Jan/Feb 2008  •   Spotlight

Oh, Natalie!

by Carolyn Steele Agosta

Photo by Steve Wing

Photo by Steve Wing

His van, red and white, similar but not identical to an ambulance (significant?), is parked in front of the gas station pump, while he, shabby and middle-aged, similar but not identical to Leon (significant?) purchases one 16 ounce bottle of Coke and one package of Lance Nip-Chees.

The side door, unlocked, a swift sliding open and closed, back of the van filled with bins, locked (why?), smelling of gasoline and sugar, gag-me syrups, a duffle bag, sleeping bag, he is going further than just the next town. Surely, surely he will not begrudge me a few miles, a temporary shelter.

We are ten miles down the road before I show myself, before I come creeping out from behind the blue tarp, the 39-gallon Hefty Leaf & Lawn bag. His eyes, whites showing all around, his grasp on the wheel shattered as we sway from lane to lane. Does he think I'm going to hurt him?

(Note to self: Leon knew who she was before she asked for his help. Significant? Probably.)

No, he says. And no, and no again. He has a job to do; having me along will just complicate things. I point out the snow, drifting higher with each moment, I point out my flimsy jacket, my flip-flops. I mention my more-than-passing resemblance to Natalie Portman.


Just for a while then, I ask, just until we reach Georgia. He won't get in trouble; I'm older than I look. (Many people have commented on my demeanor. I'm already grown up. From now on, I will just get older.)

He's had his fill of teen-aged girls, he says. He's had his fill of parades and people and cold. He likes the cold, but he's heading for warmth.

I could be his apprentice. I could learn to make cotton candy, to hawk his wares, to sell inflatable Santas and giant candy canes. We could work the carnie circuit all the way to Florida. He could be my mentor, my salvation, my Leon. (Note to self: Of course, Leon dies at the end. Not so good for him.)

Get out of my van, he says. I'm not crossing the state line with any jailbait. Whatever you're running away from, it's not my problem. What did you do, fight with your folks?

I killed them, I say. And now I'm running from the law.

That's it, get out! He pulls off the road, stops his van in front of a church with a life-size Nativity scene set up in front of it (Significant? No room at the inn? Or in the van?) He pushes me but I hang onto the seat with both hands. He gets out, comes around, slides open the door, I jump over into the driver's seat, put the van in gear, slam down the accelerator.

Oh, the surprise on his face. I have to laugh.

I drive the van around in a circle, spitting gravel from beneath the tires, stop in front of him. Hey, just kidding, I shout. Get in. You can drive, but let's get moving. I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee.

(Seriously, I don't think he even knows who Natalie Portman is. Has he never seen Star Wars Episode I? Or II, or III? What planet has this guy been living on?)

Look, mister, just until the state line. Please? (Meanwhile looking at my watch. He's making me lose a lot of time.) He starts driving again but I can see him giving little glances. I don't mind. Profile shots are my best.

So, why'd you shave your head, he asks after we pass through Columbia. Because, I say. Because there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame?

Personally, I blame my parents.

He laughs. (Honestly, has this man never gone to the movies? Does he not own a DVD player?) He says, your parents are Republicans, right?

Why do you say that, I ask. (What does he know? Have I given myself away?)

Just a wild guess, he says, pulling out a cigarette. He lights it, lets the smoke out in a long sigh. (I roll down my window, despite the freezing cold. Does he think I want to get cancer? Some people are incredibly careless of other people's rights. And I do have rights, even if I'm only fifteen. Despite what my parents may think.) And besides, everyone says Natalie Portman really looked amazing with a shaved head. She has the kind of beauty that transcends fashion's dictates.

My eyeballs are beginning to hurt. (Neck, stiff. Shoulders, tense. Yes, probably another spell coming on. Significant?) I try to breathe slow and deep, in through the nostrils, out through the mouth, but it only makes me take in massive amounts of tar, nicotine, and other carcinogens. But I am strong, no one can make me break. Natalie didn't break even when they were going to torture her. I can be like that. (Note to self: remember how she held her head high when they were going to march her behind the chemical sheds. Also when she realized the Republic had become corrupt. After all, you can't blame Natalie for her lines. She didn't write them. I, at least, can still speak for myself.)

The van comes to a complete stop and it's not until then when I realize I've been sleeping. We're further south now, I can tell, the air is warmer, humid, the sun is much lower in the sky. The end of the trail, he says. Last rest area before the state line. You have to get out.

I ask if he'll consider driving across the state line, pulling over, and letting me walk across on my own and get back into his car, but he shakes his head. No beans.

Nothing can disappear. Nothing can ever not be, once it has been. He will be my Leon, even though he doesn't die but simply go away. Despite his incessant putrification of the air with cigarette smoke, and his saggy draggy jeans, he's been an alright guy. I tell him, Leon, I think I'm falling in love with you. It's the first time for me, you know?

He blinks. My name's not Leon. And you're one weird kid.

He drives away. I watch the taillights of his van (not really an ambulance at all, more like a FedEx truck or UPS. Significant?) as they disappear into the night (not really night, more like late afternoon, but close enough). I'm alone once more. As she is usually alone. The outsider. Like in Closer, but without the pink hair. The rest area map shows me I am in Hardeeville, South Carolina, which is a pretty stupid name for a town, but it's the farthest I've made it yet. There are phones here. I could call my mother (the senator) and her husband (the psychiatrist). Tell them I'm out of meds and money. It wouldn't be the first time. Or the 21st. Or I could stay here and know, when I've strayed the most from their house, I've come the closest to home. (Note to self: find internet café, google "patient's rights." Can they make me take my meds? Am I legally insane if I don't want to? Also, check name of Natalie's agent. I used to know it.)(Also publicist.)

There are a lot of cars moving through this rest area. One truck, red with a camper back (significant?) is parked at the dark end of the lot, while the guy getting out (tall, slender, cool suede jacket) smiles a little as he passes me. He has not bothered to lock the truck (significant? I think yes.). He could be a jedi, there is that something about his aura. And I have never been to Georgia.