March 23, 2006


He drives an overnight delivery van in West Texas, where 50 miles is a short way between stops. When he took the job he didn’t give it a thought -- he’s from there, you get in your car and go all day, it doesn’t matter -- but after a while he began to notice how restful it was, what a welcome time to clear his mind or resolve his questions. The corporation loses money on his route, but it fulfills their promise of delivering to every place in the U.S., so in the larger sense it contributes to their dominance, and his package load is so light it makes him feel almost retired.

There’s a woman about his age he delivers to periodically. She’s an artist, she bought an old shack with some acreage in the sagebrush hills, redid the shack as a studio and parked an aluminum Airstream trailer there to live in. The Airstream on cinderblocks with antique roses growing on stakes all around it. She gets overnight letters from a gallery in Santa Fe and boxes of supplies from a company in Chicago. When he brings her something, they chat for a minute about how beautiful the desert is and when it might rain.

Once, on a morning when he saw a letter for her in his cart, he stopped beforehand at a little nursery in town and bought a tiny lace-spine cactus in flower, with a red dart down the center of each white petal. He gave her the letter from Santa Fe, and in his upturned palm he gave her the cactus.

She looked surprised and quiet. He could tell she was adjusting her reaction just so. “Thank you,” she said,” as if to say, “I don’t know where this comes from.”

The following week he tried once more, mentioning going over to the observatory on star-gazing night. “There’s no better stars than out here.”

“Oh, I can never see anything through a telescope.”

It made him feel like he ought to quit his job and find something he didn’t like, rather than ever deliver her another thing. But he liked the driving too much, and next time he had something in his cart for her he just handed it to her and she said thank you without any of the stuff about the desert or the rain.

Gradually, over months and months, they got to the point where they exchanged pleasantries again, and it was what he looked forward to most in all his work day. He felt that, hardly saying a word, never touching each other, they had been through a whole love affair, just as you can drive a whole day and barely see another car. They had come through everything, and now were old friends.