The sticky tile floor was cold against Tammy’s cheek. The cashier screamed and grunted, but Tammy could not see him or even move. Her eyes blinked slowly and unfocused.
Tammy could feel that her fingers held something, but she didn’t know what. She focused all the energy she had left on, dragging her hand into view. She saw her fingers gripping the Butterfingers candy bar, and smiled when she saw it.
Tammy Lynn Degler ran away from home at the age of sixteen.
Tammy’s parents never paid her much mind when she would often warn them of her desire for freedom.
She always believed that their lack of response was because they didn’t think she’d do it. That they didn’t know she had it in her, but it was somewhere just past Phoenix surrounded by cactus and nothingness sitting next to an older man named ‘Phil’ that picked her up somewhere around St. George the evening before that she started thinking that maybe they just didn’t care.
Phil saw Tammy standing in the rain with her thumb held high, backlit by the parking lot lights and glowing yellow Wafflehouse sign behind her.
When he pulled over, she seemed hesitant to get into his light blue Chevrolet sedan, but only for a second.
Phil smiled and said, “Get in, honey. It’s raining; you’ll be safe, I assure you.”
“I’m headed to Los Angeles,” she said.
“Me too,” Phil replied.
“You can take me all the way?”
“Well — let’s just see how it goes.”
Tammy slid her backpack in, and before she knew it, she was watching the sunrise at a truck stop hundreds of miles away. She sat on the hood of the sedan while Phil used the restroom and bought cigarettes.
When he returned, he had three packs of cigarettes, two coffees, and two burritos wrapped in cellophane, “I hope you like ham and eggs; it’s all they had,” he said while shrugging and holding a burrito towards her.
The two watched the sun climb a bit higher while eating quietly and sipping coffee.
Phil had a pleasant manner about him, and he was a good driver. He always used his turn signals and moved to the slower lane if another car approached quickly from behind, and it was on the 15 West, 22 miles from the town of Primm that Tammy noticed Phil’s head drop and jerk up again. He rubbed his eyes and glanced over at her.
“Did I just nod off?” He asked before shaking his head back and forth.
“I think so.”
“You wanna take over for a bit?”
Tammy looked at the steering wheel and the gauges, “I don’t know how.”
“You don’t know how to drive?”
“I’ve never done it before.”
Phil checked his rearview and signaled, even though they hadn’t seen another vehicle in over an hour. He then pulled to a gentle stop on the side of the road and opened his door, “slide over,” he said before running around the back of the car and sliding into the passenger seat, “buckle up,” he said.
Tammy wrapped her fingers around the wood-grained steering wheel and reached for the key.
“Whoa, it’s already running.”
“Oh,” she smiled nervously.
“Okay, slide your seat up so that you can reach the pedals. The one on the right is the gas, and the one on the left is the brake. Use only your right foot to operate the pedals, okay?”
“Okay,” she said.
“When you’re ready, check your side-view over there to make sure no cars are coming up from behind, and when it’s clear, gently push the gas down.”
Tammy checked for cars and then stomped on the gas. The light blue Chevrolet sedan spits dirt and rocks up as it jumped forward and out onto the road.
“Whoa!” Phil yelled while smiling, “I said gently!”
“Sorry! Oh my god, we’re gonna die!”
Phil laughed even more, “You’re doing fine, honey. Just keep it straight and between the lines and try to keep the speedometer there at sixty-five or seventy.
It didn’t take long for Tammy to feel comfortable behind the wheel.
“You’re a natural,” Phil said, “But we still have to learn to stop.”
“I just press the brake pedal?”
“Yeah, but you really do have to do it gently unless it’s an emergency… I don’t want to kiss the windshield, you know?”
Tammy checked her rearview and then gently applied the break.
“You got it. Pullover and stop.”
She pulled to the side of the road, and the two came to a complete stop.
“Perfect,” he said. “Do you think you could get us to Victorville — just follow the signs? It’ll be coming up in about a few hours, and then I’ll take over from there.”
“I think so,” she said.
“Okay, I’m going to doze off, please don’t kill me. Please wake me if you need help, okay?”
