Chapter Five

Venus & Mars

by Shiva Gunn

Mars packed up his belongings and was out of his apartment in one afternoon. His next stop was at the bank to withdraw all his money, which wasn't much. He was pulling out of this burg for good. He gassed up his van and did a little grocery shopping. Then he bought a road map of the United States.
By now it was approaching dusk and Mars was considering where he'd spend the night. He planned on hitting the road early tomorrow morning. The truck-stop out on the interstate seemed like the best idea. He could park there overnight without a hassle.

Venus was in her apartment sorting out her options. She had a whole month to make other living arrangements, but at the moment she was trying to piece together who she was. Her memory was still a little hazy. She found a set of car keys but she couldn't remember what kind of car she owned. She looked through her CD collection to see what kind of music she liked, then she looked through her book shelves. Then she stopped. "What an idiot!", she thought, "my purse". Her wallet was in there, no pictures in it though. There was a Gold Card and a few other credit cards. Her bank book was in the purse too. She had a healthy checking account. She wasn't poor. Next she checked the answering machine. There were no messages.
Venus could now relax for a moment and reflect on things. She realized that for the first time in her life she was absolutely free to do as she chose. She had no romantic, marital or employment obligations to tie her to any person or place. She had often daydreamed of something like this but now she wasn't exactly comfortable with the reality of it. Still, there it was. Venus pondered what might she do now that she could do what ever she wanted. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. Freedom, what a funny feeling.
Venus decided she was going to "hit the road". She wanted to travel all over the country in her car, and just . . . see it. See what America is all about. She wanted to visit all those places she'd heard about; Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Rockies, the bayous, Kentucky, Montana, California, Texas, heck, even Alaska. She wanted to meet real people. She wanted to take photographs and write about her road trip. It had been a fantasy of hers for a long time. Venus figured she'd stay on the road as long as her savings held out or when she got tired of it; whichever came first. She thought she might even get a book out of this trip. Even if she didn't, it would be what she had always wanted to do.

As the Sun set in a pink sky Mars lay on his belly on the mattress in the back of his van, eating an orange and thinking. Driving was not going to be fun. He had a deep nine inch scratch in his backside that kept reminding him of the living nightmare at Camelot. It didn't hurt if he didn't sit on it. He would have to find a place to camp for a while until he healed enough to sit on his ass. He figured he'd find a place to camp for a few weeks while his wound mended. He'd spend his time reading, he thought. It was what he would do after he healed that Mar's real attention was drawn to. His meager savings wouldn't last forever. Mars had been on the road before and he knew what it was like. Camping out of the van was a cheap way to live but it gets old after a while. That's all you do: camp. Mars thought he might drive around the country, in no particular direction, until he found a place that feels right. Maybe he would be able to find work there. Mars was skilled as a handyman but he had the ability to learn just about anything relatively quickly. He really wasn't worried about finding some kind of employment no matter where he decided to go. He, like Venus, was thinking about just what to do with himself at this point in his life. What direction did he want to go? He felt that no matter what he decided, this was going to be a turning point in his life.

Venus was eating her dinner. She smiled at the thought that what used to be a lonely feeling, eating alone, was now a pleasant experience. All afternoon she thought about all the things she'd have to get rid of if she was going on the road for a long time. She had to decide what she needed and didn't need. What should she do with all the rest of her things? Venus had a tablet on the table in front of her. She'd been making a list on it of the things she'd need on the road, the absolute essentials. When she was done eating she just threw her old dishes and silverware in the trash, she wouldn't be needing them anymore.
Venus kept thinking about that guy, Mars, wondering what will happen to him. What he must be thinking about her. She felt bad about what had happened to him, even though it wasn't really her fault. It was an accident and , well, she wasn't really herself when it happened. She wished she could show Mars that she was really not crazy and really a nice person, and maybe even apologize for everything. It made her uncomfortable to think about it and as usual, she pushed the thought to the back of her mind.

Meanwhile, Mar's mind had wandered again to thoughts of Venus and that cosmically weird day at Camelot. He hoped there would never be another day like that as long as he lived. He thought that that woman, Venus, must be a nice, rational person but he really didn't care, even though he found her more than a little attractive. He considered that day to be a nightmare and just wanted to put it, and that woman, behind him forever. Ironically, right behind him was an indelible reminder of that infamous day.

