Who is Kara?

Kara shivered in not quite sleep. The fatigue of many miles driven had conspired against her. The rain drummed incessantly in her ears while the cool air of the lakebed country nagged at her body. Her muscles were cramped from too little room in the back of the brown Subaru. Why the hell am I doing this? If time had passed since she had driven off Route 97 south of Lava Butte to rest, she could not tell. She opened her eyes. Water undulated darkly down the windshield, disfiguring the world outside her all-wheel-drive hatchback. Sitting up, she pressed her forehead against the back of the driver’s seat. She shivered. The day had been warm when she’d left Portland.

Hunched in the cramped space, she pulled on a faded white sweater she’d been using as a pillow. She fumbled through a cargo bag for her black cotton tights and put them on. He had given the tights to her, back when she’d been so attracted to him. Am I now? Still? She sighed. Feelings fade. Love lives, then dies. Has it? Her hands rested on her thighs, drinking in the softness of the tights against the hardness of her quadriceps. She had worn the tights around their apartment because he had told her once that they were sexy. His hands would caress them before he’d ease them down around her knees and kiss her tummy, his tongue licking over her groin. Kara shook her head. Not now. She reached for the odd, mesmerizing, frustrating, maddening map. The damn map. She clutched it against her chest, lay back, and closed her eyes.

She longed to stretch. My legs are too long. Why aren’t they retractable? Comfort eluded her. Kara was tall and, depending on whose truth prevailed, either skinny or slender. He’d called her “scrawny” and “too thin” once. No. I’m lean. I’m slender. I’m not “scrawny.” I’m … I’m … god damn it, I’m supple and graceful and slender. I’m fucking hot, damn it. She sat up, pissed. At him. At the map. At the rain. At the cold. At everything.
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The bad guy’s henchmen

Noah and Kara walked into Ray’s Tavern. Her arm rested easily in the crook of his elbow. “Table or booth?” he asked.

“Booth,” she said, walking to a corner under pictures and posters on the wall near the back pool room. She waited so he could choose where to sit. He appreciated that. Like Wyatt Earp did once too often, he sat with his back to the door. Kara, a semi-committed vegetarian in a cheeseburger bar, ordered a cheese omelet with bean sprouts. The waitress, a woman in her 40s with leathery skin and a slight stoop, stared at Kara blankly. No bean sprouts, Kara was told.

“Really?” she said.

“Kara,” whispered Noah, “this isn’t Seattle.”

“Whoa. I’ll say,” she muttered.

Noah asked for a cheeseburger. Kara complained her plain cheese omelet was too well done; Noah just ate without comment. Apple pie followed for both.

“Do you bitch about everything?” Noah asked.

“I only bitch when things aren’t right.”
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Kara, dancing with lightning

The car, a wedge of dark brown metal dissecting the landscape, cast a long, slender shadow as it sped east along Route 140. It ran on autopilot, because Kara had a headache. She rifled the glove compartment for ibuprofen. She felt cool, so she rolled up the window. Her legs, though, were hot and tingly. Too much sun. She glanced down. Her thighs seemed redder. Funny, I usually tan easily. She remembered the anti-depressants. The doctor said the drug would leave her photo-sensitive. Stay out of the sun, she’d told Kara. They’d both laughed. Who worries about too much sun in a Seattle winter? She’d hated the pills and chucked them.

The low sun bronzed the underside of the thickening dark clouds that hung over the Oregon plateau. Earlier the car had climbed a steep grade (7 percent, the sign said) to Blizzard Gap (elevation 6,100 feet). No more trees. No more soft, calming green. Just a featureless, undulating plain dotted with tufts of stuff that looked like sagebrush — Isn’t that what it always is in the cowboy movies? Unkempt fences isolated dense slabs of dirty snow from the highway — bad-ass snow reluctant to step aside for spring. It’d been hours since she’d seen a house or even another car. Near Hawk Valley a rusted, burnt-out frame of a trailer lay broken-hearted next to the highway. Just west of Guano Valley, she passed a half-eaten roadside carcass of a deer or an antelope. Wolves? Buzzards? Monsters? Maybe one of the coyotes she’d seen loping in the brush near the road had eaten it. They’re scavengers, aren’t they? She thought of Sheepskin Hat. If he’d asked, would I have gone through with it?
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