“They’ll be looking for two women,” Gwen says near midnight, as they cross into Texas, “one white and one colored.”
The next day she cuts Morgana’s hair in the restroom of a friendly service station in Wichita Falls. She helps bind her chest in a strip of cloth cut from Morgana’s old skirt, helps button up the crisp checkered shirt she bought in Dallas with her daddy’s stolen money. Dizzy and desperate and falling on her feet, Morgana still rouses to Gwen’s touch, tries to kiss her like James Dean with Natalie Wood on the movie screen.
“Not here,” Gwen says firmly. “Get me to California first.”
It doesn’t seem possible, not with Texas stretching harsh and endless in every direction. But others have ridden the highways across this continent before them – hundreds of thousands of their parents’ generation, and a steady stream of dreamers and misfits ever since. After he arrived in Los Angeles three years ago, Gwen’s brother sent her a list of hotels and restaurants that wouldn’t turn Negroes away. They didn’t have time to bring any such papers with them, and they’re too scared to stop anywhere yet, but Gwen knows the list by heart. Just as Morgana remembers Elena’s letter from San Francisco: “I never dreamed there could be so many girls like us in the world, let alone in one city.”
Morgana feels lighter as soon as they step outside. The desert wind steals the sweat from her bare neck. “If he’d sent the authorities after us, they would’ve stopped us by now,” she says.
Gwen grips the steering wheel and says nothing, but she’s breathing easier than before.
They drive all day and into the night, and the state police never pull them over. They finally stop at a smart Negro-owned motel just across the state line into New Mexico. Gwen goes to take a shower and Morgana looks around the room: a double bed, a table and a mirror, a blanket on the wall with an Indian design. She could weep at the strangeness, the abundance, the anonymity.
And then there’s her reflection. Close up she doesn’t look much like a man, but not what she’s ever thought a woman could be either. Whether or not it worked as a disguise, she’s certain she looks more like herself than she ever has.
When Gwen comes out naked and dripping Morgana forgets about herself and goes to her knees. “You’re so beautiful,” she breathes.
“I’m the same as before,” says Gwen, laughing and running her hand through Morgana’s cropped hair. Morgana doesn’t quite agree but she nods, thrilling at the coupled sensations of Gwen’s hand at the back of her neck, the warm wet skin of Gwen’s belly on her cheek, and Gwen’s pubic hair tickling her chin. She starts to press in with her mouth but Gwen stops her and says, “Not after two days without sleep. Come on.”
They kiss as they fall into bed. Gwen says, “I want your hand,” and Morgana gives it, uses the tip of her thumb to caress Gwen’s vulva while the knuckle presses against her clitoris. Gwen smiles and then whimpers and then pulls her into place, so soon Morgana’s rocking strong and steady against her, her fist held firm between them while the weight of her body gives them the pressure they need. She concentrates everything on drawing those little moans out of Gwen, matching her movements to the pleasure she can hear. There’s no joy like the sound of Gwen’s voice breaking with her release, nothing to make Morgana more proud.
Morgana holds Gwen close as her breathing subsides. Kisses her cheek and then quickly, quietly finishes herself off with her fingers.
“You’re not the same as before,” she says at length. Because Gwen’s lovely and sweet and practical as ever, but she looks different in the sunny dry colors of Tucumcari than in the stifling white of Morgana’s room in Baton Rouge. Her own colors are deeper, truer, now she’s not the judge’s daughter’s maid – and never will be again – but just Gwen.
And they’ll never have to worry about what will we do if he walks in, because that’s already happened, and they’ve survived. Or at least they’re surviving.
“Get me to California,” Gwen murmurs, half asleep, and Morgana swears she will. Tomorrow they’ll leave this place behind and start again. They’ll drive their way out of the desert and dream a brand new life at the edge of the ocean.