she’d gone, but instead I kissed her right there in the desert. For a long time.