The road between Las Vegas and Reno is long and, some say, dull. For a while, the Joshua trees dappled the desert and, although I saw no evidence of it from a speeding car, there was a wild animal refuge out there somewhere. Everywhere I’d been there were stories. On the wall of a ramshackle building was a graffiti promising shady ladies. I think the ladies had moved on. As I approached one of the few restaurants I saw on Rt. 95, I passed someone wearing a long flowered dress on a pink motor scooter. I pulled into the parking lot and the scooter followed. An attractive African American woman took off her lavender helmet and hung it from a handle bar. She went into the café and met a white guy, a really dorky looking white guy. It wasn’t a sexual encounter. What were they doing there in the middle of nowhere?
There are cozy and not-so-cozy mysteries everywhere. There’s even a website that lists them by state.
It wasn’t dull, that trip. Murder—why not—there as soon as anywhere else.
It took time and chaos to get back to Rt. 80 again – I hadn’t seen it since Nebraska. As always, it had changed, but there were still too many cars. The drama began with foothills, trees – and Reno. It was all so strange, vast worlds I knew almost nothing about, seen from a super highway. Of course, I felt a kind of triumph when I crossed the border to California. The long winding road up, down and around to Grass Valley exhausted me, but I’d made it to the site of my parents’ graves. Which was why I’d come this way to California – the long way.
The next morning I asked the woman at the motel where the old historic part of the town was, and she waved a hand in a westerly direction: it was only a few blocks away. “But nothing will be open yet.” “That doesn’t matter,” I said. “There’s a graveyard right past it, isn’t there? My mother’s buried there.” Her face turned sympathetic as she quietly made up her own story.
I hadn’t visited the grave since my mother was buried there a few years ago. I’d only seen pictures of the stone with its engraved piano. Someone suggested that taking flowers was important, but it was too early in the day to buy them and that wasn’t why I went. Nor was I interested in talking to the silent tombs of my parents. I hadn’t been that close to either of them; my father had been gone for decades and my mother had been a puzzle and a problem.
I needed to visit because no one had. She was desperate to be good at whatever she did, and to be liked for it. She would have enjoyed the impression of the piano, but she would have hated that no one had come to see it. It would have made her feel unappreciated all over again.
The piano was an awkward connection, and not that much of one, but then we’d never had much of one. So I knew it was just right.
See what I mean? The stories are always surprising.