Wandering in the desert, you come upon a roadsign that says "Bakersfield 8" and you have to wonder if you know who you really are.

I wandered into a situation, a conflict, if you will, self-absorbed in the middle of my shambles. The only thing I could remember was that I stopped running down a lonely road, hot and fervent, and that I had ended up walking down this road, and that road, and the other road, and I don’t know where I came from, or how long I had been on the road. Just walking. And then I realized that the grass growing wild on the shoulder was yellowing with dryness, slowly dying in the sun that was now shining brightly, excessively hot on my forehead, causing beads of sweat to congregate over my eyebrows and trickle between my eyelashes, providing a much-needed stinging sensation and causing my eyelids to snap shut at the pain. My forearm decided to slide across my eyes to wipe any rogue sweat droplets away from endangering my face anymore, and I put my arm down, and thought, “well, might as well start walking again.” Just walking, maybe running. Then I saw a road sign that said ‘Bakersfield 8’ and thought “hmm, Bakersfield.” I had fun tickling my teeth with the word. “Baker’s Field. Bake Hearse Field. Bakersfield. Bakersfield 8. Bakersfield ate. Baker’s Field ate. Bake Hers Field Eight.” A few hundred yards past the sign, a nice looking pickup had been wrecked; someone did a bad job parking their vehicle while traveling seventy-five miles an hour. But still I thought “Nice-looking truck.”
I have no concept of time, so I don’t know how long it took me to walk the 8 to Bakersfield. I stopped at a gas station with a store because I was hungry. I grabbed a corndog, a candy bar and a bottle of soda. I reached into my pocket and pulled out eighteen $100 bills. It didn’t register; I kept looking at the wad of cash and it didn’t click.
“Better put that money away or someone will kill you for it. I can’t take a hundred. You gotta break it somehow. I can only take $20 bills and lower denominations.” The Mexican guy with the blue and yellow gas station shirt said this like he was telling me how to use a colander.
“Where can I do that?”
“There’s a San Joaquin Bank two places down,” he said, pointing with his thumb behind him. He said San Joaquin like he meant it, Sah Hwah Keem. I nodded at him and left the stuff on the counter.
Connor. I kept thinking that. My name is Connor. Connor Berryhill. Connor Berryhill? I kept repeating it. I said it out loud. “Connor…Connor Berryhill…Connor Berryhill? Con a burial. Con or burial. Conner Berry Hell. Con her very well.” Every time my mind went on these repetitive mind tickles, they started to blur everything, and I lost track of where I was, where I had been, and where I was going.
I said it once more, then looked around; I was in the desert. California City 14. What the hell? What about Bakersfield? I looked in my pocket. There was $42.83. Didn’t I have $1800 in there? What just happened? I turned around, disappointed that I hadn’t taken the opportunity of entering Bakersfield and desiring to fulfill that goal of mine. I started walking. Just walking. Maybe running. I can’t remember. It occurred to me that I was parched, so I went into a little store on the side of the road. “Can I have water? I’m really thirsty.”
The girl with big brown eyes and stick straight black hair pulled into a ponytail smiled shyly at me, then turned around, opened the cooler behind her and got a bottle of agua pura. “A dollar.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out a five. She gave me the change.
“What time is it?”
“Eleven thirty.”
“Can I get a sandwich or something? I am starving.”
“Do you want a burrito?”
“No, I don’t. Do you have a sandwich?”
“We have tacos and quesadillas.”
“I guess I’ll have a taco. How much are they?”
“Two.”
“I’ll take two.” I gave her the 4 bucks and she went to the kitchen window.
“Dos tacos,” like dose Tahoe’s. Then someone in the kitchen distantly said something I couldn’t understand, and she turned to me and asked “corn or flour tortilla?”
“Flour, please.”
“De harina,” like day Harr een yah. She turned back and faced me with that shy smile again. I liked it, the smile. I drank some water. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Uh…C-, C-, Connor? Connor Berryhill. Connor Berryhill.”
“Are you sure?” she said sarcastically.
“No,” I said sincerely. “But I think that’s right.” She looked at me sideways.
