Debbie Noland in jeans, her long chestnut hair tucked up under a baseball cap, a battered suitcase at her side, stood on the berm of route 40 beneath a highway lamp arching overhead like an erect cobra, Delirious moths swept around the light. Behind her, Mars coursed out of Capricorn into Aquarius.
Two cars had swept past a while ago. She was reproaching herself for not having called attention to her presence, because opportunities for a hitchhiker were likely to be few at that hour, and it was essential she make her getaway before timidity overcame resolution.
Her cell phone rang. Mother again. She threw the phone over her shoulder into the ditch. While she was at it, she removed her engagement ring from her finger, and flung it in the same direction.
As if conjured by these resolute acts, a pair of headlights rounded the bend off to her left. She took a step forward, raised her arm in the air, and wagged a fervent thumb. An old VW Beetle covered with magnetic flowers veered from the roadway into the berm, and halted. The white face of a clown topped with a graduate’s red mortar board jack-in-the-boxed from the passenger’s side window. “Where you going, sweetie?” A woman’s voice.
“Away.” Debbie tried to shout, but her voice quavered.
The clown’s massive painted red smile glowed in the light from overhead.
Debbie got into the back seat beside a large dark person.
The driver, another white-faced clown with a green wig, said, “I’m Boffo.” She, too, a woman.
“Beanbag here,” said the other.
The Bug roared into the West.
Beanbag looked over the back of her seat and nodded at the person beside Debbie. “He calls himself The Buddhist. We picked him up outside Wheeling.”
“At least we thought we did,” Boffo added. “He claims he doesn’t exist.”
“He takes up a lot of room for someone who doesn’t,” Beanbag observed.
“Let he or she who doesn’t take up a lot of room cast the first stone,” said the Buddhist in a gutteral voice.
Boffo glanced in the rearview mirror. “I rather like that.”
Debbie, trembling with excitement at the execution of her escape, was barely registering what the others were saying.
“A Buddhist once refused Novocain during a root canal,” Beanbag declared. “He was into transcend-dental-medication.”
“Once,” Beanbag said, “there was an invisible who man married an invisible woman. Their kids weren’t much to look at, either.”
Boffo cleared her throat. “I should explain that Beanbag and I just graduated from the Clown College of Pennsylvania. She was first in the class in puns. Sometimes they just come rolling out of her.”
“It’s like having a good bowel movement,” Beanbag said. “A woman e-mailed ten puns to her friends. She figured at least one would please them, but no pun in ten did.”
“Beanie,” Boffo said, “stop.”
The only place to park the Beetle was a half mile from the monument. Scarlet gowns flowing about them in the moonlight, the two clowns strode along the edge of the narrow road. Debbie followed them. The Buddhist in a black frock coat and top hat brought up the rear.
“Where are we, anyway?” asked Beanbag.
“Why are we doing this? It’s late.”
“It’s never too late to learn from the past,” Boffo said. “Ah, there she is, The Manifest Destiny Mama!”
Boffo led Beanbag and Debbie over a guardrail. They approached the ten foot tall square-jawed stone Madonna of the Trail glowing dimly in the moonlight atop her six foot pedestal. She wore a long stone dress and a stone sunbonnet, and had a stone baby in one arm, a stone long rifle in the other, and a small stone boy clinging to her skirts. She advanced a stone-booted foot westward.
“I don’t see what we are to learn from this,” Beanbag complained.
“Beanie, in order to have a clear idea about what we what we are, it’s very important to know what we aren’t aren’t. She’s the spitting image of it.”
“Then again she looks kind of dike-y,” Beanbag observed.
The Buddhist sat on the guardrail, arms folded across his chest.
“This must seem a huge waste of time for him,” Beanbag said.
“Time,” said the Buddhist, “is waste.”
They were back in the car and continuing westward along route 40 when Beanbag asked if Debbie was running away from home.
“Beanie, that’s impertinent,” Boffo said.
“If we’re going to pick up hitchhikers, shouldn’t we know their motives?”
“What did we know of the Buddhist’s motives?”
“Buddhists probably don’t even have them.”
“I’m a runaway bride,” Debbie volunteered, “in a nutshell.”
Beanbag giggled. “What a wonderful image! Are you cracked?”
“Did you run away before the marriage or after?” Boffo asked.
“The marriage was to be Sunday. I felt that if I went through with it, I’d just be…”
“Going through the motions?” Boffo suggested.
“We women are prone to that.”
“Why is that?” Beanbag inquired.
“We tend to think of our lives in terms of relationships. If we aren’t going through the same motions others are, how can we be related?”
“But, if we’re just going through the motions,” Beanbag said, “are we really related--or just pretending?”
Boffo nodded. “And is there a difference? These are very subtle questions--much too subtle to be broached at this late hour.”
“Yes,” Beanbag said. “We should be laughing and making merry, or Pam or Sue. We can be subtle in the morning over some broached eggs.”
The Buddhist groaned.
“Did you hear about the dyslexic man who needed a drink in the worst sort of way?”
Boffo glanced at Beanbag. “I’m reluctant to ask, but what happened to him?”
“He walked into a bra.”
“Please stop the car,” the Buddhist said.
“You have to pee-pee?” Beanbag inquired.
“I will walk.”
“Out here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Everywhere is nowhere, nor are we out of it.”
“That would seem to be as good an argument for staying as for leaving,” Beanbag pointed out.
“Some places, there are no puns.”
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to be in such a place,” Beanbag said.
Boffo steered the car off the road, and braked. The Buddhist got out. The women watched him walking back in the direction from which they had just come.
“Strange,” Boffo said. She steered the car back onto the highway.
“I’m curious about where you two are from,” Debbie said, “and your families.”
“We’re not from anywhere,” Beanbag asserted. “and we don’t have families.”
Boffo frowned. “Beanie, who’s going toll take you seriously if you say things like that?”
“Take me seriously? I’m a graduate clown!”
“Yes, but also a budding entrepreneur. You can’t always be horsing around. You must be forthright in your dealings with people.”
“OK, I admit I was born to someone, it, but I forget the perp’s name, and I don’t know where the act was committed.”
“It‘s true,” Boffo said over her shoulder to Debbie in the back seat. “She ran away from home at the age of eight, and our memory for irrelevancies is notoriously short.”
Beanbag proposed that they create of a group limerick and provided the opening lines:
Boffo, Beanbag and Debbie
Went to sea in a Chevy--
“We aren’t going to sea,” Boffo pointed out, “and this isn’t a Chevie.”
“She’s so literal-minded,” Beanbag said. “Indiana has too many syllables for the second line. And I have a poetic license, you know.”
“What about the Buddhist?”
“What about him?”
“You left him out of your limerick.”
“He said didn’t exist.”
“I think he, too, had a poetic license.”
“If he gets stopped by an officer along the highway, I hope he doesn’t flash it.”
Debbie, exhausted emotionally by her decision and its consequences, drowsy in the back seat of the car, was vaguely aware of Beanbags’ expression of horror when Boffo told her that the Chinese now make Colgate toothpaste. Then there was something about an American workforce being unnecessary, so that children were passé, and Beanbag’s response, “Whew, that’s a relief.”