A Tourist Again, Pt. 23

Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine on a winter day.

The world softened around her as she retreated into her mind. She paid no attention to her pace or fatigue or pain as she pushed forward through the building rain. There was no need for a map now. Next she’d pass through the outer fringe of Dover before following the Piscataqua River into the City of Portsmouth. But only a small part of her was cognizant of this as she pressed down the last stretch of her journey. Her mind was otherwise dominated by the trail of dead she’d left behind her.

Dad, the men from the grocery store, and now Andersen. Each meant something different to her, something she knew she’d carry with her the rest of her days despite how numbered they might be. Sixteen-years-old and she was  leading a chain gang of souls northward through what remained of New England.

The men she’d gunned down in the grocery store didn't so much as inspire a small pang of guilt, and the case was the same with the cannibals. In fact, as she thought of those bastards locked up in the walk-in, probably getting pretty hungry at this point, she hoped to God they were suffering and would continue to suffer right up ‘til the end. Were it not for them Andersen would be with her. They would have patched things up and moved past the drama that always seemed to sprout between them… then gone on to Ogunquit together.

But that was a lie, wasn’t it? Andersen had been right about a lot of things, most especially the disparity in their base wiring. They were cut from different social cloths, and though the New World provided ample opportunity for anyone to be anything they wanted, she was quickly discovering that she was already the person she wanted to be. Not a person Dad would recognize, but a hardened loner with no need to mix with others. Not anymore.

With that respect Andersen had taught her a lesson.

*     *     *

Hours passed. The rain grew stronger, thicker. On a certain level it occurred to her that the rainwater didn’t share the odor of the tainted groundwater, but she’d revisit the thought later.

Probably.

*     *     *

The trees thinned out on either side of the road as she rounded the on-ramp to US-16. Ahead, a six lane bridge arched over the hurried waters of the Piscataqua. To the south the river opened into a sprawling bay, its shores dotted with mansion-sized houses that no doubt belonged to single families at one time. Most, if not all, of those people were dead. There may have been no limits to what money could get you in the Old World, but here the rules had changed.

The currency of the New World was lead.

*     *     *

The sun was nearly down by the time she crossed the bridge and paused to consider the road before her. A part of her marveled at how far she’d gotten in a single day, while that girl’s voice far off in her head challenged her to recount the journey from the bridge, to seize upon a single moment of self-awareness since Durham. She was able to conjure images of gravestones she’d seen studding the waterfront. And there was a boat that had come unmoored, drifted toward shore, and lodged its nose beneath the lip of a small, anachronistic drawbridge.

She hadn’t been completely on autopilot, but something close to it.

Her hand lifted to the strap holding the rifle to her shoulders and ran thoughtfully across it. If she made it to Ogunquit, she thought, she’d celebrate by giving the rifle a name. It was, after all, her only constant since Clairmont, now the only remaining friend she had in the world.

*     *     *

Portsmouth was a latticework of converging highways. If you were headed to Maine from anywhere in the south, you went through Portsmouth. A single rotary fed Route 1, Route 16, and I-95.

The rain had vanished with the dusk light as Elizabeth reached the Portsmouth Traffic Circle. She’d come here with Dad lots of times, and whenever they had to get on the circle she’d burrow her face into the worn upholstery of the bench seat as Dad bypassed the line waiting to enter the circle and cut in using the turning lane. Like so many things with Dad, the memories held different meanings now. Cryptic meanings that translated to feelings rather than ordered thoughts.

She decoded them finally as she was half way across the circle, just as she stepped onto the soft grass at the center of the rotary. Above her the moon poked through the breaking clouds enough to light the sign reading I-95, US-1, ALL MAINE PTS. The memory that broke upon her was like an atomic bomb, of Mom pointing excitedly at the sign and informing them through broken spurts of laughter that they were going to hit all the main points. Dad had failed to get the joke, it just went over his head like so many other things. Elizabeth revisited the entire moment as though she was sitting right there in the back of the truck, watching as Mom frowned at Dad before lifting a hand to his face and running the back of her fingers down his stubble. Dad’s hand left the wheel and snatched Mom by the wrist, drawing her hand toward him and nibbling teasingly upon it before turning it over and planting a kiss between her thumb and forefinger. Such was their love, and with it they'd made her the best life she could have wanted.

The memories of that life were hers and would always be.

It wasn’t until the memory faded that she realized she was smiling. Hands came up to her face, feeling it, making sure she wasn’t imagining it, but as the faces of her parents were suddenly inked over with black in her mind, so went the good feelings... because the memories that inspired them were not hers, they belonged to the girl she’d left in Clairmont.

Her fingers once more running across the soft leather of the rifle strap, she started toward the exit and ALL MAINE PTS. Ogunquit was now just two towns away.