Margot Tremont had an itch.
For the last few miles, it had tickled her ankle and right foot. She scrunched her bare toes on the gas pedal of her dusty old Cabriolet, so cute and trendy when she bought it in college, now running only; it seemed, on the blood, sweat, and tears of her mechanic back in New Castle, Delaware.
Way back in Delaware. How many states back was that, now? Margot tried to count, to distract herself from the urge to reach down and scratch. One for Delaware, where she’d spent her entire life, growing up in a quaint old historic town, then studying at the university nearby, begging her parents to let her room in the dorms to distinguish herself from the other townies, wanting to be an actress. She’d hung on the tales of the only actress she’d ever heard of from Delaware, the blond girl who’d played Ben Stiller’s wife-to-be in Meet the Parents, as she tried on Shakespeare and Sondheim in student theater, and dreamed of getting away.
Pennsylvania had been next, she remembered. Only a few short miles from where she’d grown up, and the place to which she and her theater friends had escaped to see real shows—in Philly—Broadway tours and such that would have no reason to stop in tiny Delaware. She’d passed through Paradise, and hoped the real thing was better than the dingy burb that it appeared to be by the light of the dashboard.
After PA, Margot detoured through Ohio to visit Helen, stopping for an uncomfortable meal as she watched her former college roommate juggle the demands of her one-year-old and the contractor who was helping with the renovations on her split-level colonial. Margot remembered late nights talking with Helen in the student center, both of them washed out under the glow of the fluorescents, as they planned to move to Hollywood and become famous. Hollywood had seemed very far from Columbus, Ohio—and so she got back on the road.
She tried using the toes of her left foot to scratch her right, but after a moment of bliss, the attempt just left her wanting more.
She’d forgotten West Virginia. There was a thin sliver of it she passed through on her way to Ohio from Pennsylvania, barely worth mentioning unless you were counting states, which Margot was. You could practically see the “Thanks for Visiting West Virginia! Come Again!” sign from the “Welcome to West Virginia!” one. But then she was used to that from Delaware.
Then Kentucky. Nothing to be said about Kentucky. Margot had envisioned fields of bluegrass, but it all looked green, and then it was too dark to see anything, anyway.
Kentucky was just a thing to travel through in order to get to Memphis, Tennessee. To get to Graceland. She holed up in the Heartbreak Hotel across the road from Elvis’s house, and took the tour with appropriate awe. Still, it felt…small, she thought. Margot had expected something grander. He was the King, wasn’t he? On the way out of town, heading into Arkansas, she passed a shining black pyramid by the river and thought he ought to have lived there. That would have been better.
If she crossed her left foot behind her right, rather than in front, she was able to get at the itch a little better. But then she got a cramp in her calf and had to stop.
Arkansas was a line of Waffle House after Waffle House, the big block letters on the yellow signs glowing from the side of the road. No one seemed to want to stop in Arkansas, though. Everyone kept moving.
In Oklahoma, Margot entertained herself by singing the entire score of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical. She started with “Ooooooo…………klahoma, where the wind comes rushing down the plains,” kept going through “I’m just a girl who can’t say no”—her solo when the theater group put on the show in college—mourned Judd Fyre in “Poor Judd,” and wondered why the cowboy and farmer couldn’t be friends.
And now Texas. Nine states down—well, eight down, one in process—three to go. At least she was pretty sure it was Texas. She hadn’t seen the sign, but it looked how Margot had always imagined Texas would look, although as the sun went down it all just looked black. Wide, expansive fields of black, punctuated by neon like an itch.
On her foot.
With the road empty ahead and behind her, Margot eased her left foot onto the gas pedal, awkwardly trying to maintain the same pressure, as she pulled her right up, closer to her hand, to her fingers, to her nails.
She sighed as she scratched, finally satisfied, and looked down to see if she’d been bitten or something, if there was a reason for the itch. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, darting from the side of the road, she saw a blur through the open passenger window, and before her left foot could move, before her fingers could move away from the swelling redness on her right, she felt the contact.
A bump, before she finally managed to jerk the steering wheel to the side and stop the car. The air was full of noise, the artful crying of cicadas and the buzz of other insects loud in the stillness as Margot turned off the car, the engine ticking as it began to cool down.
She sat with no idea what do to. If she’d hit something and it was dead, was she supposed to—she shuddered—move it? Call someone to move it? Who would she call? Would her cell phone work out here? If it did, was she going to get charged for roaming? And what about the car? Was there damage, and what would she do if there was? It wasn’t like she could drive back to her mechanic in Delaware—especially not after how she’d left things with him, his normally grease-covered hands scrubbed clean when he caressed her, begged her not to go, and Margot, wanting to make things easier, told him she’d never loved him, not really.
She opened her door, fumbled a moment with the seatbelt, then released it and stepped out onto the road. She listened, wondering if she would recognize the sounds of an animal in pain, or… dear god, what if it was a person? Margot couldn’t imagine what a person would be doing running along the side of the road in the dark, but it was a possibility. An insane jogger, maybe? Didn’t Lance Armstrong train by biking all over Texas? Had she just crippled or killed a six-time Tour de France winner?
She called out. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
No answer. Maybe she’d hit a box. A light cardboard box pushed along by a spring breeze, although the air was still. Moving around her open door, she crossed in front of her headlights and crouched at the front right corner. There was a smear of…something… across the headlight. It looked dark, but she touched it with her finger to see if it was wet, to examine it more closely. Margot was reminded of glitter glue. Which was weird. It wasn’t blood, luckily, since she didn’t know of any creature with green blood that disappeared as it dried, leaving only a sparkle of glitter behind. She didn’t know what it was, but with one more glance around her, and one more shouted “Anyone?” she got back into her car, closed the door, and started the engine.
Margot had driven less than a mile down the road when she saw the lights of a rest stop, and decided to stop for a pee break, maybe a Diet Coke and something to snack on, and to fill up her tank. She pulled off the highway without signaling, since there was still no one on the road to see her indicator, and rolled up to the self-service pumps. She hummed “Surrey with a Fringe on Top” as she filled the tank, using her debit card to pay, then parked in the lot another hundred yards away or so. She grabbed her backpack from the front passenger seat and slung it on her shoulder, and pocketed her car keys before heading towards the brightly lit “Midway” sign over the main entrance, a smaller sign proclaiming “Fresh Pies!” just to the right of the door.
Ten steps away, she swung around, and headed back to the car, opening the back door and reaching in for her University of Delaware hoodie, feeling a rush of hot air and a sudden brush of what felt like…wings?…against her bare legs.
Margot stepped back, and looked around again. She hadn’t seen anything, but it felt like something—someone—had just run past her. Or flown past her?
She shook her head. Too much driving, too much caffeine. Maybe she’d have a tall cold glass of water and a piece of pie instead. She reached back into the car for her sweatshirt and zipped it up around her, not noticing the smear of green glitter across the back, where someone—something—had lain, and bled.
Slamming the car door shut behind her, she walked into the building, followed by pain-filled unseen eyes.
Margot Tremont had an itch.