Issue 14, Autumn 1956
The land was flat, almost barren, the grass grown wild and untended between the trees which stood spread like out post sentinels, lonely under the immense sky. He hadn’t seen another car, or a house for many miles, and now he was driving very fast on the straight cement road with the black strip of tar down its center. He drew a strange exhilaration from the sound of the engine and the wind roaring around the car; and rushing across this flat land, he felt separate and alone from all people, unresponsible. Then, far ahead, he saw the cross roads and the hitch-hiker standing there, with the suitcase beside him.
I’ll pick him up, he thought, deciding quickly, already almost upon the man; and passing him, still slowing the car from high speed, he saw the man sharply for an instant, his coat and tie blowing in the wind and the bright, sunburst decal on the side of the suitcase. When he had stopped the old man came hurrying to the car, which the driver backed to meet him. And he opened the door, putting the cardboard suitcase with the cheap tin clasps—such as you see in Army-Navy Stores, hung up on racks and always reduced from some maximum price to some minimum one—in the back seat,and got heavily in the car, saying he was going to Tampa.
“Going as far as Sarasota. I’ll take you that far.”
“Thank you, son,” the old man said.
He started talking immediately then; about the weather,and of how he’d served in the first World War, and the driver looking at him, saw the withered flesh of his face, the white, shiny scar tissue.
“After the war,” the old man said, “I come back and gotwork in the penitentiary. Knew a whole lot about guns—hate them though, son, I had to carry them so much. When a man packs a gun all his life, and if sometimes he have to use it,it gets so he changes, you know what I mean, boy? It change shim, makes him different, like I say.”
They were coming up on another car then, and the hitch-hiker stopped talking suddenly, looking intently at it.
“Take it easy,” he said, “you want to watch a guy with tags like that. Might be he’s some sort of cop. You see that there X on his tag?”
The driver slowed obligingly, seeing nothing in the other car, which had two children looking out the back window.
“He looks alright,” the hitch-hiker said in a minute. The car was an ordinary stock sedan and the driver passed it and pulled away, accelerating again.“You can’t never tell about them Xs,” the old man said, sitting back in his seat.
“Like I say, it changes a man always having to carry a gun. Like this here, you see?” The driver looked down handsaw the heavy pistol he was holding gently in his hand. “Iallus carry it,” he said. And he smiled as he put it back inside his coat.
“You mind if I smoke, son?”
The driver shook his head, feeling the uncertainty in the car now, the sudden shift of emphasis which the presence of the pistol had brought about. He looks friendly enough, at least not unfriendly, the driver thought, it is hard to tell.