The tacos were ready. She handed them to me. “You can’t eat them in here. You have to go outside and eat.” I went out the door with my tacos and water, found a shady spot and sat down on the ground, under a beaten-up looking awning. I was transfixed by the gusty breeze that gently picked up pockets of sand from the dirt road, the breeze that was actually satisfying in the stifling heat; the old thermometer hanging under the awning, with its Coke bottle advertising on the face, registered 118 degrees.
It seemed like I had been sitting there for a grand total of 30 seconds when I heard the voice. “Where are you going?”
“Bakersfield,” I guessed.
“Well, you passed it 30 miles ago. You’re walking? Aren’t you tired?”
“I’m exhausted.”
“Is that why you spent all day sitting in front of my store?”
“What? What time is it?”
“It’s 8 o’clock at night. You bought those tacos in your hand about noon today. You’ve been sitting in front of my store for 8 hours. What’s wrong with them, weren’t they any good?”
“Wait, that’s impossible. It can’t be eight. I just sat down a couple of seconds ago.”
“Look around, the sun is setting. It’s eight o’clock. Connor, right? Listen, I don’t think you’re from around here. If you’re going to Bakersfield, you’re not going to make it tonight. It’s not safe in the desert at night, especially if you’re walking a paved road. You can get run over. Not only that, the rattlesnakes come out, scorpions, coyotes…”
“Really?” I said. “Eight o’clock.”
“Maybe you want to stay at a motel or something tonight. My aunt Cathy owns a motel nearby. Cheap too. It’s okay – it’s a good place.”
“How do I get there?”
“Two miles up the road. I can give you a ride if you want.”
“Okay.” I hopped into her dented, dirty-white Hyundai Sonata. She drove like a pro, very carefully, very by-the-rules.
“Where are you from?” I didn’t answer. “Hey, hello? Connor! Where are you from?”
“I couldn’t tell you.”
“No?”
“I have no idea.” I threw my hands up in exasperation. “No clue.” She stayed quiet for the rest of the ride, until we got to her aunt’s motel. ‘Las Aguas Motel.’
“It’s a nice place. Clean, cheap…I’m sure you’ll like it here. Tia! Tengo un patron!” She said this like ‘Tia! Tengo oon pah-trone!’
A very robust woman with a large wart above her left eyebrow appeared from the back room. “How many nights?”
“Just one.”
“One person?”
“Yeah.”
“Nineteen eighty-seven.” I gave her a twenty. She reached into a draw a flung a key toward me. “Room 4.”
“You forgot your food and water in my car,” the big brown-eyed smiley Mexican girl said to me. She followed me to her car, unlocked the door and let me in. “Where are you going, anyway?”
“Very frankly, I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I just saw a sign a couple minutes ago, well now you say this morning it was, that said ‘Bakersfield 8,’ and I thought it would be nice to go there. That’s all I remember.”
“Have you ever been to Bakersfield?” she said staring at me suspiciously.
“I don’t remember. I told you, all I remember is the sign that said Bakersfield 8.”
“Do you need to go to a doctor? Should I take you to the hospital?
“I already paid for the room.”
“Yeah, but you could be injured! What if you have a head injury?”
“I’m not going. Thanks for the food and the hotel.”
“Aren’t you going to ask me my name?”
“I don’t think I’d remember it.” I turned around towards the room. I walked through the lobby, past the front desk, and saw the girl’s aunt with a newspaper. “Are you done with that paper?”
“Here you go,” the woman said, wart protruding at me from her forehead like a third eye, as she dropped the paper, the Californian, on the desk. “Read it in good health.”
I took the paper and my food to the end of the hall. “What room am I in again?”
“Four. Look at the key. It has a keychain with the number 4 on it.”
