You can't get the smell of stale grease out of your skin. It sinks into your pores no matter how you wash and wash, and the pop and spatter of oil stings your hands, and the chatter in English and Spanish is always the same, who's getting married, who's pregnant, who's going off to college, who's joining the Army. Burger with bacon, burger with egg, burger with double patty and cheese and extra sauce. Days and days and days, blacktop outside and linoleum in, and nothing ever changes.
Until he walks in.
Guy with strands of dark hair falling into his eyes, guy in black jeans and boots and a red T-shirt with a little tear so you can see some skin. Guy who beckons you out and you'd never imagined yourself doing anything like this but you put down the fry basket and walk with him to his motorcycle parked outside where the blacktop's cracked and green is wedging its way out, saw-edged leaves unfurling and little yellow sun rising and swelling and drying into a perfect sphere of fluff and air.
He says make a wish, and you kneel down there on the blacktop beside his boots with the dandelion inches from your mouth. You can smell the new-laid tar that should have killed the seed dead as the diner's hash browns, but you can smell the plant too, the fresh green smell of a living thing.
You make a wish. You blow.
The seeds scatter on the breeze, and you stand and watch them with vision that was never so sharp as it was now, with the guy beside you and his hand warm on your shoulder, and all the tiny paragliders float over the diner and across the street and fall where they'll never grow, except for the one that goes higher, gets caught in an updraft, and makes it into the mountain green.
These things don't happen except they do, they happen if you make them happen, and you turn to him and his motorcycle and you swing your leg over the seat. You know how to ride, Faviola taught you before she got the scholarship and left, but it's the guy's bike and he has the keys so you let him use them. His back is warm and you press yourself against it. Five minutes ago you were a good girl. Five minutes ago he wasn't here.
The wind blows back his hair and yours, blows the grease and the grease-smell right out of your skin, and the only way it could be better would be if you were driving and you could drive through the woods and settle your ass back against his cock which you know is hard, and never stop driving and never crash.
You don't know how he got up into the woods because there's no tracks behind him when he finally stops. And then his bike is gone and the two of you are alone in the forest where you hardly ever go because of bears and cougars and hidden shacks for cooking crystal meth that the cops only find when the kitchens explode. The ground is covered with rotten leaves and dry twigs and little plants and fallen seeds and berries and mushrooms. It smells different from the dandelion, less green and more dirt and dead things. You remember that it's winter still, not that the seasons matter when you can pay the bills for heat and air, and you start to feel cold. You want to warm yourself against his flame. Maybe burn yourself. Maybe burn yourself to ash and gone.
Or maybe he's the one who will burn.
You reach out for him but he backs away, into the trees, his red shirt a coal in darkness. But he beckons as he goes, and you know he wants you to chase him. So you follow, darting through the labyrinth of scrub oak and copper-barked manzanita, faster and faster and faster until your paws are flying across the dirt and you catch him, your prize, your prey, with his antlers casting shadows across his skin.
You throw him down and the rich smell of the fertile earth rises up from where he falls. He strips away your clothes and strokes your skin and puts his hand between your thighs and moves his fingers back and forth and in and out and you pull down his jeans and straddle him and rub yourself against him until he begs for more, you make him beg. You push his shoulders down and raise yourself up and envelop him and let him move inside of you, and nothing ever felt so good and right except maybe the moment when you watched a dandelion grow through the blacktop.
When he comes, he calls you spring. When you come, flowers bloom.
You wake up on a bed of wildflowers, crimson and orange and blue and pink and purple and white, silken petals and tasseled sprays, chuparosa and California poppy, larkspur and yerba santa, buttercup, monkey-flower, milkweed, corn lily, yarrow, calabazilla. The names are in your head and you figure the guy put them there, because you sure didn't know them before.
But he's gone and you can't live in the forest and by the time you've hiked back out you can't remember the name of the little scarlet pom-pom that's growing by the side of the road. And it's back to the diner and the grease and the paycheck because he's gone and he's never coming back, not even a little bit of him like you were kind of hoping until the same old trickle of blood washed even that bittersweet fantasy away.
And he's gone and everything's the same except you can't stand it any more. The mountain slopes are rainbow-topped green and the translucent frog-eggs hatch, grow feet, hop away. You can feel it happening and that's different but you're still stuck within walls and floors and ceilings. It would only torture you to take a hike in the woods where you'll never find him, never see him, never touch him, never have him make you something more than what you are, a small-town girl, a short-order cook, an everyday woman.
Though he's gone, you feel the summer fruit ripen and the bears gorge themselves on half-fermented juice. Though he's gone, you watch the leaves catch fire and slowly burn to red and yellow embers. Though he's gone, you walk out into the snow and then walk back in again.
He's gone but you're still here, and when it's time for spring you know what you have to do. You walk out of the diner again, and this time you can feel the longing follow you, call to you. The motorcycle's waiting on the blacktop, keys gently jingling though no one's in sight. You get on and drive.
So many towns scattered like seed below the mountains, full of people with their loves and furies and sorrows and dreams. People longing to go. People longing to stay. People longing to unfurl their hearts toward the rising sun.
You park outside a skanky bar and walk on in. It doesn't surprise you that you're now wearing a black leather skirt and a blouse of crimson silk. When you feel a touch of warmth in your winter-chilled heart, you beckon to a young man in ripped jeans and a dirty camouflage jacket, nursing a beer he bought with a fake ID. He looks up and follows you out, and you show him a yellow spear of deer weed stretching up from a crack in the blacktop.
You don't tell him he's the one who's making it grow. He'll know when he's been spring and summer and autumn and winter, and goes to seek another spring. He'll know with the change of seasons, when he doesn't need you any more.