“Do you mind if I play the radio?”
“Knock yourself out,” Phil said as he rolled to face the passenger window, his eyes already closed.
Tammy turned the stereo knob and tried to find a station, finally landing on a weak, staticky AM station, KUKQ out of Phoenix. “HEY! This is KUKQ, and that was, ‘Movin’ On Up’ by Primal Scream, and let’s keep it rolling with a band out of Oaklahoma, The Flaming Lips — “Talkin’ Bout the Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues.”
Tammy checked her side-view mirror — it was clear, and she gunned it.
“Everybody wants to live forever — thinking it would be a lot better,” the singer sang as Tammy listened to new music for the first time in a long time, and for the first time commanding her own life at eighty-five miles per hour.
It was an open road, and the warm desert air blew through the windows and her long yellow hair.
Tammy couldn’t believe she did it. She was free, and it felt just like she thought it would.
She turned the volume knob to the right, and for a moment or two, she forgot about Phil and even the world. It all felt different and magical and even sublime.
And before she knew it, she was exiting on Roy Rogers BLVD, Victorville, California, hours had passed, and they all skipped right by Tammy, she hadn’t noticed a single one of them.
Phile woke with a jerk as the car slowed, “Holy, man! I zonked!” He looked around, “Where are we?”
“Victorville,” Tammy said.
“I think so,” she replied while turning The Pixies, ‘Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons’ down, “want me to hit a truck stop? I saw some signs that said one was just up there.”
“God no,” Phil said, “go right — we’ll head into town for food. There’s an old diner just up the road where you can get pancakes and a bloody mary; I stop there every time I pass through even though the waitresses are super rude.”
Tammy pulled into the small parking lot of a place called Courtesy Coffee Shop and Cocktail Bar. It looked old.
“It looks kinda old,” Tammy said as she put the sedan turned off the sedan’s engine.
“It is old! That’s what makes it cool.”
He looked excited, “You really want some pancakes!”
“You go in and order I’m going to run over to that gas station for a Butterfinger bar.”
“A Butterfinger Bar?”
“It’s what I do when I’m celebrating something. It’s stupid, but it’s what I do.”
“What are you celebrating?” Phil asked.
“We’re in California! We crossed the river back there, and I saw the Welcome To California sign! I’ve never been to California!”
“Oh, right! Okay, go get your candy bar, and I’ll order, do you want pancakes or a burger?”
“A burger,” she said.
“Yeah, and see if they’ll put bacon on it — oh, and American Cheese, not cheddar if they got it.”
“You got it.”
“Oh, and also — I wanted to,” Tammy trailed off for a moment, and she glanced out the window. “Thanks for not being a creep.”
Phil laughed out loud.
“Yeah, you know — “
“I know, honey, and you’re welcome. Now go on and get so that I can get us some grub ordered up.”
Phil watched Tammy run across the street and enter the gas station convenience store.
Tammy said hi to the cashier. He was a young man in his early thirties. He had floppy brown hair and wore a yellow smock over a black t-shirt.
“How’s your night?” The cashier said with a smile.
“Pretty dang good. Candy bars?”
He pointed towards the back, “Just past the gum.”
Tammy grabbed her Butterfinger Bar just as a man entered the small store. Tammy glanced over at the man just as he pointed a gun at the cashier with the floppy hair and said, “Give me what’s in the drawer, or I’ll blow your fucking face off.”
Tammy opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out, she stood there frozen as the cashier handed the man a wad of cash.
“Eighteen bucks? That’s all you got in there?”
“It’s been slow.”
“Open the fucking safe then! Now!”
The cashier put his hands in the air suddenly, “I don’t have the combo, man. They don’t give me that.”
BANG! Just like that. It sounded like a firecracker went off, and Tammy’s ears began to ring immediately, and the scream that wouldn’t come out of her earlier finally did just as the man in the hoody pointed the gun at her.
Tammy saw a flash of light but didn’t hear a bang, she then fell backward, and as she did, she pictured Phil sitting alone at the old diner waiting for her to return.