I made sure to continue repeating the word four, so that I wouldn’t forget. I kept saying the word right up to room eleven. I looked up and realized that I had passed it and went back, this time making sure that I looked at the room numbers. Finally: four. I stuck my key gently into the rusty doorknob, having to wonder what kind of disease could be acquired by performing such action. I grimaced at the disgusting thought of touching the decrepit knob, inadvertently dropping the newspaper on the floor. I bent over to retrieve the paper, and saw a creature slowly yet decisively making its way toward me. It walked on six legs and carried two front claws aloft; it also had a tail that curled up over its body. I wondered if this was one of the animals that the Mexican girl warned me about on the road at night. I scooped it up with the newspaper and carefully carried it, for fear that it would bite or pinch me with those big claws. I slowly slammed the door open and tiptoed into the room, making sure I didn’t drop the insect to the floor. I had to hurry because he fearlessly charged around on top of the paper, angrily looking for whoever it was that was transporting him against his will. I went to the bathroom and got a smudged glass, then tipped it over, upside down. I sat the glass upside down on the vanity, with the rim over the edge of the vanity to give him air so he wouldn’t suffocate.
I lay down on the dingy bed and turned the television on. It was small, like a fourteen inch job. There were two channels; the other ten were loaded with static. I quickly fell asleep.
The next thing I knew I awoke to a fiery stinging sensation on my leg. I turned to see what it was, and the creature that I caught in the hall was thrusting his curly tail at my leg, delivering an extremely painful sting. I jumped up, grabbed the phone book beside the bed and smashed it on top of the bug. I retrieved the book and saw the creature stagger once, then collapse in death.
I got out of bed and limped to the bathroom. I noticed on the clock that it was 4:28. It was still dark outside. When I was done, I moved slowly, in pain, back to the bed. Why was I in such pain? My leg hurt bad, and I couldn’t tell from what. There was a swollen pink patch near my knee. I sat down on the bed, squeezing the area as gently as I could, wincing at the pain, trying to remember what happened that caused this sharp stabbing sensation.
Then from out of nowhere, the door to my motel room flew open. I jumped up and stood by the television. Three guys stormed in, all holding guns, all guns pointing at me.
“You saw it, didn’t you? It was you!” the shortest one, with blue eyes and shaggy blonde hair, shouted at me. “You saw it all go down.”
“I don’t know – what? Who are you? I never saw you before in my life. What are you talking about?”
“You saw the whole thing!” the black guy in the middle demanded. “You saw us wreck into Rivers’ patrol car, get out, and blow her away. You were there!”
“Yeah! Then I saw him run toward town!” The dark-haired, green-eyed one in the back said.
“Wait! You must have the wrong person! I have no idea what you’re talking about! None! Look, you can trust me, because I don’t remember seeing anything that you just described. It’s true! It’s all true.”
“I don’t believe it,” the guy in the back said.
“Yeah, I think we need to take care of this now,” the first guy said, lifting his gun at me.
Without thinking, I picked up the television and threw it on the first guy’s head, screen side down. Instantly, as a live current of electricity coursed through to his brain and heart, his body began to jerk and smoke up and down, quickly sapping the life away from him. The other two watched in shock as their associate died of shock. I took the opportunity to squeeze my fingers together and bend them so that my fingertips touched my palm, then carefully placed my knuckles on the side of the black guy’s face, somewhere between his cheek and temple. I then took the other fellow’s ears in my hands and hastily introduced my knee to his nose. Both keeled over, knocked out by the decisive blows. I ran out of the room in a panic, in hopes I could disappear before the surviving harassers came to and pursued me. As I ran toward the door, I saw that the three colleagues had visited a fat, warty lady who sat at the front desk, having delivered a lead endowment into her cranium. She sat at the desk, leaning back in her chair, eyes open wide, sleeping the dreamless sleep, the trickle of red ink flowing from her forehead and pooling in the bags under her eyes. I ran out the premises and saw the sunrise. I turned around and ran in the opposite direction.
I remember nothing else, except that the sheriff’s department found me under the sign that said ‘Bakersfield 8’, where they said I wrapped my pickup truck around a telephone pole, and as I staggered out, I saw three men murder Deputy Constance Rivers, and I was the only witness to the event. They say I must have started running for help, and that the fugue must have set in while I ran. My name is Doug Owen, but I don’t remember that at all. They say I got that wad of cash from the three killers, but that was news to me. I don’t know what I spent the money on, except for two tacos, a bottle of water, and a stay at a motel or hotel or whatever. That’s all I could remember. That, and just walking. Maybe running.


Submitted: September 20, 2010

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