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She drives her 1978 Pinto through the desert, as the sky goes the same unreal color as the lone gas station neon sign.
There's a lot of road ahead.
Past midnight, she stops at a 24 hour McDonalds and gift shop roadside mini-mall. She and the place don't fit together in the same w orld, but there they are. Hard to tell which one of them is out of place.
She slurps her chocolate milkshake with greedy enjoyment, distracted with thoughts of the work before her, and eats her fries as she gets back into the car.
She doesn't toss the wrappers in the back. There are important things there.

 

Her neatly folded clothes still smelling fresh, some smelling of live body. She has room to move in them, none of that stretchy, restrictive stuff, and she sure needs the room. Outsiders would tell you, sometimes tell her at toll booths or rest stops, that she is fat, and hairy, and old. Some people call her things for that. She has many names.

The next morning, around ten, as the sun begins to take the day serious, she finds the last bone, a wolf's scapula .

The next day she cleans the bones, setting them together on the bleached sand at it goes warmer, humming as she works, sleeaves a wave of color against the sky. She hums to herself, at times it's easy, throaty sounds, sometimes the tune shapes into something she may have heard playing at some diner, or riffs from home. She likes Nicki Minaj . She smoothes the bones fondly as she works and rubs, almost encouragement . and they meet her halfway , , coming together with tendons and cartilages and blood vessels beginning to beat pleasantly under her patting fingers .

At night, the wolf looks up at her, fur tired but new, the color of the darkening sky. She gets some water out of the back seat and pours it into a flat container for her. It's been baking in the car all day, warm and industrial smelling, but the wolf laps at it, and places her hairy, heavy muzzle, fondly dripping on the fabric of her thigh. She pats the wolf's shoulders, and they rest for a moment. It's been a hard day.

the wolf observes her with new eyes, old, not who she was before, how could she be, after the desert. How would she even know who to be, if she tried, pieces from Whitehorse, Yukon, Alberta, northeast Oregon, Minnesota, hind leg from a meadow at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, nail polished as a talisman, from the Caspian Sea, vertebra from behind a California zoo. She know it can be confusing to try to be some many things, that mean so much for other, not even knowing what . The wolf presses her cheek to her belly, warm and wild, then runs off, surrounded by fresh air and night, and stars, too. In the last of the light from her headlights - trusty Pinto idling, lighting their piece of sand - she sees a flash of change, maybe, the wolf's joy in running now a woman-wolf's joy. She hopes not, wolves are better than people, but it's her body now, again, and it's her prerogative to morph into a woman if that's her thing. No judgment.

 

she slowly collects the bits and ends of her long day, back aching and hair wisping out of its fastening. Gathers the more dangerous things into bags, sitting on her cooler with a beer, crumbles some leftover treats for the opossums or whathaveyou, coyotes, whoever likes leftover KFC can have it - her small thank you for the desert. hauls the stuff back into her backseat - looking emptier than before.

Time passes, and she is outside a small town in Florida, resting on the hood of her car and humming at the stars, when a man approaches, tall the sort of hungry who doesn't remember he is anymore. His shirt is bloody. Old blood. His blood. Mostly. He exists a black old car that she likes, and in the back seat he keeps something important as well. She can tell he knows better than to approach a woman alone on a deserted road, but he does anyway . She has a rifle, but she is pretty sure she doesn't need it. Yet.

 

She doesn't often talk with people like him. But there is desperation in his expression that reminds her of some wolves, obsessive persistence, the more it hurts the more sense it makes, brown hair in his eyes like the weight of a head on her thigh. Soft.

she tell him - they don't come back the same.

He says he doesn't care. He says please, just please. He doesn't understand she mans it literally. This isn't a thing she can do for the loved ones. They can come back for themselves, but they're never the same. But she can tell he'd have said please anyway. Hell, who knows, maybe his would be the exception.

 

She doesn't shoot him.

 

They drive for the Everglades.