“It was so real, that it was surreal.”
That’s what Catherine said of the white van that was beside her on the highway headed east into Santa Fe from Albuquerque, rolling up in the right lane somewhere between the Pueblos of San Felipe and Santo Domingo.
It was as white and rusted as the early February high alpine desert snow settling on the red sand hills, cold with the wind and nothing to stop it coming through. That gold buzz of light that’s always there, everywhere, as if everything was always happening at a slower pace, forever shimmering across the landscape and floating on the air.
It wasn’t a Volkswagen. She noticed that first. But some other single vehicle V8-engined caravan of a touring band, a boy and his dog, a girl and her two dogs, or a trio of chaw-chewing big Oklahoma boys in their trucker hats and their camouflage hunting bibs (which they ski in quite comfortably) on their way to Durango, Pagosa, or to ski Monarch just west of Salida, scrolling the old dial through a few satisfying choices of South Colorado country radio.
Or maybe, and more likely, only some old ghost tracking miles, moon-eyed and focused on the Dream Catcher swaying from the cracked rearview mirror, listening to the Allman Brothers, Freddy Fender, The Texas Tornados, or a feast days recording on the 8-Track stereo.
The Van, by Catherine, Part 2
What surprised her most was that the old relic rig was going a little over 80, inching up like it might pass her from the right lane. Without much effort it seemed, and she wasn’t sure it should even be on the road. Like the whole damn thing was being held together by dreams and speed, cloud dust, a little fresh snow, and the promise of going somewhere—anywhere—at all.
She thought there was a chance the next big breeze boiling up from the semi-desert of the Colorado Plateau behind her would blow the whole wraith clunker into steel confetti spreading in the wind up the arroyos. As if it might disintegrate, splinter and sink like a foundering Southwest sloop below the knife ridge range of the San Juans on the two-lane highway north of Alamosa.
But more than anything that might make it disappear, would be for her to take a moment to look over her right shoulder and actually see who was driving. Which every time she thought about, realized it was absolutely something she did not want to do. Staying in her lane, as it were.
She didn’t want to break the spell. Or something worse. So she decided to focus on watching the road. And then at some point, before she started up La Bajada Hill past the exit to Cochiti, the van just wasn’t there anymore. She never saw it exit, and wasn’t sure if and where it did. She just drove home to Santa Fe. And when I showed her the photo, suddenly remembered, “Oh, I have a ghost story to tell you.”