Venus found her laptop computer, opened it and played around with it. Just by touching it all her memory of how to use it came back instantly. Her past was coming back to her a bit at a time, like this, discovering how good she is with a computer. She found some other techno toys, a cellular phone and a good quality video camera, VCR, 35mm camera and was quite impressed with herself. She found her personal video tapes and played them long enough to see that they contained the usual boring home movies and stuff that she'd rather forget than remember. She erased all her video tapes and boxed them up. She was beginning to make a cache of the things she would be taking with her. All her techo toys were among them. Venus decided to rent one of those personal storage units for a year for all her other possessions that couldn't go on the road and that she couldn't part with.

Early the next morning Mars got on the interstate and headed South. The sunrise warming the left side of his face, he drew a sigh, blinked the sleep out of his eyes and took another drink of truck stop coffee. This was the first day of the rest of his life. He had a thick foam seat cushion on his seat to pad his wound. He also tried to shift his weight to the other cheek to further comfort his handicap. He took his time, driving in the slow lane, fifty-five miles per hour, digging the scenery. Within minutes he was deep in the heart of farm country. He rolled down his window to let in the country air. He could smell the crops as he passed the fields. He never realized it before but even the woods have an aroma. He noticed how the sunlight is a different color in the morning than it is in the evening. Mars wondered how he managed to live so long and not know these things. These little revelations kept his mind off the pain in his ass but still he could only drive about two hours, tops, before he had to get off it and rest. Just in time to tend to his toiletries, freshen up and then have something to eat.
It was at one of these stops, a roadside rest area, that Mars witnesses this trip's first strange occurrence. Mars had rested on his belly in the back of his van for about fifteen minutes, then he got out to go for a walk, to get the circulation going in his buttocks. This lady pulls in driving a big old Pontiac She doesn't even pull all the way into the parking area. Anyway, she gets out of her car. She's one of these beehive, spandex and rhinestone glasses kind of gals and she has this hyperactive little dog. That's why she pulled over, her dog's got to do his business. So, she opens the back car door and the dog jumps out, runs a couple of circles around the lady and then makes a beeline for the highway and stops in the middle of the road. A couple of cars swerve out of the way and the dog just stands there. Mrs. bee-hive-and-spandex is hysterical, running after it shrieking, "Mr. Poopers! Mr. Poopers!". Mr. Poopers runs back to the lady, runs two or three circles around her and runs back out into the highway. The lady ran onto the road after him, her screams actually drowning out the barking truck tires as it's tanker-trailer jackknifed into the medial strip and caught fire. This forced several passenger cars to skid off the road as well, one of them hitting the overturned truck. Mrs. Bee-hive-and-spandex picked up Mr. Poopers and got back in her car and drove away. The dog never did do his business. The tanker trailer fire caused a grass fire that spread up and down the medial strip for miles, it's smoke blinding drivers and causing more accidents before they got it under control. In all the excitement nobody got the lady's license number. Mars couldn't get back on the road for another six hours. When he did he decided to head West for a while.

Venus heard the reports of the accident and fire on her car radio and made a point of taking another highway. After all it didn't really matter which way she went. She had her whole life packed into that car and had yanked up her roots to the community she was born and raised in. There was a great big world out there and she wanted to see it.
Venus had a small tape recorder on the seat next to her in the car so she could make notes and record her stream-of-consciousness poetry into it. "There shall be another life that rises from the ashes of this one", she spoke in a mock serious tone her first entry into the tape recorder as she drove West into the setting Sun on that big gray highway, taking her good ol' time. Speaking lines into her recorder , sometimes several at a time. "Another day goes down in flames, leaving only the charcoal night", she would say, responding to the sights as she drove into the night. Her mind kept returning to that man, Mars. She couldn't help but wonder about him. However, that's all she could do; wonder. She couldn't help thinking, she wouldn't be surprised if she ran into him sometime in the future. Growing tired, she kept an eye open for a motel.

Mars was pulled off the highway onto a side road where it was quieter. He was getting ready to bed down for the night and was having a little something to eat before he turned in. His thoughts were invaded by reoccurring pictures of Venus. He wondered why his subconscious found her so interesting. No other woman had affected him this way. He wondered: What if I'm having thoughts of her every time she's having thoughts of me? Even though one of the reasons he left the town he was living in was so he wouldn't run into Venus again, even by accident, he had the feeling that it didn't matter where he went, he'd run into her again sooner or later. He just hoped it wouldn't be as disastrous as their last meeting.

That night Venus and Mars had the same dream. They were twisted together, locked in a passionate embrace, rolling around on a plush-pile carpet. Kissing and groping like this was their last night on Earth. Naked and sweating, grunting and growling, they fornicated like animals, oblivious to the house burning down around them. Venus and Mars, miles apart, each at that moment bolted upright in their beds.

(to be continued)

Way Out West ©1993 Martin Scherer. Venus & Mars © 1995 Martin Scherer. E